Alexander Hamilton dodges Richard Kidder Meade as he walks through Warwick Furnace farmhouse, General Washington’s current headquarters, a stack of letters from the morning courier in his hands. Robert Hanson Harrison nearly plows right into Hamilton as he rushes by, two books and some undefinable box balanced precariously on one arm.
“Apologies, Hamilton!” Harrison calls over his shoulder.
Hamilton opens his mouth to reply but Harrison is gone around the corner. A pair of enlisted men stand in the front door as Hamilton passes by looking lost, but he has no time to aid them. The British march toward Philadelphia and the Continental army is stationed between General Howe and the army’s supply lines deeper in Pennsylvania. A starving army nor one without powder or bullets may not fight.
“Have you the morning dispatches?”
Hamilton stops short as John Laurens appears in his path.
“Yes,” Hamilton replies indicating the stack in his hands. “A number from Congress, I believe, and why are you standing here?”
Laurens glares at him. “I am well.”
“You are not,” Hamilton says swerving around Laurens.
Only a week past their forces engaged the British at Brandywine Creek and, as their retreat showed, the battle ended decidedly not in their favor. The Marquis de Lafayette, in fact, convalesces away from their headquarters due to his bullet wound. Laurens also sustained an injury in the battle caused by a hit from a cannon ball. Fortunately, the bone remained sound, but his ankle was still severely sprained. The surgeon advised he be put on sedentary duty for at least a fortnight. Laurens, however, is having difficulty heeding this advice.
Laurens snatches a few of the letters off the top of Hamilton’s pile as he walks by.
“Laurens...” Hamilton groans but he limps ahead of Hamilton into the back study of the farmhouse, which has become the General Washington’s office, opening one letter.
“Sir,” Laurens says as he reads, Hamilton standing behind him now, the two of them facing the General’s desk. “It appears Congress is considering fleeing the city.”
General Washington looks up from the map on his desk, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them.
Hamilton shuffles through the pile in his hands then holds out one letter. “From General Gates.”
General Washington takes the letter from Hamilton, breaking the seal, while still looking at Laurens. “Considering? The British march directly toward the city and we cannot guarantee their safety.”
The General glances at the Gates letter while he holds out his other hand for the letter Laurens holds. He then switches his hand and quickly reads the letter from Congress, his mouth moving with the words.
Then he looks up again with a nod at the two of them. “Dismissed.” He holds out the Gates letter back to Hamilton. “Review them all and any pressing reports –”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Hamilton interrupts, knowing the usual pattern.
“And Laurens,” the General chides, “Do go sit down.”
“Sir, I am –”
“Hamilton, make him sit down.”
“Yes, sir,” Hamilton says definitively, shifting the letters to his one hand and gripping Laurens by the arm with his other.
Laurens huffs as the walk out into the hall. “Hamilton...”
“You heard the General.”
Hamilton slows his walk to accommodate Laurens, even as Laurens tires to pretend he does not limp. They weave down the halls, past the dining room taken over by the Life Guard, some eating but most carrying dispatches and looking hurried.
“Hamilton, you need not grasp me so,” Laurens complains. “I will acquiesce.”
Hamilton makes a disbelieving noise. “You say so now, but I shall find you chasing after the next rider for news of British troops in ten minutes.”
They reach the parlor where Meade sits at one table, stacks of papers in front of him. Hamilton puts the correspondence down in a haphazard pile beside Meade’s careful stacks.
“Do not disrupt my –” Meade starts.
Hamilton interrupts, “I am to do them myself, fear not.”
Then Hamilton turns to Laurens still grasped in his hand. He pulls out a free chair, turns Laurens around and pushes him down into it.
Hamilton grips Laurens’ hand then places it on the table. He picks up a quill and puts it in Laurens’ hand. “Stay here.”
“Have you been marching about again?” Meade asks Laurens.
“If you would both –”
Tench Tilghman appears behind Laurens’ chair and slaps three sealed letters down beside Laurens so he jumps in surprise and shuts his mouth. “From New Jersey, if you please.”
Hamilton blows out a breath. The activity is beyond busy and he worries some key intelligence may be lost with the rush of the morning, not yet gone nine. Hamilton sits down beside Laurens and begins cracking open wax seals on the letters before him, scanning each one quickly to determine what should rank highest. Meade’s piles across from them appear to be organized by General. Hamilton sees Maxwell and Heath nearest him.
“Are we adding to your piles?” Hamilton asks, holding up a letter from Major General Putnam.
Meade points to a far pile. “Putnam is here.”
“The scouts are back.”
Meade, Laurens and Hamilton all look up at Joseph Reed in the doorway while Tilghman drops the ledger in his hand onto the windowsill with a thump.
“And?” Laurens asks.
“Were you walking around again?” Reed asks with narrowed eyes toward Laurens.
Laurens huffs loudly. “My ankle is not broken!”
“If it does not heal what good should you be to any of us?” Reed chides further.
“It is a bruise, bruises heal. I cannot be bound to one spot indefinitely! Would you carry me in a chair as our army marches?”
