The Hamiltons: Part 2

by Rachel Lesch 2 years ago in literature

Like My Father, But Bolder

The Hamiltons: Part 2

Philip Hamilton had not seen his mother smile in months. First, there had been the scandal of Father's affair and then the tragedy of Aunt Peggy's sudden death.

Mamma had grown thin and pale. Her lovely face looked haggard; its dark eyes had lost their brilliance and the fine cheek bones had become more pronounced.

She decided to take Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza upstate for a month to visit Grandfather in Albany. When she returned, the warm, kind, at sometimes mischievous, sparkle had returned to her eyes, her cheeks had a girlish, pretty blush, and she was smiling, the brilliant, reassuring smile Philip remembered. The smile that could make even the worst of his childhood nightmares go away.

Philip had hoped that things would improve between his father and mother but her treatment of him continued to alternate between bitter hostility and cold indifference. Before the trip to Albany, Father had done everything he could to win Mother back but since she had returned, he seemed to be avoiding her and treated her with icy resentment. An example of this had occurred earlier that morning. Mother had been in the parlor with Aunt Angelica, who had returned from London after Aunt Peggy's death. Father walked in and Aunt Angelica asked him if he was going with them to the Fourth of July picnic that afternoon.

"I'm sure the two of you could amuse themselves without me," Father responded with barely concealed bitterness.

"They were happy once," Philip thought, "Why can't they be happy again? Why can't things just go back to the way they were before?"

Angie was searching for her cat, Bramble, in the garden. She also brought a basket filled with bread crumbs to feed the birds.

"Bramble," she called, sprinkling the bread crumbs so that the sparrows and wrens would swoop down and peck at them. The high pitched chirping of the sparrows and the jumbled squeals of the wrens blended to together in one song.

"Angie!" Philip shouted to her as he walked out onto the porch.

"Is it time for us to go to the picnic?" she responded.

"Not yet, in a few minutes."

Philip, who usually did not care much about his appearance, was wearing a stylish pair of buff colored breeches and dark gray jacket and waistcoat. His cravat was starched and impeccably tied.

"Now where are you going dressed like that?" Angie teased, "Will Theodosia Burr be at the picnic today?"

"Will Mr. Van Ness be there as well?"

After returning from London, Aunt Angelica had thrown herself with gusto into the business of finding Angie a husband. Cornelius Van Ness was the latest candidate.

A flock of birds landed to feast upon a pile of breadcrumbs and chattered to one another.

"I wonder if they are arguing and arguing and not getting anything done like Papa says Congress does."

Such a statement was typical of Angie, who had always possessed an overactive imagination and usually came up with their games of make believe.

They heard Bramble meowing under a dogwood bush. Her tail curled into the shape of a question mark as she plotted a pounce on one of the birds.

"Don't even think about it, Little Girl!" Angie picked Bramble up and cradled her like a baby. The cat struggled to free herself while Angie stared off into the distance, stroking her fur. The months had been hard on her as well. Jamie and Alex were away at school and did not have to see how tense things were between Mother and Father, who put on a good face whenever they were home; Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza were too young to notice what was going on. It was up to Philip and Angie to shield their younger siblings.

Alexander should have known this was coming when his wife returned from her visit upstate, looking happier and more alive than she had in a long time. He had foolishly hoped that things would get better between the two of them until he discovered a line in a scandal rag which read

"If the gossip from Albany be true, it seems that General Ham., that notorious Paris, has been forced to play the role of Menelaus. Perhaps the fair Mrs. Ham. has got one over her august husband."

He had not thought much of this at first. His enemies, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, often hired hacks to fling muck at him to see what would stick. But since there was usually no smoke without a fire, he had confronted Eliza about it. She stood there, stoically, in front of him and answered the charge in the affirmative. Like the boom of a cannon, her words had made his ears ring from the shock.

"What is his name?" he had demanded of her.

"Joseph Ackerman," she responded.

"Do you love him?"

"Did you love Maria Reynolds?"

"She's a duplicitous whore; completely unworthy of love!"

