Hamilton and Peggy!
THE FIRST LETTER ARRIVES:
Alexander Hamilton to Margarita Schuyler
Morristown, New Jersey, February 1780
Though I have not had the happiness of a personal acquaintance with you, I have had the good fortune to see several very pretty pictures of your person and mind which have inspired me with a more than common partiality for both. Among others your sister carries a beautiful copy constantly about her, elegantly drawn by herself, of which she has two or three times favoured me with a sight . . .
You will no doubt admit it as a full proof of my frankness and good opinion of you, that I with so little ceremony introduce myself to your acquaintance and at the first step make you my confident.
PEGGY SCHUYLER KICKED OUT FROM UNDER HER heavy blankets, too preoccupied with a letter she had received to sleep. It came from an aide-de-camp to General Washington who proclaimed to be besotted with her sister Eliza—some silver-tongued man named Alexander Hamilton.
She shoved back the green toile bed curtains, gasping as frigid air pierced her linen chemise. “Good God! Can it possibly be this cold? Again?”
Teeth chattering, Peggy stirred the embers in the fireplace and dropped a split log from the basket onto them with as little noise as possible. It was still dark. She didn’t want to wake her three younger brothers, slumbering next door. Endearing boys, but what a raucous rabble—especially the seven-year-old, Rensselaer, who had just gone through breeching and was racing around the house crowing about the fact he had finally graduated to wearing pants instead of dresses. For sure, he’d rouse little Cornelia, still in a trundle bed in her parents’ room. And Peggy wanted to analyze Alexander Hamilton’s words more closely, privately, without her mother insisting she read them aloud to the family.
The splintery wood sparked, sputtered, and caught flame as Peggy hurriedly bundled herself in shawls and slipped her feet into soft buckskin moccasins that the Oneida tribe once gave her father, General Philip Schuyler. They were artfully decorated with porcupine quills and blue-jay feathers.
Peggy never let her mother see that she had pilfered the colorful slippers from her father’s closet. They were definitely not proper lady shoes. But her feet ached with a strange malady sometimes, especially on shivering days like this, and the moccasins were soft and forgiving. They also reminded Peggy of the vast New York wilderness just a few dozen miles north of their Albany mansion, and the elusive Iroquois who remained loyal to her father and the Patriot cause. Silently gliding through forests of towering oaks and chestnuts, they gathered information on Loyalist Tory Rangers who could strike the city at any moment.
Quaking, Peggy toasted herself by the fire. “It’s cold enough for Hell to freeze over,” she muttered. “All right, Lord, maybe this is proverb. Are you sending us a sign that our improbable Revolution may actually succeed? Please? If we just screw our courage to the sticking place?”
Peggy preferred quips to prayer, intelligent bargaining to pleading. Wit was her bayonet, her way of leading a charge. She detested the woman’s role of patiently sitting, smiling like a painted fashion doll while men battled and argued philosophy that could end tyranny. But she knew talking out loud in this manner was ridiculous. Her imaginary conversations were a recent habit, born of being deserted by her two older sisters, with whom Peggy had shared her bed and her every thought for all twenty-one years of her life.
Born in less than three years from oldest to youngest, the Schuyler sisters had been a giggly, triplet-like brood, tight-knit and entwined. As a trio, they complemented and balanced one another, each recognizing and coaxing out the best in the other two. Like pieces of those new jigsaw puzzles, only put together did the Schuyler sisters present a complete portrait, with the most beautiful and vibrant image of each clearer.
But Angelica had married, seduced by an ever-so-charming card gambler. And now Eliza, logically next in line to marry, was gone to Washington’s winter headquarters at Morristown to visit their aunt and her husband, who was surgeon general to the Continental Army.
And Peggy? Here she remained in Albany, alone, feeling bereft not only of her big sisters’ company but somehow of definition and purpose without her arms linked in theirs. She loved her little brothers and sister. But Peggy couldn’t share her heart with them. They couldn’t finish her sentences with her own thoughts the way Eliza and Angelica could.
Who was she without her big sisters? She had always been “and Peggy,” introduced third whenever the Schuylers greeted guests to their family houses. Witty, elegant Angelica; kind, affable Eliza; and Peggy. Within the circle of family and friends she was always described according to her older sisters’ attributes: “She’s saucy like Angelica. She’s artistic like Eliza.”
As she stared at the flames, Peggy’s hurt at being left behind turned to annoyance. It would be nice occasionally to be described purely as herself. In truth, with her sisters, Peggy was often reduced to confidante and accomplice. Rarely was she the center of anything. She was beginning to feel like Cinderella, always helping her sisters dress for balls she wasn’t attending, relegated to chores. Peggy was forever helping their mama and watching after the increasing brood of younger siblings.
And here was this letter, from another male intruder into the Schuyler sisterhood who seemed to think Peggy would happily become handmaiden to a romance that would take away her middle sister, too. This poet-penned aide-de-camp, this Alexander Hamilton, who wrote to introduce himself and to make Peggy his ally in his courtship of Eliza. And the bait to lure her in was complimenting her person and mind as Eliza had depicted it in a pretty miniature painting? As if Peggy was so easily manipulated by flattery.
But the thought that had kept her tossing and turning? Eliza was obviously falling for this man. Normally her gentle sister would be far too modest to show her artwork to anyone. This was dangerous. Peggy must remain a watchful sentry to Eliza’s enormous heart. She had learned the pitfalls of not being on guard for a sister the hard way with Angelica.
After lighting a candle, Peggy pulled Hamilton’s letter out from its hiding spot behind the cushion of a wingback armchair next to the hearth. She tucked her feet up under her, huddled in her shawls, and began to read.
I venture to tell you in confidence, that by some odd contrivance or other, your sister has found out the secret of interesting me in every thing that concerns her.
Hmpf. As if the sweet Eliza was some calculating enchantress, fumed Peggy. She squinted at the parchment.
The handwriting was neat and elegant. One would never know Hamilton had written his appeal in the middle of a war. Or in a camp laid waste by four feet of snow that refused to melt—where stubborn, stoic Patriots slept crammed together in tiny log huts, lying side by side with their feet to a fire, to share body warmth and make it through the night without frostbite.
I have already confessed the influence your sister has gained over me; yet notwithstanding this, I have some things of a very serious and heinous nature to lay to her charge.
Peggy fairly growled at that line. What could Eliza possibly be guilty of?
She is most unmercifully handsome and so perverse that she has none of those affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty. Her good sense is destitute of . . . vanity and ostentation. . . . She has good nature affability and vivacity unembellished with that charming frivolousiness which is justly deemed one of the principal accomplishments of a belle.
Hmpf again. Well, all right, he had that correct. Eliza was all earnestness. She did not play games. She did not pull on heartstrings for amusement. No, that was Angelica. The famed “thief of hearts,” as one officer had called her.
Peggy dropped Hamilton’s letter. Her room filled with the memory of her sisters’ mingled chimes of laughter. Their reading poetry aloud to one another’s sighs of romantic appreciation. Their harmless gossiping about the dashing soldiers surrounding their father when he commanded the Northern Army.
That had all changed the summer of 1777. When New York was burning and Americans were dying in apocalyptic numbers. When Angelica made her own defiant claim for liberty and breathlessly whispered, “I have a secret. Tonight, my dearest sisters, I elope with John Carter! You must help me escape.”
There is something in the behavior of [General Schuyler’s] daughters that makes you acquainted with them instantly. . . . I sat among them like an old Acquaintance, tho’ this only the seventh day since my introduction. . . . [The girls] would not let me leave them without some mark of kindness, and therefore loaded me with Grapes which they plucked fresh from the vines themselves.
—Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp to General George Washington
“IT IS YOUR PLAY, MADEMOISELLE.” JOHN CARTER smiled at Angelica as she hesitated over her cards. She and he were partners in a game of whist. Across the table, facing each other, Peggy and Eliza were paired against them.
Carter had laid down a six of spades, Peggy an eight of the same suit. To win the trick, Angelica needed to play a higher card than Peggy’s but anticipate what Eliza might hold in her hand. The deck from which they pulled was getting low. Her choice would likely determine the contest.
“Hearts is trump,” he reminded her. “I wonder. What will be your trick?” A mischievous challenge flickered in Carter’s blue-sky eyes. “Have you counted the cards in the previous rounds? May I hint at the solution?”
“Oh, but that would be cheating, Mr. Carter!” Eliza protested. “Partners sharing intelligence is against the rules.”
Angelica flushed at his implication that she had not been keeping track of the played cards or analyzing her opponents’ strategy—both key to winning whist. Lifting her chin, she lightly retorted, “Chaque joueur doit accepter les cartes que la vie lui distribué. Mais une fois qu’il les a en main, lui seul peut décider comment jouer ses cartes pour gagner la partie. . . .”
“Ahhhh.” Carter nodded, not taking his eyes off her. “You have read the French philosopher Voltaire.”
“I have read a great many things, sir. This may not be London, but we are still enlightened. You should see my father’s library.”
“I have not been invited.”
“C’est facile à remédier. Après ça tours, alors.”
Eliza held her cards to her face like a fan and whispered behind them, “I hate it when you speak French, Angelica. You know how I struggle with it.”
But Angelica did not break her gaze with Carter to respond.
So Peggy did instead. “All she said, sister, is that a player must accept the hand life deals, and only she may decide how to play those cards in order to win her game with fate.”
Eliza smiled gratefully.
Peggy didn’t translate that Angelica planned to take Carter into Philip Schuyler’s library after the card game. Eliza would be shocked at the implication of such a tête-à-tête. Perhaps Peggy would simply accompany them, claiming she wanted to retrieve a book from the two hundred shelved there. She’d been plaguing her pretty sister by shadowing her and her admirers to interrupt their wooing ever since Peggy was twelve years old and Angelica turned fifteen. That’s when her eldest sister’s first suitors had begun to flock to the family’s hilltop Georgian mansion. It had been a favorite amusement for a preadolescent Peggy—when she first resented Angelica suddenly treating her like a child and crowding her out of their sisterly triumvirate by sharing secrets about her romances with Eliza but not Peggy—and the cause of much hair-pulling between them.
It was so odd. The expanse of years between them was so elastic, sometimes no space of consequence at all and other times feeling as insurmountable as a chasm. Now that she was eighteen and Angelica twenty-one, the difference felt like nothing. Although tonight, Peggy was feeling a canyon-wide draft of cold air between them again.
Angelica did not play her card. The look between her and Carter was searing.
To Eliza, Peggy said, “I suspect our Angelica is deciding whether to play an ace . . . or a jack . . . saving her ace of spades for the next trick.” She paused. “I suggest your jack, Angelica.” Peggy gave her eldest sister a slight kick under the table to make her play her card while she looked pointedly at Carter to add: “It is always best to shed a knave.”
He roared with laughter. “Touché! A hit, Miss Peggy, a palpable hit.”
Peggy recognized that Carter was quoting from the sword-fight scene in the play Hamlet with his comment. She read, too, after all. Perhaps Carter knew that and was trying to play to her vanity about her intellectualism. She refused to take the lure. Peggy didn’t much like the man. For one thing, he was born to British aristocracy. There was something too courtly, too frivolous, too showy about him in his beige-and-green-striped coat, his silk waistcoat embroidered with pink and green flower sprigs. He had actually donned an old-world wig for the evening, which hardly any real Patriot did.
Yes, Mr. Carter had reportedly fled England to join the cause. Yes, he was as beautiful a man as had ever graced their home. Yes, his European sophistication was exhilarating, especially for Angelica, who had essentially grown up in New York City when their father served in the colony’s assembly. Now occupied by the British, New York City was forbidden enemy territory. The Schuyler sisters were relegated to their hometown of Albany. With its somber Dutch culture and architecture, trading outpost atmosphere, and narrow, muddy streets, it hardly compared.
So Angelica was restless—despite the young soldiers occupying the city’s garrison and the parade of statesmen who visited to confer about the war with their father. Peggy’s personal favorite had been Benjamin Franklin. He’d called her “wild Peggy.” The way he said it had been more compliment than criticism. His sardonic commentary made her laugh.
As to Carter? Peggy just couldn’t trust a man whose eyelashes were longer and thicker than her own. He also couldn’t seem to answer to his whereabouts in the past few years without squirming a bit. Besides, he had been ordered by Congress to audit their father’s military account books, to investigate its accusations that General Schuyler had mishandled the Patriot invasion of Canada the previous winter. That alone was enough to damn Carter in Peggy’s mind.
She glared at him. The criticism of her father for the Canadian debacle was so unfair. No one had anticipated that Quebec would put up such a fight. Everyone assumed French Canadians would want to throw off British rule, too, even become the fourteenth American state. Yet, as commander of the Northern Army, Schuyler was blamed for Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery choosing to storm Quebec City during a blizzard and the disastrous retreat that followed.
Her father wasn’t even there! He’d been ravaged by a horrendous flare-up of gout and remained in camp at the army’s surgeon insistence. He was so ill Peggy’s mother dared the harrowing journey north to care for him with her special teas. Peggy and Eliza had accompanied Catharine on that hazardous trek. Someone had to. Their mother was six months pregnant at the time—she could miscarry on the journey.
Thinking on the risks her mother had taken to save her husband’s life and the poor untrained huntsmen-soldiers who slogged through the wilds of northern New York to take on British forces made playing the card game whist seem a superficial pastime indeed.
“Eliza”—Peggy broke the silence of waiting for Angelica’s next play—“do you remember when we went to Ticonderoga to care for Papa?”
“How could I forget?” Eliza answered. “Oh my goodness, Mr. Carter, the things we saw.”
Angelica frowned over her cards.
“Indeed so. But you were very brave, Eliza. Why, we nearly lost her at the very beginning of our journey, Mr. Carter. You see, our father had made himself deathly ill in service to our country. Knowing how concerned he is—always—for the welfare of his soldiers—even when he is racked with violent fluxes—we stopped first at our Saratoga farm to gather supplies for the fort. At Papa’s own expense, of course. When we crossed the Hudson River, our wagon was so laden it tipped the flat-bottomed ferry. We nearly dumped our beloved Eliza into the currents. She would have been swept away, for sure.”
