The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book II. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander rode back to Christianstadt two days later, and again and again he drew a hard breath and closed his eyes. It was a sight to move any man, and the susceptible and tender nature of young Hamilton bled for the tragedy of St. Croix. There was not a landmark, not a cane-field, to remind him that it was the beautiful Island on which he had spent the most of his remembering years. Although all of the Great Houses were standing, their mien and manner were so altered by the disappearance of their trees and outbuildings, and by the surrounding pulpy flats in place of the rippling acres of young cane, that they were unrecognizable. Here and there were masses of debris, walls and thatched roofs swept far from the village foundations; but as a rule there was but a board here or a bunch of dried leaves there, a battered utensil or a stool, to reward the wretched Africans who wandered about searching for the few things they had possessed before the storm. They looked hopeless and dull, as if their faculties had been stunned by the prolonged incessant noise of the hurricane.
Alexander was riding down what a week ago had been the most celebrated avenue in the Antilles. Where there were trees at all, they were headless, the long gray twisted trunks as repulsive as they had once been beautiful The road was littered with many of the fallen; but others were far away in what had been the cane-fields, serpents and lizards sunning themselves on the dead roots. Even stone walls were down, and under them, sometimes, were men. Mills were in ruins; for no one had remained to keep bars in their staples. Tanks of last year's rum and treacle had been flung through the walls, and their odours mingled with the stench of decomposing men and cattle. The horrid rattle of the land-crab was almost the only sound in that desolate land. "The Garden of the Antilles" looked like a putrid swamp, and she had not a beauty on her.
Alexander turned at a cross-road into a path which led through the Grange estate to the private burying-ground of the Lyttons. These few moments taxed his courage more heavily than the ride with the hurricane had done, and more than once he opened his clenched teeth and half turned his horse's head. But he went on, and before long he had climbed to the end of his journey. The west wall of the little cemetery had been blown out, and the roof of old James Lytton's tomb lay with its debris. A tree, which evidently had been torn from the earth and flung from a distance, lay half in and half out of the enclosure. But his mother's headstone, which stood against the north wall, was undisturbed, although the mound above her was flat and sodden. The earth had been strong enough to hold her. Alexander remembered its awful air of finality as it opened to receive her, then closed over her. What he had feared was that the burying-ground, which stood on the crest of a hill, would have been uprooted and scattered over the cane-fields.
He rode on to Christianstadt. There the evidences of the hurricane were less appalling, for the houses, standing close together, had protected each other, and only two were unroofed; but everywhere the trees looked like twisted poles, the streets and gardens were full of rubbish, and down by the bay the shore was strewn with the wreckage of ships; the Park behind the Fort was thick with decaying fish, which the blacks were but just now sweeping out to the water.
After Alexander had ascertained that Mr. Mitchell's house was quite unharmed, although a neighbour had lost half a roof and been deluged in consequence, he walked out Company Street to see how it had fared with Hugh Knox. That worthy gentleman was treating his battered nerves with weak whiskey and water when he caught sight of Alexander through the library window. He gave a shout that drew an exasperated groan through the ceiling, flung open the door, and clasped his beloved pupil in his arms.
"I knew you were safe, because you are you, although I've been afraid to ask if you were dead or alive. Cruger sent out three others to warn the planters, and they've all been brought home, one dead, one maimed, one with chills and fever and as mad as a March hare. Good God! what a visitation! I'd rather have been on a moving bog in Ireland. You wouldn't have ridden out in that hurricane if I'd got you, not if I'd been forced to tie you up. Fancy your being here alive, and not even a cold in your head! But you've a grand destiny to work out, and the hurricane--which I believe was the Almighty in a temper--knew what it was about. Now tell me your experience. I'm panting to tell you mine. I've not had a soul to talk to since the hour it started. The Missis behaved like a Trojan while it lasted, then went to bed, and hasn't spoken to me since; and as for everyone else in Christianstadt--well, they've retired to calm their nerves in the only way,--prayer first and whiskey after."
Alexander took possession of his own easy-chair and looked gratefully around the room. The storm had not disturbed it, neither had a wench's duster. Since his mother's death he had loved this room with a more grateful affection than any mortal had inspired, well as he loved his aunt, Hugh Knox, and Neddy. But the room did not talk, and the men who had written the great books which made him indifferent to his island prison for days and weeks at a time, were dead, and their selfishness was buried with them.
Meanwhile Knox, forgetting his desire to hear the experience of his guest, was telling his own. It was sufficiently thrilling, but not to be compared with that of the planter's; and when he had finished, Alexander began with some pride to relate his impressions of the storm. He, too, had not talked for three days; his heart felt warm again; and in the familiar comfortable room, the terrible picture of the hurricane seemed to spring sharp and vivid from his memory; he had recalled it confusedly hitherto, and made no effort to live it again. Knox leaned forward eagerly, dropping his pipe; Alexander talked rapidly and brilliantly, finally springing to his feet, and concluding with an outburst so eloquent that his audience cowered and covered his face with his hands. For some moments Knox sat thinking, then he rose and pushed a small table in front of Alexander, littering it with pencils and paper, in his untidy fashion.
"My boy," he said, "you're still hot with your own eloquence. Before you cool off, I want you to write that down word for word as you told it to me. If it twisted my very vitals, it will give a similar pleasure to others. 'Twould be selfish to deny them. When it's done, I'll send it to Tiebout. Now I'll leave you, and if my niggers are still too demoralized to cook supper for you, I'll do it myself."
Alexander, whose brain, in truth, felt on fire, for every nerve had leapt to the recreating of that magnificent Force that had gathered an island into the hollow of its hand, crushed, and cast it back to the waters, dashed at the paper and wrote with even more splendour than he had spoken. When he had finished, he was still so excited that he rushed from the house and walked till the hideous sights and smells drove him home. He was quivering with the ecstasy of birth, and longed for another theme, and hours and days of hot creation. But he was to be spared the curse of the "artistic temperament."