1776. New York City.
"Angelica!" Peggy called nervously. She gathered her skirts up daintily, just enough to keep them out of a puddle between the cobbles. "Angelica, wait half a moment, will you--?"
Angelica smiled through gritted teeth, holding in a sigh. Peggy always worried too much. No, Peggy always talked too much about how worried she was. "If you're coming, then come along, Peggy."
"This is without a doubt, one of the worst ideas you've had in a lifetime of horrible ideas," Peggy grumbled as she caught up to Angelica and Eliza. "And that includes the time you convinced us it would be marvelously amusing to tie your hair back in a queue and dress you in Philip's breeches and waistcoat."
"Oh, stuff," Angelica laughed. "It was marvelously amusing. I almost fooled Captain Franks. And I nearly convinced Papa to hire us a tutor--a tutor for real subjects, I mean."
"And you nearly got us a whipping," Peggy rejoined.
"Papa would never!" Angelica insisted. "Eliza, tell her. Papa never beat us and never will."
"I don't think he would have beat us," Eliza allowed, but, taking her turn as peacemaker, then she continued, "but he was as cross as I've ever seen him. With us, anyway."
"Well, it's ridiculous that we can't enroll at a college. That we're not even technically allowed on the campus. Just look around, will you!" Angelica spread her arms to include the entire college green. "Oh! There's a coffeehouse. Let's go? There are students in there, I bet they're talking about the capture of Dorchester Heights. Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear what they're saying!"
One look at Peggy's distressed face was enough of an answer. Even Eliza shook her head, scandalized. "Angelica! We can't go into a coffeehouse, what will people say?"
"You two are no fun at all."
"We came down here, even though it's…. against…." Peggy suddenly trailed off. "Oh. My."
Angelica followed her baby sister's gaze. A group of young men, uniformed in the green coats of a New York Militia company, streamed out of a building on the far end of the square. As the young ladies watched, the young men arrayed themselves in a formation and began to drill.
"Okay, I take it back. This is not the worst idea you've ever had." Peggy's hand sought Angelica's, who took it gratefully.
"Why, darling, you're trembling!" Angelica said.
"They're beautiful," Peggy observed. "Oh, Angelica, we're going to be able to hold the city, aren't we?"
"I hope so," Angelica replied, respecting the sudden and serious turn of their conversation. Eliza, too, joined them, taking Angelica's other hand. They stood together, leaning on each other's strength, as they always did.
"We must pray for their safety, and our deliverance," Eliza said softly.
"Yes, especially that tall one," Peggy quipped. She nodded her head toward one of the older boys giving the commands.
"I like the look of the other officer," Eliza commented. Angelica glanced over. Eliza had spoken so mildly that Angelica wasn't even sure Peggy had heard. The second officer was more than a head shorter than the one Peggy spotted, but Eliza was right. He had a grace of movement, and an intensity… and, at least from this distance, a very pleasant face, as well.
To Angelica's surprise, Peggy shifted her focus to the smaller one. "Oh, hm," she murmured. "Well, there are enough of them for each of us." For a moment, she remained deadpan, but as she felt her sisters' shocked eyes on her, she dissolved in a fit of giggles. "This is a bad idea," she said again.
"Oh, Peggy, make up your mind! First it's the most horrible idea in the history of horrible ideas. Then it's a perfectly fine idea. Now it's a horrible idea again. Which is it?"
"I never said it was a good idea. I just said it wasn't the worst ever. We still have to be careful not to lose our...reputations."
Or our hearts, Angelica finished for her. It was always that way--Peggy warned against rule-breaking, but then turned out to be the guiltiest conspirator among them. She knew that Peggy and Eliza were both fantasizing about the, admittedly, gorgeous young men all around them, fearing for their lives, but thrilling at the idea of them as heroes. Angelica valued the students' commitment, their convictions, but something in her knew that she would rather be out there, drilling on the common beside them, taking the country's future in her own hands and assuming equal risk in the war's success, than stand to the side as nothing more than an ornament to their efforts. It simply made no sense to waste her potential, or her sisters', just because they happened to be female. Still, if nothing else, she had her sisters beside her. They looked to her for strength and leadership, and Angelica would die before she would let either of them down.
"Don't worry; she likes you," Peggy assured the young soldier.
"Pardon?" He blinked, then, recognizing her, brightened. "Miss Margarita Schuyler, isn't it?"
She laughed. "Everyone calls me Peggy."
"Ought I to, then?"
"You might as well," she shrugged, "if you're going to be part of the family."
The comment was cuttingly, perfectly timed against his swallow of punch. Coughing, he said, "Am I to become part of the family?" Though the question had a flirtatious tone, she read the seriousness in his eyes.
"If you play your cards right. Papa already loves you, so you're more than halfway there."