“The scouts, Reed?” Hamilton asks trying to get them back on track.
“General Wayne’s forces engaged the British two days ago. We are but now receiving reports of the casualties.”
The aides all make the same noise of displeasure.
“And?” Tilghman asks.
“I know not, they are still speaking with the General; more about the lands around our position now, I believe.”
“Surely the British have not overtaken us yet,” Meade says dryly, his head back down over his paper stacks.
“I shall alert you when they are at the door,” Laurens quips.
Tilghman snorts as he leans over the table, writing a note on a letter which appears to be from Baltimore.
“You will have to gauge which General deserves your saving of their messages most,” Tilghman jokes.
Hamilton chuckles. “Or perhaps Meade will have to find himself a musket and stay to defend the table at large.”
Meade scoffs and finally looks up at Hamilton. “The true purpose of the aide-de-camp, yes?”
Hamilton smirks at him. “It appears to be the best command a man could hope for.”
Laurens knocks his knee against Hamilton’s. Hamilton looks over at him. He smiles despite himself as Laurens looks at him, a lock of hair fallen in his face.
Hamilton knows the war is their primary duty, yet another matter of a personal nature pervades Hamilton’s thoughts. But a few weeks past, he and Laurens shared an intimacy, a step beyond friendship, in fact a kiss which Hamilton cannot keep from the forefront of his mind. Hamilton still remembers Laurens’ lips on his each day, the hot touch of his hand and he thinks constantly about having it all again and more. The war keeps them at a hurried pace with correspondence and intelligence and battles so close together. Each night sees them near exhaustion and with no privacy for any renewal of the simple intimacies they have begun.
Yet Hamilton keeps remembering how Laurens tastes, how he feels up close and how his eyes look when they stare only into Hamilton’s. He wants a chance to know if what began is something he should keep, something to indulge with the full force of his being. They have been allowed little chance to speak on their embrace but when Laurens looks at him, when their knees touch under the table, when Laurens smiles, Hamilton knows the answer.
Hamilton and Laurens jolt at the same time in their chairs like guilty children. Laurens raises his eyebrows at Hamilton as Hamilton looks over Laurens’ head to Reed back in the door.
“The General would see you.”
Hamilton jumps up, knocking his quill to the floor.
He hurries past Laurens and just notices Laurens’ hand touching his own as he breezes by. He smiles and wants to look back but restrains himself. Hamilton turns down the hall past smaller rooms until he reaches General Washington’s office once more.
“Sir?” he stops in the doorway as a Lieutenant shifts out past him.
“I have an assignment for you.”
Hamilton looks around for some blank paper to start whatever draft the General may have for him.
“No, no,” The General waves his hand seeing Hamilton’s searching look. “It is not with paper at this moment but with cavalrymen.”
Hamilton raises his eyebrows and tries to keep his excitement in check. “Cavalrymen?”
Hamilton deflates but keeps command of his expression. “And what is the assignment, sir?”
The General leans over one map on his long table and points toward the Schuylkill River. “With the advance of the British, they are nearing our supply lines. The scouts have reported some farms with stores along the Schuylkill which they may encounter along the way.”
“And we would prefer they not gain anything on their march toward us.”
General Washington glances up with a smile. “Quite right.” Then he taps the map at a point on the river. “There is a flour mill. You are to take Captain Henry Lee and seven Cavalrymen to burn the mill.”
Hamilton grins. “Yes, sir.”
The General stands up straight again. “If you can bring any of the stock back, you have leave to do so, but the destruction of the mill is your primary aim.”
“Yes, sir,” Hamilton repeats. “When are we to leave?”
“At once.” The General gestures toward the door. “I have sent the Lieutenant to rally your men.”
Hamilton nods. “Thank you, sir.”
Hamilton exits the office and heads back down the hall. He needs his hat and sword before he should leave. Hamilton ducks back toward the aide-de-camp office. He strides into the room, Laurens, Meade and Tilghman still at the table. He glances around then sees his hat in the windowsill in the corner. He crosses the room and picks it up, tucking it under his arm.
Laurens watches him from the table with a small frown. “You are leaving?”
“I have an assignment.”
Tilghman and Meade look up at him as well.
“Where?” Laurens asks, caution in his tone.
“Down river.” Hamilton cannot stop a grin. “I am to burn a mill.”
“A mill?” Meade says.
“To burn it?” Tilghman follows up.
“To keep it from the British,” Hamilton explains.
“Of course,” Tilghman and Meade say together.
“Alone?” Laurens says incredulously.
Hamilton laughs once. “No, Laurens.” He walks around the table to Laurens’ side. “I have eight men accompanying me.”
Laurens’ expression is drawn, his lips tight. “And you are to leave now?”
Hamilton nods once.
Laurens’ hand twitches on the table then he balls it into a fist. Suddenly he stands up. “I can accompany you. I can ask the General –”
“You will not,” Hamilton says sternly.
“Laurens... sit,” Meade groans.
“It may just be an ankle to you –” Tilghman starts.
