Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Atherton

Part 2 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

kinsman of the leading families of the Island and the most beautiful
daughter of old John and Mary Fawcett were a constant and agitating
theme, but two people lived their life of secluded and poignant
happiness, and took Nevis or St. Kitts into little account.





I should have been glad to find an old Almanac of Nevis which contained
a description of its 11th of January, 1757. But one January is much like
another in the Leeward Islands, and he who has been there can easily
imagine the day on which Alexander Hamilton was born. The sky was a
deeper blue than in summer, for the sun was resting after the terrific
labours of Autumn, and there was a prick in the trade winds which
stimulated the blood by day and chilled it a trifle at night. The slave
women moved more briskly, followed by a trotting brood of "pic'nees,"
one or more clinging to their hips, all bewailing the rigours of winter.
Down in the river where they pounded the clothes on the stones, they
vowed they would carry the next linen to the sulphur springs, for the
very marrow in their bones was cold. In the Great Houses there were no
fires, but doors and windows were closed early and opened late, and
blankets were on every bed. The thermometer may have stood at 72 deg..

Nevis herself was like a green jewel casket, after the autumn rains.
Oranges and sweet limes were yellow in her orchards, the long-leaved
banana trees were swelling with bunches of fruit, the guavas were ready
for cream and the boiling. The wine was in the cocoanut, the royal palms
had shed their faded summer leaves and glittered like burnished metal.
The gorgeous masses of the croton bush had drawn fresh colour from the
rain. In the woods and in the long avenues which wound up the mountain
to the Great House of every estate, the air was almost cold; but out
under the ten o'clock sun, even a West Indian could keep warm, and the
negroes sang as they reaped the cane. The sea near the shore was like
green sunlight, but some yards out it deepened into that intense hot
blue which is the final excess of West Indian colouring. The spray flew
high over the reef between Nevis and St. Kitts, glittering like the salt
ponds on the desolate end of the larger island, the roar of the breakers
audible in the room where the child who was to be called Alexander
Hamilton was born.

Rachael rose to a ceaseless demand upon her attention for which she was
grateful during the long days of Hamilton's absence. Alexander turned
out to be the most restless and monarchical of youngsters and preferred
his mother to his black attendants. She ruled him with a firm hand,
however, for she had no mind to lessen her pleasure in him, and although
she could not keep him quiet, she prevented the blacks from spoiling

During the hurricane months Hamilton yielded to her nervous fears, as he
had done in the preceding year, and crossed to St. Kitts but seldom. As
a matter of fact, hurricanes of the first degree, are rare in the West
Indies, the average to each island being one in a century. But from the
25th of August, when all the Caribbean world prostrates itself in church
while prayers for deliverance from the awful visitation are read, to the
25th of October, when the grateful or the survivors join in
thanksgiving, every wind alarms the nervous, and every round woolly
cloud must contain the white squall. Rachael knew that Nevis boats had
turned over when minor squalls dashed down the Narrows between the
extreme points of the Islands, and that they were most to be dreaded in
the hurricane season. Hamilton's inclination was to spare in every
possible way the woman who had sacrificed so much for him, and he asked
little urging to idle his days in the cool library with his charming
wife and son. Therefore his business suffered, for his partners took
advantage of his negligence; and the decay of their fortunes began when
Rachael, despite the angry protests of Archibald Hamn, sold her property
on St. Kitts and gave Hamilton the money. He withdrew from the firm
which had treated him inconsiderately, and set up a business for
himself. For a few years he was hopeful, although more than once
obliged to borrow money from his wife. She gave freely, for she had been
brought up in the careless plenty of the Islands. Mary Fawcett,
admirable manager as she was, had been lavish with money, particularly
when her favourite child was in question; and Rachael's imagination had
never worked toward the fact that money could roll down hill and not
roll up again. She was long in discovering that the man she loved and
admired was a failure in the uninteresting world of business. He was a
brilliant and charming companion, read in the best literatures of the
world, a thoughtful and adoring husband. It availed Archibald Hamn
nothing to rage or Dr. Hamilton to remonstrate. Rachael gradually
learned that Hamilton was not as strong as herself, but the maternal
instinct, so fully aroused by her child, impelled her to fill out his
nature with hers, while denying nothing to the man who did all he could
to make her happy.

In the third year Hamilton gave up his sail-boat, and had himself rowed
across the Narrows, where the overlooker of a salt estate he had bought
awaited him with a horse. Once he would have thought nothing of walking
the eight miles to Basseterre, but the Tropics, while they sharpen the
nerves, caress unceasingly the indolence of man. During the hurricane
season he crossed as often as he thought necessary, for with expert
oarsmen there was little danger, even from squalls, and the distance was
quickly covered.

Gradually Rachael's position was accepted. Nothing could alter the fact
that she was the daughter of Dr. and Mary Fawcett, and Hamilton was of
the best blood in the Kingdom. She was spoken of generally as Mistress
Hamilton, and old friends of her parents began to greet her pleasantly
as she drove about the Island with her beautiful child. In time they
called, and from that it was but another step to invite, as a matter of
course, the young Hamiltons to their entertainments. After all, Rachael
was not the first woman in tropical Great Britain to love a man she
could not marry, and it was fatiguing to ask the everlasting question of
whether the honesty of a public irregular alliance were not
counterbalanced by its dangerous example. It was a day of loose morals,
the first fruit of the vast scientific movement of the century, whose
last was the French Revolution. Moreover, the James Hamiltons were
delightful people, and life on the Islands was a trifle monotonous at
times; they brought into Nevis society fresh and unusual personalities,
spiced with a salient variety. Hamilton might almost be said to have
been born an astute man of the world. He opened his doors with an
accomplished hospitality to the most intelligent and cultivated people
of the Island, ignoring those who based their social pretensions on rank
and wealth alone. In consequence he and his wife became the leaders of a
small and exclusive set, who appreciated their good fortune. Dr.
Hamilton and a few other Kittifonians were constant visitors in this
hospitable mansion. Christiana Huggins, who had taken a bold stand from
the first, carried her father there one day in triumph, and that austere
parent laid down his arms. All seemed well, and the crumbling of the
foundations made no sound.

And Alexander? He was an excitable and ingenious imp, who saved himself
from many a spanking by his sparkling mind and entrancing sweetness of
temper. He might fly at his little slaves and beat them, and to his
white playmates he never yielded a point; but they loved him, for he was
generous and honest, and the happiest little mortal on the Island. He
could get into as towering a rage as old John Fawcett, but he was
immediately amenable to the tenderness of his parents.

When he was four years old he was sent to a small school, which happened
to be kept by a Jewess. In spite of his precocity his parents had no
wish to force a mind which, although delightful to them in its saucy
quickness, aroused no ambitious hopes; they sent him to school merely
that there might be less opportunity to spoil him at home. His new
experience was of a brief duration.

Hamilton on a Sunday was reading to Rachael in the library. Alexander
shoved a chair to the table and climbed with some difficulty, for he was
very small, to an elevated position among the last reviews of Europe.
He demanded the attention of his parents, and, clasping his hands behind
his back, began to recite rapidly in an unknown tongue. The day was very
hot, and he wore nothing but a white apron. His little pink feet were
bare on the mahogany, and his fair curls fell over a flushed and earnest
face, which at all times was too thin and alert to be angelic or
cherubic. Hamilton and Rachael, wondering whom he fancied himself
imitating, preserved for a moment a respectful silence, then, overcome
by his solemn countenance and the fluency of his outlandish utterance,
burst into one of those peals of sudden laughter which seem to strike
the most sensitive chord in young children. Alexander shrieked in wrath
and terror, and made as if to fling himself on his mother's bosom, then
planted his feet with an air of stubborn defiance, and went on with his
recital. Hamilton listened a moment longer, then left the house
abruptly. He returned in wrath.

"That woman has taught him the Decalogue in Hebrew!" he exclaimed. "'Tis
a wonder his brains are not addled. He will sail boats in the
swimming-bath and make shell houses in the garden for the next three
years. We'll have no more of school."


Alexander Hamilton had several escapes from imminent peril when he was a
boy, and the first occurred in the month of December, 1761. Hamilton had
gone to St. Croix on business, and Rachael and the child spent the
fortnight of his absence with Christiana Huggins. Rachael was accustomed
to Hamilton's absences, but Nevis was in a very unhealthy condition,
through lack of wind and rains during the preceding autumn. The sea had
looked like a metal floor for months, the Island was parched and dry,
the swamps on the lowlands were pestiferous. Many negroes had died in
Charles Town, and many more were ill. The obeah doctors, with their
absurd concoctions and practices, were openly defying the physicians of
repute, for the terrified blacks believed that the English had prayed
once too often that the hurricane should be stayed, and that he sulked
where none might feel his faintest breath. Therefore they cursed the
white doctor as futile, and flung his physic from the windows.

Rachael was glad to escape to the heights with Alexander. There it was
almost as cool as it should be in December, and she could watch for her
husband's sloop. He had gone with the first light wind, and there was
enough to bring him home, although with heavy sail. She forgot the
muttering negroes and the sickness below. Her servants had been
instructed to nurse and nourish where assistance was needed, and up here
there was nothing to do but wander with her friend and child through the
gay beauty of the terraced garden, or climb the stone steps to the cold
quiet depths of the forest.

At the end of a fortnight there was no sign of her husband's sloop, but
the wind was strengthening, and she decided to return home and make
ready for him. During the long drive she passed negroes in large
numbers, either walking toward Charles Town or standing in muttering
groups by the roadside. At one time the driveway was so thick with them
that her coach could not pass until the postilion laid about him with
his whip.

"This is very odd," she said to her nurse. "I have never seen anything
like this before."

"Me no t'ink he nothin'. All go tee tick--oh, dis pic'nee no keep till
one minit. Me no t'ink about he'n de road."

She lifted the child between her face and her mistress's eyes, and
Rachael saw that her hand trembled. "Can the negroes be rising?" she
wondered; and for a moment she was faint with terror, and prayed for
Hamilton's return.

But she was heroic by nature, and quickly recovered her poise. When she
arrived at home she sent the nurse to Charles Town on an errand, then
went directly to her bedroom, which was disconnected from the other
rooms, and called her three devoted maids, Rebecca, Flora, and Esther.
They came running at the sound of her voice, and she saw at once that
they were terrified and ready to cling to her garments.

"What is the matter?" she demanded. "Tell me at once."

"Me no know fo' sure," said Rebecca, "but me t'ink, t'ink, till me yell
in me tleep. Somethin' ter'ble go to happen. Me feel he in de air. All
de daddys, all de buddys, 'peak, 'peak, togedder all de time, an' look
so bad--an' de oby doctors put de curse ebberywheres. Me fine befo' de
gate dis mornin' one pudden', de mud an' oil an' horsehair, but me no
touch he. Me ask all de sissys me know, what comes, but he no 'peak. He
run out he tongue, and once he smack me ear. Oh, Mistress, take us back
to Sinkitts."

"But do you _know_ nothing?"

They shook their heads, but stared at her hopefully, for they believed
implicitly in her power to adjust all things.

"And my other slaves? Do you think they are faithful to me?"

"All in de town all de time. Me ask ebbery he tell me what comes, and he
say 'nothin,' but I no believe he."

"And has the Governor taken no notice?"

"De Gobbenor lord and all de noble Buckras go yis'day to Sinkitts. Take
de militia for one gran' parade in Bassetarr. Is de birfday to-morrow de
Gobbenor lord de Sinkitts. Up in de Great Houses no hear nothin', an'
all quiet on 'states till yes'day. Now comin' to town an' look so bad,
so bad!"

"Very well, then, the Governor and the militia must come back. Rebecca,
you are the most sensible as well as the weakest in the arms. You will
stay here to-night, and you will not falter for a moment. As soon as it
is dark Flora and Esther will row me across the channel, and I will send
the Buckra's agent on a fast horse with a note to the Governor. If the
other house servants return, you will tell them that I am ill and that
Flora and Esther are nursing me. You will lock the gates, and open them
to no one unless your Buckra should return. Do you understand?"

The slave rolled her eyes, but nodded. She might have defied the
Captain-General, but not one of the Fawcetts.

