Soft footsteps padded down the hall, alerting Eliza that her husband was approaching the bedroom earlier than usual. Hastily pushing the pamphlet under her pillow, she closed her eyes and tried to force her breathing to sound even. The bedroom door opened. The footsteps stopped short of the dressing room.
“Eliza?” She heard him take a step towards the bed.
She stayed still, making herself relax and keeping her breathing regular.
He sighed. The blankets were adjusted over her, covering her shoulder, and she heard him blow out the candle beside the bed. Then he stepped away, into the dressing room. The sound of rustling cloth followed as he changed for bed. The thunk of her old chest closing told her he’d collected a quilt again.
The bedroom door closed with a soft snap.
She waited another moment, to be sure he was fully settled downstairs, before she pushed herself up and relit the candle. Pulling the crumpled papers out of their hiding place, she opened to the place she’d left off. “I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shewn up stairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bed room. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.”*
She closed her eyes. Angelica had been right: she shouldn’t be reading this. But how could she not? How could she avoid it when everyone else in the city had read it? When everyone whispered about it as soon as they believed she was out of earshot? Not knowing what he’d written had been driving her mad. So earlier in the day, when she’d been out running errands, she’d paid a young lad a few coins to procure a copy for her.
She firmly believed that she was better off knowing. Even so, reading the scandalous document wasn’t any easier. Seeing her husband’s public description of his betrayal hardly made the awful truth more bearable.
She’d had many images of the girl in her mind ever since his confession. Sometimes Mrs. Reynolds was scantily clad and overly made up, stinking of perfume as she lured Hamilton into her bedroom. Other times she wore a modest, oft mended dress, and a frightened expression, clearly searching for a hero to rescue her from her dreary circumstances. Sometimes she was blonde, other times brunette. Sometimes she smirked lasciviously; other times, she wore an expression of wide-eyed innocence, perhaps with a bruise marring her creamy white complexion.
After several nights of her imagination flipping between these images, she had considered asking Alexander to describe the girl for her. Then she decided against it. It didn’t matter. Whoever the girl was, whatever version of her was real, was wholly beside the point. It did nothing to exculpate her husband.
His words seemed to taunt her, ringing in her memory. The scene played out in her mind’s eye. Maria Reynolds accepted the bank notes, placing them on her dressing table, then turned back to thank him in a breathy tone. Her eyes would be hooded with desire. Hamilton leaned in, his face tipping close to hers, his hands running down her waist.
She opened her eyes, focusing in the wall opposite her. She felt sick. Closing the pamphlet, she stuffed it back underneath her pillow and blew out the candle. Too late. The words were burned into her memory. A long, painful night stretched out before her.
The bedroom door woke her, the faint light of dawn just visible between the crack in the curtains. She felt exhausted. Between that memory of the cursed pamphlet and waking to nurse William, she’d slept very little. She was careful to lie still again while Hamilton dressed and replaced the quilt in the old trunk. When he exited the dressing room, she felt his eyes on her. He stood there for a long minute, watching her, before he finally left the room.
She rolled over in bed when he’d finally gone, blinking owlishly at the floral canopy overhead. Her mind was blank, numb with exhaustion. Fragments of dreams floated around her memory, just out of reach. Tangled limbs and red lips.
William gave a wail.
She squeezed her eyes shut, exhaled slowly, then sat up to begin her day. Baby William was fed and changed first, his wails finally dying down to hiccuping breaths as Eliza carried him downstairs, calling for Johnny to follow. She tugged gently at the baby’s foot as she entered the front room. His large, shiny eyes flitted over her for a moment, before moving on, hungry to take in his surroundings. His chubby little legs jerked, kicking aimlessly at the air. She kissed the top of his head tenderly.
The maid had already set the table for breakfast. Eliza placed William into his bassinet and sat at the head of the table, slicing the bread as five year old Johnny waited patiently beside her. She nodded to the books on the side table. “Some of Goldsmith’s Rome, today,” she directed.
“Yes, Mama,” Johnny agreed. He collected the volume and opened it to the page he’d last left off, squinting at the words before he began to read aloud. “While the Romans were engaged with Hannibal, they carried on a…a vi…” he hesitated.
She craned her neck to see the word. “Vigorous,” she read.
He nodded. “A vigorous war with Philip, king of Macedonia,” he over-pronounced the syllables of Macedonia, a word Hamilton had helped him with weeks ago. She nodded approvingly as she buttered the slice of bread and placed it on the plate.
Johnny read about half the chapter before she allowed him to stop and sit for breakfast. She directed the maid to fetch her elder children and her husband. Her children were all seated and helping themselves to the bread slices by the time Hamilton entered the room.
“Good morning,” he wished, smiling at them all as he sat at the opposite end of the table from her.
His eyes were deeply shadowed and his face was pale in the bright morning light. She wondered if he, too, had found sleep difficult last night. He had an ink smudge on his chin, she noticed. An alternate day, a day before her life had become the mess it was now, suddenly flashed through her imagination: she would stand, lick her thumb, clean off the ink, scold him gently for working too hard, and kiss him softly. How she longed for that old, lost time.
“Morning, Papa,” Johnny greeted happily as he reached for another piece of bread.
Hamilton’s smile stretched a little wider, then faded when no one else at the table offered a greeting. Eliza glanced at Philip, who sullenly stared at his plate. Angelica was avoiding looking at her father, her bright eyes sneaking glimpses of her older brother. Alex and Jamie also seemed to be taking Philip’s queue to ignore their father.
Hamilton looked at their eldest and queried, “Are you feeling better, Pip?”
Philip raised one shoulder in a shrug.
Alex’s eyes tracked between his brother and his father. “Morning, Papa,” he said belatedly. Hamilton gave the boy a thin smile in return. Eliza glimpsed Philip raising his gaze at last to glare at his younger brother. Her husband didn’t seem to notice.
“Tea, sir?” the maid offered as Hamilton began to fill his plate.
He frowned. “I’d prefer coffee.”
“I…I’m sorry, sir…I—”
“We’re out of coffee,” Eliza supplied for the girl.
“I thought our order from the grocer came yesterday?”
“It did.” Her voice was carefully neutral, but the statement still found it’s mark. His face closed off, attempting to cover the obvious hurt as he finally understood this was the latest in the string of little punishments she’d been doling out over the past weeks.
“Sir?” the maid asked tentatively.
“Yes, I’d like some tea,” he said, giving her a tight smile.
Breakfast descended into a strained silence. She tried to fight down feelings of guilt. The children were only acting as they were because they sensed the animosity between her and Hamilton. She never wanted to involve them in this, or to make them choose sides. Angry as she was, she knew Hamilton adored their children. Even so, she didn’t know how to pretend more than she already was.
The doorbell sounded loud in the quiet of the room, and they all turned their heads to look towards the foyer as the maid hurried to answer the door. “That must be James,” Hamilton remarked.
Sure enough, James Inglis entered carrying a stack of papers and books that went to his chin.
“Good morning, Mr. Hamilton,” the law clerk greeted. “I have the briefs you asked for, and the books from Mr. Morris’s library that you wanted to borrow.”
“Thank you. Just set them in my office,” Hamilton directed.
“Won’t you stay for breakfast, Mr. Inglis?” Eliza offered.
The young man nodded eagerly. “Oh, yes, thank you ma’am.”
As he scurried off to unload his burden, Hamilton gave her a wry smile. “He only meets me here instead of my office because you always feed him, you know. He’s like a stray puppy.”
She softened her expression, though she didn’t quite return his smile. “I like puppies. Besides, he could do with some fattening up,” she replied.
Hamilton nodded in agreement.
The clerk barreled back into the room, heedless of the previously strained atmosphere. He settled into the empty set place beside Hamilton and happily scooped food onto his plate. Swallowing a forkful of food, he gave Eliza a wide smile. “It’s delicious, Mrs. Hamilton.”
She smiled and shook her head at him.
“There’s an insurance contract on my desk I want you to read over. Prepare some case briefs and write up a memorandum on how the company might attempt to avoid a payout. I’ll meet you at the office later today,” Hamilton told his clerk as they ate.
“Will you be in court this morning, sir?” Inglis asked.
“Do you have a trial today?” Eliza asked.
“No. Just some motions,” he answered, looking over at her. She saw the way his eyes lit with hope that she had addressed him at all. “I’m trying to get a suit dismissed for failing to state a cause of action.” His eyes landed back on his clerk. “Which is called?”
“A demurrer, sir,” Inglis answered, voice muffled by his hand covering his mouth after he’d forcefully swallowed his mouthful of food. “A responsive pleading used to test the sufficiency of a complaint or counterclaim, distinct from a motion to strike.”
“Which is the appropriate motion in what circumstance?”
“To challenge an answer, sir.”
“Or any defensive pleading. But very well done, Mr. Inglis,” Hamilton praised. “I need to go to the records room after court to do some title work. I should be at the office in the late afternoon.”
“Yes, sir,” Inglis nodded. “I’ll have the case briefs completed for you before then.”
Hamilton pushed back from the table and stood. “Well, time for school and work, I think.”
“Come on, Jamie. I’ll walk you to school,” Philip offered, brushing by his father without a glance. Jamie eagerly scrambled after his big brother. Alex rose to follow them, but paused, giving his father a hug.
“Good luck with your demur, Papa,” Alex said.
“Demurrer,” Hamilton corrected gently, placing a kiss against Alex’s forehead. “Thank you. Now off to school with you. Catch up with Pip.” The little boy obeyed, trailing after his brothers.
Inglis shoveled one last fork full of food into his mouth before standing himself and following the boys into the foyer.
Hamilton hesitated at the head of the table. He always used to kiss her goodbye when he left for work. The habit was ingrained enough that he’d taken a step towards her without thinking. Rather than stop, he strolled over to the bassinet and smiled down at their baby. He stooped over and picked him up, holding him high in the air.
“Who’s my sweet boy?” he cooed.
William’s arms waved in the air and a pudgy hand landed on Hamilton’s nose. He laughed. William’s big eyes stared down at his father in wonder. Eliza caught herself smiling as Hamilton lowered the baby back into the bassinet. He placed a tender kiss to the baby’s cheek.
Swiveling to the table, he gave another kiss to Johnny, who twisted in his chair to hug his father. “Love you, Papa,” Johnny declared, his little arms wrapping tightly around his father’s neck.
“I love you, too,” he answered.
When Hamilton leaned over towards Angelica, however, the girl shrank away. He simply patted her on the shoulder instead. As he moved away, Eliza noticed her daughter looking after her father sadly, almost regretfully, as though even as she rejected him she wished for a kiss goodbye.
“Don’t forget Angelica and John’s dinner tonight,” Eliza reminded him before he could leave the room.
“I won’t,” he assured her, turning back. He looked like he wanted to say more; he stared at her for a long moment. “Have a good day, Betsey.”
She nodded and returned her gaze to her breakfast. He waited a beat before turning to leave once more. Placing a finger to her mouth, she told herself she was glad he still hadn’t tried to kiss her.
Her day settled in to her familiar routine. Angelica’s tutor arrived shortly after the boys had gone, and Eliza set Johnny to his reading. She cared for William, oversaw the servants and assisted with the household chores, and looked in from time to time on Johnny and Angelica, to be sure they were attending their studies. She kept herself busy, fully occupied with work and the children so that she might not dwell on the unpleasant reality of her life.
The gentlemen had all almost immediately retired to a separate parlor for a game of loo. A collective groan caught Eliza’s attention as she walked by the room, the cards in the men’s hands nearly obscured by a thick cloud of tobacco smoke. They all had a glass of brandy near to hand.
She shook her head and moved on, nearly bumping into Angelica. Her sister was dripping with diamonds and wore a dress Eliza was tempted to call indecent, no matter how many times Angelica insisted it was the height of fashion in London. The flash of jealousy she’d felt when Hamilton’s eyes had lingered on her sister’s figure had been entirely new.
“Oh, Betsey, there you are. I’m just going to check on the hors d'oeuvres. Will you go make sure everyone is having an enjoyable time?” By which Angelica meant she should make sure all the ladies had a full glass of wine.
Eliza shook the dark thoughts from her mind and smiled. “Of course.”
“Oh, I don’t know how I survived without you,” Angelica grinned, kissing her cheek as she glided away down the hallway.
“I think it’s admirable,” Jennet Goulet Troup whispered as Eliza approached the doorway to the parlor where the ladies were sitting. “I never would have been able to come to a social function so soon after such a scandal.”
“Oh, I know,” Mary King whispered back. “The poor dear. Having to smile and converse, knowing everyone had heard. I simply cannot imagine.”
Eliza shrank back from the entryway, leaning against the wall. She couldn’t do this. Hearing the whispered pity was too much. Taking a deep breath, she stepped back to the parlor where the men were at their card game.
He looked up from his cards with a frown. “Yes, dear?”
“I’m afraid I’m not feeling very well. Might we go?”
His eyes widened and he nodded, pushing back from the table. “I’ll have the carriage brought around immediately. Please excuse me, gentlemen.”
“Would you like to lie down upstairs? I could send for a doctor,” John offered.
“No, thank you. I’d just like to get home.”
Hamilton moved past her, careful not to touch. John rose from the table as well, coming to stand beside her. He placed a caring hand on her shoulder. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can get you? Some water?”
She smiled and shook her head.
“What’s wrong?” Angelica asked, coming back from the kitchen.
“Eliza’s feeling unwell,” John informed his wife.
Angelica hurried to her side and felt her forehead. “No fever. What’s the matter?”
“I’m just feeling a little out of sorts,” she pleaded, easing away from her sister.
Angelica frowned deeply and seemed to intuit what was wrong. “Did someone say something to upset you?” she whispered, her lips barely moving so no one around them would hear.
Eliza shook her head. Tears of anger and humiliation burned her eyes, but she refused the let them fall. “I just want to go home.”
“The carriage is here,” Hamilton announced, walking rapidly back down the hall towards her.
She pushed past the three of them, desperate to get away. Clambering into the carriage, she leaned against the far door and stared out the window, studiously ignoring her husband as he settled across from her. He stank of tobacco smoke. He knocked on the wall and Robert, their driver, snapped the reigns. The horse’s hooves and the carriage wheels clattered over the uneven road.
They rode in uncomfortable silence for a time. Eliza kept her eyes trained on the empty New York streets. The tears began to leak out and she brushed her hand over her cheek hastily to hide them.
Her husband sighed. “Betsey,” he began.
Anger rose up within her. The gall of him, to ask such a question. She snapped her gaze to him, his bright eyes visible for just a moment in the light of a passing street lamp. A derisive chuckle fell from her lips. “What happened?” she repeated with disbelief.
“Did someone say something to upset you?” he asked, unknowingly mimicking her sister.
“I’m not upset,” she said sharply. “I’m livid. I’m humiliated.”
“Eliza,” he started again.
“You embarrass me.”
She regretted the words almost before she finished saying them. She’d meant to lash out, to hurt him, but she knew that statement would cut him deeper than she intended. With three words, she validated every insecure thought he’d ever had, undoing a lifetime of reassurance. The image of her sweet husband lying beside her in bed in the early days of their marriage came to her. “I just want to make you proud,” he’d whispered to her in the dark.
More tears leaked from her eyes. She didn’t bother to wipe them away.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She ignored him.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll never cease to condemn myself for making such a mistake.”
Her fists clenched in her lap. “A mistake,” she echoed coldly, her temper flaring. “A kiss in a moment of passion might be called a mistake. You were sleeping with her for a year. Giving away our savings to pay for your trysts. Then you wrote more than ninety pages on the subject and published it for the world to read. You were acting with calculated intent. That isn’t a mistake.”
“I know. I know,” he said. She heard him take a shuddering breath. “I just…I thought things were getting better. That we were getting better.”
She snorted derisively.
He stayed quiet for several minutes. When he finally spoke again, his voice sounded tight. “What do you want me to do, Betsey?”
She kept her head turned to the window.
He let out a long exhale. “This isn’t working. You aren’t happy. But I don’t know what to do.”
She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Do you want me to leave? Do you want a divorce? Just tell me what to do. What can I do to make things right?”
“Nothing,” she replied flatly.
He fell silent for the rest of the trip.
When they arrived home, he held his hand out to assist her from the carriage. She glared at him until he stepped back. She pushed through the front door and went straight upstairs, closing the bedroom door with a decisive snap and leaning against it. Tears were still leaking from her eyes. She rubbed her hands over her face.
After a few deep breaths to calm herself, she pushed away from the door and retreated to the dressing room, where she fought her way out of her expensive gown. Changing into her night gown, she sat at her vanity and began brushing out her hair. A pale face and red eyes stared back at her from the mirror, misery etched in every line.
She hated this. She didn’t want people talking about her, pitying her. She didn’t want to be angry with her husband. She didn’t want to hurt him or to punish him. She just wanted her life back.
They can’t go on this way. She’s miserable: he’d been right about that. Staring at her reflection, she asked herself seriously: did she want a divorce? She’d refused immediately the last time he offered, but perhaps she should have considered it more carefully.
She tried to imagine what her life would be like without him. Taking the children to Albany, never to see him again. What would she do for money? Placing that burden on her parents and siblings seemed a bit much. Perhaps she could marry again. She was young still, in her child bearing years with an affluent family name. She wouldn’t want for a husband long, she supposed. One of those great landowners she’d been meant to marry in the first place.
Nausea surged through her at the very thought of it. And what about Hamilton? She doubted he’d survive losing her and the children.
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t leave him.
For better or worse, her Hamilton was a part of her. Her love for him was so deeply rooted within her, she doubted death itself could fully disentangle his soul from hers. But where did that leave her?
His question from the carriage came back to her, his strangled plea for her to tell him how to make things right. Her answer had been true, she realized. Nothing he could do would make up for his sin. No amount of groveling would undo his betrayal.
She can’t keep punishing him forever. He can’t remain the villain who broke her heart for the rest of their lives. There was only one way forward.
If she didn’t intend to leave him, she would need to find a way to forgive him.
She climbed into bed and pulled the pamphlet from its hiding place beneath her pillow. Opening to the first page, she started it again. His violent insecurity and defensiveness screamed out at her once more, hardly concealed by his clear attempt at dispassionate, logical persuasion. She reread his account of the Congressional investigation that had nearly killed him. She recalled holding him in her arms as he collapsed into bed each night, emotionally and physically exhausted from trying to prove his integrity to men who would never be satisfied.
“I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang, which it may inflict in a bosom eminently intitled to all my gratitude, fidelity and love. But that bosom will approve, that even at so great an expence, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name, which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness.”*
She had barely marked the passage the when she’d first read it, ignoring it as a token apology. Her heart clenched as she read the words now. An apology, yes, but also something more. He’d been reassuring himself of her love, telling himself she would understand the need to protect his professional reputation.
Footsteps padded down the hallway later that night. She’d blown out the candle some time ago, but she was still awake when he opened the door. She feigned sleep as she had every other night, forcing her breath to be even. She listened to him change into a nightshirt. The dull, familiar thunk of the trunk followed as he collected the quilt to sleep downstairs.
He was tip-toeing out of the room when she turned over.
“Alexander?” she whispered in the dark.
He froze in place. “I thought you were sleeping.”
“Are you coming to bed?”
“Come to bed.”
He didn’t move at first, waiting, as though this were a set up for a cruel trick. Finally, he stepped over to the bed, hung the spare quilt over the foot, and slowly slid in beside her. She turned away, not able to touch him quite yet. The mere inches between them felt like a bottomless chasm.
“That wasn’t true, what I said.”
“You don’t embarrass me.”
She felt him adjust onto his back.
“Yes, I do,” he whispered.
She sighed. Flexing her hand once, she slowly reached back without turning over. Her fingertips brushed over his hand, and she clutched on to it. He clutched back tightly, almost painfully, as though he were dangling from a precipice with only her hand to keep him from falling. She ran her thumb along his knuckles.
She didn’t know how to fix them any better than he did.
But this felt like a start.
*Quotations from “The Reynolds Pamphlet”
The other italicized lines come from Oliver Goldsmith’s History of Rome. The whole breakfast scene is a tense version of a very sweet story James Hamilton wrote about in his autobiography that would have been from about this time: “I distinctly recollect the scene at breakfast in the front room of the house in Broadway. My dear mother, seated as was her wont at the head of the table with a napkin in her lap, cutting slices of bread and spreading them with butter for the younger boys, who, standing at her side, read in turn a chapter in the Bible or a portion of Goldsmith’s Rome. When the lessons were finished the father and the elder children were called to breakfast, after which the boys were packed off to school.”
So I’ve been reading accounts of how relationships survive infidelity by one partner, and this is my feeble attempt at Eliza’s thoughts during this time. The way I see it, no punishment or groveling on Hamilton’s part was going to make up for what he did, no magic words from him could fix the pain he inflicted on her. He can’t earn forgiveness; that just had to come from her. Eliza’s capacity to forgive him after this scandal is one of her most amazing and admirable qualities, in my opinion.
A gust of wind blew against the closed windows, and the rapping of the rain grew fiercer in its wake. Eliza pulled the blanket up to keep away the chill. Candles on the nightstand cast a warm golden glow around her bedroom, a haven from the storm raging outside. William had drifted off unexpectedly after his last feeding, leaving her unanticipated free time. She’d happily brewed herself a fresh cup of tea and snuggled up in bed. Bending her knees under the blanket, she propped the heavy book she was reading against her thighs.
The novel Angelica had recommended proved engrossing, which Eliza found a welcome surprise. The two sisters rarely seemed to share the same taste in books. This one, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was a very popular novel Angelica had carried back with her from London and insisted Eliza simply must read. Eliza had to admit to feeling a connection with the young heroine, and she found Ann Radcliffe’s vivid descriptions of European landscapes utterly spellbinding.
The clock had just tolled eleven when she heard her husband finally approaching the bedroom. He opened the door and stepped in, wearing a pinched expression and carrying a cup. Earlier in the evening he’d traded his waistcoat and jacket for his banyan, and his shirt was slightly untucked from his breeches. Rumpled as he was, he had the overall air of a person badly in need of a full night’s sleep.
When his bruised eyes landed on her, however, he smiled. “You’re up late.”
Her lips curled upwards slightly to return the expression. “So are you,” she parried back.
“Not by choice. I still haven’t finished the brief for the Nightingale case.”
“Isn’t that one of the cases you’re traveling to Hartford to argue? The one with the,” she paused, searching for the phrase he'd used, “Diversity jurisdiction problem?” He was meant to be leaving for Connecticut shortly. Given the number of times she’d heard him discussing the case with James over breakfast, she would have thought he’d finished the brief ages ago.
“Yes. Which is why I need to finish it. Having the brief completed before oral arguments is generally encouraged,” he answered lightly. The tension in his brow belied the airy answer. He frowned at the cup in his hand, raised it to his lips, and took a long sip. His nose wrinkled in a grimace as he placed the cup on his side table.
Eliza frowned and closed her book. “Are you all right?”
“It’s just a powder,” he told her. “I have a headache.”
“You need to sleep,” she advised.
He took a deep breath and nodded, his eyes fluttering shut for just a split second too long to be a mere blink. “I was just coming up for bed,” he said, then hesitated, his gaze falling back on the book in her hands. “I could take a blanket downstairs, though, if you’d like to stay up longer?”
She observed the heavy shadows around his eyes and shook her head. “It’s fine.”
His lip quirked up a little in gratitude. As he started towards the dressing room, he asked, “Are you enjoying your book?”
She looked back down at the thick novel. “I am.”
She heard the soft shuffle of clothing, and his voice was muffled slightly as he asked, “Another of Angelica’s romances?” She imagined him pulling his shirt over his head as he spoke.
Alexander delighted in teasing her otherwise worldly, practical sister for her taste in fiction. Angelica was always quick to reply that Alexander should enjoy her books more, as he seemed to strive to attain the status of the romantic heroes in their pages. Not three months ago, Eliza had defended him with a smile, assuring her sister that those idealized paramours in her books were but pale shadows compared to Eliza’s perfect husband.
Perhaps her disappointment in Alexander had heightened her appreciation for Radcliffe’s dashing, tender, generous, and impoverished Valancourt?
Tilting her head, she forced her thoughts to return to his question. “I suppose one could call it that. Although there’s much more to it. The descriptions of the landscapes in southern France are breathtaking. I feel as though I’m traveling along the Pyrenees myself. And I’ve found the girl’s relationship with her father quite moving.”
Hamilton stepped back out wearing a nightshirt while she was speaking. “I wish I could take you there.”
“France?” she asked, raising a brow slightly. Given the state of things, she was surprised he was fantasizing about trips to the troubled nation.
“Europe,” he replied, waving his hand as if to generally indicate the continent as he slid into bed beside her. “Maybe one day, when the children are grown and I’ve set enough aside from my practice, we could take a long trip. See London, Paris, Geneva. Perhaps even travel around the Pyrenees so you could see them for yourself.”
She smiled as she considered the fanciful thought. Sensing his eyes on her, she looked over to find him watching her hopefully. “I’d like that,” she told him.
He gave her another little smile. Then he reached for the cup again, draining it of its contents and giving a shudder as he placed it back on the table. She chuckled. He could be worse than their children when it came to medicine.
“Would you like a sip of my tea to get the taste out of your mouth?” she offered. “It should still be warm.”
He accepted the cup from her, draining the last of the warm liquid from that cup as well. Setting the teacup aside, he adjusted down in the bed, relaxing back against the pillows with a sigh. She noticed the wide gap he’d left between her and himself.
The prominent wrinkle in his brow was enough to tell her that his head still ached. Her hand flexed in her lap as she considered running her fingers through his hair, or perhaps kissing his forehead. She missed touching him, kissing him. Yet, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do so.
Whenever she considered showing him any kind of physical affection, the indistinct image of Maria Reynolds appeared in her mind. Had she kissed his forehead? Touched his hair? Would touching him the same way make him think of her? She wondered seriously if she would ever be able to touch her husband again without thinking of this other shadowy woman.
He shifted onto his side as she watched him, frowning as he tried to find a comfortable position. He’d inched just a hair closer. As if sensing her gaze, his eyes opened and he looked up at her. She tried to force herself to smile, though she couldn’t say how successful the attempt was.
“Would you read to me for a little while?” he asked softly.
Glancing at her book again, she said, “You likely won’t follow the story. I’m a ways in.”
“I don’t mind,” he replied. “I just like hearing your voice.”
A more genuine smile blossomed at this soft murmur.
“The light won’t bother you?”
He shook his head, his eyes fluttering closed once more. She opened the book. Making sure to keep her voice soft and soothing, as she did for the children when they had difficulty sleeping, she began to read aloud.
His breathing evened shortly after she began. When she was sure he was asleep, Eliza placed her book on the nightstand and blew out the candles. Laying on her back, she stared up in the darkness. She heaved a sigh, looked over at the sleeping form beside her, and allowed herself to adjust ever so slightly closer to him. She fell asleep to the comforting sound of his rhythmic breathing.
The soft call brought her back to awareness. The room was still dark; she hadn’t been sleeping long. Rain still pattered on the window, but more gently now. The little voice was quiet, as though trying not to awaken anyone. A beat of silence followed.
“Papa?” the voice repeated in the darkness.
Alex, she identified, even in her half asleep state.
Eliza sat up and gave her husband a shake. “Alexander?”
He grunted. “What?”
“I don’t feel well,” Alex said.
Her husband let out an audible breath as he pushed himself up in bed. She could just make out his silhouette in the darkness, and she saw his hands go to his face, as though he were trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“My throat hurts. And I’m hot.”
She felt her husband’s legs shift over the side of the bed, and she heard him give the boy a kiss. “My poor little lamb,” he cooed. “Let’s get you back to bed, and I’ll fetch you some medicine.”
Eliza stretched and reluctantly swung her legs over the side of the bed, groping in the dark to light a candle on the bed stand. If she was up, she may as well check on William. She’d give Alex a kiss good night when Alexander had him settled.
Padding in to the nursery, she peeked over the cradle and was surprised to see her baby’s shiny eyes staring back at her. William blinked owlishly in the light and made a fussing noise. She placed the candle on a nearby table and reached down.
“Hello, my sweet boy,” she whispered, laying the baby gently on her shoulder. “What are you doing awake? Are you hungry yet?”
She swayed and patted William’s back as she carried him to the rocking chair. With any luck, this late night feed would be enough for him to sleep through the night. William was happily nursing when she heard her husband mounting the stairs, the flickering light of a candle filling the hallway for a brief moment before disappearing into the adjacent room.
When the baby had eaten his fill, she burped him and rocked him until his little eyes fell closed. Grateful to have so easily sent him to sleep twice now, she lowered him back into the cradle. She pressed a kiss to his head, whispering, “Sweet dreams.”
She guarded the light of the candle with her hand as she stepped out of the nursery and leaned against the door jamb of the neighboring room. Her eyes roamed over the three sleeping lumps in their beds before landing on Alex, who was lying on his back with a cool cloth resting over his forehead. Alexander sang softly to him, his hand rubbing soothing circles across the young boy’s chest.
The song was the same he always sang when the children were ill. Soft and sweet, the tune wasn’t one she’d ever heard before she met her husband. The words were French. Although she’d never asked him, she knew very well it was the same his mother sang to him when he was ill as a child.
When he reached the end of a verse, he glanced back at her. “Would you like Mama to tuck you in?”
The little boy’s chin jerked in an attempt at a nod. She smiled and came over to the bed. Alexander rose, stepping back to accommodate her. Sitting in the space he’d vacated, she leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the crown of her boy’s head.
“Are you feeling better, darling?” she asked.
He hummed unhappily.
“The medicine will help soon,” Alexander promised behind her. She glanced over and saw his hand patting at Alex’s foot through his blanket. “Just try to rest.”
She removed the cloth from the boy’s head and tested his temperature with the back of her hand. Definitely feverish, the poor thing. She kissed his forehead. “Do you need Papa and me to stay? Or do you think you can go to sleep now?”
“I can go to sleep,” he muttered, his eyelids already drooping.
“Sweet dreams, my dear little one,” she added. “Come wake us if you feel worse, all right?”
She rose and collected the candle. “I love you.”
“Love you, Mama.”
She and Alexander made their way back to the master bedroom. He closed the door with a gentle tap behind him, and they both climbed back into bed. Before blowing out the candle, she asked, “Do you think it’s the same thing Pip had?”
Philip had come down with a fever and sore throat recently. Though he seemed to be feeling better, her eldest still didn’t seem wholly back to his usual self, at least to her eye. She had hoped the other children would avoid the sickness.
“Probably,” Alexander answered around a yawn.
Looking over at him as he settled back against the pillows, she studied him for a moment and asked, “Is your head feeling better?”
“Mm,” he hummed, wiggling onto his side and smooshing his face into his pillow. “I just need to sleep.”
A wave of fondness came over her as she looked down at him. She thought about telling him that she loved him. A long silence passed.
She blew out the candle. “Good night.”
“Good night,” he replied.
The next morning, Eliza rose early with William’s loud cries. Alexander rolled over as she walked around the bed, awake but apparently reluctant to actually get up. She noticed the rain had stopped, though dark clouds still covered the sky, casting a heavy gloom over the morning. William was efficiently fed and changed. Stifling a yawn with her free hand, she carried him over to the boys’ room and peeked in on Alex.
Alexander was now sitting beside him, still dressed in his nightshirt. He was speaking softly to the boy, and she saw Alex give a big smile in response to whatever his father had said. Alex’s eyes fell on her in the doorway, and she smiled at her son.
“How are you feeling, dearest?”
“My throat hurts,” he answered.
“We’re negotiating breakfast,” Alexander added.
Alex’s nose wrinkled. “It hurts to swallow.”
“He seems think a flavored ice will help,” Alexander smirked. “I think he’s just trying to trick me into giving him sweets for breakfast.”
Eliza chuckled fondly. “I think perhaps a flavored ice could be arranged. Just this once.”
Alex’s eyes lit up.
“All right, fine. But no trying to convince me that the only dinner you can manage is chocolate cake,” Alexander warned. “I’ll not be fooled twice.”
Alex laughed. “I won’t, Papa.”
Alexander pressed a kiss to his son’s head and stood from the bed. He smiled down at William before he passed by her. “How is my dear infant this morning?”
“Loud and demanding as ever,” she answered.
They shared a smile, and for the briefest moment she forgot there was anything wrong between them. Then Alexander hesitated, inching carefully through the doorway so as not to touch her, and reality reasserted itself. She was careful not to let her expression fall, knowing Alex was likely still looking at her.
She smiled at her son. “I’ll see about getting you an ice, sweetheart,” she promised.
“Thank you, Mama.”
She collected Johnny and went downstairs to start the morning. Johnny did his morning reading, a passage from the Bible this time, as Eliza sliced and buttered the bread and prepared breakfast for the rest of the family. When he’d finished, the other children and Alexander were called in for the morning meal. That was when she noticed another problem.
Angelica was wilting towards her plate with each passing second.
“Are you all right, ‘geli?” Pip asked softly when he sat next to his little sister.
She swallowed weakly and nodded. The girl hadn’t put a morsel of food to her mouth.
“You don’t look all right, honey,” Eliza contradicted.
Angelica looked over at her and admitted, “My throat’s a little sore.”
Alexander paused in the doorway, frowning. “What’s going on?”
“Angelica’s sick,” Eliza reported.
Her husband shook his head. “Off to bed with you, then.”
Angelica looked for a moment like she was going to argue, then seemed to think better of it. She slid out of her seat and glided from the room, passing as far away from her father as the room allowed. Alexander watched her leave, a deep sadness visible in his expression.
When he took his seat at the table, his eyes met hers. “I think Doctor Charleton should pay us a visit. I’d like his opinion. And I don’t want anyone else getting sick.” His gaze flickered over their three youngest boys.
Eliza nodded in agreement. Doctor John Charleton had been their family doctor for some years. An old, well respected physician, he was one of the only people Alexander trusted to tend to the children aside from himself. “I’ll send Robert with a message for him.”
Alexander sighed, looking over at Philip. “You’re still feeling well, Pip? Your throat’s better? No more chills?”
Philip kept his eyes trained on his plate and gave the half shrug that served as his answer in every conversation with his father lately.
“Philip,” she pressed, giving her son a significant look.
He looked up at her, then down again, slightly chastened. “My throat’s all right. I still feel…I don’t know. A little tired, I guess.”
“Do you want to stay home? Have the doctor take a look at you?” Alexander offered.
Philip shook his head. “I can go to school.”
Alexander gave him an approving nod just as the doorbell rang, announcing his clerk’s arrival. As he turned to greet James, Eliza caught the flicker of a smile passing over her son’s expression. However much he may act otherwise, deep down her boy was still desperate to please his father.
Although slightly hectic, Eliza’s day was turning out to be not as bad as she’d feared with an infant, a five year old and two sick children to look after. Doctor Charleton arrived and looked in on both Alex and Angelica. He recommended a hot bath and a strong syrup, and encouraged her to send word if either child grew worse.
Angelica curled up under her blankets like a cat as soon as she was out of the bath. She slept most of the day, waking for only moments when Eliza forced the medicine on her. Rubbing her daughter’s back gently, she left her to her healing slumber.
Alex was more difficult, but she suspected his neediness stemmed more from boredom than from illness. After going upstairs for what seemed the hundredth time, she offered to set him up on the sofa in the parlor where she’d been overseeing Johnny’s lessons. Alex happily tugged the blanket off his bed and trailed her downstairs, napping contentedly on the sofa beside her as she worked on her needlepoint.
In the early afternoon, she was surprised to hear the front door opening. Gently easing Alex away so as not to rouse him, she rose and stepped into the foyer to find her husband, Philip and Jamie all trooping inside. Alexander pulled off his hat, shaking the light drizzle from the material before hanging it on the stand by the door.
“It’s started raining again,” he informed her.
“What’s going on?” she asked. They were all hours too early, her husband most notably.
“Pip was sick at school. His headmaster sent word to my office,” he explained.
Eliza gathered her eldest into her arms. He melted into her embrace, clinging on as he had when he was much smaller. “My poor darling,” she cooed. “Is it your throat again?”
“He was vomiting,” Alexander answered for him.
She rubbed Philip’s back gently. “Let’s get you up into bed, sweetheart.”
Alexander placed his hand on Jamie’s shoulder and directed, “Go get settled in my office.”
“You’re not sick, are you, darling?” she asked her nine-year-old.
“No, Mama,” Jamie assured her as he scampered off to his father’s study, dragging his book bag behind him.
She looked back at her husband, who smiled somewhat sheepishly. “Philip wouldn’t be able to walk him home, and I didn’t want to make another trip to the school in the rain to pick him up.”
Surprised, she asked, “You’re not going back to work?”
“James can handle things there,” he shrugged. “I’d rather be home with the children. Besides, if I don’t need to manage finicky clients all day, I may actually be able to get something done.”
She smirked at him and started guiding her boy upstairs. Philip curled up on his side as soon as he was in bed, much like his little sister. Tucking the blankets around him tenderly, she asked, “Are you still feeling nauseated?”
“I’ll bring you a basin,” she said, petting his slightly damp dark hair gently. “Is it just your belly?”
“My head hurts,” he whispered. “And my throat.”
She sighed. “Try to sleep, sweetheart. I’ll be right back.”
Hastening to the kitchen, she collected a basin and the syrup the doctor had recommended for Alex and Angelica. Alexander must have heard her on the stairs, because he was waiting at the top as she climbed back up from the kitchen. “Is Pip all settled?” he asked.
She nodded. “He said he still feels sick. I thought I’d give him some of the medicine Doctor Charleton recommended for the others,” she added, holding the bottle up for his inspection.
He took the bottle in his hand, his fingers brushing over hers slightly. Her hand tingled where he’d touched her. He squinted at the label. Then he sighed and nodded, handing the bottle back to her.
“Should I call him back?” she asked. “For Pip?”
Alexander paused for a moment, considering, then shook his head. “Let’s see how he does with the syrup. I expect Charleton will be back tomorrow to check on Alex and Angelica?”
“I’m sure he’ll be all right until then.” He smiled tightly. “How much did he want, by the way?”
“Charleton?” He nodded. “Sixty.”
He sighed again. “All right. Well, I’ll just be in my office with Jamie. Call for me if you need me.”
“I will,” she promised as she swept by him, continuing up the stairs to the second floor.
“Papa!” Alex whined, tossing on his mattress.
“I’m right here,” Alexander assured him. He was patting the boy’s face with a damp cloth to bring down his now raging fever.
Philip’s back arched with a heave as she looked over at her younger son, and she turned her attention back to her eldest, cooing softly as he vomited. “You’re all right, honey,” she whispered, rubbing wide circles across his back. He whimpered quietly, and collapsed back on his side when he was finished.
“Mama!” Angelica’s voice carried from the other room.
She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked to her husband.
“You go,” he said, nodding towards the open door. “I’ll take care of things in here.”
Sighing, she gave Philip’s back a final rub and rose to go to Angelica. Her daughter was still curled in a ball under her covers, shaking slightly from chills. Eliza sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her back lightly. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“I feel bad,” Angelica whimpered. “I can’t sleep.”
“Shh,” Eliza soothed, wringing out a cloth in the water basin by the bed and dabbing at the sweat gathering around her daughter’s temples. “Just relax, honey. You’ll be all right.”
“I want Papa,” Angelica whined.
The corner of her mouth twitched. “I’ll go get him.”
“No,” Angelica refused, her hand snaking out from the covers to clutch at her mother’s arm. “I just…I just want him.”
Eliza patted at her hand and wished she didn’t understand so well what her daughter meant. To want Alexander near and yet being unable to bear his presence was an unfortunately familiar feeling. “Just rest, sweetheart,” she urged.
“Could you sing?”
Eliza ran her hand over her daughter’s thick curls. “I could,” she said. But that wasn’t what Angelica really wanted. “I could also ask Papa to come sing to you, if you’d rather.”
Her daughter’s dark eyes met hers uncertainly. Eliza smiled, trying to communicate reassurance and permission. Angelica nodded once.
“I’ll just be a moment,” she assured the girl. With a kiss to her head, Eliza stood and made her way back to the boys’ bedroom. She looked in on William in the nursery on her way by, grateful the infant seemed sound asleep despite the unusual activity upstairs.
“Does it itch?” Alexander was asking, eyes trained on Philip’s arm, when she reentered the bedroom.
“Mm,” Philip hummed weakly. He was draped over his father, clinging to him tightly.
Eliza caught her husband’s eye and mouthed, “What?”
“Rash,” he mouthed back. Eliza followed his gaze to Philip’s arm, which was covered in little red spots like pinpricks. Fear clenched in her stomach at the sight of it; a rash with a childhood illness rarely meant anything good.
“Was Angelica all right?” Alexander whispered as he rubbed a soothing hand down Philip’s spine.
She shook her head. “She wants you.”
He looked surprised. Turning his head slightly, he kissed Philip’s forehead and whispered, “I need to go check on your sister, Pip. Can I lay you back on the bed?”
Philip tightened his hold for a moment, then nodded. Alexander eased him back onto his pillows properly and rose. He stopped in front of her for a moment, and they shared a look of exhausted concern. His face was pale in the candlelight, and the shadows made the circles beneath his eyes so dark she might have believed he’d rubbed twin lines of soot there. She doubted she looked any better.
They continued trading children into the wee hours of the morning, doing their best to comfort whichever one had called for them. Finally, mercifully, all three fell asleep. Alexander had been kneeling by Alex’s side, and as soon as the little boy began to snore, he collapsed in an exhausted heap on the floor by the bed with a long groan.
Eliza smirked down at him. “Wouldn’t you rather get in bed?” she whispered.
He smiled with his eyes still firmly closed. “That depends,” he whispered back. “Which side am I going to be on?”
“Well, Johnny wiggles more,” Eliza said thoughtfully. “I think I’ll take Jamie.”
“Jamie kicks,” he warned.
She let out an exhausted chuckle. “Perhaps the floor would be better after all.”
He nodded and adjusted on the floorboards. “Bring us some pillows.”
She grabbed two from Jamie’s empty bed and dropped one on top of her husband, laughing quietly at the affronted look on his face as he shoved it under his head. Lowering herself onto the floor near him, she let her eyes fall closed and sighed. She tried to pretend William wasn’t going to wake up in a few hours, wailing for his breakfast.
“Do you remember,” Alexander began, turning his head on his pillow without opening his eyes to look at her, “When we were young, and full of energy, and yet we only had one baby to take care of? Why does it get harder when you’re old and tired? ”
She smiled, and whispered, “If memory serves, we had quite a few sleepless nights in the early days of our marriage.”
“Yes, but those were the fun kind,” he smirked.
She laughed. “That they were,” she agreed. “I expect you’ll be grateful to escape to Hartford on Monday. You might actually be able to get some sleep.”
His eyes snapped open, meeting hers, his face serious. “Never,” he whispered. “I am never grateful to be away from you or our children. I long for the day that my work no longer necessitates it.”
She looked into his penetrating eyes, so full of love. A beat of silence passed. She inched her hand out until the back of hers touched the back of his. He twisted his hand to hold hers properly, their fingers tangling together.
She closed her eyes, trying to enjoy the feeling of their clasped hands. Maria Reynolds could not have had a moment like this with him, at least. She squeezed her eyes shut just a little tighter, hating the thought. How long would that name continue to haunt every intimate moment with her husband?
A few notes:
(1) The book Eliza is reading in the first section is The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Originally publish in 1794, it was a very popular novel, and I’m convinced that at least Angelica would have read it, if not Eliza herself. It’s considered one of the first Gothic Romances, and has hints of a detective story as well. And yes, it includes an insane amount of descriptions about the landscapes of Southern France. Mostly I chose it because it happens to be what I’m reading right now, and I wanted Ham and Eliza to have something to talk about without actually saying anything to each other, but it sort of works for the story. The love interest of the main character, Emily, is a dashing, impoverished soldier named Valancourt, who wins her father’s approval despite his limited wealth. Emily goes on to become something of his moral compass when he’s corrupted in Paris by gambling and dalliances with women. (Remind you of anyone?)
(2) So I think most people know that in September of 1797 Philip became dangerously sick while Hamilton was in Hartford. I’ve been reading a few accounts left by David Hosack about this, and I’ve come to find that he related some very different accounts. If you asked for my strict historical opinion, I’d say that Philip was the only one of Hamilton’s children to become ill, likely with Typhus (as Hosack writes in the letter to John Church in 1833, and especially because Philip is the only one Hamilton asks about in his first letter to Eliza on 12 Sept 1797). However, Hosack’s son repeats the story his father told him in Hosack’s biography, and in this version, several of Hamilton’s children became ill, this time from scarlet fever. So far as I can tell, typhus and scarlet fever have pretty similar symptoms (headache, vomiting, rash, etc.), so which illness it truly was doesn’t make a huge difference in terms of storytelling. And as I was really in the mood to write some sweet Papa Bear Ham this weekend, I ended up going with Alexander Eddy Hosack’s version, with Alex and Angelica getting a more mild strep-like sickness and Philip eventually developing full blown scarlet fever (probably because he keeps pushing himself to go to school while he’s sick, the chip off the old block- honestly, take a break, Pip :))
(3) Last, I don’t think I’m going to start the next chapter with this (we’ll see) but the idea of little Alex waking up in the morning to find his parents sprawled out asleep on his floor just makes me smile.
