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Fish Tales

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The missive comes in the early morning on the 4th.  It’s a simple request, one that gladdens Jefferson’s heart.  For days he’s suffered under the effects of a headache so miserable his mind had felt addled.  He’d struggled to even leave his bed, let alone find the energy to read a letter.  But for all his ailments, the President’s own suffering had been quite extreme.

More than once the doctors had discussed whether it would be prudent to summon a priest.  All the city existed in a state of supreme nervous energy.  Talking amongst themselves about the possible calamity that should befall them if Washington were to perish.  

To Jefferson’s great satisfaction, the missive lays to rest such considerations.  The President is much improved, and should like to take a break from public life for a time.  Three or four days at most, in an effort to secure a more permanent hold on his health. He writes, with great hope of a positive response, to inquire as to Jefferson’s availability.

There is much to discuss both politically and personally, and the President can think of no better opportunity than now.  A fishing trip, he proposed, to Sandy Hook.  Hopefully the combination of the water and the fresh air will provide for rejuvenated spirits unachievable in the miasma of the city.

The postscript, a small thing that is hardly worth noticing, leaves only the message that Colonel Hamilton will be joining them.  Later, Jefferson will blame the pain from his headache for having not spotted it.

Even as he drafts letters to his various correspondences to inform them of his absence, he fails to take note of it.  Truly, it may as well not have even been written.  The shock is all the same.

***

Jefferson awaits Washington’s arrival at the docks.  He’s been informed they will be taking a small schooner down the river to the bay, and the vessel is easy enough to find.  An assortment of well-wishers have gathered to see them all off, and Jefferson wonders who informs the populace of their maneuverings with such devoted gossip-mongering.  Truly a fishing trip cannot be that interesting.  Yet the insipid residents of New York flock the streets. Waving handkerchiefs at Washington’s carriage as he strolls laboriously down the road.  Still, as President of their nation, Washington is fully entitled to such pomp and circumstance.  

The carriage pulls up and comes to a stop,  the door is pushed open before the servant can clamber down to open it himself.  And that’s when Jefferson comes to realize that their journey is not intended to be a private one.  Hamilton, in all his uniquely curious glory, taps his way down the short carriage steps.  Holds open the door with a quiet “Your Excellency,” and patiently assists Washington as he descends to greet the people.  

Still, perhaps, a trifle woozy from his illness, Washington reaches out a hand for the brace that Hamilton easily provides. Laying his palm upwards, Hamilton waits until Washington’s fingers closes around it.  Then, as if his arm rested on a board rather than air, holds his limb extended with great dignity until the President has no further use for him.

Their hands release quite immediately, and Hamilton closes the door to the carriage and leans about to chatter with the driver.  Jefferson puts him from his mind for the present, and instead approaches Washington.  He dips his head in deference, forsaking the absurd British bowing that Adams had postulated at their most recent cabinet meeting.

They are not a monarchy, and some acts of courtesy hardly needed to be repeated in a democratic state.  “Ah, Mr. Jefferson I see you have arrived.  Thank you for your punctuality, I trust you were not kept waiting long?” Washington asks.  He smiles grimly toward a swooning maid, and adjusts his cloak about his shoulder.  

His powdered hair is without hat, though Hamilton rectifies that immediately.  “Left where I’d said, sir,” he informed Washington.  Tongue in cheek and bright eyes glittering.  He seems strangely energized, and Washington retrieves his hat without so much as a word of appreciation.  Just a tip of his perfectly coiffed head.  He smoothly returns his hat to his head, and Hamilton slips back to the carriage.

There are bags to be gathered, and Hamilton seems strangely disposed to carrying them himself.  He engages in curious small talk with a servant as he collects their belongings, and Washington steps into the image.  Blocking them from view.  “Shall we, sir?”  Washington requests carefully.

“Of course, your Excellency,” Jefferson replies.  He turns on his heel and inquires to Washington’s health.  Preferring the relative peacefulness their exchange maintains.  Washington is a true southern gentleman.  He speaks at precisely the correct pace and he appreciates the finer things in life.

They discuss the good weather and good fortune they have at the moment.  The potential sea-breeze.  Their hopes for a prosperous fishing experience.  Hamilton clambers on board behind them, disappearing down below to set the luggage to the side.  The ship’s captain introduces himself to Jefferson and encourages them to make themselves comfortable.  They’ll be setting off soon.

Washington explains the ship to him.  It’s been in his possession for some time, and the sailors are all good men.  He discusses its construction and its previous voyages.  Meant for fishing journeys of course, and the occasional bit of travel.  He’d been on a similar vessel when he travelled to the caribbean.  Slightly bigger, mind, but of similar shape and marking.

They descend to the cabins, and Jefferson is please to review them.  They are quite well crafted and seem to be in good order.  His own servants had already carried his belongings and set them on the cot he was to use.  “There do not appear to be an abundance of cabins on this vessel, sir.” He’d only seen one other cabin across the hall. Though from the shape of the schooner the other cabins may just be further along the sides.

“There are six personal cabins,” Washington informs brightly.  He removes his hat and tucks it under his arm.  Motions with his hand toward the intersection directly opposite them.  “Made primarily available for use while we are at sea.  Once we make berth at Sandy Hook there is a selection of lodges available for use.  Colonel Hamilton and I shall share one such lodge, and you will be housed in a personal cabin of your choosing.  The staff and crew may make use of the remainder.”

“You will be sharing with Mr. Hamilton?” Jefferson blurts thoughtlessly.  Washington’s lips dip downwards.

