Defying Conventions (Part VIII)
As Defying Conventions begins to draw to a close, be sure to stay around for a follow-up novel that will also be serialized at “The Tidewater Papers.” Publication of that serial will begin in July, but if you’re signed up for this email list, I will send out a preview next week.
Georgiana’s inkwell was ready and she had paper enough at hand. Her father was off attending to business of the General Assembly, allaying any concern that her illicit correspondence might be discovered. Putting the letter from Mr. Page to one side, she began to write.
Dear Mr. Page,
I am very pleased to learn that you have received my first letter and also to have received your letter in reply just this morning when I went to visit my uncle.
I have, indeed, read Amelia, and find it to be rather an interesting work, although it was my uncle and not I who chose the book in which to enclose my letter. As I am sure you must suspect after having read the book, it is highly doubtful that his selection was made haphazardly. The story of Mrs. Atkinson has fueled no small amount of discussion between my uncle and me regarding the feminine intellect. Harder to discern, of course, is precisely what the author intended to say on the topic--whether he sympathizes with those who view women with a sharp intellect as threatening. I should think it apparent that I am firmly on the side of those women who wish to develop their intellectual abilities beyond the point that much of society deems acceptable. We have different roles to fulfill, naturally--whether as wife or mother--but those are roles that we may fill just as well--perhaps better, I think--having educated ourselves and developed the powers of thinking that have so far been deemed fit only for men.
It is just that sort of intellectual development which prompts me to ask you what news you may have of the convention in Philadelphia. I must not indulge my interest in politics beyond a level that my father deems acceptable for a young lady, both because he would not approve, but also because I fear my showing too great an interest in the events in Philadelphia could reveal our correspondence before the time for such revelation is right. Nevertheless, because you are so close to what is going on and can provide something of a firsthand account, I would be remiss if I did not request that your letters contain at least some small pieces of information about the convention.
Before continuing, Georgiana pondered whether to write anything about a recent incident involving her family. She hesitated only because the developing interaction between the two of them was so new that she could not accurately predict how it would be received.
I must also relate a story that I hope you will find amusing. I preface it, however, by assuring you that although I take some small degree of pleasure from sizing up my wits alongside that of others, I never do so out of malice. In any event, it was last week that my parents hosted a dinner party for a number of guests. Among them was a young merchant from Williamsburg, a man of nearly thirty I estimate, who must have been intended by my parents as a potential suitor for me. We were seated together during dinner and, regrettably, his conversation, while not impolite by any means, was simple and uninteresting. The conversation turned to politics and he ventured to offer his opinion on the ongoing convention in Philadelphia. He said that as far as he was concerned the convention must produce radical changes lest the country descend into anarchy. I perceived that some heads at the table nodded in agreement, but I ventured to ask him a question. I asked him whether, if in our dread of anarchy we ended merely in establishing a bad government, would that not be rather like saying we should kill ourselves for fear of dying of disease. The dumbfounded expression on his face was quite a sight to behold. Whether he was more shocked at the question or that a young woman should have been the one to ask it I am not sure. Fortunately for him, father dismissed my question with a laugh and a wave of his hand and some remark about his silly daughter and her feminine notions about politics.
Georgiana paused again, still unsure whether she should include this anecdote or start the letter anew. Mr. Page was clearly an intelligent man or Mr. Randolph would not have agreed to take him on as an apprentice in the first place. Surely he could appreciate the element of humor in the situation. It occurred to her, however, that leaving the story in her letter also might give her an opportunity to learn something about the young man. She resolved to send the letter as written and came to her conclusion.
Although I am not personally acquainted with Mr. Monroe, please do me the favor of conveying to him my encouragement in the work that he is there to do. Upon my last visit to my uncle’s house he explained to me what he believes is at stake in Philadelphia and how he believes Mr. Monroe has an important task ahead of him.
If time permits me I will deliver this letter to my uncle later today in the hope that it shall reach you as soon as possible. I hope you will find the book in which it will eventually be enclosed to be enjoyable to read.