Just as an FYI, I’m going to do my best to get the next chapter up quickly, but I am going away next weekend so it may be a little delayed. Thanks so much for reading! Hope everyone enjoyed!
Chapter 3: Eliza, September 1797
Just a quick warning: this chapter contains some non-explicit sexual content and a very oblique reference to Eliza's miscarriage in 1794
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Her boy was sick, and there was nothing she could do.
Her boy was dying, and there was nothing she could do.
“Mrs. Hamilton?” the doctor whispered softly just behind her.
Doctor David Hosack was a heavy set man with kind eyes and a deep, rich voice. He was supposed to be one of the most brilliant doctors in New York; Doctor Charleton had called him in to consult when Philip’s condition had turned for the worst. Hosack’s large palm rested on her shoulder as he tried to catch her attention. “Mrs. Hamilton, I think it would be best if you stepped out of the room again.”
She whipped her head around to glare at him. How dare he suggest that? The last time she’d left the room at Hosack’s insistence, her son had stopped breathing. The doctor said he’d written to Alexander, but it would take time for the letter to reach him in Hartford, and for him to return back to New York. She still wished he was here. She doubted Hosack would demand her husband leave the room; she knew Alexander would never ask her to do so.
Philip was dying. He needed his mother. If she could do nothing else, she could be by his side when he went.
“You’re upset, and near to a faint, ma’am. He’ll need you strong as he recovers. Just take a few moments. Lie down, rest your eyes.” He was lying. She could see it in his face. Her boy was no more out of danger than he’d been minutes before, when he’d laid gasping on his pillow, only to go eerily, horribly still.
“He’s dying,” she said. The words made the idea seem more real. A panicked whimper followed as she held the hand not clutching her child to her mouth. Her precious baby boy was dying.
“It would be best if you left the room, ma’am,” Hosack repeated. He didn’t correct her. At least he hadn’t lied to her again.
She shook her head stubbornly, gripping her son’s hand with renewed force.
Hosack sighed. “I’ll be honest with you, Mrs. Hamilton. Your son is very ill. But your presence in this room does nothing for him, and is harmful to you. If I promise to send for you before the end, will you go rest?”
His eyes were sincere, caring, as they bore into her own. Not long ago, she might have trusted him. She trusted only in God now.
“I won’t leave him. He needs me.”
Hosack shook his head and moved away from her towards his black bag, open on the nightstand. She bowed her head in prayer. Please, she begged, not Philip. Not my son.
The front door closed with a mighty thud downstairs, waking Eliza from the half sleep she’d fallen into in the hard wooden chair beside her son’s bed. Footsteps pounded up the stairs, frantic, and a form appeared from the dark hallway. Her husband. Panting, sweating, wild eyed, he flung himself to his knees beside the bed, staring at their son.
“Is he? Eliza, is he?”
“Alive,” she assured him. “He’s going to be all right.”
His shoulders sagged, as though the weight of Atlas had been lifted from them. His head fell to the bed. “Thank you,” she heard him whisper. “Thank you.”
A moment of silence passed between them: shared prayers of gratitude for the life they had created and were blessed to see continue. Her husband touched their son’s face reverently before looking back at her.
“What happened? He seemed so much better when I left.”
Everything had seemed fine when he left for Hartford six days ago. Nathaniel Pendleton had been hovering anxiously in the door, early enough in the morning that the sun had yet to rise, when Hamilton had turned back to look at her. “Are you sure, Betsey? I could stay.”
The way Pendleton’s eyes had widened in panic, she knew that he was lying. He had to go, and, really, the children were all recovering nicely. Alex and Angelica had been up and about the day before, their fevers gone and the weakness slowly ebbing. Alex had wheedled an extra day off of school from his father the past night, but she could tell from her husband’s amused expression as he spoke to their son that his decision had little to do with concern for the boy’s health. Only Philip remained truly bedridden. Even he had been awake and well enough to complain loudly about boredom the day before. Really, there was nothing Hamilton could do for him that she and the doctor could not accomplish in his absence.
“Go. We’ll be fine,” she’d assured him.
And they had been, at first. Philip’s fever was persistent, but hardly dangerous. She forced fluids on him, kept him cool with fresh rags on his forehead, and gave him every draught the doctor recommended. In turn, Philip had fussed with his blankets and complained endlessly, as he always had when he was ill.
She’d caught Angelica in his room on the second day of her husband’s absence. The girl had smuggled up a deck of cards, and propped her brother up on his pillows so he could play with her. Eliza had backed away from the room, vowing to catch her daughter in her act of disobedience—in perhaps an hour or so.
Everything had been fine.
“Two nights ago, his fever rose much higher than it had been. He went so quiet, just lying there. I’ve never seen him like that before. I sent for the doctor immediately. Doctor Charleton ministered to him for some time, and then sent for another physician, Doctor Hosack, to render additional assistance. Pip was unconscious. Nothing would wake him. And then…he stopped breathing….” The fear gripped at her again, as strong as when it first happened. Her throat tightened and blackness pressed on her vision.
They almost lost him.
“Doctor Hosack? He helped him?” Alexander asked, bring her back to the present.
She nodded. “He stayed at Philip’s side night and day until he was sure the danger had past. If it hadn’t been for him, we might have lost our boy.”
She heard him swallow thickly, and his hands clutched at their son tightly.
“Is the doctor still here?”
“In the guest room,” she informed him.
Alexander leaned forward over the bed, kissing Pip’s head tenderly and brushing a hand through his unruly dark curls. “Troublesome boy,” he whispered, a fond smile softening the tense lines of exhaustion on his face. “Scaring your Papa half to death. What am I going to do with you?”
Philip exhaled softly and adjusted on the pillow, still fast asleep.
Hamilton looked up at her. “I’m going to go thank the doctor.”
“He’s asleep,” she told him.
“I need to thank him.”
She nodded in understanding and watched him haul himself up. His path from the room weaved slightly. He must have ridden nonstop from Hartford to get here tonight, she realized. He dropped all his cases, all that important work he’d been doing for weeks to prepare, and simply mounted a horse and raced back to New York, to her and the children.
He’d done that before: when she’d been ill while he was in western Pennsylvania fighting the Whiskey rebels, in those horrible, dark days she tried not to think about. When put to the test, he’d proven time and again that he would put his family before any other responsibility. She looked down at her son, and tried to take comfort in her family being together and whole.
Alexander stepped back into the room a few minutes later. “The baby was asleep,” he reported as he knelt by the bed once more. “Jamie woke up briefly and asked if I’d brought him anything.”
She smiled. “Did you?”
“There may be some sweets in my portmanteau,” he replied.
“Did you buy them for the children? Or for you?”
He laughed. “For the children,” he smirked. “Why? Are you worried for my waistline?”
“No,” she assured him. “Honestly, I don’t mind little extra weight on you.”
He scoffed. “Flatterer.”
“What? I just like seeing you healthy and well fed.”
He patted at his middle. “Well, you certainly see to that, my dearest.”
They shared a smile across their sleeping child. Philip was all right, and they were smiling and laughing. They were happy, she told herself firmly.
Everything was fine now.
She slowly pulled her nightgown over her head. The clock had struck four a few minutes ago, and Hamilton had pulled himself off of Pip’s bed and roused her from her chair when the grandfather clock downstairs tolled the hour. “Come on, Betsey,” he’d whispered drowsily. “We’re both falling asleep. He’s out of danger; he just needs rest. We should go to bed.”
Her head was spinning with a heady combination of relief and exhaustion, her thoughts fuzzy and muddled, almost as though she’d had too much wine. Alexander finished changing beside her, and placed his travel clothes in the laundry pile. He looked up, as though sensing her gaze, and he gave her a tentative smile.
She moved towards him almost on instinct. Her arms wound around his waist, tugging him close. Her mouth pressed against his. She’d gone so long without kissing him, the sensation felt intoxicating.
His arms stayed slack at his side at first. He stood passively, letting her touch him, hold him, kiss him. She pushed him backwards, against the wall of their bedroom, forcing her tongue between his lips. His lower lip dropped open and his teeth parted, his tongue poking out to touch hers gently. Then his hands finally moved to her waist.
“I want you,” she whispered breathily when they parted for air.
He inhaled sharply. His pupils were large in the dim candlelight, so large his irises had nearly disappeared, as he gazed down at her hungrily. Still, he hesitated.
“Are you sure?”
“I want you,” she said again. It wasn’t really an answer.
She passionately kissed him again. She felt his hands pass over her rear and he squeezed lightly. She moaned, her hands tangling in his hair as she pressed closer. He took her weight and lifted her off the floor. She was surprised for a moment, not least of all because she had yet to lose all the weight she’d gained while pregnant with William. The additional pounds seemed to give him no trouble, however, and she wrapped her legs around his waist eagerly, adjusting her nose to the other side of his.
He laid her on the bed tenderly, still kissing her. When he pulled back, she stared up into his eyes and ran her fingers through his hair, her nails scratching ever so slightly at his scalp. His eyes closed and a moan of pleasure fell from his lips. He seemed to enjoy the light scratching.
A scene flashed before her mind’s eyes suddenly, wholly unwelcome and beyond her control. Maria Reynolds smirked beneath her husband, scratching at his back while he gave a sensual moan. Eliza had seen the scratches all those years ago. As much as she’d tried to ignore them, to explain them away (perhaps he’d scraped his back in a fall, or playing with the children, anything, anything else), the image of those red marks lingered in her mind.
A wave of nausea shot through her and she pushed Alexander off of her.
“Eliza?” he asked, voice still hoarse with passion.
She leaned over the side of the bed, breathing deliberately.
“Leave me alone,” she demanded.
“I don’t—” He reached out a hand to touch her shoulder and she scrambled away.
She was out of the bedroom, on the stairs, when she heard him call after her again. “Eliza!” She kept running, all the way down the stairs and through the front door.
She stopped at the bottom of the stoop. Where could she go at four o’clock in the morning, and in her nightgown no less? Angelica had gone away with John on his business trip and hadn’t yet returned. She supposed she could still go to their house; surely, the servants would let her in. And she had other friends, close enough to her that they wouldn’t begrudge her a guest room even at such an hour.
None of those were really options, though. She’d have to go back upstairs to collect William, at least. He couldn’t be away from her at such a young age. Though Philip was supposedly out of danger now, she didn’t like the thought of leaving him either.
More than any of that, the person she truly wanted to run to was the very person from whom she’d just fled. She sat on the bottom stair and pulled her knees up to her chest for warmth on the cold fall night. Tears gathered in her eyes, making the deserted, dimly lit street blurry. She squeezed her eyes closed and forced herself to breathe.
The front door opened and closed behind her a few minutes later. A blanket wrapped around her shoulders before her husband seated himself on the far end of the stair beside her. He must have followed her, and gone to collect a blanket when he saw she’d stopped on the front stairs, she supposed. She tugged the blanket closer around herself.
“It’s starting to get cold at night,” her husband remarked mildly.
She nodded silently.
He sighed. “Do you think you could let me in on what just happened? Because I’m very confused.”
She shrugged, not sure how to begin explaining the whirlwind her thoughts seemed trapped in lately: the storm of love, hate, sorrow, lust, and anger that constantly threatened to overwhelm her.
“I’m trying, Betsey,” he whispered. His eyes were shimmering in the light from the streetlamp, as though he too were close to tears. “I’m really trying to do what’s right. But I don’t understand what you want from me.”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “I don’t know what I want from you.”
He recoiled slightly at the sudden show of temper.
She continued, in a biting tone, “You keep asking me what you’re supposed to do, how to fix what you broke, as if I’m supposed to know. I don’t know. I didn’t want this. Any of this. I didn’t ask for you to sleep with someone else. I didn’t ask for you to tell the world about it. And I certainly don’t know how to make it better.”
Tears slipped from her eyes as her voice broke. Hamilton looked down at his bare feet on the sidewalk intently, his fist clenched and held to his lips as if trying to stifle any sound or response. She shook her head as she hauled in a breath.
“I love you. I love you so much. And I’m so angry with you, sometimes I want to kill you. I hate what you did. And I’m…I’m so lonely. I just want my husband. I want the man I fell in love with. You look like him, and sound like him, and feel like him, but…but sometimes I feel like you can’t be him.”
He looked at her again. His voice was tight with emotion. “Of course I am.”
“He never could have hurt me so much.”
He made a noise, deep in his throat. “I don’t,” he began, then paused, gathering his thoughts. “Things seemed all right. I don’t understand how everything can seem all right and then you say…you talk about me like I’m a stranger, an imposter wearing your husband’s face.”
“I’m pretending for the children,” she explained simply. He exhaled harshly, as though she’d just struck him. “And for me.”
She held his gaze for a long, silent moment.
“I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want a divorce. I’m trying, too, Alexander.”
He nodded. “I know.”
“I want everything to be all right between us, like it was before. I wish I could just forgive you and move on. But it’s not that simple. I want it to be easy. I want to just be in love with you again, but I don’t know how to do that. And it breaks my heart.”
“I’m so sorry, Eliza.”
“I know you are.”
“I love you. Only you. What happened with…it was so long ago, Betsey. That wasn’t me.”
But it was him, she considered with a frown. That was the problem. How was she to reconcile her sweet, tender husband with the deceptive adulterer he’d revealed himself to be?
“I miss you,” he continued. “Even when I’m sitting right next to you, you feel so far away from me.”
Knowing he felt the chasm between them as well did little to make her feel better. She leaned her head against the railing post and closed her eyes. Why did everything between them need to be so hard?
“Should we…talk? About—”
She held up a hand. She could hear her name on his lips without him speaking it. She didn’t want to hear him say it, didn’t want to know the way his subtle West Indian accent sounded around the long ‘i’ in Maria. The sound would haunt her even more than his written words did, late at night when she was alone with her thoughts.
“Not now. Not tonight.”
He nodded again.
“I don’t know when I’ll be ready.”
Their eyes locked. “I can wait. As long as you need.”
A lone carriage came clattering by the house; the curtains were drawn over the windows to the interior and the sleepy driver paid them no notice. Still, Eliza was suddenly conscious of being outside in her nightgown. She rose, wrapping the blanket around herself tightly as she mounted the steps to go back inside.
Alexander stepped inside behind her, closing the front door with a gentle tap and turning the lock. He hesitated in the foyer. “Should I sleep downstairs?”
She looked up at him, torn.
Sighing heavily, he amended his question to a statement. “I’m going to sleep downstairs.”
She pulled the blanket from her shoulders and handed it to him. He took it with a resigned expression. She took in the deep lines on his forehead and the sunken look of his eyes. The exhaustion emanating from him seemed palpable, mixing heavily with an air of dejection. He’d ridden most of the day and half the night, all the way from Connecticut, to get home to their boy, she remembered again.
Stepping towards him, she slowly reached out to place her hands on his shoulders. “I’m very tired and overwrought from the past few days. We shouldn’t…this wasn’t the time to be having this kind of conversation.”
He shook his head a little. “I’m glad we did. I don’t want you to pretend, Eliza. I’d rather know what you’re feeling. Even if the answer is you don’t know what you’re feeling.”
She leaned in and kissed him chastely. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“I love you, Eliza,” he whispered.
“I love you, too,” she replied easily. The love was always there, always raging through her just as fiercely as all the other emotions within her.
She moved towards the stairs to go to bed.
“Are we going to get through this?” he asked her as she placed her foot of the first step. She could hear the doubt in his voice.
She turned back and gave him the most honest answer she could. “We’re going to try.”
This chapter was pretty tough to write- I hope the emotional beats made sense.
In the midst of all this sadness, I thought I'd share Alexander Eddy Hosack's telling of Hamilton meeting his father, just because it made me smile: "Being awakened from his [Hosack's] slumber, what was his surprise to see the form of General Hamilton, the friend and companion of Washington, kneeling at his bedside, and returning thanks to his God for his merciful interposition. The General said, in his most impressive manner, and in accents that showed deep emotion, that he could not lie down until he had taken him by the hand and expressed his heartfelt gratitude to him who had been a 'ministering angel' in restoring his child to him."
I mean, really, how did Hosack respond to that? Nice to meet you, too? It's just such a perfectly dramatic Hamilton moment. Of course, Dr. Hosack found this meeting deeply moving, and counted it "among the most gratifying compliments and acknowledgements he had ever received."
The Hosack biography (titled "A memoir of the late David Hosack") is on google books if you're interested in reading the whole section (this part is around pg. 308). It's definitely interesting, though I can't speak for it's accuracy.
“Hamilton,” a voice hissed as a hand shook his shoulder gently. Burr, he identified, slowly coming back to awareness. The mail coach jostled over a piece of debris in the road as Hamilton pushed himself away from the window, self-consciously touching his mouth to be sure he hadn’t drooled during his impromptu nap.
“We’re here,” Burr added.
He nodded, the familiar sight of Cortland Street just visible in the fading light through his window as he rubbed the last remnants of sleep from his eyes. Burr sat across from him with a book open in his lap. The two other gentlemen in the coach were both gazing out the opposite window silently.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t better company,” he apologized as he worked a kink out of his neck.
“Nonsense,” Burr replied mildly, his eyes still trained on his book. “This was the most enjoyable time I’ve spent in your company in years.”
He gave an amused chuckle in response, noting the very subtle smile playing over Burr’s lips.
“Do you have the time?” he asked, noticing the sun had nearly set.
“We’re late,” Burr confirmed. “It’s after five.”
He sighed. The trip from Albany had been exhausting and riddled with complications. He ached for home, even as the thought of seeing Eliza awakened the nerves in the pit of his stomach. She’d hadn’t written him at all during this trip. He didn’t imagine that after more than a fortnight of silence he was to be welcomed home with open arms. The worst part was, he hadn’t the foggiest idea what had prompted her latest bout of silence.
The driver called for the horses to halt and the rickety coach came to an abrupt stop, unsettling the passengers and luggage alike. When the door opened, the men scrambled for the exit, all overjoyed to disembark. They stood in a little semicircle as the driver began to unload the luggage.
Burr nodded to a young boy dutifully waiting at the corner. In response, the boy surged forth to collect his bags as the driver handed them down. “The carriage is waiting, sir,” the boy reported, looking remarkably small under the heavy load.
“Well, go load the bags,” Burr directed.
The boy scurried away obediently.
Hamilton’s portmanteau was handed down next, and he heaved the heavy bag over his shoulder.
Burr caught his eye and offered politely, “May I offer you a ride home, sir?”
“No, thank you,” he refused. “I’m just down the road, and I’m happy to stretch my legs after two days in a stagecoach.”
Burr nodded. “I completely understand.”
“Would you stop by my office tomorrow? We can discuss the appeal Livingston was threatening,” Hamilton suggested, adjusting his bag.
“I will,” Burr agreed. “Perhaps we could share a celebratory drink afterwards.”
“I’d like that,” he replied with a smile.
Burr bowed slightly. “Have a good night, Mr. Hamilton.”
“And you, sir,” he wished as Burr set off for his waiting carriage.
He stepped onto the sidewalk and headed for the corner to turn onto Broadway. Despite the heavy weight of his portmanteau, he truly was glad for the chance to move freely after the miserable journey. The cool air of the early spring evening felt invigorating.
The Le Guen case had gone as well as could be hoped, though both Pendleton and Livingston had warned them not to think their hard won victory would stand. The complicated and protracted litigation had been dragging on for years now, with little hope of an end. He’d at least relished the few jabs he’d managed at Isaac Gouverneur. After the nasty newspaper article the man had published in January, he’d seized the first opportunity to compare Gouverneur with the villainous Shylock out for a pound of flesh once more. That the judge had been forced to stifle a snort of amusement had been an added bonus.
Rounding the corner onto Broadway, he adjusted his bag again and quickened his step towards home. He smiled to himself, recalling how Eliza had teased him as he was leaving for Albany three weeks ago.
“You have your brief, right?” she’d asked with a coy smile.
He grinned, immediately catching on to her allusion to the year before, when he’d left the brief for his biggest case sitting on the armchair in his office. He’d frantically written to her to have one of the children locate it and for her to post it at the first opportunity.
“Yes,” he assured her.
“Because last time…”
He’d pressed a kiss to her soft lips to silence her. She’d laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’ll miss you,” he told her, when he pulled away.
“I’ll miss you, too, sweetheart,” she’d replied.
And then, nothing. She hadn’t written him a word. The smile fell from his face as quickly as it had appeared.
He knew he deserved nothing more from her. He knew he’d broken her heart. But her constantly changing moods were so much harder than her consistent anger would have been. She kept giving him glimpses and tastes of what their love had been before, only to retreat at the wrong word or gesture from him. Most times, he didn’t even know what he’d done to upset her.
For months, they had dragged on like this. Things would seem fine, Eliza would seem happy, and then suddenly she wasn’t. For every small step forward, they seemed to take three steps back.
Gloom had settled over him permanently after Christmas as hope for any significant change in their relationship diminished. They’d made love for the first time in so long, and talked late into the night. Then, the night after, he’d found himself trying to get comfortable in the office armchair, his feet propped on a footrest. They hadn’t made love again since. Of course, he’d been away on business for long stretches, only home for a brief few weeks at the end of January and beginning of February before departing for Albany again at the end of the month. He’d been away a week longer than intended on this latest trip.
Even so, the melancholy draped over him like a shroud, dulling the world around him. Or, perhaps, it was more like a current, pulling him down into a deep darkness. Eliza had always been his beacon, his light, helping him tread water as she guided him home. Lately, he felt he was perpetually on the brink of drowning, until she smiled, or laughed, or even simply spared a glance in his direction; he could breathe again just for a moment only for her to turn away and let him sink back under the surface once more. He knew she had no obligation to save him. Sometimes, he felt it would have been kinder for her to let him drown.
But perhaps that was simply life now. They would smile, and laugh, and have sweet interludes between episodes of pain and emptiness. Perhaps their family was irreparably broken. As much as he would sacrifice, as much as he would lay down his very life for his wife and children, he didn’t know how to save them from himself.
“Excuse me,” he apologized, pulled from his thoughts as he nearly collided with a gentleman walking in the opposite direction. The man nodded as he swerved around him. Looking up, he found he was just passing Trinity Church.
Another gentleman of his acquaintance was walking towards him. Their eyes met briefly, before the man ducked his head down and crossed the street abruptly, hurrying down Wall Street. Hamilton sighed, saddened but unsurprised by the peculiar reaction.
The country was tearing itself apart.
France, once America’s firmest ally, had turned away in the time after her own bloody revolution and now loomed over them like a threatening shadow. He could feel war brewing on the horizon, as strong and sure as those days back at King’s College when he’d been drafting pamphlets and secretly studying military strategy late into the night. Very soon, he sensed, he would need to hazard his life in defense of his country once more.
And that was why, he wanted to shout at Eliza every time she turned her sad, distrusting eyes towards him. That was why he’d had to defend his reputation. He’d had to show his countrymen that in public matters, at least, he remained an honorable man. What good was he to anyone, if he could not even fight for his country when the next crisis inevitably arose?
He never said any of that, of course. Instead, they remained swaying on a pendulum between stifling silence and euphoric denial. He knew which way the pendulum had swung in his extended absence.
The dusky blue sky beautifully offset the warm glow of the lamplight shining through the windows of 26 Broadway as he rounded the bend in the road. He mounted the steps and pushed through the front door, dropping his portmanteau onto the foyer floor gratefully. Closing the door softly behind him, he paused for a moment, breathing in the scent of home.
The house was abuzz with activity. Children’s laughter carried down the stairs. A large thud sounded suddenly, prompting him to look to the staircase as he heard Angelica cry, “Pip!” She squealed with laughter a moment after, bringing a smile to his face.
“I’m home,” he called out, starting towards the parlor.
“Papa!” Johnny shot through from the parlor, crashing into his legs and engulfing him in a hug. Hamilton barely had time to brace himself for the assault. He laughed, patting at the boy’s back affectionately.
“Did you miss me?” he asked fondly.
The boy nodded vigorously against him, squeezing him tighter.
“Papa, guess what!” Jamie cried from the doorway.
“I did all my arithmetic questions right! All of them! And I was the only one!”
He grinned at the boy’s excitement. “Well done. I’m very proud, son,” he said sincerely.
Jamie practically glowed at the praise.
“Alexander.” Eliza appeared behind Jamie suddenly, and he felt his mind jerk to a halt at the sight of her. She smiled slightly, her hand reaching to touch her hair. When he failed to return her greeting, she continued, “You’re very late. I thought maybe the coach had been delayed a day.”
He was still just staring at her.
She frowned at him. “Honey? Are you all right?”
“You look…beautiful. Stunning.” The dark blue evening gown she wore was new; at least, he’d never seen it before. The only jewelry she’d donned was the small diamond pendant necklace he’d purchased for her some years ago, and she’d styled her hair into a loose coiffure, a few dark tresses dangling around her heart-shaped face.
She smiled again, a hint of a blush coming to her cheeks at the compliment. “Thank you.”
“Are you going somewhere?” He didn’t imagine she’d dressed so resplendently merely to welcome him home.
“Angelica invited me to the theater. She and John purchased a box for the night. When you didn’t come home this afternoon, I assumed you wouldn’t be arriving until tomorrow.”
“Oh.” He could feel his expression falling at the news.
Her face was soft as she studied him for a moment. “I could cancel?”
“No. No, you should go. You’re all dressed up.”
“Or…you could come along? There’s a seat to spare. I know you just arrived home—”
“I’d love to come,” he interjected quickly.
“Are you sure?” Her brow furrowed. “We’d need to leave shortly, and you’ve just walked through the door. Have you even eaten today?”
Did she not want him to come? He could hardly tell when she was being sincere anymore, or when she was pretending to keep up appearances in front of the children. Perhaps appearing with him in public still embarrassed her? It ought to, he supposed.
“I don’t mind, if it’s all right with you,” he hazarded, watching her closely for any sign of hesitation or insincerity.
“Of course it is, sweetheart,” she assured him. “I could have the cook warm something while you dress?”
“No, I’m fine,” he replied. “I—”
“John,” she interrupted. He looked down to see their boy pawing through his portmanteau on the floor. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Looking for sweets,” Johnny answered innocently.
“Papa doesn’t bring home sweets every time he goes away on business. And you can’t just start rifling through your father’s things,” she scolded. The little boy hung his head.
He knelt down beside his bag. “I’m afraid I didn’t bring any sweets,” he said. Reaching in to the side pocket, he tugged free a small sack and added, “However, Grandma Schuyler did pack a few treats for you and your siblings.”
“Cakes!” Johnny cried with delight, his whole face nearly disappearing into the bag of treats.
“They’re to share,” he reminded the boy gently.
“I want a cake,” Jamie declared, hurrying to claim his share from his little brother.
Hamilton looked up to see Eliza shaking her head. He gave her a sheepish smile.
“You spoil them,” she declared, though with no real heat.
“Me?” he asked, feigning innocence. “Your mother practically forced them on me.”
Her eyes crinkled with a smile. “I’m sure.”
He nodded earnestly, and savored the resulting sound of her laugh.
She nodded her head towards the stairs. “Go get ready,” she directed.
He left the two boys to battle over the cakes and bounded up the stairs to change into his formal wear. Laughter carried out of Angelica’s room as he passed, and he paused, poking his head through the open door. Philip, Angelica, and Alex all stopped in their play at the sight of him. Philip and Alex appeared to have been roughhousing, because his eldest was perched atop his younger son, wearing a wide grin.
“Hello, my darling children,” he greeted with smile.
“Hi, Papa,” Alex greeted, wriggling out from underneath his brother to come hug his father.
“Mama said you wouldn’t be home until tomorrow,” Pip remarked. His eldest sat back on his haunches now that his little brother was free.
“The coach was just ridiculously delayed,” he explained, fighting down the lingering feeling of frustration from the horrible trip as he held Alex against him. He added, “There are cakes from Grandma Schuyler downstairs, if you’re willing to pry them from James and John.”
Alex’s eyes lit up at the news.
“Don’t do it,” Pip advised the younger boy, quipping, “You’ll likely lose a finger.”
Hamilton laughed until he noticed his daughter watching him warily. “How are you, sweetheart?” he asked her.
“Fine,” she replied flatly.
He nodded, disappointment curdling sourly in his stomach. His absence had made her no less reticent towards him. “That’s good.”
A beat of silence passed. To fill the awkward pause, he said, “Mama and I are going to the theater tonight. Do you three need anything before we leave?”
Pip and Alex both shook their heads.
“All right,” he said, leaning over to kiss the crown of Alex’s head. “I need to change.”
He continued on towards his bedroom, stepping in to his dressing room and hunting for appropriate clothing as he tried to keep his dark thoughts at bay. Pip, at least, had thawed towards him after the fever scare last September. Angelica was another matter entirely. She’d been more cold towards him than even his wife. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d somehow disappointed his daughter even more profoundly.
Selecting a pair of black silk breeches, a cream colored waistcoat, and a navy blue coat that would pair well with Eliza’s dress, he freshened up, changed, and made his way back downstairs. Eliza had sat back down in the parlor with her sewing in his absence. Jamie and Johnny were huddled near the fireplace, both with sugary lips and sticky fingers as they munched on cakes. A dull thud caught his attention, and he gazed down at baby William pulling himself along on the rug towards a block that had landed a few feet away.
“Hello,” he cooed, kneeling down to the baby’s level. “Are you throwing your blocks?”
William’s face broke into a wide, delighted baby grin, the two white caps of his bottom front teeth just visible in his gums. He smiled back, the simple happiness of his baby easing some of the tension he’d been carrying. As William pulled himself closer, he sat back on the floor and reached out to pick him up, placing the baby on his lap.
“Did you miss me?” he asked, keeping his voice pitched up.
William bounced restlessly on his lap.
Hamilton placed his hands in front of his face, then quickly pulled them away. “Peekaboo!”
William laughed uproariously in response.
He hid his face again and repeated the game to the same effect. When he revealed himself for the fourth time, he clapped his hands together, smiling as William copied the gesture. “Was that fun?”
William reached out and took hold of one of his father’s thumbs, tugging at the finger curiously. He let the baby play with his finger as he looked up at his wife. She was watching them with a soft smile, her hands still on her sewing circle.
“When are we leaving?”
“Robert’s bring the carriage around in a few minutes,” she answered.
His nose wrinkled lightly at the thought of getting back into a coach.
“Are you sure you want to come?” Eliza asked, apparently catching his expression.
Frankly, he’d much rather change into comfortable clothes and lounge by the fire with a book, but he was willing to brave another coach ride to spend time with his wife after three weeks of separation. “Yes,” he answered. “I’ve missed you.”
She met his eye, considering a moment, before she replied quietly, “I missed you, too.”
Then why hadn’t she written to him, he wanted to demand. He held the thought in and smiled at her. “What are we seeing?”
“They’re doing Hamlet again at the New Theater,” Eliza answered.
He nodded, slightly disappointed that they were seeing a tragedy. The New Theater, located on Park Row, had just opened that January. His legal work for the owners secured him and Eliza a box for opening night, when the company had put on As You Like It. He’d have greatly preferred to see another comedy tonight.
“Are you objecting to Shakespeare again?” Her voice took on a teasing edge.
A pleasant, yet pained sensation shot through him at the jest. Back when they’d first been courting, she’d mercilessly teased him when he’d admitted Shakespeare’s sonnets were not to his taste. Eighteen years later, he still hadn’t lived down the offhand remark. The memory of those simple days, lazing on a picnic blanket in Morristown beside his fiancée, made him ache.
“Of course not,” he replied after a beat. “I was just hoping for something a little more…uplifting.”
“Well, I suppose Hamlet does not well fit that description,” she granted.
“No,” he agreed.
William tugged at his thumb and made an impatient noise to regain his father’s attention. Smiling back down at the baby, he tickled the fingers of his free hand against the little pudgy tummy. A gleeful, gasping laugh emanated from the small boy.
Robert stepped into the parlor some minutes later. “The coach is prepared, Mr. Hamilton, whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Robert.”
“Good to have you home, sir,” the driver added with a small smile.
“Thank you,” he repeated sincerely.
Eliza rose from the sofa and crossed over to the boys. “That’s enough cake for now,” she said as she took the bag from Johnny. Both boys groaned, though they’d stopped eating several minutes ago. He shook his head.
She brought the bag of cakes with her out of the room, and returned a moment later with one of their maids in tow. Hamilton gathered the baby closer as he pushed himself off the floor, his back and knees protesting the movement. When he’d managed a standing position, he pressed a kiss to the baby’s cheek and passed him over to the maid.
William fussed loudly at the transfer.
“Hush, honey,” Eliza cooed, moving into the child’s line of sight. “We’ll be back soon.”
He placed his palm over the baby’s back to help soothe him. Glancing back at his other sons, he added, “Be good while we’re gone, boys.”
“We will, Papa,” Jamie assured.
Hamilton opened the front door for Eliza, but she stayed standing behind him. He jumped a little when he felt her hand run across his bottom and over his upper thighs. Craning his neck around, he saw her smiling flirtatiously at him. “You had something on your breeches from sitting on the floor,” she explained.
“Did you get it?”
She gave his backside a long, scrutinizing look, then patted his bottom twice. “For now,” she answered.
Robert opened the door to the coach as they made their way down the front steps. Eliza accepted his hand to help her into the carriage, and he stepped up after her, settling down across from her. Her eyes were trained outside as he heard Robert clamber up into the driver’s seat and urge the horses onward.
They rode in silence for several minutes.
“Thank you for coming with me,” she said quietly, turning to face him at last. “I know you must be tired from your trip.”
“Time with you is well worth another carriage ride,” he assured her again. “Besides, I napped most of the way back today.”
“Weren’t you traveling with Mr. Burr?”
“Yes. His wit and conversation were a great aid to my slumber.”
She laughed, but then turned her face back towards the window. Silence stole over them once more. He leaned back against his seat, contenting himself with watching the way the light from the streetlamps passed over her profile as they made their way towards Park Row.
The carriage rolled to a stop outside the towering three-story stone structure of the theater. Men and women dressed in their finery were milling about the street, the hum of general conversation growing as Robert pulled open the carriage door. Light poured forth from the three open green baize doors as Eliza took his arm and they mounted the six steps side by side into the theater.
They bypassed the box office on the right, walking straight into the grand lobby. Fires crackled cheerily from both sides of the carpeted room, staving off the early spring chill. Light from the fire and the chandelier overhead reflected off the gold ornaments decorating the walls.
Heads turned to look at them as they made their way across the lobby. Such a reaction wasn’t uncommon; he and Eliza were well known and easily recognizable figures in New York society. Still, he felt a flicker of insecurity as he felt the eyes of the room upon them. Did they all know? Were they all thinking about his pamphlet as they stared? Was that why Eliza had just disentangled her arm from his?
“Mrs. Hamilton,” a voice with a heavy Irish lilt called. He looked over to see an older woman making her way towards them, and a younger couple following in her path.
“Mrs. Graham, how lovely to see you,” Eliza greeted.
“I don’t believe I had the chance to introduce you to my daughter and her husband when we last met,” the woman said, gesturing to the pair behind her. “Mr. and Mrs. Bethune, this is Mrs. Hamilton.”
Eliza gave the pair a friendly smile as they exchanged greetings. He stood awkwardly at his wife’s side for a few moments, until she glanced over at him, as though suddenly remembering he was with her.
“Oh,” she said, reaching out to tug him closer to her, “I don’t believe you’ve met my husband.”
“Ma’am,” he nodded to the woman. He seized the opportunity to place his arm around his wife’s waist, immensely grateful when she leaned in even closer to him in response.
“Mrs. Graham has started a society for the relief of widows and their children,” Eliza explained for him. “I met her a few weeks ago, while you were in Albany.”
“She was a Godsend during our first fundraiser,” Mrs. Graham reported.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Eliza demurred.
He smiled and nuzzled his nose against her hair. “I have no doubt it was as you say, Mrs. Graham. I’ve long appreciated the fact that my wife is an angel in disguise.”
The woman was smiling at them when he looked back at her. “What a handsome couple you are,” she remarked. Eliza glanced up at him from underneath her long eyelashes, a smile stretching her lips.
“We were hoping to convince you to volunteer more with our organization, Mrs. Hamilton,” Mrs. Bethune interjected.
He planted a kiss to his wife’s temple, squeezing her lightly before pulling away. “I’m going to go find Mr. and Mrs. Church,” he told her. “I’ll leave you to your business.”
“I’ll just be a few minutes,” she promised.
He nodded, wandering off in search of John and Angelica. They were standing near the stairs to the first tier, conversing quietly with each other. John spotted him first and waved him over.
“My dear Hamilton,” Church boomed. “What a pleasant surprise. When did you get back?”
“About an hour ago,” he answered.
Angelica wrapped him in an embrace. “Oh, you poor dear. You must be perishing with fatigue,” she remarked.
“No, I’m all right,” he assured her.
“Well, I’m grateful for your good company,” Angelica said. She glanced around, frowning, and added, “But where is my dear sister?”
“She was waylaid by a Mrs. Graham a moment ago. Something about a new charity. She’ll be along in a moment,” he explained.
Angelica craned her head to look around the lobby. Spotting Eliza across the room, she said, “Ah, there she is. I’ll go see if I can extract her.”
“How did your case go?” Church asked once Angelica had stepped away.
“Quite successfully. Although Pendleton and Livingston both quickly assured me they would be appealing. I’ll be meeting with Burr tomorrow to plan our next steps.”
Church nodded. “This was the Le Guen litigation?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“Seems a lot of bother over a bit of cotton and indigo.”
In fact, it was quite a lot of cotton and indigo, with a substantial amount of money at stake, but he didn’t feel like getting into the particulars of the suit. “I suppose it is.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re back. What do you think about this new information from France?”
His brow furrowed. “New information?”
Church’s eyes widened. “I was sure you would have heard. It’s all very hush hush, as I understand it, but apparently the delegation to France sent word to Adams that the Talleyrand fellow essentially demanded a tribute before he’d even speak to them.”
Hamilton felt his blood boiling at this fresh insult from their erstwhile ally. Surely now the people would understand the error of an excessive attachment to France. Not even Jefferson could defend this humiliation. War was coming.
“What are you boys discussing? Not business, I hope,” Angelica’s voice pulled him from his thoughts.
Eliza took his arm and bumped her shoulder against his. “Are you all right, sweetheart? You’ve gone a little pale.”
He swallowed down his tension and anger, forcing a smile. “Just a little fatigued,” he claimed.
“I shouldn’t wonder,” Angelica stated, looking at Eliza. “You dragged the poor thing here right off a stagecoach.”
“I hardly dragged him,” Eliza argued. She squeezed his arm and looked up at him. “We could go, if you want. I wouldn’t mind.”
He shook his head and suggested, “Shall we head up to the box?”
They mounted the grand staircase up to the first tier, and he nodded to the doorkeeper as he followed the Churches into their box for the night. He settled in to the cushioned seat beside Eliza, his mind spinning with the new information about France. A hush fell over the theater as the actors took their places.
“Who’s there?” Bernardo called across the stage, squinting as if in darkness.
He’d have to write to Pickering and McHenry. Perhaps he’d start another essay series for the newspapers to try to consolidate public opinion against this latest threat. And Washington would need to be convinced to leave his retirement once more. Words spun through his mind for each of these works, and he longed for paper to put them down. Absorbed as he was in his thoughts, he paid little attention to the play before him, and only pulled himself back to the present with some difficulty to converse during the short intermission.
Exhaustion began to weigh heavily on him as the play went on. He rested his head on his hand, massaging his temple with his fingertips. He had the bones of an outline for his articles, at least. The Stand, he decided on as a title. Strong. Decisive.
Eliza took his hand suddenly. His head snapped over to her, and he saw tears streaking down her face. Had he done something? Not done something? His eyes went to the stage, and he realized Horatio was holding the Prince in his arms. The play, he reassured himself. She was crying because of the play. He squeezed her hand back comfortingly.
Applause rose from the pit, the boxes, and the gallery above as the players took their bows. Eliza released his hand, and he politely joined crowd, though he’d taken in little of the performance. Angelica was wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief as the hum of conversation rose throughout the theater once more.
“Nearly as good as a performance in London, wouldn’t you say, my dear?” Church asked.
The company must have been remarkable, Hamilton thought with a smile. A near comparison with the English was the highest praise anyone or anything could receive from his brother-in-law. He’d nearly floated off the floor when Church had said offhandedly that he might manage acceptably in a London solicitors office.
“You both should come over for drinks and refreshment,” Angelica offered, turning to them. “I feel like I haven’t seen Hamilton in an age.”
He looked at Eliza, trying to gauge how enthusiastic she felt towards the invitation. She gave him a significant look and raised her shoulder nearly imperceptibly. Permission to decline.
“I’m afraid I’m developing a slight headache. Perhaps another night?” he replied.
“Of course, of course,” Angelica agreed.
“Yes, go home and get some rest, old thing. You look dead on your feet,” Church added.
“Thank you,” he said with sarcasm. Church laughed.
Robert had pulled their carriage almost directly in front of the theater despite the heavy crowds pouring out from the doors. He sat heavily in the seat and tipped his head back, closing his eyes with a long sigh. As the coach pulled onto the street, he felt eyes on him and looked up to see Eliza watching him. She smiled at him, then turned her head towards the window without speaking. He closed his eyes again.
When the coach pulled up before the house, he and Eliza dismounted and went immediately upstairs. A servant had cleared his portmanteau from the foyer, he noticed vaguely. The children had all been put to bed hours ago. After briefly looking in to their rooms, they entered their bedroom, heading straight for the dressing room to change.
He was sliding his coat off when Eliza turned her back to him and asked, “Could you help me with my dress? The ties are a bit complicated.”
Stepping closer to her, he worked the series of knots along her back, the material warm and soft beneath his fingers. He gazed down at the silky smooth skin of her neck and back, and tried to stop himself from imagining laying kisses upon her. The dress came free at last, sliding forward and down to reveal her under-petticoat and stays.
“Thank you,” she whispered, her voice husky. Had she felt the intimacy of the moment as keenly? If she did, she gave no further clue as she continued readying for bed.
With a sigh, he resumed removing his own clothing. How he wished he could know her thoughts. He realized more with each passing day that he hadn’t the faintest idea what she was thinking or feeling at any given moment.
Their bedroom was chilly. Goosebumps formed along his arms as he pulled off his shirt. He selected a nightshirt towards the back of the pile, one with thicker material that he hadn’t worn since early February. Just as he pulled the shirt into place, Eliza’s arms wrapped around him.
She gave him a lingering, loving kiss, though it lacked the heat that would indicate it was leading anywhere. When she pulled away, she pillowed her head on his shoulder, simply hugging him close. He wrapped his arms around her tightly as he savored the feeling of her warmth and weight. They hadn’t held each other like this in so long. The moment felt unreal, somehow, ephemeral: the ghost of normality.
“I really did miss you,” she breathed.
“I wish you at least would have written to me while I was away,” he admitted finally. “I worried.”
She tensed in his arms, then relaxed again. “I know. I’m sorry.” She gave no further explanation for the weeks of silence.
And then she was gone.
He followed her out of the dressing room to find her curled up on the extreme side of the bed, her eyes closed and the blankets pulled up to her chin. Too exhausted to try to riddle out her seemingly contradictory behavior, he drew the bed curtains to keep out the chill, blew out the candle, and laid down on the far edge of the bed.
The snatches of happiness were enough, he told himself, as he gathered the blankets closer around himself for warmth. Really, they were far more than he deserved. The knowledge did nothing to ease the ache in his chest as he thought longingly about the warm weight of his wife in his arms.
Did she really still love him? he wondered, staring out into the darkness.
Another voice, deep inside, the one he’d spent years drowning out with Eliza’s constant reassurance, whispered poisonously, Had she ever?
This chapter ended up being a lot longer than I intended- I hope the pace kept up for everyone and it was still enjoyable. I really wanted to set a strong foundation for Hamilton's feelings as we head towards a big confrontation, likely in the chapter after next.
From the end of February into mid-March of 1798, Hamilton was up in Albany for court. The Le Guen litigation was one of his major cases for years in the late 1790s, and he did work with Burr. Hamilton compared Isaac Gouverneur, one of the defendants, with Shylock from the Merchant of Venice during oral arguments back in 1797, and in January of 1798, Gouverneur published a series of attacks on Hamilton in response. The story about him leaving his brief at home back in April of 1797 is also true, by the way. On 16 April 1797, he wrote to Eliza frantically asking her to have one of the boys find it on his armchair and mail it to him.
As of 1 March 1798, Eliza hadn't written him any letters while he was in Albany. On that day, he wrote to her complaining he'd sent her three letters but had received none. Although Eliza not writing enough is one of his most consistent complaints, given the timing it felt a little more significant. I will say, the ending of that letter is one of my favorites, though: "Kiss my dear children for me and accept a thousand kisses for yourself. Yrs ever affect. AH"
The news John Church is passing along to him at the theater is, of course, the XYZ affair, a precipitating event in the so-called Quasi-War with France.
Last, a quick note on the New Theater, also known as the Park Theater. Hamilton really did assist with some legal work while it was being constructed, and he and Eliza did attend shows there, though I'm sure if they actually saw the opening performance in January. It was also, I believe, the theater where Philip had his fatal fight with George Eacker in 1801. The description of the theater came from volume 1 of "A History of the New York Stage: From the First Performance in 1732 to 1901" edited by T. Allston Brown. It's also on google books if you're interested in checking it out.