“Good God, Miss Eliza! I am grateful you were spared.”
Angelica shot Peggy a withering look, clearly annoyed that Peggy was hogging Carter’s attention and sharing a story about an adventure she’d missed, choosing instead to stay in New York City to enjoy what would end up being its last season of Patriot balls.
Peggy ignored Angelica’s glare to continue bedeviling her. “Oh, but that was only the beginning, Mr. Carter! For days, our wagon jolted along that path on the river’s eastern shore. Whenever the wagon’s wheels stuck fast in mud, Mama had to get out and yank on the oxen. Oh, how she pled with those stupid beasts. Eliza and I had to push from behind.”
“What?” Carter asked. “You didn’t have a military escort to help?”
“Oh no, Mr. Carter.” Peggy smiled prettily to hide her inward smirk at her sudden mental picture of the immaculately dressed Carter trying to brave the wilderness road. Why couldn’t Angelica see him for a popinjay fop? But aloud she said, “Following our papa’s unselfish example, we only asked for one guide. We did not want to take any more men from the defense of our nation.”
Peggy was about to continue her travelogue when she was suddenly beset with harsher memories of that exhausting, one-hundred-mile journey through the forbidding forests. She shivered involuntarily, even though she sat next to a fire blazing brightly in their ornate yellow parlor, soft with a florid Brussels carpet and cushioned chairs. How she, Eliza, and their mother had shivered back then—through bone-chilling downpours, and terrorized by the howls of wolves hunting in the thick, primeval woods all around them. What else, who else might be out there in the shadows was their constant question.
They had been so relieved to reach the safety of their halfway point—Fort Edward—hoping for a cot and a hot meal. But the fort was a burned-out ruin, and the soldiers holding the skeletal fortification had no provisions. In pity for the bedraggled women, they managed to shoot a bear and cook it over open fires to feed them. That scorched fresh-kill bear meat had tasted better than any carefully dressed turkey presented in their mansion’s elegant dining room. It tasted of staggeringly beautiful, untamed frontiers, of a gut euphoria at reaching safety after being in danger, of a freedom from Old Europe parlor-room niceties and banalities.
As Peggy had torn the meat off her roasting stick with her teeth, one of the soldiers proclaimed her as good a woodsman as ever a boy was. Catharine had been horrified. Peggy had grinned, grease running down her chin, loving the compliment.
Carter tapped his cards on the table, interrupting Peggy’s musings. He laid them facedown, crossed his arms, leaned back, and tossed a dimpled smile of encouragement toward Angelica. Smooth, unblemished features; wide-set, luminous eyes framed by almost feminine brows. God, he was irritating with his sculpture-perfect face, his pampered refinement!
“Have you ever eaten bear meat, Mr. Carter?” Peggy asked abruptly.
He startled. “No, I have not, Miss Peggy.” But he was clearly amused by the out-of-the-blue question. “Is it good?”
“Deeee-li-cious.” Peggy drew out the word.
This time Angelica kicked her under the table.
Carter went back to dreamily staring at Angelica. The man had recently finished his Congress-ordered audit and found Schuyler’s records beyond reproach. But still he lingered about their house, like a bee drunk on honeysuckle. Peggy kept expecting her father to shoo him off. But Schuyler seemed to think Carter might be useful for intelligence gathering among Loyalists, since he was such a recent émigré from Great Britain.
That, at least, Peggy could understand. Having an ear to Tory homes was critically important. Longtime neighbors who remained loyal to the Crown had proven quite dangerous. Just a few weeks before, her father had uncovered a Tory plot to blow up Albany’s powder magazine and set fire to the city. The wretches had even planted incendiaries all around town. Peggy had known one of the conspirators all her life.
But did this highborn Carter have what it took to be a spy? How Peggy wished she could volunteer for that job instead. She could dress up and act like a boy to hide her identity, just like Viola did in her favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. Shaking her head slightly, Peggy snapped herself back to their card game. “Angelica, play your card. We are all waiting.”
“I would happily wait a century if your sister asked it of me,” said Carter. “Frankly, each card she plays, Miss Peggy, brings our game closer to its end. A melancholy thing.”
Eliza sighed, charmed. Of course Eliza would be charmed.
Ever so slowly, Angelica pulled out a card and laid it on the table. The queen of hearts. “Voilà! I believe hearts rule?”
A delighted grin lit up Carter’s countenance. “The queen of hearts commands all she surveys or touches.” He bowed slightly.
Oh, for pity’s sake. Peggy rolled her eyes. Angelica was a smarter player than that. There was no need to pull out such cannon fire for this trick. By Peggy’s calculations, Angelica had the spades to win the play easily without resorting to a trump. It was pure flirtation. Deftly done, though, she had to admit.
“Well, with that move, we can only capitulate, Peggy.” Eliza tossed down her cards and held her hand to her heart. She was in complete awe of her big sister’s coquettish wordplay.
Angelica stood. Shaking out her sapphire satin skirt and the tiers of creamy lace peeking out from her elbow-length sleeves, she asked, “Voulez-vous voir la bibliothèque maintenant?”
“Ah, oui!” Carter rose. “Est-il permis d’examiner les volumes?”
The impertinence! Did he have permission to examine the volumes, indeed. I should say not! thought Peggy. Seeing Eliza’s hurt at being excluded once again by Angelica’s French gave her an idea. “Eliza,” she chirped, and purposefully mistranslated: “Mr. Carter was just saying how much he longed to hear you play the pianoforte.”
How that sweet, heart-shaped face brightened. And how Angelica’s clouded.
Again, Carter burst out laughing.
Well, at least he had a sense of humor, thought Peggy.
“Mademoiselle.” He held out his hand to Eliza to escort her across the parlor. Eliza giggled, blushed, and took it. She settled in front of a polished mahogany square-box piano, her billowing pink taffeta gown making a pretty picture against the room’s gold-flocked wallpaper.
Eliza took a deep breath before beginning the Allegro first movement of a Haydn sonata. With nimble delicacy, her fingers danced up and down the octaves in crystalline runs. Then, with the piece’s Andante, Eliza shifted moods, drawing out the expressive melody, lingering over its melancholy phrases. She swayed slightly as she touched the ivory keys, in complete communion with the lyrical movement, becoming a graceful personification of its airy, sublime tune.
Angelica and Peggy smiled at each other, all irritation between them extinguished. Their middle sister had that effect on them. Angelica and Peggy could be spit and rasp. Eliza was balm. She might not read as much as they. She might not speak French well, nor quip with their alacrity, but she far surpassed them in the arts and in the sincerity of her joys. Her music was magic.
Peggy glanced up at Carter, who stood directly behind Angelica. He was as rapt as they. Peggy softened. All right, he had a soul. Peggy always warmed to anyone who appreciated Eliza.
Coming to the end of her incantation, Eliza reluctantly pulled her hands back from the keyboard. She turned to face her listeners as they clapped—Carter impressed, Angelica and Peggy filled with affectionate pride.
“Sing with me, sisters,” Eliza beckoned.
“Please, dear ladies, grant me that rapture,” exclaimed Carter. “I will hold the image to my heart all my life, a shield against future unhappiness.”
Oh my, thought Peggy, how her sister succumbed to poetic rhetoric. How she wore her passionate heart on her sleeve. Who was Peggy to break it? She relented and decided to help rather than hinder Angelica’s obvious love affair. She wasn’t that good of a singer anyway. “Not I, Mr. Carter. I feel a bit hoarse. But Angelica has the voice of a seraphim angel.”
Mouthing “thank you,” Angelica swept across the floor to join Eliza.
The two conferred in whispers, holding their lips to each other’s ears, their enormous nut-brown eyes and luxurious dark curls lovely mirror images. Peggy had the same eyes, the same curls—although hers tended to frizz—and the same dimpled cleft in her chin. But her sisters were graced with their mother’s long neck, high cheekbones, and delicate jawline. Peggy had inherited their father’s more aquiline nose, his slightly longer face and crooked teeth. Still attractive, she knew, but not as softly alluring. Whenever she saw her older sisters framed together like this, she felt a jealous pang, a fear of inadequacy. They were much to live up to.
Her sisters chose their aria. As Angelica’s dulcet voice lilted through the room, Carter remained mesmerized.
“Can you play any of the music from The Beggar’s Opera, Miss Eliza?” he asked when the girls concluded.
“Goodness, sir, no,” demurred Eliza. The work was a wildly popular satire of Italian opera, but scandalous in its featuring of London’s thieves, prostitutes, and debtors’ prisons.
“I know it!” Angelica piped up.
They all did, of course. But only Angelica would admit so.
“Please, then, permit me.” Carter cleared his throat and began a cappella the lines sung by the rogue Macheath. “Were I laid in Greenland’s coast, and in my arms embraced my lass . . .”
His tenor voice was as resonant and silky as any actor’s Peggy had seen in New York City theater. She felt her left eyebrow shoot up in approval, an unconscious reaction that she knew gave away her thoughts.
The song was a back-and-forth between Macheath and the heroine. Carter strode across the floor to take Angelica’s hands so they could harmonize together. She joined in singing:
“And I would love you all the day.
Every night would kiss and play,
If with me you’d fondly stray
Over the hills and far away . . .”
They stopped and simultaneously drew in a sharp breath. Before Peggy could interrupt, Carter leaned over and kissed Angelica. On her mouth, lingering, searching, in a way that made Peggy blush for her sister. Angelica did not draw back.
“Sir! What is the meaning of this?”
“Papa!” the girls squeaked.
None of them had heard the enormous back door of the hall open, their father handing his cloak and tricorn hat to Prince, his personal attendant and the enslaved servant he trusted to greet all guests to the mansion. Nor had they heard Schuyler enter the room. They were that bewitched by Carter’s musical seduction.
“I repeat, sir,” Schuyler bellowed. “What is the meaning of your behavior?”
Tall, muscular, lithe, their father—when he wasn’t ill—exuded a commanding prowess. He’d spent years traversing New York’s upper lakes and dense forests—first learning to trap and trade with the Iroquois, then as a colonel in the French and Indian War. The Oneida—one of the Iroquois Confederacy’s six tribes—had named him Thoniondakayon, one who walks young with old wisdom. With such bearing, rarely did Schuyler need to raise his voice.
Angelica’s creamy, soft hands balled into fists at her side. Peggy could imagine Angelica’s silk-slippered foot stamping with indignation under her gown—a gesture that always preceded impassioned speeches about her rights, peppered with quotes from Thomas Paine.
Schuyler’s shout brought their mother scampering down the staircase, from where she had been putting her thirteenth child to bed. Having lost six children in infancy already, Catharine tended her babies with an anxious carefulness herself, despite having several enslaved female attendants who could help.
“Kitty.” Schuyler turned to her. “Why were you not chaperoning?”
Catharine looked with bewilderment at her daughters before answering in her blunt Dutch-housewife way: “I expect them to safeguard one another’s virtue.”
“They have failed one another in that tonight.”
“How so, sir?”
“I just caught Angelica . . . here, in our parlor . . . behaving . . . allowing this man liberties.”
Catharine frowned. She wagged her finger at Angelica as if she were a toddler. “I should have known. I have never been able to teach you proper modesty, daughter, or proper restraint.”
Angelica’s face turned red with humiliation. “And who was it failed you in that regard, Mama?” she shot back. “When Papa was courting you?”
Peggy’s and Eliza’s mouths popped open at Angelica’s salvo. No one had ever dared acknowledge the fact she had been born only five months past her parents’ wedding day. A shocked silence fell. The clock ticked; the fire in the hearth popped and threw sparks; one of the grooms could be heard calling for lanterns to be lit in the back courtyard.
Angelica stood her ground, smoothed her skirts, and took advantage of her command of the stage. “I love him, Papa.”
At that Carter gasped. But it took him only a moment to regain his gallantry. He bowed low. “General Schuyler, may I ask the honor of your daughter’s hand in marriage?”
Eliza about swooned at the romance of all she was witnessing.
Peggy inwardly groaned. Angelica seemed more defiant than beguiled by love. She longed to ask her sister what in the world she was thinking.
But Schuyler’s reaction was immediate and vehement. “Good Lord, man. No!”
“Papa!” Angelica wailed.
“My beloved child,” he began.
“I am no child!”
“Then do not act like one, Engeltje.” When their father used the original Dutch version of their Christian names, the sisters knew they were in serious trouble.
“I do not have time to debate this,” he continued, holding his hand up to stop Angelica’s protest. “Canadian Oneida have warned me of British plans. As soon as the roads thaw, they will invade New York, coming south from Quebec down Lake Champlain. General Burgoyne has amassed eight thousand British and Hessian solders. One hundred pieces of artillery. Those numbers triple ours.”
“Goede God,” murmured Catharine.
“He is also recruiting Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, and Mohawks as scouts and New York Loyalists to join his ranks.
“At dawn, I must ride for Philadelphia to meet with Congress. First to deal with the nonsense this man”—he gestured toward Carter—“was sent to investigate me for. And then to plead for more troops, more horses, more salted meat, more ammunition.” He rubbed his forehead. “I swear Congress expects us to fight on nothing but self-sacrifice and rhetoric.”
Schuyler paced, worrying more to himself than to the other people in the room. “The war could be lost right here in the coming weeks.”
“But, Papa,” Angelica interrupted him, “this has nothing to do with Mr. Carter and me.”
Absorbed by impending catastrophe, Schuyler didn’t hear her.
He paced on.
Angelica reached out and stopped him. He blinked, then focused on his daughter. Somehow his voice gentled. “You cannot marry this man, Angelica. I am not even certain of his real name. Carter is an alias. I have just learned that he fled England because of a duel. Perhaps over a woman. Perhaps over a gambling debt. I do not care which. This man is not for you.”