She found it odd that the one thing she felt so unsure about was how to close her letters. She had no desire to use a formal closing of the sort her father might use in corresponding with his political or business connections. The two of them were already separated by such physical distance, that Georgiana feared using any language in her letters that tended to separate them in rhetorical terms.
At the same time, she had already been perhaps too bold by half in being the one to initiate the correspondence. A closing that was too familiar might prove to be just as counterproductive as one that came across as too cold and distant. It was awkward, she thought, to close her letters so abruptly, but she could think of no other solution at the moment.
She folded the letter carefully, tucked it inside the copy of Dr. Johnson’s Lives she had borrowed from her uncle, and headed downstairs. She visited her uncle’s library regularly, but even so, she calculated that she must not allow the frequency of her visits to arouse suspicion. Her letter would have to wait until tomorrow.
Camden had received the letter the evening before, and despite the rush of energy that allowed him to read it, his eyes had grown far too heavy with sleep to pen a reply. He awoke the next morning and resolved to set pen to paper.
First, however, he spent perhaps much longer than he had intended thinking about what to say in response to the anecdote about the businessman from Williamsburg. Far from being concerned that Georgiana had treated the man unkindly or in a manner so as to embarrass him, Camden found that he was much more worried that he would return to Richmond only to find that she was engaged to be married to some man of her parents’ choosing. As soon as he had identified that apprehension in himself, he quickly realized that he had almost no grounds whatsoever upon which to complain if she were, in fact, to become engaged. They really did only just barely know one another. Despite that fact, his attraction to her was strong; the reasons why such a newborn attraction should be so strong so soon escaped him almost entirely. On the one hand, he felt that he had no right to broach the topic with her, but he simultaneously felt that he must do so.
Another reason he hesitated to put ink to paper was that he could not decide whether to broach the death of Mr. Pinckney. News would certainly be reported in all the papers, but to inform Miss Burwell that he had been so close to the incident--and that he had nearly been killed in the process--was something he did not quite know how to do. In the end, he felt compelled not to worry her about his well being.
Finally, he set out to simply begin writing and see where his thoughts would lead him. He got no further than putting the date at the top of the page, however, before the church bells began to ring. He rose to leave, but returned to his desk very briefly to pen just the letter’s opening.
Dear Miss Burwell,
Having only just this minute sat myself down to write you, I am immediately called away at the sound of church bells. My desire to write to you is strong, but equally strong is my desire to keep the promise I made to my aunt before I ever left for Richmond to attend Sunday services every week.
That promise seemed to him as if it had been made almost in another lifetime, so far was he from the plain front porch where he had bid farewell to his aunt those months ago. Setting the papers aside he made his way downstairs and over to the church.
The church had been selected by Mr. Monroe, apparently because it was located within a convenient distance from their lodgings. Monroe, having more or less married into his religion only the year before, was an Episcopalian. Camden did not consider himself an adherent of any particular denomination, but had dutifully attended the Methodist church to which his aunt and uncle belonged in New Kent. So it was with some small amount of apprehension that he had first entered Seventh Street Presbyterian Church.
Despite his haste that morning, Camden arrived just after services had begun. As he slipped into the end of one of the pews near the back, he noted to himself that he had not promised his aunt that he would be exactly on time to services every week. By now the order of worship was at least somewhat familiar to him, but he was not particularly immersed in the service. The pastor rose to give the sermon, and took his Scripture reading from the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
Camden could not recall having ever heard a sermon from that particular passage of Scripture, but before long his thoughts had drifted from the pastor’s exposition of the passage to other things. What could it mean that one of the men responsible for the murder of Mr. Pinckney was found in possession of a pamphlet by Mr. Henry? And aside from that, what would the revelation of that information mean for the convention itself and the prospect of holding the states together?
Before Camden had the chance to get any nearer to answering those questions, he started at the opening of the door at the back of the sanctuary. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a man standing at the back of the church. Turning just enough to get a better look at the man--but without seeming to be staring at him--Camden could see that the man’s clothes were disheveled and the man also seemed to be unsteady on his feet. A ghastly burn scar dominated one side of his face. He scanned the sanctuary as if he were looking for someone, but as the man stumbled forward a step or two, Camden concluded that he was probably only drunk and looking for a place to sleep it off. They locked eyes for an instant and Camden looked away immediately.