There were two hours before dark. Rachael was conscious of every nerve
in her body, and paced up and down the long line of rooms which
terminated in the library, until Alexander's legs were worn out trotting
after her, and he fell asleep on the floor. Twice she went to the roof
to look for Hamilton's sloop, but saw not a sail on the sea; and the
streets of Charles Town were packed with negroes. England sent no
soldiers to protect her Islands, and every free male between boyhood and
old age was forced by law to join the militia. It was doubtful if there
were a dozen muscular white men on Nevis that night, for the birthday of
a Governor was a fete of hilarities. Unless the militia returned that
night, the blacks, if they really were plotting vengeance, and she knew
their superstitions, would have burned every house and cane-field before

The brief twilight passed. The mist rolled down from the heights of
Nevis. Rachael, with Alexander in her arms, and followed by her maids,
stole along the shore through the thick cocoanut groves, meeting no one.
They were far from the town's centre, and all the blacks on the Island
seemed to be gathered there. The boat was beached, and it took the
combined efforts of the three women to launch it. When they pushed off,
the roar of the breakers and the heavy mist covered their flight. But
there was another danger, and the very physical strength of the slaves
departed before it. They had rowed their mistress about the roadstead
before St. Kitts a hundred times, but the close proximity of the reef so
terrified them that Rachael was obliged to take the oars; while Flora
caught Alexander in so convulsive an embrace that he awoke and protested
with all the vigour of his lungs. His mother's voice, to which he was
peculiarly susceptible, hushed him, and he held back his own, although
the gasping bosom on which he rested did not tend to soothe a nervous
child. But there were other ways of expressing outraged feelings, and he
kicked like a little steer.

Rachael herself was not too sure of her knowledge of the dangerous
channel, although she had crossed it many times with Hamilton; and the
mist was floating across to St. Kitts. The hollow boom of the reef
seemed so close that she expected to hear teeth in the boat every
moment, and she knew that far and wide the narrows bristled. She
wondered if her hair were turning white, and her straining nerves
quivered for a moment with a feminine regret; for she knew the power of
her beauty over Hamilton. But her arms kept their strength. Life had
taught her to endure more than a half-hour of mortal anxiety.

She reached the shore in safety, and Esther recovered her muscle and
agreed to run to the overlooker's house and send him, on his fleetest
horse, with her mistress's note to the Governor of Nevis. When the
others reached the house, a mile from the Narrows, the man had gone; and
Rachael could do no more. The overlookers wife mulled wine, and the
maids were soon asleep. Alexander refused to go to bed, and Rachael, who
was not in a disciplinary mood, led him out into the open to watch for
the boats of the Governor and his militia. There was no moon; they could
cross and land near Hamilton's house and overpower, without discharging
a gun, the negroes packed in Charles Town. If the Governor were prompt,
the blacks, even had they dispersed to fire the estates, would not have
time for havoc; and she knew the tendency of the negro to procrastinate.
They did not expect the Governor until late on the following day; they
could drink all night and light their torches at dawn when Nevis was
heavy in her last sleep. Nevertheless, Rachael watched the Island

Fortunately, Alexander possessed an inquiring mind, and she was obliged
to answer so many questions that the strain was relieved. They walked
amidst a wild and dismal scene. The hills were sterile and black. The
salt ponds, sunken far below the level of the sea, from lack of rain,
glittered white, but they were set with aloes and manchineel, and there
were low and muddy flats to be avoided. It was a new aspect of nature to
the child who had lived his four years amid the gay luxuriance of tropic
verdure, and he was mightily interested. Nevertheless, it was a long
hour before the overlooker returned with word that the Governor was on
his way to Nevis with the militia of both Islands--for St. Kitts was
quiet, its negroes having taken the drouth philosophically--and that her
husband was with them. He had arrived at Basseterre as the boats were
leaving; as a member of the Governor's staff, he had no choice. He had
sent her word, however, not to return to Nevis that night; and Rachael
and Alexander went down to the extreme point of the Island and sat there
through a cold night of bitter anxiety. With the dawn Hamilton came for

The negroes, surprised and overwhelmed, had surrendered without
resistance, and before they had left the town. They confessed that their
intention had been to murder every white on the Island, seize the
ammunition which was stored on the estates, and fire upon the militia as
it passed, on the following day. The ringleaders and obeah doctors were
either publicly executed or punished with such cruelty that the other
malcontents were too cowed to plan another rebellion; and the abundant
rains of the following autumn restored their faith in the white man.


When Alexander was five years old, James arrived, an object of much
interest to his elder brother, but a child of ordinary parts to most
beholders. He came during the last days of domestic tranquillity; for it
was but a few weeks later that Hamilton was obliged to announce to
Rachael that his fortunes, long tottering, had collapsed to their rotten
foundations. It was some time before she could accommodate her
understanding to the fact that there was nothing left, for even Levine
had not dared to lose his money, far less her own; and had she ever
given the subject of wealth a thought, she would have assumed that it
had roots in certain families which no adverse circumstance could
deplace. She had overheard high words between Archibald Hamn and her
husband in the library, but Hamilton's casual explanations had satisfied
her, and she had always disliked Archibald as a possible stepfather. Dr.
Hamilton had frequently looked grave after a conversation with his
kinsman, but Rachael was too unpractical to attribute his heavier moods
to anything but his advancing years.

When Hamilton made her understand that they were penniless, and that his
only means of supporting her was to accept an offer from Peter Lytton to
take charge of a cattle estate on St. Croix, Rachael's controlling
sensation was dismay that this man whom she had idolized and idealized,
who was the forgiven cause of her remarkable son's illegitimacy, was a
failure in his competition with other men. Money would come somehow, it
always had; but Hamilton dethroned, shoved out of the ranks of planters
and merchants, reduced to the status of one of his own overlookers,
almost was a new and strange being, and she dared not bid forth her
hiding thoughts.

Fortunately the details of moving made life impersonal and commonplace.
The three slaves whose future had been the last concern but one of Mary
Fawcett, were sent, wailing, to Archibald Hamn. Two of the others were
retained to wait upon the children, the rest sold with the old mahogany
furniture and the library. The Hamiltons set sail for St. Croix on a day
in late April. The sympathy of their friends had been expressed in more
than one offer of a lucrative position, but Hamilton was intensely
proud, and too mortified at his failure to remain obscure among a people
who had been delighted to accept his princely and exclusive hospitality.
On St. Croix he was almost unknown.

They made the voyage in thirty-two hours, but as the slaves were ill,
after the invariable habit of their colour, Rachael had little respite
from her baby, or Hamilton from Alexander, whose restless legs and
enterprising mind kept him in constant motion; and the day began at five
o'clock. There was no opportunity for conversation, and Hamilton was
grateful to the miserable mustees. He had the tact to let his wife
readjust herself to her damaged idols without weak excuses and a
pleading which would have distressed her further, but he was glad to be
spared intimate conversation with her.

As they sailed into the bright green waters before Frederikstadt, the
sun blazed down upon the white town on the white plain with a vicious
energy which Rachael had never seen on Nevis during the hottest and most
silent months of the year. She closed her eyes and longed for the cool
shallows of the harbour, and even Alexander ceased to watch the flying
fish dart like silver blades over the water, and was glad to be stowed
comfortably into one of the little deck-houses. As for the slaves,
weakened by illness, they wept and refused to gather themselves

But Rachael's soul, which had felt faint for many days, rose triumphant
in the face of this last affliction. Like all West Indians, she hated
extreme heat, and during those months on her own Islands when the trades
hibernated, rarely left the house. She remembered little of St. Croix.
Her imagination had disassociated itself from all connected with it, but
now it burst into hideous activity and pictured interminable years of
scorching heat and blinding glare. For a moment she descended to the
verge of hysteria, from which she struggled with so mighty an effort
that it vitalized her spirit for the ordeal of her new life; and when
Hamilton, cursing himself, came to assist her to land, she was able to
remark that she recalled the beauty of Christianstadt, and to
anathematize her sea-green maids.

The trail of Spain is over all the islands, and on St. Croix has left
its picturesque mark in the heavy arcades which front the houses in the
towns. Behind these arcades one can pass from street to street with
brief egress into the awful downpour of the sun, and they give to both
towns an effect of architectural beauty. At that time palms and
cocoanuts grew in profusion along the streets of Frederikstadt and in
the gardens, tempering the glare of the sun on the coral.

Peter Lytton's coach awaited the Hamiltons, and at six o'clock they
started for their new home. The long driveway across the Island was set
with royal palms, beyond which rolled vast fields of cane. St. Croix was
approaching the height of her prosperity, and almost every inch of her
fertile acres was under cultivation. They rolled up and over every hill,
the heavy stone houses, with their negro hamlets and mills, rising like
half-submerged islands, unless they crowned a height. The roads swarmed
with Africans, who bowed profoundly to the strangers in the fine coach,
grinning an amiable welcome. Surrounded by so generous a suggestion of
hospitality and plenty, with the sun low in the west, the spirits of the
travellers rose, and Rachael thought with more composure upon the
morrow's encounter with her elder sisters. She knew them very slightly,
their husbands less. When her connection with Hamilton began,
correspondence between them had ceased; but like others they had
accepted the relation, and for the last three years Hamilton had been a
welcome guest at their houses when business took him to St. Croix. Mrs.
Lytton had been the first to whom he had confided his impending failure,
and she, remembering her mother's last letter and profoundly pitying the
young sister who seemed marked for misfortune, had persuaded her husband
to offer Hamilton the management of his grazing estates on the eastern
end of the Island. She wrote to Rachael, assuring her of welcome, and
reminding her that her story was unknown on St. Croix, that she would be
accepted without question as Hamilton's wife and their sister. But
Rachael knew that the truth would come out as soon as they had attracted
the attention of their neighbours, and she had seen enough of the world
to be sure that what people tolerated in the wealthy they censured in
the unimportant. To depend upon her sisters' protection instead of her
own lifelong distinction, galled her proud spirit. For the first time
she understood how powerless Hamilton was to protect her. The glamour of
that first year when nothing mattered was gone for ever. She had two
children, one of them uncommon, and they were to encounter life without
name or property. True, Levine might die, or Hamilton make some
brilliant coup, but she felt little of the buoyancy of hope as they left
the cane-fields and drove among the dark hills to their new home.

The house and outbuildings were on a high eminence, surrounded on three
sides by hills. Below was a lagoon, which was separated from the sea by
a deep interval of tidal mud set thick with mangroves. The outlet
through this swamp was so narrow that a shark which had found its way in
when young had grown too large to return whence he came, and was the
solitary and discontented inhabitant of the lagoon. The next morning
Rachael, rising early and walking on the terrace with Alexander, was
horrified to observe him warming his white belly in the sun. On three
sides of the lagoon was a thick grove of manchineels, hung with their
deadly apples; here and there a palm, which drooped as if in discord
with its neighbours. It was an uncheerful place for a woman with terror
and tumult in her soul, but the house was large and had been made
comfortable by her brother-in-laws' slaves.

Mrs. Lytton and Mrs. Mitchell drove over for the eleven o'clock
breakfast. They were very kind, but they were many years older than the
youngest of their family, proudly conscious of their virtue,
uncomprehending of the emotions which had nearly wrenched Rachael's soul
from her body more than once. Moreover, Mrs. Mitchell was the physical
image of Mary Fawcett without the inheritance of so much as the old
lady's temper; and there were moments, as she sat chattering amiably
with Alexander, with whom she immediately fell in love, when Rachael
could have flown at and throttled her because she was not her mother.
Mrs. Lytton was delicate and nervous, but more reserved, and Rachael
liked her better. Nevertheless, she was heartily glad to be rid of both
of them, and reflected with satisfaction that she was to live on the
most isolated part of the Island. She had begged them to ask no one to
call, and for months she saw little of anybody except her family.

Her household duties were many, and she was forced at once to alter her
lifelong relation to domestic economics. Hamilton's salary was six
hundred pieces of eight, and for a time the keeping of accounts and the
plans for daily disposal of the small income furnished almost the only
subjects of conversation between her husband and herself. His duties
kept him on horseback during all but the intolerable hours of the day,
and until their new life had become a commonplace they were fortunate
in seeing little of each other.

Alexander long since had upset his father's purpose to defer the opening
of his mind until the age of seven. He had taught himself the rudiments
of education by such ceaseless questioning of both his parents that they
were glad to set him a daily task and keep him at it as long as
possible. In this new home he had few resources besides his little books
and his mother, who gave him all her leisure. There were no white
playmates, and he was not allowed to go near the lagoon, lest the shark
get him or he eat of forbidden fruit. Just after his sixth birthday,
however, several changes occurred in his life: Peter Lytton sent him a
pony, his father killed the shark and gave him a boat, and he made the
acquaintance of the Rev. Hugh Knox.