He had expected her to swoon, weep, and beg for his forgiveness the way Maria had when he discovered her betrayal but Eliza stood upon her dignity.

"I will spare you the details," was all she had to say before picking up the hem of her skirt and flouncing out of the room.

He was tempted to ask how she could have done this to him but he knew all too well. She wanted to pay him back for all the hurt and humiliation she had suffered because of him. He had feared she would do as much.

Joseph Ackerman was someone he was vaguely acquainted with. He came from an illustrious family that had been a fixture of New York society since its first Dutch settlers. Very wealthy from land and business. Ackerman himself was a widower with a young family; respectable to the point of being somewhat dull. Not someone who had a reputation for being a roué.

Alexander considered challenging the man to duel but quickly scrapped the idea. It would make him look like a hypocrite since he had often spoken about the idiocy of dueling. No, he would wound Ackerman with a weapon he had much more skill with.

"Joseph Ackerman is among the vilest of rakes and cads," he began to write, "and receives the utmost pleasure from debauching ladies of previously impeccable virtue. He is not to be trusted around any respectable woman, whether she be wife or maiden."

"Alexander!"

He looked up from his writing to see his sister-in-law Angelica standing in the doorway of his office with an expression which would have put Medusa to shame.

Angelica was slightly taller than her sister Eliza and more delicate of frame and feature. She had a long, pale, soulful face which had an exquisite beauty but which could turn suddenly to the horror of fury when she was angry. The wraithlike effect was heightened by Angelica's pale gray half-mourning dress.

"Angelica," he responded to her, "aren't you supposed to be leaving for the picnic?"

"What are you writing?"

"After I publish this in the New York Post, that scoundrel Ackerman won't dare show his face in New York ever again. He's lucky I'm not going to put a bullet in his temple."

"And you think that will make Eliza come running back to you?"

"A husband has the right to defend his wife's honor."

"Even if that wife despises you?"

Touché, Alexander thought.

"You brought this all on yourself, you know?"

"All too well, Angelica, all too well."

"Eliza doesn't love you anymore. She doesn't even respect you. The only reason she hasn't left you for Ackerman is because of the children."

Alexander knew this all too well. She had exiled him from her bed and invited someone else in. Meanwhile, the world was laughing at him and saying he had it coming.

"What does Church say about your affairs?"

"He turns a blind eye if I turn a blind eye to his."

Not many people would be inclined to pity Angelica Church: still as beautiful as ever; married to a wealthy and prominent man; adored by the cream of American and European society. But behind that dazzling façade, life had not been as charmed as it might seem.

"Aunt Angelica, the carriage is about to leave," Angie called from the hallway.

"I'll be right, there," Angelica answered.

Angie stepped in and walked over to her father's desk.

"Papa, have you changed your mind about coming with us to the picnic."

"Sorry, Sweetheart," Alexander responded, "I have so much work to get done."

Angelica refused to believe the gossip which said her sister had an affair, at first, because such behavior was completely out of Eliza's character. But Eliza confided in her soon after she returned from Albany, weeping and saying she was sinful and wicked and wished she was dead.

Eliza had never been the type to actively seek out attention. She always seemed unaware of the considerable charms which nature had endowed her with and preferred to stand off to the side. Angelica feared that she would be wasted on some dullard with only wealth or family name to recommended him. When Eliza became engaged to Alexander, Angelica had been thrilled. Alexander was handsome, brilliant, and captivating, just the sort of man she had always wanted for her sister. They had a lot in common, and Angelica took to him right away.

"Damn him," she thought as the carriage pulled away, "I always thought no man would ever be good enough for Eliza. Now I know it's true. Damn him! And damn that simpering, illiterate trollop and her pimp husband."

The Fourth of July picnic was held at the Bowling Green in lower Manhattan. They arrived early enough to claim a shady spot under a large tree.

The day was oppressively warm, heavy, and humid. A thin, cottony layer of clouds covered the sky but did nothing to block the burning July sunlight.

