There were no windows on the third floor of the Ford house, but Alexander Hamilton had spent enough time in the parlor throughout the day with his fellow aides to know that fat white snowflakes fell on the other side of the thick walls, further blanketing a landscape already draped in deep drifts of ice and snow. More than being able to physically see the winter sky-fall, he could sense it; he could feel it, even with the thickest of cloaks blanketing his shoulders and snugly fitting the woolen jacket of his uniform closer to his body. He breathed in, and could feel the frost line his lungs; he could feel the freeze settle deep in his bones, turning his spine and neck to aching from where he had too long hunched over his writing desk. It was, he thought with a pang, a more severe winter than even the year before, and the snow seemed but little inclined to ebb in its falling.
In deference to his thoughts, he cupped his hands together and brought them to his face to blow a hot breath into his palms. It helped to warm his frozen fingers for but a moment, and he closed his eyes long and slow, imagining long white beaches soaked with sunlight, where the thick tropical heat closed in around him like an embrace and the air smelled warmly of coconut and rum and sugarcane. Wistful in a way he thought he'd never be for his childhood home, he remembered the ocean-surf rolling over his feet and the sweet song of the palm trees as they danced, their shadows lazily playing over the gentle undulation of the turquoise waves below, until -
- Hamilton opened his eyes, and glared at the cold grey gloom that was New Jersey in February. Only, now his hands were even more chilled about the pen when he returned them to his task, and the quill squeaked angrily over the paper, as if it were just as ill at ease in the cold attic as he was.
But, he forced his jaw into a stern line, there was work to be accomplished, and if he even hoped to talk of something approaching military importance the following day - rather than trying to beg Congress for powers to procure sustenance and covering for the bare bones of an army they were holding together through the force of sheer willpower and stubborn tenacity - then he would have to focus and make the most of the time he had available to him. To that end, he dipped his pen into the inkwell and started attacking the paper with a renewed zeal. Sullenly, he nevertheless could not keep himself from imagining his recipients snugly warm and decadently dining in a newly reoccupied Philadelphia, and tried not to gnash his teeth together in frustration.
Furthering his ill mood, he could hear the high, twittering laugh of their hostess from the dining room below. Mrs. Ford was an affluent voice in the Morristown community, and all in General Washington's military 'family' extended her every courtesy because of it, even while each and every one of them smarted over the fact that the men they endeavored to lead were starving because they could not purchase from the wealth and bounty of the farmland surrounding them due to the worthless value of Continental money . . . it was still enough to set his tongue to lashing when he thought of it too long, and thus, it was better for all if he ate away from his comrades. His fellow aide-de-camps could try to flatter Mrs. Ford's vanity by dining with her family, along with the general and his ring of commanding officers, but Hamilton would not. Instead, he simply took his ration of cornmeal mash and brown bread and forced the food down in an age old habit of feeding his body simply because he had to in order to move on, not because he enjoyed what he was eating.
To that end, he brushed off breadcrumbs from his half-penned letter with a frown, admitting to himself that his words to Charles Lee had turned just too scathing to account from Washington's pen. There was no way that the general would affix his name to such a commentary, and Hamilton would have to start anew. He grit his teeth, and momentarily amused himself by scratching out what he really thought of the slovenly, vainglorious officer, glorying in the words as they built like a storm and struck like high winds before crossing out the lines with a violent motion of his quill. When he balled up the parchment and threw it onto the dimly burning fire in the hearth, he felt satisfaction spark a matching glow inside of him as the tongues flared yellow-hot, giving his words a fitting death in flames.
Across from him, sitting on his sleeping pallet and dutifully scratching away at his own pile of missives, John Laurens studied him, his look carefully diplomatic before he ventured aloud, “You are in foul spirits this evening, my friend. What troubles you?”
As ever, just the sound of the other man's voice had the raging beast that seemed to constantly lurk beneath the orderly and exacting currents of his mind soothing. It calmed, and sheathed its claws. He looked up, searching for the line of blue in Laurens' dark gaze that had first caught his own eye, and focused, letting the shape of his smile and the honest concern in his countenance relax his own furrowed features. At last, Hamilton sighed and answered, “It is cold,” as if that explained everything. In a way, he thought with a sudden surge of black humor, it did.
“And . . . this, as ever, is a task that tests my patience,” he cast a disparaging gesture over the parchment spread out before him. “It was an unkind twist of fate to have my so long dodging secretarial duties for Greene and Knox only ensure my availability to do so for Washington, huzzah.”
“You have made yourself indispensable,” Laurens pointed out, not quite sharing his bitter irony over the matter. “Some would call that a feat, and even envy you for it.”
“I call it slave labor,” Hamilton muttered, striking through the first 't' in his new draft with more force than was strictly necessary. “It is maltreatment on the general's part to use me so; dissipation, solecism, catachresis -”
“ - catachresis?” Laurens interrupted to repeat, clearly bemused.
“You like what I did there?” Hamilton's mouth turned upwards, as with a knife's edge, and he was only further amused when Laurens sighed and visibly rolled his eyes in reply.