The man started moving with more purpose and then, to Camden’s horror, he headed straight for the pew in which Camden was seated. He looked straight ahead, pretending not to notice what was happening, but he could feel the eyes on him.
The embarrassing nightmare then turned into reality, when the man sat down directly beside Camden. The odor of alcohol was unmistakable.
The man simply sat there for a few minutes, his breathing a little raspy and heavy. Eventually, he leaned over as if he were about to say something. Camden’s heart jumped into his throat and he was certain at that moment his face must have been the brightest shade of red imaginable. Instead of speaking, however, the man simply put a small, folded piece of paper in Camden’s hand. He then rose and half-walked, half-staggered toward the back of the church and left the way he came.
Camden peered down, moving only his eyes, and unfolded the paper as carefully as he could, not knowing what to expect. It said “Meet me outside after the service.” He crumpled it and put it in his pocket, and unsuccessfully tried to direct his attention back to the sermon.
At the conclusion of the service, Camden remained in his pew longer than necessary to let the rest of the congregation make its exit. Finally, when almost everyone else had left, he rose and made his way toward the back door.
Stepping outside into the heat of the early afternoon sun, he carefully scanned the street for any sign of the rough-looking man who had given him the note. Seeing none, he stepped into the street and turned back toward the boarding house. Just a few yards on his way, however, Camden felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see that the man with the note was right behind him.
“You’d best start watching your back a little more carefully, young man. You’re big, yes, but that won’t help you much if you’re not prepared for surprises.”
“I’m sorry,” Camden said, turning to face the man, and rising up to his full height. “Do I know you? And what do you mean telling me to watch my back?”
“I mean no harm. I’ll be happy to explain if you could be so kind as to introduce me to Mr. James Monroe.”
Camden felt very uneasy at how much this stranger seemed to know about him. Almost involuntarily, he peered over his shoulder to see who else was out and about.
“That’s more like it, yes, but you need not fear me, Mr. Page.” Camden reeled a little at the thought that this stranger had been able to discover his name. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nathaniel Aldridge, though most in Philadelphia call me ‘Nat.’ Some years ago, I had the privilege of fighting for our independence as part of Virginia’s Third Regiment. You no doubt recognize that fighting unit, do you not?”
“It was the unit in which Mr. Monroe served.” Camden furrowed his brow. The fact that Monroe was part of the Third Regiment was not exactly a secret.
“Of course, it’s no secret that Mr. Monroe served in Virginia’s Third, but not many men can claim to have something like this.”
The man calling himself Aldridge reached into a pocket and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper that he unfolded and handed to Camden. Taking it he could see that it was a sort of “letter of introduction.” The handwriting, at least at a first glance, appeared to be very similar, if not identical to, Monroe’s. The letter was also signed at the bottom in a signature that was a splendid forgery of Monroe’s if it was not genuine.
Camden handed back the letter, but said nothing. “If that’s not enough for you, the only other thing I can do to show that I knew Mr. Monroe is to tell you about the Battle of Trenton.”
“Anyone could have read about the Battle of Trenton.”
“Yes, of course, but not everyone could tell you something that only Mr. Monroe or someone who was by his side during the battle could know, now could they?”
Camden remained silent, but squinted his eyes a bit, anticipating what sort of story he was about to hear.
“Lieutenant Monroe--for so he was before moving up in the ranks--he was wounded in the chest that day, after taking command when Captain Washington fell, wounded in both hands. Several men carried him away from the front after he fell, but no one seemed to be able to find a doctor. I searched for and found a doctor who happened to be in Trenton that day, a Dr. Riker. He stitched Mr. Monroe up, surely saving his life, but in the rush of the moment no one ever learned his first name. Afterwards, when Mr. Monroe chanced to visit me as I recovered from my burns” --here he gestured toward the left side of his face and the scar that dominated it-- “he asked me to tell him the doctor’s full name so that he could express his thanks. He was quite disappointed that no one seemed to know exactly who the doctor was.”
