The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
M.L. Davis, the authentic biographer of Burr, tells this interesting anecdote concerning the Adams pamphlet:--'
When Hamilton read the voluminous extracts in the marked copies of the Democratic papers which he found on the table in his chambers in Garden Street, his first sensation was relief; subterranean methods were little to his liking. He was deeply uneasy, however, when he reflected upon the inevitable consequences to his party, and wondered that his imagination for once had failed him. Everyone who has written with sufficient power to incite antagonism, knows the apprehensive effect of extracts lifted maliciously from a carefully wrought whole. Hamilton felt like a criminal until he plunged into the day's work, when he had no time for an accounting with his conscience. He was in court all day, and after the five o'clock dinner at home, returned to his office and worked on an important brief until eight. Then he paid a short call on a client, and was returning home through Pearl Street, when he saw Troup bearing down upon him. This old comrade's face was haggard and set, and his eyes were almost wild. Hamilton smiled grimly. That expression had stamped the Federal visage since morning.
Troup reached Hamilton in three strides, and seizing him by the arm, pointed to the upper story of Fraunces' Tavern. "Alec," he said hoarsely, "do you remember the vow you made in that room twenty-five years ago? You have kept it until to-day. There is not an instance in your previous career where you have sacrificed the country to yourself. No man in history ever made greater sacrifices, and no man has had a greater reward in the love and loyalty of the best men in a nation. And now, to gratify the worst of your passions, you have betrayed your country into the hands of the basest politicians in it. Moreover, all your enemies could not drag you down, and no man in history has ever been assailed by greater phalanxes than you have been. It took you--yourself--to work your own ruin, to pull your party down on top of you, and send the country we have all worked so hard for to the devil. I love you better than anyone on earth, and I'll stick to you till the bitter end, but I'd have this say if you never spoke to me again."
Hamilton dropped his eyes from the light in the familiar room of Fraunces' Tavern, but the abyss he seemed to see at his feet was not the one yawning before his friend's excited imagination. He did not answer for a moment, and then he almost took away what was left of Troup's breath.
"You are quite right," he said. "And what I have most to be thankful for in life, is that I have never attracted that refuse of mankind who fawn and flatter; or have dismissed them in short order," he added, with his usual regard for facts. "Come and breakfast with me to-morrow. Good night."
He walked home quickly, told the servant at the door that he was not to be disturbed, and locked himself in his study. He lit one candle, then threw himself into his revolving chair, and thought until the lines in his face deepened to the bone, and only his eyes looked alive. He wasted no further regrets on the political consequences of his act. What was done, was done. Nor did he anticipate any such wholesale disaster as had distracted the Federalists since the morning issues. He knew the force of habit and the tenacity of men's minds. His followers would be aghast, harshly critical for a day, then make every excuse that ingenuity could suggest, unite in his defence, and follow his lead with redoubled loyality. His foresight had long since leaped to the end of this conflict, for the Democratic hordes had been augmenting for years; his own party was hopelessly divided and undermined by systematic slander. To fight was second nature, no matter how hopeless the battle; but in those moments of almost terrifying prescience so common to him, he realized the inevitableness of the end, as history does to-day. His only chance had been to placate Adams and recreate his enemy's popularity.
The day never came when he was able to say that he might have done this at the only time when such action would have counted. He had been inexorable until the pamphlet was flung to the public; and then, although he was hardly conscious of it at the moment, he was immediately dispossessed of the intensity of his bitterness toward Adams. The revenge had been so terrible, so abrupt, that his hatred seemed disseminating in the stolen leaves fluttering through the city. Therefore his mind was free for the appalling thought which took possession of it as Troup poured out his diatribe; and this thought was, that he was no longer conscious of any greatness in him. Through all the conflicts, trials, and formidable obstacles of previous years he had been sustained by his consciousness of superlative gifts combined with loftiness of purpose. Had not his greatness been dinned into his ears, he would have been as familiar with it. But he seemed to himself to have shrivelled, his very soul might have been in ashes--incremated in the flames of his passions. He had triumphed over every one of his enemies in turn. Historically he was justified, and had he accomplished the same end impersonally, they would have been the only sufferers, and in the just degree. But he had boiled them in the vitriol of his nature; he had scarred them and warped them and destroyed their self-respect. Had these raging passions been fed with other vitalities? Had they ravaged his soul to nourish his demons? Was that his punishment,--an instance of the inexorable law of give and take?
He recalled the white heat of patriotism with which he had written the revolutionary papers of his boyhood, the numberless pamphlets which had finally roused the States to meet in convention and give the wretched country a Constitutional Government, "The Federalist"; which had spurred him to the great creative acts that must immortalize him in history. He contrasted that patriotic fire with the spirit in which he had written the Adams pamphlet. The fire had gone out, and the precipitation was gall and worm-wood. Even the spirit in which he had first attacked Jefferson in print was righteous indignation by comparison.