“You are a regular wit, it's true,” was Laurens' dry retort. “But here, I have news that may restore your ill mood to better spirits. Lafayette showed this to me when I stole downstairs to fetch our supper, and I think that it may be of interest to you.” He reached out to pass him a folded letter, and Hamilton stretched to take the parchment from him, curious.
It took him but a moment to scan the heading, noting General Philip Schuyler's now familiar hand from his correspondence with Washington, and frowned to see -
“ - a winter's ball, held at the Campfield house,” Laurens revealed, just as Hamilton finished reading with his own eyes. “It is just the thing to revive the spirits, do you not agree?”
Hamilton snorted. “And how does General Schuyler plan on feeding his guests? I would rather starve with the rest of our men than dine on such opulence, thank-you very much.”
Laurens shook his head. “I hardly think to expect a full twelve courses at dinner,” he dryly predicted. “And I assume the wine will be watered – unfortunately so. Yet, morale amongst the officers is waning and the general has the means and the will to do what he can to try to bolster them. How is there indecorum in that?”
“I am still not going,” Hamilton waved his hand to say. Having finished his letter to Charles Lee, he blew on the still drying ink and frowned to reread his words, already seeing where Washington was going to have him edit the missive – unfortunately, for a few of the lines were some of his more impressive turns of phrase. Even so, he refused to rewrite the words without specifically being told to do so - knowing what a snake in the grass their oily correspondent truly was. “It's as simple as that.”
“What? Why ever not?” Laurens blinked at the frankness of his words, not yet comprehending the gravity of his decision. Belatedly, Hamilton realized that he should have ventured a better explanation as to why; now his friend was clearly suspicious, and he would not quickly – nor quietly - let the matter go.
He gestured to the waiting pile of missives and blank paper he had before him, as if that should explain the whole of his quandary, all the while scrambling to find his words. “I am rather busy, you know. Washington sees most admirably to that.”
But Laurens' curiosity was not assuaged – not in the slightest. “Knowing you, that pile will not even be there come tomorrow morn – I know how prolifically you can move yourself to write.”
“I just . . . I am not going,” Hamilton lamely summoned his words. “I cannot.”
“You do not want to go, or you cannot go?” eyes sharpening, Laurens spied out the minute differences in his phrasing with the ease of a seasoned tactician.
“I cannot go, alright?” Hamilton finally snapped. “I . . . I do not know how to dance,” this he added on a halfhearted mutter, the words barely given voice from behind his teeth as he started to write his next address.
“You do not dance?” Laurens echoed like a parrot. Normally the brother of his soul in every way that truly mattered, the other man then only blinked at him in owlish confusion, prompting Hamilton to spend an unkind moment wondering if he realized that not everyone had the good fortune of growing up in the lap of luxury, lazily nursed in decadence on the sprawling bounties of the southern plantations. No. Some men had to -
- quick on the wings of his more scathing thoughts, his mouth drew inspiration from his brain without first considering his higher sense, as per usual. “Because in this bastard orphan's twenty-five years of scrapping and scraping simply to get by and survive, I clearly had the entitled, easy existence that allowed me the indulgent pleasure of learning how to dance,” Hamilton scathed aloud. “I envy you the dexterous mental powers that allowed you to reach such a conclusion, Laurens, truly I do.”
“I do not believe that. No, surely you've danced before,” Lauren protested, ignoring his vitriol with the ease of long practice. “At King's College - ”
“ - where I was too busy proving I belonged there at my advanced age and trying to earn my degree as fast as I could so that I could get out and use that education? Yes, I attended dancing assemblies most often.”
But, once again, Laurens was unmoved by the scorn in his voice – as he ever was. “Before that, then, at Elizabethtown - "
“ - unless you count Mulligan's step-dancing after he overreached even his ungodly tolerance for ale, no.”
“But, even St. Croix must have had a dance-master,” Laurens argued. “Or your mother, before - ”
- but a withering look was enough to do away with that line of questioning, and Laurens shut his mouth with an audible click of his teeth.
“Yet I have seen you at assemblies,” after the passing of a long, uncomfortable moment, Laurens doggedly continued his line of questioning. “You've never let this . . . deficiency keep you from attending such gatherings before.”
“Have you ever seen me dancing?” Hamilton nonetheless challenged him. “I ask you to name the time and place.”
“ . . . you did not once dance,” Laurens finally reflected, frowning in puzzlement as he at last conceded the point to him. Even so, his eyes remained narrowed, as if he were a movement of men and ammunition to be puzzled out and solved upon a field of engagement. Hamilton frowned, and felt his teeth grind together, the top row bearing down uncomfortably upon the bottom.
“There are always more than enough fertile minds standing off to the side at such assemblies,” Hamilton shrugged to explain. “And there I usually make my way.”
“Well then,” Laurens pressed diplomatically, “what is so different about this time?”
A heartbeat. “Philip Schuyler is giving the ball,” Hamilton breathed. “Philip Schuyler.”
“ . . . yes,” Laurens tried to puzzle through his reasoning. “Of what bearing is that to you?”
He was not being allowed his retreat, he at last understood. So Hamilton clenched the quill more tightly in hand and breathed in deep. Then, at last he confided, “In Albany, when I was sent to relieve Horatio Gates of his battalions to reinforce our line . . . I was hosted by General Schuyler. While there, I met . . .”
