The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book III. The Little Lion
The letter from General Schuyler, giving his consent to the engagement, has not been preserved; but some time after he had occasion to write Hamilton a business letter, in which the following passage occurs:--
General Schuyler was ordered by Congress to Morristown to confer with Washington. He took a house, sent for his family, and remained until late in the summer. The closest friendship was formed between Schuyler and Hamilton, which, with common political interests and deepening sympathy, increased from year to year. The good fairies of Nevis who had attended Hamilton's birth never did better for him than when they gave him Elizabeth Schuyler for wife and Philip Schuyler for father and friend. And they had blasted the very roots of the chief impediment to success, for he triumphed steadily and without effort over what has poisoned the lives of many men; and triumphed in spite of the fact that the truth was vaguely known always, and kept in the quiver of his enemies.
As Hamilton was absent from Headquarters but seldom during General Schuyler's sojourn, the lovers met almost every evening, and occasionally Washington, who possessed certain sympathies based on long experience, would give Hamilton a morning free, and suggest a ride through the woods. Never were two people happier nor more inherently suited. Hamilton's instinct had guided him safely past more brilliant women to one who willingly would fold herself round his energetic individuality of many parts, fitting into every division and crevice. She was receptive, sympathetic, adaptive, with sufficient intelligence to appreciate the superlative brain of the man whom she never ceased to worship and to regard as a being of unmortal clay. A brilliant ambitious wife in the same house with Hamilton might have written a picturesque diary, but the domestic instrument would have twanged with discords. Hamilton was unselfish, and could not do enough for those he loved; but he was used to the first place, to the unquestioned yielding of it to his young high-mightiness by his clever aspiring friends, by the army of his common acquaintance, and in many ways by Washington himself. Had he married Angelica Schuyler, that independent, high-spirited, lively, adorable woman, probably they would have boxed each other's ears at the end of a week.
Hamilton made the dash on Staten Island with Lord Sterling, and in March went with General St. Clair and Colonel Carrington to negotiate with the British commissioners for the exchange of prisoners; before the battle of Springfield he was sent out to reconnoitre. Otherwise his days were taken up bombarding the Congress with letters representing the necessity of drafting troops to meet the coming emergencies.
He and Miss Betsey Schuyler had a very pretty plan, which was nothing less than that they should go to Europe on their wedding tour, Congress to find his presence necessary at the Court of France. The suggestion originated with Laurens, who had been asked to go as secretary to Franklin. He had no wish to go, and knowing Hamilton's ardent desire to visit Europe and growing impatience with his work, had recommended his name to the Congress. General Schuyler would have procured a leave of absence for his impending son-in-law, and sent the young couple to Europe with his blessing and a heavy wallet, but Hamilton would as soon have forged a man's name as travelled at his expense. He hoped that the Congress would send him. He was keenly alive to the value of studying Europe at first hand before he was called upon to help in the modelling of the new Republic, and the vision of wandering in historic lands with his bride kept him awake at night. Moreover, he was desperately tired of his life at Headquarters. When the expedition to Staten Island was in question, he asked Washington, through Lafayette, to give him the command of a battalion which happened to be without a field-officer. Washington refused, partly from those motives of policy to which he ever showed an almost niggling adherence, but more because he could not spare his most useful aide. Hamilton, who was bursting for action of any sort, retired to his detested little office in angry disappointment. But he was a philosopher. He adjusted himself to the Inevitable, and dismissed the matter from his mind, after registering a vow that he would take advantage of the first excuse which might offer to resign his position.
The Schuylers returned to Albany. The French fleet arrived, and hovered well beyond the range of British guns, having no desire to risk an engagement until reinforced. Its Admiral, Count Rochambeau, having a grievance, Hamilton advised a personal conference.
"We might suggest that he meet us halfway--say at Wethersfield, near Hartford," he added. "That would save us something in travelling expenses."
Washington sighed heavily. "We are worse off than you think," he said. "I might scrape together money enough for half the journey, but no more. Lafayette and his aide must go with us--to say nothing of the escort. Think of the innkeepers' bills, for ourselves and horses. What to do I confess I do not know, for I should confer with this Frenchman at once."
"Go we must, sir," said Hamilton, decidedly, "if we have to take up a collection--why not? If an object cannot be accomplished one way, try another." He stood up and emptied the contents of his pockets on the table. "Only five hundred beggarly continentals," he said ruefully. "However, who knows what treasures may line more careful pockets than mine? I know they will come forth as spontaneously. Have I your permission to try, sir?"
Washington nodded, and Hamilton ran downstairs, pressed Meade into service, and together they made the round of the officers' quarters. He returned at the end of an hour and threw a huge bundle of paper on the table. "Only eight thousand dollars, sir," he said. "It's the best that any man could do. But I think it may carry us through."
"It will have to," said Washington. "Remind me, my dear boy, if you see me eating too much. I have such an appetite!"