Eliza held a little eyelet lace parasol over her head and fluttered a large painted silk French fan to keep herself cool. Willy sat on her lap and occasionally she would put down her fan and compulsively run her fingers through the little boy's downy brown hair.

She closed her eyes and thought about Joseph Ackerman. Joseph was good looking but unflashy; not a man that a woman would instantly notice. A somewhat drab robin compared to the scarlet cardinal that was her husband. While Alexander tended to treat most women with gallantry, and a trifle flirtatiousness, no other woman seemed to matter to Joseph when Eliza was around. He had somewhat shaggy brown hair and large brown, dog-like, eyes and looked the part of a faithful hound.

She wished she could say that she no longer loved Alexander; that it was Joseph she now loved. But it was not true. Her affair with him had been merely a balm to soothe her wounded heart. Joseph had made her feel like young belle being courted again, that was it. He was a good man and he loved her and she wished she could give him her heart, which was occupied by her husband.

She hated Alexander, so much that she felt as though she might boil over whenever she thought about him. But hatred and love were two sides of the same coin. Alexander had obviously never loved her, even though he had claimed to many times. If he ever had, he would never have betrayed and humiliated her the way he had. She could not reconcile his professions of devotion with his infidelity. He had known its consequences and how it would hurt her and yet he did it anyway because he was selfish and uncaring not complex or fallible. She felt not a pang of sympathy for him now that he was ruined and laughing stock.

Human frailty be damned.

Angelica was dawdling Little Eliza on her knee.

"What a shame you will never know your Aunty Peggy," she said to the little girl, "She had a trim little figure and the whitest skin with the rosiest cheeks, big blue eyes and glossy dark curls, and was always dressed in the height of fashion. She looked like a Pandora doll. Did I ever tell you all about how she faced down a tomahawk wielding Indian."

"A million times, Aunt Angelica," Philip added. He and Angie rolled their eyes in unison. Even though they were two years apart, they were sometimes more like twins.

"And now is the millionth and first," Angelica continued to speak to Little Eliza, "When your Mamma was pregnant with your big brother Philip, a group of nasty Tories and fearsome Indians came to try to take your Grandpapa prisoner. We all hid upstairs but soon realized that we left your Aunt Catherine, who was just a tiny baby at the time, downstairs. Your Aunt Peggy rushed back downstairs but was threatened by an Indian, who demanded to know where your Grandpapa was. To which she replied, "gone to alarm the town." Oh, how those nasty Tories fled, but not before Aunt Peggy's Indian foe threw his tomahawk at her head. It missed her but nicked the banister, which is still there to this day."

Angie lifted her glass of lemonade and said: "To Aunt Peggy."

"To Aunt Peggy," everyone else responded.

Later on in the afternoon, Cornelius Van Ness paid his respects to Angie. The young man was obviously infatuated with her; he would not be courting a girl whose family was mired in controversy and scandal if he was not. But she was a scion of the Schuyler clan, which was no small thing to be and the daughter of a disgraced but still influential man, and a beauty, with her aunt and namesake's long, fetching features and her father's violet blue eyes and rosy, delicate Scottish complexion. Her hair color was a perfect blend of the Schuyler chestnut and the Hamilton Auburn.

After Van Ness's visit, Philip and Angie went for a stroll, during which she confided to him that she was not sure if she wanted to marry Van Ness but if he were to make her an offer, she would say yes if only to get out of the cold and tense atmosphere she found at home, with Mother and Father constantly sniping at each other.

"Philip, Angelica," a deep, haughty voice called over to them.

They turned around to see Aaron Burr with his daughter Theodosia and her new husband, Joseph Alston.

"Hello Philip," Theodosia said.

Philip turned away from her and did not respond.

"Are your parents here?" Mr. Burr continued.

"My mother is," Angie responded, "She's here with my aunt, Mrs. Church."

Angie directed Mr. Burr to where their party was sitting.

"Mr. Burr," Eliza said, "Its been too long."

Mr. Burr swept a courtly bow.

"Likewise Mrs. Hamilton," he responded, "Your husband is not with you?"