The little flower stand on the corner had returned about a week ago with the warm spring weather, though he’d been arriving home too late in the evenings to actually purchase anything. He’d frequented it often last year, bringing Eliza home a fresh bouquet on an almost weekly basis. When his court hearing had ended hours earlier than he’d expected, and with James more than capable of running the office alone until the end of the day, he decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. He made his way jauntily along Broadway, soaking in the spring sunshine, and paused at the cart.
“Good day, Mr. Hamilton,” the young woman plumping a display of pink roses greeted.
“Good day, Mrs. Lane,” he replied, casting his eye over the colorful displays. “I’m glad to see you’ve returned for business. What would you recommend for me today?”
“My lilacs bloomed a little early this year. I know Mrs. Hamilton has quite a fondness for the scent,” Mrs. Lane gestured to the long stems of small purple flowers on the other side of the cart.
“Perfect,” he smiled. “Would you prepare a small bouquet for me?”
“Of course, sir,” she agreed, smiling brightly in return.
She arranged the lilacs for him, tying them together with a blue ribbon and adding a few extra stems more than he’d paid for, he noticed. He gave her a significant look as he accepted the flowers, but she merely shrugged. “You’re one of my best customers,” she informed him. “Give Mrs. Hamilton my compliments.”
“Thank you, I will,” he agreed.
He inhaled the scent of the lilacs as he set off down the street, a new lightness in his step. Things between he and Eliza seemed better, lately. She seemed to be thawing towards him; the unexpected bouts of silence and distance, though still very much present, seemed to be growing fewer and further in between. He ached to return to the beautiful simplicity of their early love. In the bright sunshine of spring, with Eliza’s tenderness and affection towards him increasing, he was beginning to have hope again.
“Betsey?” he called as he closed the front door of their townhouse gently behind him.
Wailing greeted him. William sounded quite displeased about something, he thought with a smile. Observing the time, he realized the baby had likely just awakened from a nap.
“I’ll be just a minute,” his wife’s voice called over the cries.
He smelled the flowers again and wandered towards the parlor. The room was empty; Johnny and Angelica must both be studying upstairs, he presumed. He knelt down by the cabinet on the far side of the room and retrieved a vase for the bouquet.
Once he’d arranged the flowers properly, he looked up only to find the place where Eliza typically displayed fresh flowers taken already by the silver wine cooler President Washington had sent last summer. He frowned at the gift. Not that he didn’t appreciated Washington’s generosity, or the gesture of support that lay behind it, but having the ornate decoration displayed so prominently felt like a constant reminder of his shame.
“You’re home early,” Eliza remarked. He turned to see her leaning against the door jamb, bouncing William on her hip. The baby appeared much calmer now as he sucked on his fingers with his head against his mother’s shoulder.
“My hearing took much less time than I’d expected,” he explained.
“Is that good or bad?”
“Good,” he assured her. “The defense attorney didn’t raise any of the issues that would have actually turned it into a close contest. I left James to see to the office work and seized the opportunity to enjoy a few hours of daylight at home.”
“Are those for me?” she asked him, her eyes landing on the vase of lilacs on the floor before him. The corners of her lips lifted slightly.
“Mrs. Lane’s lilacs bloomed early this year. She sends her compliments, by the way,” he said, pushing up from the floor with the flowers in hand.
“She’s a sweetheart.” She stepped closer, leaning in to inhale the scent of the flowers. “Mm, there is no sweeter smell than fresh lilacs in spring.”
He reached out with his free hand to tug on William’s chubby leg. “Was someone grumpy when they woke up from their nap?” he cooed.
“Grumpy is a polite term for that performance,” Eliza quipped lightly. He laughed, hesitated a moment, then leaned in to kiss her. She kissed him back sweetly and added, “Thank you for the flowers. They’re beautiful.”
“Where should I set them?” he asked.
Her gaze turned to the silver wine cooler. “Perhaps we could move that into the dining room, if you don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind? It was a gift for you.”
She raised a brow at him. “It really wasn’t.”
He sighed, reluctant to start an argument over such a trivial point. “Then to the dining room it shall move,” he declared, lifting it from the table by the window and gingerly setting the flowers down in their rightful place.
“Lovely,” she said when he’d finished.
He stepped back to admire them also. William babbled around the hand still shoved in his mouth, and Hamilton glanced over at his son. “Do you approve, my darling boy?”
William’s big eyes turned to him. He smiled and held out his arms. Eliza easily passed the child over, and he heaved the boy onto his own hip, pressing a kiss to his wispy curls. “You are getting so big. Can you say Papa? Hm? Papa?”
“Puh,” the boy breathed out, pursing his lips.
“Papa,” he repeated slowly.
His son stared at him a long moment and muttered something that sounded like ‘Ditma.’ “Not quite,” he laughed and looked at his wife. “He’s so close, I can feel it.”
Eliza soothed a hand over the baby’s back lightly. “He started trying to pull himself up in his crib recently, too,” she reported. “He’ll be chattering and racing around the house before we know it.”
He cuddled the baby closer. They all grew up so quickly, and seemed to sprout up on him most especially when he was working long hours. Which was always, he supposed. William began to squirm in his arms at the confining hug, so he kissed the boy’s head again and lowered him onto the rug with his toys. Pulling his knees up under him, William crawled with purpose towards the blocks stacked on the other end of the carpet.
Keen to avoid any incident resulting from an eight month old and the very expensive silver cooler sharing floor space, Hamilton collected the item and carried it to the dining room. It made more sense it that room anyway, really, or it would have if they’d ever used it for its proper purpose. So far it had sat in their parlor as a decorative item.
“Oh, honey?” Eliza called to him as he crossed into the dining room.
“Two letters were delivered for you today from Governor Jay. One came a minute after you left for work this morning. They’re sitting on the front table in the foyer.”
His brow furrowed at the news. He pushed some knickknacks over on a lower shelf of the sideboard and shoved the wine cooler into place. While it may have fit on the top, or even on the mantle of the fireplace, he had no desire to gaze at it while he ate. Task completed, he stepped out into the foyer to find the two letters sitting on the table.
His eyes widened as he read Jay’s first letter, and he sucked in an audible breath. Eliza paced over to the parlor entryway, where she could still to keep an eye on the baby as she reached out to place a hand on his back. Dropping the letter back onto the table, he tore open the second with bated breath.
“Is something wrong?” Eliza asked.
He released a relieved sigh as he scanned the words on the more recent letter. “No, no everything’s fine,” he said, distracted. She waited a beat for him to finish reading the letter, though he could sense she wanted him to elaborate. When he reached the end of the short note, he turned and pressed another kiss to her lips. “Apparently Judge Hobart is resigning from the senate. Jay wants me to take the open senate seat.”
She went very still beside him. “And? Are you going to?”
“No,” he said immediately.
“No,” he reiterated. “I was a little alarmed by his first message, because he said only that he was sending me a commission for the seat. Thankfully, he realized he should wait for me to give an answer before making anything official.”
“And you’re going to refuse?” she asked again.
He frowned. “Do you think I should accept?”
She shook her head quickly. “I’m just surprised. You seemed like you were starting to get that itch.”
“That itch?” he repeated with an amused smile.
“You know, the itch to return to public life. You’ve been spending so much time of late sending letters and writing those newspaper essays. I just thought you might consider the offer more.”
He considered carefully how to answer. In truth, he was feeling the itch, as Eliza phrased it. But the senate seat was far from where he wanted to expend his energy. Soon, very soon if things continued as they were, Adams would need to start building an army. When that happened, he wanted to be involved. Perhaps, at last, he’d get the promotion for which he’d campaigned all through the war.
“Things are in motion now that may necessitate my returning to public life. If relations with France don’t normalize soon, we will need to take decisive action. But the time is not now. I intend to avoid returning for as long as possible.”1
Eliza wrapped her arms around his waist.
He cuddled her close and kissed the top of her head. “Surely you must know how dear you and the children are to me. I have no desire to be apart from you any more than I already am. Not to mention how our finances would suffer if I stepped away from my practice again.”
She nodded against him. To his shock, he heard her sniffle lightly. He tried to look at her face, but she’d buried it against his jacket, facing away.
“Eliza?” he asked, easing her away slightly. Her eyes were wet and shining with tears. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, wiping at her eyes with an embarrassed, watery smile. “I’m being silly.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and held it out to her.
She accepted the handkerchief and blew her nose lightly. “Thank you.”
He pulled her in to another embrace. “What’s wrong?”
Her arms wrapped around him again. “Nothing. That’s just…that’s exactly what I wanted to you say. And I know…I know how brilliant and important you are, how vital your involvement will be if war comes again. I know I should be a better republican, a better patriot, like Angelica says. But I just hate when you take these public positions and appointments. You feel so far away from me.”
A queasy feeling began in his stomach as he held her to him.
“When you chose us over the Treasury, chose me over the Treasury…the more I’ve thought about it the past several months, that’s how I knew you were still… you. How I knew there was still hope for us.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m making sense.”
“No, you are,” he assured her. Terrible, painful sense. “And I…I’ll always choose you, Betsey. Always. Even if I do go back to public service, you’re still the most important thing in my life.”
“But you’re not, right?” she asked, pushing away to look at him. “You said you weren’t.”
“I’m not,” he promised. “At least, not right now. I’ll write to Jay as soon as I’ve considered who else to suggest in my place.”
She smiled weakly. “Good.”
He smiled back, still sick inside. Did she mean she didn’t want him to take any public position again? How could he make her see that everything, all he’d done in the past year, had been for the chance to redeem himself in the public eye? How could he explain it to her without her retreating again? He’d paid such a high cost to be able to lead the country again with a clear conscience. He had to make it mean something.
“Come sit down, sweetheart. You must be tired after being in court all afternoon,” Eliza interrupted his whirling thoughts. Her hand clasped his warmly as she tugged him into the parlor. He sat heavily on the sofa at her insistence, looking down at his little son trying to pull himself up using the table as support. “Do you want some tea? Something to eat?”
He shook his head. “Just, sit with me?” he requested.
“Of course.” She sat directly beside him, their legs pressed close to each other.
Her sudden nearness felt false and unearned. If her faith in him depended on his willingness to choose her over his own ambition, did that mean he would he lose her entirely if he accepted a position in the government in the coming months? The hopeful feeling he’d experienced on his way home disappeared like smoke carried away on the wind.
Later that night, after dinner and time with the children, he excused himself from the parlor to work on the seventh and last installment of his newspaper series. Writing overwhelmed him like a fever: isolating, selectively clarifying, and all consuming, rendering time meaningless. He worked a cramp out of his hand as he considered his next lines. “To disguise the poison, misrepresentation is combined with sophistry,” he continued, nodding to himself as the words flowed through him.2
A knock on his office door jolted him up from the page.
“Alexander? Am I disturbing you?” Eliza held a lamp and a basket of sewing in her hands as she hovered uncertainly on the threshold of his office.
“Of course not. Come in,” he invited. “Do you need something?”
She shook her head as she entered, walking over to the big armchair in the corner and placing the lamp on the side table. “The children are all in bed. I was going to darn some socks in the parlor, but then I thought perhaps instead I’d keep you company while you write. If you don’t mind, that is?”
“I love when you sit with me,” he told her honestly.
She smiled as she settled into the chair. The sick feeling from the afternoon began to creep over him again. He should have told her about his intention to accept the first position that presented itself with the army. After all these months, he’d finally found the right words, the ones that she had needed to hear from him to truly begin to move forward in their marriage, and they’d been insincere.
Well, partially insincere. Being a husband and a father were two of the most valuable and worthwhile positions he’d ever had the honor of holding. His private life was a source of immense happiness and fulfillment for him. For most men, perhaps that would be enough. But he wanted more than that.
He’d already sacrificed his private reputation for his public when he published the pamphlet. If he never again held public office, what would have been the point? He could have let the public slur against him stand and lived happily at home with Eliza and the children. He’d come too far to turn back now.
His ambition, his desire to make his mark on the world, still thrived within him, like a spark that refused to burn out no matter how long he starved it of oxygen. When the right opportunity presented itself, when the chance for honor and glory was offered, he knew what he would say. He yearned to leave a legacy that would echo through the ages like the great warriors and statesmen of old. He could no more refuse it than he could stop himself writing, or thinking, or breathing. That spark was a part of him: a part he’d thought Eliza knew and accepted when she’d agreed to marry him.
“What are you writing?” she asked as she skillfully maneuvered the darning needles around a massive hole in one of Pip’s socks.
He glanced down at the messy papers before him. “The last part of my essay series about the latest outrage from France. We cannot show weakness in the face of shameless disrespect. To do so will mean a return to the yoke of tyranny, mark my words.”
He looked back at his wife, who seemed to turn the answer over in her mind as she worked. Would she see, he wondered, would she understand how much this meant to him? That he would need to fight again to keep America free from the specter of French despotism?
“Why was it so bad, what they did?” Eliza asked. He recognized the question as an invitation to lay out his arguments, one of his favorite writing techniques. How many times had he sat his brilliant, politically disengaged wife down and forced her to listen to him debate the topic of the moment? When she was firmly convinced of his reasoning, he knew his piece was ready for publication.
He smiled weakly as he turned his attention back to the top of the essay. “Well, this piece is specifically refuting some of the recent arguments that have surfaced since France’s latest treachery became public knowledge. The first I consider was that the foreign minister was acting without the knowledge of the Directory,” he began.
Eliza nodded thoughtfully. “And you don’t believe that’s possible?”
“The heart of a nation, however noble, cannot negotiate with foreign powers. To allow France to claim that their foreign minister does not speak for her would shield every government from responsibility for its positions.”3
He watched her to see how the words landed, a pang forming in his chest as the moment washed over him.The scene was achingly familiar: Eliza sitting in the chair with her sewing as she let him talk himself through his argument. He could remember countless other nights that looked exactly like this one, stretching all the way back to the earliest days of the marriage. Tonight, though, it felt like nothing more than a mirage. Still, like a man dying of thirst in the desert, he stumbled onward towards the illusion of paradise, clinging desperately to the false hope that things could be as they once were.
1: Paraphrase from Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, 24 April 1798, in response to Jay’s two letters of 19 April 1798
2: Quote from The Stand VII, published 21 April 1798
3: Again, a paraphrase of Hamilton’s arguments in The Stand VII, published 21 April 1798
Hamilton was both offered a seat in the senate by John Jay and was under consideration to take over as Secretary of War from James McHenry in April 1798 (see Robert G. Harper to Alexander Hamilton 27 April 1798). He turned down both offers, and in his reply to Jay explicitly cited his family obligations as his reason. Part of the reason he was reticent to accept these offers, however, was that he was angling for a promotion to General in the army. The tension between his desire to recommit himself to his family in the wake of betrayal and his desire to return to the public stage, which the Reynolds Pamphlet was meant to allow, had to cause a ridiculous amount of internal conflict for him in those days. And of course, his raging insecurity is rearing up again in this chapter as well.
On a separate note, I just started a tumblr page at aswithasunbeam.tumblr.com. Right now, I just cross posted one of my fics, but I plan to post information about sources I use in my fics, pictures, and some non-fiction pieces. I'd love for you all to come follow me on there!
Thanks to everyone who is still reading!
“Honey?” Eliza tapped on the office door lightly and peered through the open sliver into the room. Hamilton appeared to be absent, so she pushed the door open all the way and stepped inside. She needed more paper to finish her correspondence on behalf of the Widow’s society, and he always kept some in his desk drawer.
The worn drawer slid open with a familiar squeak as she pulled out a small stack of blank sheets. She shook her head as she looked at her husband’s messy desk, littered with papers, old quills and an empty ink pot. One letter buried in the mayhem looked like it had been folded and addressed, so she reached out to pluck it from the stack, intending to give it to the maid for the post. She didn’t dare touch the other papers, but she did place the worn quills into their holder and made a mental note to have water sent in so Hamilton could mix more ink.
The topmost letter on his desk caught her eye just as she was turning to leave, the word ‘Military,’ capitalized in the first sentence of the second paragraph, arresting her attention. She scanned the letter, eyes dropping to an italicized portion further down, dread growing in her stomach. “You intimate a desire to be informed what would be my part in such an event as to entering into military service. I have no scruple about opening myself to you on this point. If I am invited to a station in which the service I may render may be proportioned to the sacrifice I am to make—I shall be willing to go into the army.”1
She felt ill as the realization came over her: he’d lied to her. Again. Those pretty words he’d said in the foyer barely a month ago about how important she and the children were to him had meant nothing. He was going back to public service.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.” She jumped at the sound of her husband’s voice, looking over at him with wide, startled eyes. He laughed gently. “I’m sorry, did I startle you?”
She nodded, heart racing and mind churning.
He leaned easily against the doorjamb. “I know you need to help look after your father, but it’s going to be hard with you gone. Alex and Jamie were just about to reenact the tragedy of Cain and Abel over a dish of strawberries. Where ever did they get such a sweet tooth?” He asked the question with a knowing smirk.
The comment was an open invitation to tease him about his own sweet tooth. Not five minutes ago, she would have done so in good humor; now she can barely look at him. He seemed to sense the change.
“Betsey? Are you all right?”
“Fine,” she nodded vaguely. She couldn’t confront him right now. Her throat felt tight and her eyes were watering. If she tried to speak, she’d burst into tears.
“You’re sure?” Hamilton looked unconvinced, and not a little concerned.
She hesitated, cleared her throat to avoid any quavering, and amended, “Actually, I’m suddenly feeling a little under the weather. Perhaps I’ll go lie down a bit before the party.”
His expression softened with sympathy. “Of course, sweetheart. Go take a rest.”
She nodded again, pushing by him to get out of the room. Mounting the stairs with haste, she shut herself into her bedroom and leaned back against the door. Perhaps she was overreacting, she considered. He had told her that he would reconsider his position on public office if war between France and America should come. Wasn’t that all the letter had said?
The sting of betrayal remained deep in her breast. He hadn’t talked to her about joining the army again. He hadn’t even mentioned he was considering it. His actions felt deceitful and underhanded.
The peace she had found over the past weeks, ever since he’d spoken those blessed words about choosing their family over his public life, washed away under a new wave of hurt and pain. It was silly, perhaps, to place so much meaning on that one conversation, but she had. For the first time in so many months, she’d felt as if she recognized her husband again.
She placed her blank pages on her dressing table and sighed. Rooting around in one of the drawers for a quill and some ink, she decided to continue her correspondence. Those poor women and their babe’s shouldn’t suffer because of her emotional turmoil, she told herself firmly. She found the items shoved towards the back; she needed them in here only on the rare occasion she wanted to jot down a list before bed.
Writing calmed her.
She was glad she hadn’t tried to bring up the letter downstairs; she needed time gather her thoughts and place them in perspective. They would need to talk, calmly and rationally, about what a return to public life would mean for them. Tonight, after the party, she would sit him down and they would discuss it.
Eliza laughed politely as Nicholas Fish, one her husband’s oldest and dearest friends, regaled her with an amusing tale. In the interest of fostering conversation, she’d been seat across and several seats down from her husband. She took a bite of the chicken from her plate and glanced down the table at Hamilton.
His shoulders looked tense and his eyes seemed deliberately trained on his meal. She didn’t recognize the man seated beside him. The man, whoever he was, gestured wildly as he spoke, his fork swirling through the air, dangerously close to the people seated on either side of him. His dazed expression and slightly manic smile signaled to Eliza that he’d partaken of too much drink.
John Church was seated on the other side of her husband, and he caught her eye as she was taking in the situation. He, too, looked tense and uncomfortable. She gave him a quizzical look. He darted his eye towards the unknown man and shook his head once.
“Poor Ham looks like he’s having a tough time of it,” Fish noted beside her.
“Who is that man sitting next to him?” she asked.
Fish frowned. “I’m not sure. Some distant relation of Jay’s, I believe, though I’ve never met him before. He certainly doesn’t seem to be making much of an impression.”
The man beside her husband raised his voice suddenly, his words noticeably slurred. “The bastards! We ought to take ‘em all out one by one!”
Hamilton replied softly, so she couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“I don’t care who hears me,” the man shouted back at him. “Why? You one of ‘em?”
The person seated on the other side of the man said something else to him. His eyes widened and his volume lowered once more. Her husband’s face was flushed as he renewed his study of his dinner plate.
The meal past without further incident, and the party retired to the front room for music and dancing. Eliza paced over to the open window for a breath of air in the already warm room. The violins tuned up in the corner as couples took their places.
“Well, that was interesting.”
She looked around at Hamilton, who was now standing behind her. “What happened?”
“The only thing worse than having a political discussion over a meal is having a political discussion with someone who has clearly had more than their fair share of wine.”
She gave him a half smile.
“Would you like to dance?”
“Perhaps later, to a slower song,” she declined, hardly in the mood for the spritly dance that was to open the night.
“Are you still feeling unwell?” His brow wrinkled in concern and he reached a hand towards her cheek.
She leaned back away from him. “I’m fine.”
“My dear brother,” Angelica called, approaching with Church fast on her heels. “Will you dance with me? My husband refuses to indulge me.”
Hamilton smiled as he turned to face her sister. His eyes lingered for a moment on Angelica’s fashionable, low-cut dress. “With pleasure, my dear sister.”
A flash of unreasonable jealousy shot through her as she glanced down at the navy blue dress he’d so complimented when she’d worn it to the theater back in March. Hamilton and Angelica had similarly gregarious and flirtatious personalities. They’d been playful with each other ever since they first met, and it had never once bothered her. She trusted them both too much to be concerned. But watching her husband escort her sister to the dance floor, his hand at her waist, she felt a poisonous worm of jealousy wriggling in the back of her mind.
She smiled tightly at Church, still standing silently beside her. Turning her face back to the window, she opened her fan and waved at her face perfunctorily. She’d never much cared for these bright, loud parties.
“Would you care to dance, Mrs. Hamilton?” Nicholas Fish asked several minutes later before the next song began. He held out a hand to her hopefully. She glanced out at the dance floor, where her husband was still speaking quietly to Angelica, smiling widely at whatever clever retort her sister had made.
“You wouldn’t prefer an eligible young woman, Mr. Fish?” Still a bachelor at forty, she wondered if the sweet man would ever settle down. There was little hope of it if he kept dancing with married women at parties.
“I’d be quite content to dance with the loveliest lady in the room, ma’am,” he replied.
“If you’re going to flatter me, sir, at least make it believable,” she scolded, though she softened the comment with a smile.
“Hardly mere flattery, I assure you. Your kind heart and generous spirit radiate from you like a beacon. I’m quite sure your husband would agree.” The last sentence was spoken with a kind of finality, as if her husband’s agreement were all the proof any assertion required to make it true. Knowing Fish, he probably believed that.
She shook her head at the overt attempt to charm her, but she took his hand. When she took her place in line, Hamilton met her eye and smiled, his whole face lighting up at the sight of her. She smiled back at him, some of her bitterness towards him easing at his expression of pure delight. She turned her attention to Fish as the music began.
She found herself enjoying the evening after that. She danced merrily with Fish, then once with Church, and finally once with her husband. Hamilton twirled her around too many times at a key moment in the dance, throwing off the steps, and when she’d bumped into him as a result he had pressed a playful kiss to her nose before twirling her back to the proper place. She swatted at him even as she grinned adoringly.
“You did that on purpose,” she charged.
He grinned. “Of course I did. I can’t resist you, especially not in that dress.”
Everything was going wonderfully, until the end of the night.
The unknown relation of Jay’s lurched drunkenly towards their group when they’d sat to rest and have a companionable drink. The companion who’d sat beside him at dinner was tugging at his sleeve and whispering quietly, but the man shrugged him off. “We’ve got to actually do something,” he stated, apropos of nothing, as he came to a stop in front of her husband.
“Sir, I think it’s time you retired,” Hamilton replied calmly.
“No, no, we’ve got to do something. Those tri-colored bastards just…just get away with everything! Robbery, murder. Look at…look at poor Jemmy Jones!”
Fish looked incredibly uncomfortable at the reference. James Jones had been insulted by Brockholst Livingston in the republican Argus along with Fish, but where Fish had chosen to pointedly ignore the insult, Jones had flown into a passion, attacked Livingston with a cane, tweaked his nose, and ended up dying in a duel as a result.2 The duel had been a mere two weeks previous, making the reference in even poorer taste.
“Sir,” Hamilton tried to interrupt once more. His jaw muscle was bunched in a way that told her he was trying to reign in his temper. The man refused to be silenced.
“We can’t just let them get away with it! And you,” he pointed at Hamilton, “You should be leading us! If I were you, I’d be at the capital. Not off…off philandering about with pretty whores—”
“That’s quite enough,” Church roared, jumping from his seat and taking the man by the arm. Hamilton was on his feet as well.
Humiliation burned through her; she pressed a hand to her forehead as if to cover her face. Fear mixed in strongly as well. Was Hamilton about to get into a duel? Would he, too, be a victim of the dangerous political polarization gripping the nation?
Angelica wrapped an arm around her as the men stalked off. “My poor, dear love,” her sister whispered. “It’ll be all right.”
She half wanted to snap at her sister to take her hand off her shoulders. A deeper, younger part of her wanted to crawl into her big sister’s arms and weep. Drawing in a steadying breath, she looked over at Angelica and announced, “I’m leaving.”
“I’ll get Hamilton,” Angelica offered, already moving to stand.
“No,” she stopped her. “No. I’m leaving.”
She stood, walked purposefully towards the door, and ordered their coach be brought around. When it arrived, she told the driver to take her home, and curled up in the corner as the carriage clattered away on the rough road. Let him play politics to his heart’s content, she thought darkly, to his death if that’s what he wished.
She didn’t need him.
The front door of their townhouse slammed shut nearly an hour later. Eliza started in her seat, looking away from the dying fire to the doorway where her husband now stood, face red and livid with anger. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him look so furious, at least not with her.
“What were you thinking?” he demanded, voice icy. “You just left me there. And you took the carriage. I had to ask Church to bring me home. Do you know how embarrassing that was?”
A slightly hysterical laugh burst out of her. She turned her gaze back to the fire.
He took a step into the room. “Why are you laughing?”
She ignored him.
His fist pounded into the wall and she jumped again. “For God’s sake, Eliza, we’re going in circles! We can’t keep doing this!” She could count on one hand the number of times he’d raised his voice at her like that. Watching him warily, she saw him rest his head on his fist, leaning heavily against the wall and breathing hard. He added, in almost a whisper, “I can’t keep doing this.”
“You’re joining the army.” She stated the fact flatly. To anyone else, it would have seemed a non-sequitur, but she knew he understood by how fast his head whipped around to face her again.
“You read my letter.”
“You said you weren’t going back.”
“I said wasn’t going back as long as it could be avoided. This is bad, Eliza. People are dying. I can’t avoid it any longer. After everything I’ve sacrificed—”
“You’ve sacrificed?” she repeated with disbelief. “You?”
“Yes,” he snapped.
A red haze seemed to descend over her vision.
“You’ve ruined my life!” she shouted at him. “You took everything I’ve ever known to be true, set it aflame, and published the ashes for the world to see.”
He stared at her, nonplussed by the outburst.
“And now you want to start all over again! Saddle yourself with overwhelming responsibility until you crawl back into the first open pair of arms you come across.”
“That’s not true. That’s not going to happen!”
“How do I know that? How will I know if it does? Would you have ever told me about the first girl if your public reputation weren’t on the line?”
“Would you have wanted me to?”
She ground her teeth together so hard she feared they would break. “I hate that you slept with her. The very thought of it makes me crazy. But the worst part was the deceit. You lied to me. You lied to me for years. And now you’ve lied to me again.”
“I didn’t lie to you about this,” he insisted. “And that’s not going to happen again. That wasn’t me, Eliza.”
“You keep saying that. Of course it was you! Stop lying!”
And they were off.
The fight that followed was unlike anything Eliza had ever experienced. She hardly remembered all the horrible things they started screaming. Pent up resentment, anger, humiliation, and confusion was suddenly spewing forth from both of them, raging through parlor like a great storm, destroying everything in its path. No one knew them better than the other; no one knew how to hurt them more. They tore into each other like wounded animals, shouting over each other, the vitriol worsening with every word. Every soft spot was prodded, every insecurity laid bare.
They lost the thread of the argument at some point, striking out with anything that could wound. She remembered echoing some the attacks she’d read in the press about his political corruption. Somehow, she linked that with an accusation that he was lusting after Angelica.
“I’m not sleeping with your sister,” he nearly spat back. “Though it is nice on occasion to speak to a woman who actually understands something of my work.”
It ought not to have hurt so much: she’d never claimed any sort of interest in politics, and she’d met several well-educated, even brilliant, men who’d found themselves awed by her husband’s genius. That she didn’t grasp every nuance of his work was hardly a reflection of her intelligence. Still, the thrust sank deep, feeding a deep insecurity that she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough, to be married to a man like him. The pain must have shown on her face, because the anger in his expression rapidly transformed into regret.
That was when she struck the killing blow, treading onto forbidden ground. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you were unfaithful, given who raised you.”
The color drained from his face. “Don’t.”
“Like mother, like son.”
He crumpled in on himself, turning away from her.
It was a hollow victory.
She fled from the room, up the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door. It was then she suddenly remembered the house full of children she could only pray had slept through the horrifying display. Her dress tore at the back as she ripped it off, desperate to change out of the formal gown. She didn’t care; she couldn’t imagine she’d ever wear it again when it was linked indelibly in her mind to such a nightmarish evening. Tugging a nightgown on, she crawled into bed and curled up, sobs wracking her chest. She pressed her face into her pillow, trying to quiet them.
Some time passed, her sobs fading to hitching breaths and damp eyes, when she heard a soft tap at the door. She froze in place, waiting. Another soft tap followed. “Eliza?”
She stayed quiet.
“Eliza, please answer me.”
Tears started leaking from her eyes again at the pain in his voice.
“Those can’t be the last things we say to each other before you leave. Please,” he begged.
When heavy silence met him again, she heard a soft thud, as if he’d knocked his head against the door, and a light scratching, as though he had dragged his fingers down along the wood. At last, she heard footsteps retreating down the stairs. She heaved out a long breath.
The imagined image haunted her: his head resting on the door, his fingers splayed across the wood as he begged to be let in. Then the image of him hours earlier popped into her mind: smiling with delight as he spun her on the dance floor, pressing little kisses to her nose. It would be so much easier to hate him if she didn’t love him so much.
Eventually, perhaps hours later, the heartache and guilt overwhelmed the anger and pain, and she pulled herself from the bed. She went to the dressing room, where she collected a nightshirt and the spare quilt. Then she padded downstairs with the items, looking into the empty parlor first and then approaching the office. The door was slightly ajar, so she pushed it open gently.
Hamilton was asleep in his armchair, fully clothed, his arms crossed over his chest and his feet propped up on the foot rest. She knelt beside him. “Alexander?”
He snuffled lightly, his head rolling toward her, but he didn’t wake.
Sighing, she spread the blanket out over him and left the nightshirt by his side, in case he woke in the night and wished to change. The door closed behind her with a gentle tap.
She blinked slowly in the bright sunlight filtering through the curtains of her bedroom. The normal Sunday bustle sounded outside the door: the children readying for church, the maids hard at their chores. One of the servants had checked on her earlier, and she’d feigned sleep. She’d been alone and undisturbed ever since.
Some of the activity finally quieted outside. She’d nearly drifted off when her door opened once more. She kept her eyes closed, even as she felt a familiar weight settle onto the bed beside her.
“Eliza?” Hamilton asked.
Slowly, she opened her eyes to look up at him. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, and he looked tired, almost achingly soul weary. She wondered if the same sight would greet her in the mirror.
“Angelica took the boys with her to church,” he informed her. He reached out slowly, wary, but she stayed still until he finally placed the back of his hand against her forehead. “Are you ill? Should I send for the doctor?”
“No,” she said simply.
“Can I bring you anything?”
She rolled over to face away from him. “Just leave me alone.”
He complied, rising from the bed and closing the door behind him.
She did eventually get up. She finished packing and made sure Angelica and William both had everything they would need for their trip to Albany. William was still a bit too small to be away from her, and Angelica…well, the girl had nearly begged her to come along. She wondered how much of that was a desire to be with her mother and see her grandparents, or simply a desire not to be left alone with her father, with whom she was barely speaking.
Hamilton rode out with them to the sloop that afternoon. He gave their giggling baby a series of wet, sloppy kisses all over his face. Angelica surprisingly agreed to hug him goodbye, accepting a kiss to the crown of her head as she squeezed her father around the waist. “I love you, sweetheart. I’ll miss you,” he whispered to their little girl.
“I’ll miss you, too, Papa,” Angelica replied. It was, perhaps, the most words she’d strung together in a sentence directed towards him in months. He’d smiled slightly in response.
Finally, he looked at her. Their eyes met for a long, pregnant moment. He didn’t try to speak to her, or kiss her goodbye. She made no movement towards him, either. His shoulders fell, a deep despair plain on his face, as he walked back towards the coach alone.
A week later, she settled into a seat outside her parents’ estate, looking out at the water as she slowly sipped at her tea. Angelica had taken little William down to the riverbank, and she could see her daughter playfully splashing in the water, flicking little drops at the baby as he laughed gleefully. She smiled at the simple scene.
Her father seemed to be doing much better, but she didn’t regret her trip. She needed time away: time to think without her husband’s sad eyes to make her feel guilty. Not that she had escaped him entirely. When she’d arrived in Albany, she had two letters from her husband and one from her sister waiting for her. One of Hamilton’s letters and Angelica’s had both been sent on the day she’d left New York.
“I have been extremely uneasy, My beloved Eliza, at the state of health and state of mind in which you left me. I earnestly hope there has been a change of both for the better,”3 Hamilton had written. She’d nearly laughed. Did he really think a few days on a boat were going to do anything to improve the mess their lives had become?
He’d continued, “I always feel how necessary you are to me. But when you are absent I become still more sensible of it, and look around in vain for that satisfaction which you alone can bestow.”4 The longing in those sentences had made her ache a little. Did he mean that? If he did, if she alone could bring him satisfaction, why did he insist on going back to the army?
Angelica’s letter had helpfully informed her that Hamilton had gone to her house for dinner and that he was “very much out of spirits” over the course of the evening. She’d added that the unpleasant man from dinner the night before, or the “dirty fellow,” in her words, had been “effectually silenced.”5 She wondered queasily if he had been silenced in the same manner as James Jones.
“You look deep in thought, my dear heart.”
Eliza turned in her seat to see her mother carefully making her way to the table to join her. “Hello, Mama,” she greeted, conjuring a warm smile. “How was Papa this morning?”
“He’s getting a little stronger every day,” Kitty Schuyler replied. She lowered herself into a chair with a great sigh, and Eliza quickly set about preparing her a cup of tea. “What had you looking so serious on a such a lovely morning?”
She shook her head, trying to shrug off her troubles and concerns.
“Is it that husband of yours?” Kitty pressed. Eliza’s face must have given it away, because Kitty nodded to herself. “I thought something was wrong, when three letters preceded your arrival. What happened?”
Eliza swallowed around a sudden lump in her throat. “We had a fight,” she managed. “We had a…a terrible fight. We said such horrible things to each other. And then I left.”
Kitty laid one of her wrinkled hands atop hers, inviting her to continue, to unload the great weight she’d been carrying inside her for so long.
And so she did. She told her mother about her grief, her anger, her deep and abiding love, and how it all seemed to whirl within her in such a confusing and overwhelming way. “I’m trying so hard. I want to forgive him. Things between us used to be so wonderful, so easy. Now half the time he feels like a stranger. I just don’t know how to make things like they were before. How can I go back?”
“You can’t,” her mother said simply.
Her eyes widened, devastation surging through her. Her mother patted her hand affectionately. “It’s not so bad as all that, dearest. You know, your Papa and I have been married for a very long time now. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes things happen that change your relationship forever: sometimes good things, sometimes bad things. In either case, you can never go back to the marriage you had before. You can only walk forward.”
Eliza nodded, mulling the thought over in her mind.
“You know, many marriages, most I would venture to say, are little more than convenient economic arrangements between men and women. They live in separate spheres, perhaps exchanging polite words over dinner. Even if they don’t start out that way, they usually end up as such.”
She frowned at her mother. Was she saying she should accept the painful distance that had grown up between them? Give up on her loving relationship and accept a life of smiling politely at her husband over shared meals?
“But you and Hamilton, you’ve always shared an uncommon intimacy. You love each other so deeply and passionately. You’re friends, lovers, partners. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, like you’re his only light in a dark world. And he isn’t a stranger; you know him better now than you ever have before. Things between you are going to change, to transform. You’ll continue to love each other, of that I have no doubt. But you need to stop trying to go back to a golden past, sweetheart. You’ll never be able to, and trying will only drive you both mad.”
“How do I move on?” she asked, voice quiet. “How do I get past this?”
“Speak with him,” Kitty answered. “Truly speak with him. Try to understand how this happened, and how to stop it from happening again, so you can begin to rebuild trust. You can’t just hold this inside you and hope if you bury it deep enough, you’ll forget about it.”6
That was exactly the trap she had fallen into, she realized. Burying the hurt, pretending to be fine, and then retreating from him when it reared its ugly head once more.
Her mother leaned over and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Whatever happens, you’re going to be just fine, my sweet girl,” she added, taking another sip of her tea.
Eliza stared at her mother for a long moment, wondering how she’d become so wise. A thought occurred to her, a terrible thought: had her father…? Her world seemed to tilt on its axis for a moment as she considered the possibility that her heroic, loving father could ever do such a thing to her mother. Of course, such things happened with a disheartening frequency. The only difference in her case was her husband’s spectacular failure of discretion.
Her heart hurt even more for her daughter: if the idea bothered her this much at forty, what must it be doing to her impressionable thirteen year old?
She didn’t ask her mother, didn’t press her suspicion; she simply sat back and looked out over the water. She tried to soak in the advice. They had spoken very briefly about what had led to the affair: how the stress of his job as Treasury Secretary and his feelings of inadequacy in sufficiently providing for his family had driven him to indulge in a destructive kind of fantasy world. It was part of the reason she felt so worried about him returning to a public position. They’d both attempted to talk further after that conversation, several times, in fact. Hadn’t she been considering such a conversation the very same day they’d had their explosive argument? But now, with clearer expectations, she felt like she might finally be ready.
Her old marriage was gone: mortally wounded by her husband’s betrayal and finally killed by their last fight. But together they could forge a new marriage, a more honest love.
She’d write to him today, when she went inside, she decided.
She gazed out a the tranquil river, feeling lighter and more hopeful that she had in a very long time.
Oh my goodness, this chapter was hard to write. I hope it didn’t leave everyone hating Ham, or me. I did try to leave it on a hopeful note, but man...
On to the ridiculously long history note:
1. Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 2 June 1798
2. See Affairs of Honor, by Joanne Freeman, p. 172 and A History of the People of the United States: From the Revolution to the Civil War, by John Bach McMaster, p. 381.
3, 4. Hamilton to Eliza, 3 June 1798
5. Angelica Church to Elizabeth Hamilton, undated. All credit to runawayforthesummer for making a remarkably convincing argument that the “Icarus” letter was not, in fact, written in the summer of 1797, but rather in 1798. I’d recommend checking out her tumblr page for the full argument.
Both Hamilton and Angelica mention Hamilton coming by for dinner after Eliza left that night. Also, Hamilton’s letter to Eliza on the day she left for Albany was written on June 3rd, which was a Sunday, and in Angelica’s letter where she talks about Eliza leaving on the sloop, she mentions taking the boy’s with her to church that morning, which also likely places her letter on a Sunday. Everything about it just matches up perfectly.
That also means that the “dirty fellow” Angelica mentions wasn’t necessarily James Callender (although it could have been, as circumstances were heating up for him around this time, with the Alien and Sedition Acts coming out soon after). The drunk man (I didn’t want to saddle him with a real identity) at the party was all just my imagination trying to create a circumstance where Hamilton and Eliza would really fight it out.
6. Kitty Schuyler’s advice is sort of an amalgamation of a whole bunch of articles and advice columns I’ve been reading lately. One of the most interesting and insightful source I found was the Dear Sugar podcast four part series on Infidelity, which featured Ester Perel in one episode (another huge thanks to Iris970 for suggesting I seek her work out). Perel also just published an article in the Atlantic (Oct. 2017 Issue) entitled “Why Happy People Cheat: A Good Marriage Is No Guarantee Against Infidelity,” which was also very influential and helpful for this chapter.
The heels of his hands pressed against his heavy eyes as his thoughts drifted to Eliza’s smile: how her eyes sparked with amusement first, then the corners of her lips would curl slightly, rising slowly until her eyes crinkled. He felt the corners of his own lips begin to curl as he painted the image in his mind.
The smile disappeared just as quickly as he felt the ever present anxiety gnawing away at his middle. He dragged his fingers through his hair. Eliza had him too distracted to focus on work, and too worried to properly sleep. She’d written him finally, at least, relieving him of weeks of blind panic that she wasn’t going to come back at all. But he still didn’t know what to make of the letter. She’d simply said that she was feeling better, planned to return shortly, and that they needed to speak when she got home.
What did that mean?
He folded his arms across the blank sheet in front of him and laid his head down. Maybe he should just go to bed? His work certainly wasn’t benefiting from his wakefulness. Yet the thought of lying alone in the dark with nothing to distract him from his thoughts was unappealing, to say the least.
The prickling feeling of being watched came over him. He heard the floorboards squeak as he turned his head to look at the door, just in time to catch a glimpse of a little face before it disappeared. Smiling to himself, he heaved himself out of his seat and squatted by the slightly ajar door. He peeked around into the entryway to see Johnny hugging the wall.
“Hello,” he greeted softly.
“Hi,” Johnny whispered back.
“It’s very late. You should be abed, my dear fellow.”
John gave him a pensive frown. “I can’t sleep.”
“I’m worried.” His little boy sounded much older than his five years. Perhaps he’d had a nightmare?
“Would you like to come sit on my knee and discuss it?”
John nodded. Hamilton jerked his head towards the office and rose, his knees creaking. Settling back into his desk chair, he patted his leg once in invitation as John paused uncertainly. His son clambered into his lap.
“What are you worried about?” he asked, rubbing his hand across the child’s back soothingly.
John hesitated. “Is Mama coming home?”
He blinked, surprised. “Of course she is.”
“I just had a letter from her today. Grandpa Schuyler is feeling much better, so she’ll be home soon,” he assured the boy. “Why are you worried about that?”
“I heard you and Mama yelling at each other,” John admitted quietly, eyes trained on the floor. “And then Mama went away.”
Oh, Lord, he thought, squeezing his eyes shut. That was the last thing he wanted any of his children to hear. When none of them had mentioned it, he’d prayed they had slept through that disastrous last interaction. He cuddled the boy a little closer as he tried to find the right words to explain.
“I’m sorry you heard that,” he began. “Mama and I had a…a disagreement and we lost our tempers with each other. But that doesn’t mean she’s not coming home. Mama would never just leave us.”
At least, not the children, he qualified silently.
Johnny nodded once, his teeth sunk deep in his lower lip. How long had he been worrying over this? Hamilton wondered. And how had he not noticed?
He continued softly, “It’s just like when you or your brothers fight: you might shout and stomp and say mean things, but you’re still brothers. An argument doesn’t change that.”
John seemed to give the comparison some thought. “Papa?”
He felt like all the air had been knocked out of him. Johnny had pronounced it ‘Add- al- tree,’ but his meaning was unmistakable. “Adultery?”
John nodded. “Jamie said that’s why you were fighting. Because of adultery. What does that mean?”
He wondered if Jamie even knew; more than likely he had simply been repeating something he’d heard Philip say.
“It means…” he hesitated, hunting desperately for an appropriate explanation. “It means I broke a promise.”
“A promise to Mama?”
He nodded. “When two people get married, they make certain promises to each other. A long time ago, before you were born, I did something very wrong. I broke one of those promises. When Mama found out, she was rightfully very sad and upset.”
“Did you say you were sorry?”
He smiled sadly. “I did.”
John frowned again, deep in thought.
“When I lost Jamie’s marbles, he was really, really mad even after I said sorry. Mama said that a proper apology is more than just saying sorry. There are three steps.” Johnny tugged on three of his fingers as he recalled Eliza’s lesson, his tone turning almost comically professorial. “You say sorry, promise to never do it again, and then ask how you can make it better.”
“I see,” he nodded.
“Jamie made me do his chores for two whole days!” John’s voice rose with baffled wonder that he’d survived such harsh treatment.
“I remember,” he assured the boy, fighting a chuckle.
“Did you do all the steps?”
He sat back as he considered. He supposed he hadn’t. As much as he’d tried to talk to Eliza over the past months, she hadn’t seemed interested in having a discussion. And what could he possibly do to make amends? He’d given up public life for her, but that had been years ago. She hadn’t even known about the affair back then. Did that really count? What more could he give her? His thoughts turned to the latest news of the army, and he winced.
“No,” he answered his son.
“You need to follow the steps,” John said decisively. The little boy looked greatly relieved to have found the answer. “Then Mama will forgive you.”
He pressed a kiss against the boy’s sandy hair. “I’ll give it a try. Let’s get you back to bed, shall we?”
“Will you read a story?” John requested as he slid from his lap.
He followed the boy out of his office with a candle. “What story would you like to hear?”
“Nimble the mouse,” John requested.
