Alexander Hamilton Talks
The problem with people, good sir, is that they talk too much. Not a single person, not a single, living soul, born of mother and father in wedded union, or perhaps not wedded, because the globe is wide, you know, and I have seen so much of it, not one, single living soul, can keep their mouth shut for more than one moment at time, and this is why, my good sir, everyone man, woman, and child, needs to keep the utmost hold on the themselves, and practice, as a daily ritual, abstinence and self control.
Now let you tell you my story, including how I was trapped into an extramarital affair with a luscious admirer, in complete and full detail and please don’t worry, my dear friend (What was your name again? James?) about drinking too much, I shall also have another glass, for the wine is excellent.
Mariah first contacted me by letter, and the letter was short, but not so short that I could not help but understand her predicament. It was a Tuesday. My dear wife had taken the children out of the state. It was mid-September, and there was a wind blowing outside, just the hint of fall. I was wearing a white dress shirt, velvet pants, and a blue knitted sweater. I had on white silk stockings, and slippers without decoration, for I have always considered myself a humble man, after all. The slippers have no need of adornment. Besides all that, I really can’t remember. I must have conveniently blacked it out.
I took another sip of port as I contemplated my next move. The fire was roaring. It was quite comfortable. I thought of how different it must be for..what was her name? Mariah. I thought of how she indicated her humble lodgings, the lack of a fire, the penniless state in which she found herself, etc. etc. I yawned. I was a little tired. I took a short nap.
When I was awoke, it was quite dark, and the only illumination was the fire, which had grown quite dim. I decided that the fates were lending me a little wink, as it were, this delicious darkness, so rang the bell for my trusted servant, Hobbs, and it was this man (for you will find conspirators everywhere, my friend) who brought me the paper and pen, and the quaint little half-melted nub of a crimson candle, and these were the implements that I retained in order to construct a very business-like, even, I would say curt, reply, to this young penniless Mariah, indicating that she might find me at leisure to receive her in my home that very evening, and that, considering the very busy state of my affairs, she must come at once, in the covered carriage I intended to send for her.
This tavern noise is terrible, my good friend. I have been in much better places, I assure you. Also much worse, as George will tell you. Oh come now. You balk at the familiarity? You think I spent all those years in those shaking little field tents, and I never called him George? Naturally! And I was Alex-y, but I hated it, but I couldn’t tell him so, for we were all going to be very important. That was the thing. I had to take it all, even the uncommon site of George’s pale, bony feet, uncovered at dusk as he undid his boots and slipped into a camp bed, asking for me to keep watch a little, just until he fell asleep, and the little veined eyelids closing, and it seemed to me at every moment he was 900 years old. I had to take it, because we were all going to be so very, very instrumental, as it were, and I had to keep my head clear. While he slept, then, I arranged all my thoughts in my mental cabinets.
But Mariah, she had her own cabinet. Let me pour again, James, and tell you more.
Well, my new friend, all went as planned. I waited an hour, perhaps a little more, while the covered carriage fetched the hapless Mariah. And what a sight she presented, the poor dear! Her hair was a tangle. There was not much to the red dress she wore, but how could there be? She had not a dime. I immediately persuaded her to sit. She did so, and even that was an effort. She seemed to lack nutrition. She said she had not eaten that day. I ordered a full meal and wine to restore the blood flow to her cheeks.
Are you married, James?
Because I am married, but I was born in a town where the sky is as blue as the sea, and it is so, so, overly warm, and it seems to me…I have thought a great deal about this, you know…that this warmth is in my blood. I think warmth, and a great affection for tropical flowers, beaches, and…affection…not the sort you find in political circles, not affection that makes you withstand the sight of bony feet and blue vein eyelids, but affection that comes between man and woman, freed from all bonds except the relations of nature, and all of this unfolding quite simply…a liking for these sorts of moments, it must be in my blood, as all I can tell.