“You could use more help,” Laurens continues over Tilghman’s speech about the importance of every individual body part, only speaking to Hamilton. “Will eight men be enough to –”
“To burn a simple mill, yes,” Hamilton retorts.
“And your ankle is attached to your foot!” Tilghman concludes, Meade giving him a concerned sideways glance.
“But, Hamilton,” Laurens continues. “Why you? Surely your talents are needed here. And I am able –”
“Why not him, Laurens?” Tilghman counters jovially. “You cannot take all the action from us aides.”
Hamilton smiles slowly. “Tench does speak true.”
Laurens’ mouth falls open. “I did not say –”
“You have said enough,” Hamilton shushes him, putting a hand on Laurens’ chest which makes his mouth close instantly. “And I must push on now. I have men waiting for me.”
Laurens clears his throat quietly then nods. “Do be safe.”
Hamilton presses his fingers down upon Laurens’ chest in some reassurance before he pulls back. “I will.”
Laurens reaches up his hand as if to grasp Hamilton’s then he pulls it back down near his hip. He nods once, though his expression still appears stiff. Then Hamilton steps through the door and out into the hall, another aide, John Fitzgerald, swerving around him with two Privates hot on his heels.
Hamilton walks briskly toward the front of the house. Two servant women bustle past him, their eyes dragging over him. Hamilton shoots them both a grin as they go by. He hears one laugh. He stops at a room taken over for supplies, tables pushed against walls and fine chairs regulated to corners. A Private lines up muskets in a row then makes a sound of assent when he sees Hamilton.
“Yes, the General said you should be coming.” He picks up Hamilton’s sword and a pistol. “Both cleaned.
I believe Captain Lee is waiting for you outside.”
Hamilton nods as he fastens on his baldric then turns back toward the front of the house. He puts his hat on one handed, the pistol in his other, as he walks out into the sun. He sees eight men on horseback and one empty horse waiting for him.
“Men, I am Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton,” he says quickly as he steps up onto the horse stand then swings into the saddle, a servant holding up the reigns to him. “I trust you know our mission?”
“Yes, sir,” the Captain confirms.
Hamilton stows his pistol, pats his horse on the neck then makes a clicking noise, curving his horse to the left. “Then off we go, quick and clean.”
They ride for several miles, the sound and view of camp falling behind them as they follow the river.
Their pace slows for a while, what with some of the rocky Pennsylvania countryside but the woods are well lit with the morning sun, the fall leaves a pleasant sight as they ride.
Captain Lee keeps pace with Hamilton, a map in hand. “We should be near.”
Not a minute after Lee says so, they hear the sounds of falling water different from that of the river. Around a bend, they see the mill structure, the water wheel moving through its millrace.
“Our mill,” Hamilton says.
“Daviser’s Ferry,” Lee says. “This is our stop.”
“Martin. Brown.” Hamilton calls behind him. Two men ride up. “Scout around the far side.”
“Perry, Thomas,” Hamilton points. “You are to check inside for anything we may be able to carry with us. The rest with me and we shall ready fires.”
The group rides forward to their respective positions. The house is a tan stone, two story and seemingly quiet at present. Hamilton eyes the far side of the wide river as they ride forward. He has some scruples about destroying private property like this, but the British would do the same were they to arrive first. Hamilton stops at the building and dismounts his horse, two men following beside him. He gazes down at the river and sees a flat merchant boat meant to haul flour to Philadelphia tethered at the edge of the river. Should the British catch them in the act here it would do well to have an escape option other than the road.
One of the men still in seat trots up next to Hamilton. “Sir?”
Hamilton points, “Secure that boat for us, should we require an exit.”
The man hops off his horse in a far more graceful manner aided by height than Hamilton could manage, then jogs down the hill toward the water.
Hamilton turns back to the mill. He looks up and down the house, trying to choose the best place to begin the blaze. The wheel is wet but the beams which hold it in place and connect it to the house have dry portions. If they were to set a fire there, it should burn and cause the wheel to fall. The wheel would be rendered useless and the fire should spread through the mill. There should be ample flammable points inside with all the mill gears and wooden parts.
“Parker,” Hamilton starts to the closest man to him. “Bring flint and we will –”
Suddenly, Hamilton hears the sound of a musket shot and one of his men shouts something unintelligible. Hamilton ducks instinctively and puts his back to the building.
“Sentries!” Lee shouts pulling out his pistol.
Another shot hits the building on their side and Hamilton sees a flash of red coats from up in the trees deeper into the woods.
“Return fire!” Hamilton cries to his men.
He hears musket fire from his men, Lee riding back down the road for a different view and the two men riding around the back of the house. Hamilton grabs his horse’s reigns, manages to get his foot into one stirrup and heaves himself back up onto his horse. He pulls his pistol out from its sheath on the horse’s saddle and fires off a shot at the men among the trees. There were indeed two sentries, but Hamilton now sees far more behind them.
“Dragoons!” Parker shouts.
Another shot from the British zips past Hamilton and he hears a shout. Thomas falls down onto his knees just as he exits the mill, blood dripping on the ground as he falls forward.
