It was a relief to step out of the bracing New York winter and into the warm embrace of a packed hall. Alexander’s teeth were still chattering as he passed his coat to a serving boy, still trying to adjust to the heat of moving bodies and what must be more than two hundred candles, but he could feel the blood in his veins begin to quicken from the moment he crossed the threshold.
“Thank you,” he said, to the server. Alexander tried very hard to commit the placid smile and bright eyes of the boy to memory, but no sooner was he gone than another, equally vapid in his good looks, stepped forward to usher Alexander through the somewhat drab hallway to the party proper.
The boy held out his hand, “might I see your invitation, sir?”
“Oh! But of course,” Alexander had to worry whether his manners had deserted him, his hands belatedly flying to every pocket he had on his person trying to produce the little card that had arrived by the post just a week previously. Evidently the festivities of tonight were somewhat hastily thrown together, though what else could be expected of their gracious host? It was the season for such parties, after all, and as could be seen by the multitudes of men laughing in the brightly lit room the serving boy was barring him from, people were glad of the chance to step out and be merry.
What a shame then, that Alexander appeared to have misplaced his invitation. He searched the pockets on his breeches, at the front of his waistcoat, even going so far as to slip a hand between his waistcoat and shirt to be sure that the card had not slipped through some hole in the silk by mistake, but alas, it was nowhere to be found.
“I do believe I left my invitation in my coat pocket,” Alexander informed the serving boy with only the faintest blush of embarrassment tarnishing his cheeks. Truthfully, he knew he would not have placed something so important in his outer wear, but he had to make every effort before he allowed himself to be thrown back out into the cold night.
The serving boy's frosty blue eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, the look of a man whose patience has been much tried. He signaled for one of his almost identical compatriots to retrieve Alexanders coat from wherever it had been stashed and announced that it would be brought forth shortly.
These staff were quite the most extraordinary looking creatures, Alexander thought to himself, letting his eyes and mind wander while he waited. Their skin was dark enough to be comparable to Burr’s, though their hair was as straight and black as his dear Eliza’s and their eyes so blue they could have been plucked from the skull of an Englishman. Even knowing his host’s proclivities and affluence, it seemed extraordinary that such a set of young men could have been gathered at such short notice.
Alexander came back to himself and his eyes rose away from the face of the serving boy. Out of the throng of people, a familiar figure emerged. Large, heavy lidded eyes glittering with youth beyond his years above a wide smile, straight backed despite his stockiness, a silver tipped cane in his right hand and William North on his right – Baron Von Steuben was still every inch the man Alexander remembered from his years in the field.
“Mon cher garçon,” the Baron cooed, stepping around the serving boy to pull Alexander into a tight embrace, “Ça me fait plaisir de te revoir!”
“Je n'aurais manqué pas, ça, Baron” Alexander replied, somewhat taken aback by the Baron’s great show of affection. It was true that they had worked closely during the revolutionary war, but it had been two years or more since they last saw each other and in that time they had not exchanged much in the way of correspondence.
“It is good to see you, Mister Hamilton,” William North followed Von Steuben with more restraint, extending a delicate hand to be shaken, “or, should I say, Secretary Hamilton.”
“I do my best to be of service to our esteemed President Washington,” Alexander conceded, though truly his heart still burst with pride at his own achievements whenever the matter of his advanced status was mentioned in company. William North perhaps was aware of the effect of his words, his eyes gleaming mischievously as he fell back into step with his Baron.
The two were dressed so as to match each other, Alexander noted. Their waistcoats and breeches cut from cloth of pale lilac, their cravats of a deeper purple that matched the stones set into their cufflinks. On William North, the taller and fairer of the pair, the ensemble had the effect of making his seem boy-like and bright, so that the candle light reflected off his amber skin, creating a halo around him where he stood. On the Baron, the pale colours only went to emphasise the dark expanses of his hands and face, creating a striking visual that meant no man could be unsure which gentleman commanded the room for the evening.
At that moment, a serving boy returned with Alexander’s coat, and so it seemed the time had come to face further embarrassment when it would surely transpire that the invitation was nowhere to be found.
William North took one look at the boy who had barred Alexander’s entrance from the party and threw aside his stringency with a careless wave of the hand, “Please. Our dear Hamilton served with the Baron during the Revolutionary War. That is worth more than any invitation.”
This last word he said with such venom in his voice that the Baron’s mouth twitched into a smile of good humour, thinking that he had just heard his companion swear in his presence.
"Ce n'est pas un problème,” he said, tucking his cane into the crook of his elbow so that he might use his hand to drag Alexander into the party proper, “il faut être courtois au l'invité.”
Stepping into such a gathering on the arm of such an eccentric host is sure to gather a certain measure of attention from the other guests. As Alexander was led through the crowds towards the back of the hall, many eyes fell on him. He felt he had been granted a grand position in the proceedings of the evening, though he could not imagine why. It was entirely possible, of course, that he would be of some fascination to the Baron for a period of minutes before he was cut loose as the gentleman’s attention wandered elsewhere.
As was Von Steuben’s habit, only husbands had been invited out this evening, so as they walked they were surrounded by dark silks and bright white cotton shirts and the unmistakable musk that was only present in gatherings of many men. As with all the Baron’s parties, there was an assumed decadence to the evening, and even in his finest green tailcoat Alexander felt he was a little underdressed.
“Salut!” Von Steuben beamed, when they had reached the back of the hall and happened upon a drinks table. A glass of wine was pressed into Alexander’s hand and he toasted the room at large, a smile in kindred with the Baron’s beginning to tease his lips.
From this angle, it seemed an even better attended event than Alexander has first thought. The room was painted white above the line of oak panels that circled the walls, making the ceiling seem higher than it truly was and so making the whole room seem larger. A chandelier shimmered above their heads, casting them all in its twinkling light and making the rich silks that dominated the room shine like precious gems. The unmistakable sound of a band warming up was just contained by the chatter of many excited voices, and on second viewing, Alexander could see that there was enough space between the various guests that they could clear to either side of the great room to provide them all with a dance floor.
“C'est manifique!” Alexander exclaimed, and in a moment of boldness he clapped a hand to Von Steuben’s shoulder. Luckily the Baron was a pleasant and affectionate man, who took no offence, and even going so far as to respond in kind.
The playful smile had not yet left William North’s mouth, and he watched the brief exchange of physical affection between Alexander and the Baron with amusement. “There will be dancing, you know,” he drawled.
“But of course! Though I am hardly a dancer, and shall no doubt spend much of the night enjoying watching the exertions of others,” Alexander replied. The circumstances of his childhood meant he had never received much of an education in the matter of dancing. When he and Eliza were invited out to balls and parties he would typically shuffle through the first dance, before stepping back as she flew off to find men with better feet for it that he.
Von Steuben, though not fluent in English and always preferring to speak in French or German where possible, clearly understood enough of Alexanders words to be upset by them. “Non, non, non,” he chided, “ce soir, tout le monde va danser.” And then he reached into his pocket to draw forth a small drawstring bag made of a dark purple silk to match his and William North’s cravats, and held it out, open, waiting for Alexander to reach inside.