But he could not finish his sentence, hit as he was by the sudden memory of dark curls and equally dark eyes, black enough to draw a man in and never let go if one was careful. When he struggled to inhale, he found his lungs suddenly painfully tight within his chest, seemingly straining against his ribs as his heart stuttered in its beat. “It was only a moment – his eldest daughter was arriving just as I was departing, but in that moment . . .”
In that moment, he finally understood lines about cupid's arrows and lightning striking, and this time, this time -
- but, rather predictably, Laurens only snorted. “Cupid struck you, is that what you are trying to say? Just as it did with Kitty and Cornelia and Polly -”
“ - no, no. It was nothing like those dalliances,” Hamilton snapped. “This was different, this was . . .” Fate's wheel turning and fortune's web helplessly trapping him, rather than his merely noticing soft flesh and beguiling eyes that just tempted a man to give in and sample. This was all stars moving and second halves finally found, the same as Clitophon seeing his Leucippe for the first and knowing, and he . . .
. . . but, for all of his vast command of words and their construction, he could not call to mind the sentences needed to convince his friend that this was different. This was more.
Predictably, Laurens only sighed in reply – which was entirely the reason Hamilton had not wanted to speak of this in the first place. Laurens' own wife, all the way across the ocean in London, was his spouse only through a mistake of lust and the necessity of marrying to legitimize the result of that misplaced passion. While he may have loved the daughter he had to show from that youthful indiscretion, his marriage was a distant one of duty and honor - nothing more. Often did Laurens use his own life's course to counsel his friend's path, and his doing so sat as well with Hamilton then as it ever did.
But, thankfully, Laurens did not say anything where so many words had already been spoken before. Instead, he wryly offered, “You can claim that you are a Quaker, you know? You will not be expected to dance then.”
His words had their desired effect: Hamilton surprised himself by laughing outright. He shook his head, and did not even mind when he had to clean up the ink that blotted from his unexpected moment of humor. “No,” he intoned firmly. “That I shall not do.”
In answer, Laurens heaved a sigh, flopping back against his pallet and flinging an arm over his face as if conceding defeat. “It isn't as if you will have to minuet with everyone watching you, judging your footwork,” the scorn in his voice made it apparent what he thought of that rather hierarchical social practice. “I mean, you can, but you don't have to – there will most certainly be jigs, as well, and I trust that you can pick up on any country reel after watching for a measure or two -”
“ - no,” Hamilton frowned to say. “If I cannot make a showing for myself with a decent minuet, then it proves to all that I am nothing more than a jumped up pretender . . . a halfway decent secretary . . . an artillery captain who commands nothing and will be forgotten as soon as the last shot of this war is fired. No . . . no. I will not put myself though that.”
“You are always so all or nothing in your views,” Laurens sighed through his teeth to say, clearly frustrated. “Such extremes of passion will be the death of you, my friend.”
When Hamilton smiled, he could feel his lips draw away to show the line of his teeth. “Such has served me well so far, has it not?”
“Then,” even so, Laurens sat back up, determination pinching the corners of his mouth anew, “if it is a minuet that holds you back, I'd have you know that it's not terribly difficult. Just six steps forward and then . . . ” but his voice faltered and he frowned as he noticed the way Hamilton's gaze had suddenly snapped up to focus on him with a dangerous intensity. He clearly took in a deep breath, and then warily asked, “What is it? The last time you looked at me like that we stormed the Battery for cannons while the Asia rained down fire all around us. I still have the scars from that night, and I do not think -”
“ - Laurens, you are the best of friends and the best of men!” Hamilton praised, as if not hearing him speak at all. “Yes, of course you would know! God, why didn't I think of this sooner?”
“Think of what before?” Laurens sighed, clearly exasperated with his exuberance.
“You know how to minuet!” Hamilton exclaimed, finding his feet as if shot from a musket and nearly knocking over his ink in the process. “Of course you do. So, you can show me how, and then nothing will stop my -”
“ - what? No, no, no - no,” Laurens stammered. “There is a reason that I am the disappointing bane of my father's existence, and I -”
“ - but you are the dancing disappointing bane of your father's existence,” Hamilton chirped, brightly waving his arguments away. “And now you can show me. I learn fast – you know I do; you know me better than anyone else, even. Then I can go to Schuyler's ball, and there I will - ”
“ - I do not think you heard me say no,” Laurens tried to protest – vainly and valiantly so. “Truly, I am the last person you want showing you how -”
“ - to the contrary, you are the only person I would,” Hamilton interrupted, his voice losing its rapid excitement and turning low with a solemn intensity. “You are my friend,” he stated simply. The title friend, as ever, was spoken with the same sort of low reverence which one would reserve for prayer and hushed church corners - for it was not a word he lightly used, nor often. “I can think of few others I would ask this of, John.”
It was his quiet intensity that finally had Laurens sighing. At last conceding defeat, he too rose to his feet. “I wish that our wine wasn't watered for this,” he grumbled under his breath.
“I know where Lafayette keeps the Madeira,” Hamilton confided. “I'll share the secret of his stash after we get through this.”
“If we get through this,” Laurens sighed pessimistically, not at all convinced as to the sensibility of their venture yet.