Oh, Papa, thought Peggy sadly. How could he know so little about Angelica’s willfulness? Now that he’d commanded her obedience and denied her wants, Angelica wouldn’t give a fig what he might uncover about Carter. Intrigue would only make her suitor more romantic and tantalizing in Angelica’s mind.
Schuyler swung around to face down Carter. “Be gone, sir. Do not return to this house. You are no longer welcome around my daughters.”
Colonel Richard Varick to Major General Philip Schuyler
Albany, April–May, 1777
It is reported here that the Enemy are preparing to come up the River [from New York City]. You may easily conceive how Mrs. Schuyler feels on the business, however, we have almost induced her to vacate. . . .
Last night brought an account of [British] frigates and transports . . . above Peeks Kill. The ladies were in a distressing situation for an hour or better and I am getting boxes made [for packing] for fear of the worst.
[We are] in very sanguine expectations of receiving some letters from you . . . but our most earnest wishes were disappointed, which induces the ladies to think that you are . . . unfortunately fallen into the hands of the Tories.
—I am Dear Sir, Your Most Obedt & Very Hblsevt, Richd Varick
“RIDER APPROACHING THE HOUSE!”
The cry by one of Schuyler’s guards sent the Schuyler family scrambling from their breakfast to the window.
“It’s an express messenger!” shouted twelve-year-old John. He pressed his nose against the glass as his younger brothers, Jeremiah and Rensselaer, climbed on his back to look. “He’s wearing blue and buff.”
“Praise God,” murmured Eliza, taking Peggy’s hand. “Maybe it’s finally a letter from Papa.” The family had been worried sick about their father now that the British had sailed up the Hudson River. There had been no word from Schuyler at all. What if he had been taken prisoner?
The horse was lathered, its breathing labored. Whatever the news, it was urgent enough to gallop. A reassuring note from their father would not necessitate pushing a horse so hard.
In the past days, they’d been bombarded by unnerving reports of British ships and troops moving quickly toward them, of Loyalist Tories torching barns in the night and kidnapping Patriot leaders. The guards placed around the Schuyler mansion to protect the home and family of the Northern Army’s commander were jumpy. Most of them were old or semi-crippled from wounds—probably of little help in real trouble.
The rider’s face was grim as he handed a packet of letters to the sentry. Then he galloped away down the drive toward the fort at the northwest peak of town, where Patriot troops were encamped. Given its strategic location near where two major waterways met—the north-to-south-flowing Hudson that stretched from just below Canada, all the way to New York City, and the west-to-east Mohawk—Albany had become the center for troops guarding against British invasion from Canada.
Peggy hoped the poor horse made it. The Schuyler estate was a mile outside the south end of town. The animal was clearly exhausted. Turning from the window, Peggy caught Angelica’s eye. She, too, was tense, obviously recognizing the delivery was unlikely to be happy news.
As Lieutenant Colonel Richard Varick left the dining room to collect the letters, Catharine shooed her children back to their meal. “Your hasty pudding will grow cold,” she chided. “Mary worked hard to make it for you.”
Already finished with her porridge of cornmeal, molasses, milk, and butter, Peggy reached for a slice of bread, made of wheat from their fields in Saratoga. Before the war, their table had also been graced with salted meats and smoked fish at breakfast. But even the richest ate more lean these days, given the food shortages made by two armies foraging. The Schuylers still had preserves made from her father’s hybrid plums, though, which he’d cultivated to be sweeter and fuller than the standard. Peggy wondered if her father would ever be able to return to the life he most loved—that of a gentleman farmer, overseeing his crops. Fighting had already dragged on for two years.
Varick reentered, sorting the mail. A gangly twenty-four-year-old, her father’s military secretary was all hotheaded idealism, a Dutchman from Hackensack, New Jersey, who had instantly thrown off his law apprenticeship to join the cause. He was fiercely devoted to Schuyler. Peggy had grown fond of him for his emotional outbursts. Right before the rider interrupted their meal, Varick had been hammering the table with his fist and damning John Adams for attacking her papa’s military judgment.
“Anything for us, Colonel?” Catharine asked.
“No, ma’am,” he answered, distracted with one of the letters. For a few moments the only sounds were silver spoons scraping against china and a rooster sounding off in the courtyard out back.
“Godverdomme!” Varick bolted up out of his chair, shaking his head as he hastily reread a dispatch from Connecticut.
“Mr. Varick, what is it?” In her anxiety about its contents, Catharine forwent her usual reprimand for someone using the Lord’s name in vain.
Varick looked up from the paper, his gray eyes wide, his face pale. “The British have destroyed our supply depots at Danbury.”
Everyone moaned. The Patriots couldn’t afford to lose one musket.
“How bad is it?” Peggy asked.
“I hate to say, miss. I do not wish to alarm you.”
“You are alarming us more, Mr. Varick, by not divulging the details,” Angelica weighed in. “And pretending we are not strong enough to know facts simply insults us.”
“As you wish, miss.” Sheepishly, Varick glanced down at the paper. “They torched seventeen hundred tents, five thousand pairs of shoes, four thousand barrels of beef, five thousand of flour, sixty hogshead of rum. They also set fire to the town. Danbury’s meetinghouse and forty of its homes are ashes.”
Godverdomme indeed, thought Peggy.
“Five thousand boots burned when so many of our soldiers march barefoot?” Catharine shook her head. “How did we leave such stores undefended?”
Varick dropped the dispatch to the table. “Forgive me, Mrs. Schuyler.” He bowed formally to her and then to each Schuyler as he said, “Miss Angelica, Miss Eliza, boys. I think I’d best issue orders for Albany residents to strip all lead from Albany’s roofs and windows and melt it down for musket balls.” He saved his final bow for Peggy. “Miss Peggy,” he added with a shy smile.
Then he dashed out the door, all earnest flurry.
Her brother John made a face at Peggy and teasingly thump-thumped his hand against his heart. Eliza giggled.
“Colonel Varick is just grateful for the respect I show him,” Peggy snapped. “You should be, too, for how much he helps Papa!”
Oh, why did Congress keep their father bogged down in Philadelphia continuing to answer partisan questions about last year’s failings in Canada? He should be in Albany, readying his army! It was nonsense. Petty politics. Regional squabbling kept alive by sanctimonious, puritanical New Englanders! They just didn’t like the fact her father was Dutch!
“Poor Papa,” she said aloud. Maybe the letter said something about his whereabouts. Peggy reached for it just as John did. But Peggy snatched it up first.
“At least share it out loud,” her younger brother grumbled as she scanned its contents.
But Peggy was so stunned by the heroics described in the letter, she kept reading until the twelve-year-old hit her with a well-hurled hunk of bread—right on her forehead!
“I say, good shot!” Jeremiah shouted, as he and Rensselaer guffawed.
Peggy’s face flamed. “Oh, you’re going to regret—”
“Margarita!” Catharine interrupted. “What else does the dispatch say?”
Peggy glared at her brothers before regaining her deportment. “You remember General Benedict Arnold, Mama?”
“Of course. After his brilliant defense of Valcour Island in Lake Champlain last fall, your father considers him the nation’s bravest commander.”
“Well, he has amazed again. When he learned of the British and Tory treachery at Danbury, General Arnold rode through the night in a rainstorm to set a trap for the British as they made the march back to their ships. He and the local militia managed to build a breastwork of wagons, rocks, and dirt and then lay in wait.
“Arnold’s horse was pierced with nine musket balls during the fight. Finally it fell, the general caught in his stirrups. A Redcoat rushed toward him, bayonet ready, shouting at him to surrender.” Peggy quickly skimmed the next few lines. Holding up her fist, she read dramatically, “‘Not yet!’ the brave Arnold exclaimed, and pulled out his pistol and shot his enemy dead, before extricating himself from his horse and escaping into the nearby swamp.”
The boys jumped out of their seats, shouting, “Huzzah!”
Jeremiah skipped around the table whistling “Yankee Doodle.”
Eliza laughed and clapped on the beat.
“Thank God General Arnold is on our side,” said Catharine, reaching for more bread and plum preserves.
How could she think of eating? thought Peggy. “Excuse me, everyone, but you do know where Danbury is, don’t you?”
“Near Peeks Kill,” answered Angelica. “Right where those British frigates have been seen.”
The boys froze.
Peggy nodded. “Exactly. Presumably on their way upriver to attack West Point.”
Slowly, Angelica finished her sister’s thought. “And if they take West Point, that gives them control of the lower Hudson River . . . all the way down to New York City. The river there is deep enough for any of their seagoing sloops and men-of-war to traverse.”
“Controlling the Hudson,” added Peggy, “is the perfect way to decapitate us—cutting New England off from the rest of the states. Just like Mr. Franklin’s ‘Join or Die’ cartoon of the severed snake warns us.” Peggy considered the situation with growing alarm. “You know, if General Burgoyne comes down from Canada and manages to seize Lake Champlain . . . then heads downstream to Fort Ticonderoga and can take it . . . Burgoyne will be free to keep moving south, which brings his eight thousand troops to . . .” Peggy trailed off.
None of them had to verbalize the obvious meeting point for the two British armies—Albany. Thousands of British soldiers, bent on taking control of the country and crushing the Revolution and its Patriots, converging right where they sat.
Eliza covered her mouth, her large, soft eyes wide in fear. The boys plopped down in their chairs.
“Tush, child.” Catharine reached over to pat Eliza’s hand. “We must have faith.” Even though her voice quavered, she worked to stanch Eliza’s nervousness. “Your papa says Fort Ticonderoga is impregnable. It is shielded by cliffs too steep to climb and by the lake, which our Patriots have barred with a chain of thick logs moored by double iron links and sunken piers.”
“That’s right,” crowed John. “Papa said that the king’s whole armada couldn’t break it apart.”
“There, you see, my dear?” Catharine crooned to Eliza.
“You know the other thing that raid on Danbury would do, don’t you, Mother?” Angelica asked, an insolent edge to her voice. The tension between mother and daughter since Schuyler had banished Angelica’s card-playing suitor had been like the stinging pop and spark of fabric brushing together. “It would embolden all Tories in that district. Right along the road Papa will need to take to make it home from Philadelphia.”
“Oh, Angelica, don’t,” whispered Peggy. “Don’t frighten Mama on purpose.” When Angelica was angry, she could go for the most vulnerable part of her adversary. Peggy had experienced that plenty during their squabbles.
But Angelica ignored her. “I suppose if they capture Papa, they would take him to the British prison ships in New York harbor. Mr. Carter has written me appalling accounts—of so many Americans prisoners being crowded together into the ships’ holds that they almost suffocated for want of air. The pork and bread given them is unfit for humans, riddled with weevils. If they receive rations at all. Sometimes they go for days with nothing. Men afflicted with dysentery, dying in their own filth.”
“Angelica!” Eliza whimpered, pushing away her pudding.
Angelica didn’t pause, not even in pity for Eliza, which told Peggy just how much she wanted to rattle their mother. “The Redcoats terrorize Patriot officers for fun—condemning them to be hanged, making them ride coffins to the gallows, with ropes round their necks. Only to be told at the last minute, in front of a jeering crowd of the city’s Loyalist Tories, that they are to be spared.”
Ashen, Catharine rose slowly from her chair. Peggy expected her to rail against Angelica’s bringing their father bad luck by even suggesting his being apprehended by the enemy. She was Old Dutch superstitious that way. But instead Catharine asked, “You have been in communication with Mr. Carter?” Her voice was icy.
Angelica answered her mother’s cold imperiousness with hot defiance: “Papa only forbade him from this house. He said nothing of our exchanging letters. And you know, Mother, Mr. Carter has the ear of General Washington’s staff, a Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton in particular. Mr. Carter is to be a commissary for the army. Replacing that flour, those boots burned by the British at Danbury? That is now Mr. Carter’s job. As Papa himself said, an army that is starving or doesn’t have ammunition cannot fight. In fact, it is now rather unpatriotic to speak ill of Mr. Carter.”
She stood up as well, eye to eye with Catharine. “I still want to marry him. It is my right. Our Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal. That all of us have God-given, unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mr. Carter makes me happy.”
Catharine snorted. “You ignore an important line in that document, Engeltje. As you just recited, the declaration says that all men are created equal. We women are still subject to the law of our husbands, and”—she emphasized the next words—“our fathers.”
She stepped away from her chair and rested her hand on the chatelaine at her waist—a decorative silver belt clasp that held all the keys to the mansion’s cabinets and doors. “Your papa has forbidden your marrying this renegade. So I will be locking up the house from now on, for your safety.” She forced a brittle, authoritative smile. “And for your future pursuit of happiness.”
She looked to her sons. “Finish your breakfast, children. In this crisis, it is a crime to waste food.” With that Catharine swept out of the room. From the hall came two loud clicks as the bolts shut on the front and back doors.
That night, Angelica reclined in one of the wide window seats of the sisters’ bedroom, silently gazing out into the darkness. Eliza embroidered one of her intricate pictures in thread. Peggy sat on the edge of their bed, swinging her legs and reading aloud to them—Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded.
“Well, but, Mrs. Jervis, said I, let me ask you, if he can stoop to like such a poor girl as me . . .” Peggy broke off reading and hurled the Richardson novel against the wall. “I know you wanted to hear it, Eliza, but I cannot read this insipid rubbish again!”
Aghast, Eliza cried, “You shouldn’t throw a book, Peggy! You’ll break the binding.”
“Oh, Eliza, we should do more than just break the binding of that novel. Don’t you remember that its heroine is almost raped by the master of the house, when he disguises himself as another housemaid to climb in bed with her? Then he claims he loves her but his family won’t let him marry her because of the social chasm between them?” Peggy flopped back on the bed, kicking and flailing her arms. “For pity’s sake!”
Normally Peggy’s outrage with vacuous prose would have won applause from her oldest sister. But Angelica continued to stare out the window. Quietly, she said, “And there you have my plight.”
“Oh my goodness, Angelica.” Eliza dropped her hoop-bound cloth. “Have you been . . . have you been . . .”
