BEING THE TRUE AND ROMANTIC STORY OF
GERTRUDE FRANKLIN ATHERTON
"Je considere Napoleon, Fox, et Hamilton comme les trois plus grands hommes de notre epoque, et si je devais me prononcer entre les trois, je donnerais sans hesiter la premiere place a Hamilton. Il avait devine l'Europe."
TALLEYRAND, Etudes sur la Republique
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
Set up, electrotyped, and published March, 1902. Reprinted May, July twice, August, September, October, December, 1902; February, 1903; February, 1904.
Special edition June, 1904.
Norwood Press J.S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
TO THE DISTINGUISHED MEN WITHOUT WHOSE SUGGESTION AND ENCOURAGEMENT THIS ATTEMPT TO RECREATE THE GREATEST OF OUR STATESMEN WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE
THE RT. HON. JAMES BRYCE, M.P.
DR. ALLAN McLANE HAMILTON
BOOK I RACHAEL LEVINE
BOOK II ALEXANDER HAMILTON. HIS YOUTH IN THE WEST INDIES AND IN THE COLONIES OF NORTH AMERICA
BOOK III THE LITTLE LION
BOOK IV "ALEXANDER THE GREAT"
BOOK V THE LAST BATTLE OF THE GIANTS AND THE END
It was my original intention to write a biography of Alexander Hamilton in a more flexible manner than is customary with that method of reintroducing the dead to the living, but without impinging upon the territory of fiction. But after a visit to the British and Danish West Indies in search of the truth regarding his birth and ancestry, and after a wider acquaintance with the generally romantic character of his life, to say nothing of the personality of this most endearing and extraordinary of all our public men, the instinct of the novelist proved too strong; I no sooner had pen in hand than I found myself working in the familiar medium, although preserving the historical sequence. But, after all, what is a character novel but a dramatized biography? We strive to make our creations as real to the world as they are to us. Why, then, not throw the graces of fiction over the sharp hard facts that historians have laboriously gathered? At all events, this infinitely various story of Hamilton appealed too strongly to my imagination to be frowned aside, so here, for better or worse, is the result. Nevertheless, and although the method may cause the book to read like fiction, I am conscientious in asserting that almost every important incident here related of his American career is founded on documentary or published facts or upon family tradition; the few that are not have their roots among the probabilities, and suggested themselves. As for the West Indian part, although I was obliged to work upon the bare skeleton I unearthed in the old Common Records and Church Registers, still the fact remains that I did find the skeleton, which I have emphasized as far as is artistically possible. No date is given nor deed referred to that cannot be found by other visitors to the Islands. Moreover, I made a careful study of these Islands as they were in the time of Hamilton and his maternal ancestors, that I might be enabled to exercise one of the leading principles of the novelist, which is to create character not only out of certain well-known facts of heredity, but out of understood conditions. In this case I had, in addition, an extensive knowledge of Hamilton's character to work backward from, as well as his estimate of the friends of his youth and of his mother. Therefore I feel confident that I have held my romancing propensity well within the horizon of the probabilities; at all events, I have depicted nothing which in any way interferes with the veracity of history. However, having unburdened my imagination, I shall, in the course of a year or two, write the biography I first had in mind. No writer, indeed, could assume a more delightful task than to chronicle, in any form, Hamilton's stupendous services to this country and his infinite variety.
In the eighteenth century Nevis was known as The Mother of the English Leeward Caribbees. A Captain-General ruled the group in the name of the King, but if he died suddenly, his itinerant duties devolved upon the Governor of Nevis until the crown heard of its loss and made choice of another to fill that high and valued office. She had a Council and a House of Assembly, modelled in miniature upon the Houses of Peers and Commons; and was further distinguished as possessing the only court in the English Antilles where pirates could be tried. The Council was made up of ten members appointed by the Captain-General, but commanded by "its own particular and private Governor." The freeholders of the Island chose twenty-four of their number to represent them in the House of Assembly; and the few chronicles of that day agree in asserting that Nevis during her hundred proud years of supremacy was governed brilliantly and well. But the careful administration of good laws contributed in part only to the celebrity of an Island which to-day, still British as she is, serves but as a pedestal for the greatest of American statesmen. In these old days she was a queen as well as a mother. Her planters were men of immense wealth and lived the life of grandees. Their cane-fields covered the mountain on all its sides and subsidiary peaks, rising to the very fringe of the cold forest on the cone of a volcano long since extinct. The "Great Houses," built invariably upon an eminence that commanded a view of the neighbouring islands.—St. Christopher, Antigua, Montserrat,—were built of blocks of stone so square and solid and with a masonry so perfect that one views their ruins in amazement to-day. They withstood hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and tidal waves. They were impregnable fortresses against rioting negroes and spasmodically aggressive Frenchmen. They even survived the abolition of slavery, and the old gay life went on for many years. English people, bored or in search of health, came for the brilliant winter, delighted with the hospitality of the planters, and to renew their vitality in the famous climate and sulphur baths, which, of all her possessions, Time has spared to Nevis. And then, having weathered all the ills to which even a West Indian Island can be subject, she succumbed—to the price of sugar. Her great families drifted away one by one. Her estates were given over to the agent for a time, finally to the mongoose. The magnificent stone mansions, left without even a caretaker, yielded helplessly to the diseases of age, and the first hurricane entering unbarred windows carried their roofs to the sea. In Charles Town, the capital since the submergence of James Town in 1680, are the remains of large town houses and fine old stone walls, which one can hardly see from the roadstead, so thick are the royal palms and the cocoanut trees among the ruins, wriggling their slender bodies through every crevice and flaunting their glittering luxuriance above every broken wall.
But in the days when the maternal grandparents of Alexander Hamilton looked down a trifle upon those who dwelt on other isles, Nevis recked of future insignificance as little as a beauty dreams of age. In the previous century England, after the mortification of the Royalists by Cromwell, had sent to Nevis Hamiltons, Herberts, Russells, and many another refugee from her historic houses. With what money they took with them they founded the great estates of the eighteenth century, and their sons sent their own children to Europe to become accomplished men and women. Government House was a miniature court, as gay and splendid as its offices were busy with the commerce of the world. The Governor and his lady drove about the Island in a carriage of state, with outriders and postilions in livery. When the Captain-General came he outshone his proud second by the gorgeousness of his uniform only, and both dignitaries were little more imposing than the planters themselves. It is true that the men, despite their fine clothes and powdered perukes, preferred a horse's back to the motion of a lumbering coach, but during the winter season their wives and daughters, in the shining stuffs, the pointed bodices, the elaborate head-dress of Europe, visited Government House and their neighbours with all the formality of London or Bath. After the first of March the planters wore white linen; the turbaned black women were busy among the stones of the rivers with voluminous wardrobes of cambric and lawn.
Several estates belonged to certain offshoots of the ducal house of Hamilton, and in the second decade of the eighteenth century Walter Hamilton was Captain-General of the English Leeward Caribbees and "Ordinary of the Same." After him came Archibald Hamilton, who was, perhaps, of all the Hamiltons the most royal in his hospitality. Moreover, he was a person of energy and ambition, for it is on record that he paid a visit to Boston, fleeing from the great drought which visited Nevis in 1737. Then there were William Leslie Hamilton, who practised at the bar in London for several years, but returned to hold official position on Nevis, and his brother Andrew, both sons of Dr. William Hamilton, who spent the greater part of his life on St. Christopher. There were also Hugh Hamilton, Charles, Gustavus, and William Vaughn Hamilton, all planters, most of them Members of Council or of the Assembly.
And even in those remote and isolated days, Hamiltons and Washingtons were associated. The most popular name in our annals appears frequently in the Common Records of Nevis, and there is no doubt that when our first President's American ancestor fled before Cromwell to Virginia, a brother took ship for the English Caribbees.
From a distance Nevis looks like a solitary peak in mid-ocean, her base sweeping out on either side. But behind the great central cone—rising three thousand two hundred feet—are five or six lesser peaks, between which are dense tropical gorges and mountain streams. In the old days, where the slopes were not vivid with the light green of the cane-field, there were the cool and sombre groves of the cocoanut tree, mango, orange, and guava.
Even when Nevis is wholly visible there is always a white cloud above her head. As night falls it becomes evident that this soft aggravation of her beauty is but a night robe hung on high. It is at about seven in the evening that she begins to draw down her garment of mist, but she is long in perfecting that nocturnal toilette. Lonely and neglected, she still is a beauty, exacting and fastidious. The cloud is tortured into many shapes before it meets her taste. She snatches it off, redisposes it, dons and takes it off again, wraps it about her with yet more enchanting folds, until by nine o'clock it sweeps the sea; and Nevis, the proudest island of the Caribbees, has secluded herself from those cynical old neighbours who no longer bend the knee.
Nevis gave of her bounty to none more generously than to John and Mary Fawcett. In 1685 the revocation of the Edict of Nantes had sent the Huguenots swarming to America and the West Indies. Faucette was but a boy when the Tropics gave him shelter, and learning was hard to get; except in the matter of carving Caribs. But he acquired the science of medicine somehow, and settled on Nevis, remodelled his name, and became a British subject. Brilliant and able, he was not long accumulating a fortune; there were swamps near Charles Town that bred fever, and the planters lived as high and suffered as acutely as the English squires of the same period. His wife brought him money, and in 1714 they received a joint legacy from Captain Frank Keynall; whether a relative of hers or a patient of his, the Records do not tell.