"Work detains him home today, but my sister, Mrs. Church, has come to keep me out of trouble."

He swept another bow and greeted Angelica with a "your servant, madam." Angelica curtsied.

"You remember my daughter, Theodosia?" he continued.

"Oh yes, how are you, my dear."

"Newly married, Mrs. Hamilton,"

Theodosia responded.

She gently clasped Mr. Alston's arm.

"This is Mr. Joseph Alston of South Carolina."

"Congratulations, you're a lucky man, Mr. Alston."

"I consider myself greatly so, Madam."

Alston gazed down adoringly at his bride. He was a tall, slim young man. Good looking but somewhat foppish.

Mr. Burr bid them good-day and his party moved on.

At three o'clock, the speeches began. The first speaker was a young lawyer named George Eacker, who praised Thomas Jefferson for preserving the ideals of the Constitution and protecting the fledgling nation from the monarchical tyranny that Hamilton wished to inflict upon it. Hamilton, the Mephistopheles leading a young and impressionable country away from its original purity.

And his corrupt nature extended into his personal life as well. He had betrayed his wife with a certain Mrs. Reynolds, the basest of harlots, and bragged about it to the public under the guise of clearing his name of embezzlement charges. Not that Mrs. Hamilton was deserving of pity. She was the sister of the notorious adulteress, Mrs. Church, and some of Mrs. Church's habits must have rubbed off on her. Recently, she had seduced a widower grieving his late wife. Yes, both Hamiltons were duplicitous and untrustworthy; a pair worthy of comparison to Shakespeare's Macbeths.

Eliza noticed the same look of percolating anger on Philip's face that she had seen countless times on Alexander whenever his enemies thwarted him or tried to blacken his name.

"That loud mouthed fool," Philip fumed to Angie, "Jefferson does nothing but sit around at Monticello and daydream. If this country runs with any semblance of efficiency, it is because of Father. And to say such things about mother... how could any man who calls himself a gentleman stoop so low."

Angie put her hand on Philip's shoulder.

"Just ignore it, Philip," she said.

"I can't Angie. Eacker will pay for this slander."

"...Now his fluttering wings outspread, three times he bless'd the bridal bed..." Alexander read aloud a poem that his friend James McHenry had written to celebrate the wedding. He turned to Eliza, who was sitting next to him on the bed putting on her stockings, "It was more than three times from what I remember."

Eliza blushed.

Alexander picked up his new wife's leg and placed it on the bed. He slowly inched up her stocking, kissing her calf and thigh as he did so. Eliza tied a pink garter where the top of her stocking met the hem of her shift.

"Read me more of the poem," she said.

McHenry's verses portrayed them as a classical hero and his fair nymph cavorting about their bridal bower in flowery language.

Alexander reluctantly got out of bed and began to put on his uniform. Today he had to leave to rejoin the army at New Windsor. The few weeks he had been able to spend with his bride had gone by much too quickly.

"If I die soon after my return," he told her, "I will have died a very happy man."

"You'll do no such thing, Alexander Hamilton," Eliza responded, "I have no intention of becoming a widow so soon."

"Surely my Betsey wouldn't deny me the honor of a glorious death?"

"Yes, I do. I can live with an ordinary husband but I can't live with a dead one."

"Very well, Betsey wills it so."

Eliza got up and put on her corset, which Alexander helped her lace. She produced a wooden busk carved with lovers knots that he had made for her during their engagement.

The words "près de ton Coeur" (next to your heart) were inscribed on it.

"More like: entre tes seins," Angelica had quipped.

Alexander slid the busk into a sleeve in front of her corset, entre ses seins. Eliza reached up to help him tie his cravat, then kissed his cheek and then his neck.

"Again Betsey?" he asked, "If you keep this up, I won't have the will to leave."

"That's the point," she cooed.

She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him back down onto the bed.

"You're going to wear me out, my girl."

He gave a final kiss before mounting his horse to ride back to the front. Eliza picked up her skirts and ran after him, wanting to have him in her sight as long as she could. She stopped, panting, at the fence which marked the boundaries of her family's estate.

