The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
As the three men turned into Broadway they saluted a man who was entering Wall Street. It was Hamilton, hastening home to his family after the day's work. He had lost his boyish slenderness; his figure had broadened and filled out sufficiently to add to his presence while destroying nothing of its symmetry or agile grace, and it was dressed with the same care. His face was as gay and animated as ever, responded with the old mobility to every passing thought, but its lines and contours showed the hard work and severe thought of the last four years. When he was taking a brief holiday with his friends, or tumbling about the floor with his little brood, he felt as much a boy as ever, but no one appreciated more fully than he the terrible responsibility of his position in the Confederation. His abilities, combined with his patriotism, had forced him to the head of the Nationalist Party, for whose existence he was in greatest measure responsible; and he hardly dared to think of his personal ambitions, nor could he hesitate to neglect his lucrative practice whenever the crying needs of the country demanded it. He had also given much time to the creating and organization of the Bank of New York. But Burr was not far wrong when he accused him of impatience. His bearing was more imperious, his eye flashed more intolerantly, than ever. To impute to him monarchical ambitions was but the fling of a smarting jealousy, but it is quite true that he felt he knew what was best for the country, and would have liked to regulate its affairs without further hindrance.
His house, beyond the dip of Wall Street and within sight of the bay, was of red brick, and as unbeautiful architecturally as other New York houses which had risen at random from the ruins. But within, it was very charming. The long drawing-room was furnished with mahogany, and rose-coloured brocade, with spindle-legged tables and many bibelots sent by Angelica Church, now living in London. The library was filling with valuable books, and the panelled whiteness of the dining room glittered with silver and glass, which in quantity or value was not exceeded in the home of any young couple in America; the world had outdone itself at the most interesting wedding of the Revolution. Betsey's sitting room was behind the drawing-room, and there Hamilton found her counting the moments until his return. She had lost nothing of her slimness, and except on dress occasions wore her mass of soft black hair twisted in a loose knot and unpowdered. She looked younger and prettier than with powder or wig, and Hamilton begged her to defy the fashion; but yielding in all else, on this point she was inflexible. "I am wiser than you in just a few things," she would say, playfully, for she firmly believed him infallible; "my position would suffer, were I thought eccentric. You cannot stand in rank without a uniform. I shall not yield to Sarah Jay nor even Kitty Duer. I am a little Republican, sir, and know my rights. And I know how to keep them."
To-day, after her usual prolonged and unmitigated greeting, she remarked: "Speaking of eccentric people, I met to-day, at Lady Sterling's, that curious person, Mrs. Croix, or Miss Capet, as some will call her. Her hair was built up quite a foot and unpowdered. On top of it was an immense black hat with plumes, and her velvet gown was at least three yards on the floor. She certainly is the handsomest creature in town, but, considering all the gossip, I think it odd Lady Sterling should take her up, and I believe that Kitty is quite annoyed. But Lady Sterling is so good-natured, and I am told that Dr. Franklin went personally and asked her to give this lady countenance. He calls her his Fairy Queen, and to-day saluted her on the lips before all of us. Poor dear Dr. Franklin is by now quite in the class with Caesar's wife, but still I think his conduct rather remarkable."
"Who is this woman?" asked Hamilton, indifferently.
"Well!" exclaimed his wife, with a certain satisfaction, "you are busy. She has been the talk of the town for quite three months, although she never went anywhere before to-day."
"I hear all my gossip from you," said Hamilton, smiling from the hearth rug, "and considering the labours of the past three months--but tell me about her. I believe I love you best when gossiping. Your effort to be caustic is the sweetest thing in the world."
She threw a ball of wool at him, which he caught and pulled apart, then showered on her head. It was yellow wool, and vastly becoming on her black hair. "You must have a yellow hat at once, with plumes," he said, "but go on."
"You shall wind that this evening, sir. Well, she came here about three months ago with Captain Croix of the British army, and rumour hath it that he left a wife in England, and that this lady's right to the royal name of Capet is still unchallenged. The story goes that she was born about eighteen years ago, on a French frigate bound for the West Indies, that her mother died, and that, there being no one else of that royal name on board, the Captain adopted her; but that a baby and a ship being more than he could manage, he presented the baby to a humble friend at Newport, by the name of Thompson, who brought her up virtuously, but without eradicating the spirit of the age, and one fine day she disappeared with Colonel Croix, and after a honeymoon which may have been spent in the neighbourhood of any church between here and Rhode Island, or of none, they arrived in New York, and took the finest lodgings in town. I suppose Dr. Franklin was a friend of her humble guardian, he is so philanthropic, and that he is willing to take my lady's word that all is well--and perhaps it is. I feel myself quite vicious in repeating the vaguest sort of gossip--active, though. Who knows, if she had worn a wig, or an inch of powder, and employed the accepted architect for her tower, she would have passed without question? Another pillar for my argument, sir."
"As it is, you are even willing to believe that she is a daughter of the house of France," said Hamilton, with a hearty laugh. "Would that the world were as easily persuaded of what is good for it as of what tickles its pettiness. Shall you ask this daughter of the Capets to the house?"
"I have not made up my mind," said Mrs. Hamilton, demurely.
The two older children, Philip and Angelica, came tumbling into the room, and Hamilton romped with them for a half-hour, then flung them upon their mother, and watched them from the hearth rug. Betsey was lovely with her children, who were beautiful little creatures, and Hamilton was always arranging them in groups. The boy and girl pulled down her hair with the yellow wool, until all her diminutive figure and all her face, but its roguish black eyes, were extinguished; and Hamilton forgot the country.
Elizabeth Schuyler was a cleverer woman than her meed of credit has led the world to believe. She understood Hamilton very well even then, although, as his faults but added to his fascination in the eyes of those that loved him, the knowledge did not detract from her happiness. In many ways she made herself necessary to him; at that time she even kept his papers in order. He talked to her freely on every subject that interested him, from human nature to finance, taxes, and the law, and she never permitted a yawn to threaten. He read aloud to her every line he wrote, and while she would not have presumed to suggest, her sympathy was one of his imperative needs. When his erratic fancy flashed him into seductive meshes, she pulled a string and back he came. Perhaps this is the reason why no specific account of his numerous alleged amours have come down to us. He is vaguely accused of being the Lothario of his time, irresistible and indefatigable; but of all famous men whose names are enlivened with anecdotes of gallantry in the vast bulk of the world's unwritten history, he alone is the hero of much mysterious affirmation but of no particular romance. The Reynolds affair is open history and not a case in point. It is probable that, owing to inherent fickleness and Betsey's gentle manipulation, his affairs rarely lasted long enough to attract attention. It is one of the accidents of life that the world barely knew of his acquaintance with Eliza Croix, she who has come down to us as Madame Jumel; and such a thing could not happen twice. But whether or not he possessed in all their perfection the proclivities of so great and impetuous and passionate a genius, it is certain that he loved his wife devotedly, and above all other women, so long as his being held together. His home was always his Mecca, and he left it only when public duty compelled his presence in exile.