Defying Conventions (Part I)
Some sort of pneumonia was sure to be the culprit at this point in the winter, Doctor James McClurg mused, as he bundled up warmly for the short walk that lay ahead of him. It had not been long since he had moved his medical practice to Richmond, but he was already one of the most sought after doctors in the bustling capital of the Commonwealth. The messenger boy had arrived before the sun, so he decided against waking his wife to tell her he was going out to tend to a patient. Closing the door as quietly as possible he was met by a blast of freezing air. Yesterday’s rain was sure to have turned to ice in many spots, so he stepped carefully in the early morning semi dark.
Not more than a few steps from his own front door, his thoughts drifted from the task at hand to the duties that faced him later that year. He had been just as surprised as anyone to be asked to represent Virginia at the upcoming convention in Philadelphia. Regardless of whether he felt as well-versed in political matters as some of the other men who would be at the convention, he felt a sense of duty toward Virginia, and so had accepted. Whether he would be ready to offer a significant contribution, however, was something that weighed heavily on his mind. “Medicine and the science that supports it are entirely different matters from the world of politics,” he had told his wife. She reassured him that the same intellect that equipped him to effectively treat the maladies of his patients could surely equip him to diagnose and treat the maladies of their fledgling nation.
It was at that point in his recollection of their conversation that he felt his left foot start to slip out from under him. Lost in thought, he had not been as careful about ice patches as he ought to have been and he gasped at what was sure to be a nasty fall.
“Watch out, sir!” cried a voice from just behind him. A strong hand gripped his arm, steadying him, and saving him from the serious injury that had only an instant before flashed in his mind’s eye.
Doctor McClurg turned to see his savior and thank him, but by the time he did so, the man was already on his way in the other direction. He offered nothing more than a flick of the wrist in acknowledgement when the doctor shouted “Thank you, young man!” At least, he had thought the man was young; it was hard to tell as he disappeared into one of the many early morning shadows.
He paused only briefly to reflect on just how fortunate he had been for someone to be within arm’s distance at that precise moment, but then continued his trek to see his ailing patient. Remembering at what point of his recollection he had left off, it occurred to him that in his haste, he had left his medical bag back in his office. He had told his wife that he wished that in the same way the helpful instruments he had for treating diseases could be packed in a small bag, that he could likewise take with him to Philadelphia a bag of instruments for treating the nation. He did not consider himself a poet by any means, but he had been proud of coming up with the metaphor on the spot. In any event, he would have to go back and get his bag.
Having once again become lost to his own thoughts, the doctor did not hear the crescendo of hoofbeats. He turned back in the direction of his own home and his vision--the last sight he remembered--was filled with a team of horses drawing a cart, furiously bearing down right on top of him. After that, all was dark.
As he approached the city, Camden Page hardly noticed the last feeble rays of the winter sun clinging to the rooftops of Richmond. Thanks to the winter storm of the previous week, the roads between here and his home in New Kent County were all but impassable. Stopping at the crest of a small rise, he cupped his hands to his mouth, hoping his breath would provide one last puff of warmth to his aching fingers. He urged his horse on, desperate to reach his destination and the promise of a warm bed. Every minute he spent out in the bitter and deepening cold seemed an hour to him, but the impending close of his journey and the well-paved city streets lifted his spirits.
Arriving at the house of Joseph Randolph--a modest two-story home with a bright green door--Camden tied up his horse and attempted to remove as much dust and dirt from himself as he could, before climbing the stairs to the front porch and rapping the simple, brass door knocker.
The man who answered the door was tall--taller even than Camden himself--and rather slender. “Good evening,” he said, peering over a pair of half-moon spectacles. “You must be young master Page. Do come in, please.”
The man stepped back, allowing the door to swing fully open and Camden stepped into a sort of foyer stocked with seats and benches of various descriptions, a mode of furnishing he concluded must be ordinary for the house of an attorney such as Mr. Randolph, who no doubt must sometimes keep a number of clients waiting. However, his attention was quickly drawn to the room to his right, from whence came the warm light of a fire. It was to that room, thankfully, that the man directed him.
“Will Mr. Randolph have retired for the evening already?” Camden asked.