Camden noted that this corresponded perfectly with the details of the Battle of Trenton that Mr. Monroe had related to him. Whoever this man was, Camden decided that he must surely have known Monroe at one point or another. “I suppose you are who you say you are, Mr. Aldridge, but I cannot take you to Mr. Monroe. He has left town. The convention is in recess, as I’m sure you know already.”
“I see,” said Aldridge. “If I cannot speak to Mr. Monroe, then I will have to speak to you. But not here. Meet me at the Laughing Fox tavern in half an hour.”
Camden still could not bring himself to completely trust this man who had shown up out of nowhere, stinking of alcohol. He headed back to the boarding house, resolved not to rendezvous with this Aldridge. They had met once and he was sure that they would do so again if Aldridge wanted it.
It was early the next evening when, having finished his reading and other work for the day, Camden decided to go for a walk. He drifted aimlessly away from the boarding house in the general direction of Independence Hall. He had finally finished the letter to Georgiana and sent if off first thing this morning. There was never really any telling how long it would take for their letters to reach one another, but he hoped that this one would be in her hands soon.
Rounding the corner past the empty site of the convention, Camden halted in place at the sight of a group of men not far ahead. He thought he recognized one of them, but moved into the shadows to get a better look without himself being detected. On a second, more sustained look, he became sure of his initial impression: one of the men directly ahead of him was the same man who had nearly run him over on the night of Pinckney’s murder. It was the man who had been carrying the pistol.
Not knowing quite what to do, Camden waited. The men did not seem to notice him and although he was close enough to make out their facial features, they were speaking in hushed tones. The group broke up presently and almost without thought, Camden made as if to follow the man he recognized. All in an instant, his mind went over how dangerous it might be to follow this man, the chief suspect in a gruesome murder. He would have stood in place but for the fact that the odds of his having another encounter with this man were certainly very low. He supposed that he could have attempted to alert the watch, but in the meantime, where would this man secrete himself?
The man left, walking south, and Camden followed, but at a considerable distance. There were still some people out at this time of the evening, but not so many that being followed would be difficult to detect if Camden were not careful.
A few minutes later, the man arrived at the same building where Camden had arrived in Philadelphia several weeks ago. Camden watched as the man retrieved a satchel from inside the building and then boarded the waiting coach.
About a quarter of an hour later, the coach left. Camden was at a loss about what to do next. The only thing he could think to do was to ply one of the porters for information.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said to a man who was about his same size, but perhaps twice his age, “my master has sent me to inquire whether that was the last coach bound for Baltimore tonight?”
“That coach goes to New York,” the man said with a bit of a sneer. “The coach to Baltimore don’t leave until tomorrow morning at 7:30.”
“Oh, I had not realized. Thank you.”
Camden was surprised at his newfound ability to play the detective, but could not conceive of what to do next. Then the next step struck him. He was not fond of the idea, but for now he could think of nothing better. He reasoned that he would not likely find the place until late in the evening and also reasoned that he would prefer not to be there at that hour once he did find it. Tomorrow, however, he would pay a visit to Nat Aldridge at the Laughing Fox.
Arriving in the mid-afternoon, Camden found the Laughing Fox to be just as distasteful a place as he feared it would be. He had no regrets about waiting until daylight to visit, even as empty as the place was at that hour.
No one seemed to be attending to the bar--or attending to much of anything, it seemed--and so he surveyed the space for himself. If Aldridge was here he was hidden well, Camden thought. Making his way toward the back of the tavern he poked his head into a small room and grimaced at the overwhelming smell of vomit. Quickly continuing his search he came upon a man who was slumped over a small table that was still filled with an assortment of empty mugs and bottles. Putting his face down near the table, he could tell that this was Aldridge.
