The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book I. Rachael Levine
It was a month later that Rachael, returning after a long ride with Hamilton, found her mother just descended from the family coach.
"Is it possible that you have been to pay visits?" she asked, as she hastened to support the feeble old woman up the steps.
"No, I have been to Basseterre with Archibald Hamn."
"Not to St. Peter's, I hope."
"Oh, my dear, I do not feel in the mood to jest. I went to court to secure the future of my three dear slaves, Rebecca, Flora, and Esther."
Rachael placed her mother on one of the verandah chairs and dropped upon another.
"Why have you done that?" she asked faintly. "Surely--"
"There are several things I fully realize, and one is that each attack leaves me with less vitality to resist the next. These girls are the daughters of my dear old Rebecca, who was as much to me as a black ever can be to a white, and that is saying a good deal. I have just signed a deed of trust before the Registrar--to Archibald. They are still mine for the rest of my life, yours for your lifetime, or as long as you live here; then they go to Archibald or his heirs. I want you to promise me that they shall never go beyond this Island or Nevis."
"I promise." Rachael had covered her face with her hand.
"I believe you kept the last promise you made me. It is not in your character to break your word, however you may see fit to take the law into your own hands."
"I kept it."
"And you will live with him openly after my death. I have appreciated your attempt to spare me."
"Ah, you do know me."
"Some things may escape my tired old eyes, but I love you too well not to have seen for a month past that you were as happy as a bride. I shall say no more--save for a few moments with James Hamilton. I am old and ill and helpless. You are young and indomitable. If I were as vigorous and self-willed as when I left your father, I could not control you now. I shall leave you independent. Will Hamilton, Archibald, and a few others will stand by you; but alas! you will, in the course of nature, outlive them all, and have no friend in the world but Hamilton--although I shall write an appeal to your sisters to be sent to them after my death. But oh, how I wish, how I wish, that you could marry this man."
Mary Fawcett was attacked that night by the last harsh rigours of her disease and all its complications. Until she died, a week later, Rachael, except for the hour that Hamilton sat alone beside the bed of the stricken woman, did not leave her mother. The immortal happiness of the last month was forgotten. She was prostrate, literally on her knees with grief and remorse, for she believed that her mother's discovery had hastened the end.
"No, it is not so," said Mary Fawcett, one day. "My time has come to die. Will Hamilton will assure you of that, and I have watched the space between myself and death diminish day by day, for six months past. I have known that I should die before the year was out. It is true that I die in sorrow and with a miserable sense of failure, for you have been my best-beloved, my idol, and I leave you terribly placed in life and with little hope of betterment. But for you I have no reproach. You have given me love for love, and duty for duty. Life has treated you brutally; what has come now was, I suppose, inevitable. Human nature when it is strong enough is stronger than moral law. I grieve for you, but I die without grievance against you. Remember that. And Hamilton? He is honourable, and he loves you utterly--but is he strong? I wish I knew. His emotions and his active brain give him so much apparent force--but underneath? I wish I knew."
Rachael was grateful for her mother's unselfish assurance, but she was not to be consoled. The passions in her nature, released from other thrall, manifested themselves in a grief so profound, and at times so violent, that only her strong frame saved her from illness. For two weeks after Mary Fawcett's death she refused to see James Hamilton; but by that time he felt at liberty to assert his rights, and her finely poised mind recovered its balance under his solace and argument. Her life was his, and to punish him assuaged nothing of her sorrow. He had decided, after consultation with his cousin, to take her to Nevis, not only to seclude her from the scandalized society she knew best, but that he might better divert her mind, in new scenes, from her heavy affliction. Hamilton had already embarked in his business enterprise, but he had bought and manned a sail-boat, which would carry him to and from St. Kitts daily. In the dead calms of summer there was little business doing.
"I attempted no sophistry with my cousin," said Hamilton, "and for that reason I think I have put the final corking-pin into our friendship. Right or wrong we are going to live together for the rest of our lives, because I will have no other woman, and you will have no other man; and we will live together publicly, not only because neither of us has the patience for scheming and deceit, but because passion is not our only motive for union. There is gallantry on every side of us, and doubtless we alone shall be made to suffer; for the world loves to be fooled, it hates the crudeness of truth. But we have each other, and nothing else matters."
And to Rachael nothing else mattered, for her mother was dead, and she loved Hamilton with an increasing passion that was long in culminating.