“What?” the man replied. “Oh, no, of course not.” He took a pipe from a small table next to one of the chairs near the fireplace and puffed once or twice before seeming to interrupt his own thoughts.
“Oh dear, I have forgotten to introduce myself, haven’t I? Silly of me. I am Joseph Randolph.” He then extended his hand, and mentor and apprentice shared their first handshake.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Mr. Randolph.”
“That is quite a grip you have there, Mr. Page.”
Camden hesitated, unsure whether the remark was meant as a compliment or as merely an observation that his rural upbringing was obvious to everyone.
“You won’t find much use for large, strong hands in the legal profession, naturally, but the experience of having had to work with your hands will serve you well in the future. Have no doubt about that.”
Camden did have his doubts, but kept them to himself. His first impression of Mr. Randolph was that he was altogether a different sort of man than he had ever known. Thinning, sandy-colored hair swept across his head and behind the spectacles sat pale green eyes that gave life to an otherwise average face. Average, that is, except for a rather prominent chin, which Camden had already noticed Mr. Randolph tended to jut out when he was talking. Were he to draw himself up to his full height, Camden was sure Mr. Randolph would be the tallest man in the room at the moment. However, while Camden’s broad shoulders acted as yet another clue to his rude beginnings, Mr. Randolph hunched noticeably.
“Are you hungry?”
Camden was positively famished, but did not think it would do to begin his apprenticeship by devouring anything he could put his hands on in front of Mr. Randolph.
“Yes, I would much appreciate some nourishment, sir, if you please.”
“Well, we had expected you rather a bit earlier, so dinner was already served. Before Mary left I had her make up a plate for you and leave it in your room upstairs, which you’ll find at the first door on your left. I shan’t keep you down here when I know you must be weary from your journey. I have some papers to look over in my study--just across the hall, there--so I will see you in the morning. I’ll also send for someone from the livery yard to come for your horse. We’ll start first thing tomorrow, so be ready by seven sharp. Good night, Mr. Page.”
“Good night, Mr. Randolph, and thank you.”
Mr. Randolph took with him one of the candles from the mantle and disappeared into his study, which for all that Camden could see in the dimly-lit house, could just as well have been a cave. He trudged carefully upstairs and let himself into his room, at first startled at the creak of the hinges, until he remembered that he and Mr. Randolph were the only people in the house. He slipped out of his boots and left them in the corner behind the door, telling himself that he would sit and rest his feet for just a few minutes before eating. Before he could give the food much thought, however, he had fallen asleep, still in his traveling clothes.
Camden awoke the next morning with a start, realizing that he had slept where he had fallen, as if he had been a soldier collapsing after a forced march. He peered carefully out into the hallway, catching a glimpse of the clock in the hall, relieved that he had somehow not overslept. He would have just enough time to change his clothes and wash sufficiently to make himself modestly, if not perfectly, presentable. He selected a plain, black suit from the wardrobe--the new clothes provided by Mr. Randolph--wetted down his hair and made his way to the stairs.
Having grown up on his uncle’s farm, he was not sure what to expect in being apprenticed to an attorney--one of Richmond’s most respected attorneys, in fact--but nothing could have prepared him for the sight that met him when the bench at the bottom of the stairs, directly across from Mr. Randolph’s study, came into view.
Seated there, with a small stack of books balanced on the neatly arranged folds of her dress, was a young woman. Camden judged her to be about his same age and as he reached the last step she met his gaze. He felt his face flush red, embarrassed at the thought that she might believe him to be staring. Though how he could possibly have kept himself from staring at such beauty, he could not grasp.
“Pardon me, Miss, I--” was all he could manage to sputter before Mr. Randolph and another man emerged from the office. Camden knew he should feel relieved that this stranger had saved him from an unchaperoned exchange with this young woman to whom he had not been introduced, but at the same time he found himself strangely disappointed that the moment had not been allowed to continue.
“Ah, Mr. Page! I’m glad you’re downstairs a little early.” Mr. Randolph beckoned for Camden to come all the way down to the landing. “Governor Henry, please allow me to introduce Mr. Camden Page who is to be my new apprentice.”