Voice chill as ice, he corrects Jefferson’s blunder with a steely eyed gaze.  “Colonel, or Secretary, Hamilton, yes.”

Dipping his head a touch, Jefferson offers his apologies.  “It’s only, you’re just recovered.  I am certain that your privacy could be better accommodated.  Truly, it must be, your Excellency.  Propriety would dictate—” Washington held up a hand and shook his head.

The schooner rocks beneath their feet and Jefferson considers that they’re moving away from the shore now.  He rests his hip against a short table nailed to the floor.  Balancing against it as they make their way into the sea.  “Colonel Hamilton,” Washington explains slowly, “has served on my staff for many years.  It is not the first time we’ve needed to share quarters nor lodging.  He is reliable enough to see to my needs and ensure my own satisfaction is met, and I would not so otherwise burden you with poor habits I’ve long since learned to...ignore.”

All the more reason not to permit such a travesty.  If the President hadn’t been so recently ill, Jefferson may have been able to accept such a negotiation.  But for days he’d languished in a sick bed, wife weeping at his side.  Subjecting him to the habits of a roommate at such a time, when recuperation should only be in his foremost thoughts, Jefferson’s sensibilities could not endure.  “It is my most fervent desire that you receive all the peace and tranquility as a man in your position deserves.  I humbly would request such a change in cabins, preferring you the solitude a peaceful rest requires.”

Washington hesitates, and the hesitation speaks for itself.  Jefferson feels his argument already turning in his favor.  Particularly when the subject in question appears.  All but materializing out of thin air.  Delighted smile on his features as he interjects smoothly.  “There you both are, you shall miss the most extraordinary sightings if you remain below deck.  Truly a maid is weeping our departure on the docks.  It’s like going off to war once more, hurry now and you’ll see!”

He delivers his announcement with a lewd waggle of his brows.  Suggestion dripping from his tone as his cock-minded swagger dictates his posture and position.  He’s a child.  Playing pretend and skirting the filial balance between aide-to-camp and dedicated secretary.  Now more than ever, Jefferson is filled with an intense desire to ensure Washington receives the rest he desperately needs.

“We were just discussing lodging,” Jefferson informs the boy.  Hamilton’s head tilts to the left, listening.  Still, Jefferson waits for Washington to give voice to the suggestion, unwilling to place words in the President's mouth. Jefferson has seen how such acts of supposition are treated by their esteemed leader, and has no interest in partaking.

“Would you be opposed to sharing with Secretary Jefferson?” Washington asks of Hamilton.  His eyes are still narrowed shrewdly, and he looks between them both as though he expects an explosive argument to begin just there.  

Hamilton seems strangely taken aback by the comment and he frowns at the President in concertation.  “Opposed, no, your Excellency, but if I have caused offense in some way…” he trails off, frowning deeper still.

“There is no offense,” Jefferson replies smoothly.  “The suggestion was mine.  Private quarters for the President seems only prudent after all.” Instantaneously the bright happiness the boy had provided not moments ago is back.  Chipper enthusiasm firmly in place.  

“Of course, Secretary Jefferson, you have quite the just point.  It would be my honor.  Sir,” Hamilton dips his head and then scurries back to his room.  Likely to collect his luggage.

A fond sort of amusement flits across the President’s features, but it’s gone before Jefferson could analyze its presence.  “I think this journey shall be good for you both,” Washington decrees.  “I’d very much like to see you friends by its conclusion.”

Given the state of their political natures, Jefferson doubts such an occurrence would transpire, but he nods regardless. Agrees, verbally, that he wishes it too.

So long as Hamilton keeps their interactions cordial, Jefferson has little doubt they can come to an agreement of sorts.

***

Hamilton doesn’t keep their interactions cordial.

They’re barely an hour out at sea when he descends like a bird of paradise.  Eager to discuss politics and theory.  He starts casually, a simple comment on the liquor measure that had been passed not the day before.  Jefferson had despised it’s decision, but Hamilton had stood entirely for it.  Plotting out the necessity for taxes and the monies that needed collection.

Jefferson finds himself a comfortable place to sit, and watches as Hamilton walks about.  Words falling from his tongue like rain from the clouds.  He is unstoppable, presenting phrase after phrase as though it deserved special notation.  He’s a good mind for politics, Jefferson allows.  He considers his options and his thoughts are well reasoned.

They’re inherently flawed in every manner of their existence, but Jefferson doesn’t necessarily detract from the formation of his argument.  Merely the presence of his conclusions.  Washington takes to discussing their course with the captain, inspecting the lines and the ropes of the ship, and squinting toward the netting.  At one moment he even reels his own line, seeming to be oblivious to Hamilton’s never ending ranting.

He nods his head when the conversation demanded such a response, but overwhelmingly his occupation seemed devoted to his initial pursuits.  He doesn’t once engage with Hamilton.  A talent, Jefferson decides, that must have been cultivated during the war effort.

Jefferson has no idea how Hamilton managed to not give away their army in a moment, mouth desperate to ramble.  But they’ve all crossed over to the better end of the war, and that’s something he supposes.  Sighing, Jefferson rubs at his eyes.  Shaking his head at Hamilton when he’s badgered for another opinion.  Another contradiction.

Arguing is in the boy’s blood, and the sheer nature of its presence makes him a frustrating companion at the best of times.  Jefferson believes that he has kept his companionship light and pleasant for the most part, but Hamilton’s continued aggravations are starting to push at the ache in Jefferson’s mind.  He’d thought it had settled.  Clearly it hadn’t.  Pain begins welling up and Jefferson fans himself wearily.  Uninterested in such talk at this hour of the day.