Alexander turned his horse around to face her.

"I love you, Betsey," he called before galloping off on his way.

"God speed, husband!" she responded, "Make those damn red coats tremble."

The first thing people saw when they came into the parlor was a portrait of Eliza by James Sharples looking down at them with an amiable expression, warmly welcoming guests to her home when the woman herself could not be there. Sharples had tactfully left out the age lines and gray hairs that time and the sorrows and joys it brought had marked her with but the face that he painted with its spirited dark eyes and strong, graceful cheekbones was little different from the face that had captivated Alexander all those years ago. It was the face of a remarkably handsome woman who, though she lacked Angelica's dazzling charm and Peggy's doll-like grace, had something the prettiest and most charming woman could envy.

Compared to her, Maria Reynolds was a cheap glass bauble next to a priceless pearl.

In light of recent events, the portrait had taken on a different character. Alexander had begun to see his wife's painted smile as sly and coquettish; the smile of the woman who had betrayed him.

Eliza's main crime was disrupting the division that men liked to keep between the "good" women they claimed to love and respect and took for granted and "bad" women they enjoyed and exploited.

Perhaps Eliza was worse than Maria, who had thrown herself at him out of desperation and then at the instigation of her dastardly husband. Eliza had taken up with Ackerman simply out of spite and to soothe her wounded pride.

He himself was in no position to judge these two women. It had been vanity and arrogance that had made him take Maria as a paramour. Vanity to think that a lovely and seductive young thing like her could love him. Arrogance to think that he could have his cake and eat it too, to have his wife for conjugal comforts, and his mistress for illicit bliss.

Sitting back down at his desk, Alexander jokingly considered writing a blackmail letter to Ackerman, saying that he must pay up if he wished to continue enjoying Eliza's favors. That was what cuckolded husbands did was it not?

He began making corrections to a letter than Angie had written to Virginie du Motier. There were plenty of mistakes in Angie's French. The poor girl had never gotten the hang of the language.

Then he penned a warm letter of greeting to Mademoiselle du Motier's parents, the Marquis and Marquise de Lafayette.

"Father?"

Alexander looked up from his writing to see Philip standing over him.

"Yes, Phil, what is troubling you?"

The poor boy had been looking mopey and distracted for the past week and Alexander thought he knew exactly what the problem was.

"Was Miss Theodosia Burr, or should I say Mrs. Joseph Alston, at the Fourth of July picnic?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, I knew you were sweet on her."

"Father..."

"Perhaps it's all for the best. You're much too young to settle down. Sew your wild oats a little while longer, the right girl will show up. I was turned down twice before I met your mother."

"Father, that's not what I came to speak to you about."

"Then what is it?"

"I've gotten involved with an affair of honor."

"With who?"

"George Eacker. He publicly blackened your name and insulted Mother's honor. He called you greedy and corrupt and said that Mother was an adulteress. I was not about to let him get away with these insults, so I challenged him to a duel."

"Oh Phil, I don't think you understand what you've gotten yourself into. Duels are not a game. You could kill this Eacker or end up dead yourself."

"I understand this perfectly well, but if I do not go through with it, I will be branded a coward."

The boy is right, Alexander thought.

He had faced down angry mobs and British canons when he was Philip's age. Philip was a Hamilton to his very core, surely he could handle one hothead with a pistol.

Knowing that Philip would go through with this madness with or without his permission, Alexander arranged for his son to borrow his Uncle Church's dueling pistols and take a ferry boat across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

Eliza knew something was suspicious when she saw Philip leave the house well before dawn. Her son usually did not get out of bed until noon if he could help it.

Then she had received a message from Angelica.

"Come quickly," it read, "It's Phil."

She dashed off to Angelica's house and found her son spread out on the bed, the pure whiteness of his shirt marred by a massive blood stain. Alexander had arrived before her and so had Dr. Hosack, an acquaintance of theirs.

"What is going on?" she demanded of her husband.