Had he hated his soul to cinders? Had the bitterness and the implacability he had encouraged for so many years bitten their acids through and through the lofty ideals which once had been the larger part of himself? Had the angel in him fallen to the bottom of the pit in that frightful nethermost region of his, for his cynical brain to mock, until that, too, was in its grave? He thought of the high degree of self-government, almost the perfection, that Washington had attained,--one of the most passionate men that had ever lived. Did that great Chieftain stand alone in the history of souls? He thought of Laurens, with his early despair that self-conquest seemed impossible. Would he have conquered, had he lived? What would he or Washington think, were they present to-night? Would they hate him, or would their love be proof against even this abasement? He passionately wished they were there, whether they came to revile or console. Isolated and terror-stricken, he felt as if thrust for ever from the world of living men.
His mind had been turned in, every faculty bent introspectively, but for some moments past his consciousness had vibrated mechanically to an external influence. It flew open suddenly, as he realized that someone was watching him, and he wheeled his chair opposite the dusk in the lower end of the room. For a moment it, seemed to him that every function in him ceased and was enveloped in ice. A face rested lightly on the farther end of the long table, the fair hair floating on either side of it, the eyes fixed upon him with an expression that flashed him back to St. Croix and the last weeks of his mother's life. He fancied in that moment that he could even discern the earthen hue of the skin. When he realized that it was Angelica, he was hardly less startled, but he found his voice.
"When did you return?" he asked, in as calm a tone as he could command. "And why did you hide in here?"
"I came down with Grandpa, who made up his mind in a minute. And I came in here to be sure to have a little talk with you alone. I was going to surprise you as soon as you lit the candle, and then your face frightened me. It is worse now."
Her voice was hardly audible, and she did not move. Hamilton went down and lifted her to her feet, then supported her to a chair opposite his own. He made no search for an excuse, for he would not have dared to offer it to this girl, whose spiritual recesses he suddenly determined to probe. Between her and the dead woman there was a similarity that was something more than superficially atavistic. His practical brain refused to speculate even upon the doctrine of metempsychosis. He was like his mother in many ways. That unique and powerful personality had stamped his brain cells when he was wholly hers. He recalled that his own soul had echoed faintly with memories in his youth. What wonder that he had given this inheritance to the most sensitively constituted of his children, whose musical genius, the least sane of all gifts, put her in touch with the greater mysteries of the Universe? That nebulous memories moved like ghosts in her soul he did not doubt, nor that at such moments she was tormented with vague maternal pangs. He conquered his first impulse to confess himself to her; doubtless she needed more help than he. She was staring at him in mingled terror and agony.
"Why do you suffer so when I suffer?" he asked gently; then bluntly, "do you yearn over me as if I were your child, and in peril?"
"Yes," she answered, without betraying any surprise; "that is it. I have a terrible feeling of responsibility and helplessness, of understanding and knowing nothing. I feel sometimes as if I had done you a great wrong, for which I suffer when you are in trouble, and I am no more use to you than John or little Eliza. If you would tell me. If you would let me share it with you. You remember I begged as a child. You have made believe to tell me secrets many times, but you have told me nothing. My imagination has nearly shattered me."
"Do you wish to know?" he asked. "Are you strong enough to see me as I see myself to-night? I warn you it will be a glimpse into Hell."
"I don't care what it is," she answered, "so long as it is the reality, and you let me know you as I do underneath my blindness and ignorance."
Then he told her. He talked to her as he would have talked to the dead had she risen, although without losing his sense of her identity for a moment, or the consciousness of the danger of the experiment. He showed her what few mortals have seen, a naked soul with its scars, its stains, and its ravages from flame and convulsion. He need not have apprehended a disastrous result. She was compounded of his essences, and her age was that indeterminate mixture of everlasting youth and anticipated wisdom which is the glory and the curse of genius. She listened intently, the expression of torment displaced by normal if profound sympathy. He had begun with the passions inspired by Jefferson; he finished with the climax of deterioration in the revenge he had taken on Adams, and the abyss of despair into which it had plunged him. He drew a long breath of relief, and regarded his little judge with some defiance. She nodded.
"I feel old and wise," she said, "and at the same time much younger, because I no longer shrink from a load on my mind I cannot understand. And you--it has all gone." She darted at the candle and held it to his face. "You look twenty years younger than when you sat there and thought. I believed you were dying of old age."
"I feel better," he admitted, "But nothing can obliterate the scars. And although I shall always be young at intervals, remember that I have crowded three lifetimes into one, and that I must pay the penalty spiritually and physically, although mentally I believe I shall hold my own until the end." He leaned forward on a sudden impulse and took both her hands. "I make you a vow," he said, "and I have never broken even a promise--or only one," he added, remembering Troup's accusation. "I will drive the bitterness out of myself and I will hate no more. My public acts shall be unaccompanied by personal bitterness henceforth. Not a vengeance that I have accomplished has been worth the hideous experience of to-night, and so long as I live I shall have no cause to repeat it."
"If you ever broke that vow," said Angelica, "I should either die or go crazy, for you would sink and never rise again."