He smiled, not surprised in the least. Eliza had purchased The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse back when Angelica was a baby, and the book had since been enjoyed by all their children. Currently, the tale was his little son’s latest literary obsession. He supposed the idea of talking mice had a certain magical quality the boy found appealing. “Just a few pages,” he bargained as they mounted the stairs.
John climbed back into his bed as Hamilton pulled the book off the shelf. He settled down beside the boy and opened to the place they’d last left off. “Betty Flood then ate her breakfast; and we heard her say something about the nasty mice,” he read, tickling the boy as he read the last words.*
Johnny laughed and cuddled closer to him, resting his little head on his chest. Though Hamilton was contorted uncomfortably to fit on the small bed, he found his eyes growing heavy with the warm weight of his son beside him and the soft pillows beneath him. He must have paused in his reading, because he felt John stir.
“Mrs. Flood was making pancakes,” Johnny prompted.
He craned his head to look at the boy. “Well, now, there’s a thought. Why don’t you read to me for a little while?”
John’s little hands reached out eagerly to pull the book closer, and he began to read aloud, sounding out the longer words carefully.
Eliza would be home soon, and he’d try again to speak with her, he thought, attention drifting quickly away from the story. He’d do anything she asked to make things better between them. Anything. He needed her. The past weeks of sleepless dread had proven that. Pressing another kiss to the boy’s head, Hamilton relaxed back against the pillows and closed his eyes.
Sleep claimed him at long last.
An elbow landed in his rib some hours later, jolting him back to consciousness. Johnny wriggled around in his sleep, the book tucked in his arms like a plaything. Easing his arm out from under the boy, he tip-toed from the room.
He changed into his nightclothes and climbed into bed, hoping to fall quickly back to sleep. Instead, his eyes blinked slowly as he stared up at the floral pattern of the canopy. Eliza and her strange letter haunted him.
What did it mean?
The weeks of sleeplessness were beginning to tell. The dark circles that had been permanent fixtures on his face for years had somehow darkened further, and the whites of his eyes had taken on a distinctly reddish color. He frowned at his reflection as he carefully shaved. Perhaps he should take a day to rest, he considered. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to end up ill.
He forwent his customary waistcoat and jacket, instead tugging his banyan on over his shirt and breeches before heading downstairs for breakfast. He’d send word to James that he was working from home. Maybe he’d try to nap after the boys left for school, so he’d be refreshed went he started research on the insurance case he’d recently taken.
“Knock it off,” he heard Pip demand as he entered the front room. “You’re going to upset the ink bottle.”
Jamie and Alex appeared to have been engaged in some kind of fight, because he noted Jamie send out a last kick under the table as Alex stuck his tongue out at his older brother. When Jamie’s foot connected, Alex turned his attention to his younger brother, clearly about to retaliate.
“Good morning,” he announced, sending the two boys a pointed look.
They froze in their seats, looks of angelic innocence appearing on both their faces.
“Morning, Papa,” they greeted. He shook his head as he fought a smile. Boys.
He sat down at the head of the table and nodded to the maid as she poured him a cup of coffee. Pip was scribbling madly in the seat beside him. He craned his head to see what the boy was doing. Something in poorly conjugated Latin, if his eyes weren’t failing him.
“That wouldn’t be an assignment due today, by any chance?” he asked mildly as he reached for his coffee cup.
Pip glanced up at him quickly, then turned his attention back to the paper. “Of course not.”
“Good, because it’s going to need a few rounds of editing,” he commented.
Pip frowned at the paper. “It is?”
His son’s big eyes met his. “Could you maybe make some corrections?”
“I can look it over tonight,” he offered.
“Or, maybe, right now?” Pip wheedled. “Please?”
He gave the boy a significant look, which Pip met with a toothy smile. Sighing, he held out a hand for the paper and began marking it up. The boy was going to need a firmer hand, but he lacked the energy to do anything about it right now.
When the boys left for school and Johnny’s tutor arrived, he retreated into his office. Giving the armchair a considering look, he sighed and seated himself at the desk. He really did need to get to work. He’d barely started on the case, and the first hearing date was approaching with rapid speed.
The next thing he knew, a hand was on his shoulder and a soft voice whispered, “Alexander?”
He started up in his chair, sucking in a breath as he looked around the room. Eliza stood beside him, fond amusement clear in her expression. He wiped a hand over his face, trying to get his bearings.
“Are you all right, honey?” she asked.
He nodded. “Just…tired. I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“You know, there’s a bed upstairs that might be a bit more comfortable then sleeping hunched over a desk.”
“I had a lot of work to do,” he tried to explain.
“So I see,” she teased, arching a brow.
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” he added, breathing out a small chuckle.
She was still smiling at him, and the tight knot of anxiety in his middle eased slightly. She had come home. Rising from his seat, he hesitated, every part of him screaming to reach out and hold her even as he understood that doing so may be a terrible idea. Everything seemed so fragile between them.
“I’ve missed you,” he settled on as an appropriate greeting. “Is your father feeling better?”
“He is,” she assured him. She seemed to be hesitating as well, giving great thought to her next movement. Finally, she stepped forward and wrapped him in an embrace.
He stood tensely at first, uncertain, then melted into the hug and squeezed her against him.
“We need to talk,” she said, her face turned away and pressed against his shoulder.
“All right,” he agreed, the sick, worried feeling building within him again. Was the embrace a greeting, or a last farewell? He tightened his grip around her, trying to savor the moment in case it was the last time he ever held her.
“Are you too busy right now?” she asked.
“No.” It would be hard to argue otherwise, when she’d found him asleep at his desk a moment ago.
She eased away from him and sat down in the armchair. He turned his desk chair around to face her. She frowned down at the floor, her hands twisting in her lap, as she searched for a way to begin.
“May I say something?” he asked.
She glanced up at him and nodded.
He swallowed, then slid out of the chair to kneel before her. Reaching out, he sought permission to touch. When her face stayed soft and open, he laid his hands over hers and hauled in a steadying breath. “I’ve been searching for a way to tell you how truly sorry I am for what I’ve done. For the affair, and the lies, and the humiliation of that pamphlet. I can never forgive myself for what I’ve done to you, what I’ve continued to do to you even as I apologized.”
She opened her mouth, but he shook his head quickly. “Please, just let me get this out.”
She sighed, nodding to him to continue.
“I received some very wise counsel a few days ago. I was informed that a proper apology requires more than the mere statement that one is sorry, no matter how eloquently it may be delivered. And so, in that spirit, I have three things to say to you: that I truly repent all of my actions, up to and including those of the night you left; that I will never repeat them; and that I will do anything you request of me to try to make amends.”
Her eyes widened slightly. “Anything?”
He nodded, meeting her gaze fully. “I won’t go back to the army, Betsey, not if it means hurting you. You are so much more important to me than any public office. I was being a fool when I insisted otherwise.”
He felt her hands turn over under his, her fingers entwining with his own as she considered his words. After a beat of silence, she whispered, “Thank you.”
He smiled tentatively.
Eliza gave his hand a soft squeeze as she composed her thoughts. “I need to apologize to you, too.”
“No,” he said immediately. “Please, you don’t—”
“I do,” she insisted. “I was so hurt that night, I lashed out in the worst way. I know how much you love and respect your mother. I know how important to you she was, and how much it grieves you to hear her being maligned for being forced into impossible circumstances. What I said about her, and about you, was wrong. And I’m sorry.”
He shook his head slightly, hating that she felt she needed to apologize. No matter how deeply wounded her words had left him, however painful it had been to hear the insinuation that his poor mother was responsible for his perversion, he knew he deserved infinitely worse. Nothing could compare to how he’d hurt her.
“I also received some wise counsel while I was away,” she continued. “I haven’t been being fair to you, or to myself, with how I’ve handled things between us thus far.”
He frowned deeply, and went to interrupt her again. She shushed him. “It’s my turn,” she insisted. He nodded.
“I’ve been trying to bury the hurt. I kept thinking if I just pretended enough, that everything would go back to how it was. But we can’t go back. We can’t undo the past year. Things between us can’t be what they were.”
His vision began to swim. She was leaving. He’d lost her.
“Sweetheart? You look a little…woozy.” He forced his eyes to focus back on her face. She’d paused in her speech and was staring at him with great concern.
“I’m…” he trailed off, unable to lie. He nodded slightly instead and waved her on.
“I realized I don’t want things to be what they were. I want us to be more open with each other, more honest. I want to tell you when I’m feeling overwhelmed and horrible, and I want you to be able to tell me as well. I don’t want us to keep things bottled up inside until we feel we need to escape or explode. I want us to do better.”
A moment past before he comprehended what she had said. “Wait. You…you’re not leaving?”
She let a breathy laugh escape her lips. “No.”
So much tension fled his body that for a moment he worried he might actually faint.
She squeezed his hand again.
“I’ve been trying to understand why you went to her. To Maria.” He flinched at the name on his wife’s tongue. “You wanted to escape the pressure, the worry and responsibility. Right?”
“I knew it was wrong. But it felt…contained. Unreal. I kept thinking I would tire of it if I went back just one more time. You have to know it wasn’t you, Betsey. It wasn’t something I was lacking in our marriage. I love you. I need you. I never meant to hurt you like this.”
She was quiet as she took his words. After a moment, she spoke softly, “I don’t want you to have to give up your career for me. I don’t want you to be unhappy for my sake.”
“You would be unhappy if you turned down a command in the army. I know how much you want to be a General; I’ve known almost since I first met you.”
She leaned forward in her chair and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. “So this is what I want from you. I want you to take the promotion, and to go off and be glorious and important. But only if you promise me that we’ll be more open with each other. I need to know when you’re feeling pressured and anxious and overwhelmed. I don’t want to stay up at night wondering if you’re really all right, or if you’ve fallen into the same trap as before.”
He gave her a tremulous smile. “I should warn you that feeling anxious and overwhelmed is pretty much my status quo.”
She laughed. “Did you think I would find that surprising?”
“No,” he laughed. He sat back, ignoring the pins and needles in his legs as he marveled at her. “I don’t think I can ever be worthy of you.”
She raised a skeptical brow.
“I mean it,” he insisted. “I’ve never been the man you thought I was, but I promise you I will spend the rest of my life trying to be.”
She nodded soberly. He could only pray that she understood just how fervently he meant the vow. A long silence passed between them as the significance of the conversation sank in for both of them.
Eliza was the one to break the silence. “Would you like to get up now, darling?”
“I might need some help,” he admitted. His legs were both firmly asleep from the prolonged kneeling. She laughed again and rose to help steady him as he straightened and lurched towards his desk chair.
“You know, my mother was the source of my counsel,” Eliza confided when he was seated in a proper chair.
“She’s a very wise woman,” he commented, the information unsurprising.
Eliza smiled slightly. “Out of sheer curiosity, from whom did you receive yours?”
“Johnny,” he answered.
“No, our Johnny,” he pointed upstairs to where their son was receiving tutoring.
She burst out laughing. “You took advice from our five year old?”
“In fairness, he received the advice on proper apologies from you,” he defended with a smirk. “And as I’ve always considered your counsel the best and the wisest, I had no desire to seek another opinion on the matter.”
“I thought that little speech of yours sounded familiar.”
They shared a smile.
Perhaps it was only his imagination, but he suddenly felt a lightness and strength where things had felt tense and weak before. Openness and honesty, he considered, as he looked back at his work. They could do that. It would take time, and work, but they could do it.
With Eliza at his side, he could do anything.
*From Dorothy Kilner’s The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse, published 1784. I don't know if Hamilton's kids ever read it, but it was a popular children's book when they were little.
June 1798 did seem to be a turning point for Ham and Eliza. While she’s away in Albany, his letters to her have a frantic, worried tone to them. On June 22, for example: “I write this to say to my darling that I begin to [be] very anxious for her return & hope it will be accelerated.” He even placed emphasis on "very anxious." Then, within the space of about two weeks, he’s in Philadelphia and the letters, though still short, don’t have the same panicked feel to them. So, something definitely happened in the short time they were both home. I hope my attempt at an explanation was at least enjoyable :)
The next chapter will probably jump forward in time a little bit again, heading into winter of 1798.
As always, thank you all so much for reading and for the continued support! It’s greatly appreciated.
Something wondrous and strange happened between he and Eliza in the months after she returned from Albany. The painful distance had disappeared, and, like the sun freed from passing clouds, the love between them blazed brighter than ever. They were like newlyweds in their passion and affection, discovering each other anew. Honesty was prized between them more than ever, and when they were both at home they made sure to talk to each other daily about their feelings and concerns. The closer they grew, the more he was loath to be apart from her. Even a day at the office seemed far too long.
One blissful morning came particularly to mind. The sky beyond the thick curtains had only just turned a hazy blue when he woke. Crisp fall air made the warm blankets of the bed feel heavenly. Better yet, he found his wife already awake and snuggled against him. Her big, dark eyes met his and she adjusted in the bed to press a kiss to his lips.
“Good morning,” she whispered, her small hands stroking across his chest. She smiled up at him beatifically. “You looked like you were in the grips of a pleasant dream when I woke.”
“I think perhaps I still am,” he whispered back.
She chuckled fondly and crossed her arms on his chest to rest her chin upon them. “Charmer,” she charged as she looked up at him through her long eyelashes.
As he’d wrapped his arms around her, he found himself swallowing around a sudden tightness in his throat. The contentment and peace he’d experienced in that moment had been something he’d thought lost forever. He closed his eyes and sent a prayer of thanks to both merciful God and his angelic wife for the second chance with which he’d been blessed.
Given this sudden renaissance in his marriage, his appointment as Major General was rather bittersweet. He’d longed to attain the distinguished rank for decades, to be sure. But like King Midas in the old myth, he found the granting of his wish came at a terrible price, as he was forced away from his wife and family back to the tedium of meetings over budgets and supplies.
When leaving for Philadelphia in early November, he’d been struck with a homesickness the likes of which he’d never before experienced. The day he arrived in the city, he’d sat down immediately to write to Eliza, admitting, “I am quite well, but I know not what impertinent gloom hangs over my mind, which I fear will not be entirely dissipated until I rejoin my family. A letter from you telling me you and my dear Children are well will be a consolation.”1 He’d been sick with worry until such a letter from her arrived, terrified that old distance would appear again. Quite to the contrary, she wrote him with a delightful regularity, insisting she longed for him every bit as much as he missed her.
“Is there anything you’d like to add, General?”
Only when his nephew, Phil, nudged him lightly in the side did Hamilton realize the question from Pinckney had been intended for him.
Roused at last from his daydreams, he answered belatedly, “No, I think we’ve covered everything.”
He could be forgiven his inattention. The new title still felt almost unreal, especially with General Washington sitting at the head of the table. His foggy head helped little. The children had passed around a terrible cold at the end of October, and apparently gifted it to him. The headache, blocked nose and sore throat had been plaguing him for the last week and half, not to mention the lingering and frustrating cough which worsened at night so as to make sleep nearly impossible. Seated in a chair near the fire in the blissfully warm meeting room, he’d been half asleep for most of the monotonous discussion.
Chairs scraped against the wooden floor as the officers began to rise. Phil leaned over to collect the papers spread out in front of him. He noticed Knox speaking to Washington in a hushed tone, but he barely had time to wonder what they were discussing when James McHenry appeared in front of him.
Poor Mac had the run down air of a man in over his head. Though an able military officer during the Revolution and a competent Secretary in the later years of Washington’s administration, Mac simply didn’t have the skill to run the War Department in such a time of crisis. They’d exchanged some tense letters recently, but he was glad to see Mac approached him with an open expression.
“You look terrible,” Mac stated in lieu of a greeting.
“Thank you,” he replied flatly, gratified to see his old friend laugh in response.
Mac reached out to touch his forehead and frowned when he leaned away. “I just want to be sure you don’t have a fever.”
“I’m fine,” he assured, even as he touched his handkerchief to his nose. “It’s only a cold. The children all had it before I left New York.”
“Given the number of times I’ve been called upon to keep you alive from ‘just a cold,’ you’ll forgive my lack of faith in your self-assessment,” Mac parried, stepping forward and laying a palm on his head. Whatever positions his friend might hold, he would always remain first and foremost a physician, Hamilton thought fondly.
“Will I live, doctor?” he asked facetiously as he gave himself over to Mac’s fussing.
“You should get some rest,” Mac insisted. That he said no more told Hamilton that nothing was seriously wrong with him.
“I’ll try,” he promised.
Mac heaved a sigh, and seemed to search for another topic of conversation. Hamilton had the sneaking suspicion that his friend wanted to put off returning to his office as long as possible. It was a desire he recalled well.
“General Washington set a time to have the conference regarding expense reimbursements,” he reported, taking pity. “I should have a report for you sometime next week.”
“That’s good.” Mac sighed again, a tense weariness apparent in the sag of his shoulders. “Well, I should be getting back. I have a meeting with President Adams later today.”
He and Mac shared a commiserating smile at the President’s name, as though it were a private joke between them.
“Have a good evening, Mac,” he wished sincerely.
“And yourself,” Mac replied, nodding as he stepped away to bid General Washington farewell.
Hamilton turned away from the lingering officers towards the fireplace as he tried to subtly blow his nose.
“Sir?” Phil was at his side suddenly holding a heaping stack of papers. “Where I should I bring these?”
The new form of address from his nephew also felt odd still. The boy had been calling him Uncle Ham since the tender age of two; now when Phil addressed him as ‘General Hamilton’ and ‘Sir,’ Hamilton had to consciously fight down a smile. He cast his eye over the first page of notes from the meeting and decided, “Take them back to Mr. Wolcott’s. I’ll look at them later.”
“Yes, sir,” Phil replied with a sharp salute. “Will you require anything else of me, sir?”
“You are dismissed, Captain.” He gave the boy a gentle smile. “Enjoy your evening.”
“Thank you, sir,” Phil grinned, exiting the room with the boundless energy of the young. He had no doubt the boy had plenty of invitations to keep him busy. Handsome, wealthy, and now a Captain in the army, the young ladies of Philadelphia practically fainted in his nephew’s presence.
“Please close the door behind you,” he heard Washington request. He looked over to see Knox slowly limping from the room.
Feeling his gaze, Knox glanced over at him and saluted halfheartedly. “Good evening, General Hamilton.”
He transferred his handkerchief to his other hand to return the salute. “Good evening, sir.”
When the door closed with a tap, Washington turned towards him, the stiff, statuesque persona easing slightly now that they were alone. “I’m glad to see things between you and General Knox have thawed.”
That was going a bit far, in his opinion, but he nodded. “General Knox is an honorable and capable officer, sir. I had no doubt that we would work well together in our common cause.” The aged General hadn’t been openly hostile to him, at least, although Hamilton knew Knox’s placement beneath him in the ranking had stung his pride.
Washington paced over to stand beside him near the fire. They stood side by side, watching the flames crackle in the grate. When he raised the handkerchief to stile a cough, he felt a warm hand land comfortingly on his back.
“You appear unwell today, my boy,” Washington remarked when he’d caught his breath. He found with some surprise that the endearment didn’t grate on him as it once had; rather, it left him feeling somewhat nostalgic. Nearing his forty-second year, very few people referred to him as a boy anymore, there’s or otherwise.
“Just a cold, sir,” he repeated. “Mac’s already lectured me on the importance of rest. I’ll be well again in no time.”
Washington nodded, though his hand remained in place on Hamilton’s back. Another beat of comfortable silence past between them. As much as he had left to do today, he was glad for the moment of quiet companionship.
“Your young nephew seems to be doing well,” Washington commented. “Able in his position, and quite popular in society. He reminds me very much of you as a young man.”
“I don’t think I was ever quite so popular in society,” he argued mildly. “But yes, he’s doing very well.”
“I wish to get to know him better before we depart Philadelphia. I’ve spent little time with him as of yet, and I’d like to know of the young talent in our army,” Washington mused.
“I’m sure he’d be honored at the opportunity, sir,” Hamilton replied. More likely, poor Phil would be overcome with nerves at the thought of a private meeting with His Excellency. He smirked slightly, and added, “Although you have spent some time with him before, if you recall.”
“In Morristown,” he prompted. When Washington frowned in thought, he elaborated, “He was only two at the time. He was the little boy Eliza was often carting around during our last winter encampment there.”
“Ah, yes,” Washington smiled slightly again at the memory. “Tell me, how is Mrs. Hamilton?”
“Exceedingly well,” he answered easily. “Although somewhat harried when I left, with a house full of sniffling children to contend with.”
“I assume your current state of health is thanks to the very same sniffling children?” Washington speculated.
He nodded with a chuckle.
“You must bring them all to Mount Vernon for a visit soon,” Washington insisted. “Mrs. Washington would be thrilled to see your dear wife and to have a house full of children.”
He smiled. “That’s very kind, sir. Thank you. Although I think you’d regret your offer if I ever were to impose my brood upon you.”
Washington exhaled a soft huff of amusement, and continued, in a soft voice, “I’ve invited the Vice President to dine with me tonight. Would you care to join us? I’d appreciate your good company.”
He glanced sideways at his commander, a sly smirk playing on his lips. “As delightful as I’m sure a meal with Mr. Jefferson would be, I regrettably have other plans. I promised Senator Read I’d join him.”
The corner of Washington’s lip twitched subtly, but the slight show of amusement from his General was as good as an open grin on another man. “I see,” Washington said simply.
“Even that I’m considering cancelling,” he added. “I think perhaps a night in to tend to my cold is needed.”
“You’ve grown wiser since your youth. I’d expected to see you faint to the floor before hearing you admit that you required rest.”
He couldn’t exactly argue, knowing he’d done exactly that in his younger days. He smiled at his old General, and returned to their prior topic. “If you’re looking for a convenient escape from your illustrious guest, I could always send you an urgent message before the appointed time of the meal. We could sip some brandy at Wolcott’s and plan a defense against an imaginary invasion.”
Surprisingly, Washington looked as if he was giving the offer some thought before he refused, a resigned expression on his worn face. “I do encourage you to take the night to rest, though, son. I need you healthy and strong for what’s to come.”
“Yes, sir,” he agreed.
“You’re doing very well,” Washington added. A warm feeling rose within him at the unexpected praise from his commander. “Not that I expected otherwise. I was sincere when I said I would not consent to return if anyone else were to be in your post. As always, you’ve more than proven worthy of my confidence and high regard.”
“Thank you, sir.” That hardly seemed enough of a reply. With all that had happened in the past year, the General’s unshakable confidence in him felt more precious than ever. Were it not for Washington’s stubborn insistence, he doubted he could have returned to public life at all, much less as Inspector General of the army.
When he opened his mouth to convey more of his gratitude, however, his cough interrupted him once more. As the evening drew on, he knew it would only grow worse. Washington steadied him, patting his back gently until the fit had past.
“Go home and rest, my boy,” Washington insisted when he’d composed himself once more. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. Try taking a spoonful of honey before you lie down.”
“To soothe your throat. An old trick of Mrs. Washington’s that has never failed me.”
He nodded thoughtfully. Worth a try, he supposed.
They bid each other a good night, and he gratefully climbed into his carriage for the short ride to the corner of Spruce and Fourth, where Wolcott was living. His successor at Treasury had pressed him ceaselessly to stay in his home rather than an inn while he was in the city, and he’d eventually agreed. Though Mrs. Wolcott had been dangerously unwell recently, the couple was warm and welcoming, insisting that they were honored to share their home.
When he arrived at the house, he asked for tea and honey to be sent to his room and bid his hostess a good evening. Phil had left the pile of papers in his room as requested, but he pushed them aside, instead reaching for a blank sheet of paper. A servant brought him a tea tray as he finished penning his short note of apology to Jacob Read: “I am mortified My Dear Sir that I cannot have the pleasure of dining with you today as I promised; but I am so extremely deranged in point of health that I am compelled to stay at home repose & muse.”2 The servant obligingly agreed to send the note for him, and he found himself free to rest for the night.
The tea and honey soothed his cough, but his mind felt too fuzzy to concentrate properly on anything of consequence. The pile of military papers remained untouched on his desk, as did the legal cases he’d brought to maintain his practice (an unfortunate necessity until Mac and Wolcott managed to arrange payment for his military services). Instead, he reclined on his bed and let his mind wander to Eliza and his darling children.
Perhaps they could manage a trip to Mount Vernon next year, he thought fancifully as he blew his nose once again. A smile curled his lips as he pictured the little ones running about the back lawn and splashing in the cool water of the Potomac. Eliza revered Mrs. Washington, and he knew she would enjoy the chance to spend some meaningful time with the good lady. Perhaps he’d take his new fowling piece and Old Peggy, his retriever dog, with him to go for a hunt with Pip and the General. He’d meant to take the boy for a hunt last spring, but was too pressed with business to escape from town.
The imagined domestic scenes were so pleasant, he wished he could make them a daily reality. No more politics, no more war: just his loving family, together and happy in the country. The foray back into public life, however necessary for the country’s good, had shown him unequivocally that his heart and his happiness lay not in honors and offices, but with his family.
His eyes popped open. Why could such a scene not be his daily reality? They had a tidy savings from his legal practice tucked away, enough for a good plot of land in the country. He could build a home for Eliza and the children, perhaps not as grand as General Washington’s, but lovely and warm and theirs.
The thought overwhelmed him. He could picture the beautiful garden, Eliza beckoning him through the paths of flowers as the children played in the grass. They’d paint the house a sunny yellow as a symbol of their happiness. Yes, he decided. Yes, they could do this.
He rose from bed, sat at the small table piled high with papers, and pulled a blank sheet of paper to him.
“I have formed a sweet project, of which I will make you confident when I come to New York, and in which I rely that you will cooperate with me chearfully,” he informed her rather cryptically. He grinned as he added teasingly, “You may guess and guess and guess again Your guessing will be still in vain. But you will not be the less pleased when you come to understand and realize the scheme.”3
An impulsive thought, he granted as he read over the letter, born of restless musing while he was cooped up in bed. But the sheer delight that filled him as he pictured the little country seat was enough to spur him on. A little more time in public service, a little more work at his career, and then paradise could be his.
1 Hamilton to Eliza, 10 November 1798
2 Hamilton to Jacob Read, November 1798
3 Hamilton to Eliza, 19 November 1798
So this was definitely a lighter chapter, and sorely needed after the last few :) I love reading Hamilton’s letters to Eliza while he’s in Philadelphia at this time. They’re such a testament to the renewed love and closeness between them. He sounds genuinely miserable to be away from her, but also so sweet in playful in some of his letters. For example, the November 19th letter also includes the line: “You are my good genius; of that kind which the ancient Philosophers called a familiar; and you know very well that I am glad to be in every way as familiar as possible with you.” All in all, this is seems to have been a very happy period in their marriage. (Enjoy it while it lasts, because things go downhill pretty fast.)
Also, it seems like Hamilton really did catch a cold from his kids around this time. In his correspondence with Washington just before he was leaving for Philadelphia, he noted his response was delayed due to “some ill health in my family.” Then from the letter to Read, we know he’d caught something as well. As Hosack said that he was always the one to take care of the kids when they were sick, it seems likely that they passed the germs to their dad.
Last, this meeting in Philadelphia was one of the last times Hamilton and Washington saw each other in person. I liked the idea of Washington inviting Hamilton to his home again being what sparked the idea for the Grange in Hamilton. The letter to Eliza on the 19th seems to be the first time he’d thought of building a country home, or at least the first time he shared the idea with his wife.
Thanks so much to everyone who is still reading, and for all the kind feedback so far!
“Come by for tea tomorrow,” Mrs. King invited with a wave as she stepped up into her carriage.
“I will,” Eliza promised, balancing William carefully on one arm as she waved back. The little boy was dozing against her shoulder and didn’t seem to mind the jostling. Adjusting her hold on him, she urged the other children onward towards the street.
Mrs. King’s carriage passed with a final wave, the silver bells on her horses harnesses jingling merrily as they cantered by the bustling Trinity Church. The snow along the edge of Broadway was already turning brown from the Sunday traffic. Smoke billowed from the chimneys of every home and business nearby, and snow crunched under her boots as she set out onto the not quite cleared sidewalks. The scent of the crisp, fresh snow and the roaring fires of the surrounding buildings combined to make the distinct smell of winter, and brought a smile to Eliza’s face.
“I’m going to meet Price,” Philip announced, taking a step in the opposite direction of home and his family.
“In your church clothes?” she questioned. Alexander had allowed their son to amuse himself how he pleased after Sunday service, and she didn’t object to his spending time with the Price boy, per se, but she’d prefer he not ruin his best clothes gallivanting about the city.
“I’ll be careful,” he promised. He flashed his most charming smile, a trait her husband had unfortunately passed down, and moved a little closer so that he could press a kiss to her cheek. “I love you, Mama.”
The little rake, she thought as she fought a smile. “Be home for dinner.”
“I will,” he said, waving before he turned and started off.
She hoisted William a little higher on her hip and nodded for the rest of the children to continue towards home. The air was bitingly cold despite the sunshine of the morning. Johnny trotted along in front of her, and she reached out a hand to adjust his cap back over his now bright red ears.
“May I play with my sled today?” He peeked back at her hopefully. Her father had sent the small wooden sled as a present several months back, and added he hoped she’d bring the children to Albany that they might properly play with it. Unfortunately, she hadn’t made the trip this winter, and Johnny had been growing increasingly desperate to use the toy.
“We have no hill for you to slide down,” she reminded him. “And Philip isn’t home to pull you.”
“May I still use it?”
She smiled fondly at his capped head, noting the sneaking glance he’d given Angelica, Alex and Jamie. Perhaps he’d wheedle one of them enough to pull him about the yard in Pip’s place. “If you’d like.”
“’Geli?” his voice turned sweet and high as he turned his attention to his sister.
“I’m practicing my piano,” she said immediately. “All day.”
“And I have reading,” Alex said.
“Me, too,” Jamie hastened to add. Eliza felt immediately skeptical at the claim from her younger son. That Alex would spend his free time with a nose in a book made sense; that both of them claimed to be doing so made her sure they were plotting some mischief. Johnny’s lower lip jutted out slightly, prompting Jamie to suggest, “Maybe you could strap some rope to William?”
When Johnny looked back again, eyeing his little brother thoughtfully, she shook her head sharply. “No.”
Her son’s shoulders sagged in disappointment.
She herded the children up the front stoop and into the house, the warm interior a welcome relief. Angelica, Alex, and Jamie all pulled off their winter coats and accessories before wandering off to their leisure activities. Johnny kept his coat, hat and mittens on and trudged through the hall towards the back door. She sighed at the trail of wet snow he left on their nice hardwood floors as he went.
The office door was still closed, she noticed with a frown as she removed William’s coat and pulled her heavy cloak from around her shoulders. She’d woken up to a cold bed this morning, the blankets on Hamilton’s side apparently untouched. He’d stopped sleeping in his office last summer, after their heartfelt discussion and vow to be more open and honest with each other. That he’d taken up that habit again caused her no small amount of concern.
With a sigh, she crossed in to the parlor and set William down with his playthings. The notes of a major scale rang out through the room as Angelica warmed up for her practice. Eliza petted her daughter’s thick curls affectionately as she paced towards the fire, where she held out her chilled hands.
“Would you like some tea, ma’am?” Mary offered, poking her head in from one of the adjoining rooms. The rag in her hand indicated she’d likely been polishing the silver.
“Oh, yes, please,” she answered. The hot drink sounded a heavenly prospect on such a cold morning. Frowning towards the library, she hesitated a moment and called, “Mary?”
“Has Mr. Hamilton had anything this morning?”
“I brought him some coffee first thing, ma’am, but he said he didn’t care for breakfast. Should I bring him up a tray?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, thank you. Just the tea.”
When the maid started back towards the kitchen once more, she asked her daughter, “Would you keep an eye on your brother for a moment, please?”
Angelica nodded distractedly. Her focus on the piano didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but William seemed too interested in his blocks to get into any major mischief in the next few minutes. Eliza crossed back to the library and knocked on the door.
Hamilton didn’t answer.
Knowing how engrossed he could get in his work, she opted to simply crack open the door. She peeked her head into the office and found him seated at his desk, writing. “Honey?”
“I’m busy,” he replied shortly.
“You haven’t eaten yet today,” she said, opening the door more fully. “Why don’t you come into the parlor and have some tea and something to eat?”
“I had coffee earlier,” he said, still focused on the paper in front of him.
“But you didn’t eat,” she pressed.
“I wasn’t hungry.”
She frowned. He’d been worryingly indisposed all winter: colds; digestive troubles; headaches; he’d even had a fever during the week of his birthday, forcing him to miss the dinner her sister had planned in his honor. Both Angelica and her father insisted it was a lack of exercise causing her husband’s woes, but she had little idea of how to get him out on his horse for daily rides, short of bodily dragging him.
“Are you feeling well, my love?”
He gave her a fleeting glance and a weak smile. “I’m fine.”
The pallor of his face and the bluish tint under his eyes bespoke a different answer, but she’d learned from experience that arguing with him would accomplish little. Instead, she took another step into the office and craned her neck to see what he had been writing. A column of names ran down the left side of the page, and he’d been scribbling notes into the column on the right. “Drunkard, unknown, worthless, gambler,” she read with a hint of amusement. “You’re being awfully hard on these poor fellows.”
“Polite compliments will do little to aid army recruitment. Besides, these comments are for Mac’s and my eyes alone,” he assured her. When she ran her hand over his tense shoulders, he gave a long sigh and finally met her eye fully. “I really am quite busy, dearest.”
“You could bring your work out into the parlor,” she suggested. His office was quite chilly, especially with the door closed, keeping the warmth of the fire out. “You’d be warmer, at least.”
“It’s easier to focus in here.”
“You know, even the Lord rested on the seventh day.”
“I’ll readily admit that God is more efficient in his work than I,” he parried back.
She rolled her eyes at him. “You work too hard,” she insisted, leaning down to peck his lips lightly. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
He nodded. “I’ll have something later.”
“Do you want a blanket?” she offered. Goosebumps had risen on her arms again in the short time she’d been in the room. “It’s so cold in here.”
“I’m fine,” he repeated, smiling more genuinely at her fussing. “Really.”
“Might I at least leave the door propped open? To let the warm air in?”
He laughed. “If you like.”
She kissed him again, lingering a moment longer. His hand reached up to cradle her cheek and he squeezed her chin playfully when she pulled back. With another sigh, she left him to his work.
After she laid William down for his nap, she settled back on the sofa with her basket of sewing, though she paused before pulling out any of her projects. Perhaps she’d sketch for a little while, she thought fancifully. She hadn’t taken time to sit and draw for years. When she’d been cleaning out an old trunk last week, she’d found her old sketchbook. Looking at the drawings had ignited the desire to pick up her art again.
Just as she was considering changing her basket for some paper, she heard the back door close and little Johnny’s boots clomped down the hallway. He passed by the parlor without looking at her, hat askew and mittens dangling as he headed straight down the hall towards his father’s office. “Papa?”
Hamilton replied in a voice too low for her to make out. Johnny’s voice lowered to match his father’s. After the two had traded a few sentences, she heard her son let out a laugh. Her hopes soared: perhaps her son would draw her husband from his office at last. They were dashed a moment later, when she heard his office door click shut and Johnny passed by the parlor alone once more.
She rose and followed his path outside. When she looked out the back window, the scene outside tugged at her heart. Johnny had plopped himself back on his sled and was trying, rather futilely, to propel himself along the flat earth with his feet.
Her husband needed exercise, and her son needed a playmate. The solution seemed simple. She walked over to the foyer and donned her cloak and her heavy mittens, and then returned to the back of the house and opened the door. Johnny looked up at her with quizzical delight.
She smiled at him. “Let’s see if we can get Papa out to play with us, shall we?”
His eyes widened and he nodded hastily. She stooped down to the snow covered ground. The snow was just wet and sticky enough to make a good snowball, she noted with satisfaction, as she loosely packed some of the white powder between her hands. She swept back inside and down the hall, where she pulled her husband’s coat, hat, and mittens from their hooks. Then she opened his office door once more.
He heaved a put upon sigh as he looked up at her. “Betsey.”
She tossed the outdoor clothing at him.
“What is this for?” he asked, looking down at his coat with confusion.
“You’ll want it in a moment,” she explained.
His brow furrowed. She smirked, took aim, and tossed the snowball at him, hitting him square in the chest. He blinked in startled silence.
She hurried back into the hall laughing, trusting him to follow. Sure enough, he emerged a heartbeat after her. As he tugged on his coat, he grinned at her. “You little vixen.”
She fled down the hall and he gave chase. When they burst into the backyard, Johnny hopped up from his sled in excitement. “Papa! Will you pull the sled?”
“In a moment,” he promised as he bent over. “I have to repay Mama for an assault by snowball first.”
Johnny’s eyes lit up. “May I help?”
“Absolutely,” Hamilton invited. He’d already stood up again and he raised his arm to take aim.
Genuine, elated laughter fell from her lips as she squealed and raced for cover behind the one leafless oak tree in their yard. Hamilton’s snowball landed far to her right, and she leaned down to make another of her own. She looked around the tree trunk to see him heading towards her, and she tossed the ball, hitting him in the chest again.
He stumbled backwards dramatically and sprawled out on the snow. “Oh! I’ve been hit!”
Johnny laughed at the theatrics. “I’ll get you, Mama!”
She let the little boy get close and toss his powdery snowball at her. She, too, fell to the ground as though grievously injured. When Johnny stood over her, she pulled him down atop her, tickling him as he gasped with laughter.
The joyous sounds attracted their three older children. Angelica emerged from the house first, followed shortly by both Jamie and Alex. Jamie plopped down on the sled behind Johnny, and Hamilton pulled them around the little yard, while Alex and Angelica began constructing a snowman with her assistance. Eventually, the two boys grew bored with the sled and clambered off to roughhouse with their father. Alex and Angelica joined in without prompting, and she’d happily joined them.
They stayed out until dinner time despite the bitter cold; with all their playing and running about, she actually felt quite warm. “All right,” she announced at last from beneath the wriggling pile of children when she saw Mary wave through the back window. “Time to go inside and change into some dry clothes. We’ll be eating in a few minutes.”
The children groaned, but reluctantly obeyed.
She smiled at the sight of her husband still lying sprawled out on the snow as the children disappeared inside. She nudged him with the toe of her boot. “You, too.”
He shook his head. “I’m quite content here. I think I’ll have a little nap.”
She felt an overwhelming fondness at the sight of his red nose and ruddy cheeks, his arms and legs positioned as if he were about to make a snow angel. Rolling over to lie atop him, she rested her hands on his chest, and asked, “Do you remember our first snowball fight?”
“Of course I do. It ended rather like this, if memory serves,” he remarked.
“Actually, I believe it ended with an argument about elopement,” she reminded him.
He let out an amused laugh. “You know, I believe you’re right. Are you planning on asking me to run away with you again?”
“Happily,” he answered immediately.
She smiled even though she didn’t believe him. “Getting you out of your office was enough,” she assured him. “You made the children very happy.”
“I needed the time away from my desk,” he admitted.
She didn’t bother with an I-told-you-so. “Come inside and have dinner with us,” she directed.
He nodded, but pulled her back to him when she tried to stand.
“Hamilton,” she scolded lightly, “Let me go.”
He grinned wickedly. “I demand reparations for your unwarranted attack.”
“What sort of reparations?”
She let out a dramatic groan. “Two?”
“It was a vicious and unprovoked attack.”
She adjusted on top of him and tipped her face close to his.
The peaceful hush of night settled over the house, the younger children all fast asleep. Although she’d seen Pip pocket a set of cards before leaving the parlor, and knew he’d undoubtedly sneak into Angelica’s room for a few hands, she determined let them have their fun, sure they, too, would be asleep before long. Mary finished pouring the glasses of wine Eliza had requested, fussed for a moment with the bread and cheese platter, and then turned to curtsy to her.
“Will you be needing anything else, ma’am?”
“No, thank you, Mary. You may retire for the evening.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
And with that, Eliza found herself alone in the quiet parlor. Retrieving her old, battered sketchbook from the side table, she headed out through the foyer to her husband’s closed office door. She knocked once and pushed it open without waiting for an answer.
He was squinting at a ledger in the dim candlelight, but he placed the paper down on his desk at the sight of her. “Am I to accomplish nothing today?” he asked. Amusement glimmered in his eyes, so she knew he didn’t truly mind the interruption.
“I want to show you something,” she said, flipping through the pages of her book until she came upon the proper page. “Do you remember this?”
She’d completed that particular sketch on a cold, snowy February evening when she was twenty-two years old: her dashing Colonel looking melancholic as he stood alone, leaning against a porch railing and gazing up at the stars. He’d been so breathtakingly beautiful that night, she’d felt compelled to record the memory as best as she was able, although it was well before she’d had even a glimmer of hope that he’d one day be hers. Somehow the drawing had faded from her memory in the ensuing years, even as she held the memory itself dear.
He reached out for the book and looked down at the open page, a soft smile lifting up the corners of his lips. “I do,” he answered. “A beautiful rendition of the best night of my life.”
“The best night?” she questioned. She bent down behind his chair and wrapped her arms around him. “You seemed quite sad.” She knew from later conversations that he’d had to break Polly Lott’s heart that night, after her father had refused to allow him to court the young heiress.
He shrugged. “I didn’t know then that I’d finally found the love of my life.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Morristown lately,” she told him as she nuzzled him lovingly. “Especially with all this snow we’ve been getting. Snowball fights and cuddling by the fireside.”
His smile grew perceptibly. “Well, you certainly recaptured one of those moments today.”
“I thought perhaps we might recapture another?” He raised a brow, and she added, “I had Mary bring us up a bottle of wine. Will you join me by the fire?”
His gaze fell back to the ledger on his desk. “How am I meant to refuse an offer like that?”
“You’re not,” she said simply.
He tilted his head to the side as he craned his neck to look up at her fondly, then finally pushed back from his desk and rose. She traced her hand down the length of his arm and tangled her fingers with his to tug him from the office. He followed behind her, took the glass of wine she held out to him in the parlor, and obediently lowered himself onto the rug before the fire.
“I had Mary bring us some food as well,” she added, carrying the plate over to the carpet along with her own glass of wine. He eyed the platter for a moment and then declined. She sighed. “Please eat, sweetheart. You barely had anything at dinner.”
“I haven’t had much of an appetite today,” he admitted. “A light diet for a day or two is for the best, anyway. Your sister keeps admonishing me for losing my trim figure.”
Her eyes fell from his face down to his torso as she replaced the tray on the table. She’d heard Angelica comment to her husband more than once that he was gaining too much weight, but she couldn’t find any reason for complaint as she examined him now. He’d filled out slightly around the middle, perhaps, and his eyes were more heavily shadowed than she’d ideally like to see; even so, he was as breathtaking to her today as he had been all those years ago at the dancing assembly in Morristown. “I think you look very handsome.”
“You’d say that even if I were round as a pumpkin,” he teased. “You love me too much for your opinion to be trusted.”
Even two years on from that awful pamphlet, after all his heartfelt apologies and sincere regret, every once in a while he’d stumble upon a statement that bumped her the wrong way, like a healing bruise against a hard surface. She felt her face fall, and she asked him coolly, “Is there someone else you need to impress with your good looks?”
Guilt filled his eyes and his gaze dropped to the floor. “Of course not.”
She turned her head away and tried to fight down the hurt. He’d meant it in jest, she knew. His hands wrapped around hers, and he pulled them to him, pressing a kiss to the knuckles of each. She looked at him again.
“I’m so sorry, Betsey,” he whispered.
She nodded silently.
“You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved.” His expression was heavy with remorse. “For all my talents with words, they always feel so empty and redundant when I try to explain how deeply I need you.”
The anger and hurt both faded as swiftly as they’d appeared and left behind only a profound sorrow that every intimate moment between them continued to be haunted by his betrayal. She took a deep breath and forced herself to speak honestly with him. “I know you were only teasing. I’m worried, though, about how hard you’ve been pushing yourself. You didn’t even come to bed last night. It’s starting to feel like it did last time.”
He shook his head rapidly, words tumbling from his mouth, practically tripping over each other as he rushed to assure her, “It’s not. I’m not. I swear, Eliza.”
“I know,” she cooed. She honestly didn’t believe he was in danger of having another affair. The bond between them had been renewed and strengthened in the years since his confession, enough for her to truly begin to trust him again. Not to mention he’d spent the better part of the past two months either tucked up in bed or locked away in his office. “I’m just trying to be honest with you about my feelings.”
He calmed visibly at her reassurance and squeezed her hands. “I know I’ve been rather distant. Between my work for the army and my legal practice, I feel pressed to labor to the utmost of my endurance. They pull at each other; I feel as though I’m barely treading water. I nearly missed a filing deadline last week. And Mac’s hardly offered any assistance: he’s in far over his head in his post.”
She inched nearer to him, mindful not to upset the two wine glasses on the floor beside them. “What can I do to help?” she asked. “Surely there must be a way to ease the burden on you at least a little.”
He gave her a wry smile. “I’m not sure there is. Unless you and the children could forgo food and shelter for a few months’ time?”
Another jest, she knew, but she considered it nonetheless, and suggested, “I could take the children to Albany for a few months. That would lower our heating and grocery expenses. Then you could cut back on your legal work for a little while.”
He frowned. “No.”
“Alexander, you just said—”
“No,” he refused again. “You and the children, you’re the only things keeping me sane right now. I really don’t know how to make you better understand, my love, how absolutely necessary you are to me. The last thing in the world I want is for you to go away.”