“Colonel,” Washington calls suddenly.  Immediately, Hamilton snaps into position.  Feet together sharply, back stiff.  He looks to Washington with an earnest expression, waiting on a knife’s edge for orders.  “Boatswain Lewis had an interest in your lighthouses.” The transition couldn’t be more obvious.  Yet, Hamilton agrees to educate the man and hurries off to do just that.  Jefferson’s body physically relaxes.  Shoulders slumping down and spine curving just a touch.  “He means well,” Washington tells Jefferson.  He is still inspecting the water for appropriate fishing opportunities. “He becomes excited.”

Excited isn’t the word Jefferson would use.  ‘Neurotic,’ he thinks, is more appropriate.  The Treasury Secretary doesn’t seem physically capable of slowing down.  His mannerisms are almost otherworldly.  Mind hinging on the delicate balance of genius and insanity.  “I must say, I’m surprised you tolerated such behavior during the war.”

It is, perhaps, not the most thoughtful comment he could have made.  Washington’s fondness for the boy is a well established fact.  As could be expected, Washington’s lips purse.  His eyes narrow.  He slowly traces a line from Jefferson's foot to brow, as though measuring him for his worth.

The experience is not one Jefferson relishes in the slightest. “Colonel Hamilton’s wartime ethic is neither in question nor up for debate, as a soldier he was exemplary.  As a commander he was trustworthy.  His record is impeccable and I’d not serve another war without him.”

“I meant no offense, your excellency.  Only...an observation cast backward through time.  I understand that I was not present to observe, serving in France as I was, and so my inquiry is merely one of ignorance rather than judgement.”

The ice abates slowly, and Washington nods his head once.  Curt and accepting.  He gestures toward the sea, and Jefferson rises from his position.  Approaches the banister leading overboard.  The waves slap lightly against the sides of the schooner, but the ship cuts through them like a hot knife through butter.

They find a companionable discussion on fish and sea bass.  The topic of Hamilton’s service and his valor set to the side as they enjoy speaking as gentlemen do.  The President is weary though, Jefferson can see that well enough.  He coughs slightly against his shoulder.  A strange habit that Jefferson has observed previously.

Without the use of a handkerchief, he prefers to collect his cough upon his sleeve.  Twisting slightly to the side.  It appears most strange an action, one perhaps born from a man whose hands were commonly occupied.  With horse between his legs, guns and swords within his grasp, Washington may have simply acquired a gesture uncommon.

Jefferson commits himself to reflecting no further upon it, and instead takes to searching for the fish they aim to hunt.  He must admit, he’s not had much time for fishing in recent years.  To overburdened with his duties in France.  He engaged, however briefly, in the practice during their journey from the continent, but his angling left much to be desired.  Rusty, no doubt, by comparison to Washington.

He’d been informed that he need not bring his own supplies, and upon request, Washington cheerfully describes his collection.  He wishes to sit while they speak, and so they retire briefly as Washington leans back against the mast of the ship.  A seat provided for his comfort.  

He has one of his slaves collect a case from his rooms.  Reaching within, he reveals three charming reels.  Jefferson’s marvelled at the technology when it first appeared some fifteen years ago.  He’s not an avid fisherman by any means, but he certainly finds the contraption useful.

Particularly out in the sea.  Turned wood was far more cumbersome to manage by comparison.  Difficult to hold rightly in place, and occasionally the harbinger of a knotty mess.  Jefferson reminisces such events to Washington, sharing in the polite exchange of stories of youth and mishap.

During one venture in particular, Jefferson recalls, he’d needed to pluck the line from the water himself, his rod near useless as the trout fought him.  He’d managed to land it of course, a great length of seventeen inches and perhaps thirty pounds in all.  

Before Washington can respond, Hamilton rejoins their party; strangely divested of his coat.  His hair, free of powder and shimmering in the sun, is sweat slick.  Curls poke up from his scalp as he casts an eye about for a seat of his own.  Finding none, he seems to not care for propriety at all.  Plopping himself to the ground.  Sprawling his legs across the deck like a child in a fit of temper.  He’s smiling though, a good humor abounding within his countenance.

“Did you find the Boatswain to be agreeable?” Washington asks.  There’s a brief moment where Jefferson suspects Hamilton might bark out a report as a soldier would.  His spine stiffens at the question, and his neck straightens.  But then it seems Hamilton adjusts.  Lets his weight fall back onto his hands.  Languid and slow.

“Quite sir,” Hamilton confesses.  “There’s an opportunity for a lighthouse at Sandy Hook.  With your permission, I’d be gladdened to inspect the terrain and the necessary area for such a construction.  It, too, would be a useful location for our shipmen who will be inspecting such parcels.”

The words are vaguely familiar and it takes Jefferson a moment to place them.  “You’re referring to your national guardsmen? The inspectors for illegal shipments and trades?”

“Smuggling, Mr. Secretary,” Hamilton replies.  “Sandy Hook offers a useful harbor for such mechanisms.  Should we have our sailors there, they’d be in good range to intercept a ship and inspect its properties prior to it ever reaching the New York harbor.  It will also provide better access and maneuverability toward the south.”

“This is meant to be a holiday,” Washington informs the boy.  But he says it with the fond eye of a parent amused by their child’s antics.  As if he expected nothing less from Hamilton.  True enough, Hamilton doesn’t catch the clear rebuke he’s being given, merely expresses there are several documents that he needs to have sent out and signed regardless of his journey.

Paperwork that the clerks have brought to his attention that he’s needed to review, sign, and submit via post. “You’ve brought work with you?” Jefferson asks, just to be certain he’s understood Hamilton’s points clearly enough.