In spite of his awe, Camden managed to extend his hand and say, “Governor Henry, it’s an honor to meet you, sir.” Merely being in the same room with a figure as famous as Patrick Henry was more than Camden had thought he had any right to expect. He thought to himself that he had not realized just how well-respected and connected Mr. Randolph was until just now.
“I’m pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Page. Although, I must insist that just ‘Mr. Henry’ will do from now on. I know that will be a hard habit for your mentor to break, but if he is to teach you anything about the law, you must teach him to treat an old friend like an old friend. I expect you to do the same, Ms. Burwell,” he said, nodding in the direction of the young woman.
“Yes, of course, Mr. Henry,” she replied, returning the former governor’s pleasant smile with one of her own.
Mr. Henry took his overcoat from Mr. Randolph and began to pull it on. “If you’ll excuse me Mr. Page and Ms. Burwell, I would be most delighted to stay and talk, but I have business to attend to before leaving Richmond. Good day to you all.”
With that, Mr. Henry was gone almost as quickly as Camden had seen him come and he was left standing in the front room with Mr. Randolph and the lovely creature he now knew only as “Ms. Burwell.” She rose from the bench and crossed the short distance between the bench and the door to Mr. Randolph’s study, extending the stack of books as she came.
“I’ve just come to return these, Uncle, but I won’t tarry if you and--Mr. Page, was it?--have business to attend to.”
Her voice, thought Camden, perfectly suited her. She remained in her overcoat, the front room not being very well-insulated from the crisp January air outside. Nevertheless, Camden was struck by what visible signs of her youthful beauty displayed themselves. Although no one tended to show much color in the winter, Camden could tell that even at the height of summer she would have a fair complexion. Her light brown hair was done simply, combed back and parted in the middle, with a single curl which hung over her right shoulder.
“No, my dear, you needn’t be in any hurry to leave,” Mr. Randolph said. “Georgiana, this is my apprentice, Mr. Camden Page. He arrived only just yesterday evening shortly after dinner.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Page,” Georgiana offered. She extended a gloved hand which Camden nervously but gladly accepted. “My uncle has been telling my family about you for months, it seems. Was your journey to Richmond a pleasant one? I know the weather has not been the best in recent days.”
“Thank you, Miss Burwell. The journey was about as I expected it would be.” It was, as Camden would not soon forget, a rather unpleasant journey, but that was what he had been expecting.
“Ah, you’ll do well, indeed, Mr. Page. That’s precisely the sort of answer I’d expect an attorney to give,” she said, with a sparkle in her eye, more playful than malevolent.
“You must forgive my niece, Mr. Page. She has a habit of teasing, even with those to whom she has only just been introduced. I believe there were some other books you had your eye on, Georgiana? Why don’t we all go into the study where it’s a bit warmer.”
The trio stepped through the doors and into Mr. Randolph’s cavernous study, where a fire blazed in the far corner, heating the whole room to almost an intolerable heat.
Georgiana removed her overcoat and draped it over the arm of a high-backed leather chair that sat facing Mr. Randolph’s desk. Under it she wore a simple, dark blue dress of a style Camden was sure he had never seen before. His home of New Kent County, though not so far from Richmond, was still behind the times, it seemed, when it came to women’s fashions. It was very flattering to her figure, Camden thought, which he regarded as neither overly petite nor plump. The rich hue of the dress also seemed to highlight the color of her eyes, which seemed blue at one moment, but more green when she stepped into a certain light. He watched as she walked over to a shelf in the corner farthest from the fire, but averted his gaze lest he be caught staring a second time in as many minutes.
“One of them was over here, wasn’t it, Uncle? You really must let me organize your library better than this. It would be no trouble at all.”
“Yes, I suppose that would be fine, but at the moment I know where everything is.” Mr. Randolph strode over to where his niece was scanning the shelves, quickly spotted a volume, and pulled it from the shelf--a shelf only he was tall enough to reach in any event. “This was it, wasn’t it? Pamela? I could have sworn I’ve lent you that one before, haven’t I?”
“Indeed, Uncle. But is any book really worth reading that isn’t worth reading again and again?”