This man, who was to play so important a part in the life of Alexander
Hamilton, was himself a personality. At this time but little over
thirty, he had, some years since, come to the West Indies with a
classical library and a determination to rescue the planters from that
hell which awaits those who drowse through life in a clime where it is
always summer when it is not simply and blazingly West Indian. He soon
threw the mantle of charity over the patient planters, and became the
boon companion of many; but he made converts and was mightily proud of
them. His was the zeal of the converted. When he arrived in the United
States, in 1753, young, fresh from college, enthusiastic, and handsome,
he found favour at once in the eyes of the Rev. Dr. Rogers of Middletown
on the Delaware, to whom he had brought a letter of introduction.
Through the influence of this eminent divine, he obtained a school and
many friends. The big witty Irishman was a welcome guest at the popular
tavern, and was not long establishing himself as the leader of its
hilarities. He was a peculiarly good mimic, and on Saturday nights his
boon companions fell into the habit of demanding his impersonation of
some character locally famous. One night he essayed a reproduction of
Dr. Rogers, then one of the most celebrated men of his cloth. Knox
rehearsed the sermon of the previous Sunday, not only with all the
divine's peculiarity of gesture and inflection, but almost word for
word; for his memory was remarkable. At the start his listeners
applauded violently, then subsided into the respectful silence they were
wont to accord Dr. Rogers; at the finish they stole out without a word.
As for Knox, he sat alone, overwhelmed with the powerful sermon he had
repeated, and by remorse for his own attempted levity. His emotional
Celtic nature was deeply impressed. A few days later he disappeared, and
was not heard of again until, some months after, Dr. Rogers learned that
he was the guest of the Rev. Aaron Burr at Newark, and studying for the
church. He was ordained in due course, converted his old companions,
then set sail for St. Croix.

Hamilton met him at Peter Lytton's, talked with him the day through, and
carried him home to dinner. After that he became little less than an
inmate of the household; a room was furnished for him, and when he did
not occupy it, he rode over several times a week. His books littered
every table and shelf.

Alexander was his idol, and he was the first to see that the boy was
something more than brilliant. Hamilton had accepted his son's
cleverness as a matter of course, and Rachael, having a keen contempt
for fatuous mothers, hardly had dared admit to herself that her son was
to other boys as a star to pebbles. When Knox, who had undertaken his
education at once, assured her that he must distinguish himself if he
lived, probably in letters, life felt almost fresh again, although she
regretted his handicap the more bitterly. As for Knox, his patience was
inexhaustible. Alexander would have everything resolved into its
elements, and was merciless in his demand for information, no matter
what the thermometer. He had no playmates until he was nine, and by that
time he had much else to sober him. Of the ordinary pleasures of
childhood he had scant knowledge.

Rachael wondered at the invariable sunniness of his nature,--save when
he flew into a rage,--for under the buoyancy of her own had always been
a certain melancholy. Before his birth she had gone to the extremes of
happiness and grief, her normal relation to life almost forgotten. But
the sharpened nerves of the child manifested themselves in acute
sensibilities and an extraordinary precocity of intellect, never in
morbid or irritable moods. He was excitable, and had a high and
sometimes furious temper, but even his habit of study never extinguished
his gay and lively spirits. On the other hand, beneath the surface
sparkle of his mind was a British ruggedness and tenacity, and a
stubborn oneness of purpose, whatever might be the object, with which no
lighter mood interfered. All this Rachael lived long enough to discover
and find compensation in, and as she mastered the duties of her new life
she companioned the boy more and more. James was a good but
uninteresting baby, who made few demands upon her, and was satisfied
with his nurse. She never pretended to herself that she loved him as she
did Alexander, for aside from the personality of her first-born, he was
the symbol and manifest of her deepest living.

Although Rachael was monotonously conscious of the iron that had impaled
her soul, she was not quite unhappy at this time, and she never ceased
to love Hamilton. Whatever his lacks and failures, nothing could destroy
his fascination as a man. His love for her, although tranquillized by
time, was still strong enough to keep alive his desire' to please her,
and he thought of her as his wife always. He felt the change in her, and
his soul rebelled bitterly at the destruction of his pedestal and halo,
and all that fiction had meant to both of them; but he respected her
reserve, and the subject never came up between them. He knew that she
never would love any one else, that she still loved him passionately,
despite the shattered ideal of him; and he consoled himself with the
reflection that even in giving him less than her entire store, she gave
him, merely by being herself, more than he had thought to find in any
woman. His courteous attentions to her had never relaxed, and in time
the old companionship was resumed; they read and discussed as in their
other home; but this their little circle was widened by two, Alexander
and Hugh Knox. The uninterrupted intimacy of their first years was not
to be resumed.

They saw little of the society of St. Croix. In 1763 Christiana Huggins,
visiting the Peter Lyttons, married her host's brother, James, and
settled on the Island. She drove occasionally to the lonely estate in
the east, but she had a succession of children and little time for old
duties. Rachael exchanged calls at long intervals with her sisters and
their intimate friends, the Yards, Lillies, Crugers, Stevens, Langs, and
Goodchilds, but she had been too great a lady to strive now for social
position, practically dependent as she was on the charity of her


In the third year of their life on St. Croix, Rachael discovered that
Peter Lytton was dissatisfied with Hamilton, and retained him to his own
detriment, out of sympathy for herself and her children. From that time
she had few tranquil moments. It was as if, like the timid in the
hurricane season, she sat constantly with ears strained for that first
loud roar in the east. She realized then that the sort of upheaval which
shatters one's economic life is but the precursor of other upheavals,
and she thought on the unknown future until her strong soul was faint

Hamilton was one of those men whose gifts are ruined by their impulses,
in whom the cultivation of sober judgement is interrupted by the
excesses of a too sanguine temperament. He was honourable, and always
willing to admit his mistakes, but years and repeated failure did little
toward balancing his faults and virtues. In time he wore out the
patience of even those who loved and admired him. His wife remained his
one loyal and unswerving friend, but her part in his life was near its
finish. The day came when Peter Lytton, exasperated once too often,
after an ill-considered sale of valuable stock, let fly his temper, and
further acceptance of his favour was out of the question. Hamilton,
after a scene with his wife, in which his agony and remorse quickened
all the finest passions in her own nature, sailed for the Island of St.
Vincent, in the hope of finding employment with one of his former
business connections. He had no choice but to leave his wife and
children dependent upon her relatives until he could send for them; and
a week later Rachael was forced to move to Peter Lytton's.

Her brother-in-law's house was very large. She was given an upstairs
wing of it and treated with much consideration, but this final ignominy
broke her haughty spirit, and she lost interest in herself. She was
thankful that her children were not to grow up in want, that Alexander
was able to continue his studies with Hugh Knox. He was beyond her now
in everything but French, in which they read and talked together daily.
She also discussed constantly with him those heroes of history
distinguished not only for great achievements, but for sternest honour.
She dreamed of his future greatness, and sometimes of her part in it.
But her inner life was swathed like a mummy.

To Alexander the change would have been welcome had he understood his
mother less. But the ordinary bright boy of nine is acute and observing,
and this boy of Rachael's, with his extraordinary intuitions, his
unboyish brain, his sympathetic and profound affection for his mother,
felt with her and criticised his father severely. To him failure was
incomprehensible, then, as later, for self-confidence and indomitability
were parts of his equipment; and that a man of his father's age and
experience, to say nothing of his education and intellect, should so
fail in the common relation of life, and break the heart and pride of
the uncommonest of women, filled him with a deep disappointment, which,
no doubt, was the first step toward the early loss of certain illusions.

Otherwise his life was vastly improved. He soon became intimate with
boys of neighbouring estates, Edward and Thomas Stevens, and Benjamin
Yard, and for a time they all studied together under Hugh Knox. At first
there was discord, for Alexander would have led a host of cherubims or
had naught to do with them, and these boys were clever and spirited.
There were rights of word and fist in the lee of Mr. Lytton's barn,
where interference was unlikely; but the three succumbed speedily, not
alone to the powerful magnetism in little Hamilton's mind, and to his
active fists, but because he invariably excited passionate attachment,
unless he encountered jealous hate. When his popularity with these boys
was established they adored the very blaze of his temper, and when he
formed them into a soldier company and marched them up and down the palm
avenue for a morning at a time, they never murmured, although they were
like to die of the heat and unaccustomed exertion. Neddy Stevens, who
resembled him somewhat in face, was the closest of these boyhood

Alexander was a great favourite with Mr. Lytton, who took him to ride
every morning; Mrs. Lytton preferred James, who was a comfortable child
to nurse; but Mrs. Mitchell was the declared slave of her lively nephew,
and sent her coach for him on Saturday mornings. As for Hugh Knox, he
never ceased to whittle at the boy's ambition and point it toward a
great place in modern letters. Had he been born with less sound sense
and a less watchful mother, it is appalling to think what a brat he
would have been; but as it was, the spoiling but fostered a
self-confidence which was half the battle in after years.

Hamilton never returned. His letters to his wife spoke always of the
happiness of their final reunion, of belief in the future. His brothers
had sent him money, and he hoped they would help him to recover his
fortunes. But two years passed and he was still existing on a small
salary, his hopes and his impassioned tenderness were stereotyped.
Rachael's experience with Hamilton had developed her insight. She knew
that man requires woman to look after her own fuel. If she cannot, he
may carry through life the perfume of a sentiment, and a tender regret,
but it grows easy and more easy to live without her. It was a long while
before she forced her penetrating vision round to the certainty that she
never should see Hamilton again, and then she realized how strong hope
had been, that her interest in herself was not dead, that her love must
remain quick through interminable years of monotony and humiliation. For
a time she was so alive that she went close to killing herself, but she
fought it out as she had fought through other desperate crises, and
wrenched herself free of her youth, to live for the time when her son's
genius should lift him so high among the immortals that his birth would
matter as little as her own hours of agony. But the strength that
carried her triumphantly through that battle was fed by the last of her
vitality, and it was not long before she knew that she must die.

Alexander knew it first. The change in his mother was so sudden, the
earthen hue of her white skin, the dimming of her splendid eyes, spoke
so unmistakably of some strange collapse of the vital forces, that it
seemed to the boy who worshipped her as if all the noises of the
Universe were shrieking his anguish. At the same time he fought for an
impassive exterior, then bolted from the house and rode across the
Island for a doctor. The man came, prescribed for a megrim, and
Alexander did not call him again; nor did he mention his mother's
condition to the rest of the family. She was in the habit of remaining
in her rooms for weeks at a time, and she had her own attendants. Mrs.
Lytton was an invalid, and Peter Lytton, while ready to give of his
bounty to his wife's sister, had too little in common with Rachael to
seek her companionship. Alexander felt the presence of death too surely
to hope, and was determined to have his mother to himself during the
time that remained. He confided in Hugh Knox, then barely left the

Just before her collapse Rachael was still a beautiful woman. She was
only thirty-two when she died. Her face, except when she forced her
brain to activity, was sad and worn, but the mobile beauty of the
features was unimpaired, and her eyes were luminous, even at their
darkest. Her head was always proudly erect, and nature had given her a
grace and a dash which survived broken fortunes and the death of her
coquetry. No doubt this is the impression of her which Alexander carried
through life, for those last two months passed to the sound of falling
ruins, on which he was too sensible to dwell when they had gone into the
control of his will.

After she had admitted to Alexander that she understood her condition,
they seldom alluded to the subject, although their conversation was as
rarely impersonal. The house stood high, and Rachael's windows commanded
one of the most charming views on the Island. Below was the green
valley, with the turbaned women moving among the cane, then the long
white road with its splendid setting of royal palms, winding past a hill
with groves of palms, marble fountains and statues, terraces covered
with hibiscus and orchid, and another Great House on its summit. Far to
the right, through an opening in the hills, was a glimpse of the sea.

