The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Book V. The Last Battle of the Giants and the End
Hamilton crossed the river to Weehawken at seven the next morning. He was accompanied by Pendleton, and his surgeon, Dr. Hosack. It was already very hot. The river and the woods of the Jersey palisades were dim under a sultry blue haze. There was a swell on the river, and Pendleton was very sick. Hamilton held his head with some humour, then pointed out the great beauty of the Hudson and its high rugged banks, to distract the unhappy second's mind.
"The majesty of this river," he said, "its suggestion of a vast wild country almost unknown to the older civilizations, and yet peopled with the unembodied spirits of a new and mighty race, quicked my unborn patriotism, unconsciously nourished it until its delivery in Boston."
"It would have curdled mine," said Pendleton. "Who knows--if you had been of a bilious temperament, the face of our history might wear a pug nose and a weak chin."
Hamilton laughed. "It never could have done that while Washington's profile was stamped on the popular fancy. But lesser causes than seasickness have determined a man's career. Perhaps to my immunity I owe the fact that I am not a book-worm on St. Croix. If I had even once felt as you did just now, my dear Pendleton, I should never have set sail for America."
"Thank God!" said Pendleton. They were beaching. A moment later he and Hamilton had climbed to the ledge where Burr and Van Ness awaited them. It was the core of a thick grove, secluded from the opposite shore and from the high summit of the great palisade.
Hamilton and Burr nodded pleasantly. The men were dressed in the silken finery of their time, and looked like a pleasuring quartette in that green and lovely spot. Through leafy windows they saw the blue Hudson, the spires and manor-houses, the young city, on the Island. The image of Philip rose to Hamilton, but he commanded it aside.
Pendleton had the choice of position and was to give the word. He had brought with him John Church's pistols, now in their fourth duel. Their first adventure caused the flight of Church to America. Since then, they had been used in his duel with Burr and by Philip Hamilton.
He handed one of the pistols to Hamilton, and asked him if he should set the hair-spring.
"No, not this time," said Hamilton.
Pendleton gave the word. Burr raised his arm, deliberately took aim, and fired, Hamilton lifted himself mechanically to the tips of his feet, turned sideways, and fell on his face. His pistol went off, and Pendleton's eye involuntarily followed the direction of the ball, which severed a leaf in its flight. Often afterward he spoke of the impression the cloven leaf made on him, a second of distraction at which he caught eagerly before he bent over Hamilton. Hosack scrambled up the bank, and Burr, covered with an umbrella by Van Ness, hastily withdrew.
Hamilton was half sitting, encircled by Pendleton's arm, when the surgeon reached the spot. His face was gray. He muttered, "This is a mortal wound," then lost consciousness. Hosack ascertained, after a slight examination, that the ball was in a vital part, and for a few moments he thought that Hamilton was dead; he did not breathe, nor was any motion of heart or pulse perceptible. With Pendleton's assistance, Hosack carried him down the bank and placed him in the barge. William Bayard had offered his house in case of disaster, and the boat was propelled over to the foot of Grand Street as rapidly as possible. Before reaching the shore the surgeon succeeded in reviving Hamilton, who suddenly opened his eyes.
"My vision is indistinct," he said. In a moment it grew stronger, and his eye fell on the case of pistols. His own was lying on the top. "Take care of that pistol," he said. "It is undischarged and still cocked. Pendleton knows that I did not intend to fire at him." He closed his eyes, and said nothing further except to enquire the state of his pulse, and to remark that his lower extremities had lost all feeling. As the boat reached the pier, he directed that his wife and children be sent for at once, and that hope be given them. Bayard was standing on the shore in a state of violent agitation. It was in these pleasant grounds of his that the great banquet had been given to Hamilton after the Federalists had celebrated their leader's victory at Poughkeepsie, and he had been his friend and supporter during the sixteen years that had followed.
Hamilton was placed in bed on the lower floor of Bayard's house; and, in spite of the laudanum that was liberally administered, his sufferings were almost intolerable. His children were not admitted to the room for some time, but his wife could not be kept from him. She knew nothing of the duel, but she saw that he was dying; and the suddenness and horror, the end of her earthly happiness, drove her frantic. She shrieked and raved until Hamilton was obliged to rouse himself and attempt to calm her. The children were huddled in the next room, and when the pain subsided for a time, they were brought in. Hamilton's eyes were closed. When he was told that his children were beside his bed, he did not open them at once. In those moments he forgot everything but the agony of parting. Finally, he lifted his heavy eyelids. The children stood there, the younger clinging to the older, shivering and staring in terror. Hamilton gave them one look, then closed his eyes and did not open them again for several moments. As the children were led from the room, one of the boys fainted.
Through Hamilton's heavy brain an idea forced itself, and finally took possession. Angelica had not stood in that little group. He opened his eyes, half expecting that which he saw--Angelica leaning over the foot-board, her face gray and shrunken, her eyes full of astonishment and horror.
"Are you going to die--to die?" she asked him.
"Yes," said Hamilton. He was too exhausted to console or counsel submission.
"To die!" she repeated. "To die!" She reiterated the words until her voice died away in a mumble. Hamilton was insensible for the moment to the physical torments which were sending out their criers again, and watched her changed face with an apprehension, which, mercifully, his mind was too confused by pain and laudanum to formulate. Angelica suddenly gripped the foot-board with such force that the bed shook; her eyes expanded with horror only, and she cowered as if a whip cracked above her neck. Then she straightened herself, laughed aloud, and ran out of the room. Hamilton, at the moment, was in the throes of an excruciating spasm, and was spared this final agony in his harsh and untimely death. Angelica was hurried from the house to a private asylum. She lived to be seventy-eight, but she never recovered her reason.
Meanwhile, the grounds without were crowded with the friends of the dying man,--many of them old soldiers,--who stood through the night awaiting the end. Business in New York was entirely suspended. The populace had arisen in fury at the first announcement on the bulletin boards, and Burr was in hiding lest he be torn to pieces.
Hamilton slept little, and talked to his wife whenever he succeeded in calming her. Her mental sufferings nearly deprived her of health and reason; but she lived a half a century longer, attaining the great age of ninety-seven. It was a sheltered and placid old age, warm with much devotion; her mind remained firm until the end. Did the time come when she thought of Hamilton as one of the buried children of her youth?
Troup, Fish, Wolcott, Gouverneur Morris, Rufus King, Bayard, Matthew Clarkson, some twenty of Hamilton's old friends, were admitted to the death room for a moment. He could not speak, but he smiled faintly. Then his eyes wandered to the space behind them. He fancied he saw the shadowy forms of the many friends who had preceded him: Laurens, Tilghman, Harrison, Greene, Andre, Sterling, Duane, Duer, Steuben,--Washington. They looked at him as affectionately as the living, but without tears or the rigid features of extremest grief. It is a terrible expression to see on the faces of men long intimate with life, and Hamilton closed his eyes, withdrawing his last glance from Morris and Troup.
Of whom did Hamilton think in those final moments? Not of Eliza Croix, we may be sure. Her hold had been too superficial. Perhaps not even of Elizabeth Schuyler, although he had loved her long and deeply. What more probable than that his last hour was filled with a profound consciousness of the isolation in which his soul had passed its mortal tarrying? Surrounded, worshipped, counting more intimate friends sincerely loved than any man of his time, gay, convivial, too active for many hours of introspection, no mortal could ever have stood more utterly alone than Hamilton. Whether or not the soul is given a sentient immortality we have no means of discovering, but the most commonplace being is aware of that ego which has its separate existence in his brain, and is like to no other ego on earth; and those who think realize its inability to mingle with another. Hamilton, with his unmortal gifts, his unsounded depths, must have felt this isolation in all its tragic completeness. There may have been moments when the soul of Washington or Laurens brushed his own. Assuredly no woman companioned it for a fraction of a second. Whatever his last thoughts, no man has met his end with more composure.
He died at two o'clock in the afternoon.