Mary Fawcett was some twenty years younger than her husband, a high-spirited creature, with much intelligence, and a will which in later years John Fawcett found himself unable to control. But before that period, when to the disparity in time were added the irritabilities of age in the man and the imperiousness of maturity in the woman, they were happy in their children, in their rising fortunes, and, for a while, in one another.
For twenty-eight years they lived the life of the Island. They built a Great House on their estate at Gingerland, a slope of the Island which faces Antigua, and they had their mansion in town for use when the Captain-General was abiding on Nevis. While Mary Fawcett was bringing up and marrying her children, managing the household affairs of a large estate, and receiving and returning the visits of the other grandees of the Island, to say nothing of playing her important part in all social functions, life went well enough. Her children, far away from the swamps of Charles Town, throve in the trade winds which temper the sun of Nevis and make it an isle of delight. When they were not studying with their governesses, there were groves and gorges to play in, ponies to ride, and monkeys and land crabs to hunt. Later came the gay life of the Capital, the routs at Government House, frequent even when the Chief was elsewhere, the balls at neighbouring estates, the picnics in the cool high forests, or where more tropical trees and tree ferns grew thick, the constant meeting with distinguished strangers, and the visits to other islands.
The young Fawcetts married early. One went with her husband, Peter Lytton, to the island of St. Croix. The Danish Government, upon obtaining possession of this fertile island, in 1733, immediately issued an invitation to the planters of the Leeward Caribbees to immigrate, tempting many who were dissatisfied with the British Government or wished for larger estates than they could acquire on their own populous islands. Members of the Lytton, Mitchell, and Stevens families of St. Christopher were among the first to respond to the liberal offer of the Danish Government. The two sons of James Lytton, Peter and James, grew up on St. Croix, Danish by law, British in habit and speech; and both married women of Nevis. Peter was the first to wed, and his marriage to young Mary Fawcett was the last to be celebrated in the Great House at Gingerland.
When Peter Lytton and his wife sailed away, as other sons and other daughters had sailed before, to return to Nevis rarely,—for those were the days of travel unveneered,—John and Mary Fawcett were left alone: their youngest daughter, she who afterward became the wife of Thomas Mitchell of St. Croix, was at school in England.
By this time Dr. Fawcett had given up his practice and was living on his income. He took great interest in his cane-fields and mills, and in the culture of limes and pine-apples; but in spite of his outdoor life his temper soured and he became irritable and exacting. Gout settled in him as a permanent reminder of the high fortunes of his middle years, and when the Gallic excitability of his temperament, aggravated by a half-century of hot weather, was stung to fiercer expression by the twinges of his disease, he was an abominable companion for a woman twenty years closer to youth.
In the solitudes of the large house Mary Fawcett found life unendurable. Still handsome, naturally gay of temper, and a brilliant figure in society, she frequently deserted her elderly husband for weeks at a time. The day came when he peremptorily forbade her to leave the place without him. For a time she submitted, for although a woman of uncommon independence of spirit, it was not until 1740 that she broke free of traditions and astonished the island of Nevis. She shut herself up with her books and needlework, attended to her house and domestic negroes with the precision of long habit, saw her friends when she could, and endured the exactions of her husband with only an occasional but mighty outburst.
It was in these unhappy conditions that Rachael Fawcett was born.
The last affliction the Fawcetts expected was another child. This little girl came an unwelcome guest to a mother who hated the father, and to Dr. Fawcett, not only because he had outgrown all liking for crying babies, but because, as in his excited disturbance he admitted to his wife, his fortune was reduced by speculations in London, and he had no desire to turn to in his old age and support another child. Then Mary Fawcett made up her definite mind: she announced her intention to leave her husband while it was yet possible to save her property for herself and the child to whom she soon became passionately attached. Dr. Fawcett laughed and shut himself up in a wing where the sounds of baby distress could not reach him; and it is doubtful if his glance ever lingered on the lovely face of his youngest born. Thus came into the world under the most painful conditions one of the unhappiest women that has lived. It was her splendid destiny to become the mother of the greatest American of his centuries, but this she died too soon to know, and she accomplished her part with an immediate bitterness of lot which was remorselessly ordained, no doubt, by the great Law of Compensation.
There were no divorce laws on the Islands in the eighteenth century, not even an act for separate maintenance; but Mary Fawcett was a woman of resource. It took her four years to accomplish her purpose, but she got rid of Dr. Fawcett by making him more than anxious to be rid of her. The Captain-General, William Matthew, was her staunch friend and admirer, and espoused her cause to the extent of issuing a writ of supplicavit for a separate maintenance. Dr. Fawcett gradually yielded to pressure, separated her property from his, that it might pass under her personal and absolute control, and settled on her the sum of fifty-three pounds, four shillings annually, as a full satisfaction for all her dower or third part of his estate.
Mistress Fawcett was no longer a woman of consequence, for even her personal income was curtailed by the great drought of 1737, and Nevis, complaisant to the gallantry of the age, was scandalized at the novelty of a public separation. But she was free, and she was the woman to feel that freedom to her finger tips; she could live a life with no will in it but her own, and she could bring up her little girl in an atmosphere of peace and affection. She moved to an estate she owned on St. Christopher and never saw John Fawcett again. He died a few years later, leaving his diminished property to his children. Rachael's share was the house in Charles Town.
The spot on which Rachael spent her childhood and brief youth was one of the most picturesque on the mountain range of St. Christopher. Facing the sea, the house stood on a lofty eminence, in the very shadow of Mount Misery. Immediately behind the house were the high peaks of the range, hardly less in pride than the cone of the great volcano. The house was built on a ledge, but one could step from the terrace above into an abrupt ravine, wrenched into its tortuous shape by earthquake and flood, but dark for centuries with the immovable shades of a virgin tropical forest. The Great House, with its spacious open galleries and verandahs, was surrounded with stone terraces, overflowing with the intense red and orange of the hybiscus and croton bush, the golden browns and softer yellows of less ambitious plants, the sensuous tints of the orchid, the high and glittering beauties of the palm and cocoanut. The slopes to the coast were covered with cane-fields, their bright young greens sharp against the dark blue of the sea. The ledge on which the house was built terminated suddenly in front, but extended on the left along a line of cliff above a chasm, until it sloped to the road. On this flat eminence was an avenue of royal palms, which, with the dense wood on the hill above it, was to mariners one of the most familiar landmarks of the Island of "St. Kitts." From her verandah Mary Fawcett could see, far down to the right, a large village of negro huts, only the thatched African roofs visible among the long leaves of the cocoanut palms with which the blacks invariably surround their dwellings. Beyond was Brimstone Hill with its impregnable fortress. And on the left, far out at sea, her purple heights and palm-fringed shores deepening the exquisite blue of the Caribbean by day, a white ever changing spirit in the twilight, and no more vestige of her under the stars than had she sunk whence she came—Nevis. Mary Fawcett never set foot on her again, but she learned to sit and study her with a whimsical affection which was one of the few liberties she allowed her imagination. But if the unhappiest years of her life had been spent there, so had her fairest. She had loved her brilliant husband in her youth, and all the social triumphs of a handsome and fortunate young woman had been hers. In the deep calm which now intervened between the two mental hurricanes of her life, she sometimes wondered if she had exaggerated her past afflictions; and before she died she knew how insignificant the tragedy of her own life had been.
Although Rachael was born when her parents were past their prime, the vitality that was in her was concentrated and strong. It was not enough to give her a long life, but while it lasted she was a magnificent creature, and the end was abrupt; there was no slow decay. During her childhood she lived in the open air, for except in the cold nights of a brief winter only the jalousies were closed; and on that high shelf even the late summer and early autumn were not insufferable. Exhausted as the trade winds become, they give what little strength is in them to the heights of their favourite isles, and during the rest of the year they are so constant, even when storms rage in the North Atlantic, that Nevis and St. Christopher never feel the full force of the sun, and the winter nights are cold.
Rachael was four years old when her parents separated, and grew to womanhood remembering nothing of her father and seeing little of her kin, scattered far and wide. Her one unmarried sister, upon her return from England, went almost immediately to visit Mrs. Lytton, and married Thomas Mitchell, one of the wealthiest planters of St. Croix. Mary Fawcett's children had not approved her course, for they remembered their father as the most indulgent and charming of men, whose frequent tempers were quickly forgotten; and year by year she became more wholly devoted to the girl who clung to her with a passionate and uncritical affection.
Clever and accomplished herself, and quick with ambition for her best beloved child, she employed the most cultivated tutors on the Island to instruct her in English, Latin, and French. Before Rachael was ten years old, Mistress Fawcett had the satisfaction to discover that the little girl possessed a distinguished mind, and took to hard study, and to les graces, as naturally as she rode a pony over the hills or shot the reef in her boat.
For several years the women of St. Christopher held aloof, but many of the planters who had been guests at the Great House in Gingerland called on Mistress Fawcett at once, and proffered advice and service. Of these William Hamilton and Archibald Hamn became her staunch and intimate friends. Mr. Hamn's estate adjoined hers, and his overlooker relieved her of much care. Dr. James Hamilton, who had died in the year preceding her formal separation, had been a close friend of her husband and herself, and his brother hastened with assurance of his wish to serve her. He was one of the eminent men of the Island, a planter and a member of Council; also, a "doctor of physic." He carried Rachael safely through her childhood complaints and the darkest of her days; and if his was the hand which opened the gates between herself and history, who shall say in the light of the glorified result that its master should not sleep in peace?