"Oh? I get the sense you've a plan for the other half." He offered his arm, a tiny bit too belatedly for perfect manners, but within an acceptable span. She placed a gloved hand lightly in the bend of his elbow and allowed him to escort her through the crowded room.
"Eliza values honesty. No empty flattery. She's also impressed by intelligence, so I hope you're as clever as everyone says."
"I'm clever enough, I think," he said. It wasn't cocky, but it wasn't modest, either. Confident, she decided.
"She's actually seen you before. We all have. But I don't know if she'll ever mention it." At his intrigued inquiry, she went on to describe the drill on the green at King's College.
"My old company," he said with nostalgia. "Most all of us are now in the regular Continentals. Miss Schuyler...where are you going with this?"
"You're going to write her letters, aren't you? Well, I can help tell you what to say. I'll also get Papa to invite you to dine with us at least once more while you're here. Angelica will support it, particularly if I pretend it's all moving too quickly."
He paused to consider her strategy. "Thank you, I think. Your sister is entirely captivating, it's true, but what makes you so sure I'm the man for her?"
Peggy raked her eyes across his face. "You're sincere. You don't hold back on opinions or what you think is right. My sister is not one for dissembling, as I said. And, in wartime, I think, we may all be forgiven for swift courtships." She gazed across the room as she said this, but was careful not to let her glance linger too long on one particular uniformed figure.
"Life doesn't wait, so why should we?" he mused. "That's rather sensible of you. But I still don't understand...why are you helping me?"
"Because Eliza likes you." She narrowed her eyes at him, wrinkling her nose. "I thought you said you were clever. It's not hard to judge. Just look at her, she can't stop grinning ever since you two spoke."
He followed her instruction. Eliza's gaze sought him out and their eyes connected. She beamed momentarily, then remembered herself and looked away shyly. He turned back to Peggy with a similarly goofy smile, but the tension that had prompted her to speak to him in the first place had eased somewhat. "She is beyond a doubt one of God's loveliest creatures," he said, almost to himself. To her, he said: "Forgive me, but between you and Miss Angelica…. Is this form of...cooperation common among sisters?"
Peggy shrugs artfully. She could tell from his puzzlement that he had no sisters of his own. It was another fact she filed away for later use. "It's common among Schuyler sisters, anyway."
"Do they return the favour?"
"After a fashion. I always wind up getting what I want, in the end. Sometimes it takes a little work, is all."
"Ah. And what is it you want, then, Miss Schuyler?"
She blushed. He didn't even mean to flirt with her, and he was far too short and small for her taste, but those eyes were magnetic. A girl could give up her secrets to eyes like those. "At this moment, I want my sister to be happy. And I'm going to make sure you make her happy."
"What do you suggest?"
She laid it out for him, how she would provide information to fuel his letters, in exchange for his support when she made good her own plan to escape with her own man in uniform. He agreed readily, and their correspondence began from that night. Peggy had a new co-conspirator.
Eliza missed her sisters. Poor Peggy, lost in the same blink of the eye that took her beloved son and her precious daughter. Angelica had been there for her, then, and she for Angelica. For the sister they had always taken for granted, but who, it turned out, had been their greatest culprit in all the adventures of their lives. She could never suppress a smile when she remembered all the ways Peggy had saved them--like the time she had single-handedly and coolly convinced a Redcoat that there was a platoon of Continentals about to arrive, sending him running and rescuing baby Catherine in the process.
Where Peggy's prim exterior had masked a deeper streak of insouciance, Angelica's ambitions had been baldly painted for all to see. Eliza was still amazed by her sister's easy ability to mingle with the political and intellectual elite. If their world had been but a little different, Eliza knew, Angelica might have stood in the chambers of Congress as a delegate, herself. Even with the limitations placed upon her by an unequal society, Angelica had managed to influence, push and prod the men around them. Her bold, confident surety had been as attractive to men as her form and grace. Between the two of them, Eliza often felt the odd duck--though in her more introspective moments, she acknowledged her own quiet strengths.
She needed those quiet strengths, now more than ever. A series of devastations had tumbled, one after the other, in what seemed like an inexhaustible bevy of life's trials, until Eliza wondered just how much more she was meant to endure. Her Hamilton gone, far too early, and the state of his finances--their finances--in such disarray. The irony of it made her want to vomit, but there was no time for indulgent self-pity, when the children needed food and clothes and she could not pause for grief. Angelica had been there, then.
