The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
The next morning Hamilton was sitting in his office when the cards of James Monroe, F.A. Muhlenberg, and A. Venable were brought in.
"What on earth can they want?" he thought. "Monroe? We have not bowed for a year. Two days ago he turned into a muddy lane and splashed himself to his waist, that he might avoid meeting me."
His first impulse was to excuse himself, on the plea of the pressing nature of his work; but curiosity triumphed, and he told his page to admit the men.
Muhlenberg was again Speaker of the House; Venable was a Representative from Virginia. Hamilton was not friendly with either, but nodded when they passed him. He greeted them amiably as they entered to-day, and exchanged a frigid bow with Monroe. The Senator from Virginia took a chair in the rear of the others, stretched his long legs in front of him, and folded his arms defiantly. He looked not unlike a greyhound, his preference for drab clothing enhancing the general effect of a pointed and narrow leanness.
There was a moment of extreme awkwardness. Muhlenberg and Venable hitched their chairs about. Monroe grinned spasmodically, and rubbed his nose with his upper lip.
"Well, gentlemen," said Hamilton, rapping his fingers on the table. "What can I do for you?" He scented gun-powder at once.
"I am to be the spokesman in this delicate matter, I believe," said Muhlenberg, who looked red and miserable, "and I will, with your permission, proceed to my unpleasant task with as little delay as possible."
"Pray do," replied Hamilton. "The daily assaults of my enemies for several years have endowed me with a fortitude which doubtless will carry me through this interview in a creditable manner."
"I assure you, sir, that I do not come as an enemy, but as a friend. It is owing to my appeal that the matter was not laid directly before the President."
"The President?" Hamilton half rose, then seated himself again. His eyes were glittering dangerously. Muhlenberg blundered on, his own gaze roving. The Federal term of endearment for Hamilton, "The Little Lion," clanged suddenly in his mind, a warning bell.
"I regret to say that we have discovered an improper connection between yourself and one Reynolds." He produced a bundle of letters and handed them to Hamilton. "These are not in your handwriting, sir, but I am informed that you wrote them."
Hamilton glanced at them hastily, and the angry blood raced through his arteries.
"These letters were written by me," he said. "I disguised my handwriting for purposes of my own. What is the meaning of this unwarrantable intrusion into a man's private affairs? Explain yourself at once."
"That is what we have come for, sir. Unfortunately we cannot regard it as a private affair, but one which concerns the whole nation."
"The whole nation!" thundered Hamilton. "What has the nation to do with an affair of this sort? Why cannot you tell the truth and say that you gloat in having discovered this wretched affair,--a common enough episode in the lives of all of you,--in having another tid-bit for Freneau? Why did you not take it to him at once? What do you mean by coming here personally to take me to task?"
"I think there is some misapprehension, sir," said Muhlenberg. "It would be quite impossible for any one present to have misconducted himself in the manner in which the holder of those letters, Mr. Reynolds, accuses you of having done. And surely the whole country is intimately concerned in the honesty--or the dishonesty--of the Secretary of the Treasury."
The words were out, and Muhlenberg sat with his mouth open for a moment, as if to reinhale the air which was escaping too quickly for calm speech. Then he set his shoulders and braced himself to meet the Secretary's eyes. Hamilton was staring at him, with no trace of passion in his face. His eyes looked like steel; his whole face had hardened into a mask. He had realized in a flash that he was in the meshes of a plot, and forced the heat from his brain. "Explain," he said. "I am listening."
