Benjamin had asked one thing of me: be invisible. I laughed when he said that because it was so seemingly hilarious, a woman be anything but invisible? But I guess that’s why he asked me. I would stand among men at parties and catch words that floated around after a few too many drinks. To them, I was just another blonde with long legs, but I knew them, the names, the ranks, the secrets. I would walk out, heels clicking, and slip into the shadows, content to be unseen.
Tonight, though, I had to play the part perfectly. I clasped my arm through my father’s and smiled sweetly at the other loyalists, British officers, and miscellaneous members of New York’s upper class. Even with my connections, this party had been a task to get into. After a year of waiting, John André once again was making an appearance in the envied social circles of the true English. His arrival had been extravagant. This gathering would be no exception.
I took note especially of the overwhelming number of armed band leaders, initiators of violence among the Patriots as well as men in close alliance with the crown, parading around the rooms. Edmund Fanning caught my gaze, still holding it while embracing one of the Butler brothers. He briefly looks away to say something and then begins to make his way toward me.
He stops a few feet in front of me, leaning against one of the several tall tables scattered around the room, “Quite a crowd isn’t it?”
I smile and glance across the room to where André is standing, his back turned to us, “Yes, most definitely.”
We stand in silence until he taps my arm, “Why, look over there! The woman, I swear, has nerves of steel.” He laughs, nodding his head toward two people hovering near the doors, exchanging quiet words.
“Oh, Mrs. Shippen, she has my deepest sympathies.”
Edmund quickly glances at her once more, “I hear she is still in contact with her husband-”
My head turns quickly towards him “You don’t say!”
“Yes, word is she’s seen him in person.” He whispers.
I relax my shoulders, trying to feign disinterest, “And how did you come about this information?”
“Well, I was talking to-” he stops himself, looking just beyond me, “excuse me, but I must speak to someone, it’s been a pleasure.”
I watch as he hurriedly makes his way toward Joseph Brant, who was deep in conversation with several other men. I sigh deeply, taking a sip of my drink, and observe the varying people in attendance tonight. I turn and pretend to look at some of the art hanging on the wall. While I stroll from painting to painting, I tip my head toward people, snagging bits of sentences here and there.
“I can’t believe the dress she wore tonight, did you see those stitches?”
“Did you hear Lawrence moved to Canada, poor man refused to walk the streets for fear of feathering”
“Ah, yes, the Jones girl, could barely move after a couple of radicals caught hold of her. I hear the tar makes her fingers stick together.”
Nothing interesting. I start to make my way to the back door, exiting into the gardens. The hum of women and slurred speech of drunk men could be heard even outside. A little ways off, his silhouette outlined by the midnight light, sits André. I quietly take a seat beside him on the marble bench.
The words stick to the roof of his mouth, heavy and warm “I just . . . needed . . . some air.”
“I understand completely,” I say, inhaling the smell of alcohol. I lean in close and whisper, “British intelligence, sounds important, I wonder the things you hear”
He exhales through his teeth, eyes sliding to meet my own, “You couldn’t even imagine.”
“Help me, then.”
“The colonists, they prove to be . . . difficult,” André wipes his palms on the fabric of his pants, “but we still might win.”
“And why is that?” I hold my breath and pray his drunken stupor lasts just a little while longer.
“Because-” he looks at me, “should I be telling you this?”
I smile and, laughing lightly, say, “Who am I going to tell?”
He smiles too, “You’re right, who would believe a woman?”
“You saw Mrs. Shippen inside?” He glances at the doors to the house.
“Her husband,” he pauses, looking once again behind us, “a leader in the Continental Army, named Arnold, is planning on switching sides.”
I gasp, for his benefit, and play the part of a concerned loyalist woman. “How ever does he plan on doing that?”
“He’s bringing new information regarding a central safeguard of the enemy.”
“How intriguing,” I look at him, and then the door, “but Mr. André, this talk of fighting tires me!” I do my best to look upset, “It’s just so awful!”
He laughs and puts his arm around me, “I know my dear, leave it to the men, we will see to the end of this war.”
“Oh, I hope so sir.” I grasp his hand, “I must be off now though, I’m terribly sorry, but my father must be wondering where I have wandered off to!”
“Of course, it’s been a real pleasure, I don’t believe I caught your name though?”
I press my lips together, humming slightly, “No need for names, darling. I wish you the best of nights.”
And with that, I stood up and walked down the dirt path around to the front of the house. I stepped down into the street and slipped into the crowd of staggering men and shivering women making their ways slowly home. At this hour, the shadows envelop me quickly, and I meet them happily, content to be invisible.
Photo Credits: Katie Hosmer