In time his wife called, and his children and stepchildren brought a new experience into the life of Rachael. She had been permitted to gambol occasionally with the "pic'nees" of her mother's maids, but since her fourth year had not spoken to a white child until little Catherine Hamilton came to visit her one morning and brought Christiana Huggins of Nevis. Mistress Huggins had known Mary Fawcett too well to call with Mistress Hamilton, but sent Christiana as a peace offering. Mary's first disposition was to pack the child off while Mistress Hamilton was offering her embarrassed explanations; but Rachael clung to her new treasure with such shrieks of protest that her mother, disconcerted by this vigour of opposition to her will, permitted the intruder to remain.
The wives of other planters followed Mistress Hamilton, for in that soft voluptuous climate, where the rush and fret of great cities are but a witch's tale, disapproval dies early. They would have called long since had they not been a trifle in awe of Nevis, more, perhaps, of Mistress Fawcett's sharp tongue, then indolent. But when Mistress Hamilton suddenly reminded them that they were Christians, and that Dr. Fawcett was dead, they put on their London gowns, ordered out their coaches, and called. Mary Fawcett received them with a courteous indifference. Her resentment had died long since, and they seemed to her, with their coaches and brocades and powdered locks, but the ghosts of the Nevis of her youth. Her child, her estate, and her few tried friends absorbed her. For the sake of her daughter's future, she ordered out her ancient coach and made the round of the Island once a year. The ladies of St. Kitts were as moderately punctilious.
And so the life of Rachael Fawcett for sixteen years passed uneventfully enough. Her spirits were often very high, for she inherited the Gallic buoyancy of her father as well as the brilliant qualities of his mind. In the serious depths of her nature were strong passions and a tendency to melancholy, the result no doubt of the unhappy conditions of her birth. But her mother managed so to occupy her eager ambitious mind with hard study that the girl had little acquaintance with herself. Her English studies were almost as varied as a boy's, and in addition to her accomplishments in the ancient and modern languages, she painted, and sang, played the harp and guitar. Mary Fawcett, for reasons of her own, never let her forget that she was the most educated girl on the Islands.
"I never was one to lie on a sofa all day and fan myself, while my children sat on the floor with their blacks, and munched sugar-cane, or bread and sling," she would remark superfluously. "All my daughters are a credit to their husbands; but I mean that you shall be the most brilliant woman in the Antilles."
The immediate consequences of Rachael's superior education were two: her girl friends ceased to interest her, and ambitions developed in her strong imaginative brain. In those days women so rarely distinguished themselves individually that it is doubtful if Rachael had ever heard of the phenomenon, and the sum of her worldly aspirations was a wealthy and intellectual husband who would take her to live and to shine at foreign courts. Her nature was too sweet and her mind too serious for egoism or the pettier vanities, but she hardly could help being conscious of the energy of her brain; and if she had passed through childhood in ignorance of her beauty, she barely had entered her teens when her happy indifference was dispelled; for the young planters besieged her gates.
Girls mature very early in the tropics, and at fourteen Rachael Fawcett was the unresponsive toast from Basseterre to Sandy Point. Her height was considerable, and she had the round supple figure of a girl who has lived the out-door life in moderation; full of strength and grace, and no exaggeration of muscle. She had a fine mane of reddish fair hair, a pair of sparkling eager gray eyes which could go black with passion or even excited interest, a long nose so sensitively cut that she could express any mood she chose with her nostrils, which expanded quite alarmingly when she flew into a temper, and a full well-cut mouth. Her skin had the whiteness and transparency peculiar to the women of St. Kitts and Nevis; her head and brow were nobly modelled, and the former she carried high to the day of her death. It was set so far back on her shoulders and on a line so straight that it would look haughty in her coffin. What wonder that the young planters besieged her gates, that her aspirations soared high, that Mary Fawcett dreamed of a great destiny for this worshipped child of her old age? As for the young planters, they never got beyond the gates, for a dragon stood there. Mistress Fawcett had no mind to run the risk of early entanglements. When Rachael was old enough she would be provided with a distinguished husband from afar, selected by the experienced judgement of a woman of the world.
But Mary Fawcett, still hot-headed and impulsive in her second half-century, was more prone to err in crises than her daughter. In spite of the deeper passions of her nature, Rachael, except when under the lash of strong excitement, had a certain clearness of insight and deliberation of judgement which her mother lacked to her last day.
Rachael had just eaten the last of her sixteenth birthday sweets when, at a ball at Government House, she met John Michael Levine. It was her debut; she was the fairest creature in the room, and, in the idiom of Dr. Hamilton, the men besieged her as were she Brimstone Hill in possession of the French. The Governor and the Captain General had asked her to dance, and even the women smiled indulgently, disarmed by so much innocent loveliness.
Levine, albeit a Dane, and as colourless as most of his countrymen, was her determined suitor before the night was half over. It may be that he was merely dazzled by the regal position to which the young men had elevated her, and that his cold blood quickened at the thought of possessing what all men desired, but he was as immediate and persistent in his suit as any excitable creole in the room. But Rachael gave him scant attention that night. She may have been intellectual, but she was also a girl, and it was her first ball. She was dazzled and happy, delighted with her conquests, oblivious to the depths of her nature.
The next day Levine, strong in the possession of a letter from Mr. Peter Lytton,—for a fortnight forgotten,—presented himself at Mistress Fawcett's door, and was admitted. The first call was brief and perfunctory, but he came the next day and the next. Rachael, surprised, but little interested, and longing for her next ball, strummed the harp at her mother's command and received his compliments with indifference. A week after his first call Mary Fawcett drove into town and spent an hour with the Governor. He told her that Levine had brought him a personal letter from the Governor of St. Croix, and that he was wealthy and well born. He was also, in his Excellency's opinion, a distinguished match even for the most beautiful and accomplished girl on the Island. Peter Lytton had mentioned in his letter that Levine purposed buying an estate on St. Croix and settling down to the life of a planter. On the following day Levine told her that already he was half a West Indian, so fascinated was he with the life and the climate, but that if she would favour his suit he would take Rachael to Copenhagen as often as she wished for the life of the world.
Mary Fawcett made up her mind that he should marry Rachael, and it seemed to her that no mother had ever come to a wiser decision. Her health was failing, and it was her passionate wish not only to leave her child encircled by the protection of a devoted husband, but to realize the high ambitions she had cherished from the hour she foresaw that Rachael was to be an exceptional woman.
Levine had not seen Rachael on the morning when he asked for her hand, and he called two days later to press his suit and receive his answer. Mistress Fawcett told him that she had made up her own mind and would perform that office for Rachael at once, but thought it best that he should absent himself until the work was complete. Levine, promised an answer on the morrow, took himself off, and Mary Fawcett sent for her daughter.
Rachael entered the library with a piece of needlework in her hand. Her mind was not on her books these days, for she had gone to another ball; but her hands had been too well brought up to idle, however her brain might dream. Mary Fawcett by this time wore a large cap with a frill, and her face, always determined and self-willed, was growing austere with years and much pain: she suffered frightfully at times with rheumatism, and her apprehension of the moment when it should attack her heart reconciled her to the prospect of brief partings from her daughter. Her eyes still burned with the fires of an indiminishable courage however; she read the yellow pages of her many books as rapidly as in her youth, and if there was a speck of dust on her mahogany floors, polished with orange juice, she saw it. Her negroes adored her but trembled when she raised her voice, and Rachael never had disobeyed her. She expected some dissatisfaction, possibly a temper, but no opposition.
Rachael smiled confidently and sat down. She wore one of the thin white linens, which, like the other women of the Islands, she put aside for heavier stuffs on state occasions only, and her hair had tumbled from its high comb and fallen upon her shoulders. Mary Fawcett sighed as she looked at her. She was too young to marry, and had it not been for the haunting terror of leaving her alone in the world, the Dane, well circumstanced as he was, would have been repulsed with contumely.
"Rachael," said her mother, gently, "put down your tapestry. I have something to say to you, something of great import."
Rachael dropped her work and met her mother's eyes. They were hard with will and definite purpose. In an instant she divined what was coming, and stood up. Her face could not turn any whiter, but her eyes were black at once, and her nostrils spread.
"It cannot be possible that you wish me to marry that man—Levine," she stammered. "I do not know how I can think of such a thing—but I do—it seems to me I see it in your eyes."
"Yes," said her mother, with some uneasiness. "I do; and my reasons are good—"
"I won't listen to them!" shrieked Rachael. "I won't marry him! His whiteness makes me sick! I know he is not a good man! I feel it! I never could be happy with him! I never could love him!"
Mary Fawcett looked at her aghast, and, for a moment, without answering; she saw her own will asserting itself, heard it on those piercing notes, and she knew that it sprang from stronger and more tragic foundations than had ever existed in her own nature; but believing herself to be right, she determined to prevail.
"What do you know about men, my darling?" she said soothingly. "You have been dreaming romantic dreams, and young Levine does not resemble the hero. That is all. Women readjust themselves marvellously quick. When you are married to him, and he is your tender and devoted husband, you will forget your prince—who, no doubt, is dark and quite splendid. But we never meet our princes, my dear, and romantic love is only one of the things we live for—and for that we live but a little while. Levine is all that I could wish for you. He is wealthy, aristocratic, and chivalrously devoted."