"As you are aware, sir, this James Clingman, who has been arrested with Reynolds, was a clerk in my employ. You will also recall that when he applied to me to get him out, I, in company with Colonel Burr, waited on you and asked your assistance. You said that you would do all that was consistent, but we did not hear from you further. Clingman refunded the money, or certificates, which they had improperly obtained from the Treasury, the action was withdrawn, and he was discharged to-day. While the matter was pending I had several conversations with Clingman, and he frequently dropped hints to the effect that Reynolds had it in his power materially to injure the Secretary of the Treasury, as he knew of several very improper transactions of his. At first I paid no attention to these hints, but when he went so far as to assert that Reynolds had it in his power to hang the Secretary of the Treasury, that the latter was deeply concerned in speculation with Duer, and had frequently advanced him--Reynolds, I mean--money with which to speculate, then I conceived it my duty to take some sort of action, and yesterday communicated with Mr. Monroe and Mr. Venable. They went at once to call on Reynolds--whom I privately believe to be a rascal, sir--and he asserted that he was kept in prison by your connivance, as you feared him; and promised to put us in possession of the entire facts this morning. When we returned at the hour appointed, he had absconded, having received his discharge. We then went to his house and saw his wife, who asserted, after some circumlocution, that you had been concerned in speculations with her husband, that at your request she had burnt most of the letters you had written to herself and her husband, and that all were in a disguised hand--like these few which she had preserved. You will admit that it is a very serious charge, sir, and that we should have been justified in going directly to the President. But we thought that in case there might be an explanation--"
"Oh, there is an explanation," said Hamilton, with a sneer. "You shall have it at my pleasure. I see that these notes implicate me to the extent of eleven hundred dollars. Strange, that a rapacious Secretary of the Treasury, handling millions, and speculating wildly with a friend of large resources, should have descended to such small play as this. More especially strange that he should have deliberately placed himself in the power of such a rascal as this Reynolds--who seems to impress every one he meets with his blackguardism--and communicated with him freely on paper; you will have observed that I acknowledged these notes without hesitation. What a clumsy knave you must think me. I resent the imputation. Perhaps you have noticed that in one of these notes I state that on my honour I cannot accommodate him with the three hundred dollars he demands, because it is quite out of my power to furnish it. Odd, that a thieving Secretary, engaged in riotous speculation, could not lay his hand on three hundred dollars, especially if it were necessary to close this rascal's mouth. I doubt, gentlemen, if you will be able to convince the country that I am a fool. Nevertheless, I recognize that this accusation must be met by controverting proof; and if you will do me the honour to call at my house to-night at nine o'clock, I shall, in the presence of the Comptroller of the Treasury, furnish these proofs."
He rose, and the others pushed back their chairs and departed hastily. Muhlenberg's red face wore a look of relief, but Monroe scowled. Neither had failed to be impressed by the Secretary's manner, and the Speaker of the House, ashamed of his part in the business, would gladly have listened to an immediate vindication.
Hamilton sat motionless for some moments, the blood returning to his face, for he was seething with fury and disgust.
"The hounds!" he said aloud, then again and again. He was alone, and he never had conquered his youthful habit of muttering to himself. "I can see Monroe leaping, not walking, to the jail, the moment he learned of a chance to incriminate me. The heels at the end of those long legs must have beaten the powder from his queue. And this is what a man is to expect so long as he remains in public life--if he succeeds. He resigns a large income, reduces his family almost to poverty, works himself half to death, rescues the country from contempt, launches it upon the sea of prosperity; and his public rewards are more than counterbalanced by the persecutions of his enemies. I have been on the defensive from the moment I entered public life. Scarcely a week but I have been obliged to parry some poisoned arrow or pluck it out and cauterize. The dreams of my youth! They never soared so high as my present attainment, but neither did they include this constant struggle with the vilest manifestations of which the human nature is capable." He brought his fist down on the table. "I am a match for all of them," he exclaimed. "But their arrows rankle, for I am human. They have poisoned every hour of victory."
He caught up his hat and went out into the air. The solace of Mrs. Croix in his blacker moods occurred to him; and he walked down Chestnut Street as rapidly as he could, in the crowd, lifting his hat now and again to cool his head in the frosty air. It was a brilliant winter's day; drifts of snow hid the dead animals and the garbage in the streets; and all the world was out for Christmas shopping. As it was one of the seasons for display, everybody was in his best. The women wore bright-coloured taffetas or velvets, over hoops flattened before and behind, muskmelon bonnets or towering hats. They whisked their gowns about, that their satin petticoats be not overlooked. The men wore the cocked hat, heavily laced, and a long coat, usually of light-coloured cloth, with a diminutive cape, the silver buttons engraved with initials or crest. Their small clothes were very short, but heavy striped stockings protected their legs; on their feet were pointed shoes, with immense silver buckles. Hamilton was dressed with his usual exquisite care, his cuffs carefully leaded. But his appearance interested him little to-day. For the moment, however, he forgot his private annoyance in the portent on every side of him. Few of the seekers after gifts had entered the shops. They blocked the pavements, even the street, talking excitedly of the news of the day before. Fully half the throng sported the tri-coloured cockade, the air hissed with "Citizen," "Citess," or rang with a volley of "Ca ira! Ca ira!"
Hamilton set his teeth. "It is the next nightmare," he thought. "The Cabinet is quiet at present--Jefferson, mortified and beaten, is coaxing back his courage for a final spring. When the time comes to determine our attitude there will be Hell, nothing less." But his nostrils quivered. He might rebel at poisoned arrows, but he revelled in the fight that involved the triumph of a policy.