“Pull back, behind the mill!” Hamilton cries
However, a line of British march down the hill and cut between Hamilton and Captain Lee. Lee looks at Hamilton, toward the British troops then urges his horse down into the shallow water of the millrace, past the mill wheel. Parker and their last man, Pickens, ride after Lee toward the bridge, hopefully trying to draw the British after them. Hamilton hears a shout from the British side and a number of the redcoats give chase to Lee and the other men on horseback.
“Damn it!” Hamilton curses as he retreats behind the building to regroup the rest of the men.
Fortunately, most of the British appear to be following Lee. Hamilton may be able to take down the mill and still get the rest of them away with Lee as a distraction.
“Perry!” Hamilton shouts as he sees the man running out of the front of the mill, a small bag of flour in his hands. Hamilton cannot stop a laugh. “Hungry?”
Perry grins up at Hamilton as he straps the bag securely to his horse. “You did say anything we could use, sir.”
“And while under fire, good man.”
Hamilton pulls his powder bag and shot, reloading his pistol while keeping his eye on the tree line. Martin and Brown ride up from the other side of the mill, their pistols out.
“Sir, some of the British still remain on the far side marching our way
“We may yet be able to salvage this,” Hamilton says, gesturing with his newly loaded pistol. “The door will have to do, if we can set –”
Then another shot flies past Hamilton hitting Brown’s horse. The horse whinnies high, stumbles and Brown falls with a shout. He manages to roll away and not be crushed under the weight of the animal. Perry, still on the ground, drops to his knees with flint in his hand. He tries to catch a spark in the grasses near the door.
“Here!” Martin cries, pulling a handkerchief from his coat pocket.
“Faster!” Hamilton shouts, shooting his pistol toward the British coming from the other direction.
There are too many of them. They have only minutes, less than that if they do not make a retreat now.
“Ah ha!” Perry cries.
Hamilton looks down and sees smoke rising from the handkerchief and dry grass.
“But will it be enough to –” Martin starts.
“We have no time,” Hamilton says. “Leave it.”
“Sir!” Brown shouts from the corner of the mill, his nose bloody from his fall.
Hamilton looks where he points and sees the dragoons which had pursued Lee riding along the river. They are cut off on both sides.
“Damn,” Hamilton gasps.
He cannot die here, not without a real command, not for a blasted mill, not after leaving Laurens back at the house with such a look on his face. The boat and river must be their option now.
“The raft!” Hamilton cries. “We must withdraw. Perry, help Brown. Follow me!”
Perry reaches down with both hands to pull Brown up and on to the horse, behind him. Another volley of shots hit the mill and the wheel in front of them. Wood splinters and Hamilton puts up an arm quickly to shield himself. He feels wood hit his wrist and hears one of the men shout in surprise. He pulls his arm down then leads the men left, away from the mill where the smoke builds, hopefully catching enough to overtake the structure. Hamilton, however, cannot wait and see.
They ride down the hill toward the river where Rogers waits with the boat. Hamilton reaches the boat first, driving his horse straight on. The boat is big enough and meant for heavy loads. His horse does not even shy or protest, hitting the wood hard.
As Hamilton turns in his seat to call to his men, a gunshot suddenly hits his horse somewhere behind Hamilton’s view. Hamilton hears Rogers shout something then Hamilton’s horse twists, screaming in protest and they both fall hard, the boat bouncing and straining against the rope tethering it. The breath goes out of Hamilton as he lands on the wood, his pistol falling from his hand. He bites his teeth together, counts to three, then opens eyes he did not know he had closed. He looks to his right and sees his horse writhing on the wood. They missed each other by mere inches when they fell. Rogers tries to control the animal as the horse twists again, hooves sliding around. Its eyes gape wide and wild. Rogers grabs at its reigns but it shifts to the side into the shallow water, standing for a moment before it falls to its knees. Hamilton sees blood streaming down its back flank. There is certainly no riding it now.
“Sir!” Perry and Brown clatter onto the boat still on the horse, Martin right behind them.
Hamilton sucks in a deep breath then heaves himself up again to his knees then back to his feet. “Cut the rope, Martin!” he shouts. “Get us moving!”
Martin turns on his horse, his sword out. However, before he cuts the rope Hamilton hears the sound of a shot and blood spurts from Martin’s neck. He makes a choked noise and falls back off his horse and into the water. His horse screams, rearing up and galloping off the boat toward the shore. Hamilton rushes to the rope, his own sword out, and slashes through it with three rapid hacks. He casts a look at Martin but his eyes stare blanking upward as he bumps against the shoreline.
Brown fires another shot at the line of redcoats coming far too close down the hill as Hamilton uses an oar to push the boat away from the shore and out into the water.
“They’re coming!” Perry shouts. “Would they wade, the water…”
“We cannot wait!” Hamilton snaps. “Help me.”
Perry slides awkwardly off his horse, hoping a few times before he grasps a second oar, pushing against the riverbed with Hamilton to get them out into deeper water. Rogers tries for the sail but the bucking of the boat in the current keeps knocking him into the mast.
