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 Isabellas 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 husbands 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
stairslooked knowingly towards the mast headgave two or three springy
struts across the afterdeckcast an aristocratical glance around