His mind was abstracted, the blood was still in his brain as he entered Mrs. Croix's drawing-room. For a moment he had a confused idea that he had blundered into a shop. The chairs, the sofas, the floor, were covered with garments and stuffs of every hue. Hats and bonnets were perched on every point. Never had he seen so much gorgeous raiment in one space before. There were brocades, taffetas, satins, lutestrings, laces, feathers, fans, underwear like mist. While he was staring about him in bewilderment, Mrs. Croix came running in from her bedroom. Her hair was down and tangled, her dressing sacque half off, her face flushed, her eyes sparkling. She looked half wanton, half like a giddy girl darting about among her first trunks.
"Hamilton!" she cried. "Hamilton!" She flew at him much as his children did when excited. "Look! Look! Look! Is this not magnificent? This is the happiest day of my life!"
"Indeed? Are you about to set up a shop?"
"A shop? I am about to deck myself once more in the raiment that I love. Have I not drooped in weeds long enough, sir? I am going to be beautiful again! I am going to wear all those lovely things--all! all! And I am going to Lady Washington's to-morrow night. Mrs. Knox will take me. But I vow I do not care half so much for that as for my beautiful things. They arrived by the London packet yesterday, but have only now been delivered. I ordered them long since, and hardly could control my impatience till they came. I am so happy! I feel like a bird that has been plucked for years."
Hamilton looked at her in amazement, and despair. More than once he had caught a glimpse of the frivolous side of her nature, but that it could spread and control her he never had imagined. Her intelligence, her passions, her inherited and accumulated wisdom, were crowded into some submerged cell. There was nothing in her at the present moment for him, and he turned on his heel without a word and left the house. She rapped sharply on the window as he passed, but he did not look up. He was filled with that unreasoning anger peculiar to man when woman for once has failed to respond. He consigned her and her clothes to the devil, and looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to one. His dinner hour was two o'clock. He would go home to his wife, where he should have gone in the first place. She never had failed him, or if she had he could not recall the occasion. Her little dark face rose before him, innocent and adorable. He could not tell her of the cause of his annoyance,--it suddenly occurred to him that the less of that matter confided to Mrs. Croix the better,--but then he never worried her with his troubles. He would merely go and bask in her presence for an hour, confess to a headache, and receive her sweet ministrations.
As he entered his own house, and, relieved of his coat and hat by the waiting black, ran up the stair, he thought he heard a soft babble of voices. Knowing that his wife would, if he desired it, dismiss at once any company she might have, he knocked confidently at her door and entered. For a moment he felt inclined to rub his eyes, and wondered if he were the victim of delirium. The bed was covered with bandboxes, the sofa with new frocks. Betsey was sitting before the mirror, trying on a cap, and her sisters, Peggy and Cornelia, were clapping their hands. Angelica was perched on the back of a chair, her eyes twice their natural size, Hamilton attempted instant retreat, but Betsey saw his reflection in the mirror.
"You?" she cried. "What a surprise and pleasure. Come here, sir, at once."
Meanwhile his two sisters-in-law, whose expected visit he had quite forgotten, ran forward and kissed him effusively. With the desire in his heart to rend the Universe in twain he went forward and smiled down into his wife's eager face.
"Angelica has sent me so many things!" she exclaimed. Her face was flushed, her eyes sparkling. She looked sixteen. "And this cap is the most bewitching of all. You came just at the right moment; it is quite singular. Read--".
She thrust a letter from Mrs. Church into his hand, and he read where his wife pointed. "Someone who loves you will tell you if it is becoming or not." And on the following page. "Kiss my saucy Brother for me. I call him my Brother with an air of pride. And tell him, Il est l'homme le plus aimable du monde."
"It is charming," said Hamilton, pinching his wife's chin. "It is like a frame. You never looked half so sweet."
Betsey cooed with delight. Hamilton, having done his duty, was about to retire in good order, when he met his little daughter's eyes. They had dismissed the wonderful cap and were fixed on him with an expression that gave him a sudden thrill. It was not the first time he had seen in Angelica so strong a resemblance to his mother that he half believed some fragment of Rachael Levine had come back to him. Her eyes were dark, but she had a mane of reddish fair hair, and a skin as white as porcelain, a long sensitive nose, and a full mobile mouth. She had none of his mother's vitality and dash, however. She was delicate and rather shrinking, and he knew that Rachael at her age must have been a marvel of mental and physical energy. It was only occasionally, when he turned suddenly and caught Angelica staring at him, that he experienced the odd sensation of meeting his mother's eyes, informed, moreover, with an expression of penetrating comprehension--an expression he recalled without effort. The child idolized him. She sat outside his study while he wrote, crawling in between the legs of anyone who opened the door? to sit at his feet; or, if he dismissed her, in another part of the room until he left it. She watched for his daily returns, and usually greeted him from the banister post. Amiable, intelligent, pretty, affectionate, and already putting forth the tender leaves of a great gift, her father thought her quite perfect, and they had long conversations whenever he was at leisure in his home. She demanded a great deal of petting, and he was always ready to humour her, the more as she was the only girl, and the one quiet member of his little family--although she had been known to use her fists upon occasion. Her prettiness and intelligence delighted him, her affection was one of the deepest pleasures of his life, and he was thankful for the return to him of his mother's beautiful and singular features. To-day the resemblance was so striking that he contracted his eyelids. Angelica straightened herself, gave a spring, and alighted on his chest.
