The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book I. Rachael Levine
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.
Did any great genius ever come into the world after commonplace pre-natal conditions? Was a maker of history ever born amidst the pleasant harmonies of a satisfied domesticity? Of a mother who was less than remarkable, although she may have escaped being great? Did a woman with no wildness in her blood ever inform a brain with electric fire? The students of history know that while many mothers of great men have been virtuous, none have been commonplace, and few have been happy. And lest the moralists of my day and country be more prone to outraged virtue, in reading this story, than were the easy-going folk who surrounded it, let me hasten to remind them that it all happened close upon a hundred and fifty years ago, and that the man and woman who gave them the brain to which they owe the great structure that has made their country phenomenal among nations, are dust on isles four hundred miles apart.
A century and a half ago women indulged in little introspective analysis. They thought on broad lines, and honestly understood the strength of their emotions. Moreover, although Mary Wollstonecraft was unborn and "Emile" unwritten, Individualism was germinating; and what soil so quickening as the Tropics? Nevertheless, to admit was not to lay the question, and Rachael passed through many hours of torment before hers was settled. She was not unhappy, for the intoxication lingered, and behind the methodical ticking of her reason, stood, calmly awaiting its time, that sense of the Inevitable which has saved so many brains from madness. She slept little and rested less, but that sentinel in her brain prevented the frantic hopelessness which would have possessed her had she felt herself strong enough to command James Hamilton to leave the Island.
She met him several times before the night of her entertainment, and there were moments when she was filled with terror, for he did not whisper a reference to the conversation in the Park. Had he thought better of it? Would he go? Would he conquer himself? Was it but a passing madness? When these doubts tormented her she was driven to such a state of jealous fury that she forgot every scruple, and longed only for the bond which would bind him fast; then reminded herself that she should be grateful, and endeavoured to be. But one day when he lifted her to her horse, he kissed her wrist, and again the intoxication of love went to her head, and this time it remained there. Once they met up in the hills, where they had been asked with others to take a dish of tea with Mistress Montgomerie. They sat alone for an hour on one of the terraces above the house, laughing and chattering like children, then rode down the hills through the cane-fields together. Again, they met in the Park, and sat under the banyan tree, discussing the great books they had read, all of Europe they knew. For a time neither cared to finish that brief period of exquisite happiness and doubt, where imagination rules, and the world is unreal and wholly sweet, and they its first to love.
The wrenching stage of doubt had passed for Hamilton, but he thought on the future with profound disquiet. He would have the woman wholly or not at all, after Mary Fawcett's death; he knew from Dr. Hamilton that it would occur before the year was out. He had no taste for intrigue. He wanted a home, and the woman he would have rejoiced to marry was the woman he expected to love and live with for the rest of his life. Once or twice the overwhelming sense of responsibility, the certainty of children, whom he could not legalize, the possible ruin of his worldly interests, as well as his deep and sincere love for the woman, drove him almost to the bows of a homeward-bound vessel. But the sure knowledge that he should return kept him doggedly on St. Christopher. He even had ceased to explain his infatuation to himself by such excuse as was given him by her beauty, her grace, her strong yet charming brain. He loved her, and he would have her if the skies fell.
It is doubtful if he understood the full force of the attraction between them. The real energy and deliberation, the unswerving purpose in her magnetized the weakness at the roots of his ardent, impulsive, but unstable character. Moreover, in spite of the superlative passion which he had aroused in her, she lacked the animal magnetism which was his in abundance. Her oneness was a magnet for his gregariousness and concentrated it upon herself. That positive quality in him overwhelmed and intoxicated her; and in intellect he was far more brilliant and far less profound than herself. His wit and mental nimbleness stung and pricked the serene layers which she had carefully superimposed in her own mind to such activities as mingled playfully with his lighter moods or stimulated him in more intellectual hours. While the future was yet unbroken and imagination remodelled the face of the world, there were moments when both were exalted with a sense of completeness, and terrified, when apart, with a hint of dissolution into unrelated particles.
When a man and woman arrive at that stage of reasoning and feeling, it were idle for their chronicler to moralize; her part is but to tell the story.