The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book III. The Little Lion
"Alexander!" cried a musical but imperious voice.
Hamilton was walking in the depths of the wood, thinking out his financial policy for the immediate relief of the country. He started and faced about. Kitty Livingston sat on her horse, a charming picture in the icy brilliance of the wood. He ran toward her, ripped off her glove, kissed her hand, replaced the glove, then drew back and saluted.
"You are a saucy boy," said Miss Livingston, "and I've a mind to box your ears. I've brought you up very badly; but upon my word, if you were a few years older, I believe I'd marry you and keep you in order, something no other woman will ever be able to do. But I've a piece of news for you--my dear little brother. Betsey Schuyler is here."
Alexander, much to his annoyance, blushed vividly. "And how can you know that I have ever even seen Miss Schuyler?" he asked, rather sulkily.
"She told me all about it, my dear. And I inferred from the young lady's manner that she lived but to renew the experience. She is down at Surgeon-General Cochraine's. Mrs. Cochraine is her aunt. Seriously, I want you to be a good little beau, and keep her here as long as possible. She is a great addition to our society; for she is not only one of the belles of the country, accomplished and experienced, but she has an amazing fine character, and I am anxious to know her better. You are still too young to marry, mon enfant, but you are so precocious and Miss Schuyler is so charming--if you will marry at your absurd age, you could not do better; for you'll get fine parents as well as a wife, and I've never known a youth more in need of an entire family."
Hamilton laughed. "If I accumulate any more parents," he said, "I shall share the fate of the cat. This morning Colonel Harrison--one of my fathers--almost undressed me to see if my flannels were thick enough, Mrs. Washington gave me a fearful scolding because I went out without a muffler, and even the General is always darting edged glances at the soles of my boots. Yesterday, Laurens, who is two-thirds English, tried to force an umbrella into my hand, but at that I rebelled. If I marry, it will be for the pleasure of taking care of someone else."
He escorted Miss Livingston out to the highroad, and returned to Headquarters, his imagination dancing. He had by no means forgotten Miss Schuyler. That merry roguish high-bred face had shone above many dark horizons, illuminated many bitter winter nights at Valley Forge. He was excited at the prospect of seeing her again, and hastened to arrange a dinner, to which she must be bidden. The young men did as they chose about entertaining, sure of Washington's approval.
"Ah, I know Miss Schuyler well," exclaimed Tilghman, when Hamilton remarked that they should immediately show some attention to the daughter of so illustrious a man as General Schuyler. "I've fetched and carried for her--in fact I once had the honour to be despatched by her mamma to buy her a pair of stays. I fell at her little feet immediately. She has the most lively dark good-natured eyes I ever saw--Good God, Hamilton, are you going to run me through?"
Hamilton for the moment was so convulsed with jealous rage that his very fingers curved, and he controlled them from his friend's throat with an effort. Tilghman's words brought him to his senses, and he laughed heartily. "I was as jealous as Othello, if you'll have the truth, and just why, I vow I don't know, for I met this young lady only once, and that a year ago. I was much attracted, but it's not possible I'm in love with her."
"It's love, my dear boy," said Tilghman, gravely. "Go and ask Steuben if I am not right. Laurens and I will arrange the dinner. You attend to your case immediately."
Hamilton, much concerned, repaired to the house of Baron Steuben. This old courtier and rake was physician in ordinary to all the young men in their numerous cardiacal complications. Hamilton found him in his little study, smoking a huge meerschaum. His weather-beaten face grinned with delight at the appearance of his favourite, but he shook his head solemnly at the revelation.
"I fear this time you are shot, my dear little Hamilton," he said, with much concern. "Have you told me all?"
"All that I can think of." Hamilton was sitting forward on the edge of the chair in considerable dejection. He had not expected this intrication, had hoped the Baron would puff it away.
"Has she a neat waist?"
Hamilton admitted, with some surprise, that her waist was exceptional.
"And her eyes?--I have heard of them--benevolent, yet sparkling;--and a daughter of the Schuylers. Hamilton, believe me, there are worse things than love."
"But I have affairs of the utmost moment on hand at present. I'm revolving a whole financial system, and the correspondence grows heavier every day. I've no time for love."
"My boy," said the former aide to the great Frederick, with emphasis, "when you can work in the sun, why cling to the cold corner of a public hearth? Your brain will spin the faster for the fire underneath. You will write great words and be happy besides. Think of that. What a combination! Mein Gott! You will be terribly in love, my son, but your balance is so extraordinary that your brain will work on just the same. Otherwise I would not dare give such counsel, for without you General Washington would give up, and your poor old Steuben would not have money for tobacco. Give me just one half-sovereign," he added coaxingly.
Hamilton examined the big tobacco pouch and found it two-thirds full. "Not a penny," he said gaily. "The day after to-morrow I will buy you some myself, but I know where that last sovereign went to."
Hamilton took care of the old spendthrift's money, and not only then but as long as he lived. "The Secretary of the Treasury is my banker," said Steuben, years after. "My Hamilton takes care of my money when he cannot take care of his own."
Hamilton retired in some perturbation, and the result of much thinking was that he spent an unconscionable time over his toilet on the evening of the dinner. In his nervousness he tore one of his lace ruffles. Laurens attempted to mend it, and the rent waxed. Hamilton was forced to knock at Mrs. Washington's door and ask her to repair the injury. She was already dressed, in a black lutestring, her hair flat and natural. She looked approvingly at Hamilton, who, not excepting Laurens, was always the most faultlessly dressed member of the family. To-night he wore dark green velvet, fitting closely and exquisitely cut, white silk stockings, and a profusion of delicate lace. His hair was worn in a queue and powdered. It was not till some years later that he conformed to the prevailing fashion and wore a wig.