Her long speech had given her daughter time to cool, but Rachael remained standing, and stared defiantly into the eyes which had relaxed somewhat with anxious surprise.
"I feel that he is not a good man," she repeated sullenly, "and I hate him. I should die if he touched me. I have not danced with him. His hands are so white and soft, and his eyes never change, and his mouth reminds me of a shark's."
"Levine is a remarkably handsome man," exclaimed Mistress Fawcett, indignantly. "You have trained your imagination to some purpose, it seems. Forget your poets when he comes to-morrow, and look at him impartially. And cannot he give you all that you so much desire, my ambitious little daughter? Do you no longer want to go to Europe? to court? to be grande dame and converse with princes?"
"Oh, yes," said Rachael. "I want that as much as ever; but I want to love the man. I want to be happy."
"Well, do love him," exclaimed her mother with energy. "Your father was twenty years older than myself, and a Frenchman, but I made up my mind to love him, and I did—for a good many years."
"You had to leave him in the end. Do you wish me to do the same?"
"You will do nothing of the kind. There never was but one John Fawcett."
"I don't love this Levine, and I never shall love him. I don't believe at all that that kind of feeling can be created by the brain, that it responds to nothing but the will. I shall not love that way. I may be ignorant, but I know that."
"You have read too much Shakespeare! Doubtless you imagine yourself one of his heroines—Juliet? Rosalind?"
"I have never imagined myself anybody but Rachael Fawcett. I cannot imagine myself Rachael Levine. But I know something of myself—I have read and thought enough for that. I could love someone—but not this bleached repulsive Dane. Why will you not let me wait? It is my right. No, you need not curl your lip—I am not a little girl. I may be sixteen. I may be without experience in the world, but you have been almost my only companion, and until just now I have talked with middle-aged men only, and much with them. I had no real childhood. You have educated my brain far beyond my years. To-day I feel twenty, and it seems to me that I see far down into myself—much deeper than you do. I tell you that if I marry this man, I shall be the most hopeless wretch on earth."
Mary Fawcett was puzzled and distressed, but she did not waver for a moment. The cleverest of girls could not know what was best for herself, and the mother who permitted her daughter to take her life into her own hands was a poor creature indeed.
"Listen, my dear child," she said tenderly, "you have always trusted in me, believed me. I know that this is a wise and promising marriage for you. And—" she hesitated, but it was time to play her trump. "You know that my health is not good, but you do not know how bad it is. Dr. Hamilton says that the rheumatism may fly to my heart at any moment, and I must see you married—"
She had ejaculated the last words; Rachael had shrieked, and flung herself upon her, her excitement at this sudden and cruel revelation bursting out in screams and sobs and a torrent of tears. Her mother had seen her excited and in brief ungovernable tempers, but she never had suspected that she was capable of such passion as this; and, much disturbed, she led her off to bed, and sent for her advisers, Archibald Hamn and Dr. Hamilton.
Mr. Hamn responded at once to the widow's call, his adjacence giving him the advantage of Dr. Hamilton, of whom he was a trifle jealous. He was an old bachelor and had proposed to Mistress Fawcett—a captivating woman till her last hour—twice a year since her husband's death. But matrimony had been a bitter medicine for Mary after her imagination had ceased to sweeten it, and her invariable answer to her several suitors was the disquieting assertion that if ever she was so rash as to take another husband, she certainly should kill him. Archibald was not the man to conquer her prejudices, although she loved the sterling in him and attached him to her by every hook of friendship. He was a dark nervous little man, spare as most West Indians, used a deal of snuff, and had a habit of pushing back his wig with a jerking forearm when in heated controversy with Dr. Hamilton, or expounding matrimony to the widow.
Dr. Hamilton, for whose arrival Mr. Hamn was kept waiting,—Mistress Fawcett tarried until her daughter fell asleep,—was a large square man, albeit lean, and only less nervous than the widow's suitor. His white locks were worn in a queue, a few escaping to soften his big powerful face. Both men wore white linen, but Dr. Hamilton was rarely seen without his riding-boots, his advent, except in Mistress Fawcett's house, heralded by the clanking of spurs. Mary would have none of his spurs on her mahogany floors, and the doctor never yet had been able to dodge the darkey who stood guard at her doorstep.
The two men exchanged mild surmises as to the cause of the summons; but as similar summons occurred when newly wedded blacks were pounding each other's heads, provoked thereto by the galling chain of decency, or an obeah doctor had tied a sinister warning to Mistress Fawcett's knocker, neither of the gentlemen anticipated serious work. When Mary Fawcett entered the long room, however, both forgot the dignity of their years and position, and ran forward.
Dr. Hamilton lifted her as if she had been a palm leaf, and laid her on the sofa. He despatched Mr. Hamn for a glass of Spanish port, and forbade her to speak until he gave permission.
But Mary Fawcett made brief concessions to the weakness of the flesh. She drank the wine, then sat up and told her story.
"Oh, Mary," said Dr. Hamilton, sadly, "why do you ask our advice? Your ear may listen, but never your mind. If it were a matter of business, we might even be allowed to act for you; but in a domestic—"
"What?" cried Mistress Fawcett; "have I not asked your advice a thousand times about Rachael, and have I not always taken it?"
"I recall many of the conversations, but I doubt if you could recall the advice. However, if you want it this time, I will give it to you. Don't force the girl to marry against her will—assuredly not if the man is repulsive to her. For all your brains you are a baby about men and women. Rachael knows more by instinct. She is an extraordinary girl, and should be allowed time to make her own choice. If you are afraid of death, leave her to me. I will legally adopt her now, if you choose—"
"Yes, and should you die suddenly, your wife would think Rachael one too many, what with your brood and the Edwardses to boot." Mistress Fawcett was nettled by his jibe at the limit of her wisdom. "I shall leave her with a husband. To that I have made up my mind. What have you to say, Archibald?"
This was an advantage which Mr. Hamn never failed to seize; he always agreed with the widow; Dr. Hamilton never did. Moreover, he was sincerely convinced that—save, perhaps, in matters of money—Mary Fawcett could not err.
"I like the appearance of this Dane," he said, reassuringly, "and his little country has a valiant history. This young man is quite prince-like in his bearing, and his extreme fairness is but one more evidence of his high breeding—"
"He looks like a shark's belly," interrupted Dr. Hamilton, "I don't wonder he sickens Rachael. I have nothing against him but his appearance, but if he came after Kitty I'd throw him out by the seat of his breeches."
"He never looked at Kitty, at Government House, nor at Mistress Montgomerie's," cried Mary. "You are jealous, Will, because Rachael has carried off the foreign prize."
Dr. Hamilton laughed, then added seriously, "I am too fond of the girl to forbear to give my advice. Let her choose her own husband. If you dare to cut out her future, as if it were one of her new frocks, you have more courage than I. She has more in her than twenty women. Let her alone for the next five years, then she will have no one to answer to but herself. Otherwise, my lady, you may find yourself holding your breath in a hurricane track, with no refuge from the storm you've whipped up but five feet underneath. If you won't give her to me, there are her sisters. They are all wealthy—"
"They are years older than Rachael and would not understand her at all."
"I can't see why they should not understand her as well as a strange man."
"He will be her husband, madly in love with her."
"Levine will never be madly in love with anybody. Besides, it would not matter to Rachael if her sisters did not understand her; she has too strong a brain not to be independent of the ordinary female nonsense; moreover, she has a fine disposition and her own property. But if her husband did not understand her,—in other words, if their tastes proved as opposite as their temperaments,—it would make a vast deal of difference. Sisters can be got rid of, but husbands—well, you know the difficulties."
"I will think over all you have said," replied Mary, with sudden humility; she had great respect for the doctor. "But don't you say a word to Rachael."
"I'm far too much afraid of you for that. But I wish that Will were home or Andrew old enough. I'd set one of them on to cut this Dane out. Well, I must go; send for me whenever you are in need of advice," and with a parting laugh he strode out of the house and roared to the darkey to come and fasten his spurs.
Archibald Hamn, who foresaw possibilities in the widow's loneliness, and who judged men entirely by their manners, remained to assure Mistress Fawcett of the wisdom of her choice, and to offer his services as mediator. Mary laughed and sent him home. She wrote to Levine not to call until she bade him, and for several days pondered deeply upon her daughter's opposition and Dr. Hamilton's advice. The first result of this perturbing distrust in her own wisdom was a violent attack of rheumatism in the region of her heart; and while she believed herself to be dying, she wrung from her distracted daughter a promise to marry Levine. She recovered from the attack, but concluded that, the promise being won, it would be folly to give it back. Moreover, the desire to see her daughter married had been aggravated by her brush with death, and after another interview with Levine, in which he promised all that the fondest mother could demand, she opened her chests of fine linen.