“I just don’t like seeing you so overworked, especially when it begins affecting your health as it has this winter. Can’t you write to Mac? Perhaps he could help. At least you should be adequately compensated for all the work you’re doing to build the army.”
“I wrote to him nearly a month ago,” he admitted. “He sent my military pay, finally, but it was hardly enough to offset our family expenses, never mind all those additional expenses my new office demands.”
“Can’t he speak to President Adams about raising your pay?”
Hamilton snorted at the suggestion. “I doubt it. And Adams would likely refuse him out of spite even if he did. I meant it when I said he was in over his head.”
Eliza furrowed her brow at the statement. “You shouldn’t speak of Mac so. He’s your oldest and dearest friend.”
“He is not,” Hamilton contradicted.
“He was your only guest at our wedding,” she reminded him. “Who else but Mac could hold that distinction?”
His expression went soft. “Do you really not know?”
She looked at him quizzically for another moment, then felt her lips curl into a smile as realization dawned. “You’re mine, as well,” she said, cupping his face with her palm.
He nudged her nose with his own affectionately and sighed. “I shouldn’t be concerning you with our finances. We’ll manage as we always do.”
As if she wasn’t left in charge of their finances as often as he was. Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, she leaned in to kiss him. “I’m glad you told me. I’d rather know what’s weighing on your mind than have you fretting silently in your office,” she told him.
His breath felt hot against her cheeks, their faces still close together.
He nodded slightly, then turned to collect his wine glass. “A glass of wine before a roaring fire on a cold night…this really is very much like those nights we spent together in Morristown.”
Seeing the comment for what it was, she allowed him to change the subject. “Yes,” she agreed as she collected her own glass and raised it to her lips. “Maybe you’ll even develop a case of hiccups. For the sake of nostalgia.”
He glowered playfully at the reminder of his long ago embarrassment.
Laughing, she repositioned herself so she could lean back into his arms. He obligingly wrapped her in his embrace, his nose nuzzling against her ear. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes.
“Before no mortal ever knew,/ a love like mine, so tender, true,” he recited softly, his lips still close to her ear. That poem, that beloved, blessed, beautiful poem, brought a joyful, fluttering feeling to her chest. The original copy was one of her most treasured keepsakes, and she must have read it a thousand times over the years. His voice was hoarse with passion as he spoke the words from memory. “No joy unmixed my bosom warms,/ but when my angel’s in my arms.”*
Setting her glass aside once more, she twisted her torso so she could look at him. “You remembered.”
“Of course. It’s as true today as it was back then.” He laughed quietly, his eyes looking far away in a memory. “Did I ever tell you the story of the night I wrote that?”
She shook her head.
“I was coming back from a night with you. You had me so twisted up, I forgot the password to get back into camp. Thankfully, one of the Ford boys happened by or I’d have spent a very cold night in one of the barns. The lads weren’t apt to let me forget my absent mindedness, I’ll tell you.” She laughed. “I let them have a proper go at me for a bit, but I could hardly focus on anything but the memory of your soft kiss and your beautiful black eyes. I escaped upstairs as soon as I could and wrote the poem.”
She could see him in her mind’s eye, her young, handsome Colonel stooped over a desk in that little upstairs office, scrawling out the romantic poem by the light of a single candle. She pressed closer to him. He looked strangely melancholy as he gazed at the fire.
“Have I been a terrible disappointment to you, Betsey?”
She stared at him for a moment, taken aback by the question. “Why would you say that?”
He gave her a significant look. “Surely our lives haven’t turned out as you imagined back in those early days. The more I think on them, the more I feel like a failure.”
There was no denying that he’d broken her heart two years ago. But balanced with all the love and joy he’d brought to her life, she couldn’t say she regretted their marriage. She looked at him seriously. “I love you. I love what a wonderful father you are to our babies. I love how devoted you are to our family, and to our country. I love how hard you work to make us all proud. And I am, you know. I am so proud of you.”
His eyes brightened as he gazed down at her. “I don’t deserve you,” he whispered.
“Perhaps not.” She gave him a lingering kiss, before continuing huskily, “But love has very little to do with what one deserves.”
Words seemed to fail him; rather than reply, he simply tipped his head down to meet her lips again. The kisses that followed grew more heated as his hands roamed down her back. Pulling away and biting her lip, she asked, “Do you think the children are asleep yet?”
A mischievous twinkle replaced the last of the melancholy in his eyes. “Shall we go check?”
“Mm,” she hummed, stealing another kiss before pulling away.
Abandoning the wine and food, they made their way upstairs. His hands never left her hips as they made their way down the hall. Angelica’s door was partially ajar, and she peeked inside. Cards were spread out on the bed between her two eldest children. Both were curled up on opposite ends of the bed, and Pip let out a soft snuffle.
“Asleep,” she whispered.
“Thank God,” he muttered.
She blew out the candle and closed the door.
Hamilton swept her up off her feet before she’d fully turned around. She had to stifle a surprised giggle as she adjusted her arms around his neck, desperate for the children to stay asleep. He carried her to their bedroom and kicked the door shut behind him with his foot. “Shh,” she urged, “You’ll wake the children.”
He grunted as he deposited her on the bed. She tugged him down on top of her. His kisses felt urgent and hungry.
“I need you,” she whispered, voice low and throaty.
His fingers grasped clumsily at the fabric of her dress, first on her back, then wandering around to her front. Finding no success, he craned his head back to examine the garment more carefully. He let out a breathy laugh and asked, “What is going on with this dress?”
“Let me.” She reached for the admittedly complicated fastening and began to pull free of her clothing. He sat back and tugged off his shirt, his eyes leaving her body for only the barest moment while the fabric covered his face.
Once undressed, she slid under the warm blankets and beckoned for him to join her. He fought with the covers for a brief, comical moment before settling into the bed beside her. The concerns and complications that plagued them seemed to fall away as he positioned himself over her. Her mother had warned her months ago to let go of attempts to reclaim a golden past, but she determined, just for tonight, to surrender to the illusion: she was a young woman in love with a handsome officer, holding him close on a cold winter’s night, as she'd longed to all those years ago.
(Nine months later, almost to the day, she brought their second daughter into the world, a living reminder of a magical night, conceived of honesty, passion, and a deep, abiding love.)
*Poem by Alexander Hamilton, written for Eliza in 1780 entitled "Answer to the Inquiry Why I Sighed"
I was originally thinking of posting this as a deleted scene, but it felt like it flowed so nicely with the rest of the story that I inserted it here. (I'll still try to get the next chapter up this weekend, though). It does reference some scenes in my other work, A Winter's Romance, but I hope it made sense to anyone who hasn't read that story. Hamilton and Eliza first started courting in February of 1780, so I imagine that month had a special significance to them.
Angelica Church and Philip Schuyler both wrote about Hamilton needing more exercise around this time. He was working so hard that winter, and spending so much time at his desk, that it was noticeably affecting his health. On 31 January 1799, Philip Schuyler wrote to Hamilton that Angelica had mentioned he suffered from want of exercise, and on 1 February 1799, Schuyler responded to Eliza that he was "deeply affected to learn that my beloved Hamilton is much indisposed. Too great an application to business and too little bodily exercise have probably been the cause of his disorders, immersed as he is in business, and his mind constantly employed he will forget to take that exercise, and those precautions which are indispensable to his restoration. You must therefore, my Dear Child, order his horse every fair day, that he may ride out, and draw him as frequently from his closet as possible...."
“Should we not rejoin the party?” Hamilton asked. His breath was hot on her face, and his voice was rough with passion. She nuzzled her nose against his as she shook her head.
“Not yet,” she whispered, clutching at his shoulders as she kissed him again.
They were standing in a shadowy servants’ corridor, the laughter and conversation of her sister’s dinner party a dull hum in the background. Her husband had donned his new uniform for the occasion. She ran her fingers along the golden fringe of his epaulets as she pressed herself closer to him. He always looked so handsome in a uniform.
He obliged her request to remain, tightening his hold of her waist as he deepened the kiss. She hummed in satisfaction and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Mm, I love you,” she sighed when they pulled back for air.
He buried his head in her neck and planted a soft kiss just above her collarbone as he squeezed her against him.
It wasn’t that everything was fixed between them, she considered, brushing her fingers over the silky ribbon holding his clubbed hair in place. She still found herself angry, or insecure, or jealous at times. The open wound of his betrayal had become a pink, tender scar that still ached if bumped the wrong way.
Yet, a more open communication between them did wonders for their relationship. Instead of retreating from him while she tried to bury the hurt, she could tell him what she was feeling. Seeing his sincere remorse and regret, hearing his apologies and his declarations of undying love, helped more than she’d initially anticipated.
“Where has Hamilton gone off to?” Angelica’s voice rose above the dull roar of conversation, just audible to them in the hall.
Eliza sighed as her husband straightened in her arms, and she stretched to press a last, loving kiss to his lips. She could feel him smiling into the kiss and her own lips quirked upwards in response. “Yes, all right, let’s go back,” she agreed at last.
She ran her hands over her dress as she followed her husband’s path back to the lively parlor. Angelica had talked her into purchasing a dress in the new style, cut high at the waist and low over the bosom, with puffy short sleeves. She’d paired it with a shawl, ostensibly for warmth against the winter chill, but also to preserve some of her modesty: she still felt slightly uncomfortable with the amount of skin on display. In fact, when she’d first tried it on, she’d been half considering returning the dress to the tailor and purchasing something more traditional. That is, until Hamilton had walked into the dressing room and stopped abruptly, staring openly at her.
“Do you like it?” she’d asked, turning sideways to give him a view of the dress in silhouette. He hadn’t replied. Her only answer had been how quickly he’d torn it off her. The simpler design had certainly helped on that front, she recalled with a smirk.
Hamilton joined a circle of men and women conversing, inserting himself beside Church and Angelica as he accepted a glass of wine. Eliza slid her arm into the crook of his and leaned against him, too distracted to properly take in the conversation. Everyone seemed to be focusing on one of the new guests, a Polish traveler named Julian Niemcewicz, who was regaling the company with the tale of his visit to Mount Vernon.
“The house itself seemed to me alive with history,” the gentleman continued, “Such that one could feel the spirits of its great visitors within its walls.”
She felt her husband perk up at the sentence.
“My dear nephew, Captain Church,” Hamilton gestured towards Phil vaguely as he spoke, “Returned from a trip to Newark with quite an interesting tale regarding your relationship with spirits.”
Niemcewicz’s eyes lit up with mischief. “Did he?”
“He informed me that you had learned from General Kościuszko the secrets of summoning the dead.” Eliza felt a chill go up her spine at the blasphemous statement. She tightened her hold of her husband’s arm.
“My dear General did indeed entrust me with that magical Secret,” Niemcewicz confirmed.
“I thought perhaps you might grace us with a demonstration,” Hamilton suggested.
Eliza stared up at her husband, perplexed. Why would he encourage such an unchristian display? As if feeling her gaze, he glanced down at her and winked imperceptibly. That did little to answer her questions.
“If you insist, my dear General Hamilton,” Niemcewicz agreed with a bow. “I will need you to step out of the room and close the doors behind you, if you do not mind. We shall determine which spirit to call forth from the beyond when you have left us.”
Hamilton nodded, bowed graciously, and departed the parlor, leaving his glass on a table and closing the doors behind him with a soft tap. Church went to a side table to retrieve a card and carefully wrote something down, Angelica leaning far over his shoulder as he did so. While Church handed the card to Niemcewicz, Angelica joined her, a broad grin stretching her pretty face.
“What fun,” Angelica whispered.
Eliza took a deep breath, much less enthusiastic about this turn of events. She looked over to the opposite corner of the room, where Phil and Kitty were standing with Pip and Angelica, the young cousins chattering excitedly as Niemcewicz prepared for the demonstration. Pip looked like a perfect young gentleman in his newly tailored suit, and her daughter shined in a new dress, her thick dark curls arranged to dangle elegantly around her face and neck. They were growing up so quickly, she thought.
“Mr. Church has asked me to summon the spirit of Baron de Vioménil,” Niemcewicz declared, gesturing for them to form a circle around him.
Eliza recognized the name as one of the French officers who had served bravely under Rochambeau at the Battle of Yorktown. He’d later been shot in the violence of the French Revolution and succumbed some months later due to complications from his injury. She remembered Hamilton being upset at the news, citing the tragedy as one of the reasons he could never support the bloody upheaval in France.
Niemcewicz began to recite incantations, his eyes closed in concentration. After a few moments, he picked up a small mallet and began to tap on a bell in a measured pattern, striking it several times, then pausing, only to begin to strike it again. The strange ceremony continued until the doors of the parlor swung open.
Her heart clenched in her chest at the sight of her husband. His face was pale and his eyes were wide with shock. He seemed to be shaking slightly, as though overcome with emotion. He spoke in a breathy voice, “I…I saw the Baron. Baron de Vioménil. He appeared to me just as he was at Yorktown.”
“Did he speak?” Church asked, striding to her husband’s side.
“Yes,” Hamilton answered. “Yes, some conversation passed between us, but I am not at liberty to report upon its substance.”
A wave of shocked whispers began to emanate from the guests.
Eliza hurried to Hamilton’s side, eager to comfort him from the shock, hardly able to wrap her mind around the implications that such a ceremony could truly raise the spirits of the dead. She pulled him into an embrace and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Are you all right, sweetheart?”
Others were coming over as well, all pressing for more details about this extraordinary visitation. Hamilton shook his head; he appeared overwhelmed by the experience. His hand brushed over her back as he extracted himself from her arms.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I…I need a moment.”
He departed the room, leaving Eliza to watch him retreat towards the same servants’ corridor in which they’d shared their intimate moment. She was about to follow when Angelica grasped her elbow. The amusement had disappeared from her expression. “You should give him a moment alone,” Angelica advised.
She hesitated, then shook her head. Not once in the time she’d known him had her husband ever wanted to be alone. She followed his path into the corridor.
He was leaning against the wall, his shoulders quaking slightly. Was he crying? She reached out, laying a palm against his shoulder blade.
“You’re all right, darling,” she soothed. Stepping closer, she craned her neck to try to see his face in the dim light. He had his fist pressed to his lips. “I’m sure that was a terrible shock.”
He turned around to face her. The light caught his face more fully, and she noticed with a jolt that amusement lit his eyes. She narrowed her eyes. “Are…are you…are you laughing?”
His fist came away from his face to reveal his dazzling smile. Her jaw fell open and she smacked him in the arm. “You scared me. I thought you were distraught.”
“Just a little jest for the amusement of the company,” he explained, still laughing. His face was alight with good humor. “Church and Niemcewicz helped.”
The joke seemed in poor taste to her sensibility, like testing fate or a harbinger of ill events. Perceiving the lack of amusement on her part, he sobered. “Are you angry with me, Betsey?”
She sighed. His obvious amusement made it difficult to stay vexed with him. The pressure of his new duties in the army combined with the legal cases he took on the side to help meet their increased expenses made moments of unfettered happiness something of a rarity.
She gave him a half smile. “You big goof.”
He laughed again and took her in his arms. “You know,” he remarked, his lips ghosting over the skin just below her ear, “This is one of the best dinner parties I’ve attended in quite some time.”
“We’ve spent the better part of it hiding in a servants’ corridor,” she argued vaguely.
She laughed. “Philip and Angelica seem to be enjoying themselves,” she remarked as she stroked her hands down his back. “They both look so grown up, dressed in their best and partaking in conversation with the adults.”
He pulled away to look at her. “Pip will be graduating from Columbia soon,” he agreed. “Embarking on his own career in the law.”
“And Angelica will have suitors calling any day,” she added.
His lip curled in distaste. “Not if I have a say in it.”
“She’s nearly fifteen. It’s bound to happen sooner or later.”
“Later. Much later. When she’s twenty-five, maybe thirty, she’ll be free to court whomsoever she chooses.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “You courted me when I was twenty-two,” she reminded him. “And at that age I already felt like an old maid.”
He scoffed. “You were a baby.”
“So were you,” she smiled, placing her hand on his cheek and stroking her thumb over his cheekbone. The sight of him in uniform had been making her nostalgic for those coveted visits from her dashing Colonel. She cocked her head to the side and smiled as she glimpse that young, ambitious man underneath her husband’s graying hair and laugh lines.
He turned his face slightly sideways to press a little kiss against her palm.
“I’m not ready for them to be so grown up,” he lamented, thoughts returning to their children.
“I don’t think you have a say, dearest.”
He wrinkled his nose comically in response, prompting another laugh from her. His gaze softened as he looked at her. “Let’s have another.”
“Six wasn’t enough for you?” she asked.
Truthfully, the thought of another child had weighed heavily on her mind the past several months. William was nearly two and fully weened. Another pregnancy was a distinct possibility, especially considering how very close and intimate they had been with each other of late. She worried about adding another child to their brood given their strained budget; it did her heart good to hear him raise the possibility with such apparent joy.
“They’re getting too big. We need more little ones,” he answered.
“It’s definitely your turn to carry this one,” she teased.
He snorted with amusement. “We’ll see what happens.”
He kissed her again, and she sank into his embrace. All those months of pain and heartache seemed a distant memory here in his arms. She relished their growing intimacy and the renewed strength of their bond. Together, as they were now, she thought boldly, they could face anything.
The stifling July heat barely eased with the sunset, leaving her sweating and uncomfortable despite the open window. She’d kicked the blankets and sheets off long ago, but still couldn’t get comfortable. She ran her hand over the growing bump of her stomach and sighed. Having just entered her fifth month of pregnancy, the baby wasn’t giving her too much trouble at least, beyond a frustratingly frequent need to relieve her bladder. The queasiness of the early months had faded, and the discomfort of advanced pregnancy was yet to come.
She rolled to the side and placed her feet on the wooden floor, wishing fancifully that Alexander could make good on his promise for a country house. She longed for the big trees of her childhood which had provided shade and cool breezes on even the hottest of summer days. He’d taken Pip fishing this spring, on a rare break from his pressing duties, and he told her he’d scouted some locations but had not yet found anything agreeable that was likely to be for sale in the near future.
How they would afford to build a country home such as what he had in mind, she had no earthly notion. When she’d asked, he’d simply assured her that they would “manage.” She wondered often how he’d been so gifted at managing money for the country, when he could be so very spendthrift with their own funds.
She wandered downstairs, the temperature noticeably cooler as she emerged on the first floor, and found the glow of a candle emanating from beneath her husband’s closed office door. A stack of letters had arrived for him just after dinner; he’d closed himself in his office with the new papers and apparently hadn’t yet emerged. He worked too hard, and the job he’d been tasked with had proven increasingly thankless. The enthusiasm for war had died down as quickly as it had ignited, leaving her husband to struggle to build an army that even the President appeared to find unnecessary.
Perhaps she’d challenge him to that game he’d shown her two weeks ago. The little set of military figures had been a gift from Mac, a game not unlike chess meant to teach military tactics. Hamilton had insisted she sit with him while he learned the game. “I wish you to get a taste for new tactics, my beloved,” he’d insisted, a flirtatious twinkle in his eye at the word tactics. “Perhaps you may become better reconciled to my connection with the Trade- Militant.”* Between the heat and the boredom, even losing the silly game was better than lying sweating alone in her bed.
She knocked lightly on the door, and was surprised to receive no answer. Thinking perhaps he had fallen asleep at his desk, she pushed open the door to find him sitting with his head in his hands. “Sweetheart?”
He glanced up at her. His eyes were red and puffy. Anxiety shot through her at the sight of him.
“What’s wrong?” she demanded immediately.
He reached out to her and she came closer. One of his hands wrapped around her back, and his other went to her belly. His thumb stroked soothingly up and down over the growing bump.
His continued silence frightened her. The last time he’d been so overwrought without explanation, he’d confessed to adultery. He wouldn’t have…not again, right? She couldn’t bear to live that experience again.
“Honey?” she pressed, clutching at his shoulder.
His gaze wandered slowly from her belly up to her eye.
“My father died,” he answered in a flat tone.
Relief swept over her, guilt quick on its heels. She’d never held much fondness for the man who’d abandoned her husband at eight years old, but Hamilton still loved him despite everything. Her heart melted for his distress.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she cooed, “I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you come get me? I would have sat with you.” Had he been crying in his office all evening?
“I’m…” he seemed to struggle for words. “I don’t know how I feel.”
“That’s all right,” she assured him.
He shook his head a little. “I kept asking him to come to New York. I would have taken care of him.”
“I know, sweetheart.” He amazed her that way: she could barely comprehend the neglect he’d suffered from his father, and yet he seemed to bear him no ill will. He’d have doted on the man, spent hard earned money and precious time seeing to his well-being if only James Hamilton had allowed it.
“I should be sad,” he whispered. “And I am. But I don’t feel…I don’t feel like I think I’m supposed to feel.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. He tugged her closer, down onto his knee. She perched on his lap and wrapped him in an embrace, holding him to her as he laid his head on her shoulder.
“I used to think I understood.” He spoke quietly, his gaze going out across the room. “He had no money, no prospects. What could he have done for me that I couldn’t better accomplish on my own? Mr. Stevens took me in, and the good Reverend Knox helped me to escape the island. I made connections as an orphan I had no hope of gaining as his son.”
Eliza petted his hair gently and let him relieve himself of his thoughts.
“It made sense to me, why he never came back. But then…then I met you, and we had Pip. I look at him, at all our little angels, and I just…I just don’t understand. How could he just leave? How could he stay away when he knew I had nothing? How could he never want to meet his grandchildren? Why…why wouldn’t he come to New York, even when I offered to pay for his journey?”
He looked up at her, and she shook her head helplessly. “I don’t know, honey.”
“I would never leave Pip like that,” he declared firmly. “Even if I had nothing, I would work myself into the ground before I’d leave him to make his own way, even now when he’s nearly grown.”
She didn’t doubt him for a moment.
“You’re an amazing father,” she told him. “Sometimes I don’t think you realize how extraordinary you really are.”
He didn’t respond, seemingly lost in thought. She let him cuddle her and tried to give what comfort she could. Eventually, he rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“It’s late,” he noted. “Why aren’t you asleep? You need your rest.” His hand was back on her middle, palm splayed out protectively over the little life within her.
“It’s too hot to sleep,” she explained, gratified to see a little smile play on his lips at her put-upon declaration. “I thought I’d keep you company while you worked, or, perhaps, allow you to teach me more of that game of tactics you kept going on about.”
A wicked smirk flashed over his face at the last suggestion before rapidly fading, his distress too great to properly flirt with her. She pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. His brow wrinkled in thought when she pulled back, and he motioned for her to stand.
“Come,” he said simply, tugging her out of the office.
She followed him into the dark parlor where he collected a blanket from the sofa, then out to the back door and into the tiny yard behind their townhouse. The moon was nearly full and the stars were bright, providing light enough that she could see him and keep from tripping over any obstacles. He spread the blanket out over the grass and lowered himself to the ground, beckoning her down after him.
She grunted as she lowered herself onto the blanket rather gracelessly.
When she’d managed to settle onto the ground, he pulled her back against him and placed his chin on her shoulder. “Feel better?” he asked. He followed up the question by pressing a series of little kisses down her neck.
The night air was blessedly cooler than the stuffy house, she had to admit. “Yes,” she answered. “Much cooler.”
He hummed lightly. He didn’t speak anymore; he simply held her in the starlight. Although she wondered what he was thinking, she left him to his quiet moment of reflection, happy to provide silent companionship in his private and confused grief.
The news that morning shocked the city into uncanny silence.
General Washington was dead.
Finally recovered enough from the birth of their second daughter, Eliza had taken the children to church that morning. She’d been herding them out the door, checking to be sure the little ones were properly bundled against the cold, when her husband fell into line, grabbing Pip by the shoulders and pressing a kiss to his son’s temple. Pip had wrinkled his nose at the affectionate gesture, but then turned and wrapped his father in a great bear hug. At nearly eighteen, their boy had gained a few inches on his father.
“Are you coming with us?” she’d asked, surprised.
“If that’s all right,” he’d replied, still squeezing Pip to him and offering no further explanation.
“Of course,” she’d assured him.
She had never doubted his faith, but he’d never been a regular church-goer. Even when she went with the children, Hamilton typically contented himself with the printed sermon in his morning paper. Lately, though, she’d noticed him turning back to the church more. Perhaps this was due to the stress of his work, or the looming threat of war, or the loss of his father; more than likely it was a combination of all three. Whatever it was, she was happy to have him with her.
Little William had practically been dancing in his seat all through the Reverend Moore’s sermon that morning. Hamilton held the boy in his lap through the latter half of the service, bouncing the boy lightly on his knee to keep him entertained. When she rose with the children to take communion, he stepped from the pew as well and took the boy with him outside.
By the time she’d joined him, he’d heard the news. His face had drained of color and his jaw was set tight with grief. He hadn’t even been able to speak the words to her; rather, he’d held out the broadside for her inspection.
Word had traveled with an almost unbelievable speed, though the details in the report were sparse. The beloved General had taken ill a mere two days ago, and perished around ten o’clock the night before. On her and Hamilton’s wedding anniversary, no less, Eliza had noted with dismay. Her heart hurt for dear Mrs. Washington; the poor lady must be beside herself with grief.
When she looked back up at her husband, she noticed Pip was hugging him again. “Are you all right, Papa?” he asked.
Hamilton forced a brave smile, though he couldn’t seem to hold the expression. They walked home as a group. Pip kept his arm slung loosely around his father for most of the walk. When they made their way into the house, Hamilton broke off from the family, wandering into his office while Eliza brought the children upstairs.
“Sweetheart?” she called, poking her head into his office.
The children were settled upstairs, and little Eliza had been fed and changed, freeing her to see to her husband at last. Now it was only a matter of locating him in the house. Before she had time to consider where else she should look, she heard something clatter loudly in the dining room. She found him kneeling by the sideboard, replacing a knickknack that had fallen to the floor.
He glanced up at her. “I want to move this,” he said. “Somewhere…somewhere more prominent.”
Stepping further into the room, she saw him trying to pull the silver wine cooler from the back of the lower shelf. His hands were shaking badly, which explained the upset knickknacks. She knelt in front of him and placed her hands over his.
“We can place it wherever you like,” she promised.
“Betsey,” he whispered, heaving a great sigh.
“I know, honey,” she said simply. And she did. For all the difficulties in their relationship, all the ups and downs throughout their lives, she understood how much the old General meant to her husband. His unshakable confidence had propelled her husband to one of the most powerful positions in government, and now to the head of an army. With no warning, her husband had lost his commander, his father, and his friend.
His eyes filled and he collapsed against her.
“He wrote to me,” he croaked with the air of a confession. “I received the letter yesterday, but it was our anniversary. I didn’t write him back. I didn’t even open it. And now….”
“It’s all right,” she soothed.
She rubbed his back has he took hitching breaths.
When he’d calmed himself, she helped him move the silver wine cooler from the sideboard out to the parlor. As they placed it on the table near the window, she saw him looking at her warily, as though concerned about her reaction. Only then did it occur to her what purpose the gift had originally served: a subtle sign of support in the dark days after that damned pamphlet.
“That doesn’t matter now,” she said aloud. “The reason he sent you this, it doesn’t matter. It was a gift from General Washington to demonstrate his support and affection. That’s all it stands for in my eyes, and all I want it to stand for in yours. A symbol of his love for you.”
When she opened her arms to him, he clutched on to her, squeezing her as if she might disappear suddenly too. “I don’t deserve you,” he whispered.
Only one response occurred to her. “I love you.”
He seemed to calm somewhat after a few minutes. She kissed his temple and suggested, “Why don’t we go upstairs? You should lie down for a little while.”
He shook his head. “I have too much to do. I’ll have to issue orders, and see what Mac wants done.”
“There’s plenty of time for all that,” she countered softly. Still quaking slightly and visibly upset, he wasn’t in any condition to be dealing with military matters. “Just take a few minutes.”
The fight seemed to drain out of him, and he followed her obediently up the stairs and into their bedroom. He curled up next to her when they settled on the bed, his head in her lap. She ran her hand down over his arm and kissed the top of his head.
“Everything will be all right, sweetheart,” she soothed. He clutched at her legs more tightly in response. “I’m right here.”
*Paraphrase of Hamilton to James McHenry, 21 June 1799 (see also McHenry to Hamilton, 20 June 1799). Hamilton thanks McHenry for the game which McHenry suggested could be substitute for chess. He goes on: “As people grow old they decline in some arts though they may improve in others. I will try to get Mrs. Hamilton to accompany in games of tactics new to her. Perhaps she may get a taste for them & become better reconciled to my connection with the Trade-Militant.” (Something tells me he wasn't really talking about the game anymore :))
Philip Church initially met Niemcewicz in Newark, and he reported the extraordinary tale of the polish poet, statesman and traveler being able to communicate with the dead. Hamilton and John Church decided to invite the man to dinner, and concocted the prank to "frighten the family." Hamilton must have given a truly Oscar worthy performance, however, because the news that he had seen a ghost traveled through the city like wild fire, forcing him to explain that the whole things had been nothing more than a joke. To read Peter Jay's version of the story, check out the footnote 27 to the letter from Philip Schuyler to Hamilton dated 31 January 1799 on founders.archives.gov.
I hope the emotional beats of this chapter weren't too all over the map. I wanted to establish their healing relationship from Eliza's POV, and also show how quickly and relentlessly the tragedies began to pile up in their lives. Hamilton's father died in June 1799, although I'm not sure how long it took for the news to actually be communicated to him. Then, of course, George Washington died on December 14, 1799 (which was Hamilton and Eliza's 19th wedding anniversary). Besides a final letter to his property manager, the last letter Washington ever wrote was to Hamilton. That letter probably would have arrived about the same time Hamilton was hearing about Washington's death. Washington's loss hit him even harder. Writing to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney on 22 December, he summed up his feelings: "My imagination is gloomy my heart sad."
The loud bang of wood hitting wood cracked through his office. His overstuffed traveling case had connected hard with his desk as he struggled to get it closed. When the stubborn contraption refused to yield, he opened it for the second time in hopes of better arranging the stacks of correspondence awaiting his perusal. The letters had piled up during his trip to New England. What had been meant as his first tour to examine the Northern troops had turned out to be his last, when Adams issued orders for the army to be dismantled not long before he left.
He jumped with he felt hands come to rest on his shoulders.
“That’s an awful lot of noise you’re making. You need to relax, sweetheart,” Eliza advised behind him, massaging his shoulders gently. “Leave that for when we return.”
“I can’t,” he protested.
“You can,” she contradicted. He turned to face her, and sighed when she reached out to caress his cheek. “Your military obligations are at an end. And your legal practice has waited this long for your attention. It will keep another week. Come enjoy some time with your family.”
He glanced back at his case. “It is not the military or my practice that plagues my mind,” he admitted. “I fear our country is in great peril, and very few people seem to be taking notice.”
Eliza frowned. “I know you’re unhappy with Mr. Adams’ decision to disband the army,” she began. He scoffed at the understatement. “But please, don’t act rashly. Take time to let your temper cool before you do anything.”
“I’m not acting out of pettiness,” he retorted angrily, turning back to fight with his case once more. “Adams is a mad man. I can’t in good conscience allow him to continue unchecked.”
“The election isn’t until November,” Eliza reminded him calmly.
“That’s hardly any time at all for all that needs doing,” he snapped.
“What?” he snapped once more. When she didn’t continue, he glanced back at her again. Her eyes were narrowed and her lips were in drawn into a firm, thin line. He exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry.”
The icy silence continued for another beat. When she spoke again, her request became an order. “Leave the case.”
If he brought it now, she’d punish him with a cold shoulder for the entire trip. He weighed the thought of spending the coming days writing political letters while Eliza ignored him against a trip filled with love and laughter at their rented country retreat. He dropped his hands from the case.
She smiled serenely and pecked him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
The trip to Harlem took only an hour and half, but with seven children packed in to their coach it felt like an eternity. Angelica sat beside her mother, doing her best to assist with the baby when she wasn’t helping to distract Philip. The baby turned fussy in Eliza’s arms after half of an hour, and William fidgeted in his lap as if a colony of ants were crawling over him. Philip, for his part, seemed determined to look at everything but the book he was meant to be studying, no matter how many stern looks Hamilton sent his way. And the boy wondered why he’d been issued a set of strict rules to govern his studies.
“You have another exam before your graduation,” he reminded Pip for the third time since departing from the city.
“I know,” Pip answered, even as his gaze drifted towards the coach window once more.
“Stop,” Johnny whined.
Hamilton craned his head to see Jamie poking at his younger brother. “James,” he barked.
The boy jumped at the scolding, then pasted on a charming smile. “What, Papa?” He raised an eyebrow, and his son muttered an underwhelming apology.
“Stop it,” Alex demanded not two minutes later.
Hamilton leaned over. “I’m tired of saying your name, James. Do I need to move you to a different seat?”
Jamie shook his head.
Exasperated, Hamilton tried to meet Eliza’s eye, but she looked blithely unconcerned with the children’s behavior, consumed with making silly faces at their little daughter. Watching her for a long moment, he felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. When she did at last look up, seeming to sense his gaze, she made another silly face for him, and he laughed.
The carriage at last came to a stop outside the house, and he heard Old Peggy charge down from the front of the carriage, barking with excitement as Robert dismounted to open the door. William wriggled in his arms as he climbed out of the coach. The boys followed, then Angelica and Eliza. Mary came around the coach to assist with the baby while Robert began to pull down their luggage.
“Take your brother for a run around,” he directed, looking at Jamie specifically. “I think you both need to work out the wiggles.”
Jamie grinned as Hamilton lowered William to the ground. Jamie immediately took the little boy by the hand. “Come on, Billy. Let’s run.”
The two boys took off, William flapping his arms behind him like a goose as he chased his older brother. Old Peggy chased after them, barking. Johnny and Alex followed after, enjoying the wide open grounds of the summer cottage.
Philip watched after them sadly, then turned his big puppy dog eyes towards his father. He smiled at his son. “Go. Have fun,” he invited. He only had one exam left before he graduated, after all. He shouldn’t be so hard on the boy.
Philip grinned and grabbed his sister by the hand, taking off after their younger siblings.
“Ah,” Eliza sighed as she slid her arms around his waist. “Blissful quiet.”
He smiled down at her. “I’m sorry I’ve been so short with you. I’ve just been….”
“Disappointed,” she supplied.
He sighed. “It’s more than that, Betsey.”
“I know, honey,” she assured him, turning her head to press a kiss to his shoulder.
“Could we go for a walk?” he asked. “I want to show you something.”
Eliza nodded. “I think Mary and Robert can manage to set the house up without us.”
She tucked her arm securely around his as they set off down the road side by side. They walked in companionable silence for several minutes, soaking in the peaceful countryside. A breeze was blowing off the Hudson, cooling the heat of the blazing summer sun above them.
“It’s so beautiful out here,” he noted absently. They passed by a brick wall growing over with flowering green vines. Sure Eliza would know, he asked, “What kind of flowers are those?”
Eliza paused and reached her delicate hand out towards the flowers. “I think it’s honeysuckle.”
He pulled one of the blooms off the vine, inhaling the scent and twisting it between his fingers.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
He nodded and tucked the flower behind her ear.
“Maybe we could plant some when we have our own house,” she suggested.
His lip twitched upwards and he took her by the hand as they set off down the road again. “When are Angelica and Church arriving?” he asked conversationally. They were splitting the cost of the house between them, more for their benefit than Church’s. Though Angelica and Eliza seemed to enjoy each other’s company, especially when he and Church both needed to travel back to the city for work.
“Tomorrow, I think,” she answered, squeezing his hand affectionately.
“We’re going to have a lively house.”
“More lively than usual, you mean?” she remarked in a teasing tone. With seven children, their home was never exactly quiet.
He laughed and nodded. “You certainly won’t be lonely while I’m away.”
“I’d always rather be with you,” she stated. “I hate that we need to be apart until the fall.”
“You might have been able to stay in the city if Burr hadn’t been such a snake in the grass,” he said, a flash of anger shooting through him all over again. Burr had convinced him to help establish a water company for New York, to minimize the risk of a yellow fever outbreak. The whole endeavor had turned out to be little more than a con to establish a bank that would favor the opposition party. And he’d fallen for it.
“Don’t talk like that,” she cautioned.
“He just makes me…”
“After what happened with Church, I wish you’d watch the way you speak. Especially about Burr.” Angelica and Eliza were both still shaken by the revelation that Church had dueled Burr last fall over an offhand comment Church had made at a dinner. Although they had exchanged fire, neither was hurt, and their dispute had been resolved honorably.
“I’m not planning on dueling Burr. Or anyone else, for that matter,” he assured her.
“Neither was Church.”
He sighed and glanced at her, chuckling. “I’ll let it go.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Anyway, my point was, I hate being apart from you for four or five days out of the week. I wish I could keep you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she promised. He smiled softly, so immensely grateful to have gained her forgiveness enough for her to make such a declaration without a moment’s hesitation.
“Do you remember we used to take carriage rides down this road with the General and Mrs. Washington?” he asked, gazing out at the sun dappled Hudson.
She squeezed his hand. “I do.”
He went quiet, thoughts drifting to his old commander, gone now more than half a year. The country felt adrift without his steady presence. He felt adrift.
“Sweetheart?” Eliza asked after several minutes of quiet strolling.
“Mm,” he hummed in acknowledgement, pulled out of his melancholy thoughts.
“Are we going somewhere in particular? Or did you just fancy a walk?”
He quirked his lips up mischievously.
She rolled her eyes at him even as she grinned.
A few minutes more, and they came to a small, slightly neglected farmhouse set back a ways from the road. He came to an abrupt halt, and Eliza paused a pace ahead of him, looking back at him with a raised brow. Tugging her closer, he pressed a tender kiss to her lips.
“What do you think?”
“Of what?” she asked.
He stepped to the side and turned her by the shoulders to face the farmhouse. His arms wrapped around her waist, hands splayed out on her middle as he rested his head against hers. The blossom still tucked behind her ear tickled his nose. “This spot. What do you think?”
“Well, the house could use a bit of care. The land is lovely, though a little overgrown. And it certainly has a lovely view.”
He raised his hand to point towards the center of the property. “See that spot there, where the ground is raised a bit higher?”
“That’s where we’ll build our house,” he declared.
She craned her head back to look at him, then spun in his arms, her hands resting against his chest. “Our house?” she repeated. Her big, dark eyes were wide with surprise.
“The land is for sale,” he explained at last. “I know it’s not right on the waterfront like we’d hoped, but it does have a view of the river and it overlooks the valley to the east. If you approve, I can begin the purchase as soon as I get back to the city.”
“Can we afford it?”
“My fee for the Le Guen case was quite substantial,” he assured her. The protracted litigation had finally come to end that winter, with a truly staggering sum being awarded to his client. Le Guen had been more than generous in compensating him for his efforts. “More than enough to purchase the land and to begin construction. Assuming you like the spot, of course.”
She turned around again to look over the property once more.
“I love it,” she said quietly after a moment’s contemplation. “It’s perfect.”
He felt giddy at her approval. Stepping to the side again, he pulled her into his arms and lifted her feet from the ground as he spun her around. She laughed, her arms tightening around his neck when he lowered her back to the earth. As he stared into her eyes, he wished he could somehow capture this moment so that he might keep it forever.
“Can we walk on the grounds?” she asked.
“Of course. I told Schieffelin we’d be examining the property while we we’re here.”
She took him by the hand again and stepped up the incline from the road towards the farmhouse. He followed along happily behind her. “The house will be in the center, there,” he said again, beginning to narrate his day dreams for her as they wandered along. “And we’ll plant gardens all around. Tulips and laurel and fruit trees.”
“And honeysuckle,” she reminded him.
“Lots of honeysuckle,” he agreed. “We’ll have patios on either side of the house. And every night, we’ll sit outside with a glass of wine and watch the sunset over the Hudson.”
“How long will it take? For the house to be ready?”
He considered a moment, a bird chirruping merrily overhead in the quiet. “At least a year after we begin construction, I’d imagine. Perhaps more. I want it to be grand. But I thought in the mean time we could have some improvements made to the farmhouse; then we could begin to enjoy the land as soon as next summer, rather than renting the cottage with Church and Angelica again.”
Eliza paused, turned to him, and wrapped him in another embrace. “I can hardly believe it,” she said, her face the very picture of delight.
He kissed her nose and grinned when she wrinkled it adorably in response. Overwhelmed with fondness, he kissed properly, clutching her close as her fingers began to tangle in his hair. “Are you happy?” he asked, when he finally pulled away.
“So happy,” she answered immediately. Stroking a hand over his cheek tenderly, she asked, “What other plans have you made?”
“This house will be yellow,” he told her.
“Yellow?” she laughed.
“Yes. A bright, cheery yellow, with white trim.”
She turned her face towards the proposed spot for the building and nodded thoughtfully. “Yellow. I like that.”
“The children will have so much more space to run,” he commented, looking around the wide open land. “Schieffelin said he’d allow us to use his dock for fishing, and I can take the boys hunting in the surrounding woods.”
“Fishing, hunting, gardening,” Eliza listed with a crooked smile. “You’ve gone positively domestic.”
“Time with you and our babies is all I want in the world, Betsey. Any time I’m away from my family is time wasted. The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that.”
“Well, I need not tell you how happy you make us when you’re home,” she replied.
He looked back towards the road, and motioned southward. “Bloomingdale Road goes straight to lower Manhattan. The stagecoach will likely pick me up at our gate, so transporting back and forth for my work should be quite easy. I’ll be able to spend a great deal of time with you and the children in the country.”
“Perfect,” she repeated, turning her head in either direction to take in a full view of the property. “It’s simply perfect.”
Gazing down at his wife, all the tension of the past weeks seemed little more than an unpleasant dream. Adams and Jefferson and the sticky swamp of political intrigue in which he’d been trapped over the past weeks faded away in the bright sunshine of his wife’s smile. He drew her close again, unsure how to express to her how very much she meant to him. Failing to find anything more articulate, he settled on simply echoing her. “Perfect.”
This chapter is kind of a deep breath between tragedies. (I've barely started researching this weekend, and I was already tearing up.)
The summer of 1800 saw an end to Hamilton's involvement in the army, when John Adams fired his cabinet, began peace negotiations with France, and ordered the army be dismantled. Adams and Hamilton had something of a show down the fall before, and Hamilton began plotting in earnest to remove Adams from the presidency come the election in November, hoping to replace him with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. I imagine he was a little testy during this time.
Hamilton took a farewell tour through New England, overseeing the dismantling of his army and talking to Federalists about how they should vote for Pinckney in the coming election. On 8 June 1800, however, he wrote to Eliza "The Country is truly charming. I remark as I go along every thing that can be adopted for the embellishment of our little retreat..." His mind truly did seem to begin to turn to his family and retreating from public life around this time.
By 2 August 1800, he'd completed the purchase of the land in Harlem for the Grange. He originally wanted to buy a bigger section so he could have waterfront property, but Jacob Schieffelin refused to sell him the portion on the river. The house was raised enough to have a view of the Hudson, however, and he oriented the house to overlook the Hudson Valley behind them. Bloomingdale Road was the name of the road between Hamilton's property and Schieffelin's, though today its now named Hamilton Place.
Also, I added the part about honeysuckle based on a really sweet account I came across, written by a woman designated only as Mrs. Q. Sometime after Hamilton's death, Mrs. Q went out to the Grange to meet with Eliza regarding a school for which Eliza was helping to raise money. Eliza wasn't home at the time, but Mrs. Q was invited to stay for tea and to go for a walk through the garden. "...[H]er attention was attracted by a beautiful bower entwined with the most luscious honeysuckle. They [the family] told her it was a favorite retreat of Mrs. Hamilton, as it had been planted by her husband...." and had been one of his favorite spots in the garden. (In a twist of irony, Mrs. Q brought a branch home as a souvenir, and when her attorney visited her on business some days later, he admired them so much he took a sprig to wear in his button hole. Her attorney, of course, was Aaron Burr.) The account was published in "Mr. Daniels and the Grange" by Eric Sloane and Edward Anthony.
Chapter 12: Hamilton, November 1801
Warning: Major character death in this chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You seem distracted,” Robert Troup noted. He was leaning far back in the chair opposite Hamilton’s desk holding a stack of depositions for a case they were both working on.
Hamilton pulled his glasses down to pinch the bridge of his nose against the stress headache he was fast developing. “I’m in the midst a very long day,” he answered his friend vaguely.
Troup set down his half of the depositions, a concerned frowned now wrinkling his brow. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head and tried to force a smile. “Nothing, really. I just didn’t sleep well. Eliza…” he hesitated. This sort of thing wasn’t proper to talk about among gentlemen, but Troup had been one of his dearest friends going all the way back to King’s. “Eliza’s pregnant again.”
Troup’s face morphed into a smile. “That’s wonderful, Hammy.”
“She’s been having some trouble. Morning sickness, you know.”
Troup nodded sympathetically. “I remember Jeanie going through that. It was awful.”
“She was up sick half the night last night. I hated leaving her this morning,” he admitted. “I’d have stayed home to look after her if I didn’t have so much to do today.”
“How far along is she?”
“She thinks about three months.”
“She should be through the worst of it soon, then,” Troup consoled. “Jeanie always said the early months were the worst.”