Camden thought that observation rang true to his experience. He assumed he had had access to far fewer books than she as a child and young person, but nevertheless, there were those few volumes that he treasured above all the others and never tired of revisiting.
“I suppose I had never thought of it that way,” said Mr. Randolph, settling in at the chair behind the desk. “Those are for you as well.” He gestured toward two books stacked on one corner of the massive work space.
Camden, now seated in the other chair facing the desk, took notice of the titles: one was a volume of a translation of Plato’s Republic while the other was a title he did not recognize, A Divine and Supernatural Light by Jonathan Edwards. Having read parts of the Republic for himself, Camden was somewhat surprised to see a young lady interested in such heavy reading, especially after having selected such lighter fare as one of Mr. Richardson’s novels. Whether he had made a facial expression he did not know, but he must not have been as successful as he had hoped in hiding his reaction.
Georgiana cocked her head slightly. “Does it surprise you that a lady would borrow books of theology and political philosophy, Mr. Page?”
Caught off guard by such a seemingly accusatory question, Camden stammered for an answer.
“Why . . . well, no . . . I suppose not, Miss Burwell. I must admit I found Plato to be rather a difficult task to read and comprehend, so much so that it would surprise me at least a little bit to see anyone reading it, man or woman.”
“I see. So you too are a student of political philosophy and theology then?”
“A self-educated one, I suppose, yes. At least, that is, with respect to politics. My grasp of theology is probably limited to what I have gleaned from the services my aunt and uncle insisted that I attend as a child.”
“You have no interest in the teachings of the Bible, then?”
“No, I would not say--”
Here, Mr. Randolph chuckled and interjected. “Georgiana, you cross examine a witness better than half the attorneys I see in court, but must you do it to my new apprentice on the very first day of his legal career?”
“Oh, Uncle, Mr. Page took no offense, I am sure,” she almost sighed. “Did you, Mr. Page?” She gazed at Camden expectantly, with a look that signalled to Camden that she knew he was in on the playful banter.
“No, of course not, Miss Burwell. I rather enjoy just this sort of lively conversation, the sort that is hard to come by in New Kent.” Here, Camden took a deep breath, and later could hardly believe that he had made his mouth form the words. “Perhaps Plato is a topic we might discuss if I were to call on you and your family at some convenient time?” Whatever shock he might have initially felt at this young lady’s forward manner and sharp wit, he could discern that that initial feeling was being replaced by something else, almost a feeling of admiration.
Mr. Randolph made no visible reaction to Camden’s remark, one that Camden instantly knew had probably crossed a social boundary he ought not have to have crossed. Georgiana smirked and raised an eyebrow, a movement so subtle that Camden might never have noticed it had he not been, in that moment, transfixed by every feature of her face.
“Well, Mr. Page, that is a rather intriguing proposition,” she said.
She collected her books and slid around the side of the desk to where Mr. Randolph was seated. Due to the man’s height, she did not have to bend at all in order to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Good day, Uncle. These may take me some time, but I’m sure we shall have you over for dinner long before then.” With that, she turned, collected her overcoat, and began to make her exit, depriving Camden of any clarification of her cryptic response to his request. “Good day to you too, Mr. Page,” was all she said before letting herself back into the front room and then out the front door.
Camden let out a deep sigh and collapsed back into his chair, unaware until that moment that he had been leaning forward on his toes. Whether he was lightheaded or only imagined it, he could not tell.
Mr. Randolph had taken off his spectacles and was rubbing the bridge of his nose, eyes closed. “Well, I don’t believe you’ve had any breakfast yet, have you? Why don’t we see to that before we start on your work.”
He abruptly rose from his chair and made his way toward the back of the house, where Mary--who Camden came to learn was the hired housekeeper and cook--had been keeping a modest breakfast warm for them. Camden rose much more slowly, afraid that his knees or feet or whole body might fail him, and followed his mentor, noticing for the first time, that the smell of sausage, bacon, and coffee had begun to fill the house.
Having sated their appetites, Mr. Randolph and Camden returned to the study and sat down across from each other at the desk.
“You must have the best cook in all of Richmond, Mr. Randolph. I don’t believe I ever tasted a meal so delicious.”