Looking quickly at William North and receiving a small nod of ascension to assure him that this was indeed what was expected, Alexander did just that. When he withdrew his hand he had in it a small wooden token, round in shape like a coin, with a yellow sun painted on one side.
“What is this?” Alexander directed his question to William North, thinking this was perhaps a French or Prussian custom that he was unused to, and perhaps best explained by someone who could understand his confusion.
The shine around William North seemed to grow into a physical aura of impish glee, “Why Secretary Hamilton, it is your dance partner for the evening. As no man here has come with his wife, we must act as if we are married to one another, and so you will find that another man in the crowd has a token identical to yours. For tonight you may think of him as your husband.”
This last sentence was punctuated by a heartfelt glance in the Baron’s direction, who took William North’s hand and kissed it with all the affection of a lover. It was well known that these two men were as close to each other as husband and wife, though as they did not interfere with politics in their actions it was not spoken of. Alexander’s own attraction to men, infrequent though powerful when it did strike, had never found its way onto the public stage in any way, and so he could assume himself safe in as much as it was unlikely he would ever face the charge of sodomy in a court of law.
It must be noted, neither Von Steuben nor William North was married, and Alexander was struck by their quaint notion of what such a bond entailed. “Of course, husbands and wives often only dance together for a part of the evening, if at all. Marriage is a state most keenly felt in other areas of life.
“Then think of it as a silly parlour game, the point being that you much find the man who holds your token and you must dance with him, for everyone must dance tonight,” William North’s eyes were now firmly fixed on the Baron, “you can fulfil the duties of marriage once the dancing is done.”
How bold the two of them were. Alexander coughed politely and excused himself, aware that they would spend the rest of the evening so enraptured of each other that it would be impossible to have a decent conversation with either. Glass of wine still in hand, he melded into the fray, searching for familiar faces with which to start his search for his dance partner for the evening.
It should come as no surprise that the first man Alexander spotted was President George Washington. Having known each other for so long and having spent so much time in deep conversation together, these two men could find each other in almost any terrain. It was of no small advantage that George Washington stood, at six foot and two inches without his boots, above the heads of most other men present and his shoulders were so broad that a noticeable space had to be cleared in any room to accommodate him.
“Alexander!” the President cried on spotting his former aide de camp, extending a hand for Alexander to shake.
“It is a pleasure to see you sir,” Alexander replied with a smile full of joy at being so warmly received by a man he much admired. Washington was dressed in a tailcoat and waistcoat of deep red, and had chosen that evening to go without hat or wig, so that his bald head shone like copper.
“This is a far more formal affair than the last party of the Baron’s we attended, wouldn’t you say?” Washington spared Alexander a wink, which was quite a bit more playful than the great man would typically deign to be.
Despite himself, Alexander found himself blushing at the memory. During the war, when they had been encamped at Valley Forge, Baron Von Steuben had seen fit to throw a party in an attempt to rally the officer’s spirits. They had been served spirits which had been set aflame and called Salamanders, and before they had been allowed to enter the tent every man had had to remove his breeches. The effect of being naked from the waist down while drinking and dancing with fine young soldiers, had provoked rather physical responses from many of the attending parties, of which Alexander had most certainly been one.
A rather pointed clearing of a throat emanated from behind Washington, who only then seemed to remember that he had been engaged in another conversation before Alexander had arrived, “Ah! Mr Adams, I do apologise. I was just saying hello to Secretary Hamilton.”
Washington stepped back to reveal the slightly portly figure of Vice President John Adams, bearing an expression of mild annoyance that in Alexander’s experience was a common aspect of his face. Adams was a petty, obnoxious man with little grace, in Alexander’s opinion, and Washington was well aware that he didn’t like him much.
“Good to see you,” Adams blustered, offering his hand for a cursory shake and withdrawing back to his side of the conversation quickly. Gritting his teeth, Alexander swallowed all manner of comment that could be passed on the man’s conduct. It would be so much easier if they could have it out with each other, but alas, they were doomed to work together for the foreseeable future.
Correctly predicting Hamilton’s enquiry, Washington reached into his pocket and produced a token with a little blue arrow painted on it, “are we to be wed for the night?”
Blushing ever more furiously at the notion of being married to such a man as George Washington, Alexander regretfully shook his head, “it would seem not. Honestly I am surprised at the Baron’s gall to play games such as these in New York. During war time and amongst soldiers is one thing but-“
“How unlike you, Alexander, to be so unforgiving of the Baron’s eccentricities,” Washington interrupted. It would seem this cursed blush would never end, Alexander was sure that even through the bronze of his skin, his cheeks must be glowing.
“You misunderstand me, sir, I am merely trying to say that New York is not accustomed to events such as this.”
“You would not be wrong,” Adams agreed, though it was clear from the tone of his voice that he was not so pleased by the notion of the evening’s entertainment. He had come out dressed in velvet so dark it looked black, and the mop of loose dark curls atop his head was poorly styled.
At the thought of poor styling, Alexander quickly brushed a strand of his hair off his face, so that it hung down his back. He had been widely informed that he looked most charming without tying his hair in a queue, though it seemed to wear one’s hair loose meant to leave it to a mind of its own.
Begrudgingly, Adams reached into his own pocket to demonstrate his token. For a moment, Alexander thought he had the bad fortune to draw this overly serious, badly put together excuse for a politician as his dance partner, for there was yellow paint on Adams’ token as well, but on closer inspection it was in the shape of a cross.
It was some effort on Alexander’s part not to breathe an audible sigh of relief.
“I would love to stay and talk,” Alexander said, turning his attention to Washington, “but I fear I will not be able to settle tonight until I know who it is I must dance with. I hope to see you both later in the evening.”
Washington nodded, Adams muttered a pleasantry in a tone sounding less than pleasant, Alexander took his leave and begin to search through the crowd in search of a man bearing the sign of a yellow sun.
It would be nice, Alexander supposed, as he demonstrated his token to the erstwhile but elderly Benjamin Franklin, to be matched with someone with enough youth and vitality to make a good go of the dancing. Much as he was not fond of the act himself, he had always found it more enjoyable to dance with someone who was skilled in the matter. With another sudden blush, he remembered the occasion he had danced with General Washington at Von Steuben’s party at Valley Forge – his Excellency had been a fine dancer as well as a fine figure of a man.
Franklin’s token showed a maple leaf printed in red, “it would seem the Baron does not approve of our match,” he said with a wry smile, “I fear we shall have to elope if we wish to be wed.”
Smiling at Mr Franklin’s jest, Alexander raised a hand to his forehead in mock anguish, “how can I give myself to you when my true love still waits for me amongst the crowds?”
Franklin shook his head and chuckled, “very good Mr Hamilton. Now please, would you be so good as to show an old man to a chair.”
It was safe to say that Benjamin Franklin was not a young man, and though Alexander sometimes had cause to doubt the full measure of his dependence on his cane to walk steady, the item travelled with him wherever he went. As a result, he quite obligingly offered an arm for the aging politician to lean on as they wound their way back through the crowd to the edge of the building, where a chair might be found.
Their travels lead them into the path of James Madison, evidently still under the influence of his last great bout of illness if his grey complexion and intermittent cough were anything to go by. “Hamilton, Franklin,” he bowed to them both, which Alexander had to concede was a little extravagant, especially considering the increasingly sour nature of their friendship.
