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    ...The cawing of some crows in a stand of elms off to the left carried across Lispenard’s Meadow on the freshening Canadian wind. Beyond the leafless elms, whose shivering limbs sparkled in the sun and rattled icily in the breeze, stood the Richmond Hill mansion. Smoke, just visible in the distance, rose from its three chimneys. When the crows desisted a moment, Elias Ring heard the sound of someone chopping wood near the house and thought he saw two figures standing on the breast of the hill under the elms. He looked away, then back again, and they were gone.

    “Colonel Burr at home?” he asked.

    “Believe he is,” said Joseph Watkins. “Been there since before Christmas, I hear.”

    James chimed in, “Must be right pleasant, havin’ a place in town and a place in the country.”

Cover of The Manhattan Well
The little search party, wearing heavy boots, woolen coats, and fur-lined gloves, was now halfway across the snowy meadow. James had a knitted cap pulled down over his ears. Jed had put a brown scarf over his battered tricorn and tied it under his chin. “Thee looks like thee stepped out of a Valley Forge paintin’,” Elias had said when he first saw him that morning. Watkins was hatless, his sandy hair golden in the bright sunlight. As usual, Elias wore the flat-brimmed, black hat of a Quaker and, around his neck, a grey woolen muffler that his wife had knitted him for Christmas. James and Jed carried long, heavy poles, with spikes driven through the ends, and Elias had a length of rope coiled round his shoulder. Like most New Yorkers these days – like most Americans – they all wore black armbands in memory of General Washington.

    The air smelled of wood smoke, and the men were puffing hard as they pushed through the snow, wisps of breath trailing behind their heads like mare’s tails....

    At the Manhattan Well ... Jed found a stone, dropped it in, and heard it bounce. “Maybe we’d best wait for a thaw,” he said. “Besides, I don’t know if Mr. Burr wants us pokin’ around in his well.”

    ...“Let’s go to work,” Elias said....

    Jed and James circled the well, breaking up the rest of the ice with the spike end of their poles. Soon they snagged something. “Here!” Jed yelled....

    “Just a piece of paper.”

    “Not paper. Cloth and heavy. Colors.”

    “Yes!” Elias said. “See if thee can pull it up.”

    ...As they pulled, the spike in Jed’s pole ripped free. He stumbled backward and fell, swearing a blue streak. James kept pulling, but the cloth seemed to pull back. He saw an arm – swollen and blue – flop out of the black water and splash back in like the fin of a lolling whale.

    “It’s white with blue flowers.”

    “It’s her!” Elias cried.....

                                                                                                                                   ©2012 by Stanley Cloud


   ....Under a leaden sky on a hellishly hot day, Ezra Weeks’s younger brother, Levi, was walking down Broadway’s cobblestone sidewalk toward the Battery when he caught sight of Aaron Burr sitting on a rough-hewn bench in the park, his hands and chin resting on the silver knob of his walking stick. Seeing Levi, Burr quickly got to his feet and raised his stick in greeting; Levi had the impression that the colonel had been waiting for him. Sweating heavily, Levi noted with admiration that Burr, in a frock coat of shiny silk and a silver-trimmed brown tricorn, seemed dry and cool.

    “Levi,” Burr said, his walking stick still in the air, “we meet again....” Levi was a little surprised that Burr even remembered him....

     “Good day, Colonel Burr. How are you, sir?”

    “I am excellent well, Levi – except, of course, for being tossed out of the Assembly and vilified daily in the Federalist press. I trust you, at least, voted for me.”

     “I don’t own fifty dollars worth of property yet, Colonel Burr. But if—

    “We must do something about that, Levi, next time round.”

    “Yes, sir. I hope so, sir.”

Burr threw back his head and laughed. “Levi,” he said, “it is extremely fortunate that you and I are met today. Are you occupied? I wonder if you’d mind accompanying me to my house. It is just up the street there. I have something important I wish to discuss with you. I shan’t take much of your time.”

    Burr hadn’t known Levi long but had formed a passably favorable opinion of the young man. He had coal black hair, a ruddy complexion, a strong

                                Aaron Burr

chin, and an honest visage that suggested a warm and generous personality. He was, taken all in all, a handsome and likable lad (if one overlooked, as Burr was inclined to do, a gap between his two front teeth and ears so protuberant that they resembled the handles on a Greek urn)....

    Entering Burr’s house, Levi was astonished at the opulence of the furnishings.... There were paintings on all the walls – landscapes, seascapes, portraits – small sculptures on the mantelpieces and side tables, lovely old carpets on the dark, parquet floors. The rooms, with ten-foot ceilings and closed shutters, were cool and dark and a great relief from the moist, oppressive heat outside. In the foyer, Levi noticed, there was even a full suit of well-polished armor.

    “We call him Cromwell,” said Burr when he saw Levi staring at the armor. “After the Lord Protector.... He’s not really to my taste. The armor, I mean – well, in important respects, the man too, come to that – but for some reason I’ve never got up the stuff to throw the old boy out.”...

                                                                                                                                   ©2012 by Stanley Cloud


    ...On July Fourth at Fraunces Tavern, an Independence Day dinner was held by the Society of the Cincinnati. Burr had accepted his invitation somewhat reluctantly. The society was an exclusive, hereditary organization of former Revolutionary War officers and their male descendants. Hamilton and a few other like-minded Federalists were its co-founders. Burr, setting aside his Republican opposition to the patrimonial – damned near royalist – structure of the society, had joined a few months earlier in hopes of attracting Federalist support for his gubernatorial bid. Knowing Hamilton would be present at the Fourth of July function, Burr had debated whether or not to attend himself. In the end, he decided he would – for appearance’s sake. And when he arrived, he discovered that Hamilton was not only there but that the two of them, with eight others, were assigned the same table.

Nothing unusual or untoward happened during dinner. When all had eaten, however, and the brandy began to flow, the boys began to sing. Their third selection was How Stands the Glass Around? – a song, Burr recalled, that was said to have been sung by a British general the night before he was killed at the Battle of Quebec. Burr, a veteran of that campaign, was in no mood for singing and sat throughout with his arms folded, noting that Hamilton, across the table from him, seemed at first to be of like mind. But when the other officers had sung the opening stanzas of How Stands the Glass Around?, they paused, and one of them pointed to Hamilton. With a huge smile, he said, “Come on, General. The next stanza is perfect for your lovely tenor.”

        Alexander Hamilton

    “Oh, posh, Captain. I’m no soloist,” Hamilton said with a sly grin.

    “We’ll not take no for an answer, will we boys?”

    “Sing it! Sing it! Sing it!” they chanted.   

    “All right, all right,” Hamilton said, laughing. “If it will keep you quiet.”

    He climbed up on his chair and, looking directly down at Burr, sang in a loud, clear voice:

             “O why, soldiers, why?

              O why should we be melancholy, boys?

              O why, soldiers, why,

              Whose business is to die?”

        Burr watched his longtime antagonist perform and thought, This lunatic means to murder me!...                                                                 

                                                                                                                                  ©2012 by Stanley Cloud


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