The young Secretary stares at him.  Openly.  Eyes wide and cheeks flushed from sun.  He doesn’t appear as if he quite knows what to say.  Eventually, he nods his head.  “Of course, sir, however will I manage my projects otherwise?”

Washington laughs.  It’s not a boisterous sound.  Washington is never exuberant in his emotions.  But he releases a quiet chuckle and he shakes his head.  He fetches a reel from his case and deposits it in Hamilton’s hands.

The boy stares at it like he’s never seen a reel in his life.  Perhaps he hasn’t.  Jefferson can hardly fathom that a bastard orphan from the islands spent much time deep sea fishing.  Angling is a gentleman’s sport afterall.  A leisure activity quite different from the common way of casting nets to the sea and dragging forth all manner of creature to the surface.

A wave rocks the ship. Jefferson catches his balance on his seat.  Washington braces with his legs.  But Hamilton seems not to have noticed.  Just leaning with the motion and settling with the ship.  Hardly aware the schooner had been rocked in the first place.   Islander, Jefferson reminds himself.  May as well be half fish on his own.

Fine fingers inspect the reel.  Twisting it about and digging at the various components.  There is line already threaded about the spool, but Hamilton is ignorant to it.  He rotates the lever.  Twists at the metal sides.  “You understand, son, that if you break that you will not have another?” Washington asks, amusement clear.

“I’m not your son,” Hamilton snaps back without so much as lifting his eyes.  His tone is sharp and deadly.  Entirely inappropriate and quick as a whip.  Jefferson cannot help himself from gaping.  So rude is Hamilton’s proclamation.  A patronship from Washington would have at least been a tolerable understanding, but the avid rejection of such a simple engagement is wholly absurd.

Hamilton does not respond to the rest of Washington’s comment, just keeps twisting and pulling until the reel finally dismantled in his grasp.  Nails tumble across the deck, and Hamilton hisses.  Snatching them up like a cat after mice.

It’s tremendously irresponsible of him, and Jefferson fights the urge to physically sneer at the boy.  For his part, Hamilton blinks at the mess he’s made with an expression of pure concentration.  He’s displeased by the effects of his endeavours, and makes his irritation known soon after.  “My apologies, your Excellency, I’d been interested in how the mechanism was organized.  The construction is quite unique, I am certain I would be able to reassemble it.  I do believe I know how the parts interlocked.  Should you give me leave to make such an effort—

“—so granted,” Washington sighs.  Unaffected and unsurprised.

“—Then I shall set right the error of my doing.” Hamilton finishes his lengthy apology without looking up to the injured party, nor acknowledging that the man had given permission.  Talking over the President even as Washington replied.  Instead, his fingers set to work.  Nails and twists of metal falling into place quick as can be.  

He’s crafty with his fingers.  Clever with their movements.  Assembling the reel with surprising dexterity and grace.  He continued his efforts, mumbling occasionally to himself as he slid piece after piece into their correct location.  Still working, however, by the time the Captain announced their arrival to the fishing spot.

Jefferson rises, eager to separate himself from the Treasury Secretary and his fumbling buffoonery.  He moves back to the rail and peers at their location.  A cove of good structure lurks not far beyond, and he can already spot the correct placement of a line and sinker necessary.

One of the slaves offers him a rod and Washington gives him a reel.  Easy enough to put the reel in place, and thread the line through.  The sinker is tied on with a quick series of knots.  Bait not long after.  Hamilton is still working on fixing his reel, and Washington shakes his head as he sets up his line.

“You’ll miss the fish,” Washington informs him, clearing his throat loudly.  

Almost predictably, Hamilton doesn’t respond.  Too caught up in his fidgeting.  Jefferson waits, patient and polite (as a true gentleman should behave), for the President to cast the first line.  As expected, the General’s aim is true.  His line flies swiftly.  Sinker dropping precisely in the most apt location.

Jefferson reads the flow of the water and determines the second best spot.  Throwing out a line of his own.

Waiting is the name of the game here.

One must wait for the fish to find interest in the bait, and one must be prepared to hook it into place.  Tugging too swiftly will startle the school, and you may lose the opportunity to pull in the catch.  Jefferson feeds his line slowly, listening to the whirring of the reel as it unwinds.  He judges his sinker with his right hand.  Testing the pull of the current versus the possibilities of a nibble.

Careful.

Patient.

Calm.

Hamilton leaps to his feet.  Declaring, “There, I do think I’ve done it,” as he presents his completed reel to Washington for inspection.  The President glances it over critically.  Nodding his approval and directing him to a rod for him to gather.

A slave steps up to assist Hamilton, but he snatches the materials on his own.  Setting the reel into position and tightening it around the rod.  He ties his sinker too far up the line and needs to reset it twice before it’s in good enough position to be manageable.  

Admitting privately to a certain level of satisfaction, Jefferson observes Hamilton peer at the water.  He considers his position and his standing justly.  And he chooses entirely incorrect. Casting out his line like a man determined to see just how much line he can waste, Hamilton throw the rod backward and forward in a too sharp motion.  

Out flies the line.  Sinker dragging it and almost all the reel’s worth down to the depths below.  Clearly amused by the spectacular showing, Hamilton smiles at it for all of three seconds.  Then he shifts his weight from one foot to the next.  A child attempting not to wet himself despite the most ardent desire to go.

Hamilton’s fingers tap along the rod.  Jiggling the line indelicately.  No patience for the sport.  Clearly.  Unable to sit still or to manage his bodily movements.  You must be still to be a fisherman, and Hamilton clearly has no talent for it.

