It was the early spring of 1797.
An Irish servant opened the crate using an iron poker from the fire place. The crate had been leaned up against the wall of the kitchen, and when the face of the crate was moved away, and when the straw had been cast into the fire, the linen was drawn back revealing a door of cherry wood.
The handle and the lock were both crafted of silver and copper, and the hinges were brass.
Mr. Adams, who sat at his desk contemplating a letter, was presented an envelope which had accompanied the crate.
Unfolding the envelope, he found a long and slender silver key.
It was on this day that John Adams had been elected president. Word reached him of the final vote of the Electoral College several minutes after the key had grown warm in has palm.
He did not even think to have the door brought to him. He knew that Hamilton had sent it, and it could only be for ill. Leaving the unfinished letter, the announcement of his election, and all of the other business of his office, Adams stalked through the house to the kitchen so that he could consider the door.
The cooks and the staff scuttled away, leaving stew to simmer and the fire to hiss.
The door was polished cherry wood, made of wide planks. It was thin, like the door to a closet or a wardrobe, but its proportions were full and tall, as any great door should be. The handle was as warm as the key in his hand, and he ran his thumb along the copper filigree that surrounded the keyhole.
He placed the key in the lock, which settled amidst the pins with a reassuring click.
He turned the key.
He drew on the handle, pulling the door open.
He stepped through quickly, into the gray autumn lawn below Mount Vernon. Adams recognized the General's white house on the hill, and the crisp smell of cider being pressed by slaves down in the orchard that ran along the river. He could hear the negroes laughing, and calling to one another, but he saw none of them. He was down the hill, at the front of the house.
He faced a sepulchre, newly built of red brick.
Upon the cenotaph was carved that hallowed name:
The sarcophagus lay exposed in the open air tomb, beyond an arched door, behind an iron gate.
The lid cracked, and fell apart on either side, and from the shrouded form their rose a sapling, and the trunk groaned, and the wood twisted upward, and the leaves unfolded, and the roots snaked down either side of the casket down into the stone floor of the crypt, and the stone flooring was pulled up by the searching roots, and the foundation was rent, and John Adams turned to run, but the door was not there, and so he turned back, and the tree rose up and pushed through the roof.
Adams sighed and strained, carrying his weight up the hill to the residence, but there found the front door ajar, and the wood of the porch warped from the damp, and inside the plaster walls were cracked, and the flooring was weathered near the door and beneath a broken window. Adams rushed through the house, looking for servants, for men or ladies, and he found one curtain and as he rushed passed moths fluttered up from their lacey dinner.
Adams burst out the other side of the house, onto the noble piazza overlooking the Potomac, and he jolted left, narrowly avoiding a hole in the floor where weeds had grown, and where snakes now hissed into the shadows.
Upon the banks of the river there were decrepit docks, and work houses, and slaves quarters, but no man however dark sweated through any sort of menial task. Each of the houses was as empty as the great white house upon the hill, and the only sound now was the song of geese flying south, and the whisper of the wind, and the abrupt creak, snap, and then silence, of a fast growing tree coming to an end, falling still.
Upon the face of the mill along the river, beside the gaping maw of the doorless portal of the old building, Adams saw a finely crafted cherry wood door with a silver handle traced with fiery copper detailing.
Adams hitched up his trouser and trundled down the hill, the river beyond a sleek and quick gray.
He stumbled upon the sod, and tumbled several yards, coming up again, the grip on his heart was cold and tight, and when he hit the door he was running for the first time in ten years.
He turned back to take in the stark, empty home of the great General.
It was cool. The autumn air was damp, the breeze slick.
He reached into his pocket, and his heart stopped.
There was no key.
He turned to the door and shook the handle, but could not even make it to rattle, so finely and exactly wrought was each piece.
John Adams pounded upon the cherry door. His throat was tight, and he realized that with Abigail gone, and with the tense contemplation of the election, he had not uttered a word in more than a day, and so when his mouth flooded with saliva and he drew in a breath to yell out, he first croaked, and then coughed.
But then, as he pounded on the door, he called for his valet, "William!"
"William!" he croaked.
He heard leaves rustle in the wind behind him, though every tree he had seen save the one had dropped its leaves for the coming winter.
"William!" His voice rose and rose, "William!"
The door opened, and he bolted through, wet and hot, his skin prickling as though he had placed his palms upon a Leyden jar.
Molly, the scullery, stood at the door. He turned to face her, his back to the cold stove.
Behind the open door was the wooden crate, and the wall where it leaned.
"Mr. Adams, sir?" Molly looked at him astonished. She looked then around the door to the small space in the crate where the door had lay. The crate was only four or five times as deep as the door's thickness, barely a handspan, and behind the crate was the stout wall. "Were you . . . " she looked into the crate, and back at her master who was, by all accounts, a man with a healthy girth who had come to be known, by his political enemies and secretly by his servants as 'His High Rotundity'. Molly frowned.
John Adams' chest heaved, sweat trickled down his spine.
"We thought you had left for Philadelphia, sir," Molly finally said.
Adams ran his shirt sleeve across his forehead, mopping his brow, and in so doing could only conjure up the frown this would have elicited from the General, a man who was proper in all things, noble in dignity and firm in propriety.
"The General?" he muttered.
"General Washington . . . is he? Have we heard any news?"
His eyes were fixed and glazed.
"News, sir? No. No news," Molly whispered.
Adams took in his breath and ran his hand through his hair.
"I am sorry, Molly. But what have you said to me?"
Molly stared at him, at his untucked shirt, his flushed cheeks, the grass stains on his knees and elbows, the mud upon his slippers. There was dirt along the crease of his cheek against his nose, and brown grass in his hair.
"Molly!" he snapped, his sense of place slowly returning to him.
"Sir, I am sorry, sir, but would you . . . " She looked again at him, and at the door she held open. "Shall I close . . . the door, sir?"
Adams looked into the empty crate, and at the door the little girl held balanced with her left hand on the handle. "Yes, dear," he sighed.
She bowed her head and set the door back into the crate. There, in the lock, was the key where he had left it.
His hand shook. He reached out and withdrew the key. Once it slid out of the lock, he rolled it back quickly into his thick palm so that it was entirely in his grip, and he squeezed it so that his flesh stung.
"Hamilton . . . " he muttered, scowling, and stalked out of the kitchen.
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