Book III. The Little Lion
Chapter III
 

Hamilton rejoined the army at Valley Forge and soon recovered his health and spirits. It was well that the spirits revived, for no one else during that terrible winter could lay claim to any. The Headquarters were in a small valley, shut in by high hills white with snow and black with trees that looked like iron. The troops were starving and freezing and dying a mile away, muttering and cursing, but believing in Washington. On a hill beyond the pass Lafayette was comfortable in quarters of his own, but bored and fearing the worst. Laurens chafed at the inaction; he would have had a battle a day. As the winter wore on, the family succumbed to the depressing influence of unrelieved monotony and dread of the future, and only Hamilton knew to what depths of anxiety Washington could descend. But despair had no part in Hamilton's creed. He had perfect faith in the future, and announced it persistently. He assumed the mission of keeping the family in good cheer, and they gave him little time for his studies. As for Washington, even when Hamilton was not at his desk, he made every excuse to demand his presence in the private office; and Hamilton in his prayers humorously thanked his Almighty for the gift of a cheerful disposition. It may be imagined what a relief it was when he and Laurens, Meade, or Tilghman raced each other up the icy gorge to Lafayette's, where they were often jollier the night through than even a cheerful disposition would warrant. Hamilton, although he had not much of a voice, learned one camp-song, "The Drum," and this he sang with such rollicking abandon that it fetched an explosive sigh of relief from the gloomiest breast.

There were other duties from which Hamilton fled to the house on the hill for solace. Valley Forge harboured a heterogeneous collection of foreigners, whose enthusiasm had impelled them to offer swords and influence to the American cause: Steuben, Du Portail, De Noailles, Custine, Fleury, Du Plessis, the three brothers Armand, Ternant, Pulaski, and Kosciusko. They had a thousand wants, a thousand grievances, and as Washington would not be bothered by them, their daily recourse was Hamilton, whom they adored. To him they could lament in voluble French; he knew the exact consolation to administer to each, and when it was advisable he laid their afflictions before Washington or the Congress. They bored him not a little, but he sympathized with them in their Cimmerian exile, and it was necessary to keep them in the country for the sake of the moral effect. But he congratulated himself on his capacity for work.

"I used to wish that a hurricane would come and blow Cruger's store to Hell," he said one day to Laurens, "but I cannot be sufficiently thankful for that experience now. It made me as methodical as a machine, gave my brain a system without which I never could cope with this mass of work. I have this past week dried the tears of seven Frenchmen, persuaded Steuben that he is not Europe, nor yet General Washington, and without too much offending him, written a voluminous letter to Gates calculated to make him feel what a contemptible and traitorous ass he is, yet giving him no chance to run, blubbering, with it to the Congress, and official letters ad nauseum. I wish to God I were out of it all, and about to ride into battle at the head of a company of my own."

"And how many widows have you consoled?" asked Laurens. He was huddled in his cot, trying to keep warm.

"None," said Hamilton, with some gloom. "I haven't spoken to a woman for three weeks."

It was a standing joke at Headquarters that Washington always sent Hamilton to console the widows. This he did with such sympathy and tact, such address and energy, that his friends had occasionally been forced to extricate him from complications. But it was an accomplishment in which he excelled as long as he lived.

"The Chief will never let you go," pursued Laurens. "And as there is no one to take your place, you really should not wish it. Washington may be the army, but you are Washington's brain, and of quite as much importance. You should never forget--"

"Come out and coast. That will warm your blood," interrupted Hamilton. His own sense of duty was not to be surpassed, but he had rebellious moods, when preaching suggested fisticuffs.

Outside they met a messenger from Lafayette, begging them to repair to his quarters at once. There they found him entertaining a party of charming women from a neighbouring estate; and a half-hour later the dignity and fashion of Washington's family might have been seen coasting down a steep hill with three Philadelphian exiles, who were as accomplished in many ways as they were satisfying to look upon.

It was one of those days when a swift freeze has come with a rain-storm. Hamilton had stood at the window of the office for an hour, early in the day, biting the end of his quill, and watching the water change to ice as it struck the naked trees, casing every branch until, when the sun came out, the valley was surrounded by a diamond forest, the most radiant and dazzling of winter sights. The sun was still out, its light flashed back from a million facets, the ground was hard and white, the keen cold air awoke the blood, and the three young men forgot their grumblings, and blessed the sex which has alleviated man's burdens so oft and well.