Franklin, however, saw an opportunity in Madison that Alexander did not, “Mr Hamilton and I are out on the prowl for a chair. I don’t suppose you know where we might find one?”
“I am searching for the very same thing,” Madison replied, excitement immediately high in his voice. Of course the sickly James Madison would rather sit to the side at events such as this. Alexander had to wonder that he’d come at all.
“There is something most unusual about the conduct of this Baron Von Steuben, don’t you think? Was he like that in the army? I heard he was a great tactical mind, which I do not doubt, but his…affections for his young companion seems…” Madison looked to Alexander, hoping that the end of his question would be filled out for him.
Alexander exchanged the briefest glance with Franklin, still leaning heavily on his arm, and there was a mirth between them that left him in no doubt as to what it was best to say to Madison, “I see nothing unseemly in the good Baron’s conduct. I would advise you, Mr Madison, not to insinuate such vulgar things about a gracious host and good friend of President Washington’s.”
Madison’s dark complexion made it hard to see if his cheeks had gone red, but Alexander rather suspected they had. He mumbled something half way between an apology and a curse before shuffling off to pull up a chair for himself and for Franklin.
“I dare say I’ll be fine from here,” Franklin spared Alexander a wink. It was strange, how a man with snowy grey hair and more age lines than most men had had hot dinners could manage to seem so very young in spirit. Meanwhile Madison seemed doomed to suffer from the strange predicament of having become an old man in his forties.
Before taking his leave, Alexander drew out his token and presented it to Madison, who in turn presented a little wooden disc with a red maple leaf painted on the front.
Mr Franklin seemed most amused to be partnered with Madison, “I suppose we will be dancing in our chairs,” he exclaimed. Alexander, at the very least, found the idea humorous.
From the corner of his eye, Alexander spied a slip of a man in dark blue silks that nearly matched the attire of the wait staff, though his eyes were much darker and whatever texture his hair might take would be impossible to say as he always wore it shaven. Aaron Burr, an old friend of Alexander’s, if a somewhat difficult man to hold a proper conversation with.
“Gentlemen,” he bowed quickly to Franklin and Madison before taking his leave.
“What a pleasant surprise to see you here tonight!” Alexander reached for Burr’s hand before it was offered and shook it perhaps overly enthusiastically.
Burr raised an eyebrow, and drew his hand back. His expression was, as ever, difficult to read, being as how he seemed to emote but a handful of times a year if Alexander’s observations were accurate, “and it is no surprise to see you here, Alexander. I suspect one day you shall play host to such events yourself. Tell me, how is the Marquis?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“He is in prison.”
Burr’s eyes narrowed, “I fear you have an unusual definition of ‘well’”
“Only when it concerns my friends,” Alexander replied in a tone of mock conspiracy, in the hopes it would indicate to Burr that he still counted him amongst that number, “Mr dear Gilbert is made of strong stuff, I have the greatest faith in him. And while he and his wife are indisposed, we have the honour of playing host to his son.”
The surprise Alexander was sure must plague Burr had no effect on his countenance, “I see. Why is the young gentleman not with you tonight?”
“He is, as yet, too young for the New York scene, or so Eliza says. Perhaps next year, if his English has improved a little. In the meantime, he finds good enough company in Philip, and Philip in him."
“It sounds like certain proclivities run in your family,” Burr noted, dryly. Had the remark come from any other man in the room, Alexander would have worried that he had said too much, but between the two of them it has become something of a long running jest. Burr would often share quarters with Alexander, Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette during the war, and he had most certainly seen more than could persuade him that his insinuations were wrong. Yet he had carried the secret, treating it not as a sword to be held over Alexander’s head, so much as a mildly amusing quirk in his friend’s personality.
Realising that his token was still in his hand, Alexander held it up for Burr to see, “I don’t suppose you might indulge those proclivities for an evening?”
Burr produced his own token from up his sleeve – a plain white circle sat in the centre of the wood, “what can I say, Alexander? It was not meant to be.”
How strange, that Burr of all people felt he had the right to Alexander’s name. Alexander had never addressed the other man as Aaron, to do so would feel forward and, after so long, out of place. But his own Christian name did not sound so bad in Burr’s mouth. It was difficult not to wonder if perhaps Aaron Burr understood Alexander Hamilton better than Alexander Hamilton understood Aaron Burr.
There was a marked increase in volume from the band’s pre-dance warm up, and so Alexander wished Burr a fine evening so that they might find their partners before the Baron should find cause to shame them for missing the first dance. He pushed through the crowd, leading with his token in his outstretched hand so that his husband of the evening might see him coming. He passed many men who he recognised, and many he did not (It was a joy to look upon the token of Angelica Schyuler’s husband, John Church, and see that he had drawn the blue arrow. The look of awe on a man’s face who has been directed into the arms of the President is quite a sight indeed) but it seemed an age before anyone thought to stop him and point him in the direction of a man who shared his token.
Of course, it can hardly have been more than five minutes, but Alexander Hamilton was nothing if not an impatient man. Just as he began to despair that maybe someone had failed to arrive and he had drawn the lone token that would find no partner tonight, a light was placed in front of him.
“Excuse me,” Alexander turned to see the man who spoke and found he was young and tall, dressed in shining silver silk that paired beautifully with the gold of his skin and the clean white line of his teeth. He had a great torrent of dark curls pouring over one shoulder, his honey coloured eyes set below a proud brow and a shapely nose that drifted down towards a mouth that was plush and pink.
In short, he was a beautiful specimen of everything Alexander admired in a man’s physique, “you have the sign of the yellow sun?” he asked breathlessly, and awaited confirmation from his husband-to-be.
Oh what disappointment to see the young man shake his head, laughing a laugh that was deep a rich and seemed to strike Alexander somewhere around his belly button, “I do not have that honour. That gentleman over there, however, he has the token which matches yours.”
The young man gestured towards a figure standing but a few feet away, who evidently could tell by the direction in which his voice traveled that he was being called upon. Alexander could only stare in abject horror as the mountain of wine coloured velvet, topped with a cloud of dark hair, turned to face him.
“Jefferson!” Hamilton hissed, at almost the same time as Jefferson identified Hamilton.
“You are acquainted? What a joy to dance with a friend!” The young man cried with such sincerity that Alexander could only assume he was a fool who could see neither the effect he had on other men, nor the open hostility currently brewing in the air between himself and the Secretary of State.
Stiffly, Jefferson reached into his pocket and produced a token stamped with a yellow sun. Curses! Alexander would sooner be wed to Adams than this contemptuous, snide, dishonourable, calculative excuse for a gentleman. He could only take comfort in the knowledge that the sentiment was most likely shared.
His nose wrinkled in utmost disgust, Jefferson peered down at Alexander, “Well would’ya look at that, a rat that’s learned to walk on its hind legs. We must get you back to the circus where you belong.”
Alexander felt the heat rising below his collar immediately. He had a long standing desire to punch Jefferson right in his wide ugly mouth; in his mind’s eye he always hit hard enough to shatter a tooth or two, though he would settle for a nose bleed and a shriek of outrage. Sometimes he imagined them going at each other in the middle of cabinet meetings, Washington playing umpire to their brawl.