“The fire, I don’t know if it –” Brown starts.
“We cannot go back,” Perry interrupts, blond hair falling in his face.
Hamilton stares at Perry, no sound around him. Blood dots Perry’s collar, his eyes wide and sweat on his brow as he pushes with the oar. He looks so much like Laurens that Hamilton’s chest hurts. Then suddenly a gunshot hits Brown in the arm. He groans and falls forward over the saddle, gripping his arm.
“Richard!” Perry cries.
“I am well,” Brown groans.
Shots hit the water behind their boat, the British finally having reached the shoreline. Hamilton looks around and sees his pistol near the edge of the boat, not actually fallen in the water. He grabs it up, drops the oar then pulls at the powder bag on Perry’s horse.
“Help him down,” Hamilton says to Rogers of Brown. “We may yet get away.”
“They aren’t like to swim after us,” Brown says through gritted teeth as Rogers pulls him off the jittery horse.
“We should hope,” Rogers replies.
Hamilton quickly adds powder and ball to his pistol, nearly dropping the ball in his hurry. Another shot from the enemy hits the boat, sending wood flying.
Hamilton shuts his eyes and hears the horse stamping its feet, their boat shifting hard from side to side. He turns his head toward the shore, pistol ready. Hamilton opens his eyes – sees the blue eyes of a boy certainly no older than seventeen, his feet in the water – Hamilton fires his pistol. The boy’s mouth gapes, his musket falls and he hits the water without a sound from his lips.
Another shot hits the small mast of the boat, the sail whipping around with the wind to hit the horse in the face. The horse bucks as Perry tries to grasp the reigns.
“The boat is too slow,” Brown says as some of the regulars have begun to wade into the shallower portion of the water to shorten the distance of their fire.
“Can you swim?” Hamilton asks the three men.
Brown stares at him aghast but Rogers nods and Perry answers, “Yes.”
“Then we shall swim.”
“The horse…” Rogers starts to say in dismay, but Perry waves a hand at him. “The horse will have a fine ride and swim when it needs.”
“My arm, sir, I –” Brown begins
“We will help you,” Hamilton says. “We have no choice. The boat moves too slowly with us and your horse; the dragoons may be bolder than we should wish. Speed is our ally.”
“Yes, sir,” Perry said as he drapes Brown’s uninjured arm over his shoulder.
Hamilton looks up at the horse. If he were overly prudent, he would slay the animal to avoid the British taking it.
“Make for the far shore,” Hamilton says as he slides up on Brown’s injured side, Rogers covering the three of them with his pistol up. “Do the best you can, and we shall get to the other side.”
Brown looks tired but he nods. “Yes, sir.”
The four of them jump into the water. The current attempts to draw them down almost immediately. For a few seconds Hamilton sinks in the water, the rush of the river pulling him away too fast. He thinks of Laurens’ face close to him, the sound of ‘Alexander’ from Laurens’ lips. Then Hamilton gasps, head above water.
Years of Hamilton’s youth on an island were not for naught. He swims hard, attempting to keep his eye on the other three men. Brown falls back almost at once, Perry trying to pull him on. Rogers disappears under the water and, for what seems like too long, Hamilton cannot find him. Then Rogers breaks the water again, drawn downstream from them but still within sight. Hamilton slows, moving his arms only to keep himself abreast with Perry and Brown and not be pulled down stream too. He hears a few more gunshots behind them but none near now.
Hamilton reaches back and helps Perry pull Brown, the man slipping under the water far too often.
Hamilton’s soaked uniform weighs him down, his boots cumbersome. He wonders if swimming such a fast river was wise, but the only way out now is through.
“Use your feet,” Hamilton cries to Brown.
Brown moves forward, kicking hard. It takes them fifteen minutes of swimming, the current taking them downstream so they can no longer see the British troops. Rogers draws closer to them, a stronger swimmer than Hamilton would have thought, and manages to help pull Brown with Perry.
They finally make it to shore, Brown near drowned and all four of them completely waterlogged.
Hamilton sits on the dirt, hunched over his knees breathing heavily. Brown lies on his back groaning quietly, Rogers stumbling up through the trees to check their position, while Perry tries to stand.
“I shall never swim again,” Perry mutters.
Hamilton cannot stop a bark of a laugh.
He glances at Brown, his face pinched. Hamilton reaches up and pulls at his neckcloth. He gets it undone after some work with its damp state then leans over Brown. “Sit up.”
Brown makes a pained noise but does as Hamilton asks. Hamilton wraps the cloth around the wound in Brown’s arm, tying it off tightly so Brown hisses.
“There, if it should still be bleeding after the river that should aid.”
“Thank you, sir,” Brown says.
All of them back on their feet, Hamilton surveys their surroundings. He sees no British on the opposite shore. Farther into the trees, Rogers looks back with a shake of his head.
