Philip Hamilton meets Theodosia Burr one bright afternoon in a bookstore.
He doesn't know it at the time, of course. He walks into the store with no agenda save for purchasing a few books for his mother's pleasure. It pains Philip to see her finish a task and then stare off into empty space, only to rouse herself some twenty minutes later and throw herself into another thing to be done. Aunt Angelica was very clear in her instructions: Find some amusing novel to read to her when she needs to rest. She can embroider something if she insists, but she must rest her mind.
The shadows under his mother's eyes frighten Philip. He can defend his father in the streets, but has no answer for the pain that lingers in his mother's house. He takes his aunt's money and vows to find something wonderful.
Philip lingers a few moments over the wide selection of Charles Brockden Brown novels. He has the feeling his mother won't find the murders and panther attacks as exciting as he does, so he lets his hand fall with a sigh. Camilla looks more promising as he leafs through the first chapter. It contains no murders of any kind, as far as he can tell, and the titular heroine seems ladylike enough.
He tucks the volume under his arm and moves on to the next shelf, thinking vaguely of acquiring Thomas Paine's latest pamphlet for his aunt. He's brought to a halt by the sight of the young woman with her head bowed over a book.
His first impression is of fierce concentration; the second, of great beauty. The stranger wears an abstract frown as she stares down at the book clasped in her slim brown hands, and her furrowed brow only contributes to her charm. One dark curl escapes its pins and falls into her eyes; absently, she tucks it behind her ear. This young lady in the sweet white muslin is reading, Philip realizes with bright pleasure; what's more, she looks as though she's thinking about what she reads.
Surely this girl will be impressed if he demonstrates his own learning as well. Both of his aunts and his mother enjoy a good turn of phrase, but all of Philip's usual mental acuity has left him. Clearing his throat, he steps forward and leads with: "Good book?"
The stranger snaps the book shut and hugs it to her chest, obscuring the title. Philip has to keep his eyes fixed firmly upwards, lest she mistake his meaning. "Educational," she murmurs. Her voice is soft yet carries no hesitation; she appears a gently spoken person rather than a shy one. Then she looks at him expectantly, dark eyes bright, and Philip flounders for something to say. He, Philip Hamilton, who can weave charming compliments with no more input than the flutter of a lady's eyelashes! At least his friends aren't here to witness his humiliation.
"Do you enjoy an educational read?" she asks after the silence stretches on too long. She is kind as well as beautiful, Philip thinks admiringly.
"I've just completed my studies at King's College," Philip says, finding his tongue at last. "So many texts in so many languages--I could hardly help acquiring a significant body of knowledge." A pun about significant bodies leaps to mind, but he dismisses it as unworthy of this lady, at least until they are better acquainted.
Her lips curve in a smile worthy of Helen. "And you study novels in your spare time?"
Thank God he didn't pick up a Gothic novel--no, thank his mother's good taste. Philip pretends to examine the novel he's holding as though for the first time. "Oh, my aunt sent me to fetch something light and amusing for my mother," Philip says. "She's been feeling somewhat poorly." To circumvent any further inquiries about his mother's health (imagine telling this lady that his mother is heartbroken over a scandal involving his father!), he glances back down at the book in her arms and asks, "What book are you reading? Do you recommend it?"
Her whole face glows at the question, lit from within as a candle brightens a lamp. "Oh, this is a volume I requested! Ordinarily, I enjoy reading in French to ensure I retain my fluency--"
"As do I," interrupts Philip, feeling more and more ridiculous with his frivolous novel in hand. "But I beg your pardon. Pray continue."
When she smiles wider, two deep dimples appear in her cheeks. "I ordered the English edition of this volume because translators sometimes editorialize you know," she says. She turns the book around so that the title faces toward Philip: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. "I suppose you haven't heard of her work," she says with an arch raise of her eyebrows, her tone implying that if he has, he must surely disagree with it.
This feels like flirting, flirting that requires more wit than a few compliments and coy innuendos. Philip employs a new tactic: the truth. "I confess, I have not," Philip says. "I have been waiting for a lady such as yourself to educate me in these matters."
One charming giggle escapes her before she covers her smile with her hand. Composing herself, she continues, "It is an essay that argues, amongst other things, that women should receive a rational education in order to build a more virtuous and just society. As a lady coming of age with our new nation, I am most eager to learn how my sex might shape its brave future."
"Very well, I'm sure," Philip says, but it makes her frown.
"I'm quite serious," she says. "Here, listen to this: 'Consequently, the most perfect education, in my opinion, is such an exercise of the understanding as is best calculated to strengthen the body and form the heart. What an extraordinary turn of phrase! The truth of it seems so obvious now that I've read it, but were you to ask me yesterday, I would have been unable to make such a succinct argument for the education of all, men and women alike."
Philips nods, mulling her quotation over for a moment before he speaks. "Men of society would be hard-pressed to argue against an effort to strengthen a nation's moral character." His father would certainly agree; he gave sons and daughters alike an excellent education. And yet polite society dares cast aspersions on his father's character now, after he has done so much to shape it.
This time, his words please the beautiful stranger. She reciprocates his nod with a decidedly eager one. "I haven't finished reading the essay yet, but I can see evidence for her argument in ladies of my acquaintance. The most scholarly-minded ones seem to me the most virtuous. The ones denied a vigorous education, whether by financial hardship or their own indolence, are given to frivolity and sensibility. How could it not benefit the nation if all minds were at work, not just those of men? I long for the day when every young woman may study a rigorous program of study such as my father designed for me!"
The more she talks, the more bright her face and the more animated the little gestures she makes to emphasize her point. Philip smiles as he listens, helpless before such beauty and wit. His aunts and his mother would like this girl very much, and he half-wants to invite her over straight away to read to his mother.
When she notices the shopkeeper looking over in their direction, a shadow falls over her face. "I have heard that her biography contains exploits of a scandalous nature. I hope that will not affect your opinion of my character."
"I cannot imagine one such as yourself straying from that which is good and true," Philip says. If she were any other lady, he would be bold enough to take her hand and kiss it. "I have an aunt who is of a scholarly disposition, as you say. She reads a great deal and is well-renowned as an extraordinary mind. She would say that discouraging a lady's education is the work of small-minded men." Indeed, that is exactly what his Aunt Angelica would say: on a visit a few years ago, a family tutor uttered a disparaging remark when his sister Angelica wanted to participate in the same history lesson as her brothers. Hearing of this, Aunt Angelica's lecture was blistering. His mother dismissed the tutor, then quietly let her society friends know that the tutor was not of sound moral character.
"That is most pleasing to hear," she says, those deep dimples reappearing. "Your aunt sounds a great deal like a venerated lady of my father's acquaintance, a Mrs. Angelica Church."
"That is my aunt!" Philip exclaims, delighted. "Then I'm certain our fathers must know each other--My name is Philip Hamilton, and my father is Alexander Hamilton." He speaks his father's name automatically, without a care to what that name might signify in the wake of the infamous pamphlet. His heart gives a queer flutter when her eyes widen. She's heard, then. Philip's mouth tightens. He will not disavow his father for one mistake.
And then, to make matters worse, the lady drops her eyes and murmurs, "My name is Theodosia Burr."
This bewitching creature is not only turned against his father, but the offspring of one who despises him and stole his grandfather's seat in the senate. Etiquette prompts Philip to search for a graceful exit to this conversation. "Then our fathers are acquainted," he says at last. "I must hasten back to my mother. If you will excuse me, I'll purchase my book and be on my way."
Theodosia--her first name is too lovely for him to think of her as Miss Burr--regards him with sorrowful eyes, but her beautiful mouth is set in the same stubborn line as his. "I have enjoyed our conversation, Mr. Hamilton," she says, no more warmly than polite society demands. Gone is the passionate scholar from before.
Philip brings the novel over to the shopkeeper, though he is scarcely able to count out the correct amount for purchase. He does not look to see when Theodosia leaves. When he turns around, the corner she occupied is empty, and he tells himself he does not feel the lack.
There is no reason for Philip to continue thinking of Theodosia Burr's face illuminated with enthusiasm, so he puts her out of mind during a boisterous dinner after his day of book shopping. When his chattering siblings wander off to their own pursuits and the servants clear the plates, Philip offers to read to his mother, as instructed. His aunt smiles her approval, and if her intelligent eyes remind him of Theodosia's, he does not dwell on it, truly.
His mother is so tired that she falls asleep over her sewing the first few nights he reads to her. Philip says nothing; she usually rouses herself before he finishes. He cannot bear to think of why sleep eludes her; chief among his pains is the strife between his mother and father. He divides his heart into two compartments, reserving one for his pride in his father's name and one for his grief in his mother's broken heart. If Theodosia bore any other surname, perhaps a third compartment--but no, he is not thinking of her.