You look disgusted, my friend. Well, perhaps it’s time to go home. No? You want to hear more? Well, perhaps, I am not sure, this might not be the right sort of place to tell this story. I am not sure that everyone here, all the men and some of the tavern girls, I might not be able to trust them. Oh, I hear a little tavern music starting up in that corner. Well, then, I’m sure it’s quite safe for me to continue. Nobody can possibly hear me but you.
Well, I am not sure what we had to eat, that night of nights, except I remember an excellent 1772 Bordeaux, cured ham, bacon and onion tarts, tomato soup, strawberries and peaches, salmon with lemon marinade, creme brulee, and champagne.
But Mariah, even after all that sustenance, could not manage an upright posture. I begged her to rest on the couch, and she did so, all the while unfolding her tale.
She did not have the language of a fine lady, Mariah. She spoke without the sort of chopped language of a woman who has spent all her time in boarding schools, learns over her nursery chapbook the art of concealment. Mariah, she was like a strand in St. Kitts. She was Eve, cast out of the decent matrimonial paradise she was raised for, and through her good lucks and ready charm, had every reason to expect would lead her to all the comforts of an established housewife, and she said that was all the intended. She married a good man, a young man, a tailor’s apprentice with good prospects, a man with political leanings, who turned soldier. He left his sweet bride to woo his mistress, and this mistress was the Revolution, and purest and most chaste virgin among all women, and she was unashamed, even as a married man, to devote all his energy to her. He sought her in the dampest, most distressed and frozen landscapes. A little blood was not enough. He must give all. So he did. His wife was a widow.
And then, the poor girl, made the more attractive by having sacrificed her happiness to her country, the next man to come by, he was a notorious cad, and, I know this will shock you James…he drank…a great deal.
She ceased to talk. I begged her to continue. This poor, unaffected girl, having know the devotion of a solid, hard working man…now she was exposed to the vicissitudes of a reckless man. The unlearning of her industry, you know, the canning…I think they shear sheep or something, assist with it, anyway, in Williamsburg. I know they assist with castrating the male sheep, at times. They are great hands for castration.
That’s not specific enough for you? I swear, you have an uncommon interest in the duties of the new American housewife. I wish I could tell you how people like Mariah went about it, but I know little enough myself. Well, I was not permitted to see it. My mother wanted us boys to really get into nature, island culture, so she locked us out, sometimes for eight, twelve hours at a time. Well, it was warm enough. She once locked us out for two days, curtains drawn and everything. I slept under the pier. I tell you, man, I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.
As for me, I supposed I inquired less about Mariah’s domestic skills, having my mind quickly alerted to the terrible dissipation that must have occurred, I wanted her to tell my everything, which she did, in little bursts, in between, in between the times she was naturally weak, and I exerted myself to make her respond to me, fearing the worst, at times, needing to stimulate her, make her respond, so that I could be assured of the life in her, make her blood come to the surface, as the tide comes in, and rolls out again, so did I press her, and fight for those little phrases, those short sentences, in which she revealed all that she had learned, how far she had fallen, and where she now rested, in a red gown not fit for the weather, in a room she had not seen three hours earlier.
When we paused to take an assessment of our situation, I remembered that she said she was penniless, and so, quite of my own accord, I gave her some money. She went away in the covered carriage. I suppose she told her husband all that had transpired. He soon contacted me. I thought, at the time, that she had been forced to do so, but now I suspect otherwise. But the times we had! It’s like the dying ember on the fire. It won’t quite go out. Even when that cad wrote me to tell me that, having grown quite close to his wife, he know considered himself close enough to me to regard me as their personal benefactor, even as I was shaking with anger and burning the letter, that dying ember was there, and it seemed to flare up a little, and say, yes, but now it’s done, you might as well fall to where she is, revive her again, comfort her again…and so, I think you see where this is leading.
The music stopped. I hadn’t noticed. Where have all the men gone? The room is empty. I must have been talking for hours, James. Let me walk you home. You look heavy with drink. There are places along the river that are treacherous for men like you, James. You really must have a friend to guide you, especially these political circles. You don’t look like a strong swimmer.