That had held true for Eliza previously, as well. “I hope so,” he replied. “I hate when she’s poorly.” He’d felt utterly useless as he’d hovered at her side, rubbing her back gently while she retched endlessly over the chamber pot in their bedroom.
“She’ll be fine,” Troup assured him. “You worry too much.”
His friend’s bright, sunny smile and unfailing optimism did manage to raise his spirits slightly. “Thanks,” he said sincerely.
They returned to their reading with matching sighs. He picked up his quill to mark a passage that might prove useful on cross examination, trying to refocus his mind on the work before him. Time marched steadily onwards.
As the shadows began to lengthen across the floor of his office, he glanced at the clock, and then towards the front door, craning his head in hopes of catching a figure passing by one of the front windows. Troup turned in his seat as well. “Are you expecting someone?”
“Pip was supposed to be here nearly an hour ago,” he said.
His son was the other reason for his difficulty focusing. Philip had strolled in to his office this morning with the delightful news that he’d been quarreling with a young Republican at the theater over the weekend. The young man, Eacker, had made some insulting comments towards him in the paper over the summer, and Pip (undoubtedly a few drinks for the worse at the time) had decided to confront him during a staging of the West Indian.
“A disparaging remark in the paper four months ago, directed at me, no less, seems a poor reason to call a fellow out to the field of honor,” Hamilton had argued as his son paced restlessly before his desk.
“That’s not why I did it,” Pip had parried immediately. “He called me a rascal! In front of everyone! Then he refused to apologize. What else was I to do? If I didn’t call him out, everyone would think me a coward.”
“Were you out with Price?” Pip looked a little sheepish as he nodded. “Drinking?”
“I’m not a child. You were in the army at my age.”
“I don’t care how old you are. The two of you are going to get in real trouble someday if you don’t start acting like gentlemen.”
Pip flushed and nodded again.
“Do you have a second?”
“Dave Jones,” Pip answered. “Eacker named Jonathan Lawrence.”
He’d nodded approvingly. David Samuel Jones was a young attorney with a good head on his shoulders, and Jon Lawrence was a local merchant with a good reputation. Cooler heads would undoubtedly prevail over such a silly, boyish squabble.
Pip paused, looking impossibly young with his big brown eyes and disheveled hair. “Papa?”
“What?” he asked, voice softening.
“What do I do? If we actually…Mama said it was a sin, to fire at someone in a duel.”
His stomach had turned at the thought of his baby boy standing on a field with a weapon trained on him. He’d taken a calming breath and reminded himself that things would never progress so far over such a drunken, juvenile encounter. Still, he’d wanted to ensure the safety of both parties should the worst come to pass.
“It is a sin,” he confirmed. “Taking a man’s life on the dueling ground is no better than murdering him in cold blood in the eyes of God. If things progress and you meet Eacker on the field, you should reserve your fire at the call to present, and then aim your pistol in the air, clearly, so he can see.” No gentlemen would fire at someone who had no intention of firing back. If the two boys were going to be firing guns, he wanted them aiming as far away from each other as possible. “Do you understand?”
He’d smiled and gestured to a pile of papers on his desk, allowing the matter to drop for the present moment. “Take these over to Mr. Parsons office; they’re for Uncle Church’s insurance case. Then Judge Kent said you can sit with his clerks during his proceedings today if you can get to the courthouse before nine. Try to meet me back here by four, if you could. I want to get home to check on Mama at a reasonable time.”
“All right, Papa,” he’d agreed. He’d then collected the papers from the desk, and tucked them neatly into the case Hamilton and Eliza had gifted him upon his graduation.
“Pip,” he called as his son turned away.
The boy paused in the doorway.
“It’ll be fine.”
Pip gave him one last big smile before setting off for his day.
Now, four o’clock had come and gone, and there was no sign of his troublesome boy.
Troup gave him a knowing smile. “Come on, Ham. You remember what it was like to be nineteen, with the world at your feet. Cut the boy some slack.”
“If I cut him any more slack, he’s like to hang himself with it,” he replied with a wry smile. Troup laughed. “Sometime I forget why I ever taught him to walk. Things were so much easier before he could wander off by himself.”
“Hindsight makes wise men of us all,” Troup teased. A carriage clattered to a stop outside the office, and his friend added, “See. That’ll be Pip now.”
He felt the knot of anxiety in his middle ease as the door knob turned. Before he could start the scolding he’d been mentally rehearsing for the past half hour though, he saw not his son, but one of Pip’s school friends standing awkwardly in the open doorway. Rathbone, if he recalled correctly. Yes. Thomas Rathbone—he’d graduated with Pip last year.
“Good day, General Hamilton,” the boy started nervously.
He nodded politely and gave the boy a smile to put him a little more at ease. “How can I help you, son?”
“I was…Well, I was wondering if you’d had word yet, sir.”
He frowned. “Word about what?”
“About Phil,” the boy answered, increasingly uncomfortable by the second. “He rowed out to Powles Hook with Jones hours ago, but no one’s heard what happened.”
He was on his feet before he really knew what was happening. His heart felt like it was going to leap from his throat. No. No. He couldn’t have…Jones and Lawrence would never have let it get so far.
“Why was Pip going to New Jersey?” Troup asked, his face the picture of confusion.
“I have to…” he trailed off as he collected his coat and slipped out of open his office door.
“Ham?” Troup called after him.
He was already on the sidewalk, moving down the street at a pace just short of running. His breath created great white puffs in the cold November air. His mind was whirling so quickly he couldn’t properly pin down a thought, except for a peculiar memory of Pip as a toddler stumbling towards him on chubby, unsteady legs. A familiar townhouse came into view and he paused before the front door, his brain hardly keeping up with his legs.
Hosack. Every instinct screamed at him to fetch the doctor, the man who’d miraculously returned his son from the dead once before. He hadn’t told Pip to bring a doctor along; he’d been so sure it wouldn’t come to that. How could he have been so foolish?
He pounded on the front door, louder than strictly proper.
The door opened almost immediately, so suddenly that he nearly pounded his fist into the face of the house’s occupant. Hosack had his coat on already, his black doctor’s bag in hand. Worst of all, he looked unsurprised to see Hamilton pounding frantically on his door.
No. Oh, please, God, no.
“Philip,” he managed to get out. “I think…I think he’s been in a duel. He may need—”
“I know, sir,” Hosack interrupted softly. “I’m already on my way. He was taken to Mr. and Mrs. Church’s home, out in Greenwich, so I’ve been told.”
“He was taken…taken to….” Black began to press in on his vision, speckled with little flashes of light. He felt himself falling.
Troup had chased after him in his carriage, as it turned out. Hamilton came to on the sofa in the Hosack’s family parlor, and his friend was patting at his head with a cloth dipped in cool water. “There you are, Hammy.”
A single, blessed moment of confusion followed. And then it all came crashing back down upon him. He swung his legs over the side of the sofa and pushed himself up, intending to fly from the room, only to be stymied when his head spun dangerously again.
“Take it easy,” Troup advised. “You’re going to faint on us again.”
“I need to…Philip.”
Troup pressed gently on his shoulders to sit him back on the sofa. “I know. I’ll take you over in just a moment. First, take a sip of water. You’re no use to him unconscious.”
He took the water reluctantly, forcing the liquid down his tight throat. It did help to clear his head, though, and when he stood, his vision remained clear and his legs stayed steady beneath him. Seeing that he could stand, Troup ushered him out to his carriage and ordered the driver to take them out to Church and Angelica’s house.
“Eliza?” he asked as the carriage started off.
“Mrs. Hosack sent word. She’ll meet us there,” Troup assured him.
He sat back against the cushioned seat. His mind felt numb and fuzzy, as if he were in a dream. How could this be happening? His little boy, his darling Pip: he’d just seen him this morning. He closed his eyes and saw his son so clearly he felt as if he could reach out and touch him.
When the coach stopped, Troup took him by the elbow to lead him inside. Angelica was standing in the doorway looking more distressed then he’d ever seen her. Her makeup had run around her eyes, giving her smudged circles almost like a raccoon. She reached out to him as he passed by, whispering, “My dear brother.”
“Upstairs,” she answered.
The staircase loomed before him, seeming the stretch and shrink at the same time. Troup remained at his side and guided him along. He heard Pip before he saw him. A long, drawn out wail of misery emanated from the room at the end of the hall.
He couldn’t breathe.
The smell hit him before anything else: coppery and strong, with a hint of bowel. Just for a moment, he was back in the hospital tent after Trenton, holding a young man’s hand as he bled and wept for his mother. Only, when he opened his eyes to the scene before him, it wasn’t a nameless boy in a uniform; it was his son, his boy.
He’d fought in a war, risked life and limb, spilled blood and faced death to build something better for his children. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Hush, Philip,” Hosack was whispering. “See, your Papa is here.”
He made himself move.
“Pip,” he cooed. He ran his hand through the sweaty mop of curls on his son’s head. “Pip, look at me. It’s Papa.”
Pip’s breath hitched around a sob. “Papa?”
“Yes. It’s Papa. I’m here, my darling lamb. I’m right here.”
Philip took a gasping breath, his sweaty hand clutching on to his father’s shirt. “It hurts, Papa. It hurts!”
“Shh,” he whispered. “Everything’s all right. Just stay calm. You need to breathe. Breathe with me.”
Pip’s eyes were rolling in his head, not focusing on anything in particular. He tried to take a breath, then let out another wail. “Mama!” he cried again.
Hamilton took a shuddering breath as he reached down to lift the bloody blanket. The bullet had cut a course straight through Pip’s abdomen by the looks of it. His arm was wrapped in bandages as well. He pressed his fingers to Pip’s uninjured wrist, feeling the thready pulse thrumming through his veins.
“Doctor,” he nearly whimpered as he turned back to Hosack, “I despair.”
Hosack looked pale; he didn’t bother pretending there was hope.
“It hurts!” Philip sobbed.
“Can’t you give him something?” he asked, desperate to do something, to help, to protect.
“I can give him a dose of laudanum. But he might be unconscious by the time Mrs. Hamilton arrives.”
“I don’t care, just…help him.” Eliza wouldn’t want to see him like this, anyway. He didn’t want to see him like this. Hosack prepared the laudanum and carefully eased Pip’s mouth open. The boy shuddered at the taste, but soon quieted. Hamilton knelt by the bedside and pressed a kiss to Pip’s forehead. “It’s going to be all right.”
He folded his hands around Philip’s in prayer and laid his head on the bed.
Please, he begged silently, please not my son. Take me. Take me instead.
His head jerked up at his wife’s voice. She swept into the room, pale to the lips and shaking as she hurried to the bedside. Pip’s head rolled towards her voice, but his eyes stayed unfocused.
“Mama’s here, honey,” she soothed, even if he was beyond understanding. “You’re all right now.”
Pip whimpered. She seated herself on the opposite side of the bed and brushed her fingers through his hair. The boy seemed to relax instinctively at her touch. “Hush, my darling.”
Her dark eyes met his across the bed just as Pip’s eyes fell closed. “What happened?”
He shook his head, hardly able to form words. “I don’t…he…I don’t….”
She looked down at Philip’s wrapped arm and lifted the blanket. Her hand went to her mouth to stifle a sob. She managed, in a choked voice, “Was it a duel?”
“I don’t know.” It was pointless. Senseless. So much blood and pain, over nothing. A word spoken in anger between two young men who’d been drinking. “I don’t…I don’t know.”
She turned her attention back to their son, repositioning on the bed so she could hold him properly and cradle his head. He put his head down on the bed again. Prayed again. Please. Please.
“Alexander,” she whispered.
He looked up.
“Come here.” She motioned to the bed. “He needs you.”
He clambered up onto the bed and clutched his son.
People filtered in and out around them. Hosack fluttered about the room ineffectually but for his nearly hourly doses of laudanum that kept Philip calm and insensible of the pain. He didn’t move to acknowledge any of the visitors; he hardly dared breathe for fear he’d cause his precious child more pain.
Philip went in and out of consciousness. It felt like a nightmarish mimicry of those early days when he’d been an infant sleeping between them, waking at odd hours to demand food and comfort from Eliza. Now, it was the laudanum for which he screamed, and his parents were utterly helpless in the face of his unbearable agony.
His wife’s hand found his in the night. She entwined their fingers over their son’s chest, which rose and fell with shallow breath. Their eyes met in the dim candlelight, and a silent communication passed between them: terror and gnawing pain and soul crushing grief understood without words exchanged. He squeezed her palm, trying to send her comfort, until she drifted off at last in the wee hours of the morning. As soon as he was sure she was asleep, he pulled away.
He didn’t deserve her comfort.
Golden sunlight began to filter through the curtains. He blinked in the light, and felt Pip shift slightly against him. “Papa?” His voice was so soft, so weak, Hamilton half thought he’d imagined it. But Pip’s eyes were open when he looked down.
“Hello, my sweet boy.”
Pip looked more coherent in the morning light. His wandering eyes rested on his father. He swallowed twice, seemed to make an effort to try to speak. “I didn’t…I didn’t fire at him, Papa. I did… just what you said.”
“I know,” he assured him. “I know. You did so well, son. I’m so proud of you.”
Philip gave a little sigh and closed his eyes again. Some part of him knew his little child would never wake again. He kissed his brow, his tears mingling with Philip’s sweat. “I’m so sorry.”
Eliza stirred, blinking owlishly. Seeing his tears, her eyes widened and she sat up fully. “Philip?”
“Asleep,” he tried to assure her.
She nodded and clutched their boy tighter. Resting his head beside his son’s, he closed his eyes. Eliza tried to hold his hand again. He couldn’t look at her.
Philip slipped away quietly minutes later, with hardly a sound.
His world stopped.
Oh my goodness, this was awful to try to write! All that pain and healing of the previous chapters just kind of unravels in the face of this kind of huge loss. Obviously, it's something he and Eliza will be grappling with as the story moves forward.
Historically, we do have several sources that describe the immediate aftermath of Philip's duel. Philip's old school friend Thomas Rathbone saw Philip before the duel and stopped in to see him afterwards. In a letter to his sister, he described, "On a bed without curtains lay poor Phil, pale and languid, his rolling distorted eyeballs darting forth the flashes of delirium."
Doctor Hosack also recorded his memory of that day. Hamilton rushed to collect the doctor when he heard Philip was actually dueling Eacker, and he fainted upon arriving at his house. He continued, "As soon as your father ascertained the direction of the wound, examined the countenance and felt the pulse of your brother, he exclaimed in tones and manner that can never be effaced from my memory, 'Doctor, I despair.'"
Hamilton's old college roommate and good friend Robert Troup was also at the Church house, and he recalled how painful it was to see Eliza arrive. He went on the describe in a letter to Rufus King, dated 5 December 1801, "Never did I see a man so completely overwhelmed with grief as Hamilton has been."
Eliza shifted in bed and tried to find the will to open her eyes. She felt sluggish, almost drugged, though she hadn’t taken any of the laudanum Doctor Hosack had prescribed to help her sleep. When she’d managed to roll over, she asked, “What is it, dear heart?”
Alex stood at the bedside, shifting anxiously from foot to foot. “I think something’s wrong with Angelica.”
Pushing herself up on one elbow, she took a deliberate breath, willing her stomach to settle. “What do you mean? Is she unwell?”
He shook his head as he gnawed at his lip nervously.
“Then what is it?”
“She’s just not…right.” Alex’s dark eyes fell to the floor guiltily, as though he’d said something wrong.
Eliza blinked and wished her mind would clear. “What?”
“She keeps talking about…about….” She could hear Pip’s name in Alex’s silence, and she tried not to wince in pain as she nodded for him to continue. “It’s like she doesn’t understand what happened.”
“Honey, I’m sure Angelica—”
“Please, just come see. Please! Papa wouldn’t listen, either. But something’s wrong, I know it.”
The impassioned plea from her normally sweet and easy-going child was enough to make her push back the blankets to rise from her warm bed. “All right, let’s look in on her. Bring me my robe, please?”
Alex fetched her dressing gown as she stood on shaky legs. She’d hardly been out of bed since Alexander brought her home from Angelica’s house. A terrible storm had kept her away from the funeral due to her delicate condition, though she doubted she could have withstood the agony of attending no matter the weather. Alexander had gone, though.
“He was extraordinary,” Angelica had reported of her husband in a hushed whisper when she visited after the services, curled up on the bed beside Eliza as she held her hand. “Troup and Church did lend him a supporting arm when we gathered at the graveside, but he comported himself very bravely. He did Philip proud.”
Eliza’s throat felt tight at the memory.
She leaned on her son’s arm as they made their way across the hall to Angelica’s room. The door stood open, and Eliza took in the space with wide eyes. Dolls which had been packed away years ago had been pulled from their trunk to be displayed prominently on the bed. Angelica sat crossed legged near her pillows with one of the dolls in hand, her hair swept up with a bright pink ribbon in a style reminiscent of her youth.
“Angelica?” she asked softly.
Her daughter looked up from her doll and smiled. “Hi, Mama.”
“Hi,” she repeated. “What are you doing, honey?”
“Fixing Ms. Polly’s dress. It’s terribly disordered.”
Eliza stepped further into the room and sat down on the bed, brushing her hand over her daughter’s curls. “She’s been in your trunk for quite some time,” she noted gently.
Angelica’s brow wrinkled. “I know. Pip must have put her there. He’s always moving my things.”
A chill ran down her spine. She could feel her hands shaking even as she tried to keep her voice even and calm. “You put her away, remember, sweetheart?”
Her daughter shook her head as she fussed with the silky gown adorning her little toy. “I wouldn’t do that, Mama. It was Pip. I’m going to make him apologize when he comes home.”
She glanced over at Alex, still standing quietly in the doorway. He was looking at his sister with big, sad eyes.
“Sweetheart, Pip…Pip isn’t coming home.” Her voice sounded strangled even to her own ears as she forced out the words.
Angelica gave her a strange, sidelong glance. “Of course he is.”
“He died, Angelica,” she stated bluntly, the bald declaration leaving a bitter, acrid taste on her tongue. “He can’t come home.”
“He’ll be home later. After he apologizes, I’ll let him hear the new piece I’ve been practicing on the piano. He’s going to love it,” Angelica stated, continuing to fix her doll with a serene smile.
Eliza pressed a kiss to her daughter’s temple and rose, nodding for Alex to follow her out into the hallway. “How long has she been like this?”
“The first night, when you and Papa were with…” he hesitated over Pip’s name again. She wondered if he couldn’t bring himself to say it, or if he was concerned with upsetting her further. “She was…really bad. She screamed and cried until she made herself ill. But then, when Papa told us, she just got really quiet. She was like that for a while, quiet and distant, but we were all…I didn’t notice right away. Not until a few days ago, when I heard her humming while she unpacked her trunk.”
She held a hand to her brow, her mind spinning as she tried desperately to think of a way to help her sweet girl.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Alex added, his eyes going damp. “I should have looked out for her better. I’m trying.”
She hushed him and drew him close. “You’ve done wonderfully.”
“Pip would have noticed,” he muttered as he buried his head in her shoulder.
“Shh,” she cooed. “It’s all right.”
He broke down into sobs against her.
Grief is selfish. Always. She’d known that for a long time, but only now, as she holds her weeping son to her, did she understand just how far away she’d been over the past weeks. The pain had swallowed her whole and engulfed her in a deep, thick fog, obscuring even her children as she sank into the darkness. How had she not noticed her daughter shutting down, reverting back to her childhood? Or Alex, faltering under the burden of suddenly being the eldest brother?
“It’ll be all right,” she lied, rubbing Alex’s back. “I’m right here. Everything’s all right.”
Mary added another log to the fireplace in the parlor to fight the biting December wind that beat against the window. The log caught with a loud crack, and Mary pushed away, wiping her hands on her apron. “Would you like another blanket, Mrs. Hamilton?”
“No, thank you,” Eliza refused politely. She was bundled in her dressing gown and slippers, and had a quilt spread over her lap as she rested on the sofa with her embroidery. “But perhaps some more tea?”
“Of course, ma’am. I’ll brew it now,” Mary agreed, curtsying before she hurried from the room.
The servants and children both seemed abuzz now that Eliza had left the quiet sanctuary of her bedroom to sit downstairs. Jamie had finally taken Johnny and William outside to play in the snow when William’s boundless energy had led to a broken vase some minutes ago, but Alex remained in the armchair nearby with a Greek grammar book open in his lap and little Eliza had pulled herself up onto the sofa, nestling by her hip with a rag doll in hand. Only Angelica was missing, still caring for her rumpled dolls in her bedroom, unmovable no matter how many times Eliza asked for her to join them.
“Are you sure you don’t want another blanket, Mama?” Alex asked. “I can go get one for you. Or anything else you need. A book, or…”
“I’m fine, honey,” she assured him, forcing a weak smile onto her lips. Her chest still felt tight, on the verge of a sob, and she would have liked nothing more than to escape back to the numb, comforting darkness, but the general enthusiasm with which her trip downstairs had been met told her how badly her children needed her to pretend. So she remained on the sofa with her sewing and a painted smile.
Jamie and Johnny brought in a much more sedate William as the shadows grew long outside. As the boys gathered around the fire to warm up, she asked Alex, “Could you go collect your sister, please? Papa should be home soon. We’ll have dinner together as a family.”
“Yes, Mama,” Alex agreed, already up from his seat.
The front door closed with a soft tap before the older children had returned. She heard Hamilton removing his heavy winter coat and hat. The children had all perked up at the noise.
“Papa!” William jumped to his feet and raced out of the parlor.
Dropping a kiss to her little daughter’s head as she scooted her aside, she rose to greet her husband as well. Hamilton was down on one knee in the foyer with William wrapped tight in an embrace. Her son clung to his father’s neck, happy as a clam at the attention.
“We talked about yelling inside, didn’t we?” he asked in a soft voice as he cuddled the boy close. “Mama needs rest and quiet.”
“Mama’s awake,” William argued.
Hamilton’s eyes tracked upwards and met with hers. She could read the same pain and desolation in his face that she felt in her heart; which was precisely the reason she hadn’t looked him in the eye for the past three weeks. Forcing a smile, she greeted him. “Welcome home, darling.”
His lip twitched in response, but she wouldn’t go so far as to say he managed a smile. “Are you well enough to be up?” he asked, his gaze falling to her stomach.
“I need to speak with you, if you have a moment before dinner?” she replied without answering his query.
“Of course,” he agreed. He pressed a kiss to William’s head as he pushed him away. “Go get your brothers and sisters ready for dinner, all right?”
William’s head bobbed and he toddled off towards the parlor obediently.
She grabbed the stack of letters from the front table and nodded towards his office. “Privately,” she added.
He gestured towards the open door in invitation. When she’d entered the office and placed the pile of mail on his desk, he closed the door behind them. “I’m glad to see you feeling well enough to be up and about.”
“Alex said he talked to you about Angelica,” she began, turning back towards him.
His face fell. “Yes.”
“Have you spoken to her?”
“I know.” He looked impossibly sadder. “I didn’t want to worry you.”
“She’s my daughter. My baby girl. I want to know if something’s wrong.”
He nodded, his head hanging low. “I’m sorry. I just…I was hoping it was the shock. That she’d snap out of it. I don’t…I don’t know what else to do.” A glint of his old fire appeared when he added, “I won’t send her to an asylum.”
She set her jaw. The very idea of it made her feel ill. “Of course not. Whatever happens, we’ll care for her.”
His shoulders sagged, the fight draining out of him. She opened her arms to him and held him close. “My dearest Betsey, I’ve been so very lost without you.”
“I’m sure she’ll be all right,” she lied again.
An icy draft had somehow snuck insidiously into the house, and the cold air made the fire pop in the grate, casting strange shadows across the bedroom floor. She huddled further under the blanket, unwilling to draw the bed curtains and block her view of the door. When the clock struck the hour and her husband still hadn’t appeared, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and wrapped herself in her dressing gown once more.
The house was dreadfully cold as she padded downstairs. Mary must have doused the fire in the parlor before she’d gone up to bed. Candlelight flickered beneath Hamilton’s office door, however, bright in the otherwise dark hallway.
“Alexander?” she called, tapping on the closed door twice before entering.
She froze in the doorway. He sat at his desk, surrounded by a sea of broken glass and porcelain. Blood splatters dotted the wooden floor, with a little puddle congealing on the floor just by his feet.
“I’m all right,” he said immediately.
Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears as she gazed at him. “My God,” she gasped, “What happened?”
“A little accident,” he answered, gesturing to the remnants of the tea tray scattered about the floor. “Don’t come any closer. You might cut yourself.”
“You’re bleeding,” she insisted, finally overcoming her temporary paralysis and stepping carefully around the broken tea pot, cup, and plate to crouch in front of him.
He held up his hand, wrapped with a blood-stained handkerchief. “It’s under control.”
She took his hand gently in her own; peeking under the makeshift bandage, she saw a jagged wound covering the length of his palm. Inconvenient and painful, to be sure, but it didn’t look serious. She placed a kiss to his cold knuckles before releasing him.
“Come to bed,” she instructed. “It’s brutally cold tonight, and you’re hurt.”
“I have to…work.”
She quirked a brow at him. “Work? With your hand cut open like that?”
“I…” he trailed off. His face crumpled and he released a ragged breath.
“What happened?” she pressed.
He didn’t answer, but rather passed her a single sheet of paper. The address caught her eye before anything else: Mount Vernon. She glanced up at him again, and he nodded for her to continue. A note from Washy, General Washington’s little grandson. Well, perhaps not so little anymore; he was frozen in her memory at eleven years old, with unruly hair and an impish smile.
A condolence letter, she recognized as he eyes scanned the page. They’d doubtless received many similar notes over the past weeks, but she understood why this one had caught her husband’s attention. “We were brought up as it were, together in our earlier years and that mutual friendship which then existed between us, would I have no doubt have at a future time ripened into esteem,” Washy wrote. “But my Dr Sir, he has fallen in the field of honour, & altho it has not pleased the Almighty Ruler to prolong his days, yet as he lived respected, & admired, so has he died lamented, & beloved.”*
The words conjured up the image of her darling little boy playing along the banks of the Schuylkill, dashing and carefree and so very alive. She pressed a hand to her mouth, as if she could block the shattering sobs shaken loose at the mental picture. The fingers of her husband’s uninjured hand tangled in her curls before gliding along her jaw to cup her face.
“Let’s go to bed,” he suggested, laying the letter back on his desk.
She tried to take a breath, tried to calm herself, but the sobs, once freed, were not easily contained. He stood and lifted her gently from the floor, mindful of the broken porcelain and glass scattered about them. With a great puff of breath, he extinguished the candle and moved steadily through the foyer and up the stairs in the dark. She clung on to him, inconsolable.
“I know,” he whispered as he laid her on their bed. “I know.”
And he did. He was the only person, the only person in the whole world, who truly did.
A sound came out of her, a long, mournful, keening sound. “Pip,” she moaned, burying her face in his warm chest. “Our little Pip.”
The sight of her grief seemed to trigger his own. An answering moan escaped his chest, unearthly and haunting, and he clutched at her tightly, a lifeline in the darkness. She tilted her head up to find his lips. Their tears mingled as they held each other, a tangled weeping mass, seeking and giving comfort as best they could through the long, endless night.
*5 December 1801, George W. P. Custis to Alexander Hamilton. I talked about this letter in the comment section for the last chapter, but it just really gets to me. Something about bringing up Washington again, and memories of Philip as a child playing with Washy, and the unfulfilled possibilities of an alliance between Washy and Philip as they got older...it just kills me.
Why am I doing this to myself!? This just hurts so much! Poor Eliza, and Angelica, and Hamilton, and Pip, and just...all of them.
I tried to touch a little bit on Angelica and what happened after Philip died. Based on what I've read, it sounds almost like she regressed to a safer point in her childhood. She was still basically functional, sweet and kind and capable of carrying on a conversation, but "simple," almost child-like, and in complete denial about Philip's death. At a time when mental healthcare wasn't even a twinkle in the eye of the medical profession (I mean, let's be real, it barely is today), I can't imagine how helpless and afraid Hamilton and Eliza were for their daughter on top of dealing with unimaginable grief for their son.
Eliza was in and out of bed for most of her last pregnancy. It had been difficult on her before everything with Philip happened, so afterwards, there were several scares that she had lost the baby. I hope no one takes the line about grief being selfish as a criticism of her; it is, naturally, it has to be. You can't take care of anyone else if you don't deal with the loss yourself. The fact that she could pull herself out again is truly remarkable. Thankfully, she did give birth to a healthy baby boy in June of 1802, named Philip in honor of his big brother.
Hamilton, unfortunately, barely had time to really grieve the loss of his son. He had to return to work less than a fortnight after the funeral; he couldn't afford to take any more time off. Robert Troup wrote to Rufus King on 5 December 1801, "At present Hamilton is more composed and is able again to attend to business; but his countenance is strongly stamped with grief." He answered no private correspondence for months, sending only one letter at the end of December to opposing counsel regarding depositions in a case for John Church. Otherwise, he spent his time writing a series of newspaper essays entitled "The Examination." The into note on founders.archives.gov describes them as by any measure "inferior to Hamilton's earlier polemical essays. Many of his points are petty or inconsequential; and his repetitiveness and verbosity stand in marked contrast to his usual incisiveness."
The soft voice pulled him from his thoughts. An insurance contract sat unread before him, his quill hovering over a blank sheet of paper. He looked up to see his new clerk fidgeting before his desk.
“I finished the case brief as you requested. Will you need anything else today?”
He frowned. The clock had only just struck mid-day.
Picking up on the expression, his clerk added hopefully, with a charming half smile, “With it being Christmas eve, sir, I thought we might leave early. My good lady promised me a slice of mincemeat pie if I called before dinner.”
Christmas. “Right. Yes…yes, of course,” he sighed. “Enjoy the rest of the day, son.”
The young man hesitated. “I can stay until you’ve finished your work, sir.”
He forced a smile and nodded for the door, not quite able to meet the boy’s eye. Bright winter sunshine shone through the office window, dust motes floating lazily through the air. “No need, my boy. I’ve only a few things to finish up, and I’ll be leaving as well. A merry Christmas to you.”
“And to you, General Hamilton.” Permission thus secured, the boy scurried back to his desk to collect his belongings. He’d bundled up in his coat, hat, scarf, and mittens in under a minute, nearly knocking over the stack of books on his desk as he hurriedly pulled his case over his shoulder. The door closed with a loud snap, a gust of bitter wind in his wake causing the fire to sputter and pop in its grate.
Alone in his office, he let the quill fall from his hand and curled them both into fists. He swallowed around the ever present tightness in his throat. Don’t think on it, he lectured himself silently.
The injustice burned through his veins. Young men studying law, courting young women, celebrating Christmas, going about their lives without a care. Why? Why couldn’t Pip be one of them?
He fought the impulse to shove his work, his writing implements, and his ink bottles onto the floor. However temporarily satisfying the destruction, he knew it would only cause more work and pain in the long run: his hand had only just healed from the last time he’d lost control of the anger. The rage within him frightened him.
Taking a deep breath, he refocused his vision on the dust motes in the rays of sunshine. He been trying to distract himself with work, but the attempt had yet to yield success. Insurance policies and petty squabbles over property lines couldn’t hold his attention; even politics failed to engage him, despite Jefferson’s best efforts to pull the whole government down around them. What did any of it matter anymore?
Laughter carried in from outside. A young family passed by, a curly haired boy with chocolate smudged on his face giggled as his mother kneeled before him to clean his face. His father tousled his hair affectionately. He swallowed down the lump again.
He should go home, he decided, looking down at the contract. He’d accomplish nothing today. Pushing away from his desk, he closed his ink and tucked the contract into his briefcase before he doused the fire and donned his heavy winter-wear.
Bells jingled merrily on a passing sleigh as he locked his office door. Snow had fallen heavily over the past weeks and still covered the roads and sidewalks. He blinked in the bright sun as he began to carefully make his way towards home.
Mistletoe, holly, and evergreen boughs decorated the windows of every home and shop along the street. The smell of burning logs, spices, and baking sweets filled the air. How had the upcoming holiday so fully escaped his notice until now?
Because Eliza had always been the one to decorate, he realized. Christmas had never been a particularly special holiday for him before Eliza. His mother used to make him put on his best suit for church even though the wool itched and the material was far too heavy for their warm Caribbean climate. Breakfast consisted of sausage, warm rolls, fruits, and a chocolate, though, and his father, before he left, would leave a little carved trinket on his plate for him to find. Even so, the food and toy only just made up for the being sweaty and itchy while enduring an hours long sermon.
The Schuyler family did things rather differently, he came to find that first Christmas he spent in Albany with his new bride. The winter celebrations began on the fifth of December, when all the children hung a stocking by the fireplace in anticipation of a visit from Saint Nicholas. In the morning, they would wake to find a piece of fruit or candy waiting for them. Christmas day included the traditional breakfast and church services, but also a glorious dinner with family and friends followed by dancing and badly sung Christmas carols. The joyous celebration continued through New Year’s, all the way to Epiphany. He’d never known anything like it.
They’d missed Saint Nicholas’ Day entirely this year. No decorations brightened their windows. He doubted they even had a Christmas goose for tomorrow’s dinner. He understood, of course, the last thing in the world he felt like doing was celebrating. But the children, especially little William and Eliza, must be disappointed.
The grief had settled over their family like a shroud. He and Eliza were both so wrapped in their own despair, he worried sometimes that their other children were suffering from the lack of attention and support. Perhaps a little flicker of light, a little joy in all that darkness, was just what they all needed right now. He paused in front of a shop window filled with toys and sweets, smiled softly, and pushed inside.
A trip to the bank, the butcher, and the grocer followed. His arms were filled with bags and his nose was bright red with cold by the time he arrived home. Evergreen boughs poked out of the top of one bag beside a colorful assortment of sweets and a new doll for his little daughter. The other bags held more toys, fruits, chestnuts, and decorations. He’d placed an order for a goose to be delivered in the morning. In the midst of all his preparation, for the first time in a month, he felt hope.
Through an impressive trick of coordination, he managed to unlock the door without putting any of the bags down. He stamped his feet on the stoop to loosen the snow before stepping in to the blessedly warm house.
“Papa!” He smiled and braced himself for the assault he knew was coming. William came barreling out of the parlor and crashed into him. “You have a lot of bags.”
“That I do, my little lamb,” he agreed, placing them down on the floor so he could return his son’s enthusiastic embrace.
Mary peeked out of the dining room and he saw the young woman’s eyes widen.
“I made a few purchases this afternoon. Would you please see to the food and decorations?” he asked.
A glimmer of joy passed over her face. “Very happily, sir.”
He patted William’s back gently before trying to extract himself from his son’s hold. “I need to take off my coat, my sweet boy.”
William’s arms tightened around him for a moment before he finally let go. Quickly stripping off the heavy garments, he swung the boy up into his arms. William gave a delighted giggle as he made a show of staggering under his son’s weight.
“Ugh, you’re so big,” he complained. “When did you get so grown up?”
When he entered the parlor, Alex looked up from the textbook he’d had glued to his hand lately, a little smile on his face at the joyous sounds from his little brother. Angelica ignored his entrance, attention focused on her piano. Jamie and Johnny were missing entirely, likely outside or upstairs. Little Eliza had tucked herself into her mother’s side as per usual, and she peered up at them with interest for a moment before returning her dark eyes to her little ragdoll. All his little angels accounted for, save one.
Don’t think on it.
Eliza looked like she had been napping on the sofa. A book lay open in her lap atop a warm quilt, but she ran a hand over her eyes sleepily as he set William back down. “Go play with your brothers,” he urged the boy, who ran down the hall towards the back door with his usual overabundance of energy.
“You’re home early,” Eliza observed. Her lips curved slightly, but her eyes looked hollow and her face was far too pale. The albatross of grief seemed to redouble its weight as he saw his own pain mirrored in his wife’s eyes.
Don’t think on it.
He moved closer and leaned down to press a kiss to her lips. “How are you feeling, my dearest?” She raised a shoulder slightly. He didn’t press her further.
His gaze moved to Alex. “With all the time you’ve spent on that text, I expect you’ll be fluent in short order,” he teased.
Alex looked perfectly earnest as he replied, “I’m trying, Papa.”
He frowned, but any answer he might have given was interrupted by Mary entering with an evergreen and holly arrangement to set on the piano. Both Alex and Angelica seemed to brighten at the sight of the familiar decoration. His wife, however, did not.
“What is that?” Eliza asked, voice going tight.
Mary froze at the question.
The little flicker of hope turned to smoke at his wife’s horrified expression. This had been a mistake. A terrible mistake. “I…I just thought…it’s Christmas.”
She met his eyes, mouth slightly open in shock. “Christmas?” she echoed.
He dropped his eyes down, his head hung low.
He heard the rustle of the quilt and her dress as she fought to stand. She swept by him without a word, and her shoes clicked softly on the stairs. Mary seemed at last to overcome her paralysis, and she asked, “Should I take the decorations down, sir?”
He looked again at his son and daughter, and held tight to the memory of that hopeful expression he’d seen on their faces. “No. No, keep going.”
She nodded hesitantly. “Yes, sir.”
He excused himself from the parlor and followed Eliza’s path upstairs. He found her standing in the middle of their bedroom staring off into the distance. “Betsey?”
She turned her head, her whole face crumpling.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“It’s not fair,” she managed, her fist to her mouth as though trying to hold in a sob.
“He should be here,” she insisted.
She fell into his arms. He clutched her close, his nose buried in her hair. “Alexander,” she whimpered softly.
“I know,” he repeated again. “I’m right here.”
When she seemed to gain control of herself again, she pulled back from his embrace. He loosened his hold, but allowed his hands to linger on her hips, his thumbs just skimming the swell of her belly. She, in turn, kept her hands resting on his chest.
“Pip always loved all the winter celebrations,” he recalled to her softly. She nodded, her eyes still glistening with tears. “Do you remember how excited he was on Saint Nicholas’ Day when he was three?”
She gave a watery laugh. “He caught the stocking on the nail trying to pull in down himself. It had unraveled practically back to a ball of yarn by the time I caught him.”
He closed his eyes and saw his little boy holding an orange triumphantly in the air as he ran around the parlor with yarn trailing behind him. “I thought he was going to eat that orange, peel and all.”
Eliza sniffled as she breathed out another little laugh.
“Celebrating Christmas…just felt…right,” he tried to explain.
She seemed to consider for a moment, then sighed and leaned in. Her soft lips found his, the kiss tender and comforting, a balm for his soul as nothing else was. When she’d released him, her lips still close to his, she whispered, “I didn’t order a goose.”
He chuckled. “I did.”
She nuzzled her nose against his, and at last gave her consent. “Let’s celebrate Christmas.”
And so they did. They played checkers, gathered around the fire to roast chestnuts, and sang Christmas carols with Angelica’s accompaniment on piano. After supper, he placed William on his knee and read aloud from the Bible as he did every year.
Later, after they’d tucked the children into bed, changed, and had settled in themselves, Eliza adjusted onto her side to look at him.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You were right. I think we all needed that: a little light in the darkness.”
He pulled her closer to him. “I’m glad you found it comforting.”
She nodded against him. “I don’t know how you can be so strong for us all. But I’m immensely grateful that you are. I’m just sad you won’t be here through Epiphany. I doubt I can keep the little ones as cheerful. You aren’t leaving until after New Year’s, at least, right?”
He tensed, the reminder like a cold douse of water. He was leaving for Albany in a weeks’ time. The Court of Errors would be in session in early January, and he had several cases before the court. All the warmth, all the strength he’d felt over the course of the day, vanished at the thought. He was suddenly alone in his office again, listening to happy children pass him while he fought the urge to destroy everything around him.
Don’t think on it.
He couldn’t be alone. Everything was so much worse when he was alone.
Don’t think on it.
He gathered Eliza in his arms, squeezing her close, as though she might disappear from him if he lost his grip. She ran a hand down his back comfortingly.
“You can’t do what?”
“I….” he held her and tried to search for a way to explain. “I can be strong for you. I can do that. But I…I can’t be alone, Betsey.” His breath had gone shallow and uneven, and he felt tears gathering in his eyes.
“Shh...” She squeezed him and kissed him gently in the dark. “That’s all right, honey.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know how I’ll survive without you and the children for a month.”
“You won’t have to,” she replied easily.
He sniffled. “What—”
“We’ll come with you,” she explained before he could ask what she’d meant.
His palm fell from her hip down to the small bump of her stomach. “No. I couldn’t…you shouldn’t be traveling in your condition.”
She shushed him and kissed him again. “You don’t ever have to be alone, sweetheart,” she assured him softly. “I can be strong for you, too.”
Sorry this chapter is so late- I had trouble getting it to feel right.
A couple things:
(1) Hamilton did have to travel to Albany in January to attend the Court of Errors, and Eliza and the children traveled with him. I was a little surprised by that, because he often (though not always) traveled alone for court during the winter. It's both sweet and heartbreaking that he couldn't bear to be away from them even for work during this difficult time.
(2) A note on Christmas: a lot of things we associate with Christmas come from the Victorian era, but some parts of it were recognizable in the late 18th/early 19th century. The Dutch brought over the tradition of Saint Nicholas' Day, and I imagine the Schuyler family probably did observe the custom. A stocking or a shoe was placed out on Saint Nicholas' Eve (December 5th) and filled with fruit or candy in the night. Washington Irving even alluded to Saint Nicholas traveling in a flying wagon over the treetops as he delivered presents. Christmas Day was the beginning of a longer celebration, lasting until Epiphany on January 6th. There were some traditional Christmas carols around by this time, such as: Joy to the World, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, and Deck the Halls, although they might have been sung to different tunes than we would recognize. The celebration centered around church, of course, but also involved games, dancing, large dinners, and little gifts for children and servants.
Chapter 15: Eliza, July 1802
The Hamiltons move uptown...
Eliza felt feather light kisses along her neck as she slowly opened her eyes. The curtains of their bedroom were opened to allow in the early morning breeze from the Hudson, and she had a clear view of the yellow and pink brilliance of the summer sunrise. Hamilton was pressed close behind her with his arm slung across her stomach. Lazily reaching back her arm, she ran her fingers through her husband’s silky hair and smiled. Their first morning in their new country home could hardly be off to a better start.
“Happy birthday, my love,” he whispered, his voice rough. He must have just woken recently himself.
“Thank you,” she muttered sleepily.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said, nudging her ear with his nose. “But you have to get up for it.”
She frowned, one of her eyes closing of its own accord as she turned her face towards him. “Now?”
He gave a husky laugh and pressed an adoring kiss to her lips. “Yes, now. The light is perfect.”
Heaving a put upon sigh, she reluctantly sat up in bed as Hamilton stood, pulled his robe over his nightshirt, and collected her lightweight dressing gown from the hook near the door. “Perfect for what?” she asked, rubbing at her closed eye. “It’s hardly dawn.”
“You’ll see,” he said teasingly as he made his way back over to her and tugged at her gently to coax her from their immensely comfortable bed.
Her feet touched the cool hardwood floor as she pushed herself up and shrugged into her robe. When her gaze fell on the crib by their bed, she asked, “Is it outside, this surprise of yours? Phil will be wanting his breakfast soon.”
“We’ll bring him.” Reaching into the crib, he pulled the sleeping baby out with a practiced ease and laid him against his shoulder. The infant’s fist closed and his little eyelids twitched, but he remained peacefully asleep against his father. After she’d slipped her feet into her slippers, she traced her finger along the baby’s soft, round cheek.
Hamilton nodded towards the door. “Come along now, my darling. Quickly. We’re losing the light.”
She raised her eyes towards heaven, but obeyed, tying the robe shut as she made her way into the hall. The rest of the house was quiet, everyone else still abed. He directed her down both flights of stairs, so they emerged in the hall of the lower floor and made their way past the informal dining room through the kitchen.
Hamilton whistled for Old Peggy, who was snoring loudly on her nest of blankets by the back door. The retriever dog came to her feet with a snort at Hamilton’s call, looking as sleepy and confused as Eliza felt, but she too obeyed the command and padded along beside them as they exited out to the garden.
“Where are we going?” Eliza asked again.
Hamilton grinned at her and surged forward, beckoning her to follow.
“You shouldn’t tease me so on my birthday,” she scolded gently.
He winked rakishly in response. A smile blossomed across her face at the sight of him so light and happy. She drew in a deep breath of the fresh, cool morning air and watched Old Peggy wander towards the trees.
The garden was a riot of color, everything in full bloom and intoxicatingly fragrant. Birds sang merrily in the nearby trees, and the dark blue water of the Hudson was just beginning to sparkle the growing light. Although she’d helped plan them, she hadn’t yet had the chance to enjoy the grounds of their new home. Hamilton had been the one overseeing the house and the garden throughout the spring, preparing for their arrival this summer. And though she’d glimpsed the garden yesterday when they arrived, she had been far too pressed setting up the household and settling in their children to do anything so relaxing as take a stroll. A butterfly fluttered by her face unexpectedly and she grinned as she watched it fly towards the nearby rose bushes.
“This way,” Hamilton called back to her as he turned on the twisting path.
She sped up to keep pace with him. “I’ve never seen a place so beautiful.”
He craned his neck to glace back at her, his face alight with excitement. “Just wait.”
Up ahead, overlooking the valley to the east, she saw a long bower covered in vines of honeysuckle, their white and yellow blooms mixing with the bright orange of a host of butterflies. Hamilton took her hand, his fingers tangling with hers as he guided her into the shady alcove over to a bright white, cushioned bench at the center. The small breakfast table beside the bench held a tea tray with bread and jam.
