At the beginning of October, my friend Susan Scott invited me to join her on one of her frequent trips to Colonial Williamsburg. Always game for an unscheduled frolic through the past, I naturally agreed.
I had a dark, ulterior motive, of course, and it didn’t even have anything to do with stalking a bunch of living, breathing people who make a habit of gadding about in cravats and stays.
No, no, that was my obvious motive. My ulterior motive was what caused me to book myself passage on a 14-hour train ride from Boston to Williamsburg and back, rather than on some nice, modern, speedy airplane.
I was on deadline. I was determined. This is my story.
I’d been on deadline for a couple of months now, you see, and I had until November 1 to finish what I needed to get done. I figured that a long, uninterrupted spell on a train would impose on me the cone of silence and concentration that I needed to cross that editorial finish line.
So I boarded a train in Boston on the Thursday before Halloween at 9:30 in the evening, opened up my laptop, and got to work.
By the time my train rolled in to Williamsburg 14 hours later — ten minutes ahead of schedule, even — I was halfway done.
I then commenced to ignore my work, and to focus purely on frolicking about in the 18th century. I figured it would be good inspiration. Research. Yes. Research.
So Susan picked me up at the train station, because it was raining, helped me settle into my hotel, and then drove me right into the heart of Colonial Williamsburg and the glorious, fascinating 18th century.
As it was already well past breakfast, and I am a junkie, the first order of business was finding me a cup of coffee.
We stood in line behind a nice man who also seemed to need his morning fix.
Then we started snooping around other people’s homes, looking at their family portraits, asking nosy questions.
You know. The usual.
Susan listened to a tour guide tell us what it was like to be a slave in pre-Revolutionary Williamsburg.
She was a very good tour guide.
She had sources. And she wasn’t afraid to use them.
We went by the Governor’s Palace, where I would later go dancing with men in cocked hats, white silk stockings, and peacock blue jackets, but where I would not be allowed to take photographs. Alas.
I danced a reel, in case you are wondering.
I fantasized about living in beautiful old brick houses.
Then Susan took me to meet her friends in the millinery shop, which was almost the highlight of the trip.
Yes almost. I did mention the dancing, yes? By candlelight? At the Governor’s Palace? Yes. I thought so. Good.
Her friends the seamstresses were lovely, talented, and unbelievably generous with their time.
Naturally, I gravitated immediately to those things that are relevant to my interests.
I cannot possibly express to you how soft these were.
But I kept stroking them, just in case I would somehow find the words.
I did some very serious literary research.
The ladies tried to distract me with their very large hats.
But to no avail.
Then they took me upstairs to their secret lair, where I got to see the things they make in their spare time.
Because they can.
They showed me dresses that would make your head explode with joy.
It was hard not to squeal too loudly.
I might have disturbed the neighbors.
Then we went back outside, where it was still raining.
Folks in historical dress seemed better prepared for the weather than I was.
Some ladies taught us how to make cosmetics and other beauty aids.
They knew what they were talking about.
“Unadorned beauty” indeed.
Making cosmetics looks like this.
Knowing exactly what you are talking about looks like this.
We poked around inside more folks’ houses, taking pictures of their personal items.
Most of which I coveted.
Oh, let’s be honest. All of which I coveted.
They enjoyed bright colors.
And the finest scientific instruments of the day.
I coveted them, too.
Patrick Henry had been left waiting in the parlor, which seemed rude.
So I walked around, coveting things.
We went to the wheelwright’s shop. It was still raining.
Elkanah is a good name.
The wheelwright was the boyfriend of one of our seamstress friends.
His name is Andrew.
He has an apprentice, who mixes his paints and paints his wheels.
Andrew is also very
Next door is the blacksmith shop, where fires raged and guys in aprons made loud clanging noises.
We had a really good lunch. It was still raining.
We went back to the Governor’s Palace the day after the dance — did I mention I danced? With that guy? In the peacock blue jacket? Okay then. Good. Fine. There is no need to yell.
They let us take plenty of pictures at the Governor’s Palace during the day, when all the fancypants men were gone.
Well, almost all of them were gone.
Susan introduced me to her friends all over the place. She knows everyone.
I mean, everyone who matters.
Everyone who lets me sit in their fancy carriages, that is.
On the last day of my trip, the sun came out at last.
So I spent the whole day inside, at the museum. Yep. That’s pretty much how I roll.
I took pictures of things that struck my fancy.
Kids pointing at cats. It’s a thing.
A carved wooden figure of, apparently, George Wickham.
The original, red version of that black dress I was coveting in the seamstress’s secret lair.
By Jane Riggs.
Socks with clocks.
The oft-referenced reticule.
Out friends the seamstresses, meticulously recreating a famous picture.
Cravats aplenty, of course.
I looked at old maps and started getting homesick.
It was time to get back on the train and head home.
So I took my seat, opened up my laptop, and got back to work.
Somewhere around New York City, I hit a wall. I had just one chapter left to revise.
I slept until Providence, then suddenly realized I needed just one more scene inserted into the end of the first chapter. I started writing again.
It was only when they cut the power and my screen went blank that I realized we were back in South Station.
I closed my laptop and headed home for the last leg of my trip.
A massive, unprecedented, highly unseasonable storm had swept through New England in my absence, dumping snow, snapping trees, and leaving thousands without power.
I got safely back to Cape Cod, made it all the way to the end of my street, but could go no further.
All of the wires were down on my street, and there were trees blocking the road at both ends. Trees with wires wrapped around them.
We had no power — no lights, no heat, no internet. I got back in my car.
I still had one chapter to go, and my deadline was at midnight that night.
I drove to the Hot Chocolate Sparrow, my favorite coffeeshop of all times, where they had wifi. And lights. And coffee.
And where it was also Halloween, and the staff was feeling festive.
I sat down, opened my laptop, and got back to work.
A bear cleaned tables nearby.
I finished my chapter, gave the whole damn thing one last look, and then sent it in.
As promised. On time.
Then I went back home, where the lights would still be out for three more days, and the internet would not come back for five.
But all of that was just fine with me. Because I had candles, and knitting, and cats that needed pointing at.
And I had made my deadline.