That was ten years ago already, and in all the time since, she had leaned on her sister, as much as she had that day, so long ago, on the college green, when the three Schuyler sisters had stood together in a line, praying for the safety of the young militiamen who would defend New York. That was also the day she had first glimpsed the man who would become her husband. She never told him that she'd seen him from afar that day, but somehow, he'd known. In one of his many letters, he had mentioned it. He had described the tableau with more accuracy than she thought possible. Years later, she asked Angelica if she had told Hamilton about the way they stood and watched the Hearts of Oak drilling on the common. Angelica had denied it. "Believe me, my darling, I barely connected the two incidents until I read his letter, myself." That only left Peggy. She and Angelica had both marveled at how quietly and thoroughly Peggy had played her role in Eliza's match. There were dozens of other incidents, too, which examined with the benefit of hindsight, betrayed Peggy's unseen hand in matters. She never told them her plans--they just always seemed to work out exactly as any of them would have wished. For the most part. It was one of the ways Peggy had been there for her.
Angelica and Peggy had both been there for her, too, years before, when she had undergone one of the worst phases of her marriage. Hamilton's infidelity was bad enough, but the scandal it caused, and worst, its impact on their children, was nearly unforgivable. Angelica had fiercely interposed herself, sparing her the sight of the man who had hurt her. But Angelica had found it hard to meet her eye, from time to time, as well. There had always been rumours about her sister and her husband--rumours which Eliza never believed, and which she knew Angelica would never have allowed to become reality. Yet in the face of his bald, unrelenting honesty, Angelica was, if possible, even more angry and implacable than Eliza herself. It was almost as if she, and not Eliza, had been betrayed. Or perhaps she was nursing an unspoken, unbidden jealousy that if he had had to cheat, he had not done so with her.
But Peggy had never felt the same attraction to Hamilton as Eliza could sometimes see spark in Angelica. Peggy came, too, to her sister's defense, but where she was outraged with Hamilton, she was not blind to the realities of the situation. She knew that Eliza loved him too much to leave, and that doing so would in many ways damage him worse than his own confessions had done. Where Angelica advised her to shut him out, cut him off, Peggy had known, as Eliza had, that the only way forward was to heal the breach. Even if doing so was painful and awkward, and even if it would never be quite the same again. Somehow, Peggy had managed to bridge the gaps among them all--buffer the pains and the years of unspoken tension, long kept safely deep at sea, which Alexander's unthinking actions had brought crashing onto the shore. Peggy's friendship with Alexander had suffered, of course, but she was able to act as intermediary in a way that Angelica could not. It had really been Peggy who brokered peace for the family.
And now, Peggy was gone. Hamilton was gone. And...Angelica was gone. Angelica, who had spent every moment of the last ten years by Eliza's side, who together with her had already organized so much of Hamilton's writing and helped her to locate and interview all the soldiers of his acquaintance that they could find. Angelica who had the ability to cut Jefferson down with a well-placed word, to Eliza's bitter relief. They had been through so much together, still leaning on each other, two thirds of the strong base that had been the Schuyler sisters. Now Eliza was alone in a way she had never felt before. For perhaps one of the first times in her life understood how her husband could take solace in his work. Always before, she had had the work, yes, but she had had Angelica to help her with it. Now, her work alone would have to give her strength. Her children gave her strength. Her own children, the ones she and Hamilton had raised (or begun to raise) together...and the children at the orphanage.
When Eliza felt that her projects and goals were beyond reach, she would take the brisk walk to the orphanage. There, her concerns seemed paltry, and the slights against her petty. She went there often. People praised her dedication; they did not believe her when she said she was the most selfish benefactress on the Board. There was a young girl there, only six, who reminded her so much of Peggy it sometimes hurt. But she was so full of life, and, like her sister, all mischief underneath a veneer of propriety. Like Angelica, she combined a fearless hunger to learn with a clever and agile ability to succeed. Like Hamilton, she fervently pursued her goals. Eliza wondered if, at fifty-eight, she was too old to adopt another child....
Her sisters were gone, but she leaned on them still. She drew upon Peggy's ingenuity when she had to wheedle and manipulate men to donate to her causes. She drew on Angelica's wisdom and intellect when she had to pore long hours over documents she barely understood, annotating and connecting the trails of breadcrumbs that her husband had left behind. She drew on her own pride and self-control when she faced men who wanted to tear down his legacy. She drew on his own indomitable spirit when she felt hers despair. She was all that was left, now. And she'd be damned if she didn't do her best--better than her best--to keep them all alive inside her.
Today, she would not be able to go to the orphanage. But she could cover the short span between the fresh grave and the older ones. It was about time to pay a visit, anyway. As the mourners turned away, she remained, staring at the fresh earth. Finally, she stepped forward and plucked a rose from the bouquet that Alexander, Jr. had laid there at her instruction. Flower in hand, she walked across the rows to the familiar marker. She stood at the grave a long, long time. James Alexander hovered nearby but she ignored him. She placed the rose at the headstone and sent up a prayer. "You never had sisters of your own, my love, but now you are reunited with two of mine. Watch over each other, my dear one," she told the tombstone. "And watch over me. I have so much work to do."