Rachael lay on a couch in a little balcony during much of the soft
winter day, and talked to Alexander of her mother and her youth, finally
of his father, touching lightly on the almost forgotten episode with
Levine. All that she did not say his creative brain divined, and when
she told him what he had long suspected, that his mother's name was
unknown to the Hamiltons of Grange, he accepted the fact as but one more
obstacle to be overthrown in the battle with life which he had long
known he was to fight unaided. To criticise his mother never occurred to
him; her control of his heart and imagination was too absolute. His only
regret was that she could not live until he was able to justify her. The
audacity and boldness of his nature were stimulated by the prospect of
this sharp battle with the world's most cherished convention, and he was
fully aware of all that he owed to his mother. When he told her this she

"I regret nothing, even though it has brought me to this. In the first
place, it is not in me to do anything so futile. In the second place, I
have been permitted to live in every part of my nature, and how many
women can say that? In the third, you are in the world, and if I could
live I should see you the honoured of all men. I die with regret because
you need me for many years to come, and I have suffered so much that I
never could suffer again. Remember always that you are to be a great
man, not merely a successful one. Your mind and your will are capable of
all things. Never try for the second best, and that means to put your
immediate personal desire aside when it encounters one of the ideals of
your time. Unless you identify yourself with the great principles of the
world you will be a failure, because your mind is created in harmony
with them, and if you use it for smaller purposes it will fail as surely
as if it tried to lie or steal. Your passions are violent, and you have
a blackness of hate in you which will ruin you or others according to
the control you acquire over it; so be warned. But you never can fail
through any of the ordinary defects of character. You are too bold and
independent to lie, even if you had been born with any such disposition;
you are honourable and tactful, and there is as little doubt of your
fascination and your power over others. But remember--use all these
great forces when your ambition is hottest, then you can stumble upon no
second place. As for your heart, it will control your head sometimes,
but your insatiable brain will accomplish so much that it can afford to
lose occasionally; and the warmth of your nature will make you so many
friends, that I draw from it more strength to die than from all your
other gifts. Leave this Island as soon as you can. Ah, if I could give
you but a few thousands to force the first doors!"

She died on the 25th of February, 1768. Her condition had been known for
some days, and her sisters had shed many tears, aghast and deeply
impressed at the tragic fate of this youngest, strangest, and most
gifted of their father's children. Unconsciously they had expected her
to do something extraordinary, and it was yet too soon to realize that
she had. His aunts had announced far and wide that Alexander was the
brightest boy on the Island, but that a nation lay folded in his saucy
audacious brain they hardly could be expected to know.


The Great House of Peter Lytton was hung with white from top to bottom,
and every piece of furniture looked as if the cold wing of death had
touched it. A white satin gown, which had come from London for Rachael
six years before,--just too late, for she never went to a ball
again,--was taken from her mahogany press and wrapped about her wasted
body. Her magnificent hair was put out of sight in a cap of blond lace.

The fashionable world of St. Croix, which had seen little of Rachael in
life, came to the ceremonious exit of her body. They sat along the four
sides of the large drawing-room, looking like a black dado against the
white walls, and the Rev. Cecil Wray Goodchild, the pastor of the larger
number of that sombre flock, sonorously read the prayers for the dead.
Hugh Knox felt that his was the right to perform that ceremony; but he
was a Presbyterian, and Peter Lytton was not one of his converts. He was
there, however, and so were several Danes, whose colourless faces and
heads completed the symbolization encircling the coffin. People of
Nevis, St. Christopher, and St. Croix were there, the sisters born of
the same mother, a kinsman of Hamilton's, himself named James Hamilton,
these bleached people of the North, whose faces, virtuous as they were,
would have seemed to the dead woman to shed the malignant aura of
Levine's,--and the boy for whom the sacrificial body had been laid on
the altar. He paid his debt in wretchedness then and there, and stood by
the black pall which covered his mother, feeling a hundred years older
than the brother who sat demurely on Mrs. Lytton's agitated lap.

When Mr. Goodchild closed his book, the slave women entered with silver
pitchers containing mulled wines, porter mixed with sugar and spice,
madeira, and port wine. Heaped high on silver salvers were pastries and
"dyer bread," wrapped in white paper sealed with black wax. The guests
refreshed themselves deeply, then followed the coffin, which was borne
on the shoulders of the dead woman's brothers and their closest
friends, across the valley to the private burying-ground of the Lyttons.
Old James Lytton was placed beside her in the following year, and ten
years later a child of Christiana Huggins, the wife of his son. The cane
grows above their graves to-day.


Alexander went home with Mrs. Mitchell, and it was long before he
returned to Peter Lytton's. His favourite aunt was delighted to get him,
and her husband, for whom Alexander had no love, was shortly to sail on
one of his frequent voyages.

Mrs. Mitchell had a winter home in Christianstadt, for she loved the gay
life of the little capital, and her large house, on the corner of King
and Strand streets, was opened almost as often as Government House. This
pile, with its imposing facade, represented to her the fulfilment of
worldly ambitions and splendour. There was nothing to compare with it on
Nevis or St. Kitts, nor yet on St. Thomas; and her imagination or memory
gave her nothing in Europe to rival it. When Government House was closed
she felt as if the world were eating bread and cheese. The Danes were
not only the easiest and most generous of rulers, but they entertained
with a royal contempt of pieces of eight, and their adopted children had
neither the excuse nor the desire to return to their native isles.

Christianstadt, although rising straight from the harbour, has the
picturesque effect of a high mountain-village. As the road across the
Island finds its termination in King Street, the perceptible decline and
the surrounding hills, curving in a crescent to the unseen shore a mile
away, create the illusion. On the left the town straggles away in an
irregular quarter for the poor, set thick with groves of cocoanut and
palm. On the right, and parallel with the main road, is Company Street,
and above is the mountain studded with great white stone houses,
softened by the lofty roofs of the royal palm. All along King Street the
massive houses stand close together, each with its arcade and its
curious outside staircase of stone which leads to an upper balcony where
one may catch the breeze and watch the leisures of tropic life. Almost
every house has a court opening into a yard surrounded by the
overhanging balconies of three sides of the building; and here the
guinea fowl screech their matins, the roosters crow all night, there is
always a negro asleep under a cocoanut tree, and a flame of colour from
potted plants.

Down by the sea is the red fort, built on a bluff, and commanding a
harbour beautiful to look upon, with its wooded island, its sharp high
points, its sombre swamps covered with lacing mangroves, but locked from
all the world but that which can come in sailing ships, by the coral
reef on which so many craft have gone to pieces.

From Alexander's high window in Thomas Mitchell's house, he could see
the lively Park behind the Fort; the boats sail over from the blue peaks
of St. Thomas and St. John, the long white line of the sounding reef.
Above the walls of Government House was the high bold curve of the
mountain with its dazzling facades, its glitter of green. In the King
Street of that day gentlemen in knee breeches and lace shirts, their
hair in a powdered queue, were as familiar objects as turbaned blacks
and Danes in uniform. After riding over their plantations "to hear the
cane grow," they almost invariably brought up in town to talk over
prospects with the merchants, or to meet each other at some more jovial
resort. Sometimes they came clattering down the long road in a coach and
four, postilions shouting at the pic'nees in the road, swerving, and
halting so suddenly in some courtyard, that only a planter, accustomed
to this emotional method of travel, could keep his seat. Ordinarily he
preferred his horse, perhaps because it told no tales.

Thomas Mitchell had made his large fortune in the traffic of slaves, and
was on terms of doubtful courtesy with Peter Lytton, who disapproved the
industry. Blacks were by no means his only source of revenue; he had
one of the two large general stores of the Island--the other was
Nicholas Cruger's--and plantations of cane, whose yield in sugar,
molasses, and rum never failed him. He was not a pleasing man in his
family, and did not extend the hospitality of its roof to Alexander with
a spontaneous warmth. His own children were married, and he did not look
back upon the era of mischievous boys with sufficient enthusiasm to
prompt him to adopt another. He yielded to his wife's voluble
supplications because domestic harmony was necessary to his content, and
Mistress Mitchell had her ways of upsetting it. Alexander was
immediately too busy with his studies to pay attention to the
indifferent grace with which Mr. Mitchell accepted his lot, and,
fortunately, this industrious merchant was much away from home. Hugh
Knox, as the surest means of diverting the boy from his grief, put him
at his books the day after he arrived in Christianstadt. His own house
was on Company Street, near the woods out of which the town seemed to
spring; and in his cool library he gathered his boys daily, and crammed
their brains with Latin and mathematics. The boys had met at Peter
Lytton's before, but Knox easily persuaded them to the new arrangement,
which was as grateful to him--he was newly married--as to Alexander.
When the lessons were over he gave his favourite pupil a book and an
easy-chair, or made experiments in chemistry with him until it was cool
enough to ride or row. In the evening Alexander had his difficult
lessons to prepare, and when he tumbled into bed at midnight he was too
healthy not to sleep soundly. He spent two days of every week with his
friend Ned Stevens, on a plantation where there were lively people and
many horses. Gradually the heaviness of his grief sank of its weight,
the buoyancy and vivacity of his mind were released, the eager sparkle
returned to his eyes. He did not cease to regret his mother, nor
passionately to worship her memory; but he was young, the future was an
unresting magnet to his ambitious mind, devoted friends did their
utmost, and his fine strong brain, eager for novelty and knowledge,
opened to new impressions, closed with inherent philosophy to what was
beyond recall. So passed Rachael Levine.

A year later his second trial befell him. Ned Stevens, the adored, set
sail for New York to complete his education at King's College. Alexander
strained his eyes after the sails of the ship for an hour, then burst
unceremoniously into the presence of Hugh Knox.

"Tell me quick," he exclaimed; "how can I make two thousand pieces of
eight? I must go to college. Why didn't my uncles send me with Neddy? He
had no wish to go. He swore all day yesterday at the prospect of six
years of hard work and no more excuses for laziness. I am wild to go.
Why could it not have been I?"

"That's a curious way the world has, and you'll be too big a philosopher
in a few years to ask questions like that. If you want the truth, I've
wrangled with Peter Lytton,--it's no use appealing to Tom Mitchell,--but
he's a bit close, as you know, when it actually comes to putting his
hand in his pocket. He didn't send any of his own sons to New York or
England, and never could see why anyone else did. Schooling, of course,
and he always had a tutor and a governess out from England; but what the
devil does a planter want of a college education? I argued that I
couldn't for the life of me see the makings of a planter in you, but
that by fishing industriously among your intellects I'd found a certain
amount of respectable talent, and I thought it needed more training than
I could give it; that I was nearing the end of my rope, in fact. Then he
asked me what a little fellow like you would do with a college education
after you got it, for he couldn't stand the idea of you trying to earn
your living in a foreign city, where there was ice and snow on the
ground in winter; and when I suggested that you might stay on in the
college and teach, if you were afraid of being run over or frozen to
death in the street, he said there was no choice between a miserable
teacher's life and a planter's, and he'd leave you enough land to start
you in life. I cursed like a planter, and left the house. But he loves
you, and if you plead with him he might give way."

"I'd do anything else under heaven that was reasonable to get to New
York but ask any man for money. Peter Lytton knows that I want learning
more than all the other boys on this island; and if I'm little, I've
broken in most of his colts and have never hesitated to fight. He finds
his pathos in his purse. Why can't I make two thousand pieces of eight?"

"You'd be so long at it, poor child, that it would be too late to enter
college; for there's a long apprenticeship to serve before you get a
salary. But you must go. I've thought, thought about it, and I'll think
more." He almost wished he had not married; but as he had no other cause
to regret his venture, even his interest in young Hamilton did not urge
him to deprive his little family of the luxuries so necessary in the
West Indies. Economy on his salary would mean a small house instead of
large rooms where one could forget the heat; curtailment of the
voluminous linen wardrobes so soon demolished on the stones of the
river; surrender of coach and horses. He trusted to a moment of sudden
insight on the part of Peter Lytton, assisted by his own eloquent
argument; and his belief in Alexander's destiny never wavered. Once he
approached Mrs. Mitchell, for he knew she had money of her own; but, as
he had expected, she went into immediate hysterics at the suggestion to
part with her idol, and he hastily retreated.

Alexander turned over every scheme of making money his fertile brain
conceived, and went so far as to ask his aunt to send him to New York,
where he could work in one of the West Indian houses, and attend college
by some special arrangement. He, too, retreated before Mrs. Mitchell's
agitation, but during the summer another cause drove him to work, and
without immediate reference to the wider education.

Mr. Mitchell was laid up with the gout and spent the summer on his
plantation. His slaves fled at the sound of his voice, his wife wept
incessantly at this the heaviest of her life's trials, and it was not
long before Alexander was made to feel his dependence so keenly by the
irascible planter that he leaped on his horse one day and galloped five
miles under the hot sun to Lytton's Fancy.

"I want to work," he announced, with his usual breathless impetuosity
when excited, bursting in upon Mr. Lytton, who was mopping his face
after his siesta. "Put me at anything. I don't care what, except in
Uncle Mitchell's store. I won't work for him."