"He was shot," Alexander explained, "The bullet struck his hip and went through his body and lodged in his left arm. The wound has since become infected. Dr. Hosack has done everything he could but there's little that can be done."

"How on earth did he get shot?"

"He was in a duel, with a George Eacker."

"George Eacker, the young man who made that speech?"

"Eacker slandered our family. Phil felt he had to defend its honor."

"He is your son after all."

Eliza knelt by her son's bedside and took his hand. She watched the rise and fall of his chest as he struggled to breathe.

"I didn't shoot him, Mother," Philip said, "I meant to throw away my shot but Eacker fired before I could finish counting to ten."

"My sweet boy," Eliza bent over and kissed his forehead.

"I was brave, Father. My seconds can attest that I behaved with manly dignity."

Alexander stroked the hair off of Philip's feverish brow and murmured "dear Phil."

The rise and fall of the boy's chest became less pronounced and slowly ceased altogether. Dr. Hosack checked his pulse and announced that their son was no more.

What had once been Philip lay peacefully in the bed as if in a pleasant sleep. It struck them how young he had been. His face still had a babyish softness and could only grow the faintest of peach fuzz.

Eliza broke down weeping. Alexander put a hand on her shoulder.

"Don't touch me," she hissed, "Why didn't you die instead of Phil?"

She continued sobbing and mumbled that God had punished them for their sins. Alexander looked at his son's lifeless body and his grief racked wife and thought that he could have prevented all of this. His selfish and reckless decisions had triggered a series of events which had lead to the death of his beloved eldest child. If he had just given Maria Reynolds the money she needed and sent her on her way, he would never have gotten entangled with her crook of a husband and humiliated himself by publicly airing the whole sordid business. Eliza would never have strayed from him and there would be no gossip to feed scandalmongers like George Eacker. Philip's fatal duel would never have happened.

"I've failed," he thought, "As a husband, as a father, and as a man."

Eliza was right, it should have been him, who was dead, not innocent, good hearted Phil who had never wronged anyone but apparently, God was cruel enough to make a child pay for the sins of his father.

During the carriage ride home, both Alexander and Eliza wounded how they were going to break the news of Philip's death to the rest of their children, who all adored him as their big brother.

Angie was in the parlor and at her piano. She was playing Yankee Doodle, which she and Philip used to make Alexander sing for them when they were little. Tyson was dozing on the hearth rug but shot right up when he saw his master.

Alexander scratched him behind the ears. Angie noticed their morose expressions and knew instantly that the worst had happened. She got up from her piano and rushed to hug her mother.

"I knew something was wrong; I knew it," she sobbed, "When I woke up this morning, I had a feeling that something terrible would happen and then I heard that Phil went to that duel..."

Eliza went upstairs to the nursery to tell Johnny, Willy, and Little Eliza that their brother, Phil, was with God. Alexander sat down at his desk to write to the headmaster of Jamie and Alex's school to ask him to grant the two boys a leave because of a family tragedy. Then they would have to plan the funeral, which both of them doubted that they had the strength to get through.

Dolley brought up the day's mail to Alexander's office, unknowingly leaving in a letter to Eliza from Ackerman. Alexander opened up the envelope and took out the piece of paper to read it.

"My dearest Betsey," it began. Alexander was horrified that this base rascal had the audacity to call his wife Betsey, "...Your husband does not love you as much as I do. He could never have loved you if he could betray and humiliate the way he did. You deserve so much better than that selfish philanderer. Tell him you never loved him and come away with me. I will help you keep your dear children. Hamilton does not deserve to be their father."

Alexander could only laugh since the law would be on his side, as Eliza's husband and the father of their children, in this matter. Ackerman would not have a leg to stand on in court.

He threw the letter into the fire. Today he had lost his son to that loud-mouthed hot head Eacker, he would not let some seducing snake like Ackerman make off with his wife.

literature
Rachel Lesch
Rachel Lesch
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Rachel Lesch

New England Native; lover of traveling, history, fashion, and culture. Student at Salem State University and an aspiring historical fiction writer. 

See all posts by Rachel Lesch