“Mr. Aldridge,” Camden said, at a volume he believed should have been sufficient to arouse a sleeping man. Aldridge did not move. Camden then tapped him firmly on the shoulder, but that was also to no avail. A bucket of water might have done the trick, he thought, but there was none at hand, so Camden took a step back and kicked the chair completely out from under Aldridge with a single blow, sending the man to the floor and causing a not-quite empty bottle of whiskey to fall on his face. He then woke up, sputtering and confused.
“What? Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Mr. Aldridge. Camden Page. We have business to attend to.”
“Well, drop that ‘Mr. Aldridge’ nonsense will you?” he said, struggling a bit to pull himself to a sitting position. He leaned himself up against the wall and mopped his whiskey-soaked face with a handkerchief. “Just ‘Nat’ will do.”
“Very well. What was it that led you to contact me?”
“How did Mr. Monroe come to be a delegate to this convention?”
It seemed a very odd question to Camden, but then, he had no previous experience with questioning men recently roused from a drunken stupor. “I don’t see what that--”
“Just follow me. What were the circumstances leading to his appointment as a delegate?”
“Well, I remember there was some deliberation at the General Assembly. Mr. Monroe met with various people in Richmond. Then--”
“No. Before that. Why did any of that happen in the first place?”
Camden thought for a moment. “Do you mean the accident involving Dr. McClurg?”
“Precisely.” Here Nat paused. “But what if it was no accident?”
Camden was now more puzzled than ever. It had been reported that Dr. McClurg had drifted in and out of consciousness before eventually succumbing to his injuries. But all of the information gleaned from his incoherent and fever-ridden ramblings seemed to confirm everyone’s initial assumption: his injuries were due to a very unfortunate accident and nothing more.
“How could you possibly know that it was anything other than an accident?” Camden asked, the disbelief apparent in his voice.
“Because in this very tavern one of the men that did the deed let it slip. That’s how. He was sitting no more than ten feet from where you now stand.”
All of this was too much to analyze at the moment. What possible reason could there be to murder someone like Dr. McClurg? He was a superlative doctor by all accounts, but his political life to that point was practically nonexistent as far as Camden was aware. Killing him seemed to make no sense at all.
“Now do you see why I had to try to contact Mr. Monroe?”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“Supposing it were revealed that Dr. McClurg was, in fact, murdered. Put that together with the clear murder of another delegate to the convention, one whose ideas were well known, and one whose murderers were found to be in possession of a pamphlet by one Mr. Patrick Henry, who is a known mentor to James Monroe, who was only in Philadelphia because of the untimely death of Dr. McClurg.”
Camden’s head began to swim. The connections that Aldridge drew were tenuous, it was true, but they could not be summarily dismissed either. He felt in his very soul that Monroe was an honest man, the sort who it would be ridiculous to accuse of this sort of treachery. But he also worried that his intimacy with the man could well have blinded him to reality.
“Then what do you propose that we do with this information . . . Nat?”
“I should have thought that much was obvious, Mr. Page. We must exonerate Mr. Monroe.”
The knock at Nat’s door came right on time for the fifth morning in a row. He rolled out of bed, shielding his eyes against the early morning light peeking in through the window and slid over to open the door. He spun to return to his bed without ever looking at who had come to his door. He knew it was Camden Page again.
“Let’s get going, Nat. The overnight carriage will arrive any minute now.”
Nat merely grunted. They had been monitoring the comings and goings of the coaches from the post to which Camden had followed the man the previous week. So far neither of them had recognized anyone and they were both beginning to give up hope. Camden tossed Nat a boot that had been left in the far corner. He set it to the side of the bed and finished pulling on his breeches.
A few minutes later he found himself outside, walking alongside the young apprentice and nibbling on a piece of bread. It was fresh-baked, which was better than his usual fare, and so he gave the young man credit where it was due. Still, he had to wonder whether this surveillance would prove fruitful in the end. Perhaps other means at his disposal would be more effective.
They arrived at their usual observation point just as the coach from New York pulled up. Porters began unloading baggage, and a number of people emerged. Nat watched them, taking note of their faces and other features, and as the last man stepped down into the street, Camden lightly tapped him on the forearm.