Mr. Lytton laughed with some satisfaction. "So you two have come to
loggerheads? Tom Mitchell, well, is insufferable. With gout in him he
must bristle with every damnable trait in the human category. Come back
and live with me," he added, in a sudden burst of sympathy, for the boy
looked hot and tired and dejected; and his diminutive size appealed
always to Peter Lytton, who was six feet two. "You're a fine little
chap, but I doubt you're strong enough for hard work, and you love your
books. Come here and read all day if you like. When you're grown I'll
make you manager of all my estates. Gad! I'd be glad of an honest one!
The last time I went to England, that devil, Tom Collins, drank every
bottle of my best port, smashed my furniture, broke the wind of every
horse I had, and kept open house for every scamp and loafer on the
Island, or that came to port. How old are you--twelve? I'll turn
everything over to you in three years. You've more sense now than any
boy I ever saw. Three years hence, if you continue to improve, you'll be
a man, and I'll be only too glad to put the whole thing in your hands."

Alexander struggled with an impulse to ask his uncle to send him to
college, but not only did pride strike at the words, but he reflected
with some cynicism that the affection he inspired invariably expressed
itself in blatant selfishness, and that he might better appeal to the
enemies he had made to send him from the Island. He shook his head.

"I'll remain idle no longer," he said. "I'm tired of eating bread that's
given me. I'd rather eat yours than his, but I've made up my mind to
work. What can you find for me now?"

"You are too obstinate to argue with in August. Cruger wants a reliable
clerk. I heard him say so yesterday. He'll take you if I say the word,
and give you a little something in the way of salary."

"I like Mr. Cruger," said Alexander, eagerly, "and so did my mother."

"He's a kind chap, but he'll work you to death, for he's always in a
funk that Tom Mitchell'll get ahead of him. But you cannot do better. I
have no house in town, but you can ride the distance between here and
Christianstadt night and morning, if my estimable brother-in-law--whom
may the gout convince of his sins--is too much for you."

But Alexander had no desire to return to the house where he had passed
those last terrible weeks with his mother, and Mrs. Mitchell begged him
on her knees to forgive the invalid, and sent him to the house in
Christianstadt, where he would be alone until December; by that time,
please God, Tom Mitchell would be on his way to Jamaica. But Alexander
had little further trouble with that personage. Mr. Mitchell had his
susceptibilities; he was charmed with a boy of twelve who was too proud
to accept the charity of wealthy relatives and determined to make his
living. Alexander entered Mr. Cruger's store in October. Mr. Mitchell
did not leave the Island again until the following spring, and moved to
town in November. He and Alexander discussed the prospects of rum,
molasses, and sugar, the price of mahogany, of oats, cheese, bread, and
flour, the various Island and American markets, until Mrs. Mitchell left
the table. Her husband proudly told his acquaintance that his nephew,
Alexander Hamilton, was destined to become the cleverest merchant in the


But Alexander had small liking for his employment. He had as much
affinity with the sordid routine of a general store and counting-house
as Tom Mitchell had with the angels. But pride and ambition carried him
through most of the distasteful experiences of his life. He would come
short in nothing, and at that tender age, when his relatives were
prepared to forgive his failures with good-humoured tact, he was willing
to sacrifice even his books to clerical success. He soon discovered that
he had that order of mind which concentrates without effort upon what
ever demands its powers,--masters the detail of it with incredible
swiftness. At first he was a general clerk, and attended to the loading
and unloading of Mr. Cruger's sloops; after a time he was made
bookkeeper; it was not long before he was in charge of the
counting-house. He got back to his books in time--for business in the
Islands finishes at four o'clock--and when he had learned all the Latin,
Greek, Hebrew, and mathematics Hugh Knox could teach him, he spent his
leisure hours with Pope, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, and the
few other English poets and works of Greek philosophers which Knox
possessed, as well as several abridged histories of England and Europe.
These interested him more than aught else, purely literary as his
proclivities were supposed to be, and he read and reread them, and
longed for some huge work in twenty volumes which should reveal Europe
to his searching vision. But this was when he was fourteen, and had
almost forgotten what the life of a mere boy was like. Shortly after he
entered Mr. Cruger's store he wrote his famous letter to young Stevens.
It will bear republication here, and its stilted tone, so different from
the concise simplicity of his business letters, was no doubt designed to
produce an effect on the mind of his more fortunate friend. He became a
master of style, and before he was twenty; but there is small indication
of the achievement in this letter, lovable as it is:--

ST. CROIX, November 11, 1769.

DEAR EDWARD, This serves to acknowledge the receipt of yours per
Capt. Lowndes, which was delivered me yesterday The truth of Capt.
Lightbowen and Lowndes' information is now verified by the presence
of your father and sister, for whose safe arrival I pray, and that
they may convey that satisfaction to your soul, that must naturally
flow from the sight of absent friends in health; and shall for news
this way, refer you to them.

As to what you say, respecting your soon having the happiness of
seeing us all, I wish for an accomplishment of your hopes, provided
they are concomitant with your welfare, otherwise not; though doubt
whether I shall be present or not, for to confess my weakness, Ned,
my ambition is prevalent, so that I contemn the grovelling
condition of a clerk, or the like, to which my fortune condemns me,
and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt
my station. I am confident, Ned, that my youth excludes me from any
hopes of immediate preferment, nor do I desire it; but I mean to
prepare the way for futurity. I'm no philosopher, you see, and may
be justly said to build castles in the air; my folly makes me
ashamed, and beg you'll conceal it; yet, Neddy, we have seen such
schemes successful, when the projector is constant. I shall
conclude by saying I wish there was a war.

I am, Dear Edward, Yours


P.S. I this moment received yours by William Smith, and pleased to
see you give such close application to study.

He hoped that in time Mr. Cruger would find it necessary to send him to
New York; but his employer found him too useful on St. Croix, and
recognized his abilities, not to the extent of advancing his
intellectual interests, but of taxing and developing his capacity for
business and its heavy responsibilities. In the following year he placed
him in temporary charge of his branch house, in Frederikstadt, and
Alexander never wished for war so desperately as when he stood under the
arcade on Bay Street and stared out at the shallow green roadstead and
the inimitable ocean beyond. Frederikstadt was a hamlet compared to
Christianstadt, and unredeemed--the arcades excepting--by any of the
capital's architectural or natural beauty. Alexander believed it to be
the hottest, dullest, and most depressing spot on either hemisphere. The
merchants and other residents were astonished that Nicolas Cruger should
send a lad of thirteen to represent him in matters which involved large
sums of money, but they recognized young Hamilton's ability even while
they stared with some rudeness at the small figure in white linen, and
the keen but very boyish face. When they passed him under the arcades,
and asked him what ship he expected to heave in sight, he was tempted to
say a man-of-war, but had no mind to reveal himself to the indifferent.
He read from sundown until midnight or later, by the light of two long
candles protected from draughts and insects by curving glass chimneys.
Mosquitoes tormented him and cockroaches as long as his hand ran over
the table; occasionally a land-crab rattled across the room, or a
centipede appeared on the open page. But he was accustomed to these
embellishments of tropic life, and although he anathematized them and
the heat, he went on with his studies. It was about this time that he
began to indulge in literary composition; and although less gifted boys
than Alexander Hamilton struggle through this phase of mental
development as their body runs the gamut of juvenile complaints, still
it may be that had not his enormous energies been demanded in their
entirety by a country in the terrible straits of rebirth, or had he
dwelt on earth twenty years longer, he would have realized the ambitions
of his mother and Hugh Knox, and become one of the greatest literary
forces the world has had. But although this exercise of his restless
faculties gave him pleasure, it was far from satisfying him, even then.
He wanted the knowledge that was locked up in vast libraries far beyond
that blinding stretch of sea, and he wanted action, and a sight of and a
part in the great world. Meanwhile, he read every book he could find on
the Island, made no mistakes in Mr. Cruger's counting-house, and stood
dreaming under the arcade for hours at a time, muttering his thoughts,
his mobile features expressing the ceaseless action of his brain.

Sometime during the previous year Peter Levine had returned to St. Croix
for his health, and he remained with relatives for some time. He and
Alexander met occasionally and were friendly. As he was a decent little
chap our hero forgave him his paternity, although he never could quite
assimilate the fact that he was his mother's child.

Alexander returned, after six months of Frederikstadt, to the East End
of the Island. A few months later, Mr. Cruger, whose health had failed,
went to New York for an extended sojourn, leaving the entire
responsibility of the business in young Hamilton's hands. Men of all
ages were forced to obey and be guided by a boy in the last weeks of his
fourteenth year, and there were many manifestations of jealous ill-will.
Some loved, others hated him, but few submitted gracefully to a
leadership which lowered their self-esteem. For the first time Alexander
learned that even a mercantile life can be interesting. He exercised all
the resources of his inborn tact with those who had loved and those who
did not hate him, and won them to a grateful acceptance of a mastership
which was far more considerate and sympathetic than anything they had
known. As for his enemies, he let them see the implacable quality of his
temper, mortified them by an incessant exposure of their failings,
struck aside their clumsy attempts to humiliate him with the keen blade
of a wit that sent them skulking. Finally they submitted, but they
cursed him, and willingly would have wrung his neck and flung him into
the bay. As for Hamilton, there was no compromise in him, even then,
where his enemies were concerned. He enjoyed their futile wrath, and
would not have lifted his finger to flash it into liking.

Only once the tropical passions of his inheritance conquered his desire
to dominate through the forces of his will alone. One of the oldest
employees, a man named Cutter, had shown jealousy of young Hamilton from
the first, and a few days after Mr. Cruger's departure began to manifest
signs of open rebellion. He did his work ill, or not at all, absented
himself from the store for two days, and returned to his post without
excuse, squaring his shoulders about the place and sneering his contempt
of youthful cocks of the walk. Alexander struggled to maintain a
self-control which he felt to be strictly compatible with the dignity of
his position, although his gorge rose so high that it threatened to
choke him. The climax came when he gave Cutter a peremptory order, and
the man took out a cigar, lit it, and laughed in his face. For the next
few moments Alexander had a confused impression that he was in hell,
struggling his way through the roar and confusion of his nether
quarters. When he was himself again he was in the arms of his chief
assistant, and Mr. Cutter bled profusely on the floor. He was informed
later that he had "gone straight over the counter with a face like a
hurricane" and assaulted his refractory hireling with such incredible
rapidity of scientific fist that the man, who was twice his size, had
succumbed from astonishment and an almost supernatural terror.
Alexander, who was ashamed of himself, apologized at once, but gave the
man his choice of treating him with proper respect or leaving the store.
Cutter answered respectfully that he would remain; and he gave no
further trouble.

"You'll get your head blown off one of these days," said Hugh Knox to
Alexander, on a Sunday, as they sat in the library over two long glasses
of "Miss Blyden," a fashionable drink made of sugar, rum, and the juice
of the prickly pear, which had been buried in the divine's garden for
the requisite number of months. "These Creoles are hot, even when
they're only Danes. It's not pleasant for those clerks, for it isn't as
if you had the look of the man you are. You look even younger than your
age, and for a man of thirty to say 'Yes, sir' to a brat like you chokes
him, and no wonder. I believe if there was a war this minute, you'd
rouse the Island and lead it to battle without a misgiving or an
apology. Well, don't let your triumphs lead to love of this business. I
happen to know that Cruger means to make a partner of you in a few
years, for he thinks the like of you never dropped into a merchant's
counting-house; but never forget that your exalted destiny is to be a
great man of letters, a historian, belike. You're taking to history, I
notice, and you're getting a fine vocabulary of your own."

"I'd like to know what I'll write the history of if I'm to rot in this
God-forsaken place. Caribs? Puling rows between French and English? I'd
as well be up on Grange with my mother if it wasn't for you and your
books. I want the education of a collegian. I want to study and read
everything there is to be studied and read. I've made out a list of
books to send for, when I've money enough, as long as you are. It's
pinned on the wall of my room."

"And I suppose you've never a qualm but that head of yours will hold it
all. You've a grand opinion of yourself, Alec."

"That's a cutting thing for you to say to me, sir," cried Alexander,
springing to his feet. "I thought you loved me. If you think I'm a fool,
I'll not waste more of your time."