“Attacked? By Mr. Carter? No. But my heart, my happiness are attacked, most assuredly. And if Mother had her way, she would marry me off to some boring idiot. Some mild-mannered Dutchman, I imagine. A Mr. Varick, for instance.”
“Oh, Angelica, Richard Varick is not that bad,” replied Peggy.
“Would you want to marry him?”
“No!” Peggy made a face. “But that’s not the point, and not what Mama has suggested.”
“Just wait. She might.” Angelica spoke without turning from the window.
“What are you looking at?” Eliza asked. “Are . . . are you watching for Redcoats? Do you think it possible they will make it up here so fast?” Eliza’s voice was climbing into an anxious soprano. “Remember New York City? Within ten minutes of the first sighting of a British gunship, the whole bay was filled with boats. Like all of London was under sail and afloat. One minute none and a half hour later, thirty-two thousand Redcoats.”
“Beyond West Point, the river is not deep enough for troop transports,” Peggy said, trying to assuage her fears.
Angelica seemed oblivious. “Well, they can certainly land at Kingston and then make the march up in a few—” Suddenly, Angelica sat bolt upright, placing her hand on the windowpane. “He’s here,” she whispered.
“Who? Papa?” Eliza scampered to the window to look out.
But Peggy guessed instantly. Not their papa. Carter.
Angelica swung excitedly out of the window seat. Her sudden movement and her voluminous skirts would have knocked Eliza over had Angelica not caught her by the elbow. “I have a secret,” she burbled with excitement. “Tonight, my dearest sisters, I elope with John Carter! You must help me escape.”
After much fanning and coaxing, Eliza came to, propped up by her sisters, in a rainbow heap of petticoats, disheveled curls, and tears on pretty faces. “Don’t leave us, Angelica,” Eliza whimpered. “We won’t be the same without you.”
“Think about this carefully, Angelica,” Peggy urged. “Papa told you this man is a gambler, a debtor! A murderer maybe!”
“That’s rumor and Papa’s provincial opinion. No, Peggy. John told me all about the duel. It was over the honor of a lady who had fallen desperately in love with him. John was trying to protect her good name.”
“How gallant,” murmured Eliza.
“But Angelica”—Peggy continued to push for reason—“why did he have to flee England? Men fight duels all the time without having to run away.”
“For the Revolution! And he’s heading to Boston now that the port is liberated. Things are happening there. The Sons of Liberty are there.” Angelica grew more and more excited as she spoke. “Don’t you remember what it was like in New York City before the British Army invaded and occupied it? All those plays, the dance classes, the balls, the fox hunts, the concerts?
“Remember listening to all those impassioned speeches at the Liberty Pole on the Common about liberty and human capabilities? Didn’t it make your mind soar? And stir your blood? Remember George Washington’s spectacular parade through the city when he was made the supreme commander of our armies? The fife and drums, the dress uniforms, all those young men, the gorgeous horses.”
“Of course I remember!” Peggy interrupted. “Papa rode right beside General Washington in that parade. You are forgetting Papa, sister. Think how you will break his heart by doing this. Right at a time our countrymen need his full attention! Look at all the British maneuvers going on. Our city may become the critical battlefield of the war. Things will hardly be dull around here. Mark my words.”
“Blood, cannon fire, and pain, yes.” Angelica nodded, sobering. “But no glory for us. No matter how much you and I might want to fight in the war, we cannot, Peggy. Women are not allowed to lead a charge.” She shrugged. “But I could help persuade foreign dignitaries to go back to their country and send us arms, gold, ships, and men. Emissaries from France and Spain are sailing into Boston to talk to our leaders and decide whether to support us. Mr. Carter will be talking with them, too, to find supplies for our armies. You know I would be good at such conversations. That way I can be a real part of the Revolution.”
She flashed that disarming smile of hers. “Plus, if you are so worried about Papa, remember that his most vicious critics are from Boston—Samuel and John Adams. Perhaps I can charm them into relenting a bit.”
Peggy sat back on her heels. She had no retort for that.
Eliza had been looking back and forth between her sisters as they debated. “Do you love him very much, Angelica?”
Angelica laughed, almost as if she were surprised by the question. Clasping their hands, she drew her sisters to the window and pointed. Way down their hill, toward their private dock, was a silhouetted rider. He held the reins to a white horse, illuminated by a full moon that also sprinkled light onto the river’s dark waves, making them glitter and look magical rather than menacing.
“How could I not love him?” she whispered, laying her cheek on Eliza’s head. “He is like Perseus, freeing Andromeda from the rock to which her parents had chained her.” Together, Angelica and Eliza sighed—just like they did over poetry.
Peggy bit her lip, knowing she had lost the argument. This was how it was among the three of them. Once two agreed, the third must go along—not in a coerced way, but because that was the irresistible pull, the strength, the sacredness of the Schuyler sisters’ symbiosis.
It had always been that way, particularly with expeditions that required some daring—from climbing trees in the orchard to sneaking down to the Hudson to watch sailors landing at the family wharf. Typically, though, whatever aspect carried the heaviest punishment if caught by their parents seemed to fall to Peggy.
And so it was now. “Will you help me, sweet Peggy?” begged Angelica. “I must elope now, before Albany is engulfed in fighting and we cannot make our way through battle lines to Boston. Before Papa comes home. All I need is the key to the front door. The windows are all too high off the ground for me to jump. Mr. Carter cannot approach the house with a ladder because of Papa’s guards. I must slip away quietly, out the front door, timing my escape in between the sentries’ rounds. You are the only one who can move with the stealth needed to get into Mother’s room and remove the door key from her chatelaine without waking her.” She squeezed Peggy’s hand. Her radiant, dark eyes pleaded as much as her voice. “Please?”
Peggy waited an hour, until the house was asleep. Then, leaning forward, walking toe to heel, she crept silently across the broad, bleached floorboards of the upstairs hall. Her papa had once described to her how Oneida warriors could come within a few feet of deer they hunted, without the animals knowing. Wearing his moccasins, Peggy had quickly perfected the silent glide.
Creeeeeaaaaaaaaaakkkkk, the door to her parents’ room groaned as Peggy pushed it open. She froze, holding her breath as her mother rolled over. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally her mother gently snored again.
Peggy exhaled. Heart pounding, she tiptoed to her mother’s dresser. Atop the polished wood was Catharine’s chatelaine. Besides her keys, the ornate waist-chain held a thimble and needle case, a medicinal funnel, and miniature portraits. The tiny painting of Angelica was particularly pretty. What would Catharine do with it after her daughter so flagrantly defied her? What would she do with Peggy’s once she discovered her role in the betrayal? Oh, this was all family treason, and for a man Peggy didn’t trust at all. What was she doing?
Peggy hesitated but then shook her head to rid her mind of such misgivings. Like Caesar, she had crossed the Rubicon. The die was cast. No retreat now. She pocketed the chatelaine. There was no way to pull the door key off without rattling the chain. She’d have to slip back in again to return it before dawn, doubling her chances of awaking her mother.
Toe to heel, toe to heel. Peggy was almost safely to the door again when she heard, “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.” Eighteen-month-old Cornelia sat up in her cradle and crooned, pointing to her big sister.
Peggy shook her head at the child and put her finger to her lips in a hushed sssshhhhhhhhhhh.
Catharine stirred. “Mmmmmmmm,” she mumbled, half awake.
Cornelia chortled. “Up, up, up, up,” She grabbed the edges of her cradle and began rocking it back and forth.
“Go back to sleep, little one,” Catharine murmured.
Catharine groaned, nestling deeper under her blanket. “Sleep, Cornelia.”
“Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.” Cornelia rocked harder.
She’d be caught! Hastily, Peggy scooped up her tiny sister. The toddler laughed and grabbed fistfuls of Peggy’s hair.
“Shhhh, shhh, shhh,” Peggy pleaded.
Yawning, Cornelia stretched abruptly, yanking Peggy’s curls.
“Ouch!” Peggy mouthed.
Taking a deep breath, Peggy forced herself to stay calm. Slowly, gently, she swung the child and hummed into her ear.
Cornelia yawned again, bigger.
“Thaaaaattt’s iiiiiit,” Peggy whispered in a singsong voice, “gooooooo to sleeeeeeeep.”
Cornelia’s eyelids fluttered.
“Gooooooooo to sleeeeeeep.”
Cornelia’s head fell back against Peggy’s shoulder. She had drifted off.
Ever so carefully, Peggy laid Cornelia back down in her cradle and worked her hair out of the toddler’s grasp. She straightened and turned for the door—and about jumped out of her skin.
Catharine was watching her.
“Mama!” she gasped.
“You are so good with the child, Peggy. So good with people when they are sick . . . or in need.” Catharine lay back on the pillows, obviously exhausted and still half asleep. “I am so tired, child. Worrying about your papa and what I should do if . . .” She almost drifted off. “Come here.” She patted the bed.
Trembling, Peggy sat on its edge, careful to keep one hand atop the pocket filled with Catharine’s keys to keep them from jangling.
Catharine took her other hand and held it. “Goodness, child, you’re shivering. You are not with fever, are you?” She held Peggy’s hand to her own face to test its temperature. Satisfied Peggy was not sick, she continued sleepily, “I remember when Eliza had her nightmares, you were the one to talk her out of . . . out . . . of . . .” Catharine’s eyes closed. After a moment, she snored again slightly, that blissful heavy breathing of deep slumber.
Peggy made herself count to sixty before slowly sliding her hand out from Catharine’s.
Her mother hadn’t questioned Peggy being in her bedroom. Clearly, she trusted that her daughter had heard the toddler cry and out of kindness and goodness came in to rock her back to sleep. Peggy felt sick to her stomach. Catharine would probably never entirely trust Peggy again—once she discovered Angelica gone and thought back to this moment. What an enormous sacrifice Peggy was being asked to make for Angelica. Choosing her sister’s love over her mother’s better prove worth it!
Angelica was waiting at the top of the stairs, wrapped in her dark cloak to conceal her in the night. But nothing could dim the shine of joy, of adventure, on her face.
Taking her hand, and Angelica clasping Eliza’s, Peggy led them in soft tiptoeing down the stairs, their arms lifted and arched gracefully as in the dozens of allemandes and reels they had danced together in their parlor.
Clllllliiiiicccckkkk. The bolt unlocked. The night air spilled in, smelling of freedom, of intrigues, of endings and beginnings.
They looked left, then right. No sentry they could see—the watch must be pacing the back of the house. Without a word, the three sisters embraced in a long, tight hug, hearing one another’s breath, feeling one another’s heartbeats. Just as they had done when they were little and jumped into the sweet-cool lake by their Saratoga country home.
Then Angelica pulled away and fluttered down the hill, knee-high fog rising to wrap her in mystery until she reached Carter and the luminous white horse he held for her. Even Peggy giggled girlishly with Eliza as they watched Carter leap off his own horse to sweep Angelica up onto hers. Their horses pranced and pawed, impatient to go. Angelica looked back to her childhood home and waved to her sisters. Her cloak fell back as she did, revealing she wore her favorite scarlet ball gown. Then she disappeared, a blaze of brilliant red rushing along the river.
“Like dawn in russet mantle clad,” whispered Eliza.
Peggy looked at her in surprise.
“I remember your quoting that once, from something. And I always liked it.” Her big sister smiled at Peggy. “Angelica has ever been our brightest light, hasn’t she, blinding us slightly to each other’s?” Eliza pulled them inside and quietly closed the front door. “Truth be told, Peggy, I thought that bear meat rather delicious myself. As much as our journey north to nurse Papa terrified me, I thrilled to some of the adventure of it, too. I just don’t have your courage to say it.”
Again, Peggy assessed Eliza’s gentle face with some astonishment. She wouldn’t have ever guessed that Eliza might define her headstrong impulsiveness or tendency to shock people as courage. Or that the vein of wild that coursed through Peggy’s soul might trickle through Eliza’s as well. In that regard, she had always felt more kindred with Angelica. Somehow that realization made the ache she was feeling at her eldest sister’s flight a little less sharp.
Peggy smiled at Eliza. “Help keep Cornelia quiet if she wakes as I put Mama’s chatelaine back?”
Eliza took a deep breath and nodded solemnly.
Peggy took Eliza’s hand and together, now a duo, they tiptoed back up the staircase.
Philip Schuyler to General George Washington
Albany, June 30 and July 5, 1777
Should our Troops at Tyonderoga fall into the Enemy’s Hands, I fear they will be able to march where they please, unless a greater Force is sent me . . . If any Tents can be spared I beg your Excellency to order them up and whatever Cartridge paper you can, for we have next to none on this Side of Tyonderoga. . . . If any intrenching Tools can be spared, I wish to have two hundred Spades . . . we shall be in a disagreeable Situation with little else besides Militia . . . If it is possible, I wish your Excellency to order us as many Artillery men and Field pieces to this Quarter as can be spared . . .
I am Dear Sir most respectfully
Your Excellency’s obedient humble Servant.
“It’s Papa!” Eliza jumped up, dropping her needlework. “Thank God! He’s home.”
Peggy stayed rooted. Since Angelica’s elopement, their mother had banished the girls to their bedroom. Their father’s voice sounded more like cannon fire than joyous greeting.
“Margarita! Elizabeth!” he boomed again.
Eliza’s face flushed. “Do you suppose him angry?”
“Yes, I suppose him angry.” Peggy took her sister’s hand.
At the bottom of the wide, grand staircase stood their father, hands on hips, his boots and breeches splashed with mud from riding at a hard pace. Behind him, his aides carried in boxes of papers and maps to his study, just off the mansion’s back courtyard entrance. A few feet beyond was Catharine, arms crossed, fuming. Peggy could imagine easily the conversation her parents had just had. Nothing upset Catharine more than displeasing Philip.