“I asked Mary to bring the tray down at first light,” Hamilton explained as he sank down on the bench, careful not to wake the baby still slumbering on his shoulder. “Please, sit. You need to see this properly.” Old Peggy wandered past her to lay at Hamilton’s feet with a sigh as Eliza seated herself on the bench beside him.
The alcove opened in front of the bench to allow a clear view of the valley. Looking out at the horizon, she saw the pink and yellow sunrise in all its majesty. Hamilton’s hand landed atop her own once more.
“What do you think of my little hideaway?”
She swallowed, searching for a proper answer. The beauty was astonishing, so much so that she felt tears spring to her eyes as she gazed upon it. She raised her free hand to her lips and turned her head to look at her husband.
He looked pale and tired in the bright morning light. His grief remained heavily stamped upon his features, visible to her even when he smiled and laughed. He seemed distant, almost ephemeral beside her, like a vital life force had been drained out of him. She squeezed his hand tightly to reassure herself of his presence.
They had both endured so much pain in the past months. Pip’s absence felt like a hole inside her, gnawing and festering. Her pregnancy, difficult from its beginning, had seemed unbearable when the grief swept over her. How was she to prepare to bring another child into the world, when her darling Pip was gone forever?
Without Hamilton, she doubted she’d have survived the trial.
When despair and illness had confined her to bed, he stayed by her side, a steady presence in the encroaching darkness. He rubbed her swollen feet and her aching back, laid cool clothes upon her sweaty brow, and held her through her endless tears. He was there with her, always, an anchor in the storm.
She vividly recalled one of those terrible nights, when, holding her close as she sobbed, he began to recite a poem: “For the sweet babe, my doating heart/ Did all a Mother’s fondness feel;/ Carefull to act each tender part/ and guard from every threatning ill. But what alass! availd my care?/ The unrelenting hand of death,/ Regardless of a parent’s prayr/ Has stoped my lovely Infant’s breath—” She’d stilled in his arms, listening intently to his soft, lilting voice. “Thou’st gone, forever gone—yet where,/ Ah! pleasing thought; to endless bliss./ Then, why Indulge the rising tear?/ Canst thou, fond heart, lament for this?/ Let reason silence nature’s strife,/ And weep Maria’s fate no more;/ She’s safe from all the storms of life,/ And Wafted to a peacefull Shore.”1
The poem conjured the image of a lovely seaside, her dear little boy playing in the sand and chasing the waves of a bright blue ocean.
In the ensuing quiet when he’d finished, she’d croaked, voice hoarse with disuse, “I’ve never heard that poem before. Who wrote it?”
Her eyes had fluttered open, and she’d repeated, “You did?”
“Back in my youth,” he’d answered gently. “I boarded with Mr. Boudinot when I was studying with Francis Barber in Elizabethtown. I was present in his home when his little daughter passed away.”
“Maria?” she queried.
He’d tensed, and she understood immediately that the connection hadn’t occurred to him until that moment. “Eliza,” he’d exhaled, “I…I’m so sorry…I didn’t think….”
That name on his lips had once been like a dagger to her heart; now, it had lost all its potency. His betrayal, that heartache and pain, all felt a lifetime ago in the face of their profound grief. She’d ignored the apology; it was entirely unnecessary.
“Tell me it again,” she’d requested, snuggling closer to him. She’d felt like she could never get close enough to him.
He’d obliged her, again and again, until she could mouth the words along with him. The poem was as lovely as it was comforting. She hoped dearly that Philip had found that peaceful shore, that he was safe from this evil world and all its ills, waiting for them in paradise.
She delivered their newest son early in the morning on the first of June. Hamilton had stayed dutifully by her side all through the night; he’d held her hand, blotted the sweat from her brow, and glowered menacingly at both the midwife and the doctor when they’d ordered him away. “I’m here, my angel,” he’d whispered reassuringly throughout her labor. She’d held his hand so tightly that night that she’d left terrible, dark bruises on his pale skin.
Hamilton had been the one to lay their squalling newborn in her arms. As she held the tiny infant, he’d settled beside her to gaze down on their son. “What shall we name him?”
She knew without a moment’s consideration. “Philip.”
He met her eye and nodded. “Little Phil.”
Phil. For Pip would always be the beloved name of their first, departed angel. Little Phil would never replace his eldest brother, but to both of his parents he was a living symbol of love and life, shining bright in the darkness of their despair.
“Little babe,” Hamilton had whispered to the boy, his finger on the baby’s forehead as though he were bestowing a blessing, “Thou enteredst the world weeping while all around you smiled; continue so to live, that you may depart in smiles while [all] around you weep.”2 Tears had leaked from her eyes as she held the infant to her, a heavy mix of joy and sorrow swirling in her chest.
Her husband’s voice jolted her from her wandering thoughts back to the present. “Hm?”
“I asked if you like the spot?”
A small smile curled at her lips. “I do,” she assured him. “I adore it. Thank you.”
“I know how busy you’ll be setting up the house and seeing to the children today. I wanted the morning to be special, at least. You deserve nothing less, my dearest angel.”
She wished she could express how very much she appreciated him, and all the strength and beauty he’d brought into her life. Alas, words had never been her gift. In lieu of any pretty speech, she kissed him softly, and repeated sincerely, “Thank you.”
He sat back contentedly in the shadows to watch the sun make its ascent in the deepening blue sky. She tucked her feet up underneath her on the cushioned seat and leaned closer to him, pillowing her head on his shoulder and reaching out her free hand to feel her sleeping infant’s rhythmic breath. Peace and joy warred with grief and sorrow; as much she longed for a moment of simple contentment, for serenity, for an escape from the all-consuming anguish, she was slowly growing to understand that the duality of joy and grief would never truly leave her. As happy as she felt on this beautiful morning with her husband and her baby, a piece of her had been lost forever, gone away with Pip to his eternal rest.
Both she and Hamilton were forever changed.
And yet, here in the quiet of their new home, watching the sun rise on a new day and another year of her life, with their infant snuffling softly between them, she felt hope for the future.
1. Poem on the Death of Elias Boudinot’s Child, 4 Sept. 1774
2. Sentence on a sheet of paper found with the above poem.
Eliza gave birth the Philip Hamilton II, or Little Phil as he was known, at the beginning of June 1802 after a very difficult pregnancy. The family moved to the Grange officially a few months later. The first letter we have that places Hamilton and Eliza at the house is from August. Among it's many other lovely features, the garden did include a bower covered in honeysuckle, known to be one of Hamilton's favorite spots (more on this can be found in my notes to chapter 11).
Regarding the poem cited above, the only reason we have a record of it is because Eliza had it more or less memorized and copied it down, along with the little saying and the story about Elias Boudinot's daughter passing away. That she remembered it rather than copied it is evidenced by a missing line in the third stanza. I was thinking about when he would have recited the poem to her, and why she might have heard it often enough to have it memorized, and the thought struck me that it made sense for him to have done so while they were grieving for their son. And, after I finished being a weepy mess, I tried to work it in.
I posted the poem in Eliza's handwriting on my blog here
His glasses had slipped low on his nose while he was writing, both hands necessary to keep his traveling desk balanced on his lap as the coach clattered down the bumpy dirt road back towards New York. He paused to adjust them back into place and work a cramp out of his hand. The trees along the Hudson, bright red and yellow when he’d departed from home in mid-October, had almost all turned a dull brown in the chilly fall air of early November.
He reached for his watch out of habit only to remember once more that he’d forgotten to pick it up from the repair shop in Albany. He’d also left a stack of briefs sitting on the clerk of court’s desk when he’d stopped to schedule an appeal. Had his head not been firmly attached to his body, he’d likely have left that behind as well, he though ruefully. Absentmindedness wasn’t exactly a new trait for him, but it had been particularly pronounced on this trip. No matter how much he tried to focus on his work, his thoughts kept drifting back to Eliza and the Grange.
The coach bounced as a wheel struggled out of a small crater. A spasm shot through his back and he winced, sitting forward a little to press a hand to his right kidney. The old nephritic complaint had been plaguing him for the past several weeks, and the week-long detour along the shockingly bad roads of western Massachusetts hadn’t done him any favors. He longed for home, where he could take a warm bath and stretch out in his armchair by the fire.
“Are you all right, Ham?” Gouverneur Morris, seated across from him, glanced up from his own papers to fix him with an appraising look.
“Just my back,” he sighed. “I’m growing too old to be bouncing about in the back of stagecoaches.”
Morris barked a laugh. “That makes two of us. Unfortunately, I don’t see an end to the necessity.” Hamilton gave him a wry smile, and Morris added, “Our little adventure to the wilds of Massachusetts was your idea, might I remind you.”
The detour had been his idea. Ever since Jefferson and his Democrats had ascended to the seat of power, the Federalist party had been weakening. That was concerning on its own, but he’d also begun to hear rumblings of a Northern secession movement. Let Virginia have their French President, some said, and the Federalists would lead a nation in the North. He’d known from the beginning that the Constitution likely wouldn’t survive, but after devoting the best years of his life to trying to sew the thirteen willful states into a united whole, the thought of it crumbling so quickly broke his heart. He’d hoped a trip out to the Federalist stronghold of Massachusetts to meet with some of the party leaders would help curb talk of a dissolution of the union.
“I know,” he assured Morris. “I appreciate you undertaking the journey with me.”
“Well, we both helped create the damn country. Seems only right we try to defend it now,” Morris shrugged. “The Great Man is likely turning over in his grave to hear the likes of Pickering squawking to break the nation in two.”
Hamilton inclined his head in agreement, an amused puff of breath falling from his lips at the image of the beak-nosed Pickering squawking and flapping about like a bird. “Do you think we did any good?”
“Only time will tell,” Morris replied in a distracted tone, his attention turned back to his work.
Hamilton sighed, readjusted his glasses again, and tried to focus on the letter reporting the outcome of a land dispute for one of his clients that he’d been drafting. The coach bumped along in relative quiet for the next several hours, save for the scratching of quills and the rustling of papers. When he next chanced a look out the coach window, he was relieved to see a familiar farmhouse in the distance. He was almost home.
He scrawled his signature along the bottom of the page, blotted the ink, and folded up the letter before thumbing open the metal latch below the velvety writing surface of the lap desk to store it safely. Closing the desk, he sat it on the seat beside him and adjusted his thin blanket more securely over his legs, content to look out the window for the remaining minutes of the journey. The grassy fields of Harlem were all dotted with yellow and brown leaves, which rustled and danced in the slight breeze.
The Grange came in to view at last, the bright yellow paint almost golden in the autumn sunshine. Tension in his shoulders and chest eased at the sight of home. The driver called for the horses to halt and the coach came to a merciful halt just before the gate. Genti, their cook, came hurrying out of the servants’ entrance to help with his bags as he disembarked.
“Would you like to stop in for some refreshment?” Hamilton offered to Morris.
Morris seemed to consider for a moment, and then politely declined. “No, thank you, Ham. I’m eager to get home.”
He reached out to shake Morris’s hand. “Will you be in the city next week? Perhaps we could dine together, or take in some music at the Philharmonic Society?”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Morris agreed.
After Genti assured him that he could manage the baggage, Hamilton made his way up the path towards the front door, brown leaves rustling and crunching beneath his shoes. The surrounding gardens looked bare, the bright summer blooms long since faded, but he noticed the paths out to the barn and storehouses looked more firm and sturdy. Eliza must have had Tuff cut the ditch around the orchard, and had him use the clay to reinforce the roads as he’d suggested in one of his letters.1
As he mounted the first step up to the porch, he noticed a little face peering at him through the glass pane beside their front door. A smile blossomed across his face at the sight of his dear little child. The face disappeared, only for the front door to open. William bounded from the house like an excited puppy.
“Be gentle, dearest,” he heard Eliza call to their son from just inside. “Mind Papa’s back.” William stopped short on the topmost step, looking terribly disappointed at not being able to leap into his father’s arms. Despite the lingering twinge in his back, he couldn’t bear to leave his son looking so put out.
With a wink and a twitch of his wrist, he beckoned, “Come here, my sweet boy.”
William needed no more invitation; like a sailboat catching the wind, he hopped down two more stairs and jumped. Having just turned five that August, the boy was getting a bit heavy to lift, but Hamilton could still manage for short periods. Heaving William into his arms, he peppered his face with kisses and proclaimed, “My little lamb, how I’ve missed you.”
The boy squeezed him tight in return. “I missed you the most.”
“The most?” he repeated, laughing as he climbed the rest of the stairs.
“Uh-huh,” his son confirmed earnestly.
Eliza was watching them from the door wearing a bright smile that lit up her whole face. As she reached out to run her hand over their son’s back, she told him, “He’s been watching for your coach since this morning.”
“It took you a long time to get here,” William complained.
He laughed again. “It did, indeed.”
“Now Papa’s home, why don’t you go run around for a bit while he settles in,” Eliza suggested lightly. He caught her eye and grinned, sure she would have stories a plenty of their son’s manic energy to share with him.
William gave him a final squeeze as Hamilton eased him down and added, “You should go check on the gum trees for me. Make sure no animals have been digging around the roots like I showed you.” It was a meaningless task, but it got the boy out of the house and made him feel useful. The child made him wish sincerely that he had some say in the order his children were born: William would have been so much easier to keep up with when he was in his twenties.
“I will, Papa,” he agreed, dashing towards the door.
Eliza only just caught him by his collar. “Coat,” she ordered.
He wrinkled his little nose. Mother and son stared at each other for a long moment, before William relented and trudged towards the hook to bundle up against the fall chill. Hamilton and Eliza shared another smile as William walked by them for the door with a dramatic huff.
“Quite the homecoming,” Eliza remarked once the door had clicked shut behind their boy.
“Was he as much a handful as I imagine while I was away?”
“He found a rat in the garden that he decided to keep as a pet, and broke an entire crate of jars I was using to store jam,” she informed him.
Another laugh burst out of him. “The rat has been returned to its natural habitat, I trust?”
“Do you think my feet would be touching the floor otherwise?”
He shook his head and opened his arms. She fell into them without a moments’ hesitation, wrapping him in a warm embrace, squeezing him to her even tighter than William. “I missed you so much,” she said with a little sigh. “Don’t ever leave again.”
“Agreed,” he said easily, burying his nose in her sweet-smelling hair. Very sweet-smelling. “Why do you smell like berries?”
She chuckled; he felt her torso shake slightly in his arms. “I’m making jam from our cranberries and the last of our apples from the garden. And since I’m now lacking storage jars thanks to your son, you’re going to be eating a lot of that jam very quickly.”
“What a delicious problem,” he quipped.
When she finally eased away from him, she glanced down at his coat and winced. “Oh, I’m sorry, honey. You have cranberry all over you.” Her delicate little hands traced down his chest where she’d been pressed against him. Only then did he take note of the stained apron she had tied over her dark blue dress.
“It’s fine.” He shrugged the coat off, unconcerned. The thick fabric was black, so the stains wouldn’t show, and the cranberry smell could only improve it after a week of traveling.
Eliza was still smiling at him after he’d hung his coat and hat on the rack near the door. “How was your trip?”
“Long. I don’t think I’ve ever been so homesick,” he confessed.
Her brow crinkled with sympathy and she nodded. “I know the feeling. It was worse than usual this time, being separated.”
He knew why this trip had been worse than the others: they’d grown accustomed to being together over the past year. They hadn’t been apart for more than a night since his trip to Albany the previous October. The ample time together, clinging to each other for comfort and consolation, made his extended absence much harder to bear.
“Hopefully we won’t be apart again for some time,” he assured her. She smiled again, and reached out to squeeze his hand tenderly. “Your mother and father were both well as could be hoped when I left,” he added.
“Papa said as much in his letter. He also sent us twenty bushels of potatoes and a big block of cheese. Are they under the impression that we’re without food?”2
“I think your mother just enjoys feeding people. Besides, we’ll need it for entertaining this winter, I’m sure.”
She hummed in agreement. “And how are you? Are your kidneys still achy?”
The mention of the ailment had him reaching back to touch his lower back. “A little,” he admitted. “The jostling of the coach always makes it worse. I’m sure I’ll be fine now that I’m home.”
She leaned in to give him a loving kiss. He pulled her close against him, caring not a jot that he was getting cranberry and apple stains down his travel clothes. She hugged him tight in response.
When they pulled apart again, she reached up to stroke her hand down his cheek, then pushed his glasses back up nose. He reached up the adjust them self-consciously. “I forgot I was wearing them.”
“I like them. They make you look very dashing.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘old,’” he corrected.
“I meant what I said,” she insisted. She gave him a sultry stare, and he felt an utterly ridiculous blush warm his cheeks. They’d been married more than two decades now, and she still somehow had the power to leave him bashful. He pecked her lips again and changed the subject.
“How are my little angels?”
“Little Phil is in the parlor with Anna. Johnny and the girls are in there with them. Jamie is at a friend’s house for the weekend, and he took Philip with him. And Alex is upstairs, resting, with a cold.”
The mention of their nephew’s name amongst their other children caught him off guard. The son of his wife’s eldest brother had been staying with them for the past few months. But it sounded so right for another Philip to be accounted for in Eliza’s report, that it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t Pip to whom she was referring. She seemed to read his thoughts on his face, because her gaze softened and her hand found his again.
He cleared his throat and inquired, “When did Alex catch cold?”
“He started sniffling yesterday,” Eliza answered. “Which means the others probably won’t be long in following.” Whenever one child caught cold, they inevitably ended up with a house full of whiny, sniffling little ones.
“I’ll check on him when I change,” he decided.
Eliza nodded. “I should get back downstairs. I left poor Genti with all the work.”
Before she moved away, he caught her around the waist and kissed her firmly. She gave him one of her adorable little nose wrinkles. “Go change,” she directed with a soft laugh. “You smell like horse and tobacco smoke.”
He obediently made his way upstairs as Eliza went down to the kitchens.
After changing into more comfortable clothes that smelled less of horse and tobacco smoke, he paused to look in on his son, who was propped up in bed with a Latin grammar book open in front of him. His nose looked red and sore against his pale face. He leaned against the doorjamb and asked, “How are you feeling?”
Alex looked up and smiled. “Hi, Papa. I didn’t know you were home.”
“I just arrived. I hear you’ve caught cold.”
“Just the sniffles,” Alex shrugged. “I’m mostly up here to get away from William and Betsey. The two of them together made my head feel like it was going to burst.”
He laughed as he stepped into the room and seated himself on the bed. Pressing the back of his hand to his son’s forehead, he found it mercifully cool. Just a cold, after all. “I’m glad you’re not feeling too poorly.”
“Gives me a chance to catch up on my Latin,” Alex said, holding up his book as evidence.
He nodded approvingly, though he felt the twinge of concern that reared up whenever his son tried to prove his academic worth. That had never happened before, and he sensed a connection, as though the boy felt pressured to excel in a way he hadn’t when his elder brother was alive. “Perhaps, if you feel well enough tomorrow, we could take the boat out on the river and go fishing, just the two of us. That should give you the proper peace and quiet.”
Alex’s eyes lit up at the offer and he nodded vigorously. Hamilton leaned forward to kiss his forehead before he stood. “Rest up,” he ordered with a smile.
“I will, Papa.”
He made his way back downstairs and stepped into the parlor. Anna jumped to her feet to curtsy properly to him. “Welcome home, Mr. Hamilton.”
“Hi Papa,” Johnny added, looking up from the oversized book he had balanced on his lap.
“Hello, my little ones,” he greeted, smiling at Johnny and his two girls before moving to stand beside Anna. “How is my sweet baby today?”
“He ate about an hour ago. He’s been napping ever since,” Anna reported, looking down at the cradle with him. Little Phil slept soundly, heedless of their attention.
“I’ll be staying in the parlor, if you have any other duties to see to,” he informed her.
Anna curtsied again before exiting, leaving him alone with the children.
Little Betsey marched over while he was gazing down at the sleeping infant. She thrust a doll into his hand and demanded, “Play with me.” He laughed. His little tyrant. But then, weren’t all three-year-olds?
“What are we playing?” he asked, lowering himself carefully to the floor on his creaking knees. Betsey set about arranging her other dolls into a circle and ignored him. Peering at her little face, he reached in to his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe at her runny nose.
She squirmed away indignantly and demanded again, “Play, Papa.”
He glanced back down at the doll in his hands, his brow furrowing. Angelica had enjoyed dolls greatly as a little girl, but she’d been equally interested in marbles and kites and racing (or anything else that Pip enjoyed, really) so he’d never been called upon to play dolls with her. He didn’t quite understand what he was supposed to be doing.
Angelica, who’ d been staring dreamily at her embroidery since he entered, turned her gaze on him and supplied, “Place Ms. Merry at the tea party, Papa. She’ll be wanting to join her friends.”
Betsey’s head bobbed agreeably at that, her dark curls bouncing in their ponytail.
He looked at his elder daughter with a pained smile. She was looking at the pretend tea party longingly, far more interested in the game than in her sewing. Eliza had tried to turn her back to more age appropriate activities over the last few months, but through a combination of helplessness and acceptance, he’d given up fighting her childish tendencies. Why should he force her to accept a world without Pip? He certainly had no desire to do so. All he wanted was for her to be happy.
“Would you like to come play, my little angel?”
Angelica looked at him warily. “Really?”
He nodded and beckoned her over. “Come play.”
She happily thrust aside her sewing circle and bounced over to them, kneeling down beside him and taking the doll from his hand. He leaned over to kiss her temple affectionately. “I love you,” he told her softly.
“I love you, too, Papa,” she replied, half distracted already with the game.
He made his way to the sofa, sitting back with a sigh as he watched the two girls play, his foot resting on the cradle to gently rock the sleeping baby.
William came bounding in to the parlor some time later, his face red from the cold and his little nose running as well. Before Hamilton could offer him a handkerchief, he’d rubbed the back of his sleeve against across his face. “Guess what I found, Papa?”
He desperately hoped it wasn’t another rat. “What?”
“Two squirrels living in the tree,” the boy reported happily.
“And you left them in the tree, right?” he confirmed. William hummed affirmatively. “Good. Why don’t you come sit and get warm?”
William pulled himself on to his father’s knee. “Will you tell a story, Papa?”
Stories were about the only things that could keep the boy still for any length of time. He cuddled his son closer and considered for a moment. “Shall I tell you about the time I had to swim across the Schuylkill river under enemy fire to deliver a message to Congress?”
William’s eyes grew impossibly wide and he nodded excitedly.
Eliza came in about half way through his tale. She paused when she saw Angelica on the floor with Betsey, but didn’t comment. Instead, she sat down beside him on the sofa, curling against his side and resting her head on his shoulder. He adjusted to place his arm around her, wanting her close as possible.
He gazed out upon this little gathering of his family and felt a wave of peace wash over him. They were all still a little broken and scarred, but they were together. As he had faith that the nation would find its way through its latest crisis, so to did he hope his family would navigate this dark time.
1 Hamilton to Eliza, 16 October 1802/ Also, its not in that letter, but William Tuff was one of the handymen they kept around to help with extra projects after the main construction on the Grange was completed
2 Philip Schuyler to Eliza Hamilton, 20 October 1802 (He really did send them twenty bushels of potatoes and a block of cheese, which just seems like a lot. I mean, I know they entertained a lot, but twenty bushels?)
Hamilton actually did forget his watch and a whole bunch of important papers when he left Albany that fall (see Hamilton to John V. Henry, 31 October 1802 and 20 March 1803). I love how ridiculously absentminded he could be. Also, his kidney complaint seemed to flare up again around this time, based on his exchanges with Gouverneur Morris in September.
He also stopped off in western Mass on his way home to New York (though not with Morris, I just wanted him to have someone to talk to in the coach). He never explicitly said he was going to try to curb the Northern secession movement, but that might have been just beginning to brew around this time. It gathered steam all through 1803 and continued to be an issue when Hamilton died in 1804.
John Church Hamilton recalled his father saying to John Trumbull, “You are going to Boston. You will see the principal men there. Tell from ME, at MY request, for God’s sake, to cease these conversations and threatenings about a separation of the Union. It must hang together as long as it can be made to.” Even on his deathbed Hamilton was worrying about the threat: “If they break this union, they will break my heart.” (You can kind of get why he became much more popular after the Civil War.)
The rain from the early afternoon had turned to freezing in the encroaching dark, and it clicked steadily against the large glass windows as Eliza finished arranging the chairs to face the dais at the front of the small event room, located in the far back of Trinity Church. Another group of ladies and gentlemen entered through the heavy oak doors behind her, all still shivering from the damp and cold. She was glad the fundraiser would be well attended despite the terrible weather.
“A good group,” Mrs. Graham commented beside her with an approving nod as the guests took their seats towards the front. “And if they’ve braved this cold, it can only be from charitable intent. Lord willing, we’ll be able to see our poor souls through the winter.”
Eliza gave her a hopeful smile, silently praying the people gathering would be generous with donations for the Widows Society. The winter had already proved harsh, and the number of women applying for relief had ballooned after the latest Yellow Fever outbreak in the city this fall. She was glad to be able to do her part to help; with Philip fully weened now, she was finally able to lend more meaningful assistance to the worthy cause.
“I’m going to check on the children,” Eliza said as she pushed the last chair into place. Several young children of the widows they served would be participating in the event, performing to showcase their myriad talents: singing songs, playing the pianoforte, reading famous orations or passages from the Bible, even reciting original poetry.
Mrs. Graham surveyed the full room and agreed. “Yes, please do. I suppose I’ll be giving the opening remarks in a few minutes.”
The children were all gathered towards the front with their mother’s hovering about them. Many of the younger children were gazing out the growing crowd with anxious expressions. One sandy-haired boy looked particularly frightened. Eliza was about to approach him to offer him some comfort when a little girl bounded past and slung her arm around the boy.
“Isn’t it exciting, Davey?” the little girl asked, an infectious smile taking up the better part of her face. Little Lydia Long, Eliza recognized immediately, or Fearless Lyddie, as Alexander had dubbed her. He’d taken a particular liking to the spirited eleven-year-old when they’d come across each other at another event earlier in the fall.
“Mm,” Davey hummed unenthusiastically.
“Are you doing a recitation?” Lyddie pressed.
“Mmhm,” he hummed again, his dark eyes still trained on the crowd.
Lyddie seemed unfazed by his reticence, and continued, “I’m going to read a poem I wrote myself.”
When Davey gave no further response, Eliza stepped closer and replied, “I’m eager to hear your creation, Lyddie.”
The girl’s grin grew impossibly wider, and she looked back towards the crowd with renewed interest. “Is Mr. Hamilton here, Mrs. Hamilton?”
Eliza followed Lyddie’s gaze with a hopeful eye, but saw no sign of her husband.
“Not yet. But he should be soon. He had a very important trial this afternoon that might be running late.”
The news that Alexander was expected was enough to keep the grin on Lyddie’s face.
Mrs. Graham began to approach the dais, and Eliza took charge of herding the children into their seats facing the audience. Once everyone was settled, she slipped towards the back of the room to watch. She thought about closing the door now that the event had begun, but a few people were still sneaking in to sit in the back. She’d wait until the children started speaking, she decided, looking hopefully at the door once more.
Her first clue that her husband had finally arrived came when Lyddie sat forward in her chair and waved enthusiastically at the door. Eliza looked to her left and saw Alexander, still in his damp overcoat, waving back. His eyes wandered over the large assembly. When he looked her way, she mouthed, “Close the doors.”
He complied, closing the heavy doors with hardly a sound, before coming to stand behind her. He silently stripped off his overcoat, laid it over the table beside them, and looped his arms around her waist. His nose felt icy when he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Sorry I’m late,” he whispered in her ear. “The jury took over an hour to come back with a verdict. And it’s getting pretty icy out there.”
“Did you win?” she whispered back, craning her neck to look around at him. His smug smile was all the answer she needed. She smirked and settled back into his arms. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Davey had just taken the podium when her attention returned. The poor boy looked rather green as he stuttered, “I’ll be reciting a…a selection from Homer’s…Homer’s Iliad.”
The children all did wonderfully despite their nerves. Alexander applauded each child warmly along with the rest of the audience, and particularly so after Lyddie’s poem. “She’s quite talented,” he praised softly as Lyddie pranced back to her seat.
Mrs. Graham took the podium again at the end of the event to congratulate the children and to renew her request for donations to help all the little ones and their mothers through the hard winter. After a final round of applause, people started towards the table of sweets and refreshments at the back of the room, the hum of conversation resuming. She took Alexander’s hand to lead him to the front of the room, gratified to see several people already sliding bank notes into their collection box displayed prominently near the podium.
“Shall I make a donation?” Alexander asked, reaching into his coat.
“You already have,” she told him. She’d been the first one to slip banknotes into the charity box when she arrived to help set up.
He laughed gaily. “I hope it was generous.”
“Very,” she assured him.
Lyddie ran towards them, bouncing on her toes with excitement. “Did you hear?”
“I did, indeed,” Alexander answered fondly. “Fearless Lyddie, the little poet.”
“I wrote it all by myself,” she added.
“A beautiful work,” Eliza praised with a soft smile.
Alexander added, “I look forward to adding your collection to my library someday.”
Her eyes went wide with the thought.
“Oh, Lydia, don’t bother poor Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton,” Mrs. Long sighed, chasing after her daughter through the thickening crowd.
“She’s no bother,” Eliza assured her.
“She has quite a gift,” Alexander said, still smiling at Lyddie. “I expect to see great things from her in the future.”
Lyddie’s head bobbed decisively as though she were accepting a challenge.
“Well, I think that went rather well,” Mrs. Graham’s thick Irish brogue caught Eliza’s attention. She looked back and nodded.
“The children all performed beautifully,” she agreed. “And people seem very charitably inclined tonight.”
“We can use every penny,” Mrs. Graham said. “Food and provisions alone will be very dear this winter, and I had hopes of purchasing a small plot to set up a more permanent schoolhouse. How are these women supposed to support themselves if they need to look after their little ones all day?”
The Society spent a good deal of time scouring nearby neighborhoods to find steady employment for the women applying for their help. Some women took in mending and laundry for money, but many ended up working as maids in wealthy households. The long hours away from home meant they needed assistance looking after their children. This problem had been addressed by setting up schools for the children, usually taught by one of the widows in her own home.
“If you need any legal assistance with purchasing the land, I’d be honored to lend some of my time,” Alexander offered.
Eliza looked back at him, surprised. He was always so pressed for time lately, he barely had any to spare even for the Manumission Society. He’d admitted unhappily not so long ago that he’d been forced to turn down several requests to take cases pro bono, including the case of a Federalist newspaper editor being prosecuted at the insistence of the detestable Thomas Jefferson.
“I can’t afford to give away a moment. We need the money,” he’d said: his constant refrain, even from his sickbed that October, after he’d suffered a terrible attack of stomach spasms. She’d been frantic with worry over him when he’d left for Albany, still pale as death and hardly able to sit up for more than a few minutes at a time.
Building the Grange had left them deeply in debt, she knew, and he’d have to work himself ragged over the next several years to pay off the balance. Still, she’d rather give up the house, rather give up everything she owned, then lose him. After her mother, and her son, and her little sister before them, she couldn’t bear to lose him, too. “In the later period of life, misfortunes seem to thicken round us,” he’d written to her after her mother’s passing.* The words were proving unbearably true, however much she may arm herself with Christian resignation.
“If it’s a choice between you and the money, I choose you. Every time. Please stay home,” she’d begged.
He’d given her a weak smile and replied, “I’ll write you every step of the way.” Reading about his suffering over the next several weeks while being helpless to aid him had hardly been a comfort.
Mrs. Graham looked pleasantly surprised by the offer, as well. “Thank you, General. How very generous of you.”
“Always happy to help,” he said.
Later, when they’d left the church in their carriage, bundled up against the freezing rain and cuddled close to each other, she commented, “That really was very kind of you, offering legal assistance with the land purchase. I didn’t think you had the time for that kind of work.”
She saw his hand wave in the dim light of a passing streetlamp. “It’s hardly a complicated transaction. Mr. Hammond will be able to manage most of it.” Judah Hammond had just been brought on as his law clerk, she recalled vaguely. Alexander had praised his work over dinner with some other members of the bar recently.
She nodded and rested her head against his shoulder. “It sounds as though Mr. Hammond has been a great help to you.”
“He’s a very capable young man,” he agreed.
Recalling the days when he used to leave James Inglis in charge of his office for days at a time, she hazarded hopefully, “Might we be able to leave early for Harlem tomorrow, if Mr. Hammond can help with your work? The boys will be done with school by early afternoon. And I’d like some extra time to get the house in order. Cornelia’s bringing Wash and her little ones to stay again at the New Year, and Angelica and Church promised to come as well.”
He hesitated. “Well, I suppose I could leave Mr. Hammond in charge of the office for a few hours,” he agreed, “But I do have an appointment in the afternoon that I’d be reluctant to miss.”
“An appointment?” she repeated.
“With Doctor Hosack,” he elaborated.
She pushed up to look at him, but before she could question him further the carriage skidded violently to the left, hurtling her and Alexander forward and to the side. She could just hear Robert steadying the horse from the driver’s seat in the front over the sound of her heart beating wildly in her ears. Alexander’s arm held her firmly as the coach righted itself.
“Is everything all right, Robert?” Alexander called out the window when things seemed steady again.
“The streets are coated in ice, sir,” Robert called back. “Not to worry, though, sir. I’ll see you home safe.”
“Carry on, my good fellow,” he replied, settling back into his seat with a sigh. He smiled reassuringly at her and added, “We’re almost home.”
Her heart was still pounding, but she swallowed and nodded.
Trying to remember her former train of thought, she closed her eyes for a moment, then asked, “Why are you seeing Doctor Hosack tomorrow?”
“Nothing for you to worry about.”
That was hardly an answer.
“If it involves your health, it most certainly is something for me to worry about,” she contradicted him.
He sighed heavily, then answered vaguely, “It’s nothing new.”
She puzzled over the words for a moment before realization dawned. “Your stomach?” He nodded. “Is it still spasms, like the first attack?”
“Not as severe, and not all the time. But, yes….”
“It’s been more than two months now.”
“Honey,” she sighed, at something a of a loss.
Leaning against him once more, she slid her hand over his middle and noted, not for the first time, how much thinner he’d grown over the past months. She thought of all the hollow-eyed women she met volunteering for the Widows Society, destitute and grief stricken over the loss of their beloved husbands. She thought of her dear Peggy, about how a string of small illnesses had grown worse and worse, until her little sister had been a pale shadow of herself and death had been a welcome relief of her sufferings.
Not him, she pleaded silently. Please. Please, not him.
The coach jerked to an unsteady stop some minutes later. Alexander dismounted first, and turned back to hold out his hand to her. “The street and sidewalk are glare ice,” he cautioned as she stepped down.
“Please be careful when you take the coach around back,” he added to Robert, who nodded back to him.
When her feet were firmly planted on the sidewalk, and the coach began to pull away, she threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight. His arms fastened around her securely in response. “Did you slip?”
“No,” she said into his shoulder. “I just love you.”
He chuckled and squeezed her tighter against him. “I love you, too. Any chance you could keep loving me in the house where it’s warm and dry?”
She pulled back slightly to look up at him, and told him seriously, “Anywhere. Always. Forever.”
His eyes were bright in the golden light of the windows and the nearby streetlamp. The teasing smile softened. “Forever,” he echoed. Then the moment passed, and he cocked his head towards the door. “Now, come inside before you turn into an icicle.”
She laughed dutifully and followed him up the steps into the house, all the while praying fervently: please, please, not him, too.
*Hamilton to Eliza, 16-17 March 1803.
A couple historical notes:
(1) Lydia Long is a fictional name, but she is based on a real person. In 1804, William Coleman published a book with materials relating to Hamilton's death, and he included a poem written by a twelve year old girl with the initials L.L. who had been "a favorite of General Hamilton's in his life time."
(2) Eliza suffered an unbelievable amount of loss in a very short time period. Her sister, Peggy, died in the spring of 1801, then Philip in November 1801, and then her mother in March 1803. (And, of course, her husband and her father in 1804.) I imagine her being very protective and anxious during this period, especially of her husband and children.
(3) Added to that anxious protectiveness is the fact that Hamilton became very ill in October 1803. He had to go to Albany for a case, but he reported back to Eliza regarding his health over the course of the trip. He'd suffered an "attack" at home that had not cleared up by the time he left. He was being careful to rest to avoid a relapse, and trying to decide whether to come home early on a sloop or continue with the case he was working on. (See Hamilton to Eliza,14, 22, 27 and unspecified October 1803). David Hosack began treating him shortly after for a stomach ailment that continued to plague him until his death in July 1804. In fact, Hosack cited this ailment as effecting the kind of medical treatment he was able to give Hamilton on his deathbed in his letter to William Coleman for the above mentioned book (See David Hosack to William Coleman, 17 August 1804).
(4) The pro bono case with the Federalist editor Eliza mentions Hamilton turning down is the Croswell case, which Hamilton did turn down initially (while it was in the trial court), but took up on appeal in the spring of 1804. Hamilton's arguments in the case helped set the standard for libel in New York and across America for almost 150 years, until the Supreme Court created an even higher standard of protection for the press in the 1960s (although he lost the case in court, due to the fact that two of the four judges were Jeffersonians). It was the last major case he tried.
Eliza turned her face into the pillows and burrowed further under the warm blankets. The bedroom was still dark and quiet, but for Mary’s candle and soft voice as she hovered uncertainly by the bed. Hamilton snored softly beside Eliza, oblivious to the disturbance.
“Mr. Hamilton, sir?”
Hamilton didn’t stir.
Taking pity on the young woman, Eliza pushed up on her elbow with a groan and shook her husband roughly by the shoulder. “Hamilton, wake up,” she demanded, her voice hoarse and thick with sleep.
The jostling roused him at last, and one bleary eye cracked open. “What?”
She gestured to Mary behind him.
“Sir?” Mary asked again. The servant appeared nearly as groggy and disheveled as they did, Eliza noticed. She must have been disturbed from her own sleep very recently. “Vice President Burr is downstairs. He’s very insistent on seeing you.”
Eliza felt a flash of anxiety shoot through her at the name. The New York gubernatorial race was heating up, and as much as Hamilton claimed no interest, she’d heard him making sharp comments about Burr’s fitness for the office. The memory of Angelica, bright-eyed and belatedly frantic, telling her that Church had been in a duel with Burr came to her mind suddenly. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to be calm. Burr and Hamilton had been friends for a long time: she fondly remembered many occasions in their younger days where she’d taken tea with dear, departed Theodosia while the two men playfully debated over the issues of the day. She had no good reason to be worried, she reassured herself.
Hamilton rolled over as he ground the heel of his palm against his unopened eye. “What time is it?”
“Nearly dawn, sir,” Mary informed him.
He grumbled softly as he kicked the blankets aside and placed his feet on the floor. His hands dangled between his knees as he sat for a long moment, clearly trying to wake up enough to rise. Finally, with a soft groan, he stood and pulled his dressing gown off the hook.
“You’re not going to dress?” Eliza asked, settling back against her pillow.
“It’s not even six o’clock. He’s lucky I’m going down at all,” he groused as he forcefully tied the robe and shoved his feet into his slippers. He leaned back over the bed to give her a soft kiss, and whispered, “I’ll be back presently. Go back to sleep, my love.”
She smiled and closed her eyes as he and Mary disappeared down the hall, leaving the room dark and peaceful once more. The lingering niggle of anxiety refused to disappear, though, and she couldn’t quite manage to fall back to sleep. She rolled over into Hamilton’s warm, vacant spot as she pulled the blanket back over her shoulder. The clock on the mantle sounded loud in the quiet room, accompanied by the faint patter of rain against the window.
The soft murmuring of voices drifted from downstairs after some time. Then the front door closed, and she heard footsteps on the stairs. When Hamilton shuffled through the bedroom door, he was already untying his robe to hang it back on its hook. The mattress dipped as he sat, kicked off his slippers, and yanked the bed curtains closed before settling back into bed with a contented groan. He nudged her with his elbow when he found her in his spot. “Scooch,” he muttered.
She adjusted over and pillowed her head on his chest. His arms closed around her protectively. As they both resettled, she asked, “What was that about?”
“He wanted to borrow ten thousand dollars,” Hamilton said around a yawn.
“What?” Her eyes popped open and she craned her head to try to make out his expression in the dark.
“Ten thousand dollars,” he repeated seriously, though a soft breath of laughter escaped through his nose.
“We don’t have ten thousand dollars.” What in the world would make Burr think they did? And what could he want with such a large sum?
“That’s what I told him,” he replied.
She frowned. “Why did he need so much money?”
His tone turned sympathetic. “His creditors are calling in his debts. He doesn’t have enough cash on hand to cover them all, and he can’t find anyone willing to lend to him. He’s scared he’s going to end up humiliated and in debtor’s prison.”
Her heart softened despite herself. No one deserved such a fate. “Is there anything you can do to help him?” she asked.
“I promised I’d talk to Church for him,” he said. His hand ran down the length of her spine as he spoke. “He certainly has the funds to make such a substantial loan.”
She was silent for a long beat.
“Church?” she repeated, nonplussed by his solution.
“I know, I know; there’s no love lost between them. But I’ll ask as a personal favor to me.” He seemed to sense that she still felt highly skeptical, because he added lightly, “I suppose we’re going to find out how much John and Angelica really love me.”
She decided to let the subject drop. Her hand rubbed over the soft fabric of his nightshirt as she snuggled against him and closed her eyes. His chest rose steadily beneath her, falling into an even rhythm as he drifted back to sleep. A soft snore from her husband displaced the loose hair at her temple, tickling her cheek.
The beating of his heart drowned out the loud ticking of the clock as she finally surrendered to sleep.
She woke to the sounds of the children stirring a short time later. The combination of interrupted sleep and the gloomy day outside rendered their whole household rather sluggish that morning. Hamilton read the Sunday sermon in a soft, low voice before they sat for breakfast. The meal was quiet, with the family too consumed with yawns, long blinks, and slow chewing to engage in much conversation. Eliza did notice Hamilton poking lazily at his plate without actually consuming much food. When she rose from the table to see to the day’s work, he’d disappeared into his office without a word, coffee cup in hand.
They’d been entertaining with some frequency this spring, with hardly a break in company even though Hamilton had been away in Albany for court over the past few weeks. Her first weekend without guests was spent preparing the house for yet more parties, and trying to keep an eye on their house full of children. Alex and Jamie were playing cards upstairs, last she saw them, and Angelica had settled in the family dining room downstairs to keep an eye on the colorful parakeets Hamilton had procured for her recently. She had Mary bring her the box of invitations, overdue correspondence, and menus requiring her attention and settled into the parlor to watch over the little ones.
A long whine caught her attention as she rose for the third time to clean up a toppled tower of blocks Phil had abandoned some minutes ago in favor of ball on the other side of the room. She looked over to see her younger daughter wearing a fearsome pout and glaring at William. “That’s not fair. I was playing with them,” little Eliza cried, making one last attempt to steal back the marbles she’d been arranging in some kind of design.
“That’s not even how you play,” William retorted. Then he flicked another marble under their sofa.
“William,” Eliza called, in a soft warning voice, as she pushed the last of the blocks to the side. She felt like she’d spent her entire morning saying that child’s name.
Phil glanced back at the sound of her voice, and, seeing that she’d finished putting the blocks away, toddled back towards her to pull them all out again. William, on the other hand, paid no mind to the warning; instead, he flicked yet another marble under the sofa. Little Eliza stamped her foot and began to cry.
“William,” Eliza called again, more demanding.
He shrugged. “What? She wasn’t even doing it right.”
Placing a hand to her temple to fight a growing headache, she stepped out of the parlor and exhaled slowly. On a nicer day, she could send the troublesome boy outside and only have the little ones to chase after; alas, the pouring rain still pounded at the windows. Perhaps Hamilton would have better luck distracting him, she considered, eyeing her husband’s closed office door. Coveted attention from his father would surely stop the boy from tormenting his siblings.
She knocked on the door and waited a beat. “Honey?”
He didn’t answer.
She pushed open the door and looked into the dimly lit room. Something about the scene within caught her breath and left her still in the doorway. Hamilton sat at his desk, staring out at the rain with a look of intense concentration, as if he were studying the patterns of the streaks on the window for some ancient, secret knowledge. A blank page sat on the desk before him, awaiting whatever brilliant thoughts were racing through that magnificent head of his. She always felt blessed to see him in these far away moments, to be a small part of the brilliance he gifted to the world.
His sandy hair was shot through with gray, now, and laughter and pain had left their marks on his face. She knew her own face bore similar evidence of the trials they’d seen together over the years. She tilted her head to the side as she studied his profile: his face was a little thinner than she’d like, but his jawline was still sharp and well-defined.
He was so very beautiful.
Her weight shifted slightly and caused the floorboard to creak beneath her. He turned his head towards her and smiled gently. The expression made her feel warm and light, even on a cold, stormy day such as this.
“What were you thinking about?” she asked softly.
He shook his head slightly, as though still coming back from wherever his mind had wandered, and beckoned her closer. “My next project. What do you think of a survey of governments throughout history and their effects on the morality and laws of the people?”
“It sounds rather like the Federalist,” she noted, running her hand across his back as he wrapped his arm around her, and dropping a kiss to the top of his head affectionately.
