How does an army, starving, strained to the last of its quarter,
Forcing horsemeat down their throats and mistreating the water,
Fenced in by a mad king’s megalomania
Survive in the wilds of Pennsylvania?
This Valley ain’t Forged or even temperate,
And rising tempers are about the only heat they get.
No, this winter camp is too cold to shoulder:
If Hell’s in Philadelphia, well, it froze over.
Even Alexander Hamilton has to admit that being smothered underground would be better than this slow death of starvation, exposure, horseshit, and Congress.
It’s the middle of the night, but the man is non-stop, and he’s pacing the command tent getting ready to drop his latest diatribe. It needs editing, but John’ll do it when he gets back from whatever Washington’s got him on.
“Dear gentlemen of the Congress, Henry Laurens, President,” Hamilton tests, squinting down at the draft,
“Can you make some sense of this budget you sent?
From where I’m standing, it looks like you’re planning a party
And I’d be delighted--but the army’s not invited.
“Don’t get me wrong, I know you’ve got bills to be pushing,
But I’m more concerned with the bills you’ve been stuffing up your cushion.
Considering you’ve never paid a slave in your life,
Where’s all that money going? John says it ain’t to your wife.
“Let’s be real: You want us to attack the British forces?
We have resorted to eating our horses.
If you can’t pony up the dough, sure, you can live with it--
At least until you’re strung up dangling from a British gibbet.”
“Alex, no,” John says, cringing in the tentflap. “Don’t bring me into this.”
“He knows you’re here.”
“Yeah, like that’s gonna net us any new gear.” John comes into the tent and lets the flap slide, steps over the other sleeping aides to stand at Alex’s side. “My father’s not the kind of man that’ll fold if you hit him.”
Outside, a chill wind blows, gathering the muck and filth of the camp and twisting it like a curse. Alex curls his fist around the draft, valuable paper and all. “He wouldn’t know a good son if you bit him.”
John smiles, bumps his shoulder against Alex’s and grabs his wrist on the way down. “C’mon. Take a break.”
“Laurens, this letter isn’t gonna write itself.”
“There’s a meeting in von Steuben’s tent, and he doesn’t wait.”
“You can interpret, I’ll catch up when this is done.”
“No, let me deal with my father.” He takes the letter out of Alex’s hand, dodges across the tent with it before Alex can catch up, and grins. “We’ve got lots of time--hell, it’s all we’ve got--and your mind’s non-stop, but your body’s not. Take a break,” he repeats, firmer this time, and even though Alex has caught up with him by now, it just takes the one touch to slow him down. Hand-to-hand but not quite clasped, John looks Alex in the eyes, brows piqued, and leans in inquisitively.
“All right,” Alex sighs, and pulls back to formally relinquish the letter. “But keep the paragraph about the horses.”
“Done. Now let’s get to the Baron before we miss all the fun.”
Some men require you to remove your shoes. von Steuben requires you to remove your pants.
The music emerging from von Steuben’s tent is hardly of this world or of this time: the bass is so loud that the canvas twitches, the drums command obedience, dance, dance, and his voice cuts through the din with all the power of a cannon.
“Work! Work!” he says. Or Werk! Werk!. Phonetically, they’re indistinguishable.
Alex hesitates at the entrance. “Laurens, I thought you said there was a meeting.”
“I may have stretched the truth,” John admits, already dropping his front.
“Just trust me, okay?”
“Let me see ya’ll WORK!” von Steuben bellows from within the tent just as John shoves Alex in, and the world turns upside-down.
Everyone in the tent is down to skivvies or lower. Soldiers have paired off and are gyrating something fierce, pounding the ground like they’re trampling redcoats into it. It may be freezing outside, but the veritable debauchery in here is the most patriotic display Alexander Hamilton has seen since the Battle of New York.
And there, in the center of it all, is Baron von Steuben, seated on a throne of nubile naked recruits, reigning over this bacchanal like a benevolent popularly elected monarch.
von Steuben proclaims:
“We gonna bounce back,
Gonna make it work,
Gonna show the redcoats that we can take it!”
“Work!” Lafayette shouts from the corner, where he is demonstrating a French dance that is both indecent and somehow entirely appropriate to the context.
“We gonna bounce back,
Gonna beat ‘em out,
Gonna show the world what revolution’s all about!”
“Work!” Mulligan agrees, then downs another shot which happens to be on fire.
“Form up, show ‘em how we get down!
Form up, show ‘em how we get down!”
Indeed, the soldiers form up. Clearly, von Steuben’s model company is working out. And has been working out, evidenced by the glistening, sweat-dappled muscles and burnished flesh now dropping like it’s not below freezing outside. von Steuben rises from his improvised throne and snaps his fingers, taking utter command of the party.
“Form up, show ‘em how we get down,
The dances they do are so daring and new that reality just plain isn’t ready for it. John doesn’t seem to have been expecting it either: he’s just as transfixed as Alex, though perhaps in a manner that betrays less fascination and more complication. But while the sweet hook threads through the scene and the music revitalizes the army, von Steuben takes note of Alex’s dubious expression and shakes his tailfeather on over.
“You use your tricks, I’ll use mine,” he says, wagging a finger in Alex’s face, “anything to get our men in line. You get the cash to keep us going--leave it to me to keep the army growing. General Howe’s coming on the attack; don’t wrack your brain to get the train on track; take a page out Franklin’s almanac; when you throw down with us, we gonna BOUNCE RIGHT BACK.”
The soldiers chorus on with various iterations of “bouncing back” in multiple connotations. von Steuben hands John a flaming shot, which he downs with gusto: when von Steuben looks at Alex again, though, he raises an eyebrow high in coy disdain.
“Someone didn’t get the dress code,” he says.
Alex looks down. His pants are, in fact, still on, which is an odd thing to be embarrassed about. “Don’t be sanctimonious.”
von Steuben laughs and claps John on the shoulder. “Laurens, take one for the team and smack him on the ass.”