“That’s him. The one with the tall hat was at the scene of Pinckney’s murder. Do we follow him now?”
“No, we do not. I will follow him and you will attend to your apprenticeship.”
“None of that. I can slip in and out of just about any place that he might go without being noticed. You stick out like a sore thumb. If you want to clear the good name of Mr. Monroe then you must keep your wits about you.”
The man retrieved only a small bag from one of the porters and then began to make his way to whatever was his destination. Nat glanced over at his young companion who nodded his head slowly in a sign of half-agreement, half-resignation. Nat waited for the appropriate moment to step from his sheltered observation point and then followed the man at a safe distance.
The man in the tall hat seemed to be in no particular hurry, nor did he seem to suspect that he might be followed. He seemed to Nat to be headed directly for his destination. So much the better.
After about ten minutes they reached Smith’s Tavern. It was, perhaps, one of the few taverns in Philadelphia where Nat would not have been considered a regular. In addition to the food and drink available on the first level, Smith’s also offered several rooms to let upstairs. Nat concluded that it must have been to one of those rooms that the man in the tall hat had gone, because when Nat entered the tavern the man was nowhere to be seen downstairs. He spied a small table where he could watch both the front door and the stairs and sat down, ordering a mug of the house brew to pass the time. He promised himself that he would stop after one. No more than two.
Before he had finished the first, however, the man descended the stairs. He was not rushing, Nat thought, but he moved with a sense of urgency it seemed. He approached Smith, who was attending to something at the door and said, with just a hint of an accent, “I’m expecting someone shortly. Please send him up to my room when he gets here.”
Nat was sure that he recognized the man’s voice, but he could not immediately place it. But then it struck him like a slap in the face. The man’s accent hinted that he was from London. But it was the deep tone of his voice that gave him away. This man was the same man Nat had overheard months ago at the Laughing Fox. He was certain of it.
As soon as the front door closed and Nat was sure that he could move without notice, he made for the stairs. Finding the first of three doors locked, he knocked, and waited for an answer. Hearing none after some time, he pulled a set of tools from his pocket and quickly undid the lock and found the room to be unoccupied. On the bed, however, was the small bag that the man had taken from the coach earlier that morning. Nat stepped into the room and closed the door.
The room was sparsely furnished. A bed, a small table, and a single chair took up most of the floor space. Opening the bag, Nat rummaged through its contents. He was disappointed, however, to find nothing of use. The man seemed to carry no papers of any kind. A small bill had been laid on the desk, but it appeared only to be addressed to a “Mr. John Brown,” surely a false name, Nat concluded. He supposed that “Mr. Brown” would have to do for now.
Just as he began replacing the items in the bag exactly as he found them, a knock came at the door. Nat instinctively reached for and quickly retrieved the knife from his boot and held it behind his back. Even as he hoped that he would not find himself needing to use the knife, he settled into the chair and said, “Come in.”
The door opened slowly, creaking in a way it had not seemed to when Nat came to the room, and a boy of no more than sixteen peered cautiously through the crack.
“I was told to bring this letter here, sir.” He extended an unsteady hand toward Nat.
“Is that the one that just arrived from New York?” Nat had to glean as much information as possible and judged that this boy was not likely to question him or report anything afterwards.
“The same, sir. Yes.”
“Just toss it on the bed, then.”
The boy obeyed without hesitation then gently closed the door. Nat waited to hear his footsteps reach the bottom of the stairs before reaching for the letter. It was sealed. He knew that to open it would alert this Mr. Brown that someone had discovered him. The only option remaining to him was to take the letter with him and hope that its absence would not be noticed by Mr. Brown or would be attributed to a tardy courier. He slipped the letter into his pocket and stole out of the tavern just as carefully as he had entered it.
Arriving at his own room, he opened the letter. Even if they had been so careless as to let Nat follow one of them, they were not so careless as to use real names. Despite that anonymity, however, what Nat read would surely, he thought, lead them to the men who had killed Pinckney and McClurg and reveal their motivations. But they must move quickly. The whiskey on his table called to him, but the quest to find the truth, at least on this day, found its pull to be so much the greater. He locked his room and headed across town to find Camden.
