A MASTER PASSION-read more
“Your Excellency.” Hamilton saluted and stepped close to the commander’s desk.
“Ah, Colonel Hamilton.” Confronted by that weary, wintry face, Hamilton feared the worst.
If anything has gone wrong with the rum consignment, I am about to catch hell.
“I have here a letter full of conundrums from Mr. van Pelt.”
The letter was passed. Hamilton speedily scanned it, thanking his lucky stars as he did so. As irksome as this new problem was, it was apothecary supplies, not the all-important rum consignment.
Standing tall, Hamilton summarized in a few brief sentences the recent transactions he’d had with van Pelt so Washington could fully understand where the matter stood. Washington nodded his gray head, listening.
While he talked, Hamilton’s mind darted to a possible solution. This allowed him to conclude with a suggestion. He was relieved when the commander nodded.
“Try it, Colonel. Still, it’s damned hard to do business with our Congress promising—but never quite delivering—the money.”
Hamilton nodded emphatically. Lack of funds was the distilled essence of the Continental Army’s troubles.
“Write me a letter to this refractory gentleman. Intimate we’ll have what we need one way or another. Twist his tail a little. We’ll send it off under my signature, first thing in the morning.”
Hamilton seated himself at a nearby writing desk and found paper. Washington appeared grimmer than usual. It had been a long day, and the added strain of socializing with the patriot gentry had made it even longer.
If you were an ordinary man, George Washington, you would yawn and stretch, lean back in your chair and close your eyes.
Instead, the General picked up another piece of correspondence and proceeded to study it, grave as a monument. Hamilton tapped his quill on the edge of the inkwell and searched for the words to prod Mr. van Pelt.
Embers of blue and rose glowed upon the hearth, illuminating blackened logs. A winter wind, like a starving dog, snuffled around the corners of the house.
After half an hour, Hamilton had crafted a letter. While he stood at attention, anxious and weary, Washington read it over, nodded, and then signed with a flourish.
“Excellent, Colonel Hamilton. As much and as little as needs to be said. That last sentence, which could be construed as a threat, will probably elicit some action.”
A cold, slight smile of approval curved the General’s lips as he dried the ink with a sprinkle of sand
As Hamilton inwardly heaved a sigh of relief, Washington spoke again.
“One last matter, Colonel.”
Now what? Every muscle in his body begged to go upstairs, to fall into his narrow camp bed, and plummet into unconsciousness.
With precision, Washington folded the letter. He fired wax and let it drip onto the crease, setting his seal precisely. As this went on, there was silence, nothing but wind and crinkling coals. Hamilton was motionless. Washington was a ponderous thinker, and long pauses were common. What the General finally articulated, however, was neither about the commissary or the war.
“You could do far worse, you know, Colonel Hamilton.”
Washington lifted his head and regarded him levelly. “Than a little winter campaigning, my boy, directed toward capturing the heart of a certain charming newcomer to our assembly.”
With alarm, Hamilton recognized amusement in those cold blue eyes. The “my boy” signaled that the usually distant Washington intended their conversation to be personal...
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