Rachael submitted. She dared not excite her mother. Her imagination, always vivid though it was, refused to picture the end she dreaded; and she never saw Levine alone. His descriptions of life in Copenhagen interested her, and when her mother expatiated upon the glittering destiny which awaited her, ambition and pride responded, although precisely as they had done in her day dreams. She found herself visioning Copenhagen, jewels, brocades, and courtiers; but she realized only when she withdrew to St. Kitts, that Levine had not entered the dream, even to pass and bend the knee. Often she laughed aloud in merriment. As the wedding-day approached, she lost her breath more than once, and her skin chilled. During the last few days before the ceremony she understood for the first time that it was inevitable. But time—it was now three months since the needlewomen were set at the trousseau—and her unconscious acceptance of the horrid fact had trimmed her spirit to philosophy, altered the habit of her mind. She saw her mother radiant, received the personal congratulations of every family on the Island. Her sisters came from St. Croix, and made much of the little girl who was beginning life so brilliantly; beautiful silks and laces had come from New York, and Levine had given her jewels, which she tried on her maid every day because she thought the mustee's tawny skin enhanced their lustre. She was but a child in spite of her intellect. Her union with the Dane came to appear as one of the laws of life, and she finished by accepting it as one accepted an earthquake or a hurricane. Moreover, she was profoundly innocent.
Mary Fawcett accompanied the Levines to Copenhagen, but returned to St. Christopher by a ship which left Denmark a month later, being one of those women who picture their terrestrial affairs in a state of dissolution while deprived of their vigilance. She vowed that the North had killed her rheumatism, and turned an absent ear to Rachael's appeal to tarry until Levine was ready to return to St. Croix. She remained long enough in Denmark, however, to see her daughter presented at court, and installed with all the magnificence that an ambitious mother could desire. There was not a misgiving in her mind, for Rachael, if somewhat inanimate, could not be unhappy with an uxorious husband and the world at her feet; and although for some time after her marriage she had behaved like a naughty child caught in a trap, and been a sore trial to her mother and Mr. Levine, since her arrival in Copenhagen she had deported herself most becomingly and indulged in no more tantrums. Levine had conducted himself admirably during his trying honeymoon. Upon his arrival in Copenhagen he had littered his wife's boudoir with valuable gifts, and exhibited the beauty he had won with a pride very gratifying to his mother-in-law. In six months he was to sail for his estates on St. Croix, and pay an immediate visit to St. Kitts, whence Mistress Fawcett would return with her daughter for a sojourn of several months. She returned to her silent home the envy of many Island mothers.
Rachael wrote by every ship, and Mary Fawcett pondered over these letters, at first with perplexity, finally with a deep uneasiness. Her daughter described life in Denmark, the court and society, her new gowns and jewels, her visits to country houses, the celebrities she met. But her letters were literary and impersonal, nor was there in them a trace of her old energy of mind and vivacity of spirit. She never mentioned Levine's name, nor made an intimate allusion to herself.
"Can she no longer love me?" thought Mary Fawcett at last and in terror; "this child that I have loved more than the husband of my youth and all the other children I have borne? It cannot be that she is unhappy. She would tell me so in a wild outburst—indeed she would have run home to me long since. Levine will never control her. Heaven knows what would have happened if I had not gone on that wedding-journey. But she settled down so sweetly, and I made sure she would have loved him by this. It is the only thing to do if you have to live with one of the pests. Perhaps that is it—she has given him all her love and has none left for me." And at this she felt so lonely and bitter that she almost accepted Archibald Hamn when he called an hour later. But in the excitement of his risen hopes his wig fell on the floor, and she took offence at his yellow and sparsely settled scalp.
There were few gleams of humour left in life for Mary Fawcett. Rachael's letters ceased abruptly. Her mother dared not sail for Denmark, lest she pass the Levines on their way to St. Croix. She managed to exist through two distracted months, then received a note from her daughter, Mrs. Mitchell.
"Rachael is Here," it ran, "but refuses to see Us. I do not know what to think. I drove over as soon as I heard of Their arrival. Levine received Me and was as Courteous and Polished as ever, but Rachael had a Headache and did not come out. Mary and I have been there Twice since, and with the same result. Levine assured us that he had begged her to see her Sisters, but that She is in a very low and melancholy state, owing doubtless to her Condition. He seemed much concerned, but More, I could not help thinking, because he feared to lose an Heir than from any love for my little Sister. Peter and Mary agree with Me, that You had best come here if You can."
Mary Fawcett, whatever her foibles, had never failed to spring upright under the stiffest blows of her life. Ignoring her physical pains, which had been aggravated by the mental terrors of the last two months, and sternly commanding the agony in her heart to be silent, she despatched a note at once to Dr. Hamilton,—Archibald Hamn was in Barbados,—asking him to charter a schooner, if no ship were leaving that day for the Danish Islands, and accompany her to St. Croix. He sent her word that they could sail on the following morning if the wind were favourable, and the black women packed her boxes and carried them on their heads to Basseterre.
That evening, as Mary Fawcett was slowly walking down the avenue, leaning heavily on her cane, too wretched to rest or sleep, a ship flying the German colours sailed past. She wondered if it had stopped at St. Croix, then forgot it in the terrible speculations which her will strove to hold apart from her nerves.
Wearied in body, she returned to the house and sat by the window of her room, striving to compose her mind for sleep. She was forcing herself to jot down instructions for her housekeeper, whom she had taught to read, when she heard a chaise and a pair of galloping horses enter the avenue. A moment later, Dr. Hamilton's voice was roaring for a slave to come and hold his horses. Then it lowered abruptly and did not cease.
Mary Fawcett knew that Rachael had come to her, and without her husband. For a moment she had a confused idea that the earth was rocking, and congratulated herself that the house was too high for a tidal wave to reach. Then Dr. Hamilton entered with Rachael in his arms and laid her on the bed. He left at once, saying that he would return in the morning. Mary Fawcett had not risen, and her chair faced the bed. Rachael lay staring at her mother until Mary found her voice and begged her to speak. She knew that her hunger must wait until she had stood at the bar and received her sentence.
Rachael told her mother the story of her married life from the day she had been left alone with John Levine,—a story of unimaginable horrors. Like many cold men to whom the pleasures of the world are, nevertheless, easy, Levine was a voluptuary and cruel. Had his child been safely born, there would have been no measure in his brutality. Rachael had watched for her opportunity, and one night when he had been at a state function in Christianstadt, too secure in her apparent apathy to lock her door, she had bribed a servant to drive her to Frederikstadt, and boarded the ship her maid had ascertained was about to leave. She knew that he would not follow her, for there was one person on earth he feared, and that was Mary Fawcett. He would not have returned to St. Croix, had his investments been less heavy; but on his estates he was lord, and had no mind that his mother-in-law should set foot on them while he had slaves to hold his gates.
Mary Fawcett listened to the horrid story, at first with a sort of frantic wonder, for of the evil of life she had known nothing; then her clear mind grasped it, her stoicism gave way, and she shrieked and raved in such agony of soul that she had no fear of hell thereafter. Rachael had to rise from the bed and minister to her, and the terrified blacks ran screaming about the place, believing that their mistress had been cursed.
She grew calm in time, but her face was puckered like an old apple, and her eyes had lost their brilliancy for ever. And it was days before she realized that her limbs still ached.
Rachael never opened her lips on the subject again. She went back to bed and clung to her mother and Dr. Hamilton until her child was born. Then for three months she recognized no one, and Dr. Hamilton, with all his skill, did not venture to say whether or not her mind would live again.
The child was a boy, and as blond as its father. Mary Fawcett stood its presence in the house for a month, then packed it off to St. Croix. She received a curt acknowledgment from Levine, and an intimation that she had saved herself much trouble. As for Rachael, he would have her back when he saw fit. She wrote an appeal to the Captain-General and he sent her word that the Danes would never bombard Brimstone Hill, and there was no other way by which Levine could get her daughter while one of her friends ruled the Leeward Caribbees.
Many thoughts flitted through the brain of Mary Fawcett during that long vigil. Her mind for the first time dwelt with kindness, almost with softness, on the memory of her husband. Beside this awful Dane his shadow was god-like. He had been high-minded and a gentleman in his worst tantrums, and there was no taint of viciousness in him. A doubt grew in her brain, grew to such disquieting proportions that she sometimes deserted Rachael abruptly and went out to fatigue herself in the avenue. Had she done wrong to leave him alone in his old age, to bear, undiverted, the burden of a disease whose torments she now could fully appreciate, to die alone in that great house with only his slaves to tend him? It had seemed to her when she left him that human nature could stand no more, and that she was justified; but she was an old woman now and knew that all things can be endured. When that picture of his desolate last years and lonely death had remorselessly shaped itself in her imagination, and she realized that it would hang there until her hands were folded, she suffered one more hour of agony and abasement, then caught at the stoicism of her nature, accepted her new dole, and returned to her daughter.
Rachael's mind struggled past its eclipse, but her recovery was very slow. Even after she recognized her mother and Dr. Hamilton, she sat for months staring at Nevis, neither opening a book nor looking round upon the life about her. But she was only eighteen, and her body grew strong and vital again. Gradually it forced its energies into her brain, released her spirit from its apathy, buried memory under the fresher impressions of time. A year from the day of her return, if there were deep and subtle changes in her face and carriage, which added ten years to her appearance, she was more beautiful to experienced eyes than when she had flowered for the humming-birds. She took up her studies where she had dropped them, a little of her old buoyancy revived; and if her girlishness was buried with ideals and ambitions, her intellect was clear and strong and her character more finely balanced. She flew into no more rages, boxed her attendants' ears at rarer intervals, and the deliberation which had seemed an anomaly in her character before, became a dominant trait, and rarely was conquered by impulse. When it worked alone her mother laid down her weapons, edged as they still were, and when impulse flew to its back, Mary Fawcett took refuge in oblivion. But she made no complaint, for she and her daughter were more united than when the young girl had seemed more fit to be her grandchild.