But this was not the cabinet, and it would be the height of rudeness to bring shame upon their host’s name by fighting like a pair of drunken college students on the dance floor. Alexander forced himself to swallow his pride and his anger, left to rely only on the sharpness of his tongue to defend him, “Perhaps when we arrive, the ringmaster will see fit to cast you in his freak show, along with the rest of the bearded women.”
It was not the sort of low lying insult that Alexander would normally fall upon, he cringed internally no sooner than the words had left his lips. But he would not withdraw them, he would sooner die than apologise to Jefferson.
“Hmm,” Jefferson shrugged his shoulders and stepped forward to close the gap between them. Only at this moment did it become clear that they had been standing unmoved since they laid eyes on each other, like two cats facing each other down before one leaps and the fight begins. “Well, I sure hope you can dance.”
“Of course I can!” Alexander snapped, quick off the mark as ever.
A serving boy passed them, bearing a tray of freshly filled wine glasses, of which Jefferson grabbed two. Alexander reached out to take one but was met with a snort of derision, “get your own. Lord knows I need a drink if I’m going to have to smell your filthy Island sweat all evening.” Jefferson emptied both glasses in no fewer than four gulps, dumping his empties back on the same wine tray he had taken them from with a low purr of contentment, “I’ll be damned if the Baron doesn’t have good taste.”
Not being in possession of a refined palette, Alexander could only think back on the wine he had drunk earlier that evening, trying to recall whether there was anything about it that had made it particularly pleasing to taste. He could remember nothing unusual about the drink, and so immediately started looking around for a serving boy of his own so that he might give the matter a second thought, but before he could call back the boy who had seen to Jefferson, he was stopped short by a great thumping emanating from the centre of the room.
The party goers moved like a wave pulsing out from the very heart of the ball, stepping backwards until they formed a perfect circle skirting the outer edges of the room, even being so kind as to include the seated Mr Franklin and Mr Madison in the ring. Before them stood Baron Von Steuben and William North, arm in arm and smiling widely at their audience.
“Messieurs!” The Baron’s voice boomed about them, “je pense que vous avez tous trouvé vos maris.”
Alexander, being fluent in French, understood the Baron perfectly, though it quickly became clear that many in the room were much confused and unsure of how to respond. Incredible, that a man could make so many friends when he did not share a tongue with them.
William North gave them all a moment to gather themselves, and perhaps recall some of their education in the French language (a must for all born gentlemen of the former colonies) before stepping forward to act as translator, “Baron Von Steuben wishes to know if you have all found your husbands for the evening.”
The affirmative responses to this question were marred with various levels of embarrassment. Alexander himself mumbled a most half-hearted “yes,” though his lack of enthusiasm was born only from the shame of being matched up with Jefferson who, it should be noted, rolled his eyes in lieu of saying a thing.
To be sure, there were a fair few men in the room who were scandalised by the very notion of having their attachment to another of their sex described as marriage. Another oddity, considering the joy the Baron took in male company.
There was a minute or two, during which the last few men who had failed to find their partners were matched up, and then the Baron took the floor once again. He banged his cane three times on the floor (the source of the earlier clamour) before announcing, “laissez la danse commence!”
No translation was needed for this last remark, there was only the briefest of pauses during which time dance partners rushed to disperse widely enough to allow for easy movement. Jefferson grabbed Alexander by the wrist and led him out till they were standing practically in the centre of the room, just a short way off from where Baron Von Steuben and William North were preparing for the music to start.
The first few notes were struck up, a thin melody played high on a violin, which would soon be joined by two more fiddles and a cello, inevitably swelling into a crescendo of strings, the sound fleshed out by standing bass and viola, perhaps a pipe thrown in for good measure. The matter of music was not what concerned Alexander at this moment though, for he had suddenly recalled his woefully poor education in dance, and his earlier boast that he was well skilled in it – it seemed he had unwittingly set himself a trap into which he could not help but fall. A trap that would see him humiliated by his low birth right in Jefferson’s arms.
From those first few notes, Jefferson carried himself with irritating grace, his back straight and his nose held high. He bowed quickly to Alexander, though with an expression of distaste that made it clear he was only doing so because the common decorum of dancing required it. The action barely seemed to dint his height, and not for the first time in his life did Alexander find himself annoyed at his short stature in the presence of tall men.
Along with the specifics of his dancing capabilities, it seemed Alexander had also forgotten the specifics of the nature of dancing. He had to bite his tongue against the cry of disgust that threatened to tear itself from his chest when Jefferson stepped in close, took Alexander’s left hand in his right and rested a hand on the small of his back.
This indicated that Jefferson would be leading their dance, of that much Alexander could be sure.
“Je préférerais de le faire à partir des côtés opposés de la salle, mais si on doit danser, on doit le faire correctement,” Jefferson said, his nose stuck pompously in the air as the music rose around them, and with a great sweeping of his coat, he began to steer himself and Alexander through the steps of the dance.
Alexander recognised the tune as a lively waltz, and a familiar one at that. What luck – for waltzing was a simple enough ask, even of a fellow such as he, lacking in a full gentleman’s education. He and Eliza would sometimes waltz around the kitchen together in stolen moments of frivolity after the children had been put to bed, and so it seemed he did not need to suffer the humiliation of his ignorance just yet.
“Il ne faut pas faire ces choses a moitié,” Alexander agreed with Jefferson’s sentiments that if they were to dance, they should dance well.
The change in Jefferson’s countenance was instantaneous. His eyes snapped down to meet Alexander’s, an expression of outraged surprise crinkling his brow, “Tu parle français?”
“Mais oui! Tout le monde sur St Croix,” Alexander thoroughly enjoyed the look of indignation that swept over Jefferson’s face as they swayed to the music of the band, his feet finding their position with delightful ease. Of course Jefferson, an elitist Francophile despite himself, would take offense at the notion of someone of Alexander’s birth speaking his beloved second language.
Affecting the strongest Creole accent he could muster, Alexander switched back to English, “You should really visit the Islands sometime. It’s warm, many fine foods would be available to you and you could speak French to your heart’s content.”
Jefferson’s upper lip curled into a sneer of derision, and he tightened his grip on Alexander’s hand so sharply as to make the smaller man wince, “I would not dream of setting foot on a land governed by revolting slaves.”
“I thought you believed in the power of revolution.”
“Wrong definition of revolting.” The beat in the music syncopated, just for a moment. Jefferson swung into the space it left full force, catching Alexander out and nearly causing him to lose his footing, “Keep up! I thought you said you could dance.”
Alexander decided against taking his misstep to heart, far more satisfied as he would be to match with Jefferson in words than matrimony, “Dance is another quality of the Islands that might appeal to you, they have nothing as regimented as this, of course, but you’re a smart man I’m sure you could pick it up.”
“I’m not tryina pick up anything from the Carribean, trust me,” Jefferson drawled, “you can thank the Baron’s sense of humour that I’m so much as touching you right now.”
“Really? Pray tell, where did you workforce come from?”
Alexander had no doubt that when Jefferson trod on his foot, he did so with complete cognisance of what he was doing. “Oops,” he said, without hint of remorse.