“We must head back toward camp,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton climbs up the hill through the trees, Brown and Perry behind him. They cut through the brush until they find a road and follow it, keeping the river to their right. Hamilton is unsure how far down stream they were carried but he hopes no more than a mile or two. They walk for several hours, keeping an eye open for the British advance. They find a ford in the river with a low bridge as yet undisturbed by either side of the war and cross the river once more.
It is nearing dark when they reach Warrick Furnace Farm. They find most of the General’s staff and troops are no longer at the house.
“They crossed the river some hours past,” the servant at the door tells them.
“Perry, Rogers,” Hamilton says, “See to Brown.” He glances at the servant. “We have some men yet remaining here?”
The man nods and gestures along the side of the house. Hamilton nods to the three men. “Follow the advance when you are sufficiently ready.”
Then Hamilton hurries inside the house. The bustle and rush of only earlier that morning has changed to an air of abandonment. Furniture remains in disorder, papers packed up and muskets gone. He finds a pair of Lieutenants counting the supplies that remain, getting them loaded into carts to follow the rest of the staff and army.
“Have we a rider going to Philadelphia?” Hamilton asks one of them.
“The last before we leave, in less than an hour, sir.”
Hamilton nods and moves on toward the room they had used for their office. He needs to get a message to Philadelphia. The letter this morning only said the Congress were considering leaving and with the British so close they must certainly escape now. Hamilton finds a few pieces of blank paper left with the messages meant for the courier. Hamilton writes out a short message for John Handcock, president of Congress.
If Congress have not yet left Philadelphia, they ought to do it immediately without fail, for the enemy have the means of throwing a party this night into the city.
Hamilton writes a few lines more, signs his name then blows on the ink.
Hamilton looks up at a Sergeant with a bag over his arm, the courier.
“I have one more message for your pile.” He picks up the stack and adds his unsealed letter on top. “For Congress, most urgent, please.”
“Are you well, sir?”
Hamilton frowns. Then the Sergeant motion to his head. Hamilton reaches up and feels a long gash upon his brow. He winces when he touches it. How he did not mark it before he cannot say.
“I am well. Best ride now.”
The Sergeant bows quickly, adding the letters to his bag and moving out toward the front door. Hamilton follows him then leans back against the doorjamb as he watches the man take to his horse. He has done all he can for the time. He glances down the length of the house wondering where Perry and Rogers have gone. Hopefully someone is left to see to Brown.
“Sir, you must stay for the night.”
Hamilton turns to see an older man, not in uniform. “Sir?”
“It is late, you cannot follow the rest now.”
Hamilton looks around, the light dim with the sun so low. Hamilton thinks about Laurens, of him telling Hamilton to be safe. “I will be needed.”
“Your army is thousands.” Hamilton turns in surprise to the man again. He smiles. “You can spare a night of sleep.”
“Trust me, my boy, your uniform is wet as if you have swum a river. If you should march now you will likely fall sick and be less use when you arrive.”
“I... could not impose.”
The man chuckles. “Cannot impose more than a whole General’s office?”
Hamilton clears his throat awkwardly and feels much the child in this man’s eyes.
“Come, sir, sleep, dry and you may rise with the sun to follow the army across the river again.”
Hamilton bows to reason. “Thank you.”
Come morning, Hamilton does indeed rise with the sun. It is an easy task to follow the remains and tracks of the army across the Schuylkill once more. On the east side of the river, he learns General Washington has made his headquarters in Parker’s Ford Tavern.
He finds the tavern bustling with soldiers delivering correspondence, bringing in supplies and a pair guarding the doors. They allow him past with the password from the day before. He looks around for where the General may be among the activity.
Then Hamilton hears the crash of china. “Hamilton!”
He starts in surprise at Tilghman standing at the break in the hall, a broken teacup at his feet. He is beaming.
“My god, am I ever pleased to see you!”
Hamilton smiles. “Thank you?”
“We had from Captain Lee that you were dead! Shot or drowned, either way lost.”
“Hamilton?” Reed comes up beside Tilghman with paper in hand. He huffs then addresses Tilghman. “You see, I said it would be impossible to kill the Little Lion so soon.”
Tilghman laughs and cuffs Reed on the shoulder. “Your face was as crestfallen as my own, do not put on such airs.”
Reed frowns at Tilghman then looks to Hamilton with a nod. “Best to let the General know of your rise from the dead.”
Hamilton clears his throat and nods. “And where might he be?”
Tilghman and Reed point to the right behind Reed. “He speaks with Laurens at present. You would do well to interrupt them.”
Hamilton passes the open tavern area, a bustle with various supplies and soldiers, then again into a narrow back hall. He finds the office from the sound of the General’s voice. He hears Laurens reply something back, a quiet, ‘as you wish, sir.’ His tone makes Hamilton pause. He could not explain it – Laurens’ words steady, his same voice – but it sounds flat, as if a harpsicord string were broken and now the entire song has gone off kilter.
Hamilton moves forward again and raps quickly on the open door. “Your Excellency?”
General Washington looks up from his seat at the table and Laurens turns his eyes to Hamilton from where he stands on the other side.