"A West Indian temper beats the conceit out of the Irish. You'll control
yours when you're older, for there's nothing you won't do when you put
your mind to it, and you'll see the need for not making a fool of
yourself too often. But as for its present liking for exercise--it's a
long way the liveliest thing on St. Croix. However, you've forgiven me;
I know that by the twinkle in your eye, so I'll tell you that your brain
will hold all you care to put into it, and that you'll have made another
list as long as King Street before you're five years older. Meanwhile,
I've some books on theology and ethics you haven't had a dash at yet,
and you can't read my other old books too often. Each time you'll find
something new. Sitting up till midnight won't hurt you, but don't forget
to say your prayers."

Knox, long since, had laid siege to Alexander's susceptible and ardent
mind with the lively batteries of his religious enthusiasms. His
favourite pupil was edifyingly regular in attendance at church, and said
his prayers with much fervour. The burden of his petitions was
deliverance from St. Croix.

When this deliverance was effected by a thunderbolt from heaven, his
saving sense of humour and the agitated springs of his sympathy forbade
a purely personal application. But twenty years later he might have
reflected upon the opportune cause of his departure from St. Croix as
one of the ironies of the world's history; for an Island was devastated,
men were ruined, scores were killed, that one man might reach his proper
sphere of usefulness.


Early in August, 1772, Mr. Cruger sent him on a business tour to several
of the neighbouring Islands, including the great _entrepot_ of the West
Indies,--St. Thomas. Despite the season, the prospect of no wind for
days at a time, or winds in which no craft could live, Alexander
trembled with delight at the idea of visiting the bustling brilliant
versatile town of Charlotte Amalie, in whose harbour there were
sometimes one hundred and eighty ships, where one might meet in a day
men of every clime, and whose beauty was as famous as her wealth and
importance. How often Alexander had stared at the blue line of the hills
above her! Forty miles away, within the range of his vision, was a bit
of the great world, the very pivot of maritime trade, and one cause and
another had prevented him from so much as putting his foot on a sloop
whose sails were spread.

As soon as the details of his tour were settled he rode out to the
plantations to take leave of his relatives. Mrs. Mitchell, who barred
the hurricane windows every time, the wind rose between July and
November, and sat with the barometer in her hand when the palms began to
bend, wept a torrent and implored him to abstain from the madness of
going to sea at that time of the year. Her distress was so acute and
real that Alexander, who loved her, forgot his exultation and would have
renounced the trip, had he not given his word to Mr. Cruger.

"I'll be careful, and I'll ride out the day after I return," he said,
arranging his aunt on the sofa with her smelling-bottle, an office he
had performed many times. "You know the first wind of the hurricane is a
delight to the sailor, and we never shall be far from land. I'm in
command, and I'll promise you to make for shore at the first sign of
danger. Then I shall be as safe as here."

His aunt sighed for fully a minute. "If I only could believe that you
would be careful about anything. But you are quite a big boy now, almost
sixteen, and ought to be old enough to take care of yourself."

"If I could persuade you that I am not quite a failure at keeping the
breath in my body we both should be happier. However, I vow not to set
sail from any island if a hurricane is forming, and to make for port
every time the wind freshens."

"Listen for that terrible roar in the southeast, and take my
barometer--Heaven knows what barometers are made for; there are not
three on the Island. I shall drive in to church every Sunday and besiege
Heaven with my supplications."

"Well, spare me a breeze or I shall pray for a hurricane."

He did not see Mrs. Lytton or James, but Mr. Lytton had scant
apprehension of hurricanes, and was only concerned lest his nephew roll
about in the trough of the sea under an August sun for weeks at a time.
"That's when a man doesn't repent of his sins; he knows there is nothing
worse to come," he said. "I'd rather have a hurricane," and Alexander
nodded. Mr. Lytton counted out a small bag of pieces of eight and told
the boy to buy his aunt a silk gown in Charlotte Amalie. "I've noticed
that if it's all one colour you're not so sure to have it accepted with
a sigh of resignation," he said. "But be careful of plaids and stripes."
And Alexander, with deeper misgivings than Mrs. Mitchell had inspired,
accepted the commission and rode away.

He set sail on the following day, and made his tour of the lesser
islands under a fair breeze. Late in the month he entered the harbour of
St. Thomas, and was delighted to find at least fifty ships in port,
despite the season. It was an unusually busy year, and he had dared to
hope for crowded waters and streets; exquisite as Charlotte Amalie might
be to look upon, he wanted something more than a lovely casket.

The town is set on three conical foot-hills, which bulge at equal
distances against an almost perpendicular mountain, the tip, it is said,
of a range whose foundations are four miles below. The three sections of
the town sweep from base to pointed apex with a symmetry so perfect,
their houses are so light and airy of architecture, so brilliant and
varied of colour, that they suggest having been called into being by the
stroke of a magician's wand to gratify the whim of an Eastern potentate.
Surely, they are a vast seraglio, a triple collection of pleasure houses
where captive maidens are content and nautch girls dance with feet like
larks. Business, commerce, one cannot associate with this enchanting
vista; nor cockroaches as long as one's foot, scorpions, tarantulas, and

When Alexander was in the town he found that the houses were of stone,
and that one long street on the level connected the three divisions.
Flights of steps, hewn out of the solid rock of that black and barren
range, led to the little palaces that crowned the cones, and there were
palms, cocoanuts, and tamarind trees to soften the brilliancy of facade
and roof. Above the town was Blackbeard's Castle; and Bluebeard's so
high on the right that its guns could have levelled the city in an hour.
Although not a hundred years old, and built by the Danes, both these
frowning towers were museums of piratical tradition, and travellers
returned to Europe with imaginations expanded.

The long street interested Alexander's practical mind more than legends
or architecture. Huge stone buildings--warehouses, stores, exchange- and
counting-houses--extended from the street to the edge of the water,
where ships were unloaded and loaded from doors at the rear. Men of
every nation and costume moved in that street; and for a day Mr.
Cruger's business was in abeyance, while the boy from the quiet Island
of St. Croix leaned against one of the heavy tamarind trees at the foot
of the first hill, and watched the restless crowd of Europeans,
Asiatics, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, North and South Americans. There were
as many national costumes as there were rival flags in the harbour.
There was the British admiral in his regimentals and powdered queue, the
Chinaman in his blouse and pigtail, the Frenchman with his earrings,
villanous Malays, solemn merchants from Boston, and negroes trundling
barrows of Spanish dollars. But it was the extraordinary assortment of
faces and the violent contrasts of temperament and character they
revealed which interested Alexander more than aught else. With all his
reading he had not imagined so great a variety of types; his mental
pictures had been the unconscious reflection of British, Danish, or
African. Beyond these he had come in contact with nothing more striking
than sailors from the neighbouring Islands, who had suggested little
besides the advisability of placing an extra guard over the money boxes
whilst they were in port. Most of these men who surged before him were
merchants of the first rank or the representatives of others as
important,--captains of large ships and their mates. The last sauntered
and cursed the heat, which was infernal; but the merchants moved rapidly
from one business house to another, or talked in groups, under the
tamarind trees, of the great interests which brought them to the Indies.
Upon the inherent characteristics which their faces expressed were
superimposed the different seals of those acquired,--shrewdness,
suspicion, a hawk-like alertness, the greed of acquisition. Alexander,
with something like terror of the future, reflected that there was not
one of these men he cared to know. He knew there were far greater cities
than the busy little _entrepot_ of the West Indies, but he rightly
doubted if he ever should see again so cosmopolitan a mob, a more picked
assortment of representative types. Not one looked as if he remembered
his wife and children, his creed, or the art and letters of his land.
They were a sweating, cursing, voluble, intriguing, greedy lot,
picturesque to look upon, profitable to study, calculated to rouse in a
boy of intellectual passions a fury of final resentment against the
meannesses of commercial life. Alexander jerked his shoulders with
disgust and moved slowly down the street. After he had reflected that
great countries involved great ideas, and that there was no place for
either political or moral ideals in an isolated and purely commercial
town like little Charlotte Amalie, he recovered his poise, and lent
himself to his surroundings again with considerable philosophy.

He had almost crossed the foot of the third hill when he turned
abruptly into a large store, unlike any he had seen. It was full of
women, splendid creatures, who were bargaining with merchants' clerks
for the bales of fine stuffs which had been opened for the display of
samples to the wholesale buyers from other Islands. These women
purchased the exiled stuffs to sell to the ladies of the capital, and
this was the only retail trade known to the St. Thomas of that day.
Alexander bethought himself of his uncle's commission, and precipitately
bought from the open bale nearest the door, then, from the next, a
present for Mrs. Mitchell. Mrs. Lytton, who was an invalid and
fifty-eight, received, a fortnight later, a dress pattern of
rose-coloured silk, and Mrs. Mitchell, who aspired to be a leader of
fashion, one of elderly brown. But Alexander was more interested in the
sellers than in the possible dissatisfaction of his aunts. The women of
his acquaintance were fair and fragile, and the Africans of St. Croix
were particularly hideous, being still of parent stock. But these
creatures were tawny and magnificent, with the most superb figures, the
most remarkable swing, that ever a man had looked upon; and glorious
eyes, sparkling with deviltry. On their heads the white linen was wound
to a high point and surmounted by an immense hat, caught up at one side
with a flower. They wore for clothing a double skirt of coloured linen,
and a white fichu, open in a point to the waist and leaving their
gold-coloured arms quite bare. They moved constantly, if only from one
foot to the other. Occasionally their eyes flashed sparks, and they flew
at each other's throats, screeching like guinea fowl, but in a moment
they were laughing good-naturedly again, and chattering in voices of a
remarkable soft sweetness. Several of them noticed Alexander, for his
beauty had grown with his years. His eyes were large and gray and dark,
like his mother's, but sparkled with ardour and merriment. His mouth was
chiselled from a delicate fulness to a curving line; firm even then, but
always humorous, except when some fresh experience with the ingenuous
self-interest of man deepened the humour to cynicism. The nose was long,
sharply cut, hard, strong in the nostrils, the head massive, the brow
full above the eyes, and the whole of a boyish and sunburned fairness.
He could fetch a smile that gave his face a sweet and dazzling beauty.
His figure was so supple and well knit, so proud in its bearing, that no
woman then or later ever found fault with its inconsiderable inches; and
his hands and feet were beautiful. His adoring aunt attended to his
wardrobe, and he wore to-day, as usual, white linen knee-breeches, black
silk stockings, a lawn shirt much beruffled with lace. His appearance
pleased these gorgeous birds of plumage, and one of them snatched him
suddenly from the floor and gave him a resounding smack. Alexander, much
embarrassed, but not wholly displeased, retreated hurriedly, and asked
an Englishman who they were and whence they came.

"They are literally the pick of Martinique, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the
other Islands celebrated for beautiful women. Of course they've all got
a touch of the tar brush in them, but the French or the Spanish blood
makes them glorious for a few years, and during those few they come here
and make hay. Some come at certain seasons only, others perch here till
they change in a night from houri to hag. This daylight trade gives them
a _raison d'etre_, but wait till after dark. God! this is a hell hole;
but by moonlight or torchlight this street is one of the sights of the
earth. The magnificent beauty of the women, enhanced by silken stuffs of
every colour, the varied and often picturesque attire of the men, all
half mad with drink--well, if you want to sleep, you'd better get a room
high up."

"Mine is up one hundred and seventeen steps. I am but afraid I may not
see all there is to see."

But before the week was half out he had tired of St. Thomas by day and
by night. The picture was too one-sided, too heavily daubed with colour.
It made a palette of the imagination, sticky and crude. He began to
desire the green plantations of St. Croix, and more than ever he longed
for the snow-fields of the north. Two days of hard work concluded Mr.
Cruger's business, and on the thirtieth of the month he weighed anchor,
in company with many others, and set sail for St. Croix. He started
under a fair breeze, but a mile out the wind dropped, and he was until
midnight making the harbour of Christianstadt When they were utterly
becalmed the sun seemed to focus his hell upon the little sloop. It
rolled sickeningly in the oily wrinkled waters, and Alexander put his
Pope in his pocket. The sea had a curious swell, and he wondered if an
earthquake were imminent. The sea was not quite herself when her
foundations were preparing to shake. Earth-quakes had never concerned
him, but as the boat drifted past the reef into the harbour of
Christianstadt at midnight, he was assailed by a fit of terror so sudden
and unaccountable that he could recall but one sensation in his life
that approached it: shortly after he arrived on the Island he had stolen
down to the lagoon one night, fascinated by the creeping mist, the
scowling manchineels, the talk of its sinister inhabitant, and was
enjoying mightily his new feeling of creeping terror, when the silence
was broken by a heavy swish, and he saw the white belly of the shark not
three feet from him. He had scampered up the hill to his mother's skirts
as fast as his legs could carry him, nor visited the lagoon again until
the shark was mouldering on its bed. To-night a mist, almost
imperceptible except on the dark line of coast, changed the beauty of
the moonbeams to a livid light that gave the bay the horrid pallor of a
corpse. The masses of coral rock in the shallow waters looked leprous,
the surface was so glassy that it fell in splinters from the oars of the
boat that towed them to shore. There was not a sound from the reef, not
a sound from the land. The slender lacing mangroves in the swamp looked
like upright serpents, black and petrified, and the Fort on the high
bluff might have been a sarcophagus full of dead men but for the
challenge of the sentry.

