The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book II. Alexander Hamilton
I should have been glad to find an old Almanac of Nevis which contained a description of its 11th of January, 1757. But one January is much like another in the Leeward Islands, and he who has been there can easily imagine the day on which Alexander Hamilton was born. The sky was a deeper blue than in summer, for the sun was resting after the terrific labours of Autumn, and there was a prick in the trade winds which stimulated the blood by day and chilled it a trifle at night. The slave women moved more briskly, followed by a trotting brood of "pic'nees," one or more clinging to their hips, all bewailing the rigours of winter. Down in the river where they pounded the clothes on the stones, they vowed they would carry the next linen to the sulphur springs, for the very marrow in their bones was cold. In the Great Houses there were no fires, but doors and windows were closed early and opened late, and blankets were on every bed. The thermometer may have stood at 72 deg..
Nevis herself was like a green jewel casket, after the autumn rains. Oranges and sweet limes were yellow in her orchards, the long-leaved banana trees were swelling with bunches of fruit, the guavas were ready for cream and the boiling. The wine was in the cocoanut, the royal palms had shed their faded summer leaves and glittered like burnished metal. The gorgeous masses of the croton bush had drawn fresh colour from the rain. In the woods and in the long avenues which wound up the mountain to the Great House of every estate, the air was almost cold; but out under the ten o'clock sun, even a West Indian could keep warm, and the negroes sang as they reaped the cane. The sea near the shore was like green sunlight, but some yards out it deepened into that intense hot blue which is the final excess of West Indian colouring. The spray flew high over the reef between Nevis and St. Kitts, glittering like the salt ponds on the desolate end of the larger island, the roar of the breakers audible in the room where the child who was to be called Alexander Hamilton was born.
Rachael rose to a ceaseless demand upon her attention for which she was grateful during the long days of Hamilton's absence. Alexander turned out to be the most restless and monarchical of youngsters and preferred his mother to his black attendants. She ruled him with a firm hand, however, for she had no mind to lessen her pleasure in him, and although she could not keep him quiet, she prevented the blacks from spoiling him.
During the hurricane months Hamilton yielded to her nervous fears, as he had done in the preceding year, and crossed to St. Kitts but seldom. As a matter of fact, hurricanes of the first degree, are rare in the West Indies, the average to each island being one in a century. But from the 25th of August, when all the Caribbean world prostrates itself in church while prayers for deliverance from the awful visitation are read, to the 25th of October, when the grateful or the survivors join in thanksgiving, every wind alarms the nervous, and every round woolly cloud must contain the white squall. Rachael knew that Nevis boats had turned over when minor squalls dashed down the Narrows between the extreme points of the Islands, and that they were most to be dreaded in the hurricane season. Hamilton's inclination was to spare in every possible way the woman who had sacrificed so much for him, and he asked little urging to idle his days in the cool library with his charming wife and son. Therefore his business suffered, for his partners took advantage of his negligence; and the decay of their fortunes began when Rachael, despite the angry protests of Archibald Hamn, sold her property on St. Kitts and gave Hamilton the money. He withdrew from the firm which had treated him inconsiderately, and set up a business for himself. For a few years he was hopeful, although more than once obliged to borrow money from his wife. She gave freely, for she had been brought up in the careless plenty of the Islands. Mary Fawcett, admirable manager as she was, had been lavish with money, particularly when her favourite child was in question; and Rachael's imagination had never worked toward the fact that money could roll down hill and not roll up again. She was long in discovering that the man she loved and admired was a failure in the uninteresting world of business. He was a brilliant and charming companion, read in the best literatures of the world, a thoughtful and adoring husband. It availed Archibald Hamn nothing to rage or Dr. Hamilton to remonstrate. Rachael gradually learned that Hamilton was not as strong as herself, but the maternal instinct, so fully aroused by her child, impelled her to fill out his nature with hers, while denying nothing to the man who did all he could to make her happy.
In the third year Hamilton gave up his sail-boat, and had himself rowed across the Narrows, where the overlooker of a salt estate he had bought awaited him with a horse. Once he would have thought nothing of walking the eight miles to Basseterre, but the Tropics, while they sharpen the nerves, caress unceasingly the indolence of man. During the hurricane season he crossed as often as he thought necessary, for with expert oarsmen there was little danger, even from squalls, and the distance was quickly covered.
Gradually Rachael's position was accepted. Nothing could alter the fact that she was the daughter of Dr. and Mary Fawcett, and Hamilton was of the best blood in the Kingdom. She was spoken of generally as Mistress Hamilton, and old friends of her parents began to greet her pleasantly as she drove about the Island with her beautiful child. In time they called, and from that it was but another step to invite, as a matter of course, the young Hamiltons to their entertainments. After all, Rachael was not the first woman in tropical Great Britain to love a man she could not marry, and it was fatiguing to ask the everlasting question of whether the honesty of a public irregular alliance were not counterbalanced by its dangerous example. It was a day of loose morals, the first fruit of the vast scientific movement of the century, whose last was the French Revolution. Moreover, the James Hamiltons were delightful people, and life on the Islands was a trifle monotonous at times; they brought into Nevis society fresh and unusual personalities, spiced with a salient variety. Hamilton might almost be said to have been born an astute man of the world. He opened his doors with an accomplished hospitality to the most intelligent and cultivated people of the Island, ignoring those who based their social pretensions on rank and wealth alone. In consequence he and his wife became the leaders of a small and exclusive set, who appreciated their good fortune. Dr. Hamilton and a few other Kittifonians were constant visitors in this hospitable mansion. Christiana Huggins, who had taken a bold stand from the first, carried her father there one day in triumph, and that austere parent laid down his arms. All seemed well, and the crumbling of the foundations made no sound.
And Alexander? He was an excitable and ingenious imp, who saved himself from many a spanking by his sparkling mind and entrancing sweetness of temper. He might fly at his little slaves and beat them, and to his white playmates he never yielded a point; but they loved him, for he was generous and honest, and the happiest little mortal on the Island. He could get into as towering a rage as old John Fawcett, but he was immediately amenable to the tenderness of his parents.
When he was four years old he was sent to a small school, which happened to be kept by a Jewess. In spite of his precocity his parents had no wish to force a mind which, although delightful to them in its saucy quickness, aroused no ambitious hopes; they sent him to school merely that there might be less opportunity to spoil him at home. His new experience was of a brief duration.
Hamilton on a Sunday was reading to Rachael in the library. Alexander shoved a chair to the table and climbed with some difficulty, for he was very small, to an elevated position among the last reviews of Europe. He demanded the attention of his parents, and, clasping his hands behind his back, began to recite rapidly in an unknown tongue. The day was very hot, and he wore nothing but a white apron. His little pink feet were bare on the mahogany, and his fair curls fell over a flushed and earnest face, which at all times was too thin and alert to be angelic or cherubic. Hamilton and Rachael, wondering whom he fancied himself imitating, preserved for a moment a respectful silence, then, overcome by his solemn countenance and the fluency of his outlandish utterance, burst into one of those peals of sudden laughter which seem to strike the most sensitive chord in young children. Alexander shrieked in wrath and terror, and made as if to fling himself on his mother's bosom, then planted his feet with an air of stubborn defiance, and went on with his recital. Hamilton listened a moment longer, then left the house abruptly. He returned in wrath.
"That woman has taught him the Decalogue in Hebrew!" he exclaimed. "'Tis a wonder his brains are not addled. He will sail boats in the swimming-bath and make shell houses in the garden for the next three years. We'll have no more of school."