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the one you call sister

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1777

My love –

There never was, I think, such an infamous act committed by one sister against another. Think of my plight when the household discovered you gone, with nothing left behind – nothing, that is, but a tumble of trinkets on your dressing table, a riot of gowns you must have judged too unfashionable for your new life, innumerable memories of you around every corner, the echoes of your laugh and your voice raised to scold – and your letter. Was that kind, I ask you, was that the act of a loving sister, to leave that letter for your loyal Eliza, to leave me to tell our family that you had not indeed been kidnapped by marauders or vanished by magic? But perhaps you were kidnapped, by a handsome banditti, or stolen away by a magic higher than any you have known before. And if that was the case, my dearest rogue, then I must forgive you. How could I ask you to resist?

The scene you missed – the scene you left for me: Father swore. Mother wept. Peggy pressed against doors so furiously to listen that I feared she would flatten the side of her head in such a way as to scare off future suitors. Your faithful correspondent obfuscated and explained and coaxed and cajoled until you would be quite proud of me – one would almost think you had left me your golden tongue with your letter.

Our family is resigned to your rash action – send another letter, my love, and I have no doubt they will send you their forgiveness and their wishes for your happiness. I have done my best for you, and I ask only one thing in return – that you spill out to me all your secrets, in detail as great as you dare. Spare not your blushes – nor mine!

I jest, my sweet – or do I? In truth, I ask only one thing, in payment for my efforts on your behalf. Tell me you are happy, and in love, and that I may see my new handsome brother and my old beloved sister soon, soon.

Your loving sister,

Eliza

 

Sweetest of sisters –

This letter is late, I know, unforgivably so, I know, or would be, were I to write it to anyone less understanding than my Eliza. She, I know, would forgive me anything, and glad I am that it is so, given all my faults and flaws! As penance for my indolence I should list all my sins, but I shall spare both of us that.

Sister, marriage is – a strange thing. All my glib words, so used to trip from my golden tongue as you call it, and here I am abandoned by them all in the very hour I need them most, to bare my mind to my sister as I always have. To see me you would think me unchanged, except for a certain daringness in dress that Father would have frowned on, but that my husband indulges in me. My husband – another strange word, my tongue still trips on it. It is due to lack of practice, I suppose, and I must endeavor to accustom myself to it, and to him.

It should be an easy task, as my husband (still so strange to see that word) seeks my happiness in all things. I am showered with gifts and compliments and sweet words, till I feel quite encircled about with his love. Love, another strange word – who can describe it to another? Not I; words fail me. How strange. That has never happened before.

My father’s letter arrived, with his kind forgiveness, which I know I deserve not at all. How you obtained it for me, my love, I can imagine, and when I think of it I rejoice in the love of a good and faithful heart, which I know I also do not deserve, but will endeavor to. One day, perhaps, I will be able to repay you with my own efforts on your behalf. Take it as a sacred oath – I will keep my promise. You have always deserved it.

Your loving sister,

Angelica

 

1797

My dear sister –

What a brief note you have sent me, only one sheet of paper and that not even covered front and back! How eager I was, when I saw the thick envelope with your handwriting in the day’s mail, and how jealous – yes, that is the word, I admit it, jealous, when Alexander retrieved such a long missive for himself, and left me only one lonely page. You must imagine me pouting and sulking, you neglectful thing. My only saving grace was the excerpt Alexander read out to me, full of your good advice and clear thought and your voice, which I can only describe as Angelica’s. How I wish I could hear it today.

The children are well, and clever, and delightful, and another time I shall write you pages and pages of all their witty sayings and charming adventures. Not this time. My letter shall be as brief as yours. Not to punish you (perhaps a little), but because I have determined to tell you something, and I must write it and post the letter before I change my mind.

Sister, I am loved. I know it, if I know anything. But I am also – how foolish to say it, as I look around at my children growing like flowers, at my handsome home, at my husband who loves me. But I must say it to someone.

Angelica, I am lonely.

Sister, I am loved, I know it. But I am not as complex as a Constitution or as cantankerous as a Congress, and sometimes, sometimes, I think I might prefer a plain husband to a genius in my bed or in my arms. But that is not right – there is no one I prefer to him, but I would prefer my own genius in my bed, in my arms, where he belongs, instead of locked in his office or in his endless arguments over the state of our nation. His work is important, I know, but surely it is not the only thing of importance in his life – in our life?