Alexander began to whistle, then climbed down into the boat and took an
oar. When he had his feet on land he walked up King Street more hastily
than was his habit in the month of August. But here, although the town
might have been a necropolis, so quiet was it, it had not put on a death
mask. There was no mist here; the beautiful coral houses gleamed under
the moonbeams as if turned to marble, and Alexander forgot the horror of
the waters and paused to note, as he had done many times before, the
curious Alpine contrast of these pure white masses against the green and
burnished arches of tropic trees. Then he passed through the
swimming-bath to his bed, and a half-hour later slept as soundly as if
the terrible forces of the Caribbean world were safe in leash.


When he awoke, at seven o'clock, he heard a dull low roar in the
southeast, which arrested his attention at once as a sound quite
dissimilar from the boom of the reef. As he crossed Strand Street to Mr.
Cruger's store, an hour later, he noticed that a strong wind blew from
the same direction and that the atmosphere was a sickly yellow. For a
moment, he thought of the hurricane which he had passed his life
expecting, but he had a head full of business and soon forgot both roar
and wind. He was immediately immersed in a long and precise statement of
his trip, writing from notes and memory, muttering to himself, utterly
oblivious to the opening of the windows or the salutations of the
clerks. Mr. Cruger arrived after the late breakfast. He looked worried,
but shook Alexander's hand heartily, and thanked heaven, with some
fervour, that he had returned the night before. They retired to the
private office on the court, and Mr. Cruger listened with interest to
young Hamilton's account of his trip, although it was evident that his
mind felt the strain of another matter. He said abruptly:--

"The barometer was down two-tenths when I visited the Fort at a quarter
to eleven. I'd give a good deal to know where it is now."

Alexander remembered his aunt's barometer, which he had hung in his room
before sailing, and volunteered to go over and look at it.

"Do," exclaimed Mr. Cruger; "and see if the wind's shifted."

As Alexander crossed Strand Street to the side door of Mr. Mitchell's
house he encountered the strongest wind he had ever known, and black
clouds were racing back and forth as if lost and distracted. He returned
to tell Mr. Cruger that the barometer stood at 30.03.

"And the wind hasn't shifted?" demanded Mr. Cruger. "That means we'll be
in the direct path of a hurricane before the day is half out, unless
things change for the better. If the barometer falls four-tenths"--he
spread out his hands expressively. "Of course we have many scares.
Unless we hear two double guns from the Fort, there will be no real
cause for alarm; but when you hear that, get on your horse as quick as
you can and ride to warn the planters. The Lyttons and Stevens and
Mitchells will do for you. I'll send out three of the other boys."

They returned to accounts. Mr. Cruger expressed his gratification
repeatedly and forgot the storm, although the wind was roaring up King
Street and rattling the jalousies until flap after flap hung on a broken
hinge. Suddenly both sprang to their feet, books and notes tumbling to
the floor. Booming through the steady roar of the wind was the quick
thunder of cannon, four guns fired in rapid succession.

As Alexander darted through the store, the clerks were tumbling over
each other to secure the hurricane windows; for until the last minute,
uneasy as they were, they had persuaded themselves that St. Croix was in
but for the lashing of a hurricane's tail, and had bet St. Kitts against
Monserrat as flattening in the path of the storm. The hurricane windows
were of solid wood, clamped with iron. It took four men to close them
against the wind.

Alexander was almost flung across Strand Street. Shingles were flying,
the air was salt with spray skimmed by the wind from the surface of
waves which were leaping high above the Fort, rain was beginning to
fall. Mr. Mitchell's stables were in the rear of his house. Every negro
had fled to the cellar. Alexander unearthed four and ordered them to
close the hurricane windows. He had saddled many a horse, and he urged
his into Strand Street but a few moments later. Here he had to face the
wind until he could reach the corner and turn into King, and even the
horse staggered and gasped as if the breath had been driven out of him.
He reared back against the wall, and Alexander was obliged to dismount
and drag him up the street, panting for breath himself, although his
back was to the wind and he kept his head down. The din was terrific.
Cannon balls might have been rattling against the stones of every house,
and to this was added a roar from the reef as were all the sounds of the
Caribbean Sea gathered there. Alexander would have pulled his hat down
over his ears, for the noise was maddening, but it had flown over the
top of a house as he left the store. He was a quarter of an hour
covering the few yards which lay between the stable and the corner, and
when he reached the open funnel of King Street he was nearly swept off
his feet. Fortunately the horse loved him, and, terrified as it was,
permitted him to mount; and then it seemed to Alexander, as they flew up
King Street to the open country, that they were in a fork of the wind,
which tugged and twisted at his neck while it carried them on. He
flattened himself to the horse, but kept his eyes open and saw other
messengers, as dauntless as himself, tearing in various directions to
warn the planters, many of whom had grown callous to the cry of "Wolf."

The horse fled along the magnificent avenue of royal palms which
connected the east and west ends of the Island. They were bending and
creaking horribly, the masses of foliage on the summits cowering away
from the storm, wrapping themselves about in a curiously pitiful manner;
the long blade-like leaves seemed striving each to protect the other.
Through the ever-increasing roar of the storm, above the creaking of the
trees, the pounding of the rain on the earth, and on the young cane,
Alexander heard a continuous piercing note, pitched upon one monotonous
key, like the rattle of a girl's castinets he had heard on St. Thomas.
His brain, indifferent now to the din, was as active as ever, and he
soon made out this particular noise to be the rattle of millions of
seeds in the dry pods of the "shaggy-shaggy," or "giant," a common
Island tree, which had not a leaf at this season, nothing but countless
pods as dry as parchment and filled with seeds as large as peas. Not for
a second did this castinet accompaniment to the stupendous bass of the
storm cease, and Alexander, whose imagination, like every other sense in
him, was quickening preternaturally, could fancy himself surrounded by
the orchestra of hell, the colossal instruments of the infernal regions
performed upon by infuriate Titans. He was not conscious of fear,
although he knew that his life was not worth a second's purchase, but he
felt a wild exhilaration, a magnificent sense of defiance of the most
powerful element that can be turned loose on this planet; his nostrils
quivered with delight; his soul at certain moments, when his practical
faculty was uncalled upon, felt as if high in the roaring space with the
Berserkers of the storm.

Suddenly his horse, in spite of the wall of wind at his back, stood on
his hind legs, then swerved so fiercely that his rider was all but
unseated. A palm had literally leaped from the earth, sprawled across
the road not a foot in front of the horse. The terrified brute tore
across the cane-field, and Alexander made no attempt to stop him, for,
although the rain was now falling as if the sea had come in on the high
back of the wind, he believed himself to be on the Stevens plantation.
The negro village was not yet deserted, and he rode to the west side of
the mill and shouted his warning to the blacks crouching there. On every
estate was a great bell, hung in an open stone belfry, and never to be
rung except to give warning of riot, flood, fire, or hurricane. One of
the blacks obeyed Alexander's peremptory command to ring this bell, and,
as it was under the lee of the mill, reached it in a moment. As
Alexander urged his horse out into the storm again, he heard the rapid
agitated clang of the bell mingle discordantly with the bass of the wind
and the piercing rattle of the giant's castinets. He rode on through the
cane-field, although if the horse stumbled and injured itself, he would
have to lie on his face till the storm was over. But there was a greater
danger in the avenue; he was close enough to see and hear tree after
tree go down, or their necks wrenched and the great green heads rush
through the air with a roar of their own, their long glittering leaves
extended before them as if in supplication.

The Lytton plantation was next on his way, and Alexander rode straight
for the house, as the mills and village lay far to the left. The
hurricane shutters on the sides encountering the storm were already
closed, and he rode round to the west, where he saw his uncle's anxious
face at a drawing-room window. Mr. Lytton flung himself across the sash
in an attempt to lift the boy from his horse into the room, and when
Alexander shouted that he was on his way to the Mitchell estate,
expostulated as well as he could without breaking his throat. He begged
him to rest half an hour at least, but when informed that the Fort for
the first time within the memory of man had fired its double warning, he
ran to fasten his hurricane windows more securely, and despatch a slave
to warn his blacks; their huts never would survive the direct attack of
a hurricane. He was horrified to think of his favourite exposed to a
fury, which, clever and intrepid as he was, he had small chance of
outwitting; but at least he had that one chance, and Mrs. Mitchell was

Alexander passed through one other estate before he reached Mr.
Mitchell's, terrifying those he warned almost as much by his wild and
ragged appearance--his long hair drove straight before him, and his thin
shirt was in sodden ribbons--as by his news that a first-class hurricane
was upon them. At last he was in the cane-fields of his destination, and
the horse, as if in communication with that ardent brain so close to his
own, suddenly accelerated his already mercurial pace, until it seemed to
Alexander that he gathered up his legs and darted like an inflated
swallow straight through crashing avenues and flying huts to the stable
door. Fortunately this solid building opened to the west, and Alexander
was but a few moments stalling and feeding the animal who had saved two
necks by his clever feet that day. He was sorry so poorly to reward him
as to close and bar the door, but he feared that he might forget to
attend to it when the hurricane veered, and in all the fury of
approaching climax was pouring out of the west.

The house was only an eighth of a mile away, but Alexander was half an
hour reaching it. He had to travel on his knees, sometimes on his
stomach, until he reached the western wall, keeping his arm pressed
close against his eyes; his sense of humour, not to be extinguished by a
hurricane, rebelling at the ignoble pass to which his pride had come.
When he reached the north wall he rose, thinking he could cling to the
projections, but he was still facing the storm; he flung himself
prostrate again to avoid being lifted off his feet and sailing with the
rubbish of Mr. Mitchell's plantation. As he reached the corner the wind
gave him a vicious flip, which landed him almost at the foot of the
steps, but he was comparatively safe, and he sat down to recover his
breath. He could afford a few moments' rest, for the heavy wooden
windows facing the east, north, and south, were closed. Here he was
sheltered in a way. The only two good words that can be said for a
hurricane are that it gives sufficient warning of its approach, and that
it blows from one point of the compass at a time. Alexander sat there
panting and watched the wild battle in mid-air of shingles, fences,
thatched roofs, and tree-tops; listened to the artillery of the storm,
which, with a stone building to break its steady roar, sounded as if a
hundred cannon were bombarding the walls and rattling here and there on
their carriages meanwhile; listened to crash after crash of tree and
wall, the terrified bowlings and bellowings of beasts, the shrieking and
grinding of trees, the piercing monotone of the dry seeds in their cases
of parchment, the groans and prayers of the negroes in the cellar behind
him. He turned his head and looked through the windows of the great
apartment, which, although above ground, was supposed to be safest in a
hurricane. All but the western blinds being closed, the cellar was
almost dark, but Alexander knew that it was packed: doubtless every
African on the estate was there; he could see, for some distance back,
row after row of rolling eyes and hanging tongues. Some knelt on the
shoulders of others to get the air. Alexander shuddered. The sight
reminded him of his uncle's slave-ships, where the blacks came, chained
together, standing in the hold, so closely packed that if one died he
could not fall, nor the others protect themselves from the poisons of a
corpse, which pressed hard against the living for twenty hours perhaps,
before it was unchained and flung to the sharks. Alexander went close to
one of the windows and shouted to them not to forget to secure the
western blinds when the lull came, then ran up the steps and vaulted
through an open window. It was a few minutes before he found his aunt,
and it must be recorded that on his way to the front of the house he
looked under two beds and into four wardrobes. He came upon her in the
drawing-room, valiantly struggling with a hurricane window. Her hair was
dishevelled, and her eyes bulged with horror, but even as Alexander came
to the rescue, she shoved the bar into place. Then she threw herself
into his arms and fainted. He had but time to fling water on her face,
when a loud rattle from another window sent him bounding to it, and for
ten minutes he struggled to fasten the blind soundly again, while it
seemed to him that a hundred malignant fingers were tugging at its edge.
He had no sooner secured it, than his aunt's voice at his ear begged him
to try every window on three sides of the house, and he went rapidly
from one to the other, finding most of them in need of attention--long
disuse had weakened both staples and hooks. His aunt trotted after him,
thumping every window, and reminding him that if one went, and the wind
burst in, the roof would be off and the torrents upon them before they
could reach the cellar.