The waltz came to an end, and for a moment the room was filled with polite applause for the benefit of the band. Alexander took a step away from Jefferson, glad to be free of those odorous hands on his person, though painfully aware that he must soon step in again.
“Ah! I do love a minuet!” Jefferson cried as the second tune of the night began. Alexander was struck at the odd tone of his voice, until he realised that he had just heard the man speak without derision in his presence, and as this had never happened before he was unused to how Jefferson sounded when he was not at his audience’s displeasure.
There was a certain amount of reshuffling to be done, as a minuet was typically danced between two lines of people facing each other. Alexander allowed himself to be steered into position by Jefferson, who set him squarely next to Mr Church, and himself next to President Washington.
“I trust you are enjoying yourself, John,” Alexander asked of his brother in law.
John Church was unable to look away from Washington, his dark eyes shining with the happiness that can only be found in a man who admires his companion to the extent of good reason. How could he not? The President was a fine dancer, a noble gentleman, and had seen fit that night to wear a pair of breeches that stopped barely below the knee, showing off his fine calves to their greatest extent. Alexander could not help but recall that so many years ago, in the snows of Valley Forge, Baron Von Steuben had spoken at length and with great poetry about the majesty of those calves, and time had not yet robbed them of their shape or musculature.
“Yes, quite,” John Church breathed.
“Jefferson, Hamilton, how are you enjoying your evening?” Washington asked, bowing low to John Church as the fiddle melody signaled the start of the dance proper.
“As well as can be expected,” Jefferson replied, “Secretary Hamilton assures me he can dance, so I suppose I’m in for at least a passable night.”
This seemed to startle Washington, though not enough to break his concentration for the dance. They were far away from the ends of their lines, and so had little to do but rise and fall on the balls of their feet until the top and tail ends of the room had danced their peace, “really? I suppose Mrs Hamilton must have taught you well these past few years.”
Jefferson’s eyes flashed as he took his first step towards Alexander, “so you did not dance during your army days?”
“Oh it is to be expected, isn’t it?” Washington laughed good naturedly as he passed Alexander, crossing over with John Church, “if a man is not born with the luxuries of gentlefolk he will not acquire them on immediate entry into society. But our Alexander is a fast learner, I am not at all surprised by the notion that he has bettered himself in the area of dance.”
As the column swung out, and couples moved away from each other, neither Alexander or Jefferson had time to respond to the President’s remarks, but Alexander was conscious that his hand was, once again, being gripped unnecessarily tightly.
“Your wife must have been some teacher to teach a little parasite like you how to dance. I thought mongrels couldn’t learn new tricks.” Jefferson’s voice was steady but his tone low and dangerous.
Truthfully, given his stature and his unnerving ruthlessness, Alexander found himself more intimidated by the Secretary of State than he would ever admit out loud. In this moment, there was an edge to Jefferson’s voice that was so cool it felt like ice water down Alexander’s spine.
Still, despite his best efforts to remain calm, Jefferson always managed to overstep the boundaries of Alexander’s temper eventually, and this was such a time, “I am no dog,” he spat, “and my wife is a fine teacher. I have no doubt you could learn a thing or two from her if she could find it in herself to be so generous as to bless you with her time. For starters, she could teach you how to shut that God-forsaken-“
“Language,” Jefferson hissed, stepping in close a beat ahead of Alexander to begin the part of the complex array of bows, curtseys and spinning that made up the vast majority of a minuet.
But Alexander has found the fire behind his tongue and could not be stopped, “Language was never your problem, seems to me like you could never get enough with it. Tell me, why did you bother crossing the Atlantic when you had no intention of doing a good goddamn – yes I said goddamn do not hush me! – a good goddamn thing for us? Seems to me that if you were going to lie around all day aggrandising the accomplishments of the French and doing nothing of great merit for any American you might as well have stayed in France.”
“American, hah!” Jefferson’s laugh was high and cold as they clasped hands and moved towards each other with such force that they might have each been trying to knock the other out of a wrestling ring, “I thought you were some Island whore’s whelp.”
“How dare you speak of my mother!”
“Oh please Hamilton, no need for the theatrics. You really must grow a thicker skin if you wish to survive in the big city. There’s no place for delicate flowers in New York.”
Alexander could scarcely believe that any man, even Thomas Jefferson, had the cheek to speak so candidly on matters he did not understand, “that’s rich! Coming from a man who whiled away the war with the French aristocracy. In the lap of Paris’s finest whores no doubt.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I have lived in this city far longer than you have, Jefferson, and if you think my skin is not tough enough then I invite you to test it for durability.”
“Do you really want to finish that thought?” Jefferson spat, twirling through the beginning steps of the dance once again as he did so. How hatefully light on his feet he was.
The answer, of course, was yes. Alexander absolutely wanted to finish that thought, he had duelled men before and would be happy to put a bullet through Jefferson by the dawn’s early light. Lord knows the man had never fought in any real battle and would have had little reason to practice with his pistols otherwise. He would be a marvelous sitting duck, oh if only they were speaking just a little louder – if another man could hear the slander Jefferson was speaking of him Alexander would be well within his rights to challenge him, and law or otherwise no New York court would convict him for an honour killing.
But alas, Jefferson had enough presence of mind to keep his voice above the music and below the ears of others. He marched forward for the cross over, spun Alexander around, practically dragged him across the dance floor in fact, for in his rage Alexander had let his mind wander far enough from the evening’s proceedings that he was no longer even attempting to keep up with the dance.
“Watch your feet!” Jefferson snapped as Alexander stepped on his.
Alexander scowled back but didn’t apologise. He kept his mouth shut, in fact, so focused was he on relocating his place in the rhythm of movement. Jefferson kept him staggering along, his grip sharp at every point at which they had to touch. Occasionally, he would toss a verbal barb in Alexander’s direction which would need to be deflected and retaliated against, but after his earlier diatribe this appeared to be more to distract himself from the increasingly poor state of the dance than out of any desire to wound his pride.
The music wound to a close, and Alexander felt flushed and irritable. It was never such a chore to not be able to dance when it was Eliza he was failing to dance with.
Jefferson paused but briefly to applaud the band before his hand shot out to catch Alexander’s wrist and frog march him away from the other dancers, grumbling darkly about liars and foreigners. He steered them towards the exit, past the serving boy who had barred Alexander’s entrance earlier that evening and into the hallway.
It was noticeably colder out there than in the hall, and badly lit. Alexander wrinkled his nose and tried to extract his arm from Jefferson’s surprisingly strong grip, “if you intend to throw me out I should warn you, I will not leave without a fight.”
“I’m not here to play bouncer to your ungrateful ass,” Jefferson sneered down his nose. He used the strangest turns of phrase sometimes. Alexander had originally assumed it was a Virginian thing but seeing as neither Madison nor Washington emulated him it must be a European peculiarity, “but we’re not heading back out there until you have your shit together.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“You will dance well, or you will not dance with me at all. And seeing as I have no intention of sitting on the sidelines like some wilting flower for the rest of the evening, I guess you’re gonna have to dance well. Il ne faut pas faire ces choses a moitié, comprende?”