In dreams, Philip walks. Sometimes he is young, walking between his father and mother as they stroll through a garden. Sometimes he is almost of age, escorting his Aunt Angelica as his parents walk before them, their heads bowed in quiet conversation. Sometimes he is with Theodosia, her face radiant as they discuss poetry, his family waiting just on the other side of the garden. When he wakes, he cries to dream again.
The turmoil in his head is enough to put him off his appetite. Now his aunt's concern is no longer reserved for his mother alone. With only a stern gaze at his full plate and then his mother, she is able to convey that he must eat. His mother must not have anything more to worry about. His heart aches at the necessity. How could his father hurt her so? And yet, why does every person feel they have a right to comment on the scandal? That inflames Philip more than anything else, that a man who has not even met his father would dare assume he knows anything of his character. Not all are as polite as Theodosia, though she herself is guilty.
Somehow, his mother bears all the slights with quiet dignity. "I count in my head," she said once, when Aunt Angelica asked how she kept from snapping at smirking society friends. "Being polite is no more difficult than keeping time in a song."
Philip tries to heed her advice when men--he refuses to call them gentlemen--make careful allusions to his questionable heritage. He plays his mother's voice over theirs: Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf…
Then a man named George Eacker dedicates an entire speech to denigrating his father, and the music stops.
His friend Richard Price, who has remained loyal despite the scandal plaguing the name of Hamilton, is the one who shows Philip the newspaper in which the accusatory speech is detailed in full. "I don't want to grieve you further, but I thought that you should know," Richard says. "The man is-- is--" He flounders, searching for an insult.
"A villain," Philip says, rolling the word in his mouth and spitting it out with satisfaction. "I can't let such words go! My father exposed himself to ridicule to make his weaknesses clear. He is nothing like the portrait Mr. Eacker painted."
Whatever Richard says, Philip cannot hear. He dons his coat and takes to the streets. He has no plan save to preserve his father's legacy, undoing George Eacker's words with words of his own. If he can only point out this man's errors, if this man recants--
Two ladies tell him what he needs to know for a small piece of flirtation. Neither of them have deep enough dimples to attract more than the minimum of his attention. Perhaps if he could count like his mother taught him, he would notice anything other than the angry rush of blood through his veins. He rushes past startled audience members, heedless of the play onstage, and shouts, "George!"
And shouts himself into a duel, as his father did before him.
On the way to his father's office, Philip recounts every war story he's ever heard. He grew up hearing them from actual war heroes; is the product of a war hero himself. There is no reason for his hands to tremble, and he stuffs his fists into his coat pockets so that others will not see. He was so angry in the theater, so ready to strike George Eacker, that the challenge burst forth from his mouth like a bullet from a gun. Untrained as he is, part of Philip regrets pulling the trigger.
His father will know what to do. Philip opens the door to his father's office.
"Philip!" his father cries, and sets down his pen to cross around his desk and draw Philip into a warm embrace. There are new lines on his face, new gray in his hair, and the rumpled blanket on the sofa in the corner testifies that his father has been sleeping in his office. A coward would have gone on sabbatical, taken himself out of the public eye, and yet here his father remains, working as hard as ever for his country.
All of Philip's indignation returns, and he blurts out the story to his father. "I came to ask you for advice," he concludes. "They don't exactly cover this subject in boarding school." He assumed that negotiating a peace would be easy, but not even Richard's much calmer discourse was enough to extract an apology from George Eacker.
His father's advice provides Philip with a method he thought impossible: a way to duel without bloodshed. The idea appeals--Philip would like to punch Eacker hard enough to break his teeth, but he doesn't wish for his death--and yet doubt persists. "But what if he decides to shoot?" Philip asks. "Then I'm a goner."
"No," his father says, gentle yet firm. Philip might be a child sitting at his father's knee again. "He'll follow suit if he's truly a man of honor." The lawyer in Alexander Hamilton surfaces as he clasps Philip's hand and makes his case. As ever, his closing statement is the most effective: "Philip, your mother can't take another heartbreak." When Philip tries to interject, he ends up promising to throw away his shot.
That night is the most sleepless of Philip's life. Two opposing scenarios spin through his mind. In the first, Eacker fires after Philip discharges his weapon in the air, then coolly turns his pistol on Philip's friends as Philip clutches at his own stomach, his shirt and coat dyed a deep red. In the second, cowardice claims Philip's honor and he breaks his word to his father and the code of dueling alike, firing upon George Eacker before the counting even ceases: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, NINE--
In the end, Philip decides the second scenario frightens him more.
He crosses the Hudson early the next morning, his friends at his side. None of them are more than twenty, and Philip drums his fingers against his thigh. He must steady his nerves or they will betray him, pulling the trigger despite his promise. Lines of poetry chase each other in his head, none settling down and resolving into some sort of meaning. He tried to leave a note for his father and mother, but could not find the appropriate words. Perhaps he should pray for serenity. I count in my mind, he remembers his mother saying, and the tapping of his fingers turns into piano play.
Philip's mother would be proud of the civil words Philip finds for George Eacker as he approaches the dueling grounds. The sight of Eacker's face makes Philip's anger flare all over again, and his callous dismissal of Philip's cordiality only fans the flame. "Confer with your men," he says. "The duel will commence after we count to ten."
His father's pistol in hand, Philip walks his paces as light begins to break over the horizon. Eacker looks unruffled, his steady puffs of breath visible in the air. Philip swallows as he raises his pistol up toward the sky, but he looks Eacker in the eye, making his meaning clear. He readies his finger on the trigger as their men count to ten, preparing to fire into the air.
On the count of seven, George Eacker fires.
Une, deux, trois…
There are bright lights underneath his eyelids and flames all along his back. Philip struggles to lift his eyelids at the sound of his father's voice, edged with tears. He's never heard his father sound like that, never heard him pleading with anyone. Another man, his voice calm, tells him, "The bullet grazed his left hip and his lower back before it buried itself in a tree. If we can keep the wound from infection, your son will live. Praise God that his opponent's aim was off."
"I will," his father says, fervent. "I do."
Philip slips back into unconsciousness.
Quatre, cinq, six…
He tries to turn over onto his side and the pain jolts him awake with a gasp. "Mama!" he cries out involuntarily, tears coming to his eyes. He buries his face in his pillow to hide the tears and the small scream it costs to move himself onto his stomach once more.
"I'm here, I'm here." His mother's voice is as much of a balm as the cool cloth she presses to his neck. "The doctor says you mustn't move or you'll reopen your wound. He'll be back to check on you later. Shall I read to you? Some Shakespeare, or a little poetry?" Her voice wavers slightly on the last question, betraying her distress.
"I'm so sorry for forgetting what you taught me," Philip says. His head is already swimming, oblivion reaching out to claim him once more. He counts to stave it off, has to laugh as the words blur from French to English and back again. "You taught me how to play piano." He's not sure what language he says it in.
His mother replaces the cloth with her fingers on the back of his neck, gently stroking. "I know, I know," she murmurs. "I'll have one of your sisters fetch a book. Stay awake, my son."
A name floats into his mind, along with a pair of deep dimples. "Mary Wollstonecraft. One of her books," Philip says, even though the name doesn't match the dimples. He closes his eyes and sleep takes him.
Sept, huit, neuf…
Philip comes to a third time with an aching back, but the fire has been quenched. He touches his face and finds the skin cool, so he dares to open his eyes and look around.
Late afternoon sun streams through the window and into his bedroom. Outside, the last few leaves of autumn rustle in the wind; inside, the stove in the corner throws out heat to mask the oncoming winter chill. His mother and his father are fast asleep by his bedside, each drowsing in their own chair. Hope surges within Philip at the sight of them together and he tries to sit up. His muscles betray him and he flops back onto his bed with a soft thwump.
His mother stirs at the noise. "Philip?" she murmurs, half-asleep still, and then her eyes go wide. "Philip!" She flies to him and rains kisses down upon his face like he's still a little boy crying over a scraped knee.
"I'm all right, Mom, I'm all right," Philip says, laughing. Despite the weakness in his muscles, he feels no pain or delirium, he appears to have all his limbs, and he can still wiggle his toes under the bedsheets.
"My son," is all she says in response, and she holds him close. When she draws back at last, her face is wet. "If you'd like to sit up, I can arrange the pillows," she says, wiping her eyes. "The doctor told us that it will be a few weeks before you're ready to be out of bed."
"And if your mother has anything to say about it, a few years before you're allowed out of the house ever again." His father is awake, staring at them both with soft eyes. He looks as though he's aged ten years since their last meeting in his office. "I'll help her barricade the door."
"Alexander," his mother murmurs, and touches his father's hand. She's still sitting beside Philip, but her arm stretches between them like a bridge. "You should get some sleep."
"And so should you, Eliza. I'll send in your sister to keep our boy company." His father bends over Philip's bed to deliver a kiss of his own on the center of his forehead, as affectionate with his eldest as he is with his youngest child. "Philip, don't let your mother stay up too much longer. She hasn't left your side."
Philip wonders, a little alarmed, how long he's been asleep. He resolves to ask his aunt after she's packed his mother off safely to bed and just enjoys his mother fussing over him. "You'll need to drink some hot broth straight away," she says, arranging him into a sitting position against a pile of pillows. "Your brothers and sisters can come in to see you tomorrow. We'll let you have your quiet today. Your Aunt Angelica found some books by that author you asked about--Mary Wollstonecraft, was it?"
He asked for the works of Mary Wollstonecraft? Philip blinks, unable to recall asking for anything. Then again, he doesn't remember much after George Eacker discharged his weapon. His heart gives a queer, sideways lurch that has nothing to do with his wound. Theodosia's face is as fresh in his mind as though he spoke with her only a few hours ago.
"Yes," Philip says, before the silence stretches on too long. His mother is already looking at him, faintly puzzled, but Aunt Angelica saves him from further questioning as she enters with a tray of steaming soup.
"It's good to see you awake and alert," Angelica says, setting the tray down on his bedside table. "Eliza, it's straight to bed with you. As your older sister, I invoke the rights of my station." She gives a strand of Eliza's hair an affectionate tweak.
His mother scrunches up her face in mock anger; it makes her look much younger. "And what rights are those, pray tell?"
"The right to insufferable bossiness," Aunt Angelica says, triumphant. "I'll look after your son."
It always amazes Philip when his mother, so serenely in control of all her day-to-day affairs, does whatever her older sister asks. She embraces him once more, then heads for her own room, already yawning. Aunt Angelica is a true force of nature.
"How long was I asleep?" Philip asks as Angelica arranges the serving tray on his lap. Hopefully she won't try to feed him. Just in case, he takes the spoon off the tray.
"Four days, counting the day you were brought in." Angelica ties a napkin around his neck, then fixes him with a stern look. "You drink all of the broth and I'll tell you what happened after your utterly foolhardy decision."
Philip nods and dips the spoon into the bowl, seeing no recourse but utter meekness. He's heard lectures directed toward others in this tone, his father in particular, but never himself.
"The bullet only grazed you," Angelica continues. "Your wound is a long gash across part of your hip and back, but not very deep. All you need is bed rest to rebuild your strength. You are extremely lucky your opponent misjudged his shot and extremely lucky that the doctor knew how to stave off infection." Despite her brisk, matter-of-fact words, unshed tears shine in her eyes. "You still contracted a fever, but past the most dangerous point, thanks be to God."
He bows his head, unable to taste his broth. "Sorry, auntie. It won't happen again."
She sniffs. "See to it that it doesn't."
Philip finishes his meal, surprised at how full he feels after a cup of plain broth. After four days unconscious, his body is used to much less. Aunt Angelica settles back to read after his first few spoonfuls, but she still looks up when he sets the spoon down, making sure that all the broth is gone. Thus fortified, he leans back against his pillows. He doesn't want to sleep just yet, but even holding the spoon exhausted him. One bullet, and he is as weak as a newborn.
Dread suffuses him. "Is everyone else calling me a fool?" Philip can hardly bring himself to ask the question. He certainly deserves the title for attempting to duel with a dishonorable man.
Aunt Angelica closes her book, holding it on her lap. "If you're asking about your family, they're not happy you put yourself in harm's way, but they don't think you a fool. I don't think you are a fool by nature. Even a wise man can make a foolish decision." She glances back down at her book, then back up to Philip, eyebrows raised. "Wherever did you hear of Mary Wollstonecraft?"
Heat suffuses his cheeks and Philip bites his tongue to keep from cursing at himself. He is weak and unable to dissemble; besides, his aunt would see through him immediately. "A lady at the bookstore recommended her work with enthusiasm," he says, trying to make it sound like a casual, happenstance recommendation.
"She must have been quite enthusiastic to make such an impression." Aunt Angelica's smile is all too knowing as she opens her book to her bookmark. "It cannot be demonstrated that woman is essentially inferior to man because she has always been subjugated. Not your usual fare, Philip."
"I enjoy rhetoric and philosophy," he retorts, but he sounds sulky even to his own ears.
Angelica tugs at one of his curls, teasing him as she did his mother. "Do you pretend no interest in this girl because you are embarrassed of such sensibility, or because of her father's name?" she asks, voice gentle. At Philip's startled look, she adds, "I can think of few young ladies who would know such an author exists. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Theodosia Burr myself, but I am sure she is charming."
Philip picks at a loose thread in his blanket. "She is," he admits. "I'd like--I'd like to speak with her again, if she would speak with me. She's so clever, auntie, but she doesn't prattle. She thinks before she speaks; she must spend all her time thinking to have so many things to say."
A strange look passes over his aunt's face--she smiles still, but her eyes are regretful. She closes her eyes and draws a breath. When she opens her eyes again, his Aunt Angelica is returned. "Write to her, my Philip. You have plenty of time to write, and plenty of time to think of clever ideas of your own. Your father writes charming letters, and you have much of your father in you."
What an extraordinary lady his aunt is! Philip smiles at her. "I have much of you and Mother in me, too," he says. "I hope to be as loyal as the Schuyler sisters." That is as much as he can bear to admit of his father's character flaws. Philip enjoys the attention of pretty girls, but now Theodosia's face is the only one he sees.
"Would you read to me, auntie?" he asks. "If I'm to take up my pen, I should have something to say."
Dear Theodosia, begins the first of Philip's attempts at a letter, before he remembers the shocking impropriety of calling her by her first name. He wipes the ink off with his thumb, leaving her Christian name smeared across his skin. The smudge on the paper is less appealing, as though the author is uncertain as to whom he writes, so Philip wipes away the Dear as well.
"I can't use this paper," Philip sighs aloud. At least no one is here to witness him as he hides the marred sheet of paper in the drawer of his bedside table. Paper is a precious resource, one not to be wasted. He'll think of some use for that particular piece later, but his first letter to Theodosia must be pristine. Dear Miss Burr, he thinks, but does not write. At least he doesn't have to worry about his parents seeing such a name on his letter. Aunt Angelica has offered to send it herself, since she corresponds with a number of people his father finds tiresome, chief among them Thomas Jefferson.
"Dear Miss Burr, I hope this finds you in good health…" Philip says, trying out the words. His father taught him the trick of committing words to air before paper to make sure they sound as they ought. It feels awkward to bring up health when he is lying in bed, an invalid until nearly Christmas. What young lady desires an injured suitor, one who cannot call upon her, nor stroll with her, nor dance with her? Philip sets his quill down to close his eyes for just a moment. Dancing with Theodosia, holding her close, now there's a notion not even his dreams have thought to show him.
When Philip wakes, the room is dark and he has to fumble for matches. He still tires easily from the least exertion, whether it is writing letters or keeping pace with his siblings' conversation. The only visits that make him feel more rested are from his father and mother, who still come to him him together more often than not. His father sleeps under his own roof once more. From what Philip can gather, he has not been to work since the day of the duel, and when asked about when he might return, he only says, "It's quiet at home."
With so many children and servants running around, Philip would hardly describe his home as quiet, but he welcomes anything that keeps his father near.
His sister Angelica peeps through the door, drawn by the lantern light, no doubt. "You were asleep when we ate," she says with a smile. "Do you think you could manage some chicken and potatoes, or are you confined to broth still?"
"Real food, please," Philip groans, which makes her laugh. Angelica was so distraught by his injury that she fell ill herself, and it's only now that she's strong enough to be out of bed and back to her old habits: bothering her older brother and practicing pieces on the piano. Philip suspects that she's moved beyond practicing and into composing, though she is too shy to tell anyone just yet. Confined to bed as he is, he can hear most of her practice sessions in the parlor and his hands itch to join hers in a duet. Perhaps Theodosia is musical as well as intellectual.
To his surprise, it is his Aunt Angelica who returns with the food, not his sister. "I sent her to bed," she says in reply to his surprised look. "She forgot why she was in the kitchen until I helped her remember. She was quite distraught by your injury, but she is recovering."
"Oh," Philip says. His throat feels tight, and he picks at the tray she sets down on the bed.
She lays a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You have already apologized enough, my Philip. She still remembers all of her sonatas. She'll be fine."
Philip manages a few bites of his late supper before his aunt inquires, "And how goes the letter writing?"
"Terribly," Philip admits. "What do I say to her, auntie? I can't even start the letter. Dear Miss Burr, et cetera, Your Obedient Servant, Philip Hamilton. It opens with the name of my father's enemy, and it closes with the name of her father's enemy. How can a man work under these conditions?"
Aunt Angelica's laugh rings through his room like a bell. "In the et cetera, as you put it! The address is merely her name, after all, and you and I have had many a fruitful discussion on Mrs. Wollstonecraft's Vindication. I am quite certain you can think of some lovers in literature who persisted in spite of parental discord as well. Your letter will be so charming she will scarcely mind the name affixed to the end. It will be your name to her, not her father's enemy's."
Philip pushes his empty plate away and reaches for his quill again. Hope flutters in his breast, painful and wonderful at once. "Do you really think so?" He's had plenty of luck with charming ladies, but always in person, and always with superficial flattery and tales of riding. Theodosia would not much care for either.
Again, that strange regret crosses his aunt's face and then vanishes in an instant. "I know you have it in you, my Philip. Now write. I want a letter to send out first thing in the morning."
Dear Miss Burr, Philip begins again, and he pauses to admire the neat way her name fits on the paper, as comfortable as her name feels on his tongue. I hope this letter finds you well and your mind at work. Please pardon the long pause in our conversation regarding the work of Mrs. Wollstonecraft. I am sure you have heard of my recent misfortunes, but rest assured, I am whole of mind and body. Indeed, I have put my own mind to work on the arguments of Mrs. Wollstonecraft, and she has inspired me to seek your friendship. For, as the lady writes, the most holy band of society is friendship.
His heart beats faster at his own boldness. Philip rereads the opening paragraph and his breath catches. His aunt will approve of this et cetera, he feels, but will Theodosia? He should acknowledge the enmity between her father and his so she does not think him entirely foolish, especially after reminding her of his duel.
I have two aims in seeking your friendship, he continues. The first aim is for friendship's own sake, because you are a lady of intellect and worthy of conversation in all things. The second is to perhaps provide some means for our fathers to meet, if not in friendship, in mutual respect. What's in a name, asks the poet (I need not specify which one), for a rose by any other name--and yet neither of us have any other name, Miss Burr, and I venture to say both of us is proud of the name we bear.
That's almost all of what he wants to convey. He's particularly proud of the allusion to Romeo and Juliet, which Theodosia will surely interpret correctly. Now the letter appears to have taken a political turn, however, and Philip desires no favors from Aaron Burr, nor does his father. Now he should make his courtship clear, but how to do so in a modest manner? Though it pains him to imagine someone courting one of his little sisters, he tries to think of what he would wish in their love letters. Praise for their beauty, certainly, but also a sincere expression of fidelity.
Considering his father's current reputation, perhaps Philip should leave declarations of eternal love to future letters. He heaves a great sigh and lets his head sink back onto his pillows. A compelling letter nearly finished, but for the want of a satisfactory conclusion! Dear Theodosia, with her sharp mind and bright face, a rose by no name but her own.
Philip jerks himself back upright and wields his pen once more. I hasten to assure you that I aim to curry no favor with your father save for his approval in your choice of friend. Let us return to the metaphor of the rose. Miss Burr, you are so very like a flower come into bloom…
As his candle burns down, Philip writes several more paragraphs in this vein before he stuffs his letter in an envelope and, before he can overthink it, leaves it on his bedside table for his aunt to find while he sleeps.
When he wakes, the envelope is gone, and Aunt Angelica's smile mysterious. Philip tries not to think on the letter too often--which is to say, he thinks of it at least once an hour.
To his great surprise, a response arrives a few days later. The name on the envelope is Mrs. Angelica Church, but his aunt laughs and says, "I believe this is for your eyes only, my Philip." She exits Philip's bedroom without so much as a reassuring word, leaving him to turn the envelope over and over in his trembling hands. Suppose Theodosia has mistaken his intentions! Suppose she thinks him the worst kind of political toady, or a scoundrel free with the ladies!
Still, opening the letter will be the most adventure he can have while recovering from his wound. Philip opens the envelope and pulls out the letter. From the first glance, he can tell it is shorter than his letter. Her handwriting is lovely but without affect, no extraneous swoops or flourishes, much like the author herself.
Dear Mr. Hamilton, the letter opens, and Philip has to swallow past the dryness in his mouth. I heard of your recent injury and I am pleased that you are sound in mind and on your way to recovery in body. Though I find dueling a barbaric practice, I understand your urge to defend your family name. As you have surmised, we are both roses proud to bear the names we have.
As for your offer of friendship, I must turn to the Bard for my own quotation. Thou art thyself, as he writes, and I confess that I quite enjoyed our conversation regarding Mrs. Wollstonecraft. That you have sought out her writings on your own to further your studies speaks well of your character, I think. Theodosia writes on in much more detail about the conclusions in the final chapter of Vindication, but Philip skims past, searching for more sign of her feelings toward him. To quote Juliet, one of the most famous lovers of all time--!
The rest of the letter is full of thoughts and queries regarding his opinion on the role of women in society. Philip treasures every word as gold, but searches still for rubies. Some tumble out at last at the close of the letter:
I am delighted that our conversation can continue. I remain your friend, Theodosia.
Philip touches her name with the tip of his index finger, as though it might shatter under a heavier touch. Her signature is an invitation for him to call her by her first name. She must desire a more intimate acquaintance. He needs to finish Mrs. Wollstonecraft before he can respond, but first, he'll read her letter again.
But enough speculation on what the state of education might be had the Aeneid been burned as Virgil wished. I have some disagreements regarding your interpretation of the work itself, which I should prefer to enumerate upon in person, should your health permit you to attend the governor's upcoming winter ball. Your friend, Theodosia
Philip tucks Theodosia's latest letter into his shirt as his father enters the parlor. "Philip! It's good to see you out of bed!" he says heartily. His father looks better, too: since eschewing all government-related business, Alexander's color is less sallow, the purple shadows under his eyes faded. He dotes on his children and makes his wife and sister-in-law laugh. The rift has not yet healed between Philip's mother and father, but every day, Alexander works to close it.
"It might be some time before I can remove myself from this chair," Philip admits. He leaned heavily on the staircase during his descent, his legs unused to supporting his weight after so long in bed. His muscles have shrunk and he dreads to think of how he might fill out a pair of stockings worthy of a winter's ball. All the more reason to continue moving around the house… once his wound stops aching.
His father takes a seat opposite Philip and leans back with his eyes shut. "I'm tempted to follow suit. The fire makes for a pleasant atmosphere; I'm surprised we're the only two in here."
Philip twitches at the idea of one of his siblings catching sight of him rereading Theodosia's latest letter. Good God, he'll have to be more cautious. "I think there are pies being baked in the kitchen, Pops. If I didn't think I'd fall asleep on the way, I'd be there now."
"Ah, the promise of pie," his father says. "If that didn't bring you out of bed, what did?"
He must tread carefully now. Though his father has retired from the public eye, Philip doubts he has abandoned his keen insight. "I certainly don't want to be an invalid forever," Philip says. "The doctor even said that I could start taking walks. I'm healed enough that I won't reopen anything as long as I'm careful."
A log on the fire gives a sharp pop, but his father doesn't startle. "Yes, it must be dull in bed. Most of your friends have come to see you as you recover, but I'm sure you would prefer to go out to meet them."
"It might be nice," Philip says. Something warns him against saying anything more, despite the serene expression on his father's face. He's fishing for something. Could Aunt Angelica have told him about Theodosia's letters? No--she would tell his mother first, and then his mother would be the one seeking him out, not his father.
His father opens one eye. "Might all of your friends be at the winter's ball? They're young men of good family, surely they have invitations."
Theodosia's letter burns against his breast. Philip curls his hands into fists so that he doesn't reach up to touch it. "No doubt," he says. Whatever his father has guessed, he can't know the whole of it. "I'd be happy to see them all at the ball. I just don't know if I'll be well in time."
Scenting blood, his father leans forward, both eyes open now. "Well enough for what? You could sit in a chair, as you are now. No one would fault you after the injury you suffered."
It pains Philip to remember his days as a flirt, but at least it provides plausible cover. "For dancing, of course. There will be young ladies there, and they have not come to call on me."
His father smiles as though he's just closed a case. "One lady in particular who has not come to call, I think, although she has written to you faithfully."
Heat floods Philip's face, and he knows the redness underneath his freckles will give him away. "If there were such a lady, I would call her a faithful friend," he says, stressing his final word in a way he hopes will deter his father. Let him think that Philip is pining after a lady completely uninterested. Let him think anything at all, so long as he doesn't ask for her name.
"A faithful friend interested in a dance or two," his father says. Though his words have a teasing edge, his smile is all warmth, and Philip allows himself a rueful chuckle. If only there were not such animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, he would be pleased to tell him about Theodosia. His father has always surrounded himself with ladies of sparkling wit and encouraged his daughters to emulate those ladies. Be a violet if it is your nature, but never feel as though you should shrink, my love, he told Angelica when she was small and shy and hid behind her big brother at dinner parties.