Fortunately for those who fought the storm, the temperature had fallen
with the barometer, and these two dared not relax their vigilance for a
moment. Every negro had deserted to the lower region. Alexander was
unable to change his wet clothes or to refresh himself with so much as a
banana, but there was not a second's time to think of hunger or
discomfort. More than once that sense of wild exultation in fighting a
mighty element possessed him. His own weak hands and a woman's weaker
against one of the Titanic hurricanes of the world's history, with a
prospect of winning the fight, was a sight to move comfortable gods to
paean or laughter, according to their spiritual development.

But during much of that terrible day and night Alexander's brain was
obliged to work on device after device to strengthen those battered
boards which alone protected the house from destruction, its inmates,
perhaps, from death. A tamarind tree came down on a corner of the roof
with a crash; and when Mrs. Mitchell and Alexander reached the room,
which was in a wing, the rain was struggling past the heavy mass through
a hole in the roof. They closed up the room, as well as the jalousies of
the inner walls, but as they returned to the windows they heard the rain
fighting to pass the branches, and knew that if the wind snatched the
tree, the deluge would come in.

Mrs. Mitchell neither fainted again nor exhibited other sign of fear.
While that hurricane lasted she was all Mary Fawcett; and Alexander,
meeting her eyes now and again, or catching sight of her as she darted
forward at the first rattle of a shutter, recalled his mother's many
anecdotes of his redoubtable grandmother, and wondered if that valiant
old soul had flown down the storm to the relief of the fortress.

Toward evening that sudden lull came which means that at last the
besieged are in the very centre of the hurricane, and will have respite
while the monster is swinging his tail to the west. Alexander and Mrs.
Mitchell, after opening the windows on the east side of the house, and
securing those opening to the west, went to the pantry and made a
substantial meal without sitting or selecting. To his last day Alexander
could not remember what he ate that night, although he recalled the
candle in the long chimney, the constant craning of his aunt's head, the
incessant racing of the rats along the beams. He went to his room and
took a cold bath, which with the food and suspended excitement quite
refreshed him; put on dry clothes, nailed a board against the hole in
the roof, then sat down with Mrs. Mitchell in the western gallery to
await the hurricane's return.

"We have three windows where we had one before," remarked Mrs.
Mitchell; "and the hinges of that door are rusty. God knows! If you had
not come, the roof would have gone long before this."

"The silence is horrible," said Alexander.

It was, indeed, earsplitting. Not a sound arose from that devastated
land. Birds and beasts must lie dead by the thousand; not a horseman
ventured abroad; not a whisper came from the cellar, where two hundred
Africans might be dead from fright or suffocation. Mrs. Mitchell had lit
the candles, and there was something sinister and ironical in the steady
flames. How long before they would leap and add the final horror to what
must be a night of horrors? It was impossible to work in the dark, but
every yellow point was a menace.

They had not long to endure the silence. This time the hurricane sent no
criers before it. It burst out of the west with a fury so intensified
that Alexander wondered if one stone in Frederikstadt were left upon
another. It was evident that it had gathered its forces for a final
assault, and its crashing and roaring, as it tore across the unhappy
Island it had marked for destruction, was that of a gigantic wheel
whirling ten thousand cannon, exploding, and lashing each other in
mid-air. It seemed to Alexander that every ball they surely carried
rattled on the roof, and the heavy stone structure vibrated for the
first time. It was two hours before he and Mrs. Mitchell met again, for
they worked at opposite ends of the long gallery; but in the third both
rushed simultaneously to the door. It sprang back from its rusty
fastenings, and they were but in time to seize the bar which passed
through a staple in its middle, and pull it inward until it pressed hard
against the jamb on the right. There was no other way to secure it, and
for three hours Alexander and Mrs. Mitchell dragged at it alternately,
while the other attended to the windows. By this time Alexander had
ceased to wonder if he should see another morning, or much to care: the
storm was so magnificent in its almighty power, its lungs of iron
bellowed its purpose with such furious iteration, as if out of all
patience with the mortals who defied it, that Alexander was almost
inclined to apologize. More than once it took the house by the shoulders
and shook it, and then a yell would come from below, a simultaneous note
pitched in a key of common agony. Suddenly the house seemed to spring
from its foundations, then sink back as if to collapse. Alexander called
out that it had been uprooted and would go down the hill in another
moment, but Mrs. Mitchell, who was at the bar, muttered, "An earthquake.
I believe a hurricane shakes the very centre of the earth."

They feared that the foundations of the house had been loosened, and
that the next blast would turn it over, but the house was one of the
strongest in the Caribbees, built to withstand the worst that Nature
could do, so long as man saw to its needs; and when the hurricane at
last revolved its artillery away into the east, carrying with it that
piercing rattle of the giant's castinets, which never for a moment had
ceased to perform its part, roof and walls were firm. Mrs. Mitchell and
Alexander sank where they had stood, and slept for twenty hours.


Alexander rode back to Christianstadt two days later, and again and
again he drew a hard breath and closed his eyes. It was a sight to move
any man, and the susceptible and tender nature of young Hamilton bled
for the tragedy of St. Croix. There was not a landmark, not a
cane-field, to remind him that it was the beautiful Island on which he
had spent the most of his remembering years. Although all of the Great
Houses were standing, their mien and manner were so altered by the
disappearance of their trees and outbuildings, and by the surrounding
pulpy flats in place of the rippling acres of young cane, that they were
unrecognizable. Here and there were masses of debris, walls and thatched
roofs swept far from the village foundations; but as a rule there was
but a board here or a bunch of dried leaves there, a battered utensil or
a stool, to reward the wretched Africans who wandered about searching
for the few things they had possessed before the storm. They looked
hopeless and dull, as if their faculties had been stunned by the
prolonged incessant noise of the hurricane.

Alexander was riding down what a week ago had been the most celebrated
avenue in the Antilles. Where there were trees at all, they were
headless, the long gray twisted trunks as repulsive as they had once
been beautiful The road was littered with many of the fallen; but others
were far away in what had been the cane-fields, serpents and lizards
sunning themselves on the dead roots. Even stone walls were down, and
under them, sometimes, were men. Mills were in ruins; for no one had
remained to keep bars in their staples. Tanks of last year's rum and
treacle had been flung through the walls, and their odours mingled with
the stench of decomposing men and cattle. The horrid rattle of the
land-crab was almost the only sound in that desolate land. "The Garden
of the Antilles" looked like a putrid swamp, and she had not a beauty on

Alexander turned at a cross-road into a path which led through the
Grange estate to the private burying-ground of the Lyttons. These few
moments taxed his courage more heavily than the ride with the hurricane
had done, and more than once he opened his clenched teeth and half
turned his horse's head. But he went on, and before long he had climbed
to the end of his journey. The west wall of the little cemetery had been
blown out, and the roof of old James Lytton's tomb lay with its debris.
A tree, which evidently had been torn from the earth and flung from a
distance, lay half in and half out of the enclosure. But his mother's
headstone, which stood against the north wall, was undisturbed, although
the mound above her was flat and sodden. The earth had been strong
enough to hold her. Alexander remembered its awful air of finality as it
opened to receive her, then closed over her. What he had feared was that
the burying-ground, which stood on the crest of a hill, would have been
uprooted and scattered over the cane-fields.

He rode on to Christianstadt. There the evidences of the hurricane were
less appalling, for the houses, standing close together, had protected
each other, and only two were unroofed; but everywhere the trees looked
like twisted poles, the streets and gardens were full of rubbish, and
down by the bay the shore was strewn with the wreckage of ships; the
Park behind the Fort was thick with decaying fish, which the blacks were
but just now sweeping out to the water.

After Alexander had ascertained that Mr. Mitchell's house was quite
unharmed, although a neighbour had lost half a roof and been deluged in
consequence, he walked out Company Street to see how it had fared with
Hugh Knox. That worthy gentleman was treating his battered nerves with
weak whiskey and water when he caught sight of Alexander through the
library window. He gave a shout that drew an exasperated groan through
the ceiling, flung open the door, and clasped his beloved pupil in his

"I knew you were safe, because you are you, although I've been afraid to
ask if you were dead or alive. Cruger sent out three others to warn the
planters, and they've all been brought home, one dead, one maimed, one
with chills and fever and as mad as a March hare. Good God! what a
visitation! I'd rather have been on a moving bog in Ireland. You
wouldn't have ridden out in that hurricane if I'd got you, not if I'd
been forced to tie you up. Fancy your being here alive, and not even a
cold in your head! But you've a grand destiny to work out, and the
hurricane--which I believe was the Almighty in a temper--knew what it
was about. Now tell me your experience. I'm panting to tell you mine.
I've not had a soul to talk to since the hour it started. The Missis
behaved like a Trojan while it lasted, then went to bed, and hasn't
spoken to me since; and as for everyone else in Christianstadt--well,
they've retired to calm their nerves in the only way,--prayer first and
whiskey after."

Alexander took possession of his own easy-chair and looked gratefully
around the room. The storm had not disturbed it, neither had a wench's
duster. Since his mother's death he had loved this room with a more
grateful affection than any mortal had inspired, well as he loved his
aunt, Hugh Knox, and Neddy. But the room did not talk, and the men who
had written the great books which made him indifferent to his island
prison for days and weeks at a time, were dead, and their selfishness
was buried with them.

Meanwhile Knox, forgetting his desire to hear the experience of his
guest, was telling his own. It was sufficiently thrilling, but not to be
compared with that of the planter's; and when he had finished, Alexander
began with some pride to relate his impressions of the storm. He, too,
had not talked for three days; his heart felt warm again; and in the
familiar comfortable room, the terrible picture of the hurricane seemed
to spring sharp and vivid from his memory; he had recalled it confusedly
hitherto, and made no effort to live it again. Knox leaned forward
eagerly, dropping his pipe; Alexander talked rapidly and brilliantly,
finally springing to his feet, and concluding with an outburst so
eloquent that his audience cowered and covered his face with his hands.
For some moments Knox sat thinking, then he rose and pushed a small
table in front of Alexander, littering it with pencils and paper, in his
untidy fashion.

"My boy," he said, "you're still hot with your own eloquence. Before you
cool off, I want you to write that down word for word as you told it to
me. If it twisted my very vitals, it will give a similar pleasure to
others. 'Twould be selfish to deny them. When it's done, I'll send it to
Tiebout. Now I'll leave you, and if my niggers are still too demoralized
to cook supper for you, I'll do it myself."

Alexander, whose brain, in truth, felt on fire, for every nerve had
leapt to the recreating of that magnificent Force that had gathered an
island into the hollow of its hand, crushed, and cast it back to the
waters, dashed at the paper and wrote with even more splendour than he
had spoken. When he had finished, he was still so excited that he
rushed from the house and walked till the hideous sights and smells
drove him home. He was quivering with the ecstasy of birth, and longed
for another theme, and hours and days of hot creation. But he was to be
spared the curse of the "artistic temperament."


The description of the hurricane went to St. Christopher by sloop two
days later (there were no English papers on St. Croix), and was not
heard from for two weeks. Meanwhile Alexander forgot it, as writers have
a way of forgetting their infants of enthusiastic delivery. There was
much to do on St. Croix. The negroes were put at once to rebuilding and
repairing, and masters, as well as overlookers and agents, were behind
them from morning till night. Mr. Mitchell had not returned, and
Alexander was obliged to take charge of his estates. When he was not
galloping from village to village and mill to mill, driving the sullen
blacks before him, or routing them out of ruins and hollows, where they
huddled in a demoralized stupor, he was consoling his aunt for the
possible sacrifice of Mr. Mitchell to the storm. Alexander was quite
confident that the hurricane had spared Tom Mitchell, whomsoever else it
may have devoured, but his logic did not appeal to his aunt, who wept
whenever he was there to offer his arm and shoulder. At other times she
bustled about among her maids, who were sewing industriously for the

Book of the day: