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Wilson's Border Tales
Leaves from the Life of Alexander Hamilton
Chapter 2

It may here be as well to inform the reader that the Honourable Edward Stafford, of whom we have spoken, was connected with the Borders.. As hinted by Alexander, he had been one of those who had contributed to the ruin of Isabella’s father. But there was one circumstance which Alexander knew not, and which was, that for some years prior to her marriage, the Honourable Edward Stafford had been her heartless persecutor, and as a villain had beset her path. The tale of her husband’s misfortunes having rekindled his hopes, he proceeded to the north to renew his plots and persecution.

It was early in August, when a vessel, on board of which there were many passengers, sailed from the quayside of Newcastle. The morning was clear, the sky cloudless, and the villages on either side of the Tyne appeared in summer beauty. They had passed Shields, the pilot departed, and wished them a pleasant passage; several ladies and gentlemen promenaded the deck, contemplating the scene. Isabella, unconscious of being observed by all, sat alone on the starboard side of the companion, her elbow resting by the top of the binnacle lamp, and her eyes fixed upon the shore.

While she thus sat, an imposing, little personage, wearing a superb Spanish cloak, flung with what may be termed graceful negligence across his shoulders, and having a highly flavoured cigar in his teeth, consequentially ascended the cabin stairs—looked knowingly towards the mast head—gave two or three springy struts across the afterdeck—cast an aristocratical glance around the passengers—stood suddenly still—bent pryingly over the companion—stole round on tiptoe, tapped Isabella familiarly on the shoulder, and throwing back his little body to its extreme altitude, he stretched out his parcel of white fingers, saying—" study for a Rembrandt, by the Graces! I am a fortunate fellow in meeting you again; but didn’t know, ‘pon my honour, until lately, that my friend, Sandy Hamilton, had the happiness of being acquainted with you."

"Mr. Stafford," said Isabella, "the wife of him whom you call your friend has hitherto been accustomed to plainer language."

"You are severe, my pretty paragon," whispered the little man; "but now that you are leaving the north country in quest of a husband, do not disfigure that lovely face with north country formality."

And casting aside both formality and delicacy himself, with the air of a wooer who presumes more upon his own importance than the feelings of her professed to be beloved, he seated himself by her side, and, with an affected and seemingly careless playfulness, threw his arm across her shoulder.

"Sir," said Isabella, rising indignantly, "you have this moment called my husband your friend—if you are ignorant of the sacred duties of a friend, or of the respect due to my sex, and the conduct becoming a gentleman, let the misfortunes of our house be my protection."

"Protection!—creature of beauty!" said he, "I will protect you with my life! Nay, do not frown; for your anger only makes your loveliness the more provoking, and calls back the colour which your misfortunes, as you term them are trying to banish."

"Begone Sir," said Isabella; "practice your fooleries on those who will listen to them;" and she walked to the opposite side of the vessel, whither she was immediately followed by her unabashed tormentor.

"Come, sweet one," resumed he, "do not delight in throwing lightnings from eyes where moonbeams would blush at the presence of rivals."

"Your behaviour, Sir," said Isabella, "in any man, but especially in one bearing the rank of a gentleman, is contemptible, cowardly, and unmanly. On former occasions I have borne your insults without drawing upon you the chastisements which you merited; but you now profess to know me as the wife of your friend, and as such I claim your respect—or I shall know how to resent your conduct."

"An angel in a fury!" exclaimed the Hon. Edward Stafford with a theatrical start. "Respect you!—why, I adore you!—worship you!—will die for you!"

"Pitiable fool!" replied she, turning from him with disdain.

"Only the fool your eyes have made him, lovely cruelty!" rejoined he, following her, and extending his hand to lay hold of her arm.

"‘Vast there, you chap!" cried the skipper—a round, red-faced, jolly-looking seaman, who had observed from the helm the conduct of Mr. Stafford; "‘vast there, I say—I’ll have no monkey tricks on board o’ my ship. That young lady is under my especial care; for, d’ye see, her father was once one of my owners, and so was her husband and his father before him—and I just tell ye, ceevily, my canny lad, ye had better shove your boat off."

"Fellow!" sneered Mr. Stafford, surveying him with a look of contempt, "do you know to whom you speak?"