Some reckless instinct seizes Philip long enough to force out the word, "If." He presses his tongue against the back of his teeth, stoppering his mouth against further insanity. If I were to court the daughter of Aaron Burr, he was about to say, but he is his father's son, and he has learned well that it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
His father turns his head toward the crackling fire, the picture of serene contemplation. His gaze is restless, though, flitting from Philip to objects in the room. Alexander Hamilton is not a patient or a subtle man.
"If I might ask," Philip says at last, as though struggling to ask a delicate question with as much decorum as possible. Really, he needs time to think of a plausible decoy question, one that will neither start his father on a political tirade nor give away Philip's secret.
"John! Go find your brother William! Nanny has been up and down the stairs quite enough for one day," comes his mother's voice from the hall. Philip smiles at the assenting grumble. His youngest brother excels at finding hidden and implausible places for napping and it usually falls to the next youngest brother to retrieve him. John pretends to resent the indignity, but whenever he delivers William to his mother's waiting arms, his chest is puffed out with pride.
Eliza pokes her head into the parlor. "No William here, but two of my men all the same," she says. Her smile is particularly comfortable and motherly today, topped with a smudge of flour on her nose.
His father's face goes soft at her words, and a look of such tenderness passes between the two of them that Philip blushes. Will Theodosia ever gaze at him with such loving affection, no matter how titanic his mistakes?
"Mother! He's stuck in the wardrobe again!" John bellows from upstairs. Eliza disappears back into the hallway.
"How did you know?" Philip asks.
His father turns back to him. "Know what?"
"That Mother was the one you were to marry," Philip says. He shifts in his chair, ignoring the twinge in his side. He's heard enough allusions to Martha Washington's tomcat to know his father was quite the man about town. The scandal was years in the making, people sniffed after the pamphlet, people who had never seen Alexander Hamilton's enormous affection for his wife and children.
"Ah," his father says, with more understanding than Philip cares to admit. From his seat, he grabs the poker, probably less to stoke the fire and more to have something to do with his hands. "Your Aunt Angelica introduced us at a party. You've known your mother's face all your life, but seeing her for the first time--you can't imagine how lovely she looked. And the way she looked at me." Alexander tips over a log and watches the sparks fly. "You've never been an outsider to polite society as I was, Philip. Your mother was the first lady to look at me as though I, just as myself, was enough. That if I behaved the way a gentleman should, then there was no reason to rise up, for in her eyes I was as exalted as any duke. I could see all of that in the way she smiled at me, and I knew then that I would marry your mother."
Philip waits, for it seems as though his father wants to say more. The differences in their situations seem so stark: young Alexander Hamilton, desperate for acclaim so long ago; now, young Philip Hamilton, in love (he might as well admit it) with the daughter of his father's political opponent. But the balance that father and son seek, perhaps that might be a point of connection. Alexander Hamilton needed the gentleness of Elizabeth Schuyler; Philip Hamilton needs the sharp mind of Theodosia Burr.
His father clears his throat. In the firelight, his eyes look wet. "If there is a lady that makes you feel that way--that you are enough the way you are, and yet also a better person than you ever imagined--be true to the way she sees you." When Philip starts to stammer out a denial, Alexander holds up his hand. "Introduce me to your friend at the ball."
There's no helping it now. "Of course," Philip sighs, and resists the urge to throw himself on the fire.
Philip is no fool: on the day of the winter ball, he sets out to win his mother to his side.
Despite the flurry of preparations happening elsewhere in the household, he finds her sitting at the piano, studying a sheet of music with an absent smile. She looks so peaceful that he almost hates to disturb her, but the ache in his side tells him he needs to sit down if he's to dance at all tonight. "Good afternoon, Mother," he says, taking the chair nearest the piano.
She laughs. "Goodness! Are you practicing your manners for tonight? It's just us, no need to be so formal." She pats the piano bench. "Will you play a little with me? Your sister finally consented to write down one of her pieces, though she still won't play it when she thinks anyone might hear."
Philip takes a deep breath. "Actually, I came to ask you something. Or tell you something."
"Well, which is it?"
"There is… That is to say… I've been courting a lady," Philip says. When his mother's eyebrows form perfect arches of surprise, he wants to sink into the floor, preferably all the way to the other side of the world. "We've written each other letters, and she has, um, expressed a wish to see me at the ball."
"Philip!" his mother exclaims, in much the same way she says Little Eliza's name whenever she attempts to take a few toddling steps. The delighted smile is the same, too. "How perfectly marvelous! Who is this young lady?"
"Theodosia Burr," Philip says, miserable. He can't bring himself to meet his mother's eyes, but seeing her hands set down the sheet music to cover her mouth is bad enough. "I've concealed my affection for her because of--well, you know why. But I wanted to tell you because a connection with her is something to be proud of. She's what they mean by sparkling wit, Mother, except she's much kinder and gentler than the diamond comparison would imply, and--"
Eliza reaches out and cups his chin, raising it so that he must meet her eyes. "There's no need to woo me, Philip," she says softly. "Does she love you? That's all I want to know."
Philip swallows and the lump in his throat eases as soon as it begins. Of course that's the question she would ask. "I can't say for certain, but I think she might, if we can get our fathers to approve. I did promise to dance with her tonight."
His mother releases his chin, but pats him on the head like a small child. "Your aunt and I will make sure your father behaves himself. All you need to do is finish winning over Miss Burr and her father."
"Well, if that's all," Philip says faintly.
The next few hours pass in a blur. In his efforts to avoid thinking about Theodosia's reaction to his proposal (suppose she laughs!) and Aaron Burr's reaction to his proposal (suppose he challenges Philip to a duel!), Philip finds himself performing all manner of last-minute preparations at the orders of his mother, his aunt, his father, and even Nanny, who really is too old to keep up with William and Little Eliza on such a busy day. "You two aren't even going to the ball," he mutters to the nursery's youngest denizens. Little Eliza, in the process of stuffing her entire fist into her mouth, blinks at him sleepily.
"I want to play ball!" William shouts from his bed, indignant, and thus another hour of time is lost.
The Hamilton family arrives at the winter ball fashionably late; fashion is even part of the reason for their lateness. Against all odds, Philip is dressed early and ready to go, but his father, conscious that this is his first appearance in public since the duel, changes his outfit three times before Eliza threatens to bar the wardrobe shut. His sister Angelica cannot find her favorite comb, and his aunt Angelica insists on mending a loose button that Philip is quite certain no one would notice anyway. His brothers are all sulking dreadfully that they were not invited, which puts his mother in a rare cross mood. "Enough! To the carriage!" Eliza says at last, and no one dares contradict her.
Upon entering the ballroom, Philip's friends surround him so thickly that he hasn't a hope of even seeing Theodosia in the crush of people, much less finding a quiet place to converse. He answers endless inquiries about his injury (healed, for the most part), George Eacker (still a scoundrel), and the duel (over, a fact he wishes to emphasize). They seem prepared to pepper him with questions all night, and Philip is forced to plead invalid to get away. "I'll sit with my aunt and keep her company," said while carefully favoring his side, is enough to quell even his most enthusiastic friends.
Well, not quite. "I'll keep Mrs. Church company," Philip hears as he walks away. He pretends not to hear it.
Aunt Angelica is taking leisurely sips from a glass of wine as she sits, like a queen looking down upon her subjects. "I'm not used to parties at this angle," she says at Philip's curious look. "Generally, I like to circulate the room and converse with everyone I meet. Sometimes it's interesting to remove myself and see who comes to meet you." She smiles. "You, for instance, but I think not for long."
Philip follows the direction of her gaze and his breath catches in his throat. Theodosia is across the room, laughing at something another young lady just said. Her gown is another simple white muslin affair, offset by ribbons of rich crimson: one tying off her dress at the waist, the others woven through her mass of dark curls. Dress and ribbons alike complement the deep, rich brown of her skin, and her smile flashes like a star in the evening sky. Theodosia should have monuments raised in her honor, portraits painted of her beauty. Philip is all too aware of his limited proficiency with a pen. What verse could he write to do her justice, the way she looks tonight?
"She keeps looking around when she thinks no one is looking," Angelica says, her gentle amusement palpable. "Who do you think she's looking for?"
Theodosia's friend accepts the hand of a gentleman and gets whisked off to dance. Theodosia's expression drops into something more anxious as she scans the room, only to light up once more when she sees Philip and Angelica. Lifting the hem of her skirts, Theodosia sets across the room at a pace that might almost be said to hurry.
So enraptured is Philip that he doesn't notice his father approaching from the other side until Angelica hisses, "Oh, no." Theodosia notices at the same moment his aunt does and slows, her eyes wide.
