The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
And through it all Hamilton was sensible that someone was working for him, and was not long attributing the influence to its proper source. Mysterious hints were dropped of political reunions in a house on a thickly wooded hill, a quarter of a mile behind the Governor's, the fortunate guests to which enchanted abode being sworn to secrecy. That it was the nightly resort of Clintonians was an open secret, but that Federalism was being intelligently interpreted, albeit with deepest subtlety, was guessed by few of the visitors themselves, and Hamilton divined rather than heard it. If converts were not actually made, they were at least undergoing a process of education which would make them the more susceptible to Hamilton's final effort. Even before he caught a glimpse of radiant hair among the maples, when riding one day along the lane at the foot of the hill, he suspected that Mrs. Croix had preceded the Convention with the deliberate intention of giving him the precious assistance of a woman with a talent for politics and a genius for men. He was touched, interested, intrigued, but he resisted the temptation to precipitate himself into the eddies of her magnetism. Croix was in England, but even before his departure, which among men was regarded as final, she had achieved a reputation as a lady of erratic impulse and imperious habit. That she was also the most brilliant and fascinating woman in America, as well as the most beautiful, were facts as publicly established. Hamilton had resisted the temptation to meet her, the temptation receiving no help from indifference on the part of the lady; he had answered more than one note of admirable deftness. But he had no intention of being drawn into an intrigue which would be public gossip in a day and ruin the happiness of his wife. To expect a man of Hamilton's order of genius to keep faith with one woman for a lifetime would be as reasonable as to look for such genius without the transcendent passions which are its furnace; but he was far from being a man who sought adventure. Under certain conditions his horizon abruptly contracted, and life was dual and isolated; but when the opportunity had passed he dismissed its memory with contrite philosophy, and was so charming to Betsey that he persuaded himself, as her, that he wished never to behold the face of another woman. Nor did he--overwhelming temptation being absent: he was the most driven man in the United States, with no time to run about after women, had such been his proclivity; and his romantic temperament, having found high satisfaction in his courtship and marriage with one of the most bewitching and notable girls in America, was smothered under a mountain of work and domestic bliss. So, although well aware that his will must perish at times in the blaze of his passions, he was iron against the temptation that held itself sufficiently aloof. To an extreme point he was master of himself. He knew that it would be no whirlwind and forgetting with this mysterious woman, who had set the town talking, and yet whose social talents were so remarkable that she managed women as deftly as she did men, and was a welcome guest in many of the most exclusive houses in New York; the men were careful to do none of their gossiping at home, and the women, although they criticised, and vowed themselves scandalized, succumbed to her royal command of homage and her air of proud invincibility. That she loved him, he had reason to know, and although he regarded it as a young woman's romantic passion for a public man focussing the attention of the country, and whom, from pressure of affairs, it was almost impossible to meet, still the passion existed, and, considering her beauty and talents, was too likely to communicate itself to the object, were he rash enough to create the opportunity. Hamilton's morals were the morals of his day,--a day when aristocrats were libertines, receiving as little censure from society as from their own consciences. His Scotch foundations had religious shoots in their grassy crevices, but religion in a great mind like Hamilton's is an emotional incident, one of several passions which act independently of each other. He avoided temptation, not because he desired to shun a torment of conscience or an accounting with his Almighty,--to Whom he was devoted,--but because he was satisfied with the woman he had married and would have sacrificed his ambitions rather than deliberately cause her unhappiness. Had she been jealous and eloquent, it is more than probable that his haughty intolerance of restraint would have driven him to assert the pleasure of his will, but she was only amused at his occasional divagations, and had no thought of looking for meanings which might terrify her. He was quite conscious of his good fortune and too well balanced to risk its loss. So Mrs. Croix might be driven to rest her hopes on a trick of chance or a coup de theatre. But she was a very clever woman; and she was not unlike Hamilton in a quite phenomenal precocity, and in the torrential nature of her passions.
Having a considerable knowledge of women and some of Mrs. Croix, he inferred that sooner or later she would cease to conceal the light of her endeavour. Nevertheless, he was taken aback to receive one day a parcel, which, in the seclusion of his room, he found to contain a dainty scented handkerchief, the counterpart of the one hidden in the tree by the post road.
"Can she have put it there on purpose?" he thought. "Did she take for granted that I would pause to admire the scenery, and that I would recognize the perfume of her violets? Gad! she's deeper than I thought if that be true. The wider the berth, the better!"
He gave no sign, and, as he had expected, a note arrived in due course. It ran:--
A messenger brought the note directly after breakfast, and Hamilton hastily retreated with it to the privacy of his room. His horse awaited him, but he read the epistle no less than four times. Once he moved uneasily, and once he put his hand to his neck as if he felt a silken halter. He smiled, but his face flushed deeply. Her bait, her veiled threat, affected him little. But all that was unsaid pulled him like a powerful magnet. He struggled for fully twenty minutes with the temptation to ride to that paradise on the hill as fast as his horse would carry him. But although he usually got into mischief when absent from Betsey, contradictorily he was fonder of his wife when she was remote; moreover, her helplessness appealed to him, and he rejected the idea of deliberate disloyalty, even while his pulses hammered and the spirit of romance within him moved turbulently in its long sleep. He glanced out of the window. Beyond the tree-tops gleamed the river; above were the hills, with their woods and grassy intervals. It was an exquisite country, green and primeval; a moderate summer, the air warm but electric. The nights were magnificent. Hamilton dreamed for a time, then burned the letter in a fit of angry impatience.
"I have nothing better to do!" he thought. "Good God!"
An answer was imperative. He took a long ride first, however, then scrawled a few hasty lines, as if he had found just a moment in which to read her letter, but thanking her warmly for her interest and information; ending with a somewhat conscience-stricken hope for the instructive delight of her personal acquaintance when he should find the leisure to be alive once more. So rested the matter for a time.