Friday, June 5, 2015

THE MASTER PASSION ~ Betsy Schuyler



 
 
Chapter Two ~ The Pastures, Albany, NY
 
The girls had strayed too deep into the old pasture to run back to the red brick pile of their house, so they hid. Angelica grabbed little Peggy and together they crouched inside a big hole within the trunk of one of the squat, ancient fruit trees, one that Papa said had been brought as rootstock by the very first Dutch settlers.
 When they’d first spied the Indians, Betsy had been climbing to pick apples. It was too late to climb down, so she tucked long skirts over her knees and made herself into a small bundle, hugging the trunk and praying the leaves would cover her. As the party passed directly beneath her, she froze and tried not to think of the old war stories the servants told, about how Indians had killed her Uncle ’Bram—shot dead right on his Saratoga doorstep.
 These intruders were wearing buckskin trousers, homespun shirts and hats with foxtails and feathers. The European touches were a good sign, for this was the way Indians dressed when making a formal visit to Albany.
 There was a woman, too, walking very erect. Beside her marched a boy. He must have recently joined the men’s lodge, for his head was newly plucked, pale as a butchered hog on either side of the bristling strip of hair. He looked straight up, met her eyes, and then, without a word, continued on with his elders.
 Betsy knew these Indians were Mohawks, a tribe with whom her father was on good terms. Nevertheless, trained, as all frontier children were, to hide from strangers, she didn’t twitch.
 Today’s Indians must have had a claim on Papa, for they went directly to the wing of the imposing brick house which contained his study. A few minutes later, in the distance, they saw their father come out to greet them.
 Sometimes, if Chiefs arrived in rain or snow, they would be invited in to sit cross-legged in the downstairs great room with Papa. Here they dipped their dinner out of three-legged pots carried in from the kitchen. Betsy and her sisters, would slip out of their room, down the staircase, and try to get a peek through the door which led into the study wing. Here, if they were lucky, they’d see warriors sitting-crossed legged on the carpet, solemnly gazing around at the French panoramic wallpaper and up to the crystal chandelier.
 Relieved that these were only visitors, Betsy climbed down to join her sisters. They collected their dolls and walked slowly back to the house, Betsy holding Margaret’s sticky little hand. They met slaves already carrying out carpets and furs.
“Let’s sit here.” Angelica, the oldest, and always the leader, took a seat on one of the long benches along the study wing. “We can watch.”
Peggy, however, was done with outside. She wanted to go in, and began to complain. They were close to the kitchen now, and the smell coming from there made her think of the treats she could wheedle from the women there.
“I want a koekje!”
Peggy strained at Betsy’s hand and, after a little pulling, Betsy gave up and simply let her go. One of the house slaves at work there would certainly take charge of her little sister. Peggy went charging away, as fast as her short legs would carry her, toward the kitchen door.
While they watched, a pavilion arose beneath the biggest maple, and a fire was made beside that. Tables and carpets came out, and an entire joint of beef was carried from the kitchen.
 Then, a commotion began. Mama was at the center of it, although this was a surprise. Their Mama rarely lost her temper. She came out of the kitchen door, hauling Ruby, one of the slave girls, by the arm. She had a hazel switch in hand.
 “Ruby, if I set you to watch my girls, you are not to let them out of your sight!” Mama switched Ruby’s legs, and poor Ruby hopped up and down in her short skirts, shrieking.
 “Why is Mama so cross?” Angelica asked, as Mrs. Ross, their plump Scots governess, herded them away into the house and upstairs.
Something was very wrong. Mama never lost her temper!
 
* * *
 
 
Read more about Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Schuyler, their very different childhoods, their Revolutionary War courtship and their sometimes stormy marriage.
 
 
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