Her father was in full uniform. Congress must have cleared him of the criticism that Philip had botched the Canadian expedition. Peggy knew her mother would be aggravated by that as well. More than once, Catharine had said she hoped her husband would just quit. Many other generals threatened to do so, insulted by Congress second-guessing their stratagems or promoting less-qualified men over them purely for political reasons.
But Philip Schuyler was stoic and loyal. He believed in duty and the personal honor it brought a man.
Peggy noted all this as she descended the stairs, and spotted the potential for a diversion. “Papa! You are in your general’s uniform—congratulations! You have been restored to command?” She smiled hopefully.
But Schuyler glared back, her flattery missing its mark. “I am. Which makes my having to deal with a betrayal within my own family in the middle of these coordinated British attacks even more egregious. General Burgoyne is reported a mere three miles from Fort Ticonderoga! We cannot lose it—Ticonderoga is like a floodgate—closed we are safe, open we drown in Redcoats. I am in desperate need of reinforcements and ammunition to hold it. But General Washington must also block a movement of British regulars out of New York City. Never have we been spread so thin!”
Peggy felt a flash of resentment for Angelica and her timing. Peggy had feared this precisely—that reprimand. God forbid their sisterly insurrection endanger America’s by distracting their papa.
“Your mother says neither of you will explain what happened or where your sister is.”
The girls remained silent. They had pledged to not divulge anything until Angelica contacted their parents herself—to give her time, so that no rescue party sent out by their father would find her before the marriage knot was tied.
Schuyler sighed. “I have no choice, then, but to separate you two for questioning, as I would any confederacy of traitors.” He took Eliza’s hand and led her toward his study. “Come in here, Eliza.” He turned to look at Peggy. “You.” He pointed to a chair against the wall between his study and the door leading to their back courtyard. “Wait there.”
Peggy sat. Closing her eyes to steady herself for her own interrogation, she turned her face up to the warmth of early morning summer sunlight spilling through the enormous window. This corner was actually one of her favorites in the house. With the window open, she could catch the scent of boxwood and flowers blooming in the formal gardens adjacent to the house and the sweet promise of recently turned earth in the vegetable gardens beyond.
She drew a large breath to pull in those delicious smells while Schuyler’s aides hurried past her, bringing in their last armload. Eliza remained just inside the door while Schuyler quickly dealt with issuing some orders. Then Peggy could hear Varick open a paper the aides had brought in and splutter with aggravation.
“What is it, Richard?” Schuyler asked.
“Sir! It is a proclamation from General Burgoyne to the people of New York.”
“And what does Gentleman Johnny puff himself up to proclaim?” Schuyler sarcastically used the affectionate nickname the British had given their aristocratic general.
Before Varick could answer, Schuyler’s personal secretary, John Lansing, joked, “It is a wonderment he took the time to write anything. Rumor has it he spends all his nights drinking champagne with his mistress. Gentleman Johnny carries thirty wagons of wine, personal possessions, and clothing—as if he was going to a ball rather than a battle!”
The aides laughed.
But Varick did not. “There is nothing gentlemanly about this proclamation. He accuses us of tyranny! Us! He claims we persecute Loyalist Tories as surely as the Spanish Inquisition! He incites them and their Iroquois allies to take up arms against us. To attack and do as they will. He threatens us—with devastation! Wrath! Famine!” Varick read a horrifying description of the hell Burgoyne planned for the Patriots, ending with the British general’s claim, “I shall stand acquitted in the Eyes of God and Men in executing this vengeance against the willful outcasts.”
Peggy heard Eliza plop down into a chair, her wide skirts ballooning around her with a little pop.
“For God’s sake, man, you’ve frightened the child.” Schuyler appeared at the study door, calling for Catharine. She bustled in, all worry and motherly care. With that, Eliza’s part in Angelica’s rebellious love affair seemed all forgotten.
That had always been the way of it with their gentle middle sister. Their parents’ ire seemed reserved for the other two, sometimes doubled in fury since what came to Angelica and Peggy included the dose that should have been for Eliza. Peggy would be in for it later. It was a good thing she loved Eliza so much, or she’d box her ears.
Sighing, Peggy stood up to gaze out the window. Outside, the family’s stablehands scurried to sponge down and get water to the winded horses Schuyler and his aides had ridden. In the midst of the hubbub, Peggy noticed a stranger wander into the courtyard. Schuyler’s guards should have challenged him. Any man could be an assassin these days.
Muttering to herself about incompetence, Peggy went to the door and eyed him.
The man was lean, his face gaunt and smudged, his clothes soiled and patched. Thirtyish, Peggy estimated. He had taken off his frayed hat and was nervously clutching it to his breast as he stared up at the mansion, tracing its breadth with his eyes, his mouth slightly ajar. Peggy had seen that look of awe in many a tradesman who had approached her home for the first time. He was obviously no assassin.
“May I help you, sir?”
The man startled and brought his gaze down to her. He blushed as he saw her face.
Peggy smiled, touched—she preferred such unspoken compliments to the flowery pronouncements of men like Carter. She bobbed a curtsy appropriate for a more aristocratic visitor, and as she performed the feminine bow with its prescribed downcast look, she noticed that his toes had broken through his worn shoes and were bloody from his journey. But she knew better than to embarrass him. “You look as if you have traveled far, sir; may I offer you some water?”
“Aye, miss, please. But I think I best speak to the general first.”
“He is with his staff right now. But in a bit I am sure he will be glad to speak to you.”
“Begging your pardon, miss, but truly someone needs to look at these right away.” He pulled from his dirty brown jacket a packet of crisp, sealed letters, emblazoned with sweeping writing.
Peggy gasped as he laid them in her outstretched hand. They were addressed to Sir Guy Carleton, the royal governor of Canada—official British communiqués! “Where did you come by these?” she asked in astonishment.
“Well, miss, I reenlisted upon hearing of the Danbury raid.” He drew himself up taller, as if at attention and reporting for duty. “’Tis my fourth enlistment, so they made me a sergeant. In the Sixth Dutchess County Regiment. Sergeant Moses Harris, that’s me.” He tapped his chest with his thumb. “Anyway, Major Brinton Paine—you must know him, miss?”
Peggy twitched with impatience, but she knew she needed to honor the pride of this simple man who had risked his life so many times already for the cause while richer Patriots sat in their warm houses, wearing soft slippers, and opined. “No, sir, I have not had the pleasure of knowing Major Paine. That county is a good bit south from here.”
“Aye, miss, on the Hudson just above West Point.” He pointed south.
She couldn’t help smiling. “Yes, sir, I know the area. And these letters?”
“Oh, right-o. You see, Major Paine sent me on a scout. I, by accident, all of a sudden like, fell into a party of exhausted Loyalists. They were lying beside the cascades at Wappinger Creek, fast asleep. That’s why I didn’t notice them at first; the grasses were up around them.” He shook his head. “A fool I was. They could have killed me sure.”
“And . . . these letters?”
“Of course, miss. I am trying to explain the way of it. Them Tories jumped up—like crickets when you almost step on them. One grabbed me by the throat. But I talked a good game, no worries there. I learned that from dealing with my accursed Loyalist uncle—a Gilbert Harris by name. He owns the Thousand Appletree Farm, what he stole from my pa back when—”
“Sergeant Harris,” Peggy interrupted. “The letters?”
He nodded but persisted in telling his story in the manner he wanted: “I learned to pretend with my uncle that I agreed with his cur-like opinion of the Crown, figuring someday he might drop unsuspecting a bit of information we Patriots might need. So I convinced those blokes that I was a Loyalist like them were. We sat back in the grass. I revived them with a bit of peach brandy I had on me. That’s when they told me our patrols had been giving them good chase. They were afeard of going farther. They had been on their way here, to Albany. They were to give those letters to a traitor in the city, who was to get them to the lobsterbacks in Canada.
“So I told them I was heading this way already and would gladly undo your father, the general, and his damned rebels by delivering their missives for them.” He grinned. “So here I stand, miss.”
Peggy grinned back. No fool, this rustic man. “Come with me.” Carrying the letters like a sacred chalice, she and Harris approached Schuyler’s study.
Inside, Eliza sat penitent, in a Windsor chair tucked in a corner. Her frightened face was almost the color of the green brocade wallpaper. Their papa was surrounded by several aides, Varick, and Lansing. Studying a map laid out across a table, Schuyler was placing pieces of his favorite backgammon set to trace what he suspected would be Burgoyne’s next moves toward Ticonderoga.
“Really, sir, I think Burgoyne’s outrageous proclamation needs to be publicly rebuked so the citizenry do not panic,” Varick was saying, pounding the table and rattling the backgammon disks. “The last thing Albany needs is a flood of terrified refugees from the country, looking for protection within the city walls. We have no food or shelter to spare.”
“Perhaps we can confiscate houses for them from suspected Loyalists,” Lansing suggested.
Schuyler looked up with a scowl. “I do not have time now, daughter. I will speak with you later.”
“But Papa”—she held out the letters—“this man has intercepted British communiqués. Sergeant Harris,” she prompted him. Harris was again looking up, gaping at the mansion’s ornate dentil crown molding and all the books in Schuyler’s library. She cleared her throat loudly. “Sergeant Harris!”
He jumped a bit.
Schuyler straightened. “What have you there, Sergeant?”
Harris snapped into duty mode, saluted, and told his story again, this time mercifully trimmed. “I thought the letters urgent, sir,” Harris concluded, “since they risked three couriers on the same errand.” He shook his head. “There’s sure to be mischief in those letters you need to know of, General.”
Quickly, Schuyler rounded the table, took the letters from Peggy, and turned them over. “Good man,” he murmured to Harris. “You have not broken the seal.”
“No, sir. T’wouldn’t have done me no good or changed my mind about getting them to you. I cannot read.”
Schuyler clapped him on the back. “Sir, you have more good sense than half the Continental Army’s senior officers. You are absolutely certain your deception held? The Tories were convinced you’d deliver these letters for them?”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
“And so you shall, then. If you have the courage for it?”
Peggy could see immediately what her father planned. If Schuyler could open those letters, read them, but then reseal them and get them delivered so the British would never suspect he knew their plans, he could prepare for their attack, perhaps even set up an ambush of his own.
Schuyler explained as much to Harris.
Harris grinned. “That would stick it to ’em, sir.”
“Indeed.” Schuyler smiled back. “It would mean you would have to continue pretending to be a Loyalist. If they figure you out, you will be hanged as a spy.”
“We all will hang if we don’t win this fight, won’t we, sir?”
Schuyler nodded and considered Harris for a moment. Peggy could tell her papa admired the sergeant’s grit. “Perhaps we should stir the pot a bit, Sergeant. I’d like to send along a little feint that might pull some British troops out of Burgoyne’s invasion force—thus lowering his numbers a bit to our advantage.”
He paced, holding the precious letters. “I shall compose a letter to General Washington, proposing I send General Stark’s brigade north to invade Canada. Everyone is afraid of John Stark. The man is insane—terrifying in the best way. We can hope Governor Carleton will panic and recall some of Burgoyne’s men to defend Montreal and Quebec.”
“But didn’t Papa already try going into Canada?” Eliza whispered nervously to Peggy. “It didn’t go well.”
“It’s a ruse,” Peggy murmured into her sister’s ear, as her father continued pacing.
“Oh.” Eliza looked at Peggy with gratitude. “Of course it is.”
Schuyler abruptly turned to face Harris. “You will need to claim that you came upon a Patriot courier when you were on your way to Albany to deliver these letters the Loyalists gave you. Say you managed to convince that Patriot courier you would deliver his messages. To me. But that you went straight to the Loyalist agent instead so that the British would know what we ‘rebels’”—Schuyler made little quotation marks in the air on the last word—“were plotting. Does that make sense?”
“Aye, sir.” Harris nodded.
“It makes you a bit of a double agent, Sergeant. Is that too confusing for you to keep straight under”—Schuyler hesitated—“under stringent questioning?”
Harris snorted. “No, sir.”
“Good man! All right, then.” That agreed upon, Schuyler could continue. “I have Oneida scouts, and a few friendly watchers in Canada, but I have been hoping for just such an agent like you, Sergeant Harris. To intercept British messages. Such intelligence gathering could be the trick that saves us.
“You see, sir, General Washington now plans a purely defensive war, engaging the enemy only in small hit-and-run skirmishes. Full-out battles are suicide. The British regulars and Hessians are professional soldiers. They outnumber us. They outgun us. So, we will seek to disrupt and perplex them. We’ll cut their supply lines. Raid their outposts at night. Take what we need, then disappear, using our forests and rivers as shields. Like we did at Trenton. We’ll wear them down by forcing them to maneuver constantly, trying to locate us.
“But all this will only work if we have solid intelligence of where the British are and what they are planning. I have been building networks to do that. Reliable couriers, that’s the key.”
Schuyler glanced down at the letters again. Each was closed tightly by red wax that had been pressed with a heavy seal, ornamented with the Crown’s distinctive emblem. Any break in the impressed image would tell the recipient the letter’s contents were compromised—opened and read along its delivery route.
“The design of these crests is more intricate than what I have seen before,” Schuyler muttered. “I don’t have time to re-create it today. I must open them without breaking the seal.”
He unlocked his writing desk, folded down the tabletop, and reached for a long, thin knife in one of its slots. “Colonel Varick, light that candle. I suspect we haven’t a moment to lose.”
Schuyler was so intent on finding out what was inside those communiqués, he didn’t waste time shooing his daughters out of the room. Fascinated, Peggy watched him roll the flat, razor-like blade in the candle’s flame, heating its steel.
She knew exactly what he was doing. When the knife was hot enough, it would actually melt the wax as it sliced under, so that the seal would lift without breaking. The motion had to be quick and confident, though. The slightest jostle would crack the wax. Resealing it had to be done carefully as well—by holding the letter close to the flame to soften the wax enough that it would stick again when pressed. But not so soft that the wax bled a telltale trickle. A sure hand was paramount to it all working.
Peggy winced seeing her papa’s hand shaking, making the candle flame dance. Sometimes he trembled like that during attacks of gout.