“So defeatist,” Hamilton waved a hand to his concerns. “Are you or are you not a revolutionist?”
“Against overlords and tyranny, yes I am. Helping you overcome the limitations imposed by your own vanity? That I would title somewhat differently,” Laurens retorted. He then narrowed his eyes to say, “That said, If you tell anyone about this -”
“ - they will simply know what a wonderful instructor you are,” Hamilton's eyes glittered to say. In answer, Laurens let out an audible breath from between his teeth.
“If you are so determined, we may as well get on with this,” Laurens shook his head to gruffly say. They cleared out what an aisle they could between the sleeping pallets that all five aides shared in the attic room, and then he turned to begin his instruction.
“The minuet is done on a series of six beats,” Laurens explained. “To start, you face your partner and bow.” He gestured, “So, face me and bow.”
That Hamilton could manage well enough without further instruction, but when Laurens too bowed Hamilton could not keep himself from ribbing his friend. “Are you not supposed to curtsey? You are playing the lady's role, are you not?”
“I swear to God, Alexander,” Laurens was not amused, “if you test me I will go downstairs and brave the company of Mrs. Ford and her children. Then you can use Mulligan's step-dancing to woo your maid – so ignore my words at your peril.”
“Alright, alright,” Hamilton held up his hands palms-first, surrendering. “There's no reason to be so tetchy.”
“You ought to know better than to antagonize those who are in a position to see to your advancement by now,” Laurens could not keep himself from returning. “You are shooting yourself with your own gun – as ever.”
“This is not the first time I have been told as much,” Hamilton shrugged to say. “Apparently, that shall always be a lesson I need to learn.”
“Well, hopefully you'll learn this lesson better – and faster,” Laurens sighed to say. But, even so, he sank into a woman's curtsey when next they started. In reply, Hamilton could not keep a grin from splitting his face. Ever a saintly soul, Laurens merely ignored him.
“Now, you approach your partner,” Laurens resumed his instruction, but he was clearly startled when Hamilton moved to stand but an inch away from him, ready to take his hands and -
“ - you are not spinning around a tavern wench!” Laurens protested the sudden armful he had of his friend. “Back up, man!”
Hamilton frowned, but obediently backed an arm's length away. He further frowned when Laurens pointedly stood shoulder to shoulder with him, and faced forward. “Now,” Laurens started primly, “you may take my hand – lightly, mind you. You are not a brute to be wrestling a woman about from here to there.”
Hamilton snorted at his phrasing, but he obeyed, and Laurens held his head up to say, “Now we step forward on a count of six. Like this: Right, together, right, left, right, left together. Got it?”
But he was fairly dragging Hamilton along through the steps, who confused his right together and his left together every time, and Laurens may or may not have smiled when his friend tripped over McHenry's sleeping pallet. Disgruntled, Hamilton kicked the straw mattress out of the way and put his hand out to take Laurens' and try again.
And again . . .
. . . and again.
“One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . six,” Laurens counted out their steps before turning and staring the rhythm again, “One . . . two . . . three . . . four - ”
“ - wait, wait,” Hamilton yanked on his hand to stop him. “I have not yet understood anything beyond left together, and you want to move on to whatever sort of spin that just was?”
“What do you mean wait?” Laurens blinked, clearly bemused. “You mean to tell me that you don't have it yet?”
“No, I do not,” Hamilton snapped. “You are moving too fast for me to follow.”
“I'd say that you are catching on too slowly to keep up,” Laurens retorted, and Hamilton may or may not have stepped on his foot – pointedly – when the door to the attic opened to reveal a lithe figure in a blue uniform saying in a familiar French accent:
“Mrs. Ford is complaining of a headache, and as you two are lumbering about doing whatever you are doing, she can no longer bear . . .” but Lafayette frowned, and his brow furrowed as he altered the course of his speech to ask, “Just what are you two doing to cause such a ruckus, mes amis?”
“We are dancing,” Hamilton ground out as he recovered his balance. Scowling at his friend, Laurens rudely elbowed him before hobbling over to his pallet to flop down with a sigh, muttering oaths under his breath as he reached down to inspect his abused foot. “What did they think we were doing?”
Lafayette blinked, but, thankfully, did not say whatever thought had first came to mind in favor of tilting his head back to laugh outright - and loudly. “In Versailles, heads are lost for daring to call that dancing. Mon Dieu, but the butchery you Americans perform of such an art is inexcusable.”
But, rather than his friends laughing along with what he thought to be a particularly inspired line of wit, Lafayette frowned, clearly disquieted when both Hamilton and Laurens turned to stare at him, and as one said: “You.”
“Me?” Lafayette echoed uncertainly.
“You!” Hamilton exclaimed. “Of course, of course – you are a marquis; you are a member of King Louis' court; you can probably dance better than anyone here in Jersey!”
Lafayette took a step back towards the door, and then another. He looked to Laurens in a desperate bid for aid, but the Carolinian only smiled in a self-satisfied way, clearly glad that his erstwhile pupil had decided to trade up for a more worthy tutor.
“There is a reason I am in America now,” Lafayette found his voice to protest. “Do you know that I made Her Majesty laugh outright the one time I had the pleasure to dance with her? And I did not do so in an endearing way.”