Returning to his work rather than going with Nat to track Pinckney’s murderer was no small disappointment to Camden. His spirits were lifted, however, when he returned to the boarding house and was informed that some books had arrived for him while he had been out. He gathered the small pile of volumes into his arms and flew up the steps to his room.
Mr. Randolph had sent him three books this time: a treatise on criminal law, a summarized treatment of the law of wills and estates, and a copy of Gulliver’s Travels. The novel held what he was looking for and taking out Georgiana’s letter, he carefully unfolded it and sat down near the window to read it. It began with “Dear Cam,” a nickname known only to his immediate family, but one he had asked her to use. She continued:
I am most glad that you have let me in on the secret family nickname. Continuing to address you formally only grew more and more awkward for me and knowing that you felt the same way is a relief.
I am also relieved to hear that you are safe. You can certainly imagine what a commotion the news of the murder of Mr. Pinckney caused, even here in Richmond. To learn, even belatedly, that you were very nearly at the scene of the crime as it happened concerns me greatly. Because I believe that we are no longer merely acquaintances, it is with only a little hesitation that I ask that you promise me you will be careful. Perhaps I have little right to expect you to promise me any such thing, but it seems to me that unless I make such a request now, there might never come a day when I could claim the right to do so. Attribute all of this to the unfounded fears of a young woman if you must, but promise me just the same.
Camden paused for a moment. It appeared as if Georgiana had begun to write something after the phrase “unfounded fears of a young woman,” but had scratched it out. Had it been anyone else’s letter he almost certainly would have kept on going, but for Camden, every inkblot and sweep of Georgiana’s pen was treasured.
Although he rarely talks of politics at home, father seems very distressed at the news coming from Philadelphia. He is, of course, saddened by the death of Mr. Pinckney, but I gather that he also fears for the fate of the convention itself. The tide had been flowing in the direction of men such as my father and Mr. Madison who wished to see a new form of government. The recess, he believes, does not bode well for the pace of their progress. He fears the tide may even begin to recede when delegates return.
Mr. Randolph had strongly suspected that Senator Burwell leaned toward Mr. Madison and a stronger general government. This revelation from Georgiana only served to confirm that suspicion, but this sort of information would be critical once the convention adjourned and delegates returned to Virginia. Whatever the outcome in Philadelphia, knowing one’s political allies and adversaries in Richmond was essential.
Do please continue to relay what you have learned about the convention through Mr. Monroe. The summary of the debates included in your last letter was excellent; I almost felt as if I had been there myself. If Mr. Monroe is even half as persuasive as your letter led me to believe, I can only conclude that his arguments will have shaped whatever it is that the convention eventually produces. Although he and I are not acquainted and I could not do so myself, please encourage him in his work. I doubt I need to remind you just how important it is that voices like his are heard.
You are in my prayers daily and, with God’s grace, I await with patience the day when we shall speak face to face once more. Affectionately, Georgiana.
He found it impossible to do anything other than write his reply immediately. He told himself that he should write his reply now because there were a few books that he needed to return to Mr. Randolph today, on the midday coach. With that justification out of the way, he began to write.
“Dear Georgiana,” he began, the new intimacy of the opening sending a thrill all the way down his spine and into his toes.
I received your letter only just this morning, but felt with all my being that I must write to you immediately. I write not because of any urgent matters about which I must inform you, but rather because of the felicitous mood your letter has caused in me.
Your concern for my safety is not at all an unreasonable one. Nor would I deny that you are in a position to make such a request of me. As only an aide to Mr. Monroe, and not a man of any importance on my own, I feel confident that I am safe from those who might be responsible for Mr. Pinckney’s death. Nevertheless, I give you my promise that I shall exercise all due caution.
That was a promise that he intended to keep, but he still felt uneasy about not revealing just how close to events he had become. To tell her of Nat and the sighting of the man involved in Pinckney’s murder would be sure to cause Georgiana only further worry. He would be as careful as possible, he told himself, but he must pursue the full truth.