“Ah,” Washington breathes out.  He twitches his own rod, and then very quickly the pole bends. He’s hooked something.  Sure enough, he reels in with earnest. His technique is admirable and he hunts his fish with sublime patience and dedication to his task.

His fish jumps from the sea.  A great blackfish.  Good size too at least twenty inches, if Jefferson is to judge correctly.  Washington reels faster and faster, and soon it’s flopping in the air.  Coming up to the side of the schooner and trying desperately to break free.  Up over the side of the boat, and killed effortlessly with a swing of his priest.

Scattered applause pervades the ship, and Jefferson gives free compliments to the President.  “A very good catch indeed, your excellency,” Jefferson informs the man.  

There’s a sound of splashing, and he turns about.  Hamilton’s grinning ear to ear.  He’s wrangled an smaller, but still adequate blackfish.  Pulling it up and tending to it quickly.  Jefferson’s yet to feel a nibble.  “Well done, Alexander,” Washington praises.

Jefferson feels his headache coming back en masse. Waiting patiently for a fish he knows will come his way.

***

Seven great blackfish and four sea bass later, Washington has enough fish to feed a good portion of the crew.  Hamilton, with half that amount, is still pointedly ahead of Jefferson’s number.  He’d been very proud of his collection of fish, until he’d managed to line a turtle of all things.

The catch itself would have been considered glorious.  Turtle stew would have been a lovely way to end the evening.  One that Jefferson could certainly admit to finding great joy in.  He’d known a lovely recipe from Virginia that Washington was sure to enjoy.

But Hamilton had stayed his hand when it came to bludgeoning the thing.  Requesting, boldly, that it be spared.  Tangled in the line as it was, it had taken Jefferson nearly ten minutes to reel the beast onto the ship and it had encircled itself fully in the process, saving it seemed preposterous.  Hamilton did not even express his reasoning for such a proposal, merely staring at the creature with lips pressed tight and an expression preparing for an argument.

In no mood whatsoever to restart Hamilton’s impossible mouth, Jefferson leaves all choice in the matter to the President.  “If you can free the creature satisfactorily and it shows no signs of undue stress or harm you may return it to the sea,” Washington decrees slowly.  He is frowning though, obviously perplexed by the request and the absurdity of it all.

Jefferson can’t understand the decision in the slightest.  His mood sours dramatically as he grudgingly accepts Hamilton’s rod in return for the turtley mess on the floor.  The meat on that turtle alone is mouth watering.  And yet the boy kneels by the turtle and sets to work.  Hardly noting when the beast snaps at his fingers, threatening to tear them off.

Afterwards, Jefferson found he could not manage to catch a single fish.  The rod felt awkward in his hand, the reel seemed far too shaky.  Clearly Hamilton hadn’t put it together properly at all.  It wobbled strangely, and he spent the remainder of the evening casting line after line and receiving not a single bite for his time.

Eventually the schooner steers itself to Sandy Hook proper, eager to make berth. Hamilton continued cutting and detangling string from around the turtle until just minutes before they weighed anchor for the night.

Disappointment fills Jefferson as he watched the turtle slide back into the ocean.  He’s come to covet the creature in the time since he’d caught it.  Determined to eat it whole and share none with the irksome Treasury Secretary for his attempts at squandering its flavor.  But a promise was a promise, and he had managed to free it.  

Jefferson’s turtle sinks low into the water and swims off, Hamilton watching it quietly the whole while.  Washington says something to him once during the whole endeavor, quiet and with an obvious intent to maintain privacy.  Their words are short and quiet, and Jefferson shames himself in an attempt to listen.  

Disagreeably, he cannot furrow out a single word.

The exchange ends quickly, and they disembark not long after.  The grounds of Sandy Hook are pleasant enough, though Jefferson doesn’t relish the pervasive nature of the mosquitos and gnats.  Some small lodges are assembled for a proper rest, and Jefferson examines his quarters critically.  Two beds are aligned on opposite sides of a small cabin.  Fireplace between.  

The writing desk is promptly confiscated by Hamilton who lights a candle in short order.  Fetching his paperwork and kicking the chair out so he can start to read.  He’s oblivious to Jefferson’s malcontent.  Irritably unconscionable in regards to the turtle fiasco as a whole.

He read his letters, signs them and sets them to the side for the post, then continues on to the next missive.

“Why did you support the provision of the sale of liquor to the Indians?” Jefferson asks.  Hamilton’s given his opinion clearly on the matter already, multiple times in fact, but it startles the man from his papers and makes him look up.  Frowns at Jefferson as if he cannot confirm if he intends the question to be sincerely formed or not.

“Any trade of goods, regardless of what that trade is provides for increased revenue within the confines of the country.  Selling to the Indians and getting monies from them for those products is another avenue for fiscal growth.  We cannot cease selling to others simply because they’ve shared a dangerous history with us.  If that were the case then trade and sales between states will soon become impossible to manage, as qualms arise frequently despite attempts to soothe them.”

Pretty words for a pretty face.  Hamilton talks about trades and finances as though it were as simple as cutting your arm off.  Laying it to the side and ignoring decades, no, hundreds of years of conflict.  Jefferson cannot help but sneer.  

It’s petty and it’s cruel, but Jefferson’s still smarting from his lost turtle.  “You have a remarkable tendency to be heartless,”  before walking from the cabin.  He does not hear Hamilton’s reply.  He hopes it hurts.

***

Washington’s health seem much improved from days previous.  He joins them for an evening meal.  A turtle-less assortment of fish, fruit, and cheese.  The President sits at the head of the table and smiling thinly as someone plays the fiddle throughout.  Hamilton seems to have taken no notice of the sharp barb Jefferson delivered only an hour previously, and instead fills the table with surprisingly pleasant conversation.