Mr. Randolph scratched lightly near his temple. “Well, yes, Mary is quite good at what she does.” He reached for a pipe which sat behind him and began packing it with tobacco from a pouch he retrieved from one of the desk drawers.
“Now to the matter at hand. I’m afraid the very first day of your apprenticeship will be a little unconventional. That’s due in part to my earlier visitor, Mr. Henry. You see, Mr. Henry was asked to go to the upcoming Philadelphia convention as a delegate for Virginia. He declined that appointment, for reasons I will allow him to explain for himself, and a replacement was selected: one Dr. James McClurg. I can only assume you are not familiar with the doctor?”
Mr. Randolph had phrased it as a question, but before Camden could even move his head to signal his ignorance of the doctor, Mr. Randolph had moved on with his discourse.
“In any event, it is my sad duty to report that Dr. McClurg was just yesterday morning very badly injured in a serious accident. His condition is grave and his chances of recovery very remote. His position at the convention in Philadelphia will have to be filled by someone else. It was that topic that Mr. Henry came to discuss with me. Do you understand why there is to be a convention in Philadelphia?”
Camden now realized just how isolated the rural farming community of his upbringing was. On most market days there were newspapers from Richmond available, but those were often days--and more often weeks--old by the time anyone in New Kent could get them. Even then, if his duties on the farm kept him there on market day, it could be months between his seeing any news. He was, however, aware of the convention, if not completely sure of its purpose or intent.
“I believe, sir, that the convention has been called in order to propose changes to the American confederation, our system of government.” Camden was sure that that answer was incomplete, but could think of nothing better to say.
“That’s more or less correct, yes,” Mr. Randolph said, to Camden’s relief. “The convention, however, is destined to be much more complicated than most people are likely aware.”
Camden was a little puzzled by his mentor’s assessment, but decided that it would be better to save his questions until after Mr. Randolph had finished.
“I’ll have some reading for you to start on later today, but for now, I need you to deliver these books and this note. The address is just there,” he said, gesturing to the outside of the sealed letter, “but all you need do is go out the front door, turn left and find the house on the corner of the third street in that direction. The lady of the house will admit you if you tell her that I sent you. You are to wait for a reply.”
Now that the sun was up, Camden found that the walk from Mr. Randolph’s house to his destination was not unpleasant. The air was frigid, but calm, and no clouds blocked the warmth of the sun from reaching his face.
It was not long before he had reached and was admitted to a three-story house, one that appeared somewhat older than the rest of those on the street, and was greeted by a rotund woman wearing an apron.
“I am to tell the lady of the house that Mr. Joseph Randolph sent me,” he told her.
“Ah. Right this way, then.” She led him up the stairs and knocked lightly on one of the doors. Camden was mildly surprised by this, having supposed that it was the lady herself to whom he was supposed to deliver Mr. Randolph’s articles.
The man who answered the knock was, in many ways, a mirror image of the young man who had come there to meet him. He was every bit as tall as Camden and similarly broad in the shoulders, though not in quite the same way one might have expected from someone like Camden who had been raised in a life full of manual labor. Wide-set, blue-gray eyes failed to draw attention from his dimpled chin and large nose.
“Colonel Monroe, this young man says he’s been sent over by Mr. Randolph.”
“I was not expecting any message from Mr. Randolph. I’m sure it must be important, however.”
Camden retrieved the letter from the pocket inside his overcoat and handed them over along with the books. “I am instructed to wait for a reply, sir.”
“Please, come in then and have a seat.” Monroe stepped back from the door and gestured for Camden to enter.
The room was furnished plainly, but more than adequately. In fact, it was not merely a room, but a small suite. Camden had been admitted to what seemed to be doubling as an office and a sitting room, with a desk opposite the door. He sat on the edge of the only other chair in the room, not knowing exactly how long it would take for the awaited reply to be drafted.
Monroe strode to the other side of the desk and retrieved a letter opener, carefully undoing the seal. “My name is James Monroe,” he finally offered, after opening the letter and surveying the titles of the books. “I assume you are in Mr. Randolph’s employment in some capacity?”
