Today I'm doing something a little different, taking a week off from my usual flash. My muse demanded something different, so what could I do but obey? This story has been in the back of my mind for some time now. It's about Aaron Burr, whom I adore, and it takes place the night of July 10, 1804 - in other words, the night before his duel with Alexander Hamilton at Weehawken. I wanted to peek into his mind and heart and see how he felt on the eve of such a momentous occasion. I hope you like it! Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!
Butterflies in His Stomach
“You’ve given him every opportunity to make amends, Aaron.”
“I know, Will, I know.”
“He is the one who is determined to go through with this. It’s not as though he hasn’t retracted such statements before.”
“But this time, he refuses. And this time he has gone too far.” Aaron Burr rose from his desk and in a few graceful strides approached the mahogany sideboard where he kept his liquor. Reaching for a cut glass decanter, he poured the amber liquid into two glasses. Taking one for himself, he handed the second to his young friend and fellow lawyer, William P. Van Ness. At twenty-six, Van Ness was some twenty-odd years Burr’s junior, but the two had a close bond, despite the age difference.
Burr took a seat beside Van Ness on the Aubusson settee which had only recently arrived from France. Done in the once popular Louis XV style, it had been smuggled to England during the early chaotic days of the French Revolution. From there it had been acquired on Burr’s behalf by an acquaintance acting on his behalf, and had been shipped from there to his beautiful home of Richmond Hill. Having lost his wife Theodosia to cancer some ten years before, and his only daughter, also Theodosia to marriage in 1801, Burr lived alone, except for his servants.
Burr took a long drink. To an outside observer, he might seem cool and collected, especially in light of what the next day would bring, but inside he was seething with emotions which he refused to display, even before such a close friend. The die had been cast, irreparably so, and tomorrow he and Hamilton would meet at dawn, across the river in Weehawken, a notorious dueling place. Although dueling was quite illegal, the authorities tended to turn a blind eye to such things, especially as most of them resulted in little more than opportunities for the parties involved to vent themselves before returning, somewhat ameliorated, to the bosom of their respective families. Burr, who was not very familiar with such affairs, had only been involved in one other, unlike Hamilton. He was not sure what the morrow would bring.
“All he had to do was retract what was referenced in that damnable letter,” Van Ness continued. “Explain himself, and explain what was said. But he refused, so this is on his head.”
“Indeed,” Burr replied. A silence fell between them. When the ornate clock in the hallway struck ten, Van Ness reluctantly took his leave. He’d suggested he should stay until morning, but Burr declined the generous offer, citing the dawn meeting and the need for both to rest. Once his friend had left, however, sleep eluded him.
Pouring another drink, he took a seat at his desk and pulled out his watch. Inside was the sole picture he retained of his late wife, who had not wished to sit for her portrait, especially once her illness took over, and Burr had not insisted. “Perhaps I shall join you tomorrow,” he said softly. “Oh Theodosia, I wish you were with me now. You always saw things as they were, unclouded with emotion or pretense. Maybe you could explain Alexander’s actions, for I surely cannot.”
Sighing, he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He had once considered Hamilton a friend. Just when that had changed, Burr wasn’t sure, but over time their relationship had eroded. There were those who said Hamilton was jealous of Burr’s pedigree, of his family tree, his early entrance into the College of New Jersey. Hamilton was a self-made man. Overcoming being born in bastardy in the West Indies, he’d come to America at the young age of nineteen. Rejected by Burr’s alma mater, he’d gone on to attend King’s College. Both men had fought in the Revolution. Hamilton had gone on to become George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, his chief adviser. He’d married a wealthy young woman, become a successful lawyer, and had his own beautiful home.
So why was he so intent on ruining Aaron Burr?
Removing a piece of his personalized stationary from a drawer, Burr began to pen a letter to his daughter.
My dear Theodosia,
I seek for words with which to address this moment but I am uncustomarily at a loss. Normally I am more eloquent than this, but there is so much to say, and perhaps not much time to say it in.”
Burr paused, frowning at the paper. Normally, he could talk to his daughter about anything and everything. They had a very open and frank relationship, the father-daughter bond between them very strong. But tonight he was all too aware that perhaps these would be the last words he’d ever get to write to her, and the very thought brought butterflies to his stomach.
And what about Matty? Although he’d never openly acknowledged him as his son, Burr’s affection for Martin Van Buren ran deep. The decision to remain in the background of his son’s life had been done solely out of consideration for Matty’s political future. Burr was convinced that the son would succeed where the father had failed, by becoming the President of the United States.
He set the quill to paper once more.
Please, my dearest girl, do not lose touch with your brother, and be the able advisor to him that you have ever been to me. Don’t forget, also, to let Gampy know how much his grandfather loved him.
Setting the quill aside once more, he frowned, then crumpled up the unfinished missive. Rising swiftly, he strode across the room to the fireplace and tossed it into the flames before returning to the sofa and lying down to keep a wakeful vigil.
He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but he would remain optimistic for as long as he could. As the clock tolled midnight, he settled down to wait for Fate to arrive.
Now go see what the other Briefers are up to!