When the knife glowed, Schuyler tucked it underneath the letter’s folded flap, up against the red seal. But he paused. “Damn,” he cursed, pulling it back out again. He rubbed his hands together.
He looked toward Varick for help, but before the Dutchman could move, Peggy stepped forward. “Let me do that for you, Papa.” Without thinking about how surprising her actions were, she reheated the blade for just a moment and then with a graceful flick of her wrist, swiped the hot steel underneath the seal, popping it open—perfectly intact.
She handed him the communiqué.
Schuyler and all the other men stared at her, stunned. “How did you know how to do that, child?” he asked.
Oh Lord. Peggy froze. She hadn’t thought about having to explain that she’d perfected that trick as a youngster to snoop on Angelica. She’d been left behind as being too young when Angelica and Eliza first attended balls. Furious, Peggy started opening and then resealing ardent letters from Angelica’s swarm of new admirers. Peggy had outgrown that bit of little sister tomfoolery long ago. But that probably wouldn’t matter now, considering she was already in trouble for helping Angelica elope.
Now everyone would think her devious, unworthy of trust. She opened her mouth to find some quip to defend herself. But nothing came out.
Schuyler frowned. “Colonel Varick, have you been gossiping?”
“Indeed not, sir. On my life!”
“Margarita, have you been prying about my study? What happens in this room is the business of the Continental Army.”
Peggy felt the color drain from her face.
It was Eliza who saved her. “Oh, Papa,” she said, rising and brushing off her skirts. “Our Peggy is a wonderment. She has read almost everything here in your library and probably knows almost as much as you do.” With careful nonchalance, she swept toward her sister, and put her arm through Peggy’s. “Hadn’t you better see what the letter says, Papa?”
Eliza was right. Peggy had underestimated her.
Schuyler shook his head slightly. “Yes. Yes. What am I thinking?” He read greedily as Peggy gave Eliza’s arm a squeeze in thanks.
“Good God,” he breathed. “Burgoyne is planning a three-pronged attack. As he marches down from Canada, and the British in New York City sail up the Hudson, he orders a Colonel Barry St. Leger to invade western New York at the same time! Leger will attack Fort Stanwix from Lake Ontario to gain control of the Mohawk River. And then lay waste to all the villages along it on his way to Albany.”
Schuyler dropped the letter to the table. “I don’t have enough troops or guns to fight on three fronts at the same time. We will be crushed.”
A horrified silence filled the room.
“Quick, man.” Schuyler waved Lansing to the table. “Pen and paper. At all costs we must hold Fort Stanwix. It’s guarded right now by a handful of ill-trained lads. Order two hundred soldiers to reinforce them immediately. Now, we must copy these British communiqués and get them to General Washington so he knows what I am about.”
He turned to Sergeant Harris. “Go to the kitchens, sir, and tell them to give you a good meal. You will need sustenance before you continue on to deliver these letters to the Loyalist agent in town. The couriers told you where to find him?”
“Aye, sir, that they did.”
“Did they divulge his name?”
“Aye, the trusting bastards.” He laughed. “His name is William Shepherd.”
“Shepherd!” blustered Varick. “I know the man! Let us go arrest the traitorous cur!”
“No, you mustn’t,” Peggy blurted out. “He must think all is safe, so we can continue using him, Colonel Varick, without his realizing that he is to play our fool.”
Harris nodded. “This one a smart’un, sir.”
About time someone noticed, thought Peggy.
“Indeed, so I am learning, Sergeant.” A slow smile spread on Schuyler’s face as he looked at Peggy. “Now, daughter, can you open these remaining two? My hands are unsteady today.”
Oh, the sudden pride Peggy felt.
Their papa had always favored Angelica with his conversation about politics, not Peggy. Could this moment change that? The night she eloped, Angelica said she hoped her marriage would allow her to participate in the Revolution in a tangible way—influencing her husband’s dinner guests and visiting foreign dignitaries. Was it possible that Peggy’s tendency to nosiness, her capacity for shrewd observation—which many dismissed as sarcasm or as inappropriate for a woman—could actually help her serve the cause of liberty?
Hushed at the possibility, Peggy held out her hand to receive responsibility.
But just as her papa passed the letters to Peggy, an express rider rushed into the room, red-faced, soaked in sweat.
“General Schuyler, sir!” he shouted breathlessly. “Ticonderoga has fallen. Without a shot fired. And our troops—all three thousand of them—disappeared. Without a trace!”
Alexander Hamilton to [New York delegate] John Jay
Pompton Plains [New Jersey], July 13th, 1777
The stroke at Ticonderoga is heavy, unexpected and unaccountable. . . . [W]hat, in the name of common sense could have induced the evacuation? I would wish to suspend my judgment on the matter; but certainly present appearances speak either the most abandoned cowardice, or treachery. . . . All is mystery and dark beyond conjecture.
I am Dr Sir
Your most Obed servant
Peggy shot up in bed. That was musket fire.
“There! The tree line. See ’em?”
Peggy could hear the sentries outside shouting. She jumped out of bed to run to her mother’s room.
She and Catharine were in the family’s Saratoga country house to pack up precious belongings and to gather what stores of wheat and flax they could before Burgoyne’s army overran their fields. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga and the disappearance of Patriot troops supposed to guard it had thrown New York into panic. Those three thousand soldiers made up a third of all American troops—if they were prisoners or, worse, gone over to the enemy, the fight for liberty would be all but dead and hopeless.
And Burgoyne was on the move—heading straight for them.
Her papa had raced to Fort Edward, desperately marshaling what little troops he had left to mount a defense against the British invasion. He urged Patriots to quickly harvest their crops—or burn them—and to drive their livestock into the relative safety of Albany. This biblically harsh sacrifice would starve the approaching Redcoats, who expected to live off the land as they marched. But it could also starve all New Yorkers. That wheat and corn was to be their food supply during the coming winter.
Believing she should, by example, inspire the populace to obey her husband’s orders, Catharine had ridden north toward the enemy. She clearly didn’t recognize or care about the danger, since Catharine had carted along little Cornelia as well as Peggy.
Eliza had been left behind, safe in Albany, supposedly to keep an eye on John, who had threatened to join up as a drummer boy the instant Catharine left. Of course, rarely did Catharine enlist Eliza in manual labor like packing china or even overseeing their enslaved servants doing it.
Being dragged to Saratoga felt like punishment for her part in Angelica’s elopement. As Peggy had expected, Eliza’s sensitive and inoffensive nature had brought out Catharine’s motherly protectiveness. She’d actually accused Peggy of coercing Eliza into participating in Angelica’s escape! She’d patted Eliza’s face as she said, “I know you’d never have imagined such mischief, child.” When Eliza tried to defend Peggy, her mother replied, “What a kind soul you are to try to cover up your little sister’s treachery.”
Typical. When Catharine made up her mind about something, there was no changing it. Take, for instance, their still being in Saratoga. Catharine had foolishly lingered an extra day after receiving word from Schuyler that he needed the estate’s carpenters and blacksmiths to build—with all speed humanly possible—carriages for forty small, unmounted cannon General Washington had managed to send. Without carriages, the guns were useless. Catharine had hovered, urging the workmen on.
What had she been thinking? She and Peggy were in the isolated house all alone. Schuyler and his troops were thirteen miles and a ninety-minute express horse ride away. All they had to protect them was Colonel Varick, who had accompanied them, and a few guards posted outside.
All this swept through her mind as Peggy sprinted into her mother’s room, nearly tripping over her nightgown in her hurry.
Catharine was already at the window. “Here, daughter.” She shoved little Cornelia into Peggy’s arms. “We have a few hours until dawn. Hold her while I fill the last boxes. I have some precious things I wish to wrap myself.”
“What?” Peggy shook her head violently, setting Cornelia to crying. “There is fighting right outside in the woods. Forget the boxes! We must go now, Mama!”
Catharine lit a candle. “No. We must do as I promised. We cannot flee without the provisions we loaded in the wagon. And I do not wish to leave my china for those heathen Hessians the British have hired to kill us.”
“For pity’s sake, Mother! Your housewifery will get us killed.”
The front door burst open. Someone raced up the stairs.
Good God. Peggy almost tossed Cornelia at her mother in her scramble to grab up the loaded flintlock pistol laid out on a table in case of emergency. Peggy pointed it toward the door, cursing her hands for shaking. She’d never hit her mark.
“Mrs. Schuyler!” Varick called. “Douse that light!” He dashed into the room, waving his arms.
Varick blew out the candle and pushed Catharine away from the window. “Please do not make yourself a target, Mrs. Schuyler.” He peered out into the darkness.
“Who is attacking us?”
“We think Mohawks allied with Burgoyne and Loyalist brigades. Stay here!” He rushed out.
The women huddled on the bed as Catharine rocked Cornelia. “But Philip negotiated a peace with all the Iroquois tribes to not make war against us,” she whispered. “Your papa has known many of the Mohawk sachems all their lives.”
“Yes, but those Mohawks have also known all their lives the local Tories who are mustering units like the Royal Greens. And you know, Mama, some settlers encroach on the Iroquois hunting grounds. I heard Papa say the Mohawks believe that if the British retain control of America, the king will keep their borders sacrosanct.”
“I suppose we cannot count on anything anymore,” Catharine murmured.
No, certainly not, thought Peggy. Not if Ticonderoga—considered impregnable—had fallen. If the rumors were true, British gunboats had blown apart in a mere thirty minutes the floating breastwork that had taken the Continentals ten months to construct. And somehow they’d hoisted enormous cannon up the sheer cliffs of Sugar Loaf Hill to point them straight down into the fort.
Clearly anything could happen.
Trembling with terror, Peggy rose and took up post against the wall next to the window. For a few agonizing minutes, she watched the flash-fizz of igniting gunpowder that preceded each shot. Peggy held the heavy pistol out away from her body, knowing it could easily misfire and explode, tearing apart her hands. She clutched the wooden handle, keeping her thumbs braced up against the cock to keep it closed and her fingers off the trigger loop. Her breath came quick and shallow. Peggy felt faint. Would she really have the courage to aim and fire and split open an attacker’s chest?
What if there was more than one? To reload took pouring gunpowder into the pan and down the muzzle, ramming in a grease patch and ball. She didn’t know how to do all that quickly. If more than one enemy came through that door, she, her mother, and her little sister were done for.
The back-and-forth firing abruptly stopped. In the dim moonlight filtering through the windows, Peggy eyed Catharine nervously. Did that mean the attackers were gone? Or were their protectors captured?
Peggy raised the pistol, took aim at the bedroom door, and pulled back the cock. “Aim small, miss small,” she whispered to herself, repeating what she’d heard Schuyler tell her brothers. “Aim small, miss small.” Her quickened pulse throbbed in her head.
“Mrs. Schuyler! Miss Peggy!” Varick ran up the stairs. “Do not be afraid.” He popped through the door.
Peggy gasped and lowered the pistol. Thank God. Feeling like she was about to vomit, she leaned over, trying to breath normally again.
“Oh my Lord!” Catharine cried.
Peggy looked up.
A Mohawk stood behind Varick.
“Get back! Get back!” Peggy shrieked at the colonel. Raising the pistol again, she fumbled to cock it.
“No! No, Miss Peggy!” Varick rushed toward her. “Stop! He is a friend!” He pulled the pistol away from her, gingerly putting it down on the table. “It’s all right. He stopped the others. It is all quite extraordinary. Regret overcame this man.” Varick gestured toward the warrior. “He convinced his compatriots to stop. He came to us a few moments ago to say his kin had been enticed by a promised reward bounty for the capture of General Schuyler. Honestly, Burgoyne is a devil, tempting, exploiting—”
Sensing one of his outraged and rather verbose tirades coming, Peggy interrupted. “What caused his regret, Colonel?”
“He wishes to tell Mrs. Schuyler himself. Given the circumstances, I could hardly refuse. Sir?” He called to the Mohawk.
The warrior stepped through the door. Even in the dim light, Peggy could see his face was painted for war. She tried not to instinctively recoil in trepidation. His fierce and strong presence filled the room.
Slowly, Catharine rose.
The Mohawk bowed his head. She curtsied.
“When I was a young,” the warrior began in a deep voice, “I often tired on the hunt. The aunt of your husband let me sleep in her barn. She gave me fruit from her trees. I do not agree with your husband, Thoniondakayon, and his fight against our father, the king. But I will not harm his family in the night.” He bowed again. “I lay boughs of peace at your feet.”
Then he withdrew, making no sound except the click of the downstairs front door as it opened and then shut.
“Quite poetical, don’t you think?” murmured Varick. “I regret that we fight them.”
“Who ordered their attack?” Catharine asked.
“Local Tories, most like. They are greatly emboldened with Burgoyne’s approach. They’d like nothing better than to kidnap General Schuyler and turn him over to the British. Or keep you as hostage to control him. We must evacuate you at dawn, madam.”
Without skipping a beat, Catharine turned to Peggy. “That is still a few hours from now. We can finish packing.”
The rising sun warmed Peggy’s left side as their two-wheeled calèche jolted down the road. To the right were still-dark woods, their tangled undergrowth a mystery of potential ambush. She tried not to think about that, or whether she would ever see their beloved country house again.
How many games of hide-and-seek had she played there with her siblings among the lilac bushes her father had brought back from England and planted in a welcoming lane from the Hudson to their front door? How many bluebird nests in tree cavities along their fields had she peeped into? What joy it had been to lie in the meadow grasses and look up, watching the young birds’ exquisite sky-blue plumage blend into the azure heavens above. Oh, and spotting the brook trout darting through the waters of Fishkill Creek as she hoisted her skirts and leapt from rock to rock to cross to the wilds along its western side. The gorgeous wild hydrangea blossoming there along the far bank. The glorious green cool that enveloped her as she stepped onto that shore and into the deep forest shade.
Her heart would break if she never saw all that again.