The Governor of St. Christopher had written a letter to his friend, the Governor of St. Croix, which had caused that estimable functionary to forbid Levine the door of Government House. Levine could not endure social ostracism. He left St. Croix immediately, and took his son Peter with him. To this child Rachael never referred, and her mother doubted if she remembered anything associated with its impending birth. Perhaps she believed it dead. At all events, she made no sign. Except that she was called Mistress Levine, there was nothing in her outer life to remind her that for two years the markers in her favourite books had not been shifted. She had studied music and painting with the best masters in Copenhagen, and in the chests which were forwarded by her sisters from St. Croix, there were many new books. She refused to return to society, and filled her time without its aid; for not only did she have the ample resources of her mind, her mother, the frequent companionship of Dr. Hamilton and four or five other men of his age and attainments, but she returned to the out-door life with enthusiasm. On her spirit was an immovable shadow, in her mind an indelible stain, but she had strong common sense and a still stronger will. An experience which would have embittered a less complete nature, or sent a lighter woman to the gallantries of society, gave new force and energy to her character, even while saddening it. To the past she never willingly gave a thought; neither was she for a moment unconscious of its ghost.
Two years passed. Rachael was twenty, a beautiful and stately creature, more discussed and less seen than any woman on the islands of Nevis and St. Christopher. Occasionally Christiana Huggins paid her a visit, or Catherine Hamilton rode over for the day; but although Christiana at least, loved her to the end, both were conscious of her superiority of mind and experience, and the old intimacy was not resumed.
Dr. Hamilton had used all his influence in the Council to promote a special bill of divorce, for he wanted Rachael to be free to marry again. He had no faith in the permanent resources of the intellect for a young and seductive woman, and he understood Rachael very thoroughly. The calm might be long, but unless Levine died or could be legally disposed of, she would give the Islands a heavier shock than when the innovation of Mary Fawcett had set them gabbling. Against the conservatism of his colleagues, however, he could make no headway, and both the Governor and Captain-General disapproved of a measure which England had never sanctioned.
But Dr. Hamilton and her mother were more disturbed at the failure of the bill than Rachael. Time had lifted the shadow of her husband from the race, but, never having loved, even a little, her imagination modelled no pleasing features upon the ugly skull of matrimony. It is true that she sometimes thought of herself as a singularly lonely being, and allowed her mind to picture love and its companionships. As time dimmed another picture she caught herself meditating upon woman's chief inheritance, and moving among the shadows of the future toward that larger and vitalizing part of herself which every woman fancies is on earth in search of her. When she returned from these wanderings she sternly reminded herself that her name was Levine, and that no woman after such an escape had the right to expect more. She finally compelled herself to admit that her avoidance of society was due to prudence as well as to her stern devotion to intellect, then studied harder than ever.
But it is a poor fate that waits upon the gathering together of many people.
Rachael was riding home one afternoon from Basseterre, where she had been purchasing summer lawns and cambrics. It was March, and the winter sun had begun to use its summer fuel; but the trades blew softly, and there was much shade on the road above the sea. There was one long stretch, however, where not a tree grew, and Rachael drew rein for a moment before leaving the avenue of tamarinds which had rustled above her head for a mile or more. Although it was a hot scene that lay before her, it was that which, when away from home, for some reason best known to her memory, had always been first to rise. The wide pale-gray road rose gradually for a long distance, dipped, and rose again. On either side were cane-fields, their tender greens sharp against the deep hard blue of the sea on the left, rising to cocoanut groves and the dark heights of the mountains above the road. Far away, close to the sea, was Brimstone Hill, that huge isolated rock so near in shape to the crater of Mount Misery. Its fortifications showed their teeth against the faded sky, and St. Christopher slept easily while tentative conquerors approached, looked hard at this Gibraltar of the West Indies, and sailed away.
But there scarcely was a sail on the sea to-day. Its blue rose and fell, in that vast unbroken harmony which quickens the West Indian at times into an intolerable sense of his isolation. Rachael recalled how she had stared at it in childish resentment, wondering if a mainland really lay beyond, if Europe were a myth. She did not care if she never set foot on a ship again, and her ambitions were in the grave with her desire for a wealthy and intellectual husband.
On the long road, rising gray and hot between the bright green cane-fields, horsemen approached, and a number of slave women moved slowly: women with erect rigid backs balancing large baskets or stacks of cane on their heads, the body below the waist revolving with a pivotal motion which suggests an anatomy peculiar to the tropics. They had a dash of red about them somewhere, and their turbans were white. Rachael's imagination never gave her St. Kitts without its slave women, the "pic'nees" clinging to their hips as they bore their burdens on the road or bent over the stones in the river. They belonged to its landscape, with the palms and the cane-fields, the hot gray roads, and the great jewel of the sea.
Rachael left the avenue and rode onward. One of the horsemen took off his Spanish sombrero and waved it. She recognized Dr. Hamilton and shook her whip at him. He and his companion spurred their horses, and a moment later Rachael and James Hamilton had met.
"An unexpected pleasure for me, this sudden descent of my young kinsman," said the doctor, "but a great one, for he brings me news of all in Scotland, and he saw Will the day before he sailed."
"It is too hot to stand here talking," said Rachael. "Come home with me to a glass of Spanish port, and cake perhaps."
The doctor was on his way to a consultation, but he ordered his relative to go and pay his respects to Mistress Fawcett, and rode on whistling. The two he had recklessly left to their own devices exchanged platitudes, and covertly examined each other with quick admiration.
There are dark Scots, and Hamilton was one of them. Although tall and slight, he was knit with a close and peculiar elegance, which made him look his best on a horse and in white linen. His face was burnt to the hue of brick-dust by the first quick assault of the tropic sun, but it was a thin face, well shaped, in spite of prominent cheek bones, and set with the features of long breeding; and it was mobile, fiery, impetuous, and very intelligent: ancestral coarseness had been polished fine long since.
They left the road and mounted toward the dark avenue of the Fawcett estate, Rachael wondering if her mother would be irritated at the informality of the stranger's first call; he should have arrived in state with Dr. Hamilton at the hour of five. Perhaps it was to postpone the moment of explanation that she permitted her horse to walk, even after they had reached the level of the avenue, and finally to crop the grass while she and Hamilton dismounted and sat down in a heavy grove of tamarinds on the slope of the hill.
"I'm just twenty-one and have my own way to make," he was telling her. "There are three before me, so I couldn't afford the army, and as I've a fancy for foreign lands, I've come out here to be a merchant. I have so many kinsmen in this part of the world, and they've all succeeded so well, I thought they'd be able to advise me how best to turn over the few guineas I have. My cousin, the doctor, has taken me in hand, and if I have any business capacity I shall soon find it out. But I ached for the army, and failing that, I'd have liked being a scholar—as I know you are, by your eyes."
His Scotch accent was not unlike that of the West Indians, particularly of the Barbadians; but his voice, although it retained the huskiness of the wet North, had, somewhere in its depths, a peculiar metallic quality which startled Rachael every time it rang out, and was the last of all memories to linger, when memories were crumbling in a brain that could stand no more.
How it happened, Rachael spent the saner hours of the morrow attempting to explain, but they sat under the tamarinds until the sun went down, and Nevis began to robe for the night. Once they paused in their desultory talk and listened to the lovely chorus of a West Indian evening, that low incessant ringing of a million tiny bells. The bells hung in the throats of nothing more picturesque than grasshoppers, serpents, lizards, and frogs so small as to be almost invisible, but they rang with a harmony that the inherited practice of centuries had given them. And beyond was the monotonous accompaniment of the sea on the rocks. Hamilton lived to be an old man, and he never left the West Indies; but sometimes, at long and longer intervals, he found himself listening to that Lilliputian orchestra, his attention attracted to it, possibly, by a stranger; and then he remembered this night, and the woman for whom he would have sacrificed earth and immortality had he been lord of them.
Heaven knows what they talked about. While it was light they stared out at the blue sea or down on the rippling cane-fields, not daring to exchange more than a casual and hasty glance. Both knew that they should have separated the moment they met, but neither had the impulse nor the intention to leave the shade of the wood; and when the brief twilight fell and the moon rose, there still was Nevis, and after her the many craft to divert their gaze. Hamilton was honourable and shy, and Rachael was a woman of uncommon strength of character and had been brought up by a woman of austere virtue. These causes held them apart for a time, but one might as well have attempted to block two comets rushing at each other in the same orbit. The magnetism of the Inevitable embraced them and knit their inner selves together, even while they sat decorously apart. Rachael had taken off her hat at once, and even after it grew dark in their arbour, Hamilton fancied he could see the gleam of her hair. Her eyes were startled and brilliant, and her nostrils quivered uneasily, but she defined none of the sensations that possessed her but the overwhelming recrudescence of her youth. It had seemed to her that it flamed from its ashes before Dr. Hamilton finished his formal words of introduction, and all its forgotten hopes and impulses, timidity and vagueness, surged through her brain during those hours beside the stranger, submerging the memory of Levine. Indeed, she felt even younger than before maturity so suddenly had been thrust upon her; for in those old days she had been almost as severely intellectual as yesterday, and when she had dreamed of the future, it had been with the soberness of an overtaxed brain. But to-day even the world seemed young again. She fancied she could hear the unquiet pulses of the Island, so long grown old, and Nevis had never looked so fair. She hardly was conscious of her womanhood, only of that possessing sense of happiness in youth. As for Hamilton, he had never felt otherwise than young, although he was a college-bred man, something of a scholar, and he had seen more or less of the world since his boyhood. But the intensity and ardour of his nature had received no check, neither were they halfway on their course; and he had never loved. It had seemed to him that the Island opened and a witch came out, and in those confused hours he hardly knew whether she were good or bad, his ideal woman or his ideal devil; but he loved her. He was as pale as his sunburn would permit him to be, and his hands were clasped tightly about his knees, when relief came in the shape of Mary Fawcett.