He knows stories a plenty, and shares them with great passion.  He orates them like a bard at a feast, leaning toward the King’s ear and attempting to win his favor.  Washington appears amused by the immature antics, nodding occasionally as the tales spin on.  

With each passing second, the very sound of Hamilton’s voice grates at Jefferson’s nerves.  He eats his fish with careful bites.  Small and precise.  Hamilton is supercilious about his appearance and his manners, therefore his plate remains filled with food.  Not pausing for a bite as one should during proper meal times.

The war stories dig, though.  Jefferson finds a kernel of embarrassment filling his chest as Hamilton flits from tale to tale.  Recounting moments of jubilation and bravery between him and his fellow aides.  Clearly they’re moments Washington’s heard before, his smile is placidly affixed.  And yet Washington shows no interest in ceasing the rambling chatter.  Jefferson has no such stories to add.  His one act in the war had been cowardice, fleeing the British as they burned his city.  But Hamilton talks of bravery, and so Jefferson remains silent.  

For a vacation that’s meant to relax the President and improve his health, Jefferson struggles to see how such things could exist in such poor company.  His own skull feels over ripe, and his headache is returning with greater force and dedication.

He swallows bite after bite of his meal and he laments his poor attention to the missive.  He’d not have come if it meant Hamilton’s presence.

Washington coughs again.  Wheezing loud enough to cut short Hamilton’s latest tale.  A handkerchief is fetched from the folds of Hamilton’s shift.  Presented with a confident hand.  Washington takes it and makes use of it promptly.  Coughing into the fabric long and hard.  Until he sighs and sags in his seat.  “Perhaps you require more rest, your excellency?” Hamilton hedges.  For once speaking the very thoughts within Jefferson’s mind.

“I’m not so weak that I cannot finish a meal with my companions,” Washington bristles in return.

“Nor would I suggest such a thing, sir, but you’ve caught us a meal too great and we’ve feast enough for tomorrow’s supper.  In any case, should you mean to ride during this journey, a rest would be appropriate.”  How silkily Hamilton’s words slip in through Washington’s ears.  How smooth they fester amongst his brain.

Jefferson has never seen the man so easily maneuvered, and yet the President sighs and nods his head.  Begs his leave of the table with an apology that is swiftly forgiven by those in attendance.  Hamilton requests his leave as well, plate untouched.  He insists he will return to sup’ but for now he’ll attend his General.

Offering a hand that is summarily ignored, Hamilton loiters at Washington’s side and joins him to his cabin.  Returning only a few moments later.  A fire has been struck so smoke rises from the cabin’s chimney, and a warm glow fills the window.  Quite the loyal servant Hamilton is.  So pretty as an attendant.

Settling in at the table he proclaims Washington will be well rested by morning, and all but inhales his meal.  Disappearing in moments.  Jefferson watches as Hamilton slips about Sandy Hook, speaking with the Captain, the crew, the sailors.  He stops by the slaves and ensures they’re fed and have appropriate lodging.  He discusses more business with whomever it is he is determined to discuss business with, fetching a few documents to send out to post.

“You’ve time enough to read those?” Jefferson asks when Hamilton returns to their cabin for the night.  

The boy smiles rakishly.  “My clerks drafted them for my review prior to my leaving, I’m merely attending to the matters that they’ve satisfied for me.”

An acceptable practice, particularly if he’s determined to work through a vacation.  Though truly the boy has no notion of what the meaning of the term is.  Hamilton settles back at his desk to continue writing almost as soon as he runs out of people to entertain.

The fire and candlelight burn too bright for Jefferson’s nerves.  Sleep eludes him as Hamilton’s quill scratches along his page.  “What are you working on?”

“Letter to France…” he says it distractedly.  Clearly more attentive to the document than to Jefferson.  The letter, Jefferson is certain, can wait two days.  There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to pervade their time off with excess work a clerk could likely manage.  

If Hamilton had no qualms about utilizing clerks in the first place...he should be able to delegate to them on his days of relaxation. 

Headache burning, Jefferson stands.  Walks about the cabin restlessly.  He never sleeps well away from his home. And despite the obvious care and attention these cabins have received, the standards are still far more rugged than he’s used to.  Hamilton’s scratching quill only serves to further ratchet up his feelings of unadulterated frustration and restlessness.

He turns on his heel, strides past the desk.  Desperate to see if the correspondence is nearing its end.  If so, he could perhaps persuade the fool boy to set his quill aside.  Go to sleep like an ordinary human being.  

In the end, he doesn’t mean to snoop, not precisely.  He’d only intended to check content length.  He’d spied the signature block, however, and the scrawling name was not Hamilton’s.  It was the President’s.

“What in the name of God are you doing?” Jefferson snaps.  He snatches the paper clear from Hamilton’s desk.  The pen hadn’t left the page, and a long ink line now slides from the end of Washington’s ‘n’ to the edge of the parchment.  Hamilton jumps as if hot coals had been set upon him.

He stares up at Jefferson.  Shocked, but not a hint of guilt at being caught.  “You’re a scoundrel, sir!  A treasonous knave!” Jefferson reads the letter.  It’s meaningless. A trifle.  A request for additional a new wardrobe to be made up.  But Jefferson is no stranger to the art of code and code breaking, and he is certainly not fool enough to consider that this letter could be as innocent as it appears.

Even so, Hamilton’s face turns blotchy and red.  His nose wrinkles.  “I am not a traitor,” he snaps out sharply.  