Peggy sighed and focused on the ears of the horse pulling the little carriage in which she sat with her mother and Cornelia. An odd twitch could signal that the horse sensed trouble she did not. Behind her, their heavily loaded wagon creaked. Varick and a guard rode alongside it, nervously checking the bushes as they passed. A third man rode one of the cart horses to steer it. In this slow, weighted-down train, they were, as any frontier huntsman would say, roosting turkeys begging to be shot for dinner.
For several hours they rode in careful, anxious silence, jumping when any squirrel shook leaves as it leapt from branch to branch. At midday, about halfway home, they heard ahead of them a bone-chilling cacophony—dozens of voices raised in panic.
Peggy pulled the horses to a stop. The pair stamped and snorted and shied backward, alarmed.
“What in God’s name?” Catharine breathed.
Varick pulled out his saber and, brandishing it, rode ahead.
“Well, that’s likely to get him shot,” Peggy muttered. But she didn’t hear any musket fire. She strained her ears. What she could make out were shouts of impatience, anger, fear. As if a horde was crushed together on the narrow road.
From behind them came the thundering sound of fast-moving horses. Peggy whirled around in her seat as their two guards pulled out the flintlock pistols they carried.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” The three approaching riders yanked back on their reins. They were in a hodgepodge of plain clothes, their mounts thick plow horses. They were no military couriers.
“Don’t stop here, miss,” one of them said. “Burgoyne is coming, thanks to that idiot Schuyler.”
Her father—an idiot? “What do you mean, sir, by calling General Schuyler that?” Peggy shot back. How dare this man criticize her father?
“Schuyler and St. Clair sold us out at Ticonderoga. Played traitors.”
Peggy started to rise up and strike at the man with the carriage whip she held, but Catharine grabbed her by the arm and kept her down in her seat. She shook her head, reminding Peggy they were outnumbered. Better to remain anonymous. Catharine kept her voice calm. “Goodness, why do you say that, sir? What proof is there?”
“St. Clair has just shown up with some of his army at Fort Edward. . . .”
“Oh, thank God,” Peggy couldn’t help but exclaim.
“Don’t thank God for it,” the man replied. “St. Clair is a cowardly devil. Burgoyne is laying waste to everything he sees because General St. Clair slunk out of Fort Ticonderoga in the middle of the night, without so much as putting up an hour’s fight.”
“But now it all makes sense!” Peggy blurted. “Now that he’s brought his troops to reinforce Fort Edward. Surely St. Clair evacuated Ticonderoga to save his men from capture or certain death—to fight another day. Don’t you see? If the British did indeed manage to aim cannon directly down into our fort from adjacent cliffs, their artillerymen could see every movement our boys made inside. They didn’t stand a chance. So the evacuation was . . . brilliant! He saved a third of our army.”
“Begging your pardon, miss,” the second rider spoke up, “but that is simpleminded. Obviously you haven’t heard the truth of it. Those twelve-pounders weren’t filled with cannonballs but with balls made of silver. That’s right—silver! We heard that them Redcoats shot pure silver into the fort—to bribe that bastard St. Clair into handing over Ticonderoga. People say he’s come to Fort Edward to divvy up the riches with his conspirator, that old arrogant Dutch fart Schuyler. We ought to string the pair up, right now.”
Peggy was speechless. She had heard vicious attacks of her father before, but nothing this ludicrous. Or this threatening.
“Silver balls? Hogwash, sirs.” Catharine spoke, polite but firm, even though Peggy could feel her quivering with anger, squashed as they were together on the calèche’s board seat. “As we speak, General Schuyler is marshaling militia to fight Burgoyne. He is begging Congress for more Continental troops and ammunition. He is using his own money to supply the meager troops he does have. Meanwhile he has ordered his men to block all roads and waterways that Burgoyne must use—to fell trees across paths, to break up bridges and dam up creeks so they flood into impassible swamps. It has taken the British two weeks to go a few miles, has it not? That is because of General Schuyler. A traitor would not do all that.”
She cleared her throat before adding, in her best lady-of-the-manor voice, “Now, where are you heading in such haste? Surely to join up with a New York militia to defend us?”
Peggy admired her mother striking such a steely attitude. If she weren’t so afraid, she might have smirked, knowing what a dressing down by an imperious Catharine felt like.
The men squirmed in their saddles. “We be from Massachusetts. And our crops need harvesting,” said the second rider. “We are for home.”
Peggy wondered if they had deserted and stolen the plow horses on which they sat.
“Your country, we”—Catharine gestured to herself and Peggy—“need you.”
“I already did my time,” the first rider snarled. “I froze and starved this past winter and nearly died of the pox inoculation the army made me take. And for what? For twenty Continental dollars. All that paper money is good for is the outhouse. Which reminds me . . .” He kicked his horse to nudge it close to their wagon. “What’s in here? Any food for a hungry veteran?” He reached over and caught the edge of the tarp covering their provisions.
Schuyler’s two guards cocked their pistols as Peggy shouted, “Leave that be!”
Everyone froze in the standoff, until Catharine slowly stood, balancing herself as the calèche swayed with her movement. “That happens to be supplies we have gathered for the army. We carry them to Albany for the troops mustered there to fight Burgoyne. We do so at the request of my husband—General Philip Schuyler—who is, by the way, in constant conference with His Excellency, General George Washington.”
As her words sank in, the first two deserters froze like startled deer. The third rider, who had remained silent, rolled his eyes. “Now you done it. Washington executes men what steal food.” He tipped his hat at Catharine, before saying to his compatriots, “She’s right, boys, now’s not the time to quit. Remember that lad telling us Benedict Arnold has arrived to command the militia being called up? I’ll follow him. He be the bravest man this side of Hades.” He kicked his old horse into a heavy trot, calling over his shoulder: “Come on.”
His companions watched him go. “The fool,” the first rider grumbled. “I ain’t going. I’m headed home to save my wheat and protect my family. What about you?” he asked his remaining friend.
“Aye, I’m with you.”
They turned their horses for the woods.
The cowards! If only Peggy could join up. She’d show them what loyalty to the cause looked like. And oh, how she’d duel men who dishonored her papa with such lies!
Only when the riders disappeared from view did Catharine collapse back onto the seat. “Let us find Colonel Varick, child. Quickly.”
Five minutes down the rutted road, they found it swarming with cows, hogs, sheep, and farmers trying to herd them around a clog of wagons stuck fast in mud. The woods grew so close to the path, many of the animals were caught up in thick brambles. They thrashed and kicked, grunting, mooing, bleating, as their herdsmen tried to cut back the thorny thickets to release them. Their own faces bled from deep scratches where branches had whipped up in the fray, slicing open the men’s skin.
In the road, other frontiersmen were pushing carts and shouting curses at one another. Women stood nearby, their children clutching their skirts and whimpering. A boy held Varick’s horse. The colonel was down in the mire, yanking on a wagon wheel as a hulking old man shoved its back.
There was no getting around the tangle. Those wagons simply had to move.
Making it all worse were more families and livestock stalled in a merging pathway, coming from the northwest, out of the forest. Fear and rage and life-or-death impatience were splashed along their faces. Peggy felt her skin prickle with anxiety. The British and Loyalist raids they were fleeing must have been horrific to spark this much terror. These were hardened frontiersmen who braved many soul-breaking hardships to hack out their rustic farms on the edge of the wilderness.
She was about to take Catharine’s hand for comfort when Peggy thought she recognized a distant cousin of their vast extended Schuyler family. “Mama, isn’t that Ann Bleecker?” She pointed to a young mother, kneeling in the grasses, wailing. A little girl clung to her, sobbing.
“Goodness, it is.” Catharine frowned, witnessing the woman’s anguish. “Go see if we can help her.”
Peggy clambered down and hurried toward Bleecker. She could see a baby lying on the ground. As she drew closer—and just as she realized with horror that the poor baby was dead—an elderly farmer grabbed Peggy’s arm. “Don’t get no closer, missy. That baby died of the runs. You be one of the general’s daughters, aren’t you? I recognize the good Mrs. Schuyler.” He nodded toward Catharine.
“Y-y-yes,” stammered Peggy. She tried to pull herself loose of his grip. She couldn’t just this leave this poor woman.
But the elderly man held fast, seeming to read her mind. “Not nothing you can do for Missus Bleecker. She won’t even let friends near her yet. She’s mourning her babe. When she’s through, we’ll bury the little lamb and then keep moving to Albany. The babe sparked a high fever. So if we’re going to get the curse of whatever tore her up with dysentery, the die is cast for us. No need for you to endanger yourself. Your papa been good to me. I tenant on your Saratoga lands. I can’t let you get sick, missy.”
He looked sadly to the weeping mother and her children. “This is what happens with bad water, food that spoils on the road. Damn the bloodybacks. Damn the Tories what help them. They torched all the farms round us. Beat a widow trying to douse the flames. Bayoneted her son. A young woman, name of Jenny McCrea, has been murdered, rumor has it by Torries or a Huron with them. She were engaged to a Loyalist officer—someone on their side! If that be true, no one’s safe.” He gestured to the swarming crowd. “That be what’s fulminating all this.”
Right as he pointed, the wagon Varick was struggling to uncork from the mire popped free.
Cries of “Huzzah!” “Thank God!” “Move on!” echoed into the woods.
“Go on now, missy.” The old farmer gently turned her to head back to her carriage. “Your mama needs you.”
Peggy staggered toward Catharine, sick to her soul. Eloquent words and lofty beliefs in the rights of man, of an individual’s God-given ability to think for him or herself, had spawned their Revolution. This, though, was how it was fought. In vicious attacks neighbor to neighbor; in fear; with rumors spawning panic, hatred, and retributions. And this was what it cost—refugee children dying on the roadside as their parents fled enemy armies thinking that would keep them safe and alive.
As Peggy crawled back onto the seat and their calèche rolled forward, she swore that if she did nothing else, she would stick fast to her family to watch over them. She prayed she’d have the nerve to protect them when it really counted.
Albany, August 8th
Philip Schuyler to the following:
To Governor Clinton (New York)
[W]hat reinforcements of Militia are we likely to have? . . . Yesterday, the time expired of a regiment of Continental troops, they marched off, nor could I prevail on one (man) to remain., altho I offered twenty dollars bounty if they would engage.
To Governor Trumball (Connecticut)
[N]one of your militia has yet joined us. I wish it may be remembered that I have made early & repeated application for assistance; that I have only had about one hundred from your State, and those deserted a few days after their arrival.
To the Committee of Berkshire (Massachusetts)
We are very weak . . . If the enemy gets as far as this place it will soon be lost. . . . If [your militia] come an hour too late it is the same as a year.
I am with Great Esteem & Regard your most obed.
Hble Servant, Ph. Schuyler
SAFELY BACK IN ALBANY, PEGGY STOOD IN THE WIDE hallway of her family’s mansion, smiling at two Iroquois warriors. Their Kahstowah headdresses of three eagle feathers—two pointed up and one hanging down—had quickly identified them as Oneida. Their arms also bore the Oneida’s tattoo of a rock in a fork, their sign as People of the Standing Stone, a symbol of their endurance and constancy to one another. With them were seven Caughnawaga who had journeyed from Canada to speak to her father.
Philip Schuyler had ridden hard through the night from his new headquarters just south of Fort Edward to meet the Indian delegation. Clearly the Caughnawaga had critically important intelligence to have traveled so far, and considering the increasing attacks on frontier settlers and American scouting parties, it was crucial Schuyler reinforce his friendship with the Oneida. Of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy four had allied with Burgoyne—the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga. Only the Oneida and the Tuscarora stood with the Patriot.
“General Schuyler will be here in a moment,” Peggy said, bobbing a curtsy. “He begs your pardon for his delay. An express messenger brought grave news my father must respond to immediately.” She repeated herself in French, knowing the Canadian Caughnawaga were more likely to understand that language.
The men nodded.
Even though this was the first time Peggy had been trusted to welcome such an important group, she spoke with more confidence than she might have if addressing American officers. Part of that came from the fact she had grown up meeting Iroquois leaders and watching her father, as New York’s Indian Commissioner, negotiate with the tribes. At one such conference, the Oneida had even given her sister Eliza a tribal name meaning One of Us. The Iroquois were like that—embracing of family. They also elevated women above men in many ways. Clan mothers chose the tribal chiefs and had the authority to remove them if those men did not fulfill their duties to the matrons’ liking. Women councillors attended conferences on war and diplomacy and had the vote to block a decision if they felt it endangered their kin.
Would her new nation offer her the same voice? Peggy wondered.
Aloud she asked, “May I provide you some food or drink?” The delegates shook their heads. She gestured for them to sit in the many Windsor chairs along the hall’s paneled and lavishly papered wall. But the men remained standing, tall, on watch.
The eldest among them smiled back at her. He was older than her father, but his bearing was still imposing. Most likely a sachem, a chief. He wore the typical breechcloth and leggings, but also a white-man’s hunting shirt he had decorated with Iroquois beadwork. Silk ribbons once imported from England were tied below his knees to ornament and keep in place his buckskin leggings. He was a walking display of the easy mingling of cultures on the frontier that had also created European-born men who fought with tomahawks and traveled by canoe.
So Peggy was not surprised when he spoke in perfect English, saying, “I remember you, daughter of Thoniondakayon. You cried when your father would not let you run in a race with our warriors for a silver armband he gave as prize after a peace talk.”
“Oh dear,” Peggy murmured. She didn’t remember that, but it sounded like something she might do. Once when she was very young, Peggy had been furious that the Oneida had pulled her father into their ceremonial dance but refused to include her. They had all laughed, but in a kind way, when she had tried to smear her face with paint as they decorated her papa’s. The Iroquois were like that, too—they joked easily among themselves and with those they considered friends.
How they had teased one of George Washington’s aides two years before, during the “Great Peace,” when the Six Nations had agreed to stay out of the conflict between the English and the then colonists. An Onondaga chief announced that he would adopt Lieutenant Tilghman since he was Washington’s emissary. But to really become a member of his tribe, Tilghman must take an Onondaga bride.