"Alexander!" Somehow his mother's voice, always modulated with the utmost deference to decorum, cuts through the crowd. "This gentleman is sharing some very interesting stories about his travels in the Caribbean. We were wondering if you might shed some further light on the subject."
Alexander turns back to his wife, Theodosia picks up her pace, and Philip remembers how to breathe. "You told your mother," Angelica notes approvingly. "I've heard better diversions from her before, but your father is not always a man who requires graceful handling. The conversational equivalent of an alleyway shakedown will do in a pinch."
"Auntie!" Philip says in despair, as Theodosia nears them at last.
"Please don't get up," Theodosia says. She makes a beautiful curtsy, then takes an empty seat. "Good evening, Mrs. Church, Ph--Mr. Hamilton."
"Philip," he says firmly, and Theodosia lifts her beautiful eyes to his face. "Pretending to anything lesser than the intimacy of our letters would be foolish. I am not ashamed of our friendship." By now, his aunt has returned to her discreet study of the ballroom's inhabitants, her expression neutral and uninterested in anything happening not two feet from where she sits. Philip will have to find some way to repay her after the ball.
"Philip, I'm quite glad to see you out in society again," Theodosia murmurs. Hearing her voice so low and close is enough to make Philip's heart pound. "I was most grieved to hear of your injury. I pray you are recovered enough for one dance, at least."
"I have been reserving my strength for just such an opportunity," Philip says. "Would you care to dance now, before either of us is claimed by another?"
Theodosia's bright eyes sparkle. "The ladies would never return you, occupied with your dashing tales of dueling."
"I would rather a lady who speaks her mind and tells me that dueling is a foolish business," Philip says, realizing the truth of his statement as he speaks it. Had he gone to his mother rather than his father, she would have found some honorable way for Philip to treat George Eacker's words as beneath his notice. Had he gone to Aunt Angelica, she would have helped him compose a rebuttal so scathing that George Eacker would have fallen to the pen rather than the sword. Theodosia, he is certain, could have found a way to achieve both.
At his words, Theodosia's smile trembles on her lips and she presses one hand over her heart. "My father will have no cause for concern if you tell him what you just told me." She stands, straightening her skirts, and then extends her hand. "I know the gentleman traditionally offers his hand, but given your delicate condition…"
"I could dance the full night!" Philip exclaims, then recognizes the teasing glint in her eyes. "Oh, it's like that? Lady, offer me your hand as often as you like."
"Ay, pilgrim," Theodosia says. Philip cannot quite place the Romeo and Juliet quotation until he hears his aunt's quiet snort of laughter.
"The Bard was speaking of lips, Miss Theodosia," Philip says, and takes her hand. Her delicate hand is hot to the touch, and her eyes darken as she helps him to his feet. Philip almost stumbles despite his boasting before. She, too, must feel the same desire coursing through her veins. Though their contact lasts a mere minute before they join the line of dancers, Philip's body burns and Theodosia's eyes flash.
If others whisper at the son of Alexander Hamilton joining a dance with the daughter of Aaron Burr, Philip does not care. Both music and partner are equally lively and invigorating. To keep pace with Theodosia, Philip steps so quickly that a few of his curls spring loose and follow his every movement like the tail of a comet. Theodosia laughs gaily and tucks away her own loose strands of hair, turning the movement into another part of the dance.
Cruelly, the call comes and the dancers must move on. Philip dances with at least ten other ladies as he waits for Theodosia to cross his path again. All ten of them catch him watching Theodosia from afar; depending on personality, they either raise their eyebrows or titter from behind one hand. Philip refuses to feel embarrassed--his partners are all decorous save for their quiet reactions, but someone should watch to ensure that Theodosia's dancing partners behave as gentlemen ought.
When the line reunites Philip and Theodosia, he finds himself quite out of breath, and not for all the reasons he would like. Theodosia is as breathtaking as she has ever been, her deep brown skin glowing under exertion and candlelight, her whole person animated with merriment. But Philip's wound aches, sullen as Little Eliza in a bad mood and promising a full-fledged tantrum if he pushes much further. "You are unwell," Theodosia observes, which is kinder than, You are tired, as though he were an old man in need of coddling.
"This is more vigorous exercise than walking around the house, though not more difficult than chasing down my smallest brother and sister," Philip says. He follows Theodosia toward a corner of the ballroom, where there is nothing save for two chairs pushed close together.
Theodosia signals a server and accepts two glasses of wine. "I always wanted a little sister or a little brother," she says. "My half-siblings are all perfectly kind, but they fell out of touch after Mother died. My family has been quite small since, just my father and me." She tilts her head, inviting a response; when Philip continues drinking his wine, trying to catch his breath, she continues, "Perhaps that is why he is so protective. Yet he also trusts me more than most fathers trust their daughters. It will not be easy for you to win his approval, but it's certainly not impossible."
Just the thought of facing Aaron Burr as he asks for his daughter's hand in marriage makes Philip wish for the simplicity of dueling. "Your faith in me is touching," he says, and he touches her hand. The wine makes his desire burn all the hotter; he's drunk too much and too fast.
"Yes, well," Theodosia says, and does not move her hand from underneath his. She directs a small, pleased smile to him, paired with a look from under her eyelashes that weakens his knees despite the chair supporting him. "If we turn away from Shakespeare's doomed lovers for a moment, there are numerous examples of two opposites forming a perfect union. Our dear country, for instance, which boasts its two political parties. Though they have their squabbles, dissent forces each to defend their ideas and make them stronger. Artists must mind the balance of light and shadow, otherwise their paintings do not resemble their subjects. Even man and woman are opposites, yet they, too, can achieve unity. Wouldn't you agree?"
Philip's whole person is warm with wine, intoxicated with Theodosia. "Your examples beg me to ask you a question," Philip says, and dares to squeeze her hand. "Would Mrs. Wollstonecraft approve if you asked it of me?" Really, he just wants to hear it from her lips, armor to wear over his heart when he must confront her father.
Her eyes widen. Theodosia raises her glass to her lips and finishes her wine in a few quick swallows. "That is a notion I hadn't considered," she says, sounding breathless herself. Philip can feel her hand trembling under his and he strokes it. He's about to open his mouth when she asks, "Philip Hamilton, may I have your hand in marriage?"
"Yes," Philip says, his heart soaring, and then pandemonium breaks out from across the ballroom.
"--most half-witted, asinine idea I've ever heard!" His father's voice pierces Philip's cloud of happiness. "There are at least twenty ways in which you are wrong, which I can enumerate if someone would just fetch me some pen and paper--"
"Of course you can," Aaron Burr says, weighing his words with such scorn that it's a wonder they fly through the air at all. "A few weeks out of politics has not improved your disposition in the slightest, I can see." Every other time Philip has caught a glimpse of Aaron Burr, whether in society or at a political gathering, he has seemed a cool, considerate man. Now his jaw is set in a fierce scowl. Alexander Hamilton must have given him quite the insult.
"Oh, perfect," Philip mutters as his father, towering in his fury like a volcano, lets forth a torrent of heated words. "I apologize for my father, Theodosia."
"And I for mine," she says, rising with a sigh. "I am sure that he baited your father. He is the dearest man in the world--and yet Mr. Hamilton does get under his skin."
"Like small boys bickering in the schoolyard," Philip agrees, watching his father's face turn purple. He casts a glance at Theodosia--his fiancee, part of him thinks giddily--to see if he's overstepped, but she only laughs.
"Perhaps we should make our way over if further intervention is needed," she says. "I see your mother and your aunt approaching at speed, but perhaps our happy news might provide the final seal on a public spectacle." She sets off without glancing over her shoulder to see if he follows, her quick strides betraying her anxiety. Philip forces himself out of the chair, propelled by similar worries.
The closer they get, the more apt the schoolboy comparison seems. His father and Aaron Burr are in each other's faces, screaming about upcoming elections and the election Senator Burr won (or stole, depending on the screamer) from Philip's grandfather. Philip has the sudden, wild notion of sitting them both at a piano and counting to nine. Une, deux, trois…
For the first time, Philip looks at his father and knows something more than he does: how to keep his temper.
"Alexander!" Eliza cries. "Senator Burr!" Angelica says at the same time, her voice cracking like a whip. Both men pause.
Alexander Hamilton, however, is not a man who stops for long. "You call me a bastard and a whoreson as though my parentage had any effective relationship to my intelligence," he spits, and oh, that explains his fury.
"I have not--" Senator Burr begins, already drawing his anger in tight as he at last registers the others staring in their direction.