“Much better; much grander,” he insisted. “A more thorough, systematic approach. I was so pressed for time with the Federalist, and confined to buoying the Constitution. With the proper time and assistance, I could do so much more.”
“I have no doubt, my love,” she assured him. Her fingers ran through his hair and she hummed. “You need a haircut.”
“I’ll have the barber trim it at my office tomorrow,” he replied distantly, clearly still half lost in thought. Just as his gaze began to drift back towards the window, Eliza heard her daughter give a shriek, and she recalled her initial purpose.
Heaving a sigh, she reported, “Your son is driving me to distraction.”
Another smile tugged at his lips. “Do you want some help?”
As she opened her mouth to respond, a bright flash of light tore across the sky. The following crack of thunder elicited another cry from their children. Hamilton pushed back from his desk and they both rushed back to the parlor. Phil’s face was scrunched up and Eliza had hidden under a blanket on the sofa. William had hurried to the window to stare outside.
“Hush, baby,” she soothed Phil, heaving him up onto her hip and pressing a kiss to his messy hair. “Everything’s all right.”
Hamilton headed for the sofa. She could see him grinning as he gave the lump on their sofa a considering look. He slowly sat just in front of the lump and crossed one leg over the other.
Little Eliza wiggled on the sofa behind him.
She smiled. “Yes, my darling?”
“I think there’s something wrong with the sofa.”
“It’s wriggling,” he said thoughtfully.
Both little Eliza and William giggled. Her daughter peeked out from under her blanket and poked Hamilton on the back. “It’s me, Papa.”
He whipped his head around and feigned surprise. “Well, so it is.”
Another crack of thunder wiped the smile from their little girl’s face and sent her back under the blanket with a frightened squeak.
“Come out of there, you goose,” he said, pulling the blanket away from her face and pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You’ve nothing to fear in the world, my little darling. Papa’s here to protect you.”
An adoring smile blossomed over her face as she crawled out from under the blanket to snuggle into his lap.
“I hate rain,” William complained, glowering out at the storm with no hint of the anxiety afflicting his younger siblings. “There’s nothing to do.”
Hamilton chuckled and suggested, “How about a game?”
William looked back at his father, intrigued. “What kind of game?”
“Follow the leader? That’s a good game for a rainy day.”
“Will you play, too?” William asked.
Hamilton nodded. “Come on, let’s all play,” he encouraged. He swung little Eliza in the air as he stood, pressed another kiss to her forehead, and set her down gently to shoo her into place. “Why don’t you start us off, William?”
The little boy bounced to the center of the parlor excitedly, his sour mood immediately forgotten. “Are you going to play, Mama?”
She looked at the little boy with his head resting against her shoulder. “My arms are a little full at the moment. I think Phil’s still a bit small to play follow the leader.”
“Nonsense,” Hamilton retorted, grinning openly at their youngest child. “He can play.”
Phil seemed to perk up at his father’s attention and parroted, “Play!”
William’s head bobbed in agreement. “Please, Mama?”
Her husband’s lower lip jutted out slightly as he echoed, “Please?”
She laughed and shrugged. “All right.” She’d learned long ago to go along willingly with her husband’s madness. It certainly always led to memorable experiences, if not all necessarily enjoyable ones.
“Everyone line up behind Billy,” Hamilton ordered. He winked at her as she moved to stand in front of him. Little Eliza fell into place behind her brother, and little Phil toddled along somewhere in their general vicinity.
“Bunny hop!” William shouted back to them.
Phil ended up doing more of a wiggly bounce than a hop, but he was laughing so hard no one had the heart to correct him. When the next boom of thunder rattled the house, the children barely blinked, too busy laughing as William had them wiggling in place. She glanced back at Hamilton, whose hands had snuck onto her hips in the course of the game. He grinned and pressed a fast kiss to her lips.
The doorbell interrupted William’s demand that they all hop on one foot. They paused, slightly out of breath, as Mary entered with a card. “Show him in,” Hamilton said.
Eliza gave him a questioning look as Mary left, and he elaborated, his nose wrinkled lightly, “Judge Kent.”
She frowned, disappointed that their family day was being interrupted.
James Kent stepped into the parlor a moment later. He looked soaked and miserable, with a handkerchief pressed to his nose. He snuffled loudly a moment, then placed the cloth back into his pocket.
“My dear Judge, what a lovely surprise,” Hamilton greeted, holding out his hand.
“I was on my way back into the city, and the storm started growing worse as we passed by your home. I do hope I’m not terribly inconveniencing you. I see you’re spending the day with your family,” Kent said, looking sincerely repentant as he shook hands with Hamilton. He bowed to her properly when Hamilton released his hand. “Mrs. Hamilton.”
Eliza plastered on her entertaining smile and motioned him into the parlor. “Please, Judge, we’re delighted to have you join us. Won’t you sit down by the fire? You’re positively sodden.”
“You’re very kind, ma’am.” He lowered himself into the invited seat and held his hands out to the fire. The temperatures had been improving as spring progressed, but the storm had caused them to plummet once more. He added, as he warmed himself, “I hope you congratulated your husband upon his homecoming, Mrs. Hamilton.”
She gave the judge a quizzical look.
“His oral argument in the Croswell case was a sight to behold. Not a dry eye in the courtroom. I’ve never seen greater, and I suspect I never shall.”
She looked at her husband, whose rosy cheeks and subtle smile told her his humility was warring with his pride. She wasn’t surprised, exactly: Robert Troup had told her more than once that Hamilton had grown to be a titan in the court room. But Hamilton hadn’t seemed at all pleased when he’d returned from Albany. “I thought you said you lost that case?”
“Alas,” Kent said with a heavy sigh, “Due to certain political realities in our young nation, justice is unfortunately not always swift. But mark my words, the day will come when your husband’s definition of seditious libel becomes the law of the land.”
“I do hope so, for the sake of the country,” Hamilton replied softly. “A free and rigorous press is essential to a working republic. I should rather spill my blood than see that right infringed.”*
“Wise words, my dear friend,” Kent agreed somberly.
She saw William tug at Hamilton’s coat as she pushed a side table closer to the armchair where Kent had settled. Hamilton knelt beside the boy, and leaned close so William could whisper something in his ear. His smile grew as William talked.
“I’ll play with you some more in a little while,” Hamilton promised. “For now, would you do something for me?”
“Yes, Papa,” William answered dutifully, though he looked somewhat displeased with the answer.
“Go ask your brothers to come downstairs,” Hamilton requested. “I’m sure they would both benefit from some time quality time with Judge Kent.”
Eliza noticed Kent’s cheeks flush at the implied compliment.
“You’ll have to excuse him, Judge,” Hamilton said with an indulgent smile as the boy scampered off to collect his brothers. “He’s a very energetic child; he doesn’t do well when cooped up inside.”
“He’s a handsome lad,” Kent praised. “I’m sure he’ll settle in time and become as fine an attorney as his father.”
Hamilton snorted and sat down in a chair near the Judge. “I doubt that. Last time I asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he told me he wanted to be an explorer.”
Kent chuckled. “An explorer?”
“He’s very taken with the notion ever since it was announced that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are to lead an expedition through the Louisiana Territory. Perhaps he will follow them out West when he’s older. He certainly has the spunk for it.”
“I don’t think William is the only one taken with the notion,” Eliza observed with a teasing smile. Hamilton’s face lit up like a schoolboy whenever he read the articles in the paper about the adventure to William. “I have the distinct impression that you’d be joining the expedition yourself if you were a decade younger.”
He and Kent laughed hardily. He didn’t deny it, she noted.
“You have sons enough to follow in your footsteps, I suppose,” Kent granted with good humor.
She saw the shadow of grief eclipse the smile from her husband’s face as he nodded vaguely. Her chest felt tight knowing he was thinking of Pip, who by rights should have been readying for the bar about now. She turned her head away and forced a steadying breath.
“James, perhaps, might go into law,” Hamilton said belatedly, clearing his throat.
Eliza smiled at that. The boy certainly had a talent for double talk that would serve him well in the law and politics. Jamie had been arranging his schedule lately so he might drive in to the city with his father as often as possible. Hamilton told her their son spent the extra time with him asking questions about old cases and talking about politics. It was nice that the two were spending so much time together, though she sensed Alex might feel slightly left out. Not that the boy would ever admit as much.
“I think Alex has more a head for business, though, and John’s so gentle and sensitive. He’s much happier with his ancient books. I suppose we’ll see about the little one in time.” He nodded towards Phil, who was once more engrossed with blocks, banging them together and delighting in the resulting sound. The little boy looked up at his name gave him a wide grin in response.
The older boys came piling in from upstairs as just he finished speaking. The distraction afforded her the opportunity to steal a moment with her husband. She moved around the gaggle of boys to his side, grasped his face with both her hands and pressed a quick, firm kiss to his lips before she let her hands fall to his chest and curl around the lapels of his jacket. “You should have told me about your case. I’m so proud of you,” she whispered.
He shrugged, but his sweet, sunny smile returned. “Thank you.”
The afternoon passed pleasantly enough, despite their unexpected guest. Kent appeared flattered and overwhelmed in turns at having her husband’s attention for so many hours together. Hamilton discussed his plans for his new project. James sat with them for a long time, as though trying to soak in lessons from the two great legal minds.
Over dinner, the conversation turned to politics, which intrigued James no less, though poor William looked ready to cry with boredom. Eliza felt highly sympathetic, even as she maintained the proper, welcoming smile on her face.
“As I said at Judge Tayler's last week, Colonel Burr is a dangerous man who should not be trusted with any true political power,” Hamilton remarked casually as he cut in to his beef.
Kent nodded agreeably.
The talk of Burr ignited her anxiety all over again. How could he speak to Burr as a friend that very morning, offer to procure him a substantial loan, and then insult him over dinner? She’d never understand politics.
“Is the food not to your liking, Judge?” she interjected, hoping to change the subject. He’d hardly eaten a morsel. That combined with Hamilton’s capricious appetite meant they were going to be sending back a good portion of the dinner Genti had labored over all morning.
“No, it’s a lovely meal, ma’am,” Kent assured her. “But I find my appetite is sadly lacking. I believe I may be coming down with a cold.”
Hamilton’s face softened noticeably at the news. “I’ll have the servants prepare the guest room right away. You should lie down and get some proper rest.”
Kent snuffled into his handkerchief again and agreed, “Yes, I believe you are right.”
The judge retired to bed early, much to William’s delight. Having at last reacquired his playmate, William quickly pulled out the checker board, and the two played until it was time for the boy to go to bed. She was just finishing tucking the children in when she saw her husband tip-toeing into the guest room with a spare blanket. “It’s cold,” he whispered, almost defensively, when he saw her smiling at him.
They both retired fairly early themselves: Hamilton needed to be up early in the morning to travel to the city for work, and she had little desire to sit in the parlor alone, however much her invitations and correspondence might benefit from her undivided attention. They read side by side in bed for half an hour or so while the storm continued to rage outside; the whole second floor seemed to rock with the strength of the winds.
Finally, Hamilton blew out the candle and relaxed back into bed. She followed his example, not terribly interested in the latest novel Angelica had lent her. Hamilton adjusted beside her, his arm wrapping around her middle to pull her close against him.
“Thank you,” he whispered, just as she was beginning to drift.
“For what?” she muttered sleepily.
A long silence followed. She wondered again what he was thinking about: bearing Judge Kent’s company without complaint, or something more? “Just…thank you.”
She stared out at the faint shadow of the bed curtains in the dark as she tried to fathom her husband’s mind. The rain beat fiercely on the window outside. With a sigh, she pressed backwards, closer against him. He nuzzled her affectionately, and his hand closed around hers tightly. She squeezed his palm in return and tried to sleep.
The clock on the mantle ticked on in the darkness.
Tick tock goes the clock....
First, apologies for the late update-- this time of year is just so crazy, it's hard to get time to write. Only two chapters left, and I know basically what's going in them, so hopefully the updates will be a little more regular.
*Paraphrase from Hamilton's oral argument in People v. Croswell
Burr and Kent did both visit Hamilton at the Grange in the spring of 1804, but likely not on the same day. We only have a record of Burr's visit thanks to Eliza. She waited up when he went downstairs, and asked him what happened. Burr needed to borrow $10,000 to pay off his creditors. Hamilton talked to John Church and some other friends to arrange a loan. Kent's visit was recorded in his diary. He talked about how gentle Hamilton was with his family, and told the story of Hamilton bringing him an extra blanket when he went to bed early because he didn't feel well.
The dinner with Judge Tayler Hamilton mentions is where he made the comments about Burr that Dr. Cooper recorded. His letter was intercepted and published in a newspaper, which Burr saw in June 1804. Basically, they were the comments that got him killed.
Lewis and Clark didn't set out on their expedition until May 1804, but I'm assuming it would have been in the papers by this point. William ultimately did end up moving out west, first to Ohio, and then to California during the gold rush.
Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday!!!
Cricket song drifted through the open bedroom window with the cool night breeze as Hamilton swung his legs up onto the bed. He arranged the blankets over his lap while he watched Eliza place her brush back on her vanity and begin to section out her dark wavy tresses to braid for bed. He leaned back against the pillows, taking comfort in the observing her familiar routine. The peaceful scene helped beat back the feeling of foreboding that had been building all weekend.
He felt at a crossroads. His mind raced with worries about the coming week. The choice before him felt painfully familiar: protect his public reputation, potentially at the cost of his family’s happiness; or forsake forever a leadership role in the nation. With Jefferson’s foolhardy policies towards Britain, he could taste a crisis on the horizon. If he refused Burr, no one would take him seriously as a military leader. He’d be lucky to keep clients enough to eke out a living.
If he accepted Burr’s challenge and hazarded his life on the field of honor, he’d be able to render aid to the country in her time of need. He could see no other way, even as Eliza’s face, pale and betrayed, flashed through his imagination.
“Promise me we’ll be more open with each other,” she’d demanded that day in his office, when his second chance at happiness had been granted. Such a small price for so great a gift, he considered. And here he was, hiding and lying, betraying her all over again, praying only that she’d never find out.
His thoughts left him queasy, dread heavy in his gut.
He tried to focused his attention on Eliza once more. She’d finished twisting the sections of her hair in her rhythmic, practiced motion, and her dark braid now trailed down her back, swinging gently over her lightweight nightgown. She’d moved on to washing her face, efficiently scrubbing until her skin glowed a healthy, attractive pink. Once her face was dried, she dabbed her fingers in the little pot by the mirror, and rubbed some kind of beauty product around her eyes and cheeks. Then she rubbed her hands together and turned on her chair.
“You’ve been very quiet,” she remarked. The two little worry lines between her brows were visible in the flickering candlelight. “You look a little queasy. Are you feeling all right?”
He forced a smile. “Just a little indigestion. Nothing serious.”
“Do you want anything? Some water? Tea?”
“No. Just you, please.”
“Just me?” she repeated fondly.
He nodded. “You always make me feel better.”
She smiled as she rose from her seat. “Shall I leave the window open?”
He hummed agreeably. “There’s a nice breeze tonight, for a change. I felt like I was baking in our bedroom in town last week.”
She padded across the wood floor with the candle and crawled up onto the bed beside him. While she adjusted the blankets around her, he rolled onto his side so he could look at her. She patted the blankets down and gazed at him softly.
“Do you really need to go to town tomorrow?”
His lips quirked up. “Yes.”
She rolled onto her side, copying his posture. “I thought you said all your important cases were done now?”
“All my trials,” he corrected. “I still have a stack of cases awaiting my legal opinion.”
“Couldn’t they wait?”
“Why should they?”
The twin wrinkles in her brow returned.
Fighting a mischievous smile, he curled in on himself, ducked his head down, and muttered indistinctly to draw her closer. She was beside him in an instant. Her hand rubbed over his back as she adjusted to try to see his face. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? What hurts?”
When her face had tipped close to his, he stretched his neck to plant a kiss on her lips.
She huffed and shoved at his shoulder while he laughed. “You’re awful.”
“You worry too much, my dear Eliza.”
A tiny smile twitched at the corner of her lips as she cuddled closer, her hand rubbing gently over his midsection. “Only because I love you so much. You must take better care of yourself. Whatever would I do without you?”
His insides went cold even as he forced a laugh. “You’d be fine. I’m utterly replaceable.”
“You are not,” she insisted, eyes narrowing. “I told you when we were first married that I would love you forever. Only you. That’s a promise I intend to keep.”
He nodded, his throat a little tight, and pushed up on his elbow to kiss her again. Her arms glided over his shoulders and hooked behind his neck in a tight embrace. His eyes felt damp and his face went hot as he relaxed against her, his face buried between her hair and her pillow. The moment felt too heavy, too significant: he was in imminent danger of confessing everything to her, unburdening himself of weeks of anxiety in her warm embrace.
But that wouldn’t be fair to her. He inhaled deeply and kept his face hidden as he hunted for a quick change in subject. Licking his lips, he pulled back, and, with a note of false cheerfulness, observed, “You taste like strawberries.”
She laughed, a wide smile making her eyes crinkle with mirth.
“I tried a new recipe for my face cream,” she explained, her hand tracing across his cheek. “Do you like it?”
He smirked lasciviously. “It’s good enough to eat.”
She laughed again; more at him than with him this time, he thought, but he hardly minded. “I wouldn’t recommend it, sweetheart. The main ingredient is pig lard.”
He made a face, which made her laugh harder.
One delicate eyebrow rose to match her crooked smile. “What can I say? It’s hard being a woman. Men look distinguished with gray hair and wrinkles; women just look old.”
“You don’t look old,” he told her sincerely. “You’re as lovely as the day I met you.”
“That’s because of my face cream,” she replied, trying for serious, though she broke down in giggles right after. “Without it I’d be a wrinkled old bitty and you’d want nothing to do with me.”
“That would never happen. I’ll always want you.”
“I’ll remind you that you said that when we’re both turning eighty,” she teased.
Another chill went through him, and she seemed to notice something was amiss. “Honey?”
Two sets of little feet pattering in the hallway saved him from having to lie to her again. He rolled over to listen, and he heard a little giggle followed by an insistent, “Shh!” He needn’t get up to know which of his children had snuck out of their room.
“Go back to bed, Billy!”
His troublesome boy gave a loud groan of protest.
“I told you we should have slid on our bottoms,” he heard Jacob Prewitt whisper. The little boy’s parents had passed away suddenly a few weeks ago, and he was staying with the Hamilton’s temporarily, until his uncle arrived from South Carolina. He and William were of an age, and unfortunately shared a propensity for trouble.
Eliza was grinning at him when he rolled back towards her. “What do you think they were doing?”
“Heaven only knows. A partner in crime was the last thing that boy needed,” he grumbled, though he couldn’t help returning her smile.
“It’s good he’s keeping poor little Jacob so distracted, after everything that’s happened. A firm friend is just what he needs.”
He shook his head at her: his patient, sainted wife. “How are you always able to find the good in every situation?”
“Well, according to my husband, who is a very brilliant man, I’ll have you know,” he laughed as she tapped his nose fondly, “I am, apparently, an angel.”
“My angel,” he whispered, placing another tender kiss to her soft lips.
She gave him a sleepy smile. “It’s getting late, and you need to be up early. Blow out the candle,” she directed around a yawn.
He took one last, lingering look, adjusted over her, and blew out the light. He pillowed his head on her chest and held her close, listening to her heartbeat. Her fingers combed through his hair gently.
“I love you,” he muttered.
“I love you, too, my darling,” she whispered back. Her lips pressed against the crown of his head. He smiled in the dark and hugged her closer.
He sighed, content, as he drifted off to sleep. Here in her arms, he felt sure everything would be all right.
Their bedroom was still dark and peaceful, a single candle in the dressing room the only source of light. Hamilton had donned a lightweight jacket for the day, and he heaved his heavy case filled with his clothes and toiletries for the week out of the little alcove to bring in the wagon with him. Eliza slept on, her face turned towards the open window.
He climbed onto the bed and kissed her.
“I love you,” he whispered in her ear.
“Mm,” she smiled, still mostly asleep. Her hand found his in the dark, and she squeezed. “Love you. See you Friday.”
“See you Friday,” he echoed.
He prayed it wasn’t another lie.
“Sir, I beg you to reconsider,” Nathaniel Pendleton pleaded, eyes wide and hair mussed as he paced Hamilton’s office. The box with the pistol he’d brought along lay untouched on Hamilton’s desk. Hamilton himself sat at ease in his armchair and paid his friend a tolerant smile.
“I cannot bear to take another human life,” he replied. “Certainly not in cold blood as a duel demands. I had my fill of killing in the war.”
Pendleton paused to look him square in the eye. “Then, sir, you will go like a lamb to be slaughtered.”1
His heart rate elevated at the harsh words, but he forced his face to stay placid. “Then so be it.”
Pendleton leaned back, shocked.
Hamilton’s face softened. “My friend, it is the effect of a religious scruple and does not admit of reasoning. It is useless to say more on the subject as my purpose is definitely fixed.”2
Pendleton pursed his lips, as though forcing himself not to say more.
Hamilton gestured to the pigeon holed box by his desk. “Some of my financial papers are in there. I left a letter for you on my desk that will tell you where to find the others. I have my Will and some letters bundled together under your letter. Just as a precaution, of course.”
His friend shook his head sadly.
He rose and laid a hand on Pendleton’s shoulder. “I appreciate your concern. But everything’s going to be fine.”
Pendleton mirrored his gesture, his finger’s squeezing tightly. “I’m sure it will be as you say, sir. Have a good night, Mr. Hamilton. Try to rest. I’ll see you at four tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll see you then. Thank you, Judge.”
Pendleton tipped his head and seemed to understand that Hamilton’s gratitude stemmed from more than a wish for a good night.
“Take these with you, please,” he added, waving to the pistols on his desk.
Pendleton sighed deeply, but did as requested and tucked the box under his arm before he stepped out of the room. Hamilton walked him to the door and waved as Pendleton set out down the street. When he’d closed the door, he leaned against it and let out a slow, controlled breath.
He’d managed to distract himself from the anxiety quite ably until today. Being home with Eliza and the children helped: the world always felt like a safe and beautiful place in his wife’s presence. Even when he sat down to write Eliza her farewell letter, he’d been pleasantly tipsy from the Fourth of July party with the Society of Cincinnati.
He’d finished his Will yesterday after leaving his office on his way to Wolcott’s for dinner and drinks. Today, he’d completed a complicated legal opinion he’d been putting off for one of his clients, and set up a meeting with Dirck Ten Broeck to render another on his land question tomorrow. He’d then gone to see dear old Troup, sick in bed with dropsy. Endless work and activities to keep his mind otherwise occupied.
The meeting with Pendleton had made tomorrow feel all too real. Pendleton’s horrified expression at his decision to withhold his fire made him feel wrong footed and uncertain, dread pooling in his belly. But how could he do otherwise?
His little boy’s pale face and wandering eyes floated across his mind’s eye.
“I didn’t…I didn’t fire at him, Papa. I did… just what you said.”
He pressed his hand to his mouth and tried to will the thoughts away.
He was fast running out of distractions. Maybe he could go back to the Grange for a few hours to see Eliza? Just the chance to hold her for a few minutes would make the three hour coach ride well worth it. She’d worry, though, and he had no good reason he could give her without telling her about tomorrow.
“Papa? Did Judge Pendleton leave?”
He looked up and saw Alex standing on the landing of the stairs, leaning against the bannister with an uncertain expression. He nodded, pushed away from the door, and smiled at his son. “Are you done studying?”
Alex snorted softly. “No.”
He laughed. “You will be soon enough.”
“About that,” Alex said, shifting his weight to his other foot. “Reverend Moore set the date for graduation.”
He lifted his eyebrows expectantly. “When is it?”
“August first,” Alex answered. His head dropped to watch his bare foot shuffle on the step. “That’s a Wednesday. I know you probably have to work…”
He frowned. “Alexander, you’re graduating from Columbia. Do you honestly think I have anything better to do in the world then to come watch?”
A tiny smile lit Alex’s face as he shrugged.
He moved to the stairs and wrapped the boy in a bear hug. “Daft child,” he laughed, kissing his temple. Alex’s arms wound around him in return.
“Papa?” Alex asked into his shoulder.
“I’ve been thinking about it, and….” He waited patiently for the boy to finish his thought. “I don’t know if I want to go into business.”
Hamilton eased Alex away to look at him. He’d pulled several strings to get his son a good starting position at a merchant firm in Boston. “Why not?”
“I’m graduating near the top of my class.” The words seemed to tumble from his boy’s mouth, as though he’d been holding them back for some time and they’d sudden broken through. “I’ve mastered Latin and Greek. I excelled at oration and debate.”
“I know,” he assured him.
“I know Pip…Pip was the top of his class, but I’m close, Papa. Really close. I…I could be a lawyer, like you. A good one. I promise, I’d work so hard. You’d be proud.”
His heart felt like it was breaking in his chest as his words sunk in.
“Alex,” he sighed, cupping his son’s cheek gently, “I didn’t obtain that position at the merchant firm due a lack of faith in your abilities. Quite the contrary, I know you’ll excel at whatever profession you attempt.”
Alex frowned. “But Pip—”
“You’re not Pip. Nor do I expect you to be.”
Alex’s brow wrinkled with confusion.
“I think you should try your hand at the position in Boston. You have the sober mind and good heart to be both honorable and successful in trade. But, if you find it disagreeable, we could see about an apprenticeship at a law office.”
He nodded and winked. “You should give business a try first, though. We can’t all be out to fleece our neighbors, or they’ll be no one left to fleece.”
Alex gave a breathy laugh and smiled at him like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Had the boy really thought he was a disappointment? Pip was brilliant, and full of potential, but Hamilton had earmarked him for law mostly so he could keep a careful eye on his willful son. He’d never had to worry like that about Alex. But he can see how the boy had interpreted his lack of hovering attention as a lack of interest, and he felt achingly sorry for it.
“I’m so proud of you,” he added, looking his boy straight in the eye. Alex’s cheeks flushed, and he leaned back in for another hug. Hamilton obliged happily, squeezing the boy to him.
William snuffled and adjusted in his sleep, his bony elbow jutting out into his father’s ribs. Jacob was curled on his other side, still and fast asleep, a much more considerate bedmate. The two boys had been bouncing on his bed when he came upstairs after finishing his letter to Theodore Sedgewick. He’d settled them down to say their prayers, and they fell asleep beside him as he read a tale of Nimble the mouse from the battered, old storybook.
Hamilton ran his palm over William’s unruly locks to settle him and gazed down at the orphan boy on his other side. He was glad Jacob had taken to William so quickly; he recalled from his own childhood how much more welcoming the Stevens’ household had felt with Neddy there to distract him. Jacob’s uncle was due any day, but at least the boy’s brief stay with them had been a happy one.
The thought of Neddy set him to reminiscing about his own boyhood. He relaxed back against his pillows in his dark bedroom and thought fondly of the turquoise waves, the hot breeze blowing through the palm trees, and all those people he’d loved so much on that little island he’d once called home: Mama and Papa, James and Ajax, Neddy and Reverend Knox. And, of course, cousin Anne.
His eyes popped open. He’d meant to tell Eliza about Anne. She was having a difficult time making ends meet, last he’d heard, and he was sending her some money to make her way back to New York. After all she’d done for him, he was happy to help make her comfortable in her declining years. Eliza wouldn’t mind in the least, he was sure, but he kept forgetting to tell her about the arrangements.
If things went badly tomorrow, he might never talk to her again.
It didn’t seem right, didn’t seem possible, that the sleepy kiss they’d shared Monday morning could be their last interaction on this earth. But it might be. And he hadn’t told her.
He slid out of bed, careful not the wake the sleeping children beside him, and tip-toed from his room. Candlelight flickered in the boys’ room as he passed. Alex was still sitting at his desk, jotting down notes, and Johnny had a book open on his lap. Only Jamie was asleep, sprawled out like a starfish atop the covers.
“It’s getting late, boys,” he whispered.
Alex looked up at him and smiled. “I know, Papa. I just have one more question to finish, then I’ll blow out the light.”
“All right, but not too much longer. You both have school in the morning.”
Both boys nodded back at him.
“Good night, Papa,” Johnny whispered.
“Good night, my little lambs.”
He padded downstairs to his dark office, where he lit a single candle and pulled a fresh sheet of paper from his drawer. After quickly scrawling down the note about Anne, he paused, staring down at the page. These might be the last words he left to his darling wife. His hands shook slightly as the significance of the note washed over him.
He was afraid.
He was terribly, terribly afraid.
Eliza would understand, wouldn’t she? He couldn’t possibly fire at Burr. For all his sins, he still had some hope of salvation. He wouldn’t squander the possibility of reuniting with his wife and children again in Heaven.
“Heaven can preserve me and I humbly hope will, but in the contrary event I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s will be done. The will of a merciful God must be good.”3
His vision went blurry as he penned the last lines. He wasn’t ready. He could do so much more. Please, he begged. Not yet.
He raked his fingers through his hair as he sat by the light of the single candle, staring down at the shiny black ink, stark against the white page. He didn’t add the line that screamed through his mind, but he knew she’d hear it in his words nonetheless.
I’m so sorry, Betsey.
His fingers fumbled around in his breast pocket as he hunted for his glasses. Everything was happening so quickly. Only moments ago, it seemed, he’d been waking the boys to lie about where he was going. Johnny had blinked sleepily at him as he fumbled with the light for the candle.
“Mama just sent me a note to say you’re little sister is sick,” he’d said. “I’m going home to check on her, and then I have a meeting at my office in the morning. So don’t worry if you don’t see me at breakfast, all right?”
The boys had all nodded blearily at him.
“I love you,” he told them.
They’d all repeated the phrase back to him in muttered voices as they settled back down to sleep.
He’d met Pendleton and Hosack, and the three set out from William Bayard’s dock before sunup. He’d watched the sunrise on the Manhattan skyline with a strange sort of distance. In the hazy pink light, he could see the city’s potential, the specter of things to come.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he’d asked his companions.
And suddenly, they were hiking up the path to the dueling ground, and he held a pistol in his hands. “Wait,” he’d requested. “In some states of light, one requires glasses.”4
He pushed his spectacles onto his face with one hand and looked out again on Manhattan, glittering in the bright summer sunshine. He wouldn’t be there to see, he understood suddenly. All those wonderful things yet to come, he wouldn’t be a part of them.
He’d searched Burr’s eyes when the shook hands, and he’d detected no hint of warmth in their cool, dark depths. The friendship they’d once shared was drowned out by anger and desperation. Burr was going to kill him.
“Are you prepared, now, Mr. Hamilton?”
He closed his eyes for a moment. Eliza appeared before him, warm and bright and so very beautiful. “I’ll love you forever,” he heard her whisper.
With a steadying breath, he agreed. “I’m ready.”
The pain didn’t register at first. All he felt was pressure, a terrible pressure, like a great animal had sat on his chest. He was on his back, looking up at the bright green leaves fluttering in the trees.
He tried to lift his head. Burr was fighting Van Ness, trying to get to him. Shock and devastation were plain on Burr’s face, as if his anger had left with the bullet, and only his friend now remained. He understood, he wanted to tell him. He knew he was sorry. It was all right.
He couldn’t speak.
When Pendleton tugged him over to lie against the boulder, the pain hit him, stealing his breath with its intensity. His hand clutched weakly at his belly, near his right hip, where the pain was worst. He couldn’t feel his legs.
“You’re all right, sir,” Pendleton fussed. “The doctor will be along presently.”
He closed his eyes prayed his wife would forgive him, just one more time.
He sank into unconsciousness, and dreamed of her.
On Friday, Eliza sat alone on the floor of her bedroom, opened up his last letter to her, and wept.
1 Robert Troup to Timothy Pickering, 31 March 1828: Robert Troup attributed this line to a conversation between Hamilton and Rufus King.
2 Line from Hamilton’s conversation with Pendleton, as reported in the New York Evening Post, 19 July 1804
3 Hamilton to Eliza, 10 July 1804
4 Hamilton really did ask for a moment to put on his glasses before the call to present was made. A lot of historian’s have weighed in on this, but I’ve always interpreted it as him stalling for a moment to catch his breath. He’d seen how angry Burr was, and he had to know that being shot was a real possibility.
There’s a lot going on in these chapters, and I tried to keep it as accurate as possible. As per usual, a few notes:
John Church Hamilton wrote about the last weekend Hamilton spent with his family. They walked through the garden in the morning, before he read the Sunday service aloud for them, and then he gathered his wife and children around him under an old tree and they sat outside until the stars came out. He gave them all one last golden memory as a family before he left.
He's also the source for the story about Hamilton waking up his kids at 3am the morning of the duel to lie about where he was going. Kind of heart breaking last interaction with their dad...
I tried to close the loop on some of the complicated feelings I hinted at with Alex after Philip’s death. His graduation from Columbia was August 1, 1804, about two weeks after his father’s death. He didn’t attend. Eliza cancelled his placement at the firm in Boston because she didn’t want him to be so far away. He went on to become an attorney like his father.
That last letter Hamilton wrote on the night before the duel absolutely kills me every time I read it, more so even than the July 4th version. To me, he sounds so scared and upset. It sounds like he wishes she were there with him. I can’t even imagine what she must have been feeling when she read that.
If you’re interested, I posted the original letter in Hamilton’s handwriting along with a printed transcription on my blog here
Thanks to everyone who is still reading! Happy 2018!! One more chapter to go, then I’m going to have to pick a new project for the new year…
Eliza tipped her head back against the cushioned bench to soak in the warm spring sunshine. A brightly colored bird chirruped overhead, an early returner and a welcome sight after the long winter. The warm breeze carried the pleasant scent of blooming honeysuckle.
Her fifteen year old nephew, Alexander Malcolm, bent down to pat the old retriever dog at their feet. The dog belonged to Sidney Holly, her dear daughter’s husband, but she hadn’t the heart the leave the old beast on his bed when she rambled in the garden. His shaggy golden coat and floppy triangle ears reminded her fondly of Old Peggy. She hadn’t realized how much she missed having a dog in the house until the silly creature had laid his head upon her knee while she was having breakfast in the informal dining room one morning.
She smiled at the lad who’d so sweetly come to call on her today, his own shiny dark eyes and sandy hair bearing a strong resemblance to dog he was still petting. Having brought up six young men herself, she knew visiting his aged aunt wouldn’t be high on his list of favorite past times. She appreciated him taking the time to do so anyway.
“How are your studies going? I hear from your mother that you’re preparing for Columbia?” she inquired.
“I’m to start in the fall, Aunt Hamilton,” he confirmed.
She laid her head back against the bench to take in the view of the valley as she listened to her nephew recount his recent visit to the exalted school. Buildings now dotted the once empty landscape, but the view was no less beautiful than the first time she’d seen it on that peaceful morning so many years ago. Another warm, soft breeze rustled through the honeysuckle vines. She sighed, a hint of a smile playing across her features.
Perhaps she’d have Abigail set her tea out here today.
Footsteps crunching lightly on the stone path to the bower caught her ear as the thought crossed her mind. Her maid approached with a small silver tray in hand. “Ma’am,” Abigail curtsied and held out the tray, which bore a single card.
James Monroe, the card declared.
She frowned deeply. “What has that man come to see me for?”*
“Why, Aunt Hamilton,” young Alexander said, craning his head to read the card, “Don’t you know, it’s Mr. Monroe, and he’s been President, and he is visiting here now in the neighborhood…”*
She tuned out the boy’s chatter, her mind racing.
James Monroe. His name conjured memories better left in the past.
Her husband’s face, pale and tense, came back to her as strongly as if he were standing before her now. She’d never seen him look so wretched. She’d been seated by the fireplace in their bedroom, she recalled, finally freed from bedrest after giving birth to little William. She remembered thinking he was coming in to lie down himself, sure he must be ill with how very pale he’d gone. But he’d walked past their bed, straight to her, and knelt in front of her, his head hung low.
He told her everything.
The confession lived still in her memory with strangely vivid detail, as if it had been a scene in a play that she’d seen a thousand times. A consequence, she supposed, of all the hours spent turning the words over and over in her head: every line, every tear, the way his voice hitched and broke as he spoke. She remembered the weight of his hands resting on her knees so perfectly she felt she could almost reach out and take them in her own.
When he came at last to the circumstances which prompted him to record the shameful matter in writing and publish it for the world, she recalled the deep, terrible anger that had flashed through his damp eyes. “If that damnable Monroe would just admit what happened at the meeting, I wouldn’t need to publish it.” He’d spit the name like poison. “He had the letters. I know he leaked them to the press. And now he won’t even confirm their proper context.”
She hadn’t cared a fig about Monroe in the moment. Monroe had never promised her his fidelity and love. Her husband was the one breaking her heart; he was responsible for all the misery and pain befalling her.
Once the pamphlet had actually been published, however, she found she too was angry with Monroe. Hamilton had betrayed her; Monroe had turned her devastation into a public spectacle. Had Monroe simply confirmed the conversation he’d had with her husband all those years ago in Philadelphia, Hamilton never would have published that cursed pamphlet.
“Ma’am?” Abigail asked, pulling her from the rush of memories.
Her voice was low as she answered, “I will see him.”*
“Very good, ma’am. I seated him in the main parlor.”
Eliza rose and followed Abigail back up the path to the house, her nephew and the old hound close behind her like shadows. The cheery yellow paint of the Grange gleamed in the bright sunshine. Abigail stayed straight on the path to the kitchen, whistling for the dog to follow, while Eliza turned and mounted the steps to enter on the main floor. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dimmer light when she stepped inside, but she pushed on through the hall nonetheless, sure to keep her spine straight.
Monroe sat in the old armchair near the fire, where her beloved husband used to sit and read the paper on Sundays. The Virginia gentleman’s handkerchief was pressed to his mouth to stifle a cough when she entered, but he rose immediately when he saw her and bowed low, playing at respectful. He looked smaller, now, she noted, withered and gray; nothing like the ambitious young man she remembered. She wondered how much of that was from his presidency, which invariably had the effect of aging men savagely, or how much was from the recent loss of his wife. He’d come to New York to live with his daughter after Mrs. Monroe’s passing, she’d read this fall. She knew all too well how the loss of one’s spouse changed you, aged you. Her heart might have softened towards another man.
She pointedly didn’t ask him to resume the seat. The lack of polite overture seemed to leave him wrong footed. He cleared his throat in the awkward silence and tucked his handkerchief back in his pocket.
“Mrs. Hamilton, it’s been a very long time since we last met,” he began, in a measured, practiced tone. “Time has since brought it’s softening influences, and we are both now nearing our graves. I think it’s time we let our past differences be forgiven and forgotten.”*
Her lips thinned as she stared hard him across the parlor. The nerve of the man, to come into her home and speak as though they were equals in sin. She had no need to beg his forgiveness, and his honeyed words masquerading as magnanimity were hardly the way to go about asking for hers.
“Mr. Monroe, if you have come to tell me that you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders, and the stories you circulated against my dear husband, if you have come to say this, I understand it. But, otherwise, no lapse of time, no nearness to the grave, makes any difference.”*
Monroe blinked once, as though having trouble processing her answer.
She kept her expression firm.
After a long silence, he adjusted his rectangular spectacles over his gray eyes, collected his hat, and left. She laid her hand over her stomach and tried to settle herself as she stared at Hamilton’s empty chair.
Young Alexander gave an impressed whistle somewhere behind her. She glanced back and saw him grinning from ear to ear. No doubt he was surprised that his dear old aunt would speak so to the likes of the great James Monroe.
“He ranks far below your Uncle Hamilton in importance and prestige,” she informed the lad, her voice sure and steady. “Never let anyone tell you otherwise.” Had her beloved lived, that man never would have ascended to the presidency in the first place, of that she was certain. To think Monroe thought himself worthy to occupy the same office as the great General Washington….
“Mama?” Her younger daughter swept into the room, slightly out of breath and rubbing flour from her hands onto her apron as she went. Abigail would have told her about the unexpected guest; the protective child must have hurried up here as soon as she heard. “Is everything all right?”
“Just fine, dear heart.”
“You seem upset.”
She forced a smile; she’d not let that man cast a pall over a perfectly lovely day. “Not at all. I was just thinking about afternoon tea. I think I’ll take it in the garden today, while I work on balancing the accounts for the Orphan Society.”
Her daughter looked skeptical, but she nodded. “I’ll let Abigail know to bring you a tray.”
Eliza held out her arms to her nephew. “Thank you for coming to see me today, my dear. I’ll free you to enjoy the rest of the afternoon as you please.”
“I always love visiting you, Aunt Hamilton,” Alexander argued, sounding perfectly genuine. He was still grinning as he stepped in to the hug. She imagined today had been more entertaining for him than most, she thought as she squeezed him tight.
When her nephew and daughter had gone, she paced over to the far side of the sofa to retrieve the account books and her lap desk. Her daughter had suggested she make use of the desk in the library when she was named director of the New York Orphan Asylum, but she’d refused. That desk belonged to her husband, alone. His completed papers had all been collected and carefully preserved, but everything else remained just as he left it. Quills and ink powder lay in the drawers beside blank pages, awaiting brilliant thoughts that would never come.
She cleared her throat and made her way back down the hall, heading towards the honeysuckle bower once more.
As much as she tried to put Monroe and his unwelcome visit from her mind, she thought again of his words as she walked along the garden path with her desk. So much time had passed since those days when Maria Reynolds had plagued her mind. But time alone was not sufficient to forgive those who’d never shown remorse for their actions. She’d not wipe the slate clean merely to satisfy the man’s conscience because he felt the weight of his own mortality.
Forgive and forget, he’d said.
Her husband’s face came to mind again, pale and wretched, his head hanging low. He, too, had asked for her forgiveness that day. She hadn’t known how to give it to him then. Of course, in the end, he’d done so much more than merely ask.
When she was young, she used to think of forgiveness as a destination, a state of mind to be achieved. She’d been convinced that one day, she would wake up, and the pain would have disappeared as if it had never been. She’d forgive him, and thoughts of his betrayal would never trouble her again.
Now, though, she thought of forgiveness more as a choice: a calculated determination that the love, laughter, and joy a person brought to one’s life outweighed the pain of their misdeed. She’d made that choice every day since her husband’s confession. However much pain he’d brought her, he’d brought her infinitely more joy.
She lowered herself back onto the cushioned bench under the bower, his favorite spot in the garden. He was supposed to have been her whole life. That had been the deal. She’d spent the better part of two decades supporting him, caring for him, loving him no matter what. And then he was just gone.
That had hurt more than any thing else he'd ever done.
She tried to fill the void he left with good works, with meaning. She directed the Orphan Asylum, and spoke out for causes he believed in, and tried to preserve his memory for posterity as best she could. But life could feel so empty without him by her side.
She was wiping the dampness from her eyes when another warm breeze off the Hudson wafted through the honeysuckle and across her face like a soft caress. A gentle reminder to draw her from her melancholy thoughts, she understood. Perhaps they were temporarily apart, but not even death could dissever two souls so entangled as theirs.
Her Hamilton had been her anchor in the darkness, a steadying presence as the winds of life blew cold and everything permanent around her seemed to crumble. And so he remained. She felt him there with her, in the warmth of the spring sunshine on her face and the scent of honeysuckle and the birdsong overhead. His love enveloped her always: her guardian angel.
She’d forgiven him long ago.
*Direct quotes from the account of Eliza’s nephew as recorded in “The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton,” by Allan McLane Hamilton, pp.116-117.
And now, the obligatory long history note:
Figuring out the names of Eliza’s sister, Catharine's, children was a bit difficult, but as far as I can tell she had sons named Philip Schuyler Malcolm, William Schuyler Malcolm and Alexander Hamilton Malcolm. I think Alexander was the youngest, and he would have been about the right age to have been the nephew who gave the account of the Monroe meeting to Allan McLane Hamilton, but it easily could have been someone else.
Hamilton and Monroe really hated each other. Apparently at one of the meetings where Hamilton was trying to get Monroe to admit that the Reynolds letters only proved an affair and not corruption, the conversation became so heated that John Church had to hold Hamilton back from punching Monroe in the face. And while Monroe probably didn’t leak the letters himself, he did let them fall into the hands of someone who did (*cough* Jefferson).
Also, as to date and location for this scene, Chernow placed it in the 1820s in Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Eliza Hamilton Holly didn’t move to D.C. until the 1840s, so I have really no idea why Eliza would have been in D.C. at that time. The original source gives no setting for the encounter. However, after Elizabeth Monroe passed away in September 1830, James Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter and her husband. Eliza was still living in the Grange at that time (she remained there until 1833, when they relocated to Manhattan at 4 St. Mark’s Place, aka the Hamilton Holly House). Placing this in the spring of 1831 in New York seemed like a better fit. James Monroe was ill at this time, and he passed away July 4 of the same year.
Whew! I can’t believe this is finished! It’s been quite the journey. I hope it was a satisfying ending.
I wanted to end with a big thank you to Iris970 (again) for suggesting I write this and for all her great recommendations early on—this story would not have been the same without you!
Also, thank you to everyone who read, subscribed, and/or left kudos or comments—I really appreciate all your kind words and support!
I’ll be starting another multi-chapter work soon (I like having something long to research and work on), but I haven’t completely settled on what it will be. I was thinking something from the 1780s, when Philip and Angelica were little, but I’m open to suggestions if anyone has them.
Again, thank you all so much!!