“Yes, sir. I am Camden Page and have only just this morning begun my apprenticeship with Mr. Randolph.” Unsure what else to say, Camden remained silent. If his days were now to be filled with meeting such consequential figures as Patrick Henry and the war hero James Monroe, he was not sure that he would ever learn how to be at ease as Mr. Randolph’s apprentice. Before long, Monroe had taken a piece of paper, dipped his quill and penned his reply.
“Here’s your reply, young man. And if I may offer a word of advice regarding your apprenticeship?”
“Yes, please, Colonel Monroe.”
At that formal address, Monroe half-suppressed a smile which seemed to say that he would prefer to shed the honorific due to him for his service in the militia.
“Having had the opportunity to meet him in the course of my own education under the tutelage of Mr. Jefferson, I can say that Mr. Joseph Randolph is, without a doubt, one of the very finest attorneys in Virginia. When it comes to a legal education, you surely cannot do much better and you should count yourself very fortunate to be under his guidance. Attend to him with diligence and you will be very well prepared for the legal profession.”
“Thank you, sir. I will do my best.”
Camden placed Monroe’s letter in his coat pocket where the other had been and then slowly rose to leave.
“Good day to you, Mr. Page. Perhaps we will have occasion to deepen our acquaintance at some point in the future. Come. I’ll see you out.”
He heard Mary rap lightly on the study door before she entered. As she poked her head through the opening, Mr. Randolph gestured for her to come in.
“My new apprentice was delighted with your cooking, Mary.”
“Oh, thank you sir. Please tell him thank you for me. I was just going to dust and straighten up in here a bit, if you please.” She stood, duster in hand, just inside the doorway, awaiting his response.
Without turning his head or diverting his eyes, Mr. Randolph did a mental inspection of the study. There was a bit of clutter here and there, but not nearly so much as he allowed to accumulate before tidying up was required. He seemed to remember that Mary had dusted the study not that long ago, certainly not so long ago that more dusting was required this morning. The real reason for her visit was quite apparent to Mr. Randolph, but he decided not to let on--at least not yet.
“Certainly, Mary. Come in.”
He pretended to go back to the papers he had been examining, waiting to see how she would broach the topic. Mary could barely read, but Mr. Randolph had found her to be just as insightful and clever as any of the women at the fashionable dinner parties to which he was invited. He admired her restraint as she straightened books and dusted cabinets, being careful not to give the slightest indication that she was biding her time. Some of his acquaintances and relatives surely would have thought a servant impertinent to expect to be engaged in conversation by their employer, but Mr. Randolph had never thought so. It had taken Mary some time to adjust to his way of doing things, but he could tell that she was now comfortable talking with him, albeit still very circumspect about how and when to do so.
“Was that your beautiful niece I heard come in earlier this morning, Mr. Randolph?” she finally ventured.
Mr. Randolph knew that she already knew the answer to that question. Georgiana had been a regular visitor in his house since she was a young girl and he was certain that Mary could have distinguished his niece’s opening and shutting of the door just as easily as her voice. He played along with the ruse, however.
“Why yes, it was Georgiana. She had stopped by to exchange some books.”
“Oh, that Miss Burwell always seems to have her nose in a book. Not all men like that, you know. But she is so very pretty and kind, that perhaps it won’t matter much when the time comes. Did she happen to meet Mr. Page while she was here?”
Once again, Mr. Randolph was sure that Mary already knew the answer to the question. His was not a small home, but a conversation in the front room and study could be overheard without much difficulty from down the hall and Mary seemed to have especially keen hearing when it came to topics that might fulfill her appetite for a tidbit of gossip.
“Yes, I did introduce the two of them briefly before Georgiana made her departure.” He was content to let that statement hang in the air for a bit and see where she would go next.
“Hmm,” was all she seemed to have to say in reply. Although her back was turned as she placed some books on the shelf to the right of the door, he spied a slight alteration in her body language.
She clicked her tongue as if to change the topic. “Now, what was the name of that gentleman who was here for Christmas dinner? The tall one with the curly black hair?”