"I neither know nor care, young gentleman," replied the skipper; "but I’ll let you know that neither you nor any man shall ca’ me fellow, or use any indecent liberties on board my ship, so ye had better take in a reef, or keep a look out for squalls."

"Heathen!—uncivilised Laplander!" fumed Mr. Stafford, stamping his little foot on the deck; "do you know, Sir, to whom you are opening your barbarian lips?"

"My wig! I’ll tell ye what it is, young chap," vociferated the skipper, "I dinna care though ye were first cousin to the flying Dutchman; ye shall know I’m maister of this vessel."

"Confound you and your vessel!" retorted the little man, stamping more passionately than before; "dare you open your frog’s mouth to a gentleman?"

"Ye poor singet creature!—ye miserable button top!" rejoined the skipper, "has an insignificant creature like you the assurance to confound anybody? Are you no feared that I wry your neck about like a cock sparrow’s! As sure as death, Sir, if ye drop another word o’ your insolence to me I’ll capsize ye under a bucket."

"You savage! you Greenland bear!" reiterated Mr. Stafford, brandishing his clenched fist in the face of the other; "are gentlemen to endure the boorish insolence of a Hottentot like you? Look you, Sir, if you don’t ask my pardon instantly, before the whole ship’s company, Sir, I’ll put a brace of bullets through your ass’s head. I will, sir! Do you think with your cowardly carcase to intimidate me? Were you as big as Goliath, I’d let you know I’m a gentleman, sir!"

"Here, Jack, take the helm," roared the skipper to one of his crew, "and now, ye chattering morsel o’humanity, I’ll let ye see whether you or I be the best gentleman in this ship at any rate."

He sprang forward, Edward Stafford sprang back, and the passengers sprang between them.

"Hands off, gentlemen, if you please!" said the skipper; "remember I am master o’ this vessel. I wud wish to be civil to everybody but it is not in the power o’ nature to put up wi’ the impudence o’ a creature like that; and though I’ll no hurt him—smash me! he shall either haud his tongue, or he shall never speak more. Did ye hear such names as I put up wi’?"

"Unhand the ruffian, gentlemen!" cried Mr. Stafford, who had retreated amidships, and felt his courage revive under the protection of half-a-dozen ladies. "Unhand the mountain of moving mud! I’ll teach such fellows how to interfere with a gentleman! Unhand him, and I’ll send him below with a piece of cold lead through his fin!" And heroically taking from his pocket a handsome silver-mounted ivory case, he placed it with a determined air upon the top of a beef cask, again exclaiming—"Don’t hold him, gentlemen—these will do for him!"

"I tell ye again, sirs," shouted the skipper, "don’t hold me! Do you think a thing like that shall threaten to shoot me on board o’ my own ship?" And he struggled to approach him.

"See to yourselves, gentlemen!" cried Mr. Stafford, laying his hand fiercely upon the pistol case.

"O sir!—pray sir!—dear sir!"—screamed the ladies, grasping him in their arms.

"Oh, don’t be alarmed," said the little Honourable; "’pon honour, I shall only wing him—I have had some experience in these matters."

The skipper made a desperate rush forward—the ladies screamed louder—Mr. Stafford seized the pistol case furiously, crying—"Then die, fellow!"----

His exclamation was cut short—a lady grasped the terrible pistol case; it opened in the struggle, and the hateful weapons fell upon the deck, though not in the shape of pistols, but the honourable gentleman’s sea stock of cigars! The gentlemen laughed—the ladies tittered.

"It has ended in smoke, sir," said a fair punster.

"You can still fire them!" added another.

And the skipper, laughing like the mirth of a hoarse wave, taking him firmly by the ear with his finger and thumb, said—"Gather them up, sir—gather up your fire-arms!" And, as Mr. Stafford persisted in disobeying, another twitch was given to his ear, and another and another, while he screamed and wept through passion, and pain, danced and twisted to be free, to the amusement of the spectators, who enjoyed his punishment and humiliation.

"Sir," said Isabella, addressing his tormentor, the frantic cries of Mr. Stafford having brought her from the cabin, where she retired at the beginning of their altercation; "if a fly sting us, we may drive it away, without taking pleasure in its tortures; and it is but a cowardly revenge to torment an insect."