“God be good, but we are depending upon you for France's aid?” Laurens ran a hand through his hair to say, even as Hamilton blinked, clearly taken aback by Lafayette's claim.
“Marie Antoinette . . . you made Marie Antoinette laugh,” Hamilton echoed in a low, disbelieving voice before letting out an impressed whistle. “I am most certainly not in St. Croix anymore.”
“Thus, as we are far from France, and I am no dance-master . . .” Lafayette valiantly tried to protest.
“Yet, compared to Laurens you are a godsend,” Hamilton did not quite agree. “Please, I am begging you for your assistance.”
“Or my teaching can be blamed on the mind of my lackluster student,” Laurens piped up, unwilling to let the slight against him go. Even so, he made no move to stand and try his hand at instruction again.
“Well,” Lafayette hinged. “If doing so would prove my prowess over the mighty John Laurens -”
“ - a dubious honor if ever there was one,” Laurens muttered under his breath, and Hamilton glared.
All the while, Lafayette glanced longingly at the door, clearly weighing his ability to make a graceful retreat while still keeping his honor and friendships intact. But Hamilton trapped him, reaching forward to take his hand and most seriously bid, “Please. I do not know where else to turn, and a matter of the utmost importance lies at stake: a matter of the heart.”
At that, Lafayette's interest was very cautiously piqued. “What do you mean?”
“General Schuyler is giving a ball,” Laurens was the one to answer. “His daughters will be in attendance.”
“I would not have guessed you to have been again struck by cupid's dart,” Lafayette blinked in surprise. “So soon after Mademoiselle Kitty - ”
“ - and Cornelia,” Laurens added helpfully.
“And the enchanting Polly,” Lafayette listed on his fingers.
“ - but this is different than them all,” Hamilton hotly defended himself. “This is not a handsome girl to dally with, but a woman I hope, with God's grace, to have in the bonds of holy matrimony. And if I cannot even manage a minuet, then how can I ever hope to . . .” but his words tapered off, and he sighed as his speech failed to properly express the fervency of his feelings on the matter.
In reply, Lafayette only stared at him, noticing the dark shadow that had fallen over his eyes and clearly reading his dejection and frustration from the open planes of his face.
“There is no greater joy than matrimony,” he at last hesitated to say. “My Adrienne . . . she is the belle of Louis' court to my eyes, and thoughts of her sustain me even now, an entire ocean away. If I can see that one of my dearest friends too knows such a joy . . .”
“Then you'll help me?” Hamilton looked up, his eyes shining with his hope. “Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you – merci beaucoup!”
“There is no need to thank me until we triumph over your clumsy feet,” Lafayette sighed to reply. He then narrowed his eyes, and added, “And if it is ever asked, it was Laurens who taught you, oui?”
“Of course,” Hamilton was quick to agree. Laurens only scowled, and muttered an oath wishing the pox on the whole of the island that had spawned his friend in the first place.
“Now,” Lafayette clapped his hands together to say. “You are too much in your own mind, I believe. Laurens taught you the steps, now you must simply trust your body to follow through – just like any other military drill. Laurens?” he looked behind him to request, “A rhythm, if you please.”
Obediently, Laurens started to clap his hands together in beats of six, and Lafayette wasted no time in leading him through the steps. His eyes were narrowed and his mouth was pursed, easily executing his own steps as he critically watching his every move.
“Toes pointed,” the Frenchman's voice was as a rapier slicing. “And put some zest to your step - you do not want your partner to think that your lack of inspiration is through fault of hers.”
Hamilton made it through the first six-beat, and Lafayette smiled as they entered the second. The marquis had an easy way of moving, as if he were a ripple or a gust of wind, and Hamilton felt unerringly clumsy in comparison; his feet were heavy, stomping as if he navigated a thick mire. Now, if he could only avoid stomping on anything that he should not be stomping on . . .
“Now,” Lafayette started conversationally, the easy vowels of his accent attempting to distract him from his own body, “what are you looking for in the future Mrs. Hamilton?”
Hamilton frowned, staring down at his feet until Lafayette reached over to swat the back of his head in correction. “Eyes up.”
“Well . . .” Hamilton said distractedly, trying to summon his answer from the bit of his brain that was not concentrating on the difference between right-together and left-together. “She must be young, but not too young . . . and handsome, of course. Her features I will make allowances for, but I do put some insistence on a shapely figure - ”
He tripped when Lafayette snorted, and Laurens too looked as if he were trying not to laugh aloud. Hamilton glared at them both.
“I wish her to be both chaste and tender,” even so, Hamilton's voice picked up fervency as he spoke, taken by his own vision as he remembered those dark eyes he had so quickly spied - in his mind's eye picturing those eyes trained on him, always on him, for the rest of their days. Something soft and warm seemingly lit on the underside of his chest, and he right-togethered properly without a thought for the first. “I am especially unmoving in matters of both fidelity and fondness, I think. I put great stock in each.”
“You do realize that such a requirement shall run both ways?” Lafayette pointed out, reaching out to kick at Hamilton's feet when he once more togethered on the wrong beat, just that quickly. Hamilton scowled at the Frenchman, who was decidedly unrepentant for his methods.