"Oh, not to my face, not here in polite society." Philip's father is in fine form, despite his mother's cautionary grip on his arm. She tries to pull him in the direction, relief lighting her face when she sees Theodosia and Philip, but Alexander turns back to Burr, color still hot in his cheeks. "You dissemble and you calculate; you lurk in shadow and you wait for your opportunity. Someone should drag you out into the light and strike you down where you stand. Let's you and I meet on the dueling gr--"
The cry tears its way out of Philip and Theodosia, voices and hearts united. "Father," Philip says, trying to sound as old as he feels, the wound in his side aching again. "Papa," Theodosia pleads in the other direction, tears standing in her eyes.
Alexander stares at his son, clearly noticing his presence for the first time. The color leaches from his face and he whispers, "Philip?"
"Duels have caused our family enough grief already," Philip says. Seeing Eliza standing behind Alexander, he wants to add, You have caused our family enough grief already. His heart lurches again, torn between betraying his father and betraying his mother. But no, if she can forgive him, that is enough. Philip will let the matter rest. "There are ways to disagree without pistols at dawn, or disrupting a party."
Aaron Burr snorts. "Young man, your father has never met a party he couldn't disrupt, political or otherwise." His gaze softens as he turns to his daughter. "Theodosia, what do you mean by speaking with young Mr. Hamilton? Have I disturbed you to such an extent?"
Philip catches a quick glimpse of Theodosia's shaking hands before she clasps them together, concealing their tremors. Every eye in the ballroom is on the drama unfolding in their corner, yet she lifts her head proudly. "The disturbance is half yours, Papa. I will not see another man I hold in high esteem felled during a duel."
Murmurs buzz through the ballroom. Philip has a sudden, horrifying urge to laugh at the dawning understanding on Senator Burr's face, and his father's.
"Another," Burr chokes out, his face twisting into an odd grimace.
Theodosia lifts her chin higher. "Another," she repeats, her voice firm. There might as well be no one else in the room for how steadily she meets her father's gaze. "But even if that were not true, you are the only father I have. For love of your daughter, I would ask you to refrain from risking your life on the dueling ground."
And both men drop their gazes to the floor, ashamed.
In the hush that follows, Philip sees his mother's nod. "Senator Burr, sir," he says, stepping forward. He bows, then borrows Theodosia's trick and knots his hands together behind his back to avoid betraying his nerves. "Though I know you and my father disagree on many issues, Miss Burr and I have found our minds much the same. And if your daughter's opinion diverges from mine, she makes it known in such a clever way that I end up convinced more often than not." Is that the beginnings of a smile on the senator's face? Can Aaron Burr smile at anyone besides Theodosia? "Through a chance meeting in a bookstore, and many letters exchanged after that, we have become fond of one another. With your permission, sir, I would like to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
Another flurry of whispers besets the ballroom. Philip begins to sweat as Aaron Burr and his father remain silent. Senator Burr's face has gone back to its normal impassivity, while his father has been stunned into silence for once in his life. His mother and his aunt are both dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs, though, so Philip must have done something right. Theodosia's face is glowing; despite his fear, Philip takes heart.
It is not Philip that Aaron Burr turns to for answers, however. "Theo?" he asks. When not raised in anger, his voice is smooth, almost melodious. "Is this true? Do you feel the same way about this young man?"
Theodosia shifts just a little closer to Philip. He wishes it were proper to put an arm around her waist and shield her from the worst of the staring. Still, her voice is clear and strong when she says, "I do."
Philip's breath stops at those two simple words. He can't look at Theodosia, can't look at his father, as he waits for a response from the good senator.
"I have one condition," Aaron Burr says, his voice perfectly neutral. Philip's father makes an indignant spluttering noise, but stops when his mother treads on his foot, her expression serene. "Since your desire to unite our two families is so great, I would like to invite your family to Christmas dinner. If a pleasant time is had by all, I will grant you both my blessing."
"Well, if that's all," Angelica mutters, just barely within Philip's hearing range.
"We accept your most gracious invitation," Philip says with a confidence he mostly does not feel. His father and Aaron Burr managed to get into a shouting match in full view of polite society, despite the ladies' best efforts to curtail them. What sort of mischief will they get into away from prying eyes?
And yet, Theodosia is bold enough to slip one hand into his. With her fingers threaded through his, how can anything go wrong?
Dear Theodosia, Philip writes, in the rare moments of peace he can find in his much excited household. In between complimenting me on my excellent choice of wife-- just writing that word makes his hand quiver with excitement, and he almost blots the entire sentence-- my mother and my aunt have begun what amounts to the Schuyler Sisters' School of Etiquette. I assure you that my siblings and I have been properly instructed in the manners of society, but apparently there are several areas in which we, and my father, are found wanting. Mostly my father.
Philip pauses his letter when William ducks behind the heavy library curtain, which is Philip's usual preferred refuge. "Mama says we have to be nice to a girl," his youngest brother declares, pouting. "And I can't look for any hiding places at Mr. Burr's house."
"Well, you don't know what could be hiding behind the curtains," Philip says, trying to sound as reasonable as he can. William's eyes go wide. "Mama wouldn't take us anywhere with mean ghosts or goblins, but they might be watching us all the same."
He should feel guiltier for frightening William so, but he does become much more docile on the subject of spending part of Christmas in a strange house. It also buys Philip a few more minutes to work on his letter to Theodosia before his sister Angelica comes to summon him on their mother's behalf.
"She and auntie are lecturing Father again," Angelica says with a laugh. As a model daughter, she has very little to do in the Schuyler Sisters' School of Etiquette except practice possible topics of conversation.
Philip is not so lucky. As the man of the hour, the School summons him whenever his father is acting particularly truculent. A small, cynical part of him is waiting for the day when one of them, probably Aunt Angelica, makes him lift his shirt to show his scar. "How can I help?" Philip asks, barely swallowing a sigh. They are due at the Burr household tomorrow, a fact he tries not to dwell on if he can help it. Whatever his father's contrary opinion this time, he is unlikely to reform overnight.
"I can't change the subject if Burr brings up politics!" Alexander cries. He is pacing in front of the fireplace, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. Eliza and Angelica flank the fire on either side, their arms folded, wearing identical stern expressions. "Like some political operative, hiding my own agenda!"
"A lesson that you might carry to Congress," Angelica says, raising one eyebrow.
It has little effect on Philip's father. "Men will think I have grown weak!"
Eliza steps forward, stopping her husband with one hand on his chest. "Men will think you have grown wise," she says.
His mother's hand, so small against his father's rumpled shirt, stills Alexander at last. His face relaxes, frenetic fury replaced by something softer and sadder, mirroring whatever he sees in Eliza's eyes. He looks up at Philip in the doorway.
"It's a great favor that I ask," Philip says quietly, and bows his head. When his father looks like this, caught in the hurricane of his own thoughts, Philip cannot begin to understand. All he can do is offer the love of a son for this father.
Alexander cups Eliza's cheek, though his eyes remain on Philip. "It wouldn't be so bad for men to think me wise."
"Class dismissed," Angelica says, and Philip prays that is the end of that.
Christmas Day dawns clear and cold, bringing its usual flurry of excitement. The family exchanges gifts in the morning. Philip tries to ignore the nervous lump in the pit of his stomach and get swept up in the little ones' exclamations, but he gives up the endeavor as futile when he can't even muster up a smile for the beautiful quill and inkpot from his parents. "It will be all right," his mother murmurs, and kisses his brow. "Senator Burr didn't ask us to stay the whole week. I think the family can manage a few hours."
"You would know best," Philip replies. The younger boys choose that moment to start scuffling over a set of wooden soldiers. His sister Angelica wades into the fray, raising her usual soft tones because she wants quiet to look over her new music book. Little Eliza contributes to the proceedings with a loud wail.
"Is this a household or a barnyard?" his father bellows, but the twinkle in his eyes broadcasts his amusement. All of the Hamilton children know their father is all bluster and no blizzard, and he can't resist spoiling his children in spite of the best in Biblical advice.
Philip groans and lets his forehead sink into his hands. Forget her father, Theodosia won't want to marry into such madness.
After gift-giving comes breakfast, and following that, the enormous task of washing and dressing a host of children. Philip scarcely has time to notice the persistent anxious lump in his belly as he ensures that all shoes are shined, all buttons are buttoned, and all hair is combed. His own preparations are simple enough--his best jacket, his best shirt, his best trousers, and so on--but his younger brothers are another story. They sulk when instructed to keep their freshly shined shoes clean, they stamp their feet when refused a helping of Christmas cookies from the tins the women are preparing, and they can't seem to move without popping a button or almost tearing their clothing.
"You take William and John, I'll take Little Eliza," his sister Angelica says at last, wild-eyed. Her curls are standing on end from chasing the boys around the house, but Philip refrains from mentioning it.