Alexander scowled, “I dance perfectly fine.” But he did not turn to go when Jefferson let go of his wrist.
“Whatever, just watch me and copy.”
“Which dance will you go through first?”
“A minuet, seeing as you did so spectacularly badly out there just now.”
“Oh please no,” Alexander groaned, “save that till last, give me some respite.”
Jefferson’s lips pinched in irritation but he did not fight the issue, “fine. This is an allemande. I’m gonna show you a couple of these so watch closely.”
Alexander had always thought of allemandes as being rather unnecessarily full of leg movement, and indeed, he had to take a good step back to avoid taking Jefferson’s boot to his stomach. He blinked, trying to follow the way he hopped from foot to foot and where he took his turns, but his eyes were glazing over before any of it had time to process.
“Come on!” Jefferson said, “much as it pains me to admit it, we both know you’re not a simpleton. So pay attention.”
He tried, truly he did, but standing in the dark watching Jefferson hop about did little to hold his interest. The most striking new thought Alexander’s brain managed to retain was that Jefferson’s calves were quite shapely, and he might show them off better if he favoured a shorter cut coat.
Appalled, Alexander shook the thought from his head before he could let it settle too comfortably. He held up a hand to still Jefferson and to inform him of where they were both going wrong, “I learn better by doing.”
It was almost possible to hear the grinding of Jefferson’s teeth, “very well.” He linked arms with Alexander, and proceeded to walk slowly through the steps, so that he could be imitated without any great strain. His hair bounced wildly with every shift from one foot to the other, making him look like a large purple tree that had been beset by an irregular wind.
Swallowing his laughter, Alexander put his concentration into the movement of his limbs. The knowledge of Jefferson’s impending scorn should he make a mistake was a remarkably good teacher, and it took no more than three tries for him to have the step down, perhaps not perfectly but with enough skill to pass.
Then of course there was the other allemande, and a pair of minuet steps, a most ungainly hornpipe that Jefferson insisted would serve Alexander in good stead, “if not tonight, then another night. Your wife at least will be glad of it.”
“Do not presume to know what Eliza might enjoy,” though his tone was harsh, Alexander could not deny that he liked the feeling of knowing what to do with his body. Perhaps he would forget all that Jefferson had taught him when he stepped out of the hall that night, but he could not deny that right now, to dance felt like the only thing he could reasonably do, “come on, we must have missed four numbers or more out here.”
This time, Jefferson did not grace Alexander’s wrist with his iron grip. They stepped past the serving boys, milling around the entrance and arguing over whose turn it was to circle the hall with refreshment for the Baron’s guests, and back into the thick of it.
“Here,” Jefferson passed Alexander a glass of wine that he appeared to have conjured out of thin air.
Alexander eyed it suspiciously, searching for some indication that it had been tampered with in any manner, and upon finding none, taking a long gulp. Evidently this was not the intended purpose of the wine, as Jefferson let out a wail of discouragement.
“Drink it properly.”
“What is properly?”
“Not like a farm animal,” Jefferson held up his own glass to demonstrate, “swirl it, smell it! When you come to taste let it linger on the tongue. It's good wine, you should treat it with respect.”
“I don’t recall you showing much in the way of respect to the wine you drank earlier this evening.”
Jefferson sniffed, “that was different. I can’t be blamed for wanting to dull my senses to your ever present senselessness.”
“I am endowed with more sense than you possess in your little finger, if only you had enough of a brain to see it.” Alexander held his glass out as per Jefferson’s demonstration. He swirled it under his nose for a moment, breathing in the heavy steel perfumes of a good French red, then took the smallest of sips. He let the wine roll over his tongue, searching for notes of oak and aging, and tasted so much more.
Dancing and drinking. The sum use of Thomas Jefferson, at least it transpired that he had some sense. It would take the better part of an evening for them to imbibe a whole glass of wine in this manner, however, and so with an irreverent shrug in each other’s direction, they tipped back their heads and emptied their glasses.
With a flourish half way between a bow and a pounce, Jefferson held out a hand for Alexander to take, “let’s go tear this dance floor up.”
Again, with those strange European turns of phrase. Jefferson’s grip was still tight on his fingers, but Alexander did not complain as he was pulled into the starting position for the next dance – another minuet, Providence save him. He rapidly ran through the lesson he had been given in the dance. It had been so brief, entirely too brief, but before that problem could occupy the entirety of his mind, the music started.
Jefferson stepped in, Alexander stepped in, the whole room stepped in behind them. There was, Alexander reasoned, no need to get too overexcited. After all, he had managed the beginning of the dance just fine the last time he had been caught in its glare, the proof would be in the centre.
Jefferson’s eyes were fixed on Alexanders as they crossed over and spun into each other, daring him to make a mistake. It was difficult not to wonder if it might not be a most satisfying insult to the Virginian’s pride if, after all his teaching, no progress could be seen to be made. But the part of Alexander that longed to be good and worthy and admired would not stand for it, and so with minimal pause to consider his next action, he launched into the middle part of the dance.
He was not good, he still rose and fell slightly out of time with where the music thought he should, but he was markedly improved from earlier in the night. He bowed and curtseyed and stepped at all the right moments, bringing himself back to the beginning of the dance at the same time as Jefferson.
“Well would you look at that,” it was difficult not to be aware of Jefferson’s self-satisfied smile, “dogs can learn new tricks.”
“I believe I told you I was not a dog,” Alexander bit back.
“I saw you misbehaving so I took you out back and gave you the training you sorely needed to be allowed to sit at the masters table. Trust me on this one, the shoe fits.”
“You know there is a point in the hornpipe where you must turn and present your back to me. Let’s hope you need not find out where my shoe fits.”
A brief pause, as they cantered through the part of the dance where they must swap positions. Jefferson kissed his teeth and reached out to take Alexander’s hand before they crossed over, “ok that was pretty good.”
The minuet came to an end, an allemande took up after it, and then another. Alexander was increasingly thrilled by the skill of his own two feet. Not only had Jefferson’s teachings held, but the longer he danced the better he became. Swooping through the lines of the dance, Alexander’s feet began to lead him, and keeping up was less of a chore with every passing minute.
After the second allemande, Alexander gestured that he wished for a break. Jefferson nodded, his hair tumbling over his face as he did so. Strangely, no matter how fast he moved or how hard he shook his head, Jefferson’s hair always fell back into the same position. It was fascinating.
“Can I touch it?” Alexander asked, his hand already snaking out to take a lock in his fingers. Jefferson slapped his hand away before it made contact, and shot him a look of contempt so potent that it put an end to the matter.
They each took a glass of water and went to loiter where Madison and Franklin were sat – the pair of them no longer able to keep up with the dance. Madison in particular eyed them with suspicion as they approached, searching for brewing tensions.
“How are you doing?” Jefferson bent down low enough to pull Madison into a half hug.
Madison shrugged, “as well as I can. I am tired but it is fun to watch other people make merry, and Mr Franklin makes for good company.”
“I wish I could say the same of Secretary Hamilton. Still, he has some measure of natural talent as a dancer that might just save my evening.” Jefferson did not look at Alexander as he spoke, but he must have known he could be heard. His mouth was drawn into the flat line it always adopted when he was forced to admit an unsavoury truth.
