Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Master Passion--From the Cutting Room Floor

I wrote and rewrote A Master Passion for a period of fifteen years, ending with a novel well over a 1000 pages long. Some scenes, especially those in the beginning which dealt with the far less well-known Elizabeth Schuyler, were cut. This scene, telling us more about the future Mrs. Hamilton, was among the ones that fell by the wayside.

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Tench Tilghman had come north, an emissary from the Continental Congress, to attend a parley with the Indians.  General Schuyler and the Americans wished to obtain assurances of neutrality before a war with Britain broke out. 
            Today, though, as if there was no great war threatening, Tilghman and a group of young Albany gentry were on a picnic to the falls at Cohoes, which he had been told was "one of the notable sights of the region."  The Colonel accompanied Betsy in a climb to get a close look at the falls.
             The path Miss Schuyler elected was surprisingly bad. There were rocks to scramble over and around and briar patches to negotiate, but she seemed to enjoy this sort of rough ramble. At first he had wondered if this was one of these female ploys which would end with her leaning on his arm.
            Pray God I will not have to reveal my wretched state to another coquette in search of a husband.
          However, he soon learned that this dainty young lady could more than kept pace with him. Their way was almost vertical, frequently necessitating an undignified down-on-all-fours attack.  The way she'd brought him up, agile and uncomplaining as a boy, demonstrated that she'd made the climb many times.  
          Her stockings flashed, revealing the outline of pretty calves as she scaled the last rock.  Tilghman, following her, had the insouciant thought that the "best view" might possibly be from exactly where he was. 

          At the breathless top, they paused, panting,  and admired the view. Tilghman experienced an unexpected rush of pleasure. The young woman's easy manner almost made him feel he was in male company--almost.
          "Come, Colonel Tilghman!" Betsy shouted over the noise of falling water.  "Here's the place I spoke of."

            When he reached the height, he found himself a bare arm's length from enormous quantities of green water hurtling over a narrow lip of stone.  Falling, it became a spectacular white veil.  The ground beneath his feet shook alarmingly.
            Beside him on that rocky shelf, Betsy dropped to her knees, then stretched out on her stomach to get as close as possible to the roaring water. 
           "Do come!"
            Thunder vibrated beneath them.  The quick climb, vertigo from the height, the sight of a lady young stretched at full length on the ground--and suddenly, he felt giddy.
           The wind shifted and spray blew into their faces.   Betsy turned and smiled, a dazzling flash against her nut-brown skin.

            Later, they withdrew to a less precarious and quieter spot, a rock farther away, but one with a good view.  Tilghman shaded his eyes and gazed west.  Forest stretched away on the other side, an endless pine blanket.
            Below, on the other side, their horses were in clear view.  Secrets, concealed from those below, appeared plainly.  A kissing couple, concealed from the others, attracted their gaze.
            "Oh, wonderful!" Betsy laughed and then covered her smile with one hand.  Tilghman had hitherto imagined such behavior to be the prerogative of the male.  “They were made for one another, but," she added, suddenly serious, "we ought not to spy."
            Tilghman nodded, something at a loss for words. In the south, young ladies would pretend to see nothing of the indiscretion taking place below.  
            "They're both Greens." 
             Tilghman didn't understand what this meant exactly, but he realized that what they witnessed, far from being a charming indiscretion, was the outcome of some long-laid Albanian dynastic plan.  Nevertheless, it was yet another jarring moment, as stimulating as anything he'd felt during his recent visit to the Oneida camp. 

            These Northerners--both red and white—were so--frank! 
           "The sky west is marvelous." Betsy led his gaze away by pointing at the towering clouds of summer, now parading slowly overhead.             
           And it is always a lady's prerogative to change the subject...
            "Yes, indeed, although I fear from the look of those we’ll soon have rain."
            "Later today, certainly.” Betsy smiled up at him. "We shall have to start back soon." Then this charming daughter of the north solemnly posed one of the most amazing questions Mr. Tilghman had ever been asked by a proper young lady.
             "Why is it, Colonel, that you don't try to kiss me?"
               Tilghman felt the sting in the question, yet he could see that it was asked  dispassionately.
            Would any Maryland girl, or any sophisticated Philadelphia flirt, say that?  In Baltimore, in Philadelphia, such a line would be delivered behind a fan, the girl’s eyes snapping with mischief and daring him to come on.
            In her tone he detected only curiosity and a certain melancholy. There was not a hint of flirtatiousness.
            "Well, certainly, I want to—ah kiss you.” He struggled after a chivalrous answer.  "As much as any man wants to kiss a lovely lady."
            Betsy sighed as he bent over her hand.  Apparently the sight of her two Green cousins kissing had put her in a confidential mood.
            "Don't tell tales, Mr. Tilghman.  My sisters are lovely. I'm just 'good-tempered Betsy'.  That's what all my cousins say.  They skate with me, they dance with me and play hide and seek, but they don't pull me behind the curtains at parties.  Or, if they do, it's just to ask whether Angelica fancies them."
            Tilghman did have blood in his veins, so, at the sight of her pensive face, he caught her close and kissed her.  What he received in return was very sweet, so sweet, in fact, that it was far  harder to break off than he had anticipated.
            "You, Sir Marylander, you kiss exactly like my cousins."  Miss Schuyler stunned him again. She bobbed to pick a tiny red and gold spray of Indian paint brush which she then carefully tucked into a buttonhole of his blue jacket.
            Before the astonished Tilghman--he'd never before endured a critique--could find a reply, the astonishing young lady added, "I heard you were pretty warm with those Oneida girls after the pow‑wow."
            Then, before he could collect his wits, Tilghman watched a flash of green and white calico whirling away. 
            "Miss Schuyler! Wait!"
            He soon caught up with her.  The girl's big black eyes--curiously like those of the Oneida girls--were bright with tears.
            Tilghman knew his face was scarlet.  As discreet as he'd thought he’d been, somehow this little northern lady knew what he'd done.  Worse--and again, absolutely unlike her southern sisters--she'd actually dared to remark upon it!
            "Never mind, sir." Betsy lifted her chin proudly. "Most of the men around here had an Indian wife in their trading days.  Even my Papa."
            Tilghman's sensibilities reeled.  Such plain speaking! His throat closed, and suddenly he had to cough and fumble for his handkerchief.
            "Please excuse me, Colonel." Betsy now too seemed embarrassed, "You must think I am--"
            "Not at all.” With a great effort, he managed to reply with only the slightest smile.  "You are simply candid, Miss.  I must say, however, that hypocrisy is more the fashion in my country."


~~Juliet Waldron

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