"Let's play a game," Philip says, squatting to look William and John in the eye. They return his gaze, unimpressed; Senator Burr will be nothing compared to the pair of them. "We're going to be members of Congress, and we have some very important laws to make, just like Pops."
The novelty of his improvised game piques their interest, and by the time they realize that Philip has tricked them into quietly scribbling with pencil and paper for two hours, it's time to leave.
Aaron Burr's household is like the man himself: quiet, with an understated elegance that nevertheless catches the eye. The house is festooned with impeccable wreaths and ribbons, a candle glowing in every window. The Hamilton children, from the youngest all the way to Philip, are quiet as they follow their parents and their aunt to the door. They pause for several seconds.
Eliza clears her throat. "Philip, the invitation was for you. You ought to be the one who knocks."
Philip shuffles to the front of his family. He entertains a fleeting wish that he were still small enough to hold his mother's hand. Still, he asked for Theodosia's hand as a man, and now he must act as a man to win over her father. Nothing for it, then: Philip reaches into the ornate wreath on the door and finds the knocker.
Rather than a servant, the person to open the door is Theodosia. "Hello," she says, fixing Philip with a dazzling smile. "I thought that the first face to greet you should be a friendly one."
"Hey," Philip replies. His answering smile must look besotted, and with good reason: Theodosia's attire is simpler than her costume for the winter ball, but no less lovely, and her features are as perfect as ever, her smile like a string of pearls in deep brown velvet. Philip forgets himself and presses her hand.
"I want a cookie!" William announces from the end of the line, his small voice carrying through the clear midwinter air. Several other voices shush him at once, but the spell is broken.
Laughing, Theodosia says, "Welcome, Hamilton family and Mrs. Church! Please come in and have something to eat."
It's not as easy as that, of course. The Burr household, consisting of only two Burrs, have fewer servants than the Hamilton household. Philip and Angelica make quick work of divesting the youngest boys and Little Eliza of their outerwear. Still overawed by the formal decor, William and John make little fuss over wiping their feet clean, though of course they're not perfectly silent. Philip can't help but notice how he and his family fill the space with noise and color, two qualities his home has always had in abundance.
"Good evening," Senator Burr says. He moves as subtly as he works in politics, all cat feet.
This time, Philip needs no prompting to step forward. "My family and I thank you for your most gracious invitation," he says with a bow. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," echoes the rest of his household. His sister Angelica executes a perfect curtsy with her elders. Even his father and the boys manage to bow without looking too stiff, and Philip is about to breathe a sigh of relief when the wooden soldier falls out of William's pocket and rolls across the floor, stopping at the toe of Aaron Burr's shoe.
"Uh-oh," William whispers, speaking the words of Philip's heart.
The good senator reaches down and picks up the toy soldier, turning it over as he studies the bright paint with his usual impassivity. "This is quite a fine gift," he says gravely. Then, to Philip's amazement, he squats down beside William, who is standing as straight and tall as he can, chin trembling at the thought of a grown man keeping his Christmas present. "I thank you for bringing it all this way to show me. I would keep him in your pocket for dinner, lest his uniform get dirty."
"Thank you, sir," William whispers. He accepts the toy, then flees to hide behind his mother's skirts.
Burr motions them forward. "Theodosia and I will show you to the dining room ourselves. You must forgive us; we're unused to hosting quite so large a party."
Out of the corner of his eye, Philip sees the thoughtful expression on his father's face. He has a low opinion of men who are unkind to children; in returning the wooden soldier, Aaron Burr offered Alexander Hamilton a glimpse of the father who raised a brilliant, kind daughter. Though Philip's palms are still damp with sweat, some of the weight in his stomach lifts.
"Your house is prettily turned out," Eliza says as the family settles into the dining room. "The wreaths give it such a festive air!"
Theodosia beams. "Cook and I make them every year. There are all sorts of things one can do with a few scraps of ribbon and some branch clippings. Papa says that he always knows it's Christmas when the whole house smells of pine."
"I do," Burr says. Like Philip, his eyes are fixed on Theodosia's happy face.
The first few courses go better than Philip dared hope. His siblings demonstrate the table manners drilled into them almost from birth, though Little Eliza's cheerful squeals as she mashes a piece of bread into her mouth argue that her training still has a ways to go. Luckily, both Burrs find her gurgles equally charming, and win his mother over entirely by praising the roundness of her cheeks and the dimples in her elbows. Alexander and Burr find common ground in gardening, of all things, and Aunt Angelica makes the inevitable "common ground" pun after they spend fifteen minutes in an enthusiastic exchange about some type of bush.
Philip tries to avoid Burr's notice and talks instead to Theodosia. They enjoy a delightful ramble of a conversation, one that begins with their rudimentary knowledge of Greek, then meanders into a discussion of democracy throughout history. Theodosia is less exhausting a conversational partner than his father or his aunt, yet her arguments are much more sound than the majority of Philip's college friends. He tells her so: "Your thoughts, as ever, take the full measure of a topic and provide the most sound of conclusions. I wish our nation would take Mrs. Wollstonecraft's advice and ensure a population of educated ladies."
Theodosia sighs. "I fear men in power are not much given to following the advice of ladies. After all, Mrs. Abigail Adams once advised her husband to remember the ladies."
His father's head snaps in their direction at the name "Adams." Philip feels his gaze like a wash of ice water across his skin. Theodosia's eyes go wide, realizing her error. Philip says, "I agree, but to change the subject--"
"John Adams," Alexander says, injecting scorn into every syllable. He shakes off Eliza's warning hand and Angelica's warning frown. "John Adams doesn't know a damn thing about how to run a country. Whatever good advice he might receive, he'll do the opposite. I would stake my life on it."
Aaron Burr sets down his fork and knife with hardly a glance at his meat. "I'm curious as to how you would run the country, sir, given the extent of your expertise." Though he doesn't smile, his eyes glitter at the dig.
His father takes the bait, as he always does. "Will you try on my views, as you're trying on my father-in-law's position? You have no convictions, sir. Do you think I don't know what you're gearing up for? Members of my party keep writing to me, asking whether I would choose Jefferson or Burr to lead our country. I let the letters go unanswered out of respect for my family's hour of need, but I will say this to you: Jefferson has beliefs, and you have none."
The gauntlet is thrown. Philip can almost see it come smashing down upon the table, upsetting the Christmas ham. Both men leap to their feet, ten seconds away from challenging each other to pistols at dawn, and the clock counts down: one two three four five six seven eight NINE--
"Enough!" Philip cries, and pounds his fist on the table. "I'm sick of all this fighting!"
"Philip--" his father begins, looking stricken.
"Now listen to what I say!" Philip says, glaring at both men. "There is no need to insult each other over Christmas dinner. It benefits no one, not even yourselves! Your children are in distress, your women deeply embarrassed by your behavior. This is not what anyone envisioned when I accepted Mr. Burr's invitation."
Theodosia stands with Philip, drawing herself to her full height as though her spine were steel rather than bone. "I agree with Philip," she says, shaking her head at her father. Turning to Eliza and Angelica, she makes a pretty curtsy. "Ladies, I cannot begin to tell you how ashamed I am to have guests treated in such a fashion. Please accept my deepest apologies."
"And I apologize," Eliza begins, but Alexander puts a hand on her shoulder.
"You have done nothing, my love," his father says. "Miss Burr." Alexander winces when Theodosia shrinks just a little under his gaze, though she still holds her ground. "I humble myself before you. When my son was born, I dreamed of building him a new nation. I never envisioned myself standing in the way of his happiness, and yet here I am." He bows his head. "I beg your forgiveness."
Aaron Burr does not speak a word as he moves from the head of the table to stand beside his daughter. Philip holds his breath, his mind a flat line where he once counted the beats of his pulse. "My Theo," is all Burr says. He kisses her brow, tender as a new mother, and then turns to Philip, one hand outstretched.
For a moment, Philip has no idea what the gesture means. "Sir?" he asks, but when Burr nods, Philip's brain catches up. "Sir!" he says, and shakes his hand, a Hamilton agreeing with a Burr about something at last. "Sir, I can't tell you what your blessing means to me."
"Then tell Theodosia," Burr says, half of his mouth curling upward. "You're quite the peacemaker, young man."
"With some small help from his fiancee," Theodosia says. Her voice is teasing, but her face speaks of the profoundest relief. Philip is sure his expression reflects much the same.
Aunt Angelica takes her glass and raises it high. "To your union!" she exclaims, and her joy is so infectious that even William lifts his glass, though he has no understanding of the proceedings around him.
The toasting goes on long after dinner, and Philip half feels as though he and Theodosia are married already. When he tells her as much, she flutters her eyelashes and says, "Then I suppose you can kiss me goodnight."
And so Philip concludes Christmas Day with Theodosia's warm lips on his, the whole of their future spread before them like a gift.