Franklin laughed, “Oh please Secretary Jefferson, one must not ask for the moon. Secretary Hamilton is one of the best conversationalists in the room. You could do a damned site worse than being married to him.”
Oh what joy it was to witness Jefferson try to work out how to disparage Alexander while agreeing with Mr Franklin (with whom he was friendly and who, in spirit if not in title, outranked every other man in the room that night but Washington). His face froze in a strange sort of grimace that concealed the high pitched, forced sounding laugh that was about to burst from his chest.
Alexander and Madison shared a look of private mirth. No doubt Franklin knew exactly what he was doing.
“Secretary Hamilton certainly has an unusual mind.” Jefferson finally settled.
“That he does.” Franklin had a way of speaking that made even the plainest of statements sound as if he were insinuating something. Alexander searched for a deeper meaning behind the gentleman’s smile but found nothing. Jefferson continued to struggle visibly with how to handle his expression.
To watch the dance was quite pleasant, just as Madison had said. Alexander fell into a daze watching the trims of tailcoats and the shined buttons on waistcoats whirl across the floor; and the men caught sweating beneath all that wool and silk. Washington barely seemed to touch the ground as he beamed down at John Church, Baron Von Steuben and William North moved with such fluidity that they might have been the same being split in two, Burr kept in perfect step with an unfamiliar young man who was dark and well put together as his partner but had hair that was surely larger even than Jefferson’s.
Of course, the act of dancing displays all manner of a man’s person in ways that are not normally seen in ordinary company. Alexander tried to focus on the act of the dance, to appreciate the subtleties of movement, but his attention was forced elsewhere. The heady musk that was unique to men hung heavy around the smell of the oils and perfumes so prodigiously used to try to cover it up. Many men had begun to dispense of their tailcoats so that the billowing arms of their shirts appeared as the wings of an enchanting chorus of angels, and as the coats were laid on chairs at the side of the hall, so the more exciting parts of the male physique came into clearer view.
“You’re staring,” Jefferson held out another glass of wine for Alexander to take.
He denied the wine, but not that he was staring, “when President Washington’s calves are on display like this, why, it would be a travesty not to appreciate such art.”
“I dunno about that,” Jefferson took a large sip from his own glass, though he did not put down the one he has gotten for Alexander, “but that guy he’s dancing with has one hell of an ass on him.”
Alexander’s head whipped round in shock. Jefferson was prone to passing comment on women, but he did not even engage with lighthearted talk of objectively handsome men under normal circumstances (when such talk came to the cabinet, appropriate or otherwise).
Evidently, this was not lost on Jefferson, who shrugged and took another gulp of wine with calculated indifference, “hows about you and I get our calves out and dive back in.”
Alexander frowned, “Jefferson you do talk in the most uncommon language. Je ne comprends pas.”
“Nous allons enlever nos manteaux et danser,” Jefferson grinned wickedly down at Alexander, the sharp line of his smile matching perfectly with the trim of his beard and the cut of his jaw. Bathed in the warm glow of the candles, he seemed to shine, the hard edge of a diamond made human. Alexander had heard many men compared to lions in his time, but of them only Jefferson came close to capturing the predatory majesty of the beast, for better or worse.
They both shrugged off their tailcoats and passed them to Madison to keep safe along with what wine Jefferson had left unfinished.
“I hope you know it won’t be waiting for you when you get back,” Franklin said, taking a swig from the glass that would have been Alexanders.
Jefferson shrugged, “I got plenty more like it back home.”
They moved back into formation as the one song came to an end, Alexander trailing Jefferson by a couple of paces. From this position, and with just enough wine and good humour in him to allow for less savoury indulgences, it was easy to appreciate the firmness of Jefferson’s legs.
“You were staring again,” Jefferson said as they moved into their respective lines, self-satisfaction dripping from his every pore. Alexander blushed scarlet but he had no time to defend himself before the next tune started and he was thrown back into the world of dance.
It did not take long for Alexander to lose all track of which dance was which. He followed the rhythm as best he could and followed Jefferson in movement as much as was possible. He found he had forgotten the specifics of which step went where, but a certain measure of muscle memory had already had time to build up in his feet and with a little guidance the rest fell into place easily.
For his part, Jefferson was more amicable and more focused on the task at hand than he had been earlier in the night. He signalled frantically at Alexander whenever he intended to perform a move that was outside the regular repertoire for whichever dance it was that they were supposed to be dancing, though the additions never felt particular taxing.
The night wore on, tunes came and went. The population of the dance floor slowly thinned until just a handful of couples remained. Even the Baron had taken himself to the sidelines to watch, an arm slung around William North’s waist with apparently no fear for how it might be seen. Washington, of course, remained to see the night to its end, and Alexander decided he must mention her husband’s stamina the next time he saw Angelica.
Even with his relative indifference towards the particulars of this dance or that, Alexander noticed the change of pace as the strings began the build up to a new, much faster tune. All around him, the remaining few couples left on the floor were shuffling into two distinct lines while the retired dancers that now formed their audience cheered with delight at this new music. He looked imploringly at Jefferson, in dire need of assistance.
“Hornpipe,” Jefferson winked, “you should be good at this one, its Scottish”
Alexander stepped back into what he could only assume was his place in line, running through what he had been taught of hornpipes earlier that evening. They had a great many stages that needed to be remembered, and it was a dance of many individuals rather than distinct partnerships. Indeed, Jefferson had cautioned him that the hardest part of this dance was in remembering who one should be offering one’s hand to next.
With a rather unpleasant jolt, Alexander realised that at this point in the evening, he would far rather make many mistakes in a difficult dance in front of Jefferson alone than any other partner. He had already proven himself lacking to the Secretary of State and had borne it well, but to try to explain his shortcomings to another man at such a late hour would be irksome at the least.
There was little time to think on the matter. With a great thundering of staccato strings, the dance began. For Alexander, the first part was easy, as he was taking on the role that would normally be assigned to a woman, he had only to stand and curtsy and let Jefferson circle him, a task he could perform quite perfectly. It amused and gladdened him to see that further down the line, John Church was marching up to Washington, the President having placed himself in the shoes of a woman for this dance.
Once back at his starting post, Jefferson opened his arms as if waiting for Alexander’s embrace. Remembering what to do with his arms was a chore, and Alexander was sure that the young man next to him moved in ways that he did not, but when the time came to reach out a hand and meet Jefferson in the centre of the room, he knew he was right on the beat.
And then, like leaving the shallow waters and having to swim out into the open ocean of the night, Jefferson spun Alexander round and passed him to the next man, who spun him and passed him to the next, who passed him to Washington – a dizzying loop of arms and moving feet. The thunder of their cantering heels on the wooden floor was nigh on loud enough to drown out the music, but there was freedom in the movement, the momentum of each spin carrying the dancers to their next partner, and the next, until his hand slid back into the warm familiarity of Jefferson’s own.
They spun slowly around each other, Alexander flustered but smiling wide, till Jefferson was pulled into the orbit of the others filling out the male position in the dance, to stand in the centre. Alexander was ushered on by those taking on the women’s mantel, creeping against the tide of the gathering at the centre till they peeled off with Washington at the head of their column. The two parties passed each other, but did not touch, and then once again they were spinning, only this time the movement was conserved by each column.