Laurens takes a large step backward as if someone has pushed him and he breathes out a quiet, “Oh...”
General Washington, however, smiles and stands up. “Why, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton.”
Hamilton steps into the room toward the General. “Sir.”
“I see the report of your death was premature.”
“Indeed, it was.”
“Captain Lee returned to us yesterday with a report of British dragoons and regulars ambushing your mission.”
“Yes, sir. Three men returned with me; we lost a fourth on the river. We attempted to destroy the mill in time but had to retreat.”
The General nods. “You may write up your report to me. For now, if you should need to rest?”
“Certainly not, sir,” Hamilton interrupts despite himself. “I can return to work at once.”
The General chuckles then nods. “As you will, Hamilton.” He glances at Laurens then nods toward the door. “Both of you.”
Hamilton looks at Laurens again. His expression is odd, far away, but he nods as well. The two of them turn out of the office and into the hall. Hamilton does not know exactly where in the tavern the aides-de-camp are working at present. Laurens says nothing by way of direction or comment.
Hamilton speaks instead, “Laurens, I am pleased to see you.”
Laurens heaves out a loud breath, his hand suddenly gripping Hamilton’s. “Oh, Hamilton...”
Hamilton stops at the break in the hall and stares up at Laurens. Laurens turns his head slowly, a small smile on his face. He shakes his head once.
“Hamilton!” Meade suddenly comes running toward them, grabbing Hamilton’s free hand and shaking it hard. “How could you make us worry so?”
Meade drops an arm over Hamilton’s shoulder and walks them on down the hall, Laurens just behind, as Meade rambles on about empty chairs and unwritten letters. Hamilton hardly hears with how much he wishes to look back at Laurens. When Hamilton walks through the door to what appears to be a private room of the tavern, some barrels against one wall and two tables in the center, Harrison and Fitzgerald crow in delight, both talking over the other about Lee’s return.
“He was most upset about your loss.”
“And the description of your rallying cry to the river,” Fitzgerald laughs. “You must tell us all.”
Harrison points with a book. “And did the mill burn after all?”
“Or perhaps we could all set to work?” Reed interrupts. “As much as the story must entertain.”
“Are you wet?” Meade mutters sniffing Hamilton’s shoulder.
Hamilton cannot help but be pleased at the concern of his perceived loss and good words from Captain Lee of his brief command.
When he sits at one table, the other aides calmed and focused on their correspondence piles yet again, Laurens sits down close beside him. Despite how near they sit, however, Laurens does not touch him. Hamilton does not notice it as something amiss until at least an hour later when he reaches for a new quill and Laurens pulls out of the way.
The aides work the day away, Hamilton writes orders from General Washington to General McDougall, Harrison writing orders for the planned march that evening, while Meade keeps track of the riders from Philadelphia. Laurens stays steadfast beside Hamilton.
When Hamilton rises to speak to the General, he finds Laurens waiting in the hall with a quiet, “All is well?”
Then he walks the two of them back to their tavern room with a distinct gap between them. When they return to their table, Laurens sits near beside him. Yet his hands remain tight to his person, no accidental brush of elbow or foot. Hamilton finds his skin itches for the want of Laurens’ touch now. What has Hamilton done to offend Laurens?
Tilghman appears in the door as the sun falls low with a, “Come eat, men, we will march a few hours after to Flatland ford.”
As they all rise to follow Tilghman to food, Hamilton puts a hand on Laurens arm and stops him. “Laurens, wait.”
Laurens pauses and looks at Hamilton in earnest.
“I...” Hamilton realizes he does not know how to ask, ‘why will you not touch me?’ “Have I offended you?” He asks quietly instead.
Laurens frowns in confusion. “Offended me?”
“Why would you think that?”
“I... because, since I... you have not…” Hamilton sighs in frustration.
Laurens reaches out and takes Hamilton’s wrist in his hand. Hamilton sighs in relief without meaning to. Then Laurens pulls him from the room. They twist down the hall past the kitchen, Laurens looking about quickly to see if they are observed, then into what must be a storeroom, one small window in the corner. Laurens closes the door behind them so only the fires from the camp outside allow them light to see.
Laurens shifts his hand down from Hamilton’s wrist to cover his fingers. He pulls up his other hand and takes Hamilton’s free hand. “When Lee returned and he told us about your mission, that you were lost. He thought you dead by British fire over the river.”
“I am not.”
“No, you are not, but...” Laurens’ fingers squeeze tightly. He huffs and Hamilton cannot yet see Laurens’ expression as his eyes adjust to the light. “I thought you dead.”
Laurens looks into Hamilton’s eyes and Hamilton sees now, even in the dim light, how very fearful Laurens had been. He realizes with unexpected clarity that Laurens did not touch him because if Laurens had, he would not have been able to let go.
“It was but a night and this morning but... Alexander, I would never wish to feel such a way again.”
“I am alive,” Hamilton says definitively. He pulls one hand away from Laurens’ grasp and touches Laurens’ cheek. “You see, I stand here now; I am alive.”
Laurens reaches up with his free hand to run his fingers along the cut on Hamilton’s forehead. “You are.”