“Of course,” Hamilton answered without hesitation. “I would not set so unequal a standard as that.”
“Right answer, my friend. If you would have dared to say anything about 'a bee for many flowers, but a flower needing only one bee,' I would have hit you,” Laurens added.
“I shudder the thought,” Hamilton declared. “With the right woman, there is no need for a man to stray. That is why I intend to find the right woman.”
“Four, five, six,” Lafayette intoned loudly when Hamilton strayed. “One – two – three – and there, keep on the beat.”
Hamilton frowned, but forced himself not to look down at his feet as he continued, “I love neither a termagant nor an economist, and will suffer neither in a wife. Her generosity should be helped by some fortune, of course, to help support her extravagances.”
“Mon Dieu,” Lafayette breathed aloud. “What an impossible creature you paint.”
“You'll find yourself in purgatory for your avarice,” Laurens agreed, his eyes glittering through his warning. “Be careful of your ambition, Alexander.”
“Forgive me, but I don't have the luxury of your unique situations in life,” Hamilton did not agree. “It is not greed on my part – unfortunately, money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world, and the more she may bring to a union as I earn my own way through address and industry, the better.”
To that, there was no answer that could really be said, and there was silence for a moment, all but for the rhythmic fall of their feet and Laurens' droning clapping.
“What of matters of the soul?” Laurens next posed, wishing to recover the lighter thread of their conversation. “What do you ask from religion?”
“She must believe in God, but hate a saint,” Hamilton shrugged, his thoughtful look turning to a scowl when Lafayette swatted at the back of his head when he looked down again. “Besides that, I am open minded on matters of faith.”
“What of politics?” Laurens continued. “There your requirements must be more than a shapely figure, no?”
“Actually, after some consideration, I have decided that it does not much matter,” Hamilton waved a hand dismissively. “Whatever her views, I am confident of my ability to soon convert her to my own.”
At that, Lafayette laughed outright, and his attention was taken from his pupil long enough for Hamilton to 'together' on the wrong beat once more . . . and step rather impressively on Lafayette's left foot as they both stumbled from the mishap. It was but through a soldier's grace that they did not both end up in a heap on the floor from the collision.
“Dieu m'aider,” Lafayette complained as he hopped on his other foot to take the weight off of the abused appendage. “Tu danses comme une vache!”
“Vous enseignez comme une vache!” Hamilton had no problem returning, and Lafayette managed a rude gesture in reply, speechless from incredulity. Making a sympathetic noise in the back of his throat, Laurens helped his wounded friend over to his pallet, and when they both showed little inclination to find their feet again, Hamilton rolled his eyes.
“For God's sake, I only stepped on your toes,” he challenged the faithlessness of his friends. “You act as if I amputated the damned thing.”
“Hopefully that's not what you'd say to Mademoiselle Schuyler,” Lafayette muttered, reaching down to tug off his boot so that he could inspect his stockinged foot. In reply, Laurens unattractively guffawed in amusement.
“What a pair of milksops,” Hamilton propped his hands on his hips to glower. “You're right, I should have dug my heel in, Gilbert.”
He stepped forward, intending to bear down on the Frenchman's opposite foot, when the door to the attic opened to reveal a face none of the three particularly wanted to see etched in annoyance. Hamilton did not need to look behind him to ascertain the identity of their visitor, able as he was to feel that particular glare between his shoulder-blades - impressively so. A heartbeat later, his suspicions were proved correct by Lafayette smiling widely to greet:
“Mon cher petite général! How lovely it is for you to join us in our endeavors.”
Unseen from the man behind him, Hamilton met Laurens' eyes and made a face. The marquis' case of hero worship was amusing in most instances . . . except for when it decidedly wasn't.
“Mrs. Ford is near to the point of expelling us all from her house if her state of vexation is not soothed,” George Washington's measured, deceivingly genial way of speaking nonetheless managed to convey the force of an armed mob hot on the scent of blood. At the barely veiled annoyance in the voice of their commander-in-chief, Hamilton fought the urge he had to sigh and roll his eyes, knowing that Washington ever had a way of sensing when he did so - even if he was not looking at him directly.
Even so, he imagined that he could hear Washington blink and frown to consider Lafayette's words. After a heartbeat he asked, “On that account, what . . . precisely are you endeavoring?”
“Alexander cannot minuet,” Laurens was the one to chirp faithlessly. From the look in his eyes, Hamilton knew that low blow was vengeance for his stepping on his toes earlier. He glared and clearly mouthed traitor. Laurens, predictably, looked but little chastised.
“And he has since taken us both from the field of battle during two separate charges,” Lafayette explained, gesturing pathetically down at his abused toes. “Yet, we could not let our comrade falter during his hour of need. It was to us to rally around him; so we did.”
Summoning his wits, Hamilton at last turned and spied out where the general still filled the doorway, something in his eyes glittering in a way that he instantly understood as begrudging amusement. He fought the urge he had to bristle, and tried to explain, “I had General Schuyler's upcoming ball in mind, sir. I did not wish to bring shame upon my command, nor on my position as your aide; thus, I enlisted these two in my endeavor to rectify that failing on my part.”