Her daughter's horse had gone home and taken the stranger with him, and Mistress Fawcett, with quick suspicion, new as it was, started at once down the avenue. Rachael heard the familiar tapping of her mother's stick, hastily adjusted her hat, and managed to reach the road with Hamilton before her mother turned its bend.
Mary Fawcett understood and shivered with terror. She was far from being her imperious self as her daughter presented the stranger and remarked that he was a cousin of Dr. Hamilton, characteristically refraining from apology or explanation.
"Well," she said, "the doctor will doubtless bring you to call some day. I will send your horse to you. Say good evening to the stranger, Rachael, and come home." She was one of the most hospitable women in the Caribbees, and this was the kinsman of her best friend, but she longed for power to exile him out of St. Kitts that night.
Hamilton lifted his hat, and Rachael followed her mother. She was cold and frightened, and Levine's white malignant face circled about her.
Her mother requested her support, and she almost carried the light figure to the house. Mistress Fawcett sent a slave after Hamilton's horse, then went to her room and wrote a note to Dr. Hamilton, asking him to call on the following day and to come alone. The two women did not meet again that night.
But there is little privacy in the houses of St. Kitts and Nevis. Either the upper part of almost every room is built of ornamental lattice-work, or the walls are set with numerous jalousies, that can be closed when a draught is undesirable but conduct the slightest sound. Rachael's room adjoined her mother's. She knew that the older woman was as uneasily awake as herself, though from vastly different manifestations of the same cause. At four o'clock, when the guinea fowl were screeching like demons, and had awakened the roosters and the dogs to swell the infernal chorus of a West Indian morning, Rachael sat up in bed and laughed noiselessly.
"What a night!" she thought. "And for what? A man who companioned me for four hours as no other man had ever done? and who made me feel as if the world had turned to fire and light? It may have been but a mood of my own, it is so long since I have talked with a man near to my own age—and he is so near!—and yet so real a man.... No one could call him handsome, for he looks like a flayed Carib, and I have met some of the handsomest men in Europe and not given them a thought. Yet this man kept me beside him for four hours, and has me awake a whole night because he is not with me. Has the discipline of these last years, then, gone for nothing? Am I but an excitable West Indian after all, and shall I have corded hands before I am twenty-five? It was a mistake to shut myself away from danger. Had I been constantly meeting the young men of the Island and all strangers who have come here during the last two years, I should not be wild for this one—even if he has something in him unlike other men—and lie awake all night like the silly women who dream everlastingly of the lover to come. I am a fool."
She lit her candle and went into her mother's room. Mary Fawcett was sitting up in bed, her white hair hanging out of her nightcap. It seemed to her that the end of the world had come, and she cursed human nature and the governors of the Island.
"I know what has kept you awake," said Rachael, "but do not fear. It was but a passing madness—God smite those guinea fowl! I have lived the life of a nun, and it is an unnatural life for a young woman. Yesterday I learned that I have not the temperament of the scholar, the recluse—that is all. I should have guessed it sooner—then I should not have been fascinated by this brilliant Scot. It was my mind that flew eagerly to companionship—that was all. The hours were pleasant. I would not regret them but for the deep uneasiness they have caused you. To-day I shall enter the world again. There are many clever and accomplished young men on St. Kitts. I will meet and talk to them all. We will entertain them here. There is a ball at Government House to-night, another at Mistress Irwin's on Wednesday week. I promise you that I will be as gay and as universal as a girl in her first season, and this man shall see no more of me than any other man."
Her mother watched her keenly as she delivered her long tirade. Her face was deeply flushed. The arm that held the candle was tense, and her hair fell about her splendid form like a cloud of light. Had Hamilton seen anything so fair in Europe? What part would he play in this scheme of catholicity?
"You will meet this man if you go abroad," she replied. "Better stay here and forbid him the gates."
"And think about him till I leap on my horse and ride to meet him? A fevered imagination will make a god of a Tom Noddy. If I see him daily—with others—he will seem as commonplace as all men."
Mary Fawcett did not speak for some moments. Then she said: "Hark ye, Rachael. I interfered once and brought such damnable misery upon you that I dare not—almost—(she remembered her note to Dr. Hamilton) interfere again. This time you shall use your own judgement, something you have taught me to respect. Whatever the result, I will be to the end what I always have been, the best friend you have. You are very strong. You have had an awful experience, and it has made a woman of thirty of you. You are no silly little fool, rushing blindly into the arms of the first man whose eyes are black enough. You have been brought up to look upon light women with horror. In your darkest days you never sought to console yourself as weaker women do. Therefore, in spite of what I saw in both your faces yesterday, I hope."
"Yes—and give yourself no more uneasiness. Could I look upon the love of man with favour? Not unless I were to be born again, and my memory as dead as my body."
"If you love, you will be born again; and if this man overmasters your imagination, your memory might quite as well be dead. One of the three or four things in my life that I have to be thankful for is that I never had to pass through that ordeal. You are far dearer to me than I ever was to myself, and if you are called upon to go through that wretched experience, whose consequences never finish, and I with so little time left in which to stand by and protect you—" She changed abruptly. "Promise me that you will do nothing unconsidered, that you will not behave like the ordinary Francesca—for whom I have always had the most unmitigated contempt. The hour. The man. The fall. The wail: 'The earth rocked, the stars fell. I knew not what I did!' You have deliberation and judgement. Use them now—and do not ramble alone in the gorge with this handsome Scot—for he is a fine man; I would I could deny it. I felt his charm, although he did not open his mouth."
Rachael's eyes flashed. "Ah! did you?" she cried. "Well, but what of that? Are not our creoles a handsome race, and have not all but a few been educated in England? Yes, I will promise you—if you think all this is serious enough to require a promise."
"But you care so little for the world. You would be sacrificing so much less than other women—nevertheless it would make you wretched and humiliate just as much; do not forget that. I almost am tempted to wish that you had a lighter nature—that you would flirt with love and brush it away, while the world was merely amused at a suspected gallantry. But you—you would love for a lifetime, and you would end by living with him openly. There is no compromise in you."
"Surely we have become more serious than an afternoon's talk with an interesting stranger should warrant. I am full of a sudden longing for the world, and who knows but I shall become so wedded to it that I would yield it for no man? Besides, do I not live to make you happy, to reward as best I can your unselfish devotion? If ever I could love any man more than I love you, then that love would be overwhelming indeed. But although I can imagine myself forgetting the world in such a love, I cannot picture you on the sacrificial altar."
Rachael was asleep when Dr. Hamilton called. Mistress Fawcett received him in the library, which was at the extreme end of the long house. He laughed so heartily at her fears that he almost dispelled them. Whatever he anticipated in Rachael's future, he had no mind to apprehend danger in every man who interested her.
"For God's sake, Mary," he exclaimed, "let the girl have a flirtation without making a tragedy of it. She is quite right. The world is what she wants. If ever there was a woman whom Nature did not intend for a nun it is Rachael Levine. Let her carry out her plan, and in a week she will be the belle of the Island, and my poor cousin will be consoling himself with some indignant beauty only a shade less fair. I'll engage to marry him off at once, if that will bring sleep to your pillow, but I can't send him away as you propose. I am not King George, nor yet the Captain-General. Nor have I any argument by which to persuade him to go. I have given him too much encouragement to stay. I'll keep him away from routs as long as I can—but remember that he is young, uncommonly good-looking, and a stranger: the girls will not let me keep him in hiding for long. Now let the girl alone. Let her think you've forgotten my new kinsman and your fears. I don't know any way to manage women but to let them manage themselves. Bob Edwards failed with Catherine. I have succeeded. Take a leaf out of my book. Rachael is not going through life without a stupendous love affair. She was marked out for it, specially moulded and equipped by old Mother Nature. Resign yourself to it, and go out and put up your hands against the next tidal wave if you want an illustration of what interference with Rachael would amount to. I wish Levine would die, or we could get a divorce law through on this Island. But the entire Council falls on the table with horror every time I suggest it. Don't worry till the time comes. I'll fill my house with all the pretty girls on St. Kitts and Nevis, and marry this hero of romance as soon as I can."
Rachael went to the ball at Government House that night, glittering in a gown of brocade she had worn at the court of Denmark: Levine had sent her trunks to Peter Lytton's, but not her jewels. She was the most splendid creature in the rooms, and there was no talk of anyone else. But before the night was a third over she realized that the attention she would receive during this her second dazzling descent upon society would differ widely from her first. The young men bowed before her in deep appreciation of her beauty, then passed on to the girls of that light-hearted band to which she no longer belonged. She was a woman with a tragic history and a living husband; she had a reputation for severe intellectuality, and her eyes, the very carriage of her body, expressed a stern aloofness from the small and common exteriorities of life. The Governor, the members of Council, of the Assembly, of the bench and bar, and the clergy, flocked about her, delighted at her return to the world, but she was the belle of the matrons, and not a young man asked her to dance.