I am foolish to think this, and more foolish to write this, and even more foolish to seal this letter and send it, but I shall seal it and send it anyway, to my sister who always understands my foolishness.

Your silly sister,

Eliza

 

My dearest fool –

Oh, Eliza, I must confess that I smiled when I read your letter. Not at your loneliness, my darling, but at how you are still and always yourself. I remember you at six hiding in the garden with a stolen pot of jam from the kitchen, your mouth smeared red with raspberries as you greedily ate all of it at once, determined to devour every last drop. I remember, too, the bellyache that kept both of us up all night, you with your pain and me with your groaning.

Love, I shall take an elder sister’s privilege and scold you, just a little. Are you still that greedy little girl, impatient for what you want, fearful lest it be taken from you before you have had your fill? You have no cause for fear, Eliza – you are loved, as you say, and I am glad to see you say it. You are loved, but Hamilton’s work is vital, and difficult, and it must be done. It must be done, and no one else can do it but your genius. If you will love a genius, you must pay the price. It is only for a time.

And you have time, my love – year and years ahead of you, when the country is on a firm foundation, when your children are launched into their happy lives. You have time, years and years to sit in the shade and share your every thought with your husband, and to listen to his own. Why, I can just hear you, years and years from now, writing me with your complaints that once Hamilton has retired from public life, you have become his only audience for his six-hour speeches!

I tease you, and I scold you, and I know you will forgive me. And I know, I do, that it is not easy, especially for someone with a heart as open as yours, but I offer you this counsel: you have so much ahead of you, so much love and life unfurling before you. My love, you need only wait for it.

Your wise sister,

Angelica

 

Eliza –

Forgive this scrawl but I am in a rush and in a passion. Church has shown me the pamphlet. The pamphlet, my God – words fail me. My love, my love, I am coming, as soon as I can I will be with you – wait for me.

And forgive me, too, the last letter I sent – did you call yourself a fool? I am the fool, to write what I wrote – did I dare scold you? Forgive me those foolish words – burn them from your mind. Better yet, for the love you bear me, burn the letter.

My poor Eliza, I cannot bear to think of you so far away, on your own. Hamilton is mad and I am foolish and my poor Eliza is alone, the only one among us so wise and true.

Eliza, I am coming to you – wait for me.

Angelica

 

1804

My dear Mrs. Caites –

Thank you for your letter and for your condolences to our family. It is a great loss, to our family and to our nation – I cannot speak of it more. He is a great loss.

My sister wishes me to tell you she is well, in response to your kind query. Indeed, she does more than she should; even in the midst of her grief she thinks first of ours. To see her with her children clustered around her at the graveside, clinging to her as she sheltered them like a great oak with roots dug deep into the earth – I cannot speak of it more. You will forgive me.

Thank you for your letter, my friend, and your thoughts, and your prayers. We are in need of them.

Your obedient servant,

Angelica Schuyler Church

 

1854

My dearest Angelica –

I went to the orphanage today. They want me to stay at home, my children and grandchildren, they say I am frail and fragile, but really I am only very old. They don’t like to say that, my children and grandchildren, but they do not deny it when I do!

The day was beautiful and the children were running and laughing in the sunshine. Most of the children, I should say; I found myself drawn to a little girl sitting on her own under a great oak, writing intently on a scrap of paper. I sat down next to her, taking care not to frighten her, though when she looked up at me with her determined eyes I realized my mistake; this was not a girl who frightened easily. Her solitude was her own choice.

“What are you working on, my dear?” I asked her. She looked at me with those grave eyes and said,

“My life story.”

She was rather a plain child, dressed in the simple sturdy uniform all the girls are given, and she showed no particular signs of a glib or golden tongue, but something about her eyes and her fierce voice made me think of you, my sister, so suddenly that I had to turn away to hide my tears.

I miss you, my love. There is no one left who knows our story, yours and mine, no one but me. Is that why I write to you, these letters that will never be sent, as the address cannot be revealed to me until I pass through that veil, to follow Alexander, to follow you? It gives me pleasure, I confess, to imagine you two engaged in a great debate, all these years, to imagine you two together, waiting for me while I finish the work I have been given to do, all this time. It gives me pleasure to imagine you two as you will receive me when I cross over to the other side, both of you smiling at me, and I will hear your voices say my name in harmony one last time.

If you were here, would you scold me for this letter, for my impatience to join you? I think you would smile at it instead, indulging me one last time.

Wait for me, my love. I am coming to you.

Your sister,

Eliza