When Mr. Monroe returns I shall not fail to offer him the encouragement he deserves. As you are surely aware, the convention recently took a recess in order to mourn the death of Mr. Pinckney. In the meantime I continue to do my assigned readings and meet with Mr. Randolph’s former partner periodically in order to continue my apprenticeship.
Mr. Monroe and I have been attending the Seventh Street Presbyterian Church while here in Philadelphia. It is, of course, quite a departure from the Episcopal church of Mr. Monroe and the Methodist church of my upbringing, but it has been, nevertheless, an enlightening experience. When my aunt insisted that I attend religious services every Sunday, she probably never foresaw that I might fulfill that promise by attending a Presbyterian church. Recently the sermon text was taken from the fifth chapter of Acts. At the time it did not occur to me, but having had time to reflect on the passage somewhat, the account of the apostles facing the authorities seems very appropriate for these recent days. While men of great influence meet in a small room in one corner of Philadelphia to debate what form of government is best, the Christian religion makes perfectly clear that we ought to obey God rather than men. I think that command seems to be no less clear and certain regardless of the form the government might take. Would time permit it, I think there would be much benefit in studying the Scriptures for other passages that address the relationship between Christians and the government, but aside from the brief time of rest on Sunday, Mr. Randolph’s law books consume the entirety of my reading time.
He was unsure how to close his letter. That Georgiana prayed for him was almost too much to fathom. He cursed the fact that he could not honestly respond to her in kind. The Bible provided him some measure of intellectual challenge, but it was clear to him that the sort of devotion to Christianity with which Georgiana was infused was alien to him. He considered church a necessary part of his life, of course, but wondered what he lacked that he saw in others. He put the thought aside for the moment and concluded his letter, signing “with the warmest regards of my heart, Cam.” He hoped that it would strike the right note somewhere between too formal and too familiar.
No sooner had he folded his letter and placed it in one of the books to be sent back to Richmond, then a knock came at the door. He opened it to see Nat standing there. Camden did not have time to invite him in before the man had crossed the room, sat down in the other chair, and dropped a letter on the table.
“You need to have a look at this.”
It took several minutes for Camden to read the letter. He finished and looked up at Nat.
“A lot of it is lost on you I see” the older man said.
“Yes, I believe so, but can you explain? I see names and addresses and such, but I do not see how the pieces fit together.”
Nat took the letter back from him. “The names are fakes, naturally. They’re more careful than that. But the addresses are real and they tell much. Each one of these is a tavern and each one was, during the war, a well-known meeting place for Loyalists of varying stripes. A few were also havens for British spies.”
Camden didn’t think that he had, but his face must have betrayed his surprise.
“How can I know that? I worked with them. Not long after Trenton the army had need of spies, men who had plausible reasons to cooperate with the British, but who would in fact remain loyal to the cause of independence. I was one such man and that is how I, a Virginian, came to reside in Pennsylvania.
Now that the war has been over for a number of years, they must feel that it is safe to start using their old rendezvous points again. In truth, the odds of someone like me being the one to discover them are so remote that it is an understandable mistake. In any event, this makes it easier to find out exactly who is behind all of this. Given this list of contacts--two dozen here and surely more we do not know about--something big is afoot.”
“But where does that leave our goal of exonerating Mr. Monroe?”
“I can’t be certain. The spy rings during the war were more or less rooted out, but there were some for which we never found our way all the way to the top. Among the Americans who were implicated, however, I never recall even so much as a hint at a connection to James Monroe.”
“What do we do now? There must be a way to expose these men.”
“For us, there is very little to do. I, however, will travel to New York tomorrow to overhear what occurs at this meeting. They’ve had it planned for some time now, so the man you saw earlier will show up there despite not receiving this letter.”
“I cannot simply stand by and watch events that might ruin Mr. Monroe transpire while I do nothing. There must be something I can do.”
Nat paused. “In fact, there is something you can do. Where is your purse?”
Do you want to own a copy of the book or give it as a gift? Order a copy on Amazon here.