“You sign my President’s name to a letter—”

“— Your president?” Hamilton interrupts.  He stands slowly.  His dark eyes are glittering.  Lips curling upwards in distaste.   “Our President has requested that I mind certain letters and documentation in his stead, as I have been seeing to since before his Presidency.  I have often affixed his signature as needed and have done so strictly with his knowledge and understanding of such matters.  Your ignorance to such things could, perhaps, be understood, but that I would be foolish enough to attempt to send a potentially treasonous letter within such close company as your person... At the very least you could supply me with the respect of knowing I’d never attempt such correspondence in the presence of one not involved in my so-called conspiracy.”

Jefferson doesn’t even know where to start.  “You sign the President’s name on documents, and have done so in the past?”

“You act like I’ve signed his acceptance to the inauguration or penned your request into office,” Hamilton scoffs.  “For lesser documents that hardly require his attention, I will manage on my own.”

“And what judgement do you apply to such documents to know their worth and value?” Jefferson snaps.  

For the love of God, it appears the boy is truly going to fight him on this.  As if he can see no wrongdoing or error in his ways.  He scowls at Jefferson and sets his quill into his inkwell.  “The good judgement provided to me from having senses not addled by wine and delicate sensibilities.  You are welcome to discuss this matter with his Excellency if you must, though I do not understand why you are quibbling over the shipment of garments meant for his Excellency’s wardrobe.  I’m quite certain his length and measurement not require his approval.  And in any case, even you must understand that such matters are hardly concerns of the head of state in his time of need.”

“In his time of need,” Jefferson repeats.  

Hamilton groans.  Loudly and without particular care or concern to how absurd his arguments have become. “He is ill, is he not?  Recovering?  Should not someone else manage such things and alleviate the burden on his office?  I’ve been serving as the de facto head of state since his illness began, that I continue to serve as...a valet of sorts is hardly an extension of duties I’ve not already experiences.  I was his aide-de-camp throughout the war, I’m quite certain I can manage his wardrobe requests!”

They are at an impasse.  To corroborate Hamilton’s story, Jefferson will need to disturb the President during his rest.  But if he does not report his findings immediately, Hamilton could very well slip away in the night.  Vanish before the truth is furrowed out.  A traitor serving as Secretary Treasury is a traitor that they cannot afford to leave unattended.  “You will join me in revealing this information to the President.”

The younger man rolls his eyes heavenward, collects his coat without a pause or hesitation, and marches out the door.  Jefferson clings to his evidence and follows after him.  Walking briskly to Washington’s cabin.  Hamilton is already there, of course.  Knocking twice with loud military effectiveness.  He is answered shortly enough.  

Sitting in bed, Washington holds a book in his lap.  He is dressed down for the night, but so too is Jefferson.  This entire scenario is highly inappropriate, particularly with Hamilton still in his mussed, but professional, clothing.  Hamilton doesn’t bat an eye at Washington’s attire or modesty, however.  He gives an effective summary of the situation thus far.

Starting with the signature Jefferson had discovered, and ending with Hamilton’s confession that he handled matters for Washington while Washington was obligated elsewhere.  Through it all, Washington merely looked progressively more weary.  

“Colonel Hamilton does have my permission to address such matters and affix my signature,” Washington reveals.  “I am carbon copied on all such missives and receive them in review come the morning.  Thank you for your prompt attention to such a matter, but your concerns in this circumstance are unfounded.”

Jefferson holds the letter between his palms.  He looks to Hamilton, and he sees the younger man smile.

Here is a boy who has been given permission to affix the President of the United State’s signature as he pleases.  Who determines which documentation the President should see and which should be handled under his ‘purview.’

This was a man who could not be trusted.

And Jefferson had no intention of doing so.

***

In the morning, Jefferson wakes to discover that Hamilton and Washington left camp early.  They acquired a few horses and they raced headlong about Sandy Hook.  Jefferson ate his breakfast, smacking mosquitos as they bit, waiting for their return.

They came in together, Washington smiling proudly as he clearly won whichever competition they had set up amongst themselves.  Washington dismounted with ease, much rejuvenated from the day before.  He strides to sit with Jefferson at the table and is promptly served his meal   Hamilton takes his time in joining them, stating that he had business to attend to.

Washington doesn’t concern himself with Hamilton at all.  “How was your evening, Mr. Secretary?” Washington asks Jefferson.  And finally, for the first time since they left New York, Jefferson feels he is in a position to speak freely.

He compliments Sandy Hook and the cabins, he inquires as to what kinds of things Washington would be interested in pursuing throughout the day, and they discuss the schooner and its fishing possibilities.  To Jefferson’s great delight, Hamilton becomes engrossed with the lighthouses once more.  He fails to join them on the schooner, and Jefferson proudly blocks out a day without the Treasury Secretary.

He and Washington sit together and fish together.  They discuss angling and strategies.  Fly fishing versus sinker fishing.  Washington, of course, has an affinity for both.  He’s practiced fly fishing diligently for some time, though sinker fishing is more common.  He’d attempted to teach the Marquis de Lafayette both, but Lafayette had no care when it came to animals and forestry.

“He enjoys horses,” Washington reveals proudly, “and we’ve engaged in several stupendous rides.  However fishery is, regrettably, rather low amongst his ranked interests.”

“At least he does not present, to my knowledge, the kind of conservationalism that Secretary Hamilton exudes,” Jefferson mutters.

