The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book II. Alexander Hamilton
The description of the hurricane went to St. Christopher by sloop two days later (there were no English papers on St. Croix), and was not heard from for two weeks. Meanwhile Alexander forgot it, as writers have a way of forgetting their infants of enthusiastic delivery. There was much to do on St. Croix. The negroes were put at once to rebuilding and repairing, and masters, as well as overlookers and agents, were behind them from morning till night. Mr. Mitchell had not returned, and Alexander was obliged to take charge of his estates. When he was not galloping from village to village and mill to mill, driving the sullen blacks before him, or routing them out of ruins and hollows, where they huddled in a demoralized stupor, he was consoling his aunt for the possible sacrifice of Mr. Mitchell to the storm. Alexander was quite confident that the hurricane had spared Tom Mitchell, whomsoever else it may have devoured, but his logic did not appeal to his aunt, who wept whenever he was there to offer his arm and shoulder. At other times she bustled about among her maids, who were sewing industriously for the afflicted.
Alexander was grateful for the heavy task Mr. Mitchell's absence imposed, for there was no business doing in Christianstadt, and his nerves were still vibrating to the storm he had fought and conquered. His rigorous self-control was gone, his suppressed energies and ambitions were quick and imperious, every vial of impatience and disgust was uncorked. As he rode through the hot sunlight or moved among the Africans, coaxing and commanding, getting more work out of them by his gay bright manner than the overlookers could extract with their whips, his brain was thumping with plans of delivery from a life which he hated so blackly that he would wrench himself free of it before the year was out if he had to ship as a common sailor for New York. It seemed to him that the vacancies in his brain ached. His imagination was hot with the future awaiting him beyond that cursed stretch of blinding water. For the first time he fully realized his great abilities, knew that he had in him the forces that make history. All the encouragement of his mother and Hugh Knox, the admiration and confidence of such men as Mr. Cruger, the spoiling of his relatives, and his easy conquest or equally flattering antagonism of the youth of the Island, had fostered his self-confidence without persuading him that he was necessarily a genius. Strong as his youthful ambitions had been, burning as his desire for more knowledge, much in his brain had been dormant, and a humorous philosophy, added to the sanguineness of youth and a deep affection for a few people, had enabled him to bear his lot with unbroken cheerfulness. But the clashing forces of the Universe had roused the sleeping giant in his brain and whirled his youth away. His only formulated ambition was to learn first all that schools could teach him, then lead great armies to battle. Until the day of his death his desire for military excitement and glory never left him, and at this time it was the destiny which heated his imagination. It seemed to him that the roar and rattle of the hurricane, in whose lead he had managed to maintain himself unharmed, were the loud prophecy of battle and conquest. At the same time, he knew that other faculties and demands of his brain must have their way, but he could only guess at their nature, and statesmanship was the one achievement that did not occur to him; the American colonies were his only hope, and there was no means by which he could know their wrongs and needs. Such news came seldom to the West Indies, and Knox retained little interest in the country where he had sojourned so short a while. And at this time their struggle hardly would have appealed to young Hamilton had he known of it. He was British by instinct and association, and he had never received so much as a scratch from the little-finger nail of the distant mother, whose long arm was rigid above her American subjects.
His deliverance was so quick and sudden that for a day or two he was almost as dazed as the Africans after the hurricane. One day Hugh Knox sent him out a copy of the St. Christopher newspaper which had published his description of the storm. With some pride in his first-born, he read it aloud to his aunt. Before he was halfway down the first column she was on the sofa with her smelling-salts, vowing she was more terrified than when she had expected to be killed every minute. When he had finished she upbraided him for torturing people unnecessarily, but remarked that he was even cleverer than she had thought him. The next morning she asked him to read it again; then read it herself. On the following day Hugh Knox rode out.
Alexander was at one of the mills. Knox told Mrs. Mitchell that he had sent a copy of the newspaper to the Governor of St. Croix, who had called upon him an hour later and insisted upon knowing the name of the writer. Knox not only had told him, but had expanded upon Alexander's abilities and ambitions to such an extent that the Governor at that moment was with Peter Lytton, endeavouring to persuade him to open his purse-strings and send the boy to college.
"He will not do all," added Knox, "and I rely upon you to do the rest. Between you, Alexander can get, first the education he wants now more than anything in life, then the chance to make a great reputation among men. If you keep him here you're no better than criminals, and that's all I have to say."
Mrs. Mitchell shuddered. "Do you think he really wants to go?" she asked.
"Do I think he wants to go!" roared Hugh Knox. "Do I think--Good God! why he's been mad to go for five years. He'd have thought of nothing else if he hadn't a will like a bar of iron made for a hurricane door, and he'd have grown morbid about it if he hadn't been blest with a cheerful and a sanguine disposition. You adore him, and you couldn't see that!"
"He never said much about it," said Mrs. Mitchell, meekly; "but I think I can see now that you are right. It will make me ill to part with him, but he ought to go, and if Peter Lytton will pay half his expenses, I'll pay the other half, and keep him in pocket coin besides. Of course Tom won't give a penny, but I have something of my own, and he is welcome to it. Do have everything arranged before my husband's return. He is alive and well. I had a letter from him by the sloop that came from St. Kitts, and he'll be here by the next or the one after."
As soon as Knox had gone Mrs. Mitchell ordered her coach and drove to Lytton's Fancy. Her love for Alexander had struggled quite out of its fond selfishness, and she determined that go to New York he should and by the next ship. She found her brother-in-law meditating upon the arguments of the Governor, and had less difficulty in persuading him than she had anticipated.
"I'm sorry we haven't sent him before," he said finally. "For if two men like Walsterstorff and Knox think so highly of him, and if he can write like that,--it gave me the horrors,--he ought to have his chance, and this place is too small for him. I'll help you to keep him at college until he's got his education,--and it will take him less time than most boys to get it,--and then he'll be able to take care of himself. If he sails on Wednesday, there's no produce to send with him to sell; but I've silver, and so have you, and he can take enough to keep him until the Island is well again. We'll do the thing properly, and he shan't worry for want of plenty."
When Alexander came home that evening he was informed that the world had turned round, and that he stood on its apex.