Prospero "Smokey" Piper is a self-made man who rose from poverty by way of a bourbon distillery and he is now a very wealthy businessman, a widower with three grown daughters to manage. His main hope for them is that they will make good marriages and provide him with grandchildren of whom he can be proud. He also wants them to be happy in life and has raised them to have confidence in themselves - to know that Pipers never give up.
As he tells Epiphany, his middle daughter, "There's always another way to conquer the mountain, girl. If someone gets in our way, we go around them and over them, and we don't pay them no more mind. We're adventurers and speculators by nature."
He fears - rightly so, as it turns out - that he might have been a little lax in his daughters' upbringing after their mother died. This is never more evident than when Epiphany ("Pip") causes a scandal that rocks Boston society and makes it necessary to pack her and her sisters off into exile abroad until the furor blows over. Not knowing what else to do, he hands the girls over to his sister Queenie to chaperone in England, then sits back and hopes for the best. Perhaps they'll find titled husbands to help raise his own status in America and stop certain "high and mighty types" from looking down their noses at him.
But like all the best laid plans this one will soon run into problems.
His eldest daughter is soon engaged to the son of a viscount and Prospero is so delighted and relieved that he proceeds with the arrangements immediately, on the urging of his sister and his daughter. He's not a man who knows much about etiquette and has a warm trust in his sister's ability to spot an opportunity. As Queenie often says, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
When a series of unfortunate events (no spoilers here!) leave his daughters stranded and unchaperoned in England, Pip, his wayward middle daughter, suddenly finds herself having to step up and assume the responsibilities she always thought she wanted and could manage. Meanwhile, many thousands of miles away Prospero realizes that this plan to launch his daughters into London society was, perhaps, not his wisest idea ever. But it's not the first time he's made an error or missed his aim. He has lost and won back a fortune several times over and life is, as he knows only too well, nothing if not unpredictable. Without taking a little risk once in a while, a man may as well be dead. Without rolling the dice, no game would ever be won.
Now, with all fingers crossed, he must hope that his daughter stays strong under pressure. Fortunately , he knows she's no fading lily and can protect herself.
"Mr. Prospero "Smokey" Piper, of Louisiana and various other parts unknown and best unmentioned— a man who believed that when one ran out of opportunities one simply made more— was the first ambitious and wealthy American businessman to think of this idea, not that any history book or self-professed "expert" will tell you that, because...well, just like that first attempt at building a still behind his family's outhouse as a young boy, this plan didn't exactly turn out the way he expected either.
And although explosions were inevitable, it was not his grandmother's drawers in danger this time."
Copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
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(Picture of Washington's Still)