Through the whirling dancers, his flushed cheeks, the band, the surprising enjoyment he was finding in the dance, Alexander found that Jefferson was always visible to him. Perhaps it was simply that even amongst the finery of the evening, his purple velvet stood out, perhaps they had simply spent so much damn time looking at each other that evening that his eyes automatically sought out the familiar. The fact remained, no matter what he did and which was he turned, Jefferson was in the corner of Alexander’s eye. A wine stain on the edge of the night.
The two parties moved towards each other, teasingly, not touching. They became little self-contained waves that pushed away from their partners only to return moments later for the satisfaction of leaving again, until they crossed over and found themselves back to their starting positions on opposite sides of the hall.
Of course, that was just one measure, and there were many more to be danced. It was a joy to be passed between the men, and a joy to have them passed to him and then on. Alexander felt his cheeks ache from the effort of smiling so hard, and whenever he made eye contact with Jefferson he felt the same joy radiated back at him. The thrill of the hornpipe was that no matter how many other hands touched yours, you were always in the process of dashing back to your first partner.
With a final flourish, the music changed to mark the last measure, and Alexander found his feet lighter than they had been all evening. He relished the moments where he was in glorious freefall, not attached to any one partner in particular, and delighted in being brought back down to earth by the next man’s hands. Perhaps it was his Scottish blood, or simply his vitality of spirit, but there was no denying that he was good at dancing a hornpipe.
They came to rest before their original partners, Alexander very much aware that he must look in quite the state of disarray, his hair sticking to his face with sweat and the knot in his cravat off centred. Jefferson, of course, still looked impeccable – not one hair on his head was out of place.
“We killed it!” Jefferson crowed, bringing the flat of his hands forward so that Alexander might be the other half of the clap. Their hands came together with a mighty slap, then softened so that their fingers were interlocked and the pair were grinning wide at each other.
Alexander could only assume that ‘killed it’ was a good thing in whatever manner of dialect Jefferson spoke.
Without pause for reflection, the band moved seamlessly into another waltz, this one far slower than the one that opened the dance. Alexander welcomed the change of pace, for though he had much enjoyed the hornpipe, the exertions of the evening had left him exhausted, and it was a relief to collapse against Jefferson’s chest and allow himself to be led slowly around the floor.
When they had waltzed earlier, Alexander had been determined to keep Jefferson as far from his person as it was possible to keep a dance partner, but with his head leaning against his husband-of-the-evening’s chest, he could only curse his past self for being a fool. It was not just Jefferson’s calves that were firm, the entirety of his person seemed to be carved from some type of rock that had been left in the embers of a fire and now exuded heat with great abandon to all that stepped into its penumbra.
It did not escape Alexander that the waltz was being used as a clear demarcation of the bounds of the night. Sure enough, the bystanders that had formed the audience of the hornpipe were beginning to move towards the exit and the serving boys that had, up till then, been more occupied with handing out beverages began rushing around with outer coats for all the guests.
From a way off, Alexander could see Washington wishing John Church a good night. The President bent to kiss his dance partner’s hand, smiling widely. What a happy thing for two men to have found so much joy in each other’s company of an evening.
“I assume you haven’t completely lost the use of your legs,” Jefferson grumbled. Alexander looked up at him, blinking in a manner that he hoped was innocent and endearing. It had no effect, “you are leaning on me and you are heavy.”
“How can I be heavy, I’m tiny” Alexander retorted, but he did take a step back. Jefferson made a comment under his breath that ran something along the lines of ‘you know what they say about small men’ but he did not say it loud enough that it could not pretended it had not been heard.
Washington walked over to the two of them, an expression of great bemusement upon his face, “I do hope to see you gentlemen working together so well the next time the cabinet is in session.”
There was no chance of such a thing, and this Alexander knew well. To enjoy a moment of a man's time is not the same thing as to agree with his political exploits. Perhaps if he and Jefferson had met outside the arena of politics they might have forged a tempestuous friendship, but under their present circumstances it could only be assumed that this night would be a small respite in an ongoing power struggle between their opposing views on how a country should be run.
Alexander did not say such a thing to Washington, however. Jefferson had no such reservations. “Mr President, I will gift you five barrels of by best bourbon if you never speak of my engagement in this evening again.”
Evidently, the deal was good, “I will expect them at Mount Vernon come the spring.”
When the waltz wound to an end, they were one of just three couples left on the dance floor. Of the others, one was a pair of old military men that Alexander knew by site but who’s names he could not remember, and the other was the Baron and William North, their foreheads pressed together like they might be about to kiss. Jefferson let him go, and just for a moment Alexander wished he had not, so immediately did he miss the pressure of a hand on the small of his back.
Jefferson bent low at the waist, in a full and proper bow, before grabbing Alexander’s right hand and pressing a kiss to his knuckles. Despite an evening spent dancing, the gesture was still completely unanticipated, and Alexander sprung back with a small yelp.
“You’re supposed to curtsy,” Jefferson informed him dryly, “c’mon, lets go get our coats.”
Madison was irritable, he was not best pleased that he had been forced to linger so long after most of the party had begun to move from the hall. He handed them back their coats with a gruff comment that he hoped they had enjoyed their night.
“Actually, I did,” Jefferson cast Alexander a sideways glance, “can’t for the life of me say why.”
“I know it would pain Secretary Jefferson to admit I was good company, but do let him know that outside of the cabinet I find him far less repulsive than in it. Perhaps if he were to remove himself from the President’s council on a permanent basis we would become great friends,” Alexander said to Madison, who glared back.
“Tell him yourself!”
They shared a last laugh together as Madison skulked off, and then it was time to call the evening to an end. “I’ll see you in the cabinet. Which I am definitely not leaving not now not ever,” Jefferson said, shrugging on a winter coat that seemed to be five sheepskins deep.
“See you on the other side,” Alexander conceded, pulling on his far more modest winter coat.
The pair of them stepped out into the chilled streets of New York in tandem, the clear skies exposing the moon and stars for all to see. Their breath hung in the air, as did the sounds of the retreating guests as they hurried back to warm firesides and deep beds.
The moment broke. There was a carriage waiting for Jefferson, which he stepped into swiftly, his hair bouncing as the vehicle shook under his weight.
Standing there in his inadequate coat, Alexander looked forlornly at the carriage, imagining what it must be like to travel with the luxury of a partially enclosed space to keep out the wind, and as a pace such that the journey home would never feel like a chore. There was so much space inside, Jefferson was a big man but this was bigger. It required a full two horses to pull, the footman fiddling with their harnesses before moving to close the door.
“Wait!” Alexander called, “I don’t suppose-“
“You can walk,” Jefferson grinned. He leaned forward to close the door himself, and then he was away into the night, leaving Alexander to shiver all the way home, in quite the opposite direction.
Husbands no longer. And yet, the token was still in Alexander’s waistcoat pocket, the yellow sun that had tied him to Jefferson in the first place. He supposed he should keep it, for all the times the man was an infuriating ass who deserved to be kicked out of government. It would be good to be reminded from time to time, that every now and then there would be moments like this.