"Take me downstairs and talk to me," she commanded. "'Tis nearly an hour to dinner."
Hamilton swung her to his shoulder, and went downstairs. On the way he laughed out loud. The past half-hour tossed itself into the foreground of his mind, clad in the skirts of high comedy. Tragedy fled. The burden in his breast went with it. Far be it from him to cherish a grudge against the sex that so often reduced the trials of public life to insignificance. Women were delicious irresponsible beings; man was an ingrate to take their shortcomings seriously.
"Why do you laugh?" asked his daughter, whose arm nearly strangled him. "You were very angry when you came into mamma's room."
"Indeed?" said Hamilton, nettled. "Was I not smiling?"
"Yes, sir; but you often smile when you would like to run the carving-knife into somebody."
They had reached the library. Hamilton sat the child on the edge of his table and took a chair closely facing her. "What do you mean, you little witch?" he demanded. "I am always happy when I am at home."
"Almost always. Sometimes you are very angry, and sometimes you are sad. Why do you pretend? Why don't you tell us?"
"Well," said Hamilton, with some confusion. "I love you all very much, you see, and you do make me happy--why should I worry you?"
"I should feel better if you told me--right out. It gives me a pain here."
She laid her hand to her head, and Hamilton stared at her in deepening perplexity. Another child--anything feminine, at least--would have indicated her heart as the citadel of sorrow. "Why there?" he asked. "Do you mean a pain?"
"Yes, a pain, but not so bad as when I am in Albany or Saratoga and you are here. Then I worry all the time."
"Do you mean that you are ever unhappy?"
"I am unhappy whenever you are, or I am afraid that you are. I know that you are very big and the cleverest man in the world, and that I am too little to do you any good, and I don't know why I worry when I am away." "But, my dear child, what in Heaven's name do you mean? Have you ever spoken to your mother of this?"
Angelica shook her head. Her eyes grew larger and wiser. "No; I should only worry Betsey, and she is always happy. She is not clever like you and me."
Hamilton rose abruptly and walked to the window. When he had composed his features he returned. "You must not criticise your mother in that way, my dear. She is a very clever little woman, indeed."
Angelica nodded. "If she were clever, you would not say 'little.' Nobody says that you are a very clever little man. When I'm big, I'll not be called little, either. I love our dear Queen Bess, but I'm all yours. Why were you so angry to-day?"
"I couldn't possibly tell you," replied her father, turning cold. "You must not ask too many questions; but I am very grateful for your sympathy. You are my dear little girl, and you make me love you more and more, daily."
"And will you tell me whenever you are not feeling like what you are making the rest believe?"
"If it will make you any happier, I will whisper it into your pink little ear. But I think I should be a very bad father to make you unhappy."
"I told you, sir, that I am more unhappy when I imagine things. It is just like a knife," and again she pointed to her head.
Hamilton turned pale. "You are too young to have headaches," he said. "Perhaps you have been studying too hard. I am so ambitious for my children; but the boys have taken to books as they have to kites and fisticuffs. I should have remembered that girls--" His memory gave up the stories of his mother's precocity. But this child, who was so startlingly like the dead woman, was far less fitted to carry such burdens. So sensitive an intelligence in so frail a body might suddenly flame too high and fall to ashes. He resolved to place her in classes of other little girls at once, and to keep her in the fields as much as possible. None knew better than he how close the highly strung unresting brain could press to madness. He had acquired a superhuman control over his. If this girl's brain had come out of his own, it must be closely watched. She had not inherited his high light spirits, but the melancholy which had lain at the foundations of his mother's nature; she would require the most persistent guarding. He took her face between his hands and kissed it many times.
"Very well," he said, "we will have our little secrets. I will tell you when I am disturbed, and you will sit close beside me with your doll until I feel better. But remember, I expect as much confidence in return. You will never have a care nor a terror nor an annoyance that you will not confide it to me directly."
She nodded. "I'm always telling you things to myself. And I won't cry any more in the night, when I think you have felt badly and could not tell anyone. It will all go away if you talk to me about it," she added confidently.
Hamilton swung her to his shoulder again and started for the dining room.
"The child is uncanny," he thought. "Can there be anything in that old theory that tormented and erring souls come back to make their last expiation in children? That means early death!" He dismissed the thought promptly.