(Excerpt from the Chapter By Passion Undone)
“Sar.” A bare-legged servant stuck his head around the door. “There’s a gen’lewoman wantin’ to see you. Says she’s a cousin of Mr. Livingston of New York. She’s got trouble she needs your help about.”
“She didn’t happen to say which Mr. Livingston, did she?” Hamilton sprinkled sand on the paper. He knew at least eight New York “Mr. Livingstons.”
“No, Sar, she di’nt.”
Hamilton turned over the card the fellow brought, but aside from the name, “Maria Reynolds,” there was no other information. A supplicant at his door wasn’t unusual. Gentry in trouble were likely to call here, particularly at this time of year, when everyone else prominent was out of town.
“Show the lady in. But—give me a minute to get dressed.”
“You’ll be glad you saw ’er, Sar.” Hamilton noted an unaccountable smirk.
Shaking his head, he stood to slip on his waistcoat. The servant was impudent, but Alexander mostly overlooked it, for this ex-soldier generally had his wits about him.
At the mirror, he folded the stock around his throat and tied a loose knot. Next, he shrugged on a white linen coat. He often wished that he, like the servant, could get by wearing only a shirt and trousers. He mopped his brow again.
Philadelphia is even more like Hell than usual.
The door opened. “Mrs. James Reynolds, Sar.” The servant bowed her through.
As the woman approached, Hamilton’s eyes widened. She was young, straight-shouldered and tall enough to look him straight in the eye, but utterly female, all voluptuous curves and sway. Her hair was a glossy, rich brunette. Her skin, flushed by the heat, looked soft. Her cheeks were bright, her eyes deep blue.
Hamilton was rarely at a loss for words, but he could barely summon sufficient courtesy to motion this fair creature to the chair the servant brought forward. When she smiled, a nervous, yet confiding smile, everything else in the room vanished.
Hamilton stayed behind his table, but even with this formidable bulk and all those stacks of paper, she was a palpable presence.
With charming diffidence, she explained that the Livingston’s she was kin to were the Livingstons of Red Hook. Hamilton had never heard of them.
More distant kin to my Betsy?
“How may I be of service to you, Mrs. Reynolds?”
As she replied, her creamy bosom began to rise and fall in agitation. “I know you’re a terrible busy man, sar, so I’ll come straight to it. I’m sore ashamed to come to you like this—like a—like a beggar—but my husband has left me in such straits I don’t know where else to turn.”
Her voice was teary, low and soft. An accent far more common than that of her initial speech came creeping in.
Not real gentry, or just clinging to the edge…? Alexander’s sympathies were immediately engaged.
“My Mister has found hi’self another woman, ya see, sar, and the night he left me and my little girl—she’s just five—and—and—why, sar, ’e—’e beatin’ me right in front of my little girl, for ’e’s the very devil when ’e’s drunk.” The blue eyes spilled over, brimming with shame and helpless rage. “I want to go home to my own people in New York, sar, and leave Mr. Reynolds for good—but I—I haven’t no means.”
What incredible skin—so fair and beaded with sweat! Five year old or no, this young mother was not even out of her teens.
“Please—please—don’t be offended, Colonel Hamilton.” She turned those luminous eyes sadly towards him and withdrew a handkerchief from the cleft which separated her round breasts. “I’m so ashamed for tellin’ you—a perfect stranger—’bout my disgrace, but I’ve seen you about the city and you always look like such a kind gentleman. My landlady said to me this very mornin’ that you’re a good Samaritan for helping out folks in trouble, ’specially New Yorkers. If you could just give me enough for the coach back to New York and—and—to settle with my landlady, I’d be ever so grateful.”
She was affectingly nervous, stammering and girlishly wringing the handkerchief.
“Really, Colonel, there’s no one else I’d dare ask.”
Hamilton removed his own handkerchief and mopped his brow, where sweat poured. Even his palms were perspiring! He wiped them surreptitiously, one at a time, upon his breeches. In this damnable, relentless heat, not even the linen jacket could be long endured.
He had to clear his throat before he could reply. All the time he was intently aware of those eyes fixed upon him, and of the heavy scent—sweating young female and a cheap floral perfume.
“Well, certainly, Mrs. Reynolds, it sounds a good plan. To return to your family, that is. I’ll be glad to assist you, but I don’t have so much as a dollar here.”
The dark eyes stared, incredulous. Her pink lips parted slightly. She looked, he thought, childishly expectant, in breathless suspense.
“Let me see. I will get a bank bill and send it to you. Will tomorrow be soon enough?”
“Oh, yes, Colonel.” The tears stopped as quickly as they’d started, and she sprang to her feet, dabbing her eyes. “Oh, thank you, Colonel! Everyone said you was a most kind gentleman, and indeed—indeed—so you are!”
Hamilton, following her lead, also stood.
“Here, sar.” She stepped forward and laid a folded bit of paper on the desk. “This is my address.” Then she cast her eyes down. “I’d be grateful, too, Colonel, if you would come yourself and—and—not send a servant. I—I shouldn’t like for anyone to see what I’m reduced to—me and my little girl.”
* * *
“Knew you wouldn’t be sorry to see her, Mr. Secretary. Weren’t that some fine piece of woman flesh? Her husband must have lost ’is mind. I ask you, where’s ’e goin’ to find another filly that’ll ride like that one?”
“Mr. Donelson,” Alexander said, “your eyes are obviously good, but your ears must be even better. I warn you, sir, if you ever listen at my door again, you will find yourself looking for another job.”
The man tugged his forelock and mumbled, “Yes, sar, Colonel, Mr. Secretary.” As he backed out the door, Alexander caught a flash of his mocking grin.
He removed his jacket, the stock and the waistcoat again. He sat and tried to go back to work, but he was no longer able to concentrate. The scent of woman, of her rose perfume, lingered in the room. Hamilton kept trying to bring himself back, to refocus upon his “Report on Manufactures.” He swatted at a mosquito that came buzzing by his head, while silently cursing the whole race of women. All he could think about was what he hadn’t had since Betsy had gone to Albany, well over a month ago.
What I should be cursing is sex itself.
Hamilton leaned back and stretched his arms over his head.
After only a few weeks without a wife, I’m like a bull locked in a barn, smelling cows down in the pasture. Here I sit, unable to think about anything but kicking the walls down and finding one of them….
~~ Juliet Waldron
(And if you think this sounds like trouble--it is.)
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