It’s another mistake.  Washington frowns around the word, “Conservationalism?” and Jefferson prepares himself to explain.  Unneeded, it would seem.  “Ah, the turtle.”  He pauses, then sighs.  “That particular species of turtle had been..rather an amusing joke between the various aides-de-camp.  A dear friend had drawn it quite successfully in a book on the subject, and, as soldiers do, it was an agreeable entertainment amongst the various cohorts.  The conservationalism, perhaps, is mere memory.  That soldier died at the war's end.”  Washington pauses.  Sighing again.  The weary sigh of a General knowing not all his men returned to their homes when the muskets lay unfired on the ground.  “It’s strange.  Soft-shell turtles are rarely this far north.  Though I suppose such things happen from time to time.”

It is strange.

And Jefferson has no notion of what precisely would cause such an occurrence.  “Southern creatures typically prefer the south,” Jefferson comments slowly.  It earns a slow smile.

“Yes,” Washington drawls.  “They most certainly do.”

The capital, Jefferson thinks.  The capital’s move to the south.  He’d just been writing his daughter about his dreams of such things.  Had just discussed the possibilities with a few others who were inclined to hope for that outcome.  All they needed were the votes.

Votes that Hamilton held hostage.

Votes that he wouldn’t give up unless...there was an exchange.  A quid pro quo of sorts. “Hamilton was good to let the turtle go,” Washington decrees.  “Perhaps it found its way southbound.”

“Yes…” Jefferson mumbles, stalling momentarily on the metaphor their lives have gifted them with thus far.  “Perhaps it has.

***

Hamilton’s tax plan is absurd.

It’s too long, it’s too complex, and it’s too involved.  Hamilton felt the need to tax items that Jefferson had never been able to wrap his mind around.  He levied measures against persons that Jefferson felt the government had need to be involved in.  There was example after example of overreaching and fee shifting.

But the capital.

The capital.

“Explain it again,” Jefferson urges Hamilton at night.  

Hamilton explains.  He cuts through the endless waves of non-sense and attempts to break it into pieces.  But the theory is complex and Jefferson feels irrational fury toward the boy for talking down to him throughout it all.  Finances and economic development had never been a topic Jefferson considered himself a scholar, but now here they were.

Make a decision. Make a plan.

Washington  will not be president forever.  Should this tax plan go into place, it can be undone just as easily.  Nothing in politics is perfect nor permanent, and as Hamilton discusses every measure he had planned, Jefferson considers every measure that can un-plan them.

“I want specifics on all the finances,” Jefferson demands.  Hamilton listens.  Rapt.  Focused.  “I want to know where the money is going, and how the compensation will be constructed.  Salaries, dividends, everything.  Should a compromise come into order...” Hamilton startles at the word.  There’s something of boyish hope on his face.  He has no idea Jefferson means to tear down his work the moment he receives what he wants.

Hamilton’s sensibilities are not for Jefferson to worry about.  At this point it doesn’t matter what Hamilton intends to do.  Nor how qualified or respectable Hamilton is as a professional.  What matters is that Hamilton holds the vote for the Capital, and Jefferson holds the vote for the bank.  They have what the other wants.

“Give me the documentation,” Jefferson demands, “And provide it to me swiftly, and we shall...discuss the vote.”

In the meanwhile, Jefferson will need to start focusing on the other concerning aspects of this...exchange.  If Hamilton truly holds the sway behind Washington, if he holds the pen that manages Washington’s letters, regardless of how simple it seems, then he’s a threat that must be dealt with.  A host onto himself.

A political adversary that needed to be crushed and done away with as quickly as possible.  Hamilton may be just a boy, and a bastard, orphan, immigrant one at that, but so long as he has Washington’s ear—he needs to be terminated at all costs.

“I’ll get you what you need,” Hamilton tells him. He nods his head swiftly.  Desperately.  A touch hopefully.

He needs this vote.

And Jefferson wants his capital.

Southern turtles belong in the south, and by God if Hamilton’s the one who puts him back in the water—he’ll take what he can.

***

The letter comes to him only an hour after they dock the schooner back in New York.  He’s barely had time to settle back into his home.  Bags are still on the floor, coat unfolded and unwashed.  

The knock comes to the door, and he answers it wearily.  A boy delivers the letter to him, and he reviews its contents in all its absurdity.

Treasury Department June 9th. 1790

Sir,

I have the honor to inform you, that in a few days, information furnished by the several Departments and otherwise collected, will be laid before the House of Representatives, for the purpose of obtaining appropriations of Money. As the expences &ca. of the Department of State will necessarily require an appropriation, I beg the favour of your directing information to be transmitted to me of the sum you may desire to be placed upon the list.

You will oblige me by directing a return to be made to this office, from time to time, of such officers connected with the Revenue, as shall be hereafter appointed.

Enclosed is a return of the persons appointed by the President of the United States to superintend certain Light houses therein mentioned, which, I presume, will be necessary to enable you to give the necessary directions about their Commissions.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully  

Sir,   Your obedient Servt.

Alexander Hamilton

Secy of the Treasury

 

Appointed by the President of the United States?  Hardly.  There's no truth to that statement now or ever again.  There's no proof or evidence that anything Hamilton does is backed by the man with the power.  And for that alone...if nothing else, he’s going to tear that boy apart.

Alexander Hamilton. Over-worker, over-zealous, over-eager. With his damn lighthouses and damned tax plans.

Jefferson's will enjoy watching those lighthouses crumble to dust.  Watching that tax plan be torn from time and tossed to the wind. 

Settling at his own desk, Jefferson begins drafting a letter of his own.  He has work to do.  It’s time to swim down stream.  And if he gets entangled along the way...well he’s clever.

He’ll just have to find a way to break free.