“What he means to say is: he does not wish to step on Mademoiselle Schuyler’s toes,” Lafayette chuckled. “For that would most certainly put a stain on his suit.”
Washington glanced from Lafayette's ever growing smile to where Laurens was struggling to keep a straight face and failing to do so. Hamilton steeled himself, imagining a dozen possible ways their conversation could go, and thus endeavored to formulate a preemptive response when -
“Proper dancing is a mark of a civilized gentleman, which I would have all of my soldiers be,” Washington finally commented. “And matrimony can be a blessing to those bound by its laws. If this skill will ensure that you do not shame your bride, or this command, in the time to come, then I shall consider my endeavors in your pursuit justified.”
At first, Hamilton did not quite understand, and comprehension continued to elude him even when the general reached out a hand in clear invitation. It at last took Lafayette's rather insipid giggling - and Laurens' audible gasp - for understanding to click in his brain, and, dumbfounded, he stammered out, “Sir?”
“You are not the first man who has had to educate himself to blend into a higher, more genteel society than that in which he was born,” something small and secret flashed in Washington's gaze before he blinked it away. If asked, Hamilton would not be able to say for certain whether or not it was ever there at all. “And I dare say that you will not be the last. Now, come.”
Hamilton looked down at Washington's extended hand, wondering if there was a polite way he could extract himself from the situation. But when he looked up to meet the older man's eyes there was a note of challenge in his gaze, and at seeing the barely perceptible way the corner of his mouth turned upwards . . .
. . . well, he never could back down from a call to arms, could he?
Summoning all the courage he possessed, he reached out and took the general's hand without another word spoken in either gratitude or protest.
Immediately, the difference between spinning around with his friends in half-jest and dancing with Washington were more than apparent. Hamilton had always been grateful that he could stand and look Laurens in the eye, and he did not mind having to tilt his head up to Lafayette terribly much – but he had never liked the way that Washington towered over him, and he most acutely felt his shadow now. But he endeavored to settle his thoughts by recalling that Miss Schuyler fell neatly of a matching height with himself, and thus forced his mind to focus as both Laurens and Lafayette started to clap out a rhythm together.
Carefully summoning every bit of grace and regal bearing he could, he bowed low, noticing that Washington was comfortable enough to dip into a curtsey without being teased or goaded into doing so. The first six steps went like clockwork, and Hamilton held his breath as they turned into the next six, telling himself that no matter what, there would be no toe stepping on his part. He couldn't, not this time - for neither Laurens or Lafayette would ever allow him to live down the ridiculous shame of it.
“You are treating this like a charge,” Washington remarked after a moment. He had not yet spoken to correct his dancing in any way, instead moving in a manner that had Hamilton naturally correcting his own erring footwork before he was told to do so aloud.
“I dance like a soldier, or so I am told,” in reply, Hamilton was able to glare at Lafayette as he spun past, noticing how the Frenchman looked as if he were in honest to goodness pain from trying to keep his mirth in check. Good. Hamilton hoped that he suffered.
“It is not an entirely inaccurate likeness,” Washington tilted his head to say. “Only, I would not dub it a duel, but a meeting of tacticians, rather.”
At first, Hamilton frowned at the comparison, but he was willing to listen. Ever surprising for his height, the general moved with an easy grace that bellied his size, and after riding behind him on the front lines of more than one battle, Hamilton knew that it was a warrior's fluid carriage he bore instead of a gentleman's superficial preening – just like Caesar and Alexander of old, or so America was quick to embrace their hero in adulating tones as. Forcing aside the surreality of the situation, he narrowed his eyes and focused, telling himself to pay attention learn from what the other man was saying.
“You are not in control when you court a woman through dance,” Washington continued as they turned into the next set. Hamilton fervently reminded himself to right-together, rather than left-together. “Every move, especially during the minuet, is solely so that she may look and judge your worth.” They spun apart from each other, but Washington was not quick to seek out his side again, instead turning slowly, as opposed to Lafayette and Laurens, who had clearly dominated the dance from their side of things. “She has the option of responding to you, just as she has the ability to turn you away. It is up to you to display your worth in earning her regard.”
Hamilton held his breath, and forced himself not to look down at his feet, even as Washington noticed and instructed, “Meet her eyes as you dance; do not look over her shoulder in distraction, and do not ever gawk at her body. She should have no doubt that she is your complete focus, she, and not her face and figure.”
Hamilton nodded, and filed away what he was saying, finding that, after a moment, he did not have to concentrate on where he moved and how. All he had to do was picture her eyes, and it became easy to understand what the general was saying, easy to picture, and though that picturing . . .
“Do not overpower her,” Washington continued his lesson. “In this dance, in particular, it is a form of teasing that only your hands touch, and even then just barely. Touch her even less than the dance allows, hover before her, and force her to seek you out – give her that control. Let her come to you, and if done properly, by the music's end, you shall have not only a dance partner, but, perhaps, something more.”
Distantly, Hamilton understood that the clapping had stopped. He opened his eyes, and noticed Washington's wry smile: the dance was done, and he had successfully navigated through its turns without injuring his partner. He had done it.
