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Juliet Waldron

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The Orphan's Story
By Juliet Waldron
Monday, January 11, 2010

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For my favorite "Founder's" birthday, I decided to add an excerpt from my novel about Alexander Hamilton., beginning with the burial of his mother. A boy of eleven, impoverished and alone, he must begin to earn a living.

...

The Lyttons buried his mother in the family graveyard. Although they--aloof from their black sheep--had done nothing to help when she'd been alive, in death, they reclaimed her. Much of the small estate was used up by the fancy funeral they insisted upon, although one useful thing came from it. James and Alexander got the first shoes and stockings they'd had in years.

On the day of the internment, Alexander was barely able to walk, dizzily clinging to his brother's arm. Under the pounding sun of an upland plantation, the windy roar of the canefield in their ears, the Hamilton boys wept.
Beautiful Rachel! Rachel who had rocked them, who had taught them, who had loved them and shamed them--Rachel was gone.
***
Alexander slowly closed the heavy ledger. Though he was barely half finished, it had already been a long, long day. Numbers swam before his eyes, so he rested his curly head on the cover.

The louvers were angled against the sun, but the heat of a heavy, thunderous summer afternoon invaded the room. No one would come into the shop for a little. It was after dinner, siesta for the Spanish and Portuguese, and for anyone else with leisure.

His gut was stuffed with bread and fresh fried flying fish—there had been a delicious dinner for the servants today--and he had eaten as much as he could hold. Tomorrow, it would be back to the usual salt fish goo spread over yams or breadfruit. The food, the work that had begun for him before dawn combined with the muggy heat to weigh him down.

A long row of two-story pink stucco buildings flanked the Christiansted square, Cruger’s store among them. It had a high ceiling and a sheltering verandah beneath a colonnade, so it stayed cool in the morning. Nevertheless, by 2:00 p.m. the room was almost as hot, and far stuffier, than the sun-blistered street outside.

Beyond the door, nothing moved. No immense casks rolled by sweating blacks, no oxen pulling high sided, lumbering wagons. No planters in carriages with their ladies, fancy and otherwise, no heart-rending lamentations from the slave pens or shrieks from the public whipping post.

Only gulls were busy, wheeling and shrieking, making an incredible din. Alex knew they were behind the building, fighting over what the cook had tossed out.

The sea could now be heard, rhythmically striking the dock. To Alexander, this was the fence that kept him in. Perhaps, someday, it might be a highway to the greater world, a world of which he continually read and dreamed.

His work area was a desk with a steep slant. The ledger rested on a narrow tray at the bottom; the wood was ink-stained and grimy. Alexander looked down to see bare calves and his feet, dangling well above the broad, saw-dusted planks of the floor.

On every side, crammed around him and around the counter, were casks and barrels of every size. Some contained Irish butter, some salt pork or salt cod. Others contained flour, keg bread, cornmeal or rice. Bohes or Congo tea sat in canisters. Yard goods were measured on one counter then laid away in long pigeon holes which occupied most of one wall. Kitchen utensils and jars of green or blue containing medicinals occupied other shelves.

Below, pipes of Madeira, hams, and barrels of Virginia tobacco shouldered in the cool, constant temperature of the cellar. In a warehouse area at the back was stacked white pine from New England, Georgia pitch pine, white and red oak staves and headings, and casks of hinges, hooks, and spouts.

Behind the counter, another clerk lay sleeping, his snores practically rattling the lids from the apothecary jars. Alexander knew he should be taking advantage of this time and resting, too, but he was too skinny to risk the floor and the irate toe of a planter's boot if he overslept. The last time it had happened, his side had been blue for weeks.

Someday, he thought, I shall sail away from here. I shall make my fortune and live like a gentleman. I shall have silk stockings and shoes with silver buckles, ivory buttons on my vest and knee breeches. People will respectfully doff their hats to me, the way they once greeted my father, in that long ago time when we lived on Nevis.

It will be acknowledged that I, Alexander Hamilton, am the true born son of James Hamilton, Gentleman. Furthermore, it shall be known that I am the grandson of Alexander, Laird of Cambuskeith, descended in a direct line from the Dukes of Hamilton.

I shall earn their respect, for I shall work hard, harder than anyone else. I shall study the books Mother left me, all thirty of them, until I know them by heart. The Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, the geographies, the histories and books of etiquette in English and French shall be my teachers.

If there is a war, I shall join the army and risk my life boldly for the King. Someday I will be famous, the kind of fame which comes to a man of honor. Powerful men will recognize my good judgment and value my ability to get things done. By my wit, by my character and by sterling service, I shall acquire a mighty patron!

***********

       Web Site: Mozart's Wife

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