They set out on their journey a week later, having communicated with Rochambeau, who agreed to meet them at Wethersfield. All went well, for the wretched inns were not exorbitant, until they reached Hartford. They arrived late in the afternoon, weary and ravenous. After a bath and a glimpse of luxurious beds, they marched to the dining room and sat down to a sumptuous repast, whose like had greeted neither nostril nor palate for many a day. The wines were mellow, the tobacco green, the conversation gay until midnight. Hamilton sang "The Drum," and many another song rang among the rafters. Washington retired first, bidding the youngsters enjoy themselves. The young men arose at their accustomed hour next morning, with appetites renewed, but waited in vain for their Chief. Hamilton finally knocked at his door. There was no response, and a servant told him that the General had gone out nearly an hour before. He went in search, bidding Lafayette and M'Henry remain behind. As he had anticipated, he found Washington in a secluded nook, engaged in prayer. He waited a few moments, then coughed respectfully. Washington immediately rose, his harassed face showing little relief.
"Is anything wrong, sir?" asked Hamilton, anxiously.
"Alas!" said the General, "I wonder that you, too, are not driven to prayer, to intercede for help in this distressing predicament. Think of that extravagant repast we consumed last night. God help me, but I was so famished I never gave a thought to consequences. Unquestionably, the breakfast will be on a like scale. And we have but eight thousand dollars with which to pay the bill!"
"It is true! I never gave the matter a thought--I am cursedly extravagant. And we must get home! I suppose we shall have to fast all the way. Well, we've fasted before, and the memory of last night's dinner may sustain us--"
"But this man's bill! How are we to meet it?"
"Shall I speak to him, sir? Tell him unreservedly our predicament--that these wretched eight thousand dollars are all we have in the world? Perhaps he is a good patriot, and will call the account square."
"Do," said Washington, "and come here and tell me what he says. I am too mortified to show my face. I shall not enter the house again."
Hamilton walked slowly to the house, little caring for his errand. He returned on a dead run.
"We are saved, sir!" he cried, almost in Washington's arms. "Governor Trumbull has sent word to all the hostelries that we are to be his guests while we are in the state of Connecticut!"
Washington said his prayers again, and ate two chickens for breakfast.
On the return from this conference, when approaching the house of General Benedict Arnold, opposite West Point, where they were invited for breakfast, Washington suddenly decided to accompany Lafayette, who wished to inspect some earthworks.
"You need not come," he said to Hamilton and M'Henry. "I know that you are both in love with Mrs. Arnold. Go on. We will join you presently."
The young men were greeted with effusion by the pretty hostess, with absent reserve by her husband. Mrs. Arnold left the room to order that the breakfast be delayed. While she was absent, a note was brought to Arnold. He opened it, turned green, and rising hastily, announced that his presence was demanded at West Point and left the room. The sound of a smothered scream and fall came from above. A moment later the aides heard the sound of galloping hoofs.
Their suspicions aroused, they ran outside. A messenger, with a despatch from Colonel Jameson, awaited Washington's arrival. Hamilton tore open the paper. It contained the news that a British spy had been captured within the lines. In an instant Hamilton and M'Henry were on their horses and off in pursuit of the fugitive. That Arnold was a traitor and had fled to the British war-ship, Vulture, hovering in Haverstraw Bay, a slower wit than Hamilton's would have assumed. The terrified scoundrel was too quick for them. He had ridden over a precipice to the shore below, and under protection of a flag of truce was far down the river when his pursuers sighted him. They returned with all speed.
I shall not repeat the oft-told tale of Andre's capture, trial, and death. Nowhere has it been so well told as by Hamilton himself, in a letter to Laurens, printed at the time and universally read. It is only necessary here to allude to his share in that unhappiest episode of the war. When Washington reached the house his aide was engaged in consoling Mrs. Arnold, who was shrieking and raving, weeping and fainting; imposing on Hamilton a task varied and puzzling, even to one of his schooling. But she was very young, very charming, and in a tragic plight. Washington himself wiped away a tear, and for a moment forgot the barely averted consequences of her husband's treason, while he assisted Hamilton in assuaging a grief so bitter and so appealing. As soon as was possible he sent her through the British lines.
But Hamilton quickly forgot Mrs. Arnold in his sympathy and admiration for the unfortunate Andre. He conceived a quick and poignant friendship for the brilliant accomplished young Englishman, with the dreamy soft face of a girl, and a mettle which had brought him to destruction. Hamilton did all he could to save him, short of suggesting to Andre to ask Sir Henry Clinton to offer Arnold in exchange. He enlisted the sympathy of the officers at West Point in the prisoner's behalf, gave up his leisure to diverting Andre's mind, and persuaded Washington to delay the execution and send an indirect suggestion to Clinton to offer the exchange himself. When all hope was over, he personally begged Washington to heed Andre's request for a soldier's death, and not condemn such a man to the gibbet. Washington gladly would have saved his interesting prisoner's life, and felt deeply for him, but again those motives of policy prevailed, and Andre was executed like a common malefactor.