"Well, ma’am," said the skipper, withdrawing his hand from the ear of the other; "I have no wish to hurt the thing; only, after his impudence to you as well as to mysel’, he had better have a care what sort o’ colours he hoists for the rest o’ the passage—that’s all." The agony and confusion of Mr. Stafford cannot be described. He blushed, swore, threatened, and wept by turns—rushed to the cabin, hurried back, threw his card in the captain’s face—stamped, stormed, and vowed vengeance, till he became silent from exhaustion. A few weeks before, he had left London for the north, partly to avoid the importunities of his creditors, whose claims had been discharged after his departure by the too fond indulgence of a foolish mother, but chiefly to carry into effect his long-cherished designs against the beautiful wife of his college companion, whose misfortunes caused him now to look upon her as an easy and lawful prize; and it was under this conviction that he watched her departure for London and took his passage in the same vessel. Mortified at the ridiculous figure he exhibited, he resolved to suspend all further attempts until they arrived at London.

But three days were not past, notwithstanding the misfortune of the pistol case, until the Honourable Edward Stafford, through the assistance of self-confidence or impudence, with pretended wit and foppish extravagance, was again the principal personage in the vessel, his brandy, his claret, and his cigars,operated marvellously in his favour with the gentlemen. Every one sought his society, and called him a good fellow. The weather had hitherto been too fine for sea-sickness, and his agreeable attentions, his vivacity and elegant compliments rendered him not less a favourite with the ladies. Isabella alone despised him; while he, affecting to despise her in return, circulated foul whispers against her character. Whatever doubts there might be in the minds of his auditory respecting the veracity of his accusation, the breath of slander is exhaled from a poison so black, that for a time its passing shadow will veil the holiness of a saint, and bedim the radiance of a seraph. Isabella, therefore, was, shunned by her own sex as contagious, and by the other treated with cold indifference. Occasionally she observed their scrutinizing glances, or coloured at their half audible whispers, but, in the purity of her own heart, she suspected not the cause. In the master of the vessel only she still found a friend, who although rough as his own element evinced towards her the tenderness of a parent.

For some days the wind was adverse, and on the Sabbath morning, being the fifth from their leaving Newcastle, it was a dead calm. The skipper was walking backward and forward upon the deck, now glancing at the clouds, and now at the shore, with the countenance of a man who considers he has reason neither to be satisfied with himself nor with others. In the cabin some appeared to read, others yawned, while some went to the deck and instantly returned. The ladies looked at each other, whispered, fretted, and exclaimed— "How tedious!" Isabella sat silent amidst the unhappy group, "among them, but not of them."

Mr. Stafford, who hitherto had been whistling at his toilette, turned round and exclaimed—"Dumb as the foundations of a Quaker’s chapel! Come," continued he, placing a couple of bottles of claret upon the table, "my pantomimic company of tragedians, allow me to administer the comforts of a calm to the necessities of your poor dumb mouths;" and, as he poured out the wine, he sang a few lines of an idle song. The company looked upon each other with a flitting expression of horror—none of them had been accustomed to hear the Sabbath so desecrated, though, as he proceeded, a few of them relaxed into a smile. But Isabella, rising, said emphatically —"Sir, the FOOL hath said in his heart, there is no God!" And she pronounced the word, fool, with a pointed sarcasm, which, although it in some measure took from the spirit of the original, rendered it more poignant in its present application.

"Your ladyship!" replied he, sneeringly, and bowing to her with an air of mock humility. "Lily of the saints!" he added, "preach on, that the humblest of thy slaves may treasure up in his heart of hearts, the pious honey of thine own sweet lips!"

He paused, and continuing his attitude of mock humility, commenced to hum the tune which he before had attempted to sing.

"Sir," said Isabella, glancing upon him with scorn and compassion, "I pity you."

"Now for a sermon!" he added, but the words faltered on his tongue, and he sat down in confusion.

"Sermon or no sermon," said the skipper, entering from the foot of the cabin stairs, where he had descended to stop the singing himself, "I’ll neither allow Sabbath-breaking, nor any wickedness that I can prevent, on board a ship o’ mine."

"Come, old prig," returned Stafford, "I’ve paid for my passage, I suppose, and I’ll have you to know that I’ll amuse myself as I please. Don’t think, my good fellow, that because I have listened to a little sermonising from a pretty face that I am to be bored with your croaking." And he began to whistle a waltz.

