A young man rushes into the theatre as the lights fade in. At first I think he’s late for the show time, but then he starts to shout.
“George Eacker!” His voice is filled with fury, mad accusation. “Eacker!”
Out of the corner of my eye I notice a man lean forward and look around. He smiles. It’s a derisive, mocking smile. Almost a sneer. “Oh, if it isn’t Philip Hamilton?” he says, laughing out of the side of his mouth. “What are you up to, barging in on civilised society like this? Didn’t your father teach you anything?”
Now that he has found Eacker, the young man rushes closer into view. I notice how bold and bright his eyes are. They’re filled with anger.
“Watch your mouth when you talk about my father,” he says. “He’s a man of honour. You know nothing, Eacker!”
“Ha! What I do know is all true, and that’s what I said.” He’s still smiling the same queer smile. “Your father’s a scoundrel, and so it seems are you.”
I wish they would stop. I want to see the play.
Hamilton flinches, visibly wounded by the insult. Around him the audience waits with bated breath as to what will come next.
“So it’s like that?” he says. He’s obviously lost his footing for a bit.
“I tell the truth, Hamilton,” says Eacker. “I’m not your little schoolboy friends. A kid like you shouldn’t try to mess with—”
“Well, I’ll see you on the duelling ground!”
No, not duels. The vague image of men shooting at each other rises unbidden to my mind, and I shudder.
“Ooh, like I’m scared,” says Eacker. “Yeah, see you there too. Now, if you’ll let me watch this in peace…?”
Philip Hamilton lifts his chin, bright blue eyes flashing with challenge and determination. He turns on his heel and walks out.
Eacker scowls round at the rest of the audience and adjusts himself into a more comfortable position. I cannot enjoy the play anymore. I cannot think of that young man going so readily to a chance of death.
“Excuse me,” I murmur, and make my way out of my box.
When I exit I can still see Philip Hamilton stalking away, head erect and determined. Something compels me to run after him. I get this unshakable feeling that what I’m about to do may save his life.
“Mr Hamilton,” I call. He turns, clearly still sore, in his mind running through what he should do next.
I open my mouth and realise I don’t actually have anything to say. I just want to stop the duel. “Sir, I was at the theatre just now…”
“Oh.” He bites the bottom of his lip. “I’m sorry for ruining the show for you. But I must get going. You understand I have a duel to prepare for. Good day.”
“Wait, sir!” He’s just about to rush off, but stays.
“Yes?” he says again.
“Please don’t duel, sir,” I say, shaking my head helplessly. “How could you bring yourself so near to death? All for a matter of your own honour? Isn’t that…selfish to your family?”
“It is not just my own honour,” he says quietly. “My father’s honour is at stake as well. Eacker has to pay.”
“With his life? He’s just a brash person, why does it really matter?”
“Look, why are you defending him?” The irritation shows plainly on his face. “Are you a relative of his, or what?”
“I had never seen him till today, sir. I promise. But please don’t duel, sir. I will go to Mr Eacker and make a peace with him.”
He starts to laugh. “So you’ll be my second, then? And in the event that you don’t reach a peace?”
“I will, sir. Lives depend on it.”
“Well! You’re a rare bird.” He chuckles some more to himself. “Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Theodosia Burr, sir.”
“Burr?” He’s taken aback for an instant.
“I believe our fathers are acquainted,” I say softly.
“I see.” He has withdrawn back into a reclusive state. There is no more laughter in his eyes. “Your father took my grandfather’s seat in the Senate, I understand?”
“Mr Philip Schuyler? Oh no, sir, he won it fairly. And I had nothing to do with it.”
For a moment I sense that he is appraising not only my appearance, but my brain.
“I will go find Mr Eacker now,” I say, but I linger for an instant. For some reason I want to hold his gaze for as long as he will hold mine. Then I shake the silly feeling and turn away again.
When I turn back Philip Hamilton is smiling again. For the first time I see his eyes soften into gentle kindness. “If you don’t mind I’d like to take you to see the play that I disturbed. Would tomorrow be fine?”
I feel a smile creeping into my face despite myself.
I say yes.