Mrs. Washington mended the lace, retied the bow of his queue, kissed him and told him to forget the cares of war and correspondence, and enjoy himself. Hamilton retired, much comforted.
It was an imposing family which, a half-hour later, awaited the guests in the drawing-room. Washington was in black velvet and silk stockings, his best white wig spreading in two symmetrical wings. It was a cold grave figure always, and threw an air of solemnity over every scene it loomed upon, which only Hamilton's lively wit could dispel. Laurens wore plum-coloured velvet and much lace, a magnificent court costume. His own figure was no less majestic than Washington's, but his brown eyes and full mouth were almost invariably smiling, despite the canker. He wore a very close wig. Tilghman was in blue, the other men in more sober dress. Lafayette some time since had departed for France, Hamilton having suggested that the introduction of a French military force of six or seven thousand troops would have a powerful effect upon the American army and people.
Lady Sterling arrived with Lady Kitty--the bride of Colonel William Duer since July--her undistinguished homeliness enhancing the smart appearance of her daughter, who was one of the beauties of the time. Lady Kitty had a long oval face, correct haughty little features, and a general air of extreme high breeding. Her powdered hair was in a tower, and she had the tiniest waist and stood upon the highest heels of all the belles. She wore white satin over an immense hoop, a flounce of Spanish lace and a rope of pearls. Kitty Livingston wore yellow which outshone the light of the candles. Susan Boudinot and the other girls were dressed more simply. Mr. Boudinot's eyes were as keen and as kind as ever, his nose seemed longer, and the flesh was accumulating beneath his chin.
The Cochraines and Miss Elizabeth Schuyler were the last to arrive. The northern belle's wardrobe had been an object of much concern to the young ladies now cut off from New York shops, and lamenting the demoralized condition of those in Philadelphia. In Albany all things were still possible. Miss Schuyler wore a pink brocade of the richest and most delicate quality, and a bertha of Brussels lace. The pointed bodice and large paniers made her waist look almost as small as Kitty Duer's, and her feet were the tiniest in the world. She turned them in and walked with a slight shuffle. Hamilton had never seen a motion so adorable. Her hair was rolled out from her face on both sides as well as above, and so thickly powdered that her eyes looked as black as General Washington's coat, while her cheeks and lips were like red wine on pale amber. She blushed as Hamilton bowed before her and offered his arm, and then she felt his heart thump. As for Hamilton, he gave himself up for lost the moment she entered the room, and with the admission, his feelings concentrated with their usual fiery impetuosity. As it was too soon for an outlet, they rushed to his eyes and camped there, to Miss Schuyler's combined discomfort and delight.
For once Hamilton was content to listen, and Miss Schuyler was not loath to entertain this handsome young aide, of whom all the world was talking, and who had haunted her dreams for a year. She had read Milton, Shenstone, and Dodsworth, "The Search after Happiness," by Hannah More, the works of Madame de Genlis, the "Essay on Man," and Shakespeare's lighter plays. Her learning was not oppressive, merely sufficient to give distinction to her mind, and Hamilton was enchanted once more; but he found her most interesting when relating personal anecdotes of encounters with savage warriors in that dark northern land where she had been born and bred, of hideous massacres of which her neighbours had been the victims, of adventurous journeys she had taken with her father, of painted chieftains they had been forced to entertain. She talked with great spirit and no waste of words, and it was evident that she was both sensible and heroic. Hamilton ate little and forgot that he was in a company of twenty people. He was recalled by an abraded shin.
He turned with a jump and encountered Meade's agonized face thrust across Susan Livingston, who sat between them.
"For God's sake, Hamilton, come forth and talk," said Meade, in a hoarse whisper. "There hasn't been a word said above a mutter for three-quarters of an hour. Tilghman gave out long ago. Unless you come to the rescue we'll all be moaning in each other's arms in three minutes."
Hamilton glanced about the table. Washington, looking like himself on a monument, was making not a pretence to entertain poor Lady Sterling, who was almost sniffling. Lord Sterling, having gratified, an hour since, Mrs. Washington's polite interest in his health, was stifling yawn after yawn, and his chubby little visage was oblong and crimson. Tilghman, looking guilty and uncomfortable,--it was his duty to relieve Hamilton at the table,--was flirting with Miss Boudinot. Lady Kitty and Baron Steuben always managed to entertain each other. Laurens and Kitty Livingston were sitting back and staring at each other as they had stared many times before. The others were gazing at their plates or at Hamilton. It was, indeed, a Headquarters dinner at the worst.
It has been remarked that Hamilton had a strong sense of duty. He felt himself unable, even with the most charming girl on the continent beside him, to resist the appeal of all those miserable eyes, and launched forth at once upon the possibilities of Lafayette returning with an army. Everybody responded, and he had many subjects of common interest to discourse brilliantly upon until the long meal finished. Even Washington gave him a grateful glance, and the others reattacked their excellent food with a lost relish, now that the awful silence and sense of personal failure were dispelled by their "bright particular star," as the letters of the day from Morristown and the vicinity cleped our hero. But with Miss Schuyler he had no further word that night, and he retired with the conviction that there were times when there was no satisfaction whatever in doing one's duty.