"Poor thing!" resumed the skipper, "ye are to be pitied, after a’. I declare, when I see bits o’ dandy creatures like you glorying in your wickedness, and doubling your nieves in the face o’ Heaven, it puts me in mind o’ a peacock spreading its tail to stop a whirlwind, or a cockle opening its shell to swallow a waterspout!"

At this moment the breeze sprang up, and the mate summoning all hands to deck, Mr. Stafford was left unheeded to reflect on his own folly. During the night the wind blew very fresh; and the vessel, having left the land and entered Boston Deep, laboured considerably. From the ladies’ cabin issued prayers, shrieks, and groans of suffering, and every one devoutly wished to be once more blest with the tediousness of a calm; and as the vessel yawned, rocked, and staggered with the heavy swell, and the ponderous boom, with its mainsail flapping like thunder, grating, crashing, clanking, and tearing with sudden jerk, or with fearful lunge reversing the laws of gravity, and tearing both mast and vessel into the sea, scream rose upon scream, sickness and terror met in conflict. Babel seemed above them and thunder below. The wind bellowed more madly. The plunges of the vessel became more frequent and more alarming. There was a running to and fro upon the deck—a bawling and a bustle. Darkness hung over them—thick, substantial darkness, rendering the very surge invisible. The heavy clouds seemed embracing the waters, and the crushed winds roared between the pressure of their meeting. A storm, by almost imperceptible degrees, had circled round them. Every sail of the vessel was reefed, and both anchors dropped, but the chain cable snapped like the web of a gossamer, and she lunged and tugged from her remaining anchor, dragging it after her, like a fiery horse tearing from the rein of a schoolboy. The mast bent as a proud man bends in the day of adversity; the topmast went overboard, striking heavily upon the deck as it fell. It struck immediately over the bed of the Honourable Edward Stafford. A loud shriek issued from the curtained railings; they were flung open, and out sprang Mr. Stafford, dragging after him the bed-clothes, wringing his hands, and crying to Heaven for mercy. The dressed and the half-dressed now stood around the floor, clinging to each other and the furniture of the cabin for safety—each speaking and no one hearing;—but a clamour, loud confused, and fearful, mingled with the noise of the wind and waves. Isabella alone remained tranquil. The vessel had dragged her anchor for several miles; they were in the midst of breakers, and the increased confusion upon deck announced the horrors of a lee shore, when she suddenly brought to, and half turning to the weather, a heavy sea broke over her, sweeping from the deck the boat, casks, and spars, and gushing down the cabin stairs, encompassed its terror-stricken inmates to the knees. The heart of Mr. Stafford sprang to his throat, and his feet to the table, where he remained upon his knees, wringing his hands by the side of a flickering lamp. While he was in this position, the vessel was suddenly driven upon her side; for, through the darkness of the night, another vessel had run against her, and she being cracked with age, the bowsprit of the other went through planks and timbers, and before it gave way, projected rudely several feet into the cabin, forming an unexpected and unwelcome intruder upon the motley scene of sickness and despair. Fear had already fastened the gurgling gasp in the throats of many of the passengers, when a voice from the deck exclaimed—"Ladies and gentlemen, look to yourselves!" It was the signal of death. A general groan followed. There was a rush to the cabin stairs. Calm as Isabella had hitherto been she was now changed. It is difficult to look the grim angel in the face with indifference; but she rushed not to the stairs with the others. Mr. Stafford was driven from the table by the uncourteous visit of the bowsprit, and now wallowed upon the floor, buffeting with the brine, imagining himself at the bottom of the vast deep. The concussion of the vessels had brought his head in violent conjunction with the cabin floor, which, with his excited fears, deprived him of the consciousness of time and place; and being immersed in water, he continued to grasp, groan, shriek, and flounder upon the floor, seizing the heels of his fellow-passengers—who in their eagerness for escape, had wedged up the cabin door—doubting nothing, as they trode upon his delicate fingers, that he had thrust them into the mouth of a ravenous fish, which had come to feast upon his unfortunate body.

"Save me!—save me!" he cried again and again, as he continued tossing and rolling in the water.