Hamilton smiles congenially. “I would not let the British take me so easily.”
Laurens laughs once as his hand lingers on Hamilton’s cut. “Of course not.”
“I did not...” Hamilton clears his throat. “I did not imagine you would be so affected by my loss.”
Laurens drops his hand then grips Hamilton’s shoulder tightly, his other hand still in Hamilton’s squeezing. “You are my dear friend, Hamilton, do you not know how I... I have said I care for you; it is not just esteem, you know this.”
“Yes, I... I did...” But he did not realize how much.
They have had such little time. He has barely held Laurens in his arms; he has barely begun to know the touch of his hand.
“We have barely begun,” Laurens says echoing Hamilton’s thoughts. “You dead and we had barely started; we had not had a chance.”
“But I am alive,” Hamilton reminds him. “And we have time.”
Hamilton shifts his hand from Laurens’ cheek to his neck and pulls him down. Hamilton kisses Laurens hard, proves he is not some specter, but a man risen from the river alive. Laurens gasps into the kiss, releases Hamilton’s hand and wraps his arm around Hamilton, pulling him close. Hamilton remembers how Laurens feels – how he felt the first time – Hamilton focuses on where Laurens’ hip bones hit his torso, how he kisses with urgency, how he breathes sharply through his nose so he does not have to pull away, how he shifts one foot between Hamilton’s when they stand together.
Hamilton kisses him slowly, trails his hand down the little skin available to him, tries to find space under Laurens’ cravat for his fingers to search. Laurens’ hands fall low, his thumb on the hollow of Hamilton’s hips, curving around the small of his back. Hamilton shivers; Laurens has never touched him here before and it is like a gunshot right beside his ear.
Laurens pulls back just enough to speak. “May I keep you here in this small closet? No muskets should find you here, no water current.”
Hamilton chuckles against Laurens lips still close to his. “And we should starve instead.”
Lauren huffs and presses his forehead against Hamilton’s. “No...”
Hamilton breathes in and out slowly, trying to capture this moment in his memory so he will always recall how Laurens feel just like this. He wants to know everything, every hand touch, every kiss, what Laurens’ skin feels like on Hamilton’s. If he may die the next day, he wants to have had this.
Laurens leans back and stares at him. Then he pulls away, his smile guarded, and Hamilton remembers how little they have actually touched so far, how few kisses they have had.
“I shall do my best to stay alive for you,” Hamilton says to ease Laurens’ tension.
Laurens makes a ’hmm’ noise. “You could stay alive for yourself as well.”
“And for the army, of course.”
“For the country?”
They both smile. Hamilton reaches out and takes Laurens’ hand again. “I am sorry I caused you worry.”
“You were not to know, as far as you knew, you were alive.”
“Ha, yes, indeed.”
“I am....” Laurens takes Hamilton’s other hand and squeezes them both. “I am very glad you are alive.”
Hamilton smiles, starts to make an offhand remark but thinks about how few people he dares to allow close, how many he would truly wish to say such to him like this. He steps close and kisses Laurens again.
“I am glad to be alive too.” He wants to say, ‘because I have you.’ How has he began to care so much for Laurens so quickly?
Laurens rubs his thumb over the back of Hamilton’s hand. “We should join the others for dinner.”
“We will be missed.”
“We are missed now.”
Laurens laughs. “You would rather stand here in the dark?”
“I came near death. I should deserve a breath.”
Laurens laughs again. “I recall the General asking if you would like a rest and you –”
“Oh, but this is different.” Hamilton steps close and touches Laurens’ hip, a spot he has not touched before, and smiles his most winning smile. “There was work to be done but now I have darkness and solitude and you close before me.”
“Alexander…” Laurens sighs with evident restraint. “You know what you do.”
Hamilton smiles. “I do.”
Laurens reaches up hesitantly and touches Hamilton’s hair – such an intimacy but Hamilton leans into Laurens’ stroking fingers. Laurens eyes tick up and down Hamilton’s face. “You are beautiful.”
Hamilton has not been one to blush in his life. He has not been shy of his accomplishments; but now he pulls a hand back to run self-consciously over the front of his uniform. “Laurens, you need not tease me.”
Laurens only smiles. “We should go. We may only hide in a closet for so long.”
Hamilton laughs and finally relents. “As you wish.”
Laurens opens the door slowly for prudence then swings it wide, stepping out into the empty hall. He gestures ahead of himself for Hamilton to precede him. Hamilton steps out and walks down the hall, his hand trailing down Laurens’ lapel as he goes.
When they walk into the tavern proper, they scoot in at the end of the long table, Laurens muttering an excuse about Hamilton’s cut and a letter to his father with Congress. Tilghman starts to tell them about a rider which informed them of Congress’ flee from the city but Hamilton only half marks him. Where he and Laurens sit on the bench, side by side, Laurens’ hand rests between them, his fingertips making small patterns on Hamilton’s thigh. Hamilton thinks it is wondrous to be alive, to look ahead, to have Laurens beside him.