Peggy laughed out loud remembering. She spoke quickly to explain herself. “I was just remembering when the Iroquois honored one of General Washington’s officers with adoption and the promise of the chief choosing him a bride.”
“Yes. I remember,” the sachem replied with a smile. “He was sad when your sister offered to stand as bridesmaid—not the bride. I think his heart was for her.”
Peggy nodded. Tilghman had been crestfallen, clearly quite taken with Eliza. He had been the only man she’d ever noticed look more at Eliza than at Angelica.
“Is that daughter of Thoniondakayon here today? She sang like a mockingbird last time we met.”
Eliza had joined the Oneida women when they gave a concert for the people of Albany watching the peace proceedings. “I am afraid not, sir. She is with my other sister, who has married.”
How Peggy was missing Eliza now. Catharine had sent her to the relative safety of Boston, to visit Angelica, whose elopement she had forgiven after Angelica had fled to her grandparents for help, counting on their fond indulgence. Angelica was smart that way. Indignant, their grandparents had arrived at the mansion and berated Catharine for being intransigent. After a great deal of tears and shouting in Dutch, Catharine had finally relented and acknowledged Angelica’s marriage to Carter—or whatever his real name was.
But Peggy had heard her mother say, as she kissed Eliza and tucked her into the carriage for Boston: “If that Englishman is not treating your sister well, you bring her home.”
Catharine might forgive, but she did not forget.
The Oneida chief interrupted Peggy’s thoughts: “You are grown now, Miss Schuyler. You are like the great trumpeter swan that has shed its gray for white feathers and a strong song.”
Touched, Peggy’s hand flew to her heart. “Thank you, sir.”
The Caughnawaga looked at him with a questioning glance. It was so strange to Peggy that all these tribes living so close together could be so foreign to one another. But then again, a Congregationalist fisherman from Marblehead, Massachusetts, had naught in common with a Dutchman from New York and even less with the country gentry of Virginia—even if they shared the same language and desire for independence. The Six Nations’ cooperative confederacy among diverse and autonomous tribes for mutual trade and against common foes was a good model for the Patriots’ fledgling United States.
“The chief was kind enough to compliment my maturity,” she said, translating for them: Le chef a la bonté de faire un compliment sur ma maturité.
The Caughnawaga told her that they heard wisdom in her voice as well.
Again touched, Peggy lowered her gaze and curtsied, just as Schuyler hurried out from his study. Pulling his uniform coat on as he came, her papa was followed by Varick and Lansing. “Get these to express riders immediately,” he ordered Lansing as he hurriedly scribbled his signature and handed the letters back to his secretary one at a time. “To His Excellency. To General Lincoln. To Ethan Allen, and these begging for militia reinforcements to Governor Clinton, to Governor Trumbull, and this to the Berkshire Committee. With all haste, man! Or we are done for.”
She caught her breath. Peggy had never ever heard her father so pessimistic. She also had never seen Schuyler so exhausted. She noted him limping slightly, and prayed that his gout would not attack him now. They all needed him.
“Sirs.” Schuyler bowed low to the Oneida and Caughnawaga and said solemnly in their dialect, “Welcome. How are you, my friends?”
“We have come, brother, to ask how matters are with you and Father Washington.”
“I will not lie to a great chief. They are dire indeed. Please.” He gestured for them to sit. This time they did.
The Oneida chief motioned for Peggy to sit as well. She glanced to her father for approval. He was surprised but nodded permission. Peggy settled into a chair, smoothed her skirts into their smallest circumference, and tried hard to suppress her excitement, to not to move at all, lest he change his mind.
“You must have news of great import to have traveled so far for us.” Schuyler looked at the Caughnawaga. He repeated himself in French. “Please, proceed. S’il vous plaît, procédez.”
The Caughnawaga told of what they had seen in their country—that Burgoyne was eight thousand strong, including tribesmen and Canadians. A thousand Tories had joined as well. Some British regulars were left at Quebec, fortifying that city against any counterattack from the Patriots.
Schuyler nodded. “Yes, this we had heard from others. I am grateful you corroborate it.”
He asked a few clarifying questions, of exact positions, the condition and supplies for the troops. Then the Oneida sachem added: “You fight more than Iroquois. Mississauga, Huron, and Chippewa cross by canoe from Canada in great numbers now to add their tomahawks to the British.”
“Good God.” Schuyler fell back in his chair. “I wonder if they will join the British siege of Fort Stanwix?” he muttered to himself.
After a moment, he sat up. “Sirs, what kept me this morning was an alarming report from the west. The British landed a force at Oswego from Lake Ontario. They marched east to attack Fort Stanwix. Their plan is to gain control of the Mohawk River, then sail down it to Albany—at the same time Burgoyne’s troops arrive here to attack our city.”
“This is a cunning plan,” said the Oneida chief. “Two packs of wolves hunting one deer from two sides will always kill their prey.”
“Yes. So you see it is imperative that Fort Stanwix not fall. To that end, I asked the leader of that county’s militia, a General Herkimer, to gather his men and hasten to reinforce the fort. But this morning I learned that he and his men were ambushed and cut to pieces.”
“By the Royal Greens and five hundred Mohawk and Seneca warriors.” Schuyler paused and sighed. “They say old Herkimer was shot through the thigh in the first volley. But the brave old man dragged himself to a stump where he propped himself and smoked his pipe to dull his pain so he could continue to direct his men. But alas, they were not prepared for such fierce combat.” Schuyler’s voice broke as he added, “These men are just farmers, who laid down their scythes during haying, and ran to defend us. Entire families are lost. The dispatch rider told me one father witnessed the death of seven of his nine sons.”
Schuyler put his hand on the Oneida chief’s shoulder. “And I must tell you, sir, that many of your tribe flew to help our militia. But your brave warriors were killed as well. Perhaps as many as seventy.”
The Oneida bowed his head. After a long moment, he said, “A chief must bear many sorrows, brother. We will honor Herkimer and his fighters with our warriors.”
“Thank you. But I am afraid we have little time to mourn. I must again ask your help,” said Schuyler. “Will you send scouts to determine the situation at Fort Stanwix? I need to know how many British troops and how many of their Mohawk allies surround it. I have no scouting parties of my own to spare. The few we have risked have been ambushed.”
“Before I risk my people more, I must ask the truth of something the British have shouted to the Iroquois Nations. British chieftains say they command the Hudson River waters. That they have taken Philadelphia. That your Congress has fled and scattered like milkweed, leaving you without leaders, no council. The British say this will allow them to crush you in a few weeks.”
Schuyler’s mouth dropped open. “No! None of that is true. But that confirms what General Washington has feared were the British plans. Thousands of Redcoats have been loaded onto transport ships and departed New York City. But we knew not for where. General Washington must move with all haste to protect Philadelphia!”
Schuyler stood, rubbed his forehead, and muttered, “This means His Excellency absolutely cannot spare a single man to me now.” He staggered a few feet and stopped. “Nothing to help me reinforce Fort Stanwix or to protect the families of Tryon County.”
“What about General Arnold, Papa?” Peggy whispered. “He was so effective in riding to Danbury’s defense.”
Surprised, Schuyler swung round to look at her. “My very thoughts, daughter.”
“Ah yes,” the Oneida chief said to her with a smile, “a trumpeter swan.”
With that, the Caughnawaga and Oneida left, but the day was far from done.
An hour later came a great banging and shouting at the front door. Varick rushed from Schuyler’s office as Peggy peeped out from the parlor where she had retreated to draw portraits of the chiefs from memory, sketch pad and charcoal in hand. Cautiously, muskets ready, the guards opened the door to reveal a group of agitated Patriots from Albany’s watch. With them, bound and much bruised about the face, was Moses Harris.
“We caught us a Tory spy!” cried the leader of the ragtag bunch. “We want General Schuyler’s permission to hang him!”
Feigning enormous gratitude and amazement at their clever capture, Schuyler announced he would question the prisoner first. He hauled Harris into his office and slammed the door shut—leaving Peggy, Varick, and the Patriot watch in the hallway, much disappointed.
“Well, sirs,” Varick blustered, clearly insulted by his exclusion, “I have questions about who you think might provide supplies for the troops.”
“Oh, there are a brace of Loyalists around here with ample chicken coops and cattle we should confiscate,” one watchman answered.
As Varick asked about beef and eggs, Peggy flounced into the parlor, fuming. The Oneida and Caughnawaga had just pulled her into their conference, even complimented her wisdom. How could her father continue to infantilize her?
Peggy threw herself onto one of the couches.
“Ouch!” She’d landed on her sketch pad and the tin box holding her charcoal. Peggy stood up, grabbed it, turned around while rubbing her backside, and flung the box. Damn it and all the demure feminine arts that she was reduced to!
The box sailed, crashing against the door leading to Schuyler’s study and scattering charcoal bits everywhere.
Peggy sighed. Catharine would scold her for that mess. She stomped to the corner to pick up the pieces. As she collected shattered bits that had fallen up against the doorjamb, she heard voices! Muffled. But she could hear the deep baritone of her father and Harris’s answering country lilt.
Quickly Peggy pulled a footstool up to the door. It was closed, of course, but there was a large keyhole. She faced herself toward the parlor, pretending she needed that perspective to capture its entirety in a sketch, and leaned over to eavesdrop as best she could.
Dampened, she heard:
“I delivered them letters to the Loyalists’ man here in Albany, just like you directed, General. There was a bit of questioning to endure—nothing like what those Patriot ruffians done me that brought me here to you today. You should reward those lads, you should. Most men wouldn’t hold up against their . . . interrogation.”
Peggy could hear the scrape of a chair, probably Schuyler pulling up right next to Harris. “Go on,” her father said.
“So it were simple to hoodwink him. The fool asked me if I’d like to serve the king as a messenger from Montreal to New York. And I hemmed and hawed a bit, sir, afore I gave over. Didn’t want to look too ardent, that’d be a giveaway I were up to something. What sane body would go on such an errand?”
“Good man,” Schuyler said.
“Then I told him about my uncle, that Tory cur what stole the apple orchard from my pa, may he choke on the cores. . . .”
“Mr. Harris, please, I am afraid today is dreadfully rushed with urgent news on all sides.”
“Right, sir, sorry. So, the fool told me to go to my uncle’s and his conspirators would send word there. I thought that right remarkable, till I learnt my uncle was in deep with our enemy all along. Round midnight, my uncle took me to his barn. And do you know that old bastard has a secret passage to a tiny room he built in the center of the haymow to hide it. I had to keep me head ducked. There were three British officers, mind you, all cramped up inside as well. They told me they needed a trusty courier to go to General Burgoyne and back.”
Peggy heard the chair squeak and Schuyler say, “And . . . ?”
“Well, sir, I went straightaway to Burgoyne. That were your and my plan, after all. The general—handsome bloke, I must admit, and very jolly. He was with a pretty strumpet, but he put down his glass to talk with me. He gave me a canteen with three heads—one for drinking water inside, and two concealed ones, where he tucked two messages. Just like a chipmunk stuffs nuts into a hidey-hole. Then he told me to head back to Albany—Shepherd would carry the messages to the Redcoats in New York City.
“But then those fellows in your hall apprehended me. I told them I was fleeing into Albany for sanctuary, like all them other refugees. But someone recognized me, what with my going back and forth and all, and started in with questions. No fooling good Patriots, General. I count my lucky stars they didn’t string me up afore bringing me to you.”
Schuyler lowered his voice to an urgent whisper, and Peggy had to put her ear right to the keyhole to hear: “Mr. Harris. Do you still have that canteen?”
“Oh, yes, sir. Right here!”
Startled, Peggy fell forward out of the chair to her knees, and her sketchbook slid across the bleached, scrubbed floor to stop at Varick’s boots. Horrified, she held her fingers to her lips and looked at the colonel pleadingly. What could she say; what excuse for eavesdropping like this?
But Varick just scrambled to lift her, and flushed as he drew her up and steadied her. “Are you hurt, Miss Peggy? Shall I get you water?” He led her to a chair and hovered as she sat down.
Had he not seen what she was doing? Why was he smiling at her like that?
A different kind of horror swept Peggy at that moment. Could her little brother John be right? Poor Colonel Varick. She felt nothing in return.
Schuyler bellowing for his aide saved her from Varick’s infatuated concern. The colonel backed out of the room, gazing at her with that silly grin.
Shamelessly, Peggy put her ear back to the keyhole just in time to hear her father explain that he and Harris had agreed to maintain his cover by sending Harris to Albany’s prison, ostensibly to await trial. Within a few days Schuyler would send private instructions to the jailer to release him, secretly, during the night.
“Will that work, sir?” asked Harris.
Peggy heard her father clap Harris on the back and answer, “We have done it before.” He opened his study and called the Patriot watch, who manhandled Harris out the front door.
From the window, Peggy watched them drag Harris down the hill. Her father had allayed their disgruntlement at not getting to lynch their captive by pressing a few shillings into each of the men’s hands and explaining that a public hearing and execution would strike more fear into the hearts of Albany loyalists. As they disappeared, she noticed a cloud of dust and then a rider cresting the hill.
“Papa!” Peggy called. “It’s another express!”
This dispatch brought terrible news: Burgoyne and his British Army had reached Saratoga.
But to Peggy, the next express was even worse. Two mornings later, as Schuyler swung himself into his saddle to ride to Saratoga to prepare for a do-or-die battle, in galloped a messenger from Congress. Schuyler leaned over to take the letter from the rider.
His face fell as he read. After a moment, he dismounted, landing on the ground heavily. His expression made Peggy tremble with uncertainty and anticipation of god-awful news.
“What is it, Philip?” Catharine asked with alarm. “Is it about Angelica? Eliza?”
Schuyler handed the message to his wife. “John Adams and the New Englanders have won their campaign against me. Congress relieves me of command.”
The bastards! “Oh, Papa, I am so sorry,” cried Peggy.
But Schuyler did not answer. He stumbled toward the house, limping badly.