She shrugged her shoulders when she saw how it was to be.
"Can they guess that I am younger than they are?" she thought. "And would I have them? Would I share that secret with any in the world—but one? Do I want to dance—to dance—Good God! And talk nonsense and the gossip of the Island with these youths when I have naught to say but that my soul has grown wings and that the cold lamp in my breast has blown out, and lit again with the flame that keeps the world alive? Even if I think it best never to see him again, he has given me that, and I am young at last."
When she returned home, as the guinea fowl were at their raucous matins, she was able to tell her mother that the Scot had not attended the ball, and Mary Fawcett knew that Dr. Hamilton had managed to detain him.
But a fortnight later they met again at the house of Dr. George Irwin, an intimate friend of the Hamiltons.
The Irwin's house in Basseterre was on the north side of the Park, which was surrounded by other fine dwellings and several public buildings. The broad verandahs almost overhung the enclosure, with its great banyan tree, the royal palms about the fountain, the close avenues, the flaming hedges of croton and hybiscus, and the traveller's palm and tree ferns brought from the mountains. When a ball was given at one of the houses about this Park on a moonlight night, there was much scheming to avoid the watchful eyes of lawful guardians.
It was inevitable that Hamilton should attend this ball, for the Irwins and his relatives were in and out of each other's houses all day and half the night. By this time, however, he had met nearly every girl on St. Kitts, and his cousin had ridden out that afternoon to assure Mistress Fawcett that the danger weakened daily.
But for an hour, he did not leave Rachael's side that night. The beauties of St. Christopher—and they were many, with their porcelain-like complexions and distinguished features—went through all their graceful creole paces in vain. That he was recklessly in love with Rachael Levine was manifest to all who chose to look, and as undaunted by her intellect and history as any man of his cousin's mature coterie. As for Rachael, although she distributed her favours impartially for a while, her mobile face betrayed to Dr. Hamilton that mind and body were steeped in that tremulous content which possesses a woman when close to an undeclared lover in a public place; the man, and Life and her own emotions unmortalized, the very future bounded by the gala walls, the music, the lights, and the perfume of flowers. These walls were hung with branches of orange trees loaded with fruit, and with ferns and orchids brought fresh from the mountains. A band of blacks played on their native instruments the fashionable dances of the day with a weird and barbaric effect, and occasionally sang a wailing accompaniment in voices of indescribable softness. There was light from fifty candles, and the eternal breeze lifted and dispersed the heavy perfume of the flowers. Hamilton had been in many ball-rooms, but never in one like this. He abstained from the madeiras and ports which were passed about at brief intervals by the swinging coloured women in their gay frocks and white turbans; but he was intoxicated, nevertheless, and more than once on the point of leaving the house. The unreality of it all held him more than weakness, for in some things James Hamilton was strong enough. The weakness in him was down at the roots of his character, and he was neither a feathercock nor a flasher. He had no intention of making love to Rachael until he saw his future more clearly than he did to-night. During the fortnight that had passed since he met her, he had thought of little else, and to-night he wanted nothing else, but impulsive and passionate as he was, he came of a race of hard-headed Scots. He had no mind for a love affair of tragic seriousness, even while his quickened imagination pictured the end.
He deliberately left her side after a time and joined a group of men who were smoking in the court. After an hour of politics his brain had less blood in it, and when he found himself standing beside Rachael on the verandah he suggested that they follow other guests into the Park. He gave Rachael his arm in the courtly fashion of the day, and they walked about the open paths and talked of the negroes singing in the cane-fields, and the squalid poverty of the North, as if their hearts were as calm as they are to-day. People turned often to look at them, commenting according to the mixing of their essences, but all concurring in praise of so much beauty. Hamilton's sunburn had passed the acute stage, leaving him merely brown, and his black silk small clothes and lace ruffles, his white silk stockings and pumps, were vastly becoming. His hair, lightly powdered, was tied with a white ribbon, but although he carried himself proudly, there was no manifest in his bearing that the vanities consumed much of his thought. He was gallanted like a young blood of the period, and so were the young men of St. Kitts. Rachael wore a heavy gold-coloured satin, baring the neck, and a stiff and pointed stomacher, her hair held high with a diamond comb. Her fairness was dazzling in the night-light, and it was such a light as Hamilton never had seen before: for in the Tropics the moon is golden, and the stars are crystal. The palm leaves, high on their slender shafts, glittered like polished dark-green metal, and the downpour was so dazzling that more than once the stranger shaded his eyes with his hand. Had it not been for the soft babble of many voices, the silence would have been intense, until the ear was tuned to the low tinkle of the night bells, for the sea was calm.
Once, as if in explanation for words unspoken, he commented nervously on the sensation of unreality with which these tropic scenes inspired him, and Rachael, who longed to withdraw her hand from his arm, told him of an entertainment peculiar to the Islands, a torchlight hunt for land-crabs, which once a year travel down from the mountains to the sea, to bathe and shed their shells. Words hastened. Before she drew breath she had arranged a hunt for the night of the 10th of April, and received his promise to be one of her guests. They were not so happy as they had been within doors, for the world seemed wider. But their inner selves pressed so hard toward each other that finally they were driven to certain egotisms as a relief.
"I think little of the future," she said, after a direct question, "for that means looking beyond my mother's death, and that is the one fact I have not the courage to face. But of course I know that it holds nothing for me. A ball occasionally, and the conversation of clever men who admire me but care for some one else, books the rest of the week, and life alone on a shelf of the mountain. The thought that I shall one day be old does not console me as it may console men, for with women the heart never grows old. The body withers, and the heart in its awful eternal youth has the less to separate and protect it from the world that has no use for it. Then the body dies and is put away, but the heart is greedily consumed to feed the great pulses of the world that lives faster every year. We give, and give, and give."
"And are only happy in giving," said Hamilton, quickly. "But if men preserve the balance of the world by taking all that women give them, at least the best of us find our happiness in the gifts of one woman, and a woman so besought dare not assert that her heart is empty. I understand—and no one more clearly than I do to-night—that if she give too much, she may curse her heart and look out bitterly upon the manifold interests that could suppress it for weeks and months—if life were full enough. Is yours? What would you sacrifice if you came to me?"
He asked the question calmly, for there were people on every side of them, but he asked it on an uncontrollable impulse, nevertheless; he had vowed to himself that he would wait a month.
His natural repose was greater than hers, for she had the excitable nerves of the Tropics. He felt her arm quiver before she dropped her hand from his arm. But she replied almost as calmly: "Nothing after my mother's death. Absolutely nothing. When a woman suffers as I have done, and her future is ruined in any case, the world counts for very little with her, unless it always has counted for more than anything else. We grow the more cynical and contemptuous as we witness the foolish gallantries of women who have so much to lose. I am not hard. I am very soft about many things, and since you came I am become the very tragedy of youth; but I have no respect for the world as I have seen it. For many people in the world I have a great deal, but not for the substance out of which Society has built itself. One never loses one's real friends, no matter what one does. Every circumstance of my life has isolated me from this structure called society, forced me to make my own laws. I may never be happy, because my capacity for happiness is too great, but in my own case there is no alternative worth considering. This is the substance of what I have thought since we met, but you are not to speak to me of it again while my mother lives."
"I do not promise you that—but this: that I will do much thinking before I speak again."
But although they parted with formal courtesy, it was several nights before either slept. Rachael went home to her bed and lay down, because she feared to agitate her mother, but her disposition was to go out and walk the circuit of the Island, and she rose as soon as she dared, and climbed to the highest crest behind the house. It was cold there, and the wind was keen. She sat for hours and stared out at Nevis, who was rolling up her mists, indifferent to the torment of mortals.
During the past fortnight she had conceived a certain stern calm, partly in self-defence, due in part to love for her mother. But since she had left Hamilton, last night, there had been moments when she had felt alone in the Universe with him, exalted to such heights of human passion that she had imagined herself about to become the mother of a new race. Her genius, which in a later day might have taken the form of mental creation, concentrated in a supreme capacity for idealized human passion, and its blind impulse was a reproduction of itself in another being.
Were she and Hamilton but the victims of a mighty ego roaming the Universe in search of a medium for human expression? Were they but helpless sacrifices, consummately equipped, that the result of their union might be consummately great? Who shall affirm or deny? The very commonplaces of life are components of its eternal mystery. We know absolutely nothing. But we have these facts: that a century and a half ago, on a tropical island, where, even to common beings, quick and intense love must seem the most natural thing in the world, this man and woman met; that the woman, herself born in unhappy conditions, but beautiful, intellectual, with a character developed far beyond her years and isolated home by the cruel sufferings of an early marriage, reared by a woman whose independence and energy had triumphed over the narrow laws of the Island of her birth, given her courage to snap her fingers at society—we know that this woman, inevitably remarkable, met and loved a stranger from the North, so generously endowed that he alone of all the active and individual men who surrounded her won her heart; and that the result of their union was one of the stupendous intellects of the world's history.