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©By Dee Yoder
“Rachel, I’ve news that Harman is meeting with Mr. Burr again tomorrow morning.”
“Is that so? Here at the house?” I asked carefully.
I watched my cousin trail her fingers along the mantle. The fire was reflected in her worried eyes as she gazed at the portrait of Harman hanging over the fireplace.
It still made me uncomfortable to think of their marriage. The Church could not sanction their union, and, truthfully, no one in decent society understood what she was thinking when she married her own uncle. As children of Harman’s brothers, Margaret and I grew up together in Ireland. I was her confidant during those years after her marriage, so I didn’t hesitate to come with her to America as she and Uncle-I mean- Harman, tried to escape the gossip at home.
But now, gossip had again reared its ugly head. People were whispering about Harman in connection to the ambitious politician, Aaron Burr.
“I’ve no hope of convincing Harman that Burr is a menace, not to mention what a leech he is on our finances.” Her bitter tone seemed to stem more from Burr’s never-ending outstretched hand than from his rebellious political views.
“Margaret, surely Harman will take counsel from his wife.”
“He is hopelessly naïve, I’m afraid. He has total belief in what Mr. Burr wants to do, but Burr only tells Harman what he wants him to hear.”
Margaret stood and walked to the fireplace. Her pinched expression showed her inner turmoil, but she squared her shoulders and turned to me with a smile. “Never mind. We have a party to plan, Rachel. I’ve already spoken to cook about the menu-“
She was interrupted by the sound of pounding footsteps in the marble entry. The doors to the library burst open, and Harman stood in the doorway, his face pale and his eyes filled with terror.
“Margaret! Burr has sent word that the Virginia Militia is advancing on the island! They plan an arrest. An arrest, Margaret, for treason!” He collapsed into a chair and covered his face with his hands. Then, springing up again, he ran to the west windows and scanned the lawn to the river. Over his shoulder, I could see dusk settling along the tree line at the river’s edge.
Margaret slumped briefly against the mantle and then held her hands out to Harman.
“Harman! They cannot arrest you! You have to get away…Harman! Listen to me!”
She hurried to his side and pulled his face to hers. “Listen! Take the boat over to Parkersburg. Make your escape now before they reach us!” The two exchanged a look of defeat.
It broke my heart to see Margaret in such a state, but truthfully, I knew the day would come when her union with Harman would bring her pain. She’d lived the life of the privileged few. She’d entertained the best poets, essayists, and the cream of society, but Harman and his ways were due for a downfall. The piper would be paid.
An hour later, Margaret stood at the doors and watched Harman flee to the river. In her eyes she beheld an escaping hero, but to me…well…I recognized cowardice when I saw it.
Margaret, the children, and I spent the night huddled alone together in the library. The servants had fled when their master fled, so as Margaret whispered prayers through the black night for her husband’s safe escape, I remained silent.
When the morning rays began to filter through the covered windows, and we heard the marching of feet and the shouting of orders as the Virginia Militia surrounded Blennerhassett mansion, my thoughts shifted to our dire position. No one would know that Harman was not here; we were in for a siege and I couldn’t think of what the soldiers might do when they discovered two women and three children left behind in this house.
“Margaret…let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer, shall we?” I whispered.
Her large eyes studied mine and then she quietly reached out and grabbed my hands.
“Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” I began.
Fierce pounding at the front door drowned out my words, but we held tightly to each other and let the pounding continue while we finished the ancient prayer together.
The crashing breech of the doors coincided with our shared “Amens.”
Margaret stood, walked to her frightened children and kissed them each softly, then turned and faced the soldiers who clattered into the library. It was over.
Author’s Note: Harman Blennerhassett was caught, along with Aaron Burr, and charged with treason. He was held in a Virginia prison for five months before being released when no evidence could be presented against him. The Blennerhassetts lost everything, including their mansion on Blennerhassett Island when the surrounding populace angrily ransacked the house. The island and the re-built mansion are now a National park.