The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book I. Rachael Levine
Nevis gave of her bounty to none more generously than to John and Mary Fawcett. In 1685 the revocation of the Edict of Nantes had sent the Huguenots swarming to America and the West Indies. Faucette was but a boy when the Tropics gave him shelter, and learning was hard to get; except in the matter of carving Caribs. But he acquired the science of medicine somehow, and settled on Nevis, remodelled his name, and became a British subject. Brilliant and able, he was not long accumulating a fortune; there were swamps near Charles Town that bred fever, and the planters lived as high and suffered as acutely as the English squires of the same period. His wife brought him money, and in 1714 they received a joint legacy from Captain Frank Keynall; whether a relative of hers or a patient of his, the Records do not tell.
Mary Fawcett was some twenty years younger than her husband, a high-spirited creature, with much intelligence, and a will which in later years John Fawcett found himself unable to control. But before that period, when to the disparity in time were added the irritabilities of age in the man and the imperiousness of maturity in the woman, they were happy in their children, in their rising fortunes, and, for a while, in one another.
For twenty-eight years they lived the life of the Island. They built a Great House on their estate at Gingerland, a slope of the Island which faces Antigua, and they had their mansion in town for use when the Captain-General was abiding on Nevis. While Mary Fawcett was bringing up and marrying her children, managing the household affairs of a large estate, and receiving and returning the visits of the other grandees of the Island, to say nothing of playing her important part in all social functions, life went well enough. Her children, far away from the swamps of Charles Town, throve in the trade winds which temper the sun of Nevis and make it an isle of delight. When they were not studying with their governesses, there were groves and gorges to play in, ponies to ride, and monkeys and land crabs to hunt. Later came the gay life of the Capital, the routs at Government House, frequent even when the Chief was elsewhere, the balls at neighbouring estates, the picnics in the cool high forests, or where more tropical trees and tree ferns grew thick, the constant meeting with distinguished strangers, and the visits to other islands.
The young Fawcetts married early. One went with her husband, Peter Lytton, to the island of St. Croix. The Danish Government, upon obtaining possession of this fertile island, in 1733, immediately issued an invitation to the planters of the Leeward Caribbees to immigrate, tempting many who were dissatisfied with the British Government or wished for larger estates than they could acquire on their own populous islands. Members of the Lytton, Mitchell, and Stevens families of St. Christopher were among the first to respond to the liberal offer of the Danish Government. The two sons of James Lytton, Peter and James, grew up on St. Croix, Danish by law, British in habit and speech; and both married women of Nevis. Peter was the first to wed, and his marriage to young Mary Fawcett was the last to be celebrated in the Great House at Gingerland.
When Peter Lytton and his wife sailed away, as other sons and other daughters had sailed before, to return to Nevis rarely,--for those were the days of travel unveneered,--John and Mary Fawcett were left alone: their youngest daughter, she who afterward became the wife of Thomas Mitchell of St. Croix, was at school in England.
By this time Dr. Fawcett had given up his practice and was living on his income. He took great interest in his cane-fields and mills, and in the culture of limes and pine-apples; but in spite of his outdoor life his temper soured and he became irritable and exacting. Gout settled in him as a permanent reminder of the high fortunes of his middle years, and when the Gallic excitability of his temperament, aggravated by a half-century of hot weather, was stung to fiercer expression by the twinges of his disease, he was an abominable companion for a woman twenty years closer to youth.
In the solitudes of the large house Mary Fawcett found life unendurable. Still handsome, naturally gay of temper, and a brilliant figure in society, she frequently deserted her elderly husband for weeks at a time. The day came when he peremptorily forbade her to leave the place without him. For a time she submitted, for although a woman of uncommon independence of spirit, it was not until 1740 that she broke free of traditions and astonished the island of Nevis. She shut herself up with her books and needlework, attended to her house and domestic negroes with the precision of long habit, saw her friends when she could, and endured the exactions of her husband with only an occasional but mighty outburst.
It was in these unhappy conditions that Rachael Fawcett was born.