Mr. Randolph knew, of course, that this was not really a change in the topic, but rather Mary’s attempt to approach the same topic from a different angle. The man was a young planter of considerable means who had been invited to Christmas dinner by Mr. Randolph’s sister, Elizabeth, with the hope that a match could be made between him and Georgiana. Although he could not presently recall how, dinner conversation had turned to politics. Georgiana not only contradicted the proud young man--who was, Mr. Randolph firmly believed, clearly on the wrong side of the issue--but she so utterly dismantled his line of argument that Mr. Randolph was amazed the man had not collected his coat and left the party immediately. He was, perhaps, too proud for that and too well-mannered. Elizabeth and her husband James (recently elected to the Virginia Senate) were mortified at their daughter’s behavior. Aside from the loss of potentially a financially advantageous match, Mr. Randolph was rather impressed with Georgiana’s discourse. Her use of his library certainly had not gone to waste.
“That was Mr. Alton Carter, I believe.” Mary nodded her head as if in sudden recollection.
Before she could go on, however, Mr. Randolph said “Mary, I must tell you something.”
She feigned an inquisitive look. “What’s that, Mr. Randolph, sir?”
“You must know that there almost certainly will never be a match between Mr. Page and Miss Burwell.”
Mary drew in a breath, as if she were preparing to convey the appropriate degree of surprise that Mr. Randolph would assume she should have been showing regarding that question.
“You need not act surprised, Mary. You know that I keep very little that goes on in this house secret from you. What I’m sure you heard in their voices, I no less clearly saw in their eyes. The thought of my dearly beloved niece and the son of my most dearly beloved friend finding happiness in each other thrills me beyond words. But you must know that Senator Burwell will never consent to it. One day, perhaps, Mr. Page’s prospects may rise above his current station, but my sister’s husband is not likely to wait that long.”
He drew in and then let out a deep breath.
“It will be best for all of us if we put the idea out of our heads now, rather than later after that seed of initial hope has blossomed into something more.”
Mary’s body language had changed yet again. She drooped in resignation, although she tried her hardest not to show it.
“I suppose you’re right, sir. I’ll attend to my other duties now, if I may be dismissed.”
Mr. Randolph nodded in reply and looked down at his papers again, although his thoughts lingered elsewhere.
Edward Page, Camden’s father, had been not only his closest friend, but also his business partner. When Rebekah died in giving birth to Camden, the friends were both stricken with grief, but no husband ever more so than Edward had been. Within a matter of weeks the new father had come down with a terrible fever and joined his young bride in the hereafter. That was how Camden had come to be raised by his mother’s sister and her husband, the child’s only living relatives. Mr. Randolph would gladly have raised the boy as his own, but concluded that a bachelor attorney with a growing law practice was hardly equipped for such an important task.
Despite the distance between them, he had kept a watch over the boy’s upbringing and, by all accounts, he had matured into a fine young man, physically rather imposing thanks to hard work on his uncle’s land, but also well-read, owing to the steady supply of books provided by Mr. Randolph himself. When he told Mary that a match between his new apprentice and his niece would please him greatly, he was entirely sincere. He and the young man had kept up a correspondence over the past year and he had, Mr. Randolph believed, proven himself to have developed many of his father’s admirable qualities that had bound the former friends together in this life. The one thing the young Mr. Page lacked in this life to meet with the approval of James Burwell was social station. A remarkable young woman like Georgiana deserved an equally remarkable husband, but Camden was a newly-arrived farm boy lacking the sort of formal education Senator Burwell might have valued and without any inheritance to speak of.
His recent election to the Virginia Senate signaled that James Burwell was a man of influence who intended to cultivate and increase that influence. A son in law who was nothing more than an apprentice to an attorney--albeit one of the most respected attorneys in Richmond, if not the entire Commonwealth of Virginia--would provide him no advantage in either politics or business. It was a shame that a young man as promising as Camden would be dismissed without any real consideration because of the calculations of power, but he saw very little that could be done about it. He would have to break the news to his apprentice sooner rather than later, but he dreaded giving him such discouraging news, especially since he had left home and the only family he had ever known to come to Richmond. The young were resilient, however, and he assured himself that he would find a way to let Camden down that was both as honest and as gentle as possible.
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