“There,” Washington approved. “Miss Schuyler should find no fault if you perform as such.”
Lafayette let out a low whistle, and Laurens clapped his hands in approval, even as he accused, “You didn't step on his toes, Alexander.”
“I wouldn't dare,” Hamilton blinked in mortification at merely the thought.
“Well then, when the time comes to court your belle, just imagine you dance with our general,” Lafayette suggested, his face still creased with amusement.
Except that no. “Excuse you,” he said aloud, “but I'd rather not.”
“I'd prefer you did not, as well,” Washington added dryly, and Laurens snorted – loudly so – in reply.
“Although, I must say, you filled a few blank pages in your tale with Madame Washington,” Lafayette could not help but tease their commander. “I did not know you had it in you, mon ami.”
Laurens rolled his eyes and muttered something that suspiciously sounded like the French, but Washington's mouth only curved upwards in a half-smile before the gesture was discreetly tucked away, and he vaguely replied, “I did not need to dance for that, Gilbert. But that is not a story you need to know.” In reply, Lafayatte clapped his hands together in glee, and laughed outright.
And, really, Alexander did not want to know . . . even though a part of him had wondered – understandably so, he defended himself in his own mind - how the matronly, tiny woman had come to have the general wrapped so completely about her fingertips. At first meeting, he had thought Martha to be a woman never capable of uttering a cross word, but he had later been delighted to find that she bore a spine of steel and a surprisingly stubborn streak to match her husband's. Hamilton, who had the dubious pleasure of knowing America's golden hero during his most unflattering moments behind closed doors – all but tetchy as he bickered with his aides over the mundane to channel his stress over the impossible landscape of the war as a whole - was nonetheless thankful for the months Mrs. Washington could spend at camp with their war-band, as her presence lightened the loads on everyone's shoulders as a result.
Rather than insisting on the comforts due to her sex, she instead set herself about tending to the practical for the army, determined as she was to mother the multitudes along with Knox and Greene's wives. After meeting him and hearing his tale, Martha had knit all of his socks with two layers of wool in the soles, he then thought with a pang, saying that if she did not care for the fierce New England winters after only knowing the Virginian cold season beforehand, then his Caribbean blood must truly be smarting due to the climate shift. He could not even remember his own mother doing so for him, and he put more stock in her doting kindness than he thought she would ever know. It twisted something warm and foreign in him . . . just as Laurens' soft gaze touched something deep inside of him now, and Lafayette's well meaning humor had his more cynical outlook lightening with something akin to hope and anticipation for the days to come. Even Washington's trust and confidence was a buoyant to his spirits that he had not thought himself to ever need - nor want to appreciate . . . but he did need and appreciate the older man's trust and confidence, he yearned for it, even. For a moment, that truth was an undeniable one, and he stood still in his place, quite overwhelmed by the unexpected tidal wave of feeling that rushed outwards from the storm of his own heart.
“Now,” Washington instructed, his voice taking on an easy tone of command as he gestured, “for Mrs. Ford's peace of mind – and in sparing the rest of our nerves by soothing our host – I ask that you come down and politely interact with our company for the rest of the evening. There will be more than enough business to see to upon the morrow.”
For that Hamilton did snort – wouldn't there ever be? If he had first known that there were more papers penned than bullets shot during a war, he may have reconsidered his aspirations for battle-time glory. Now, unfortunately, he was quite unable to extract himself from one at the cost of the other.
Lafayette saluted, and was the first to leave the attic, turning behind him to tell Laurens where he did – indeed – have a bottle of Madeira hidden for after Mrs. Ford retired. Still feeling oddly light on his feet, Hamilton went to follow his companions when Washington reached out a hand to stop him. Surprised, he looked up to find that his commander had a serious look hardening his features – one that, from experience, had Hamilton standing still and waiting for whatever it was he had to say.
“More than a comrade, General Schuyler has now been a dear friend to both America and myself for many a trying year, and his daughters' health and happiness are one and the same with his own,” Washington remarked amiably, but Hamilton could nonetheless hear the warning brewing underneath the tepid words he spoke. “They are fine women all, and deserving of only the best a suitor may have to offer. Philip will not easily give away their hands to those unworthy of them, and he will not suffer any of them being ill used by a rake.”
“I understand,” Hamilton swallowed to say, fighting not to wince as the general's hand tightened upon his shoulder.
“Good," Washington pleasantly approved, at last letting his hand fall away. "Because I'd have you mind this: if you think your paperwork to be too plentiful now, it will but pale in comparison to what I can heap upon your shoulders should you dare to break the hearts of any one of those girls. Mark me?”
Hamilton turned to face the general, meeting his eyes and trying to convey with words unspoken what he could not quite say with speech given aloud. Then, being sure to keep his toes pointed out and his back straight, he bowed a formal bow that would even have Lafayette proud, struggling to turn his smirk into a smile all the while. “I hear and I obey, sir."
In reply, Washington only gave a long-suffering sigh before turning away, shaking his head all the while. "See that you do," he said in conclusion, and that was that.
For a moment, Hamilton stood alone in the attic as the winter raged beyond, before summoning his feet and taking the stairs two by two, a dancing step to his stride that he could not quite do away with, no matter how he tried.