The vessel again righted, and he was swept to the feet of Isabella, who, aroused by his cries of terror, raised him to his feet. He struggled, gasped, trembled. His eyes and mouth opened to their utmost width—he appeared to draw the breath of an hour in a moment; and gazing round vacantly, he seemed to marvel whether he was in the world of men, of fish, or of spirits.

"You are living, brave Sir!" said Isabella, sarcastically, smiling at his excess of terror; "but," added she, leaving him, "the Sabbath-breaker and the scoffer are not the most courageous in the hour of danger."

It is only necessary to add that the vessels, having got disentangled, with daybreak the storm abated; and, on the ninth day after leaving Newcastle, the vessel drew up off the Hermitage Stairs, Wapping, with the loss of topmast anchor, and cables, beef and water casks, spars, oars, and other minor et ceteras, together with damaged bulwarks and hulk; but with the crew and passengers safe.

Isabella had not had an opportunity of writing to her husband, to acquaint him with the name of the vessel in which she would take her passage, nor when she would leave Newcastle; and, as they drew up in the tier, while the friends and relatives of other pasengers thronged around them, to her no hand was extended. She stood as one deserted, upon the threshold of the Nineveh of nations; and the crowds that passed before her seemed as the ghosts of solitude, giving tongues to bereavement and forms to desolation. She felt herself alone in the midst of millions, solitary as a wearied bird whose wing has drooped in the wilderness.

She went on shore, where she was immediately accosted by a hackney-coachman, whom she requested to convey her to a Mr. Fulton’s in Cornhill, to whose care her husband had requested her to forward the letters she addressed to him. She was informed by a skipper that Cornhill was not above a mile and-a-half from the wharf; and, as the coach drove on, passing the bustling crowds who hurried along the streets, she forgot for a moment her own feelings in contemplation of the motley scene. The coach stopped facing the Mint, and the driver, leaving his box, spoke a few words with another coachman, who immediately drove rapidly in the direction of Watling Street. After a few minutes delay, the coachman again mounted the box. She had never before looked upon a countenance where a grovelling and villainous soul had written in such broad and unblushing characters its own worthlessness. It was one of those countenances which it is hardly possible to pass upon the street without disliking. In it were pourtrayed meanness, servility, depravity, and deceit—it was purple with dissipation, and blotched with iniquity. She shuddered to find herself, though in the broad day, and in the midst of the metropolis, under the care of such a man. She began to feel conscious that they must have proceeded much farther than the distance mentioned by the skipper, and with a degree of alarm, she inquired at the driver if he rightly understood where she wished to be set down.

"Vy, yes," replied he, "I knows the house well enough; it is Mr. Fulton’s of Cornhill, aint it?"

"Yes," she answered; and he added that they would be there within five minutes, and drove on. Within the time he specified, they stopped before an elegant house in a square, the silence of which was only broken by the rattling of a few fashionable carriages. The coachman alighted, and a liveried servant stood ready to receive her. She inquired if the house to which she had been conducted was Mr. Fulton’s of Cornhill,. and the servant answered that it was. She, however, had been within it but a few minutes, when she became conscious that she was under the roof and in the power of the Honourable Edward Stafford. Despair gave her strength; she raised her eyes to Heaven, and in the emphatic words of Judith, prayed

—" Strengthen my hand!" Grasping a fruit-knife, which lay near her, in her hand, she made a desperate effort to escape; and, although the servants aided their master in opposing her, yet, as my readers have already had a specimen of his courage, and as the heroism of his domestics were not of that description which "smiles at the drawn dagger and defies its point," they will not be surprised to learn that through half-a-dozen such assailants one weak woman, rendered desperate, forced her escape.

Having reached Cornhill, she was from thence conducted, by one of Mr. Fulton’s clerks, to Red Lion Square, where her husband then lodged. Their meeting was one of sorrow and of joy; but I need not describe it. Alexander perceived that she was agitated, and he entreated to know the cause. She, fearful of the consequences that might arise from divulging it would have concealed it; but it is difficult for an affectionate wife to conceal from her husband aught that concerns him; and within half-an-hour he knew all that had passed during her passage to London, and since she had arrived. He would have rushed forth on the instant to seek revenge, but she clung around his neck, she entreated him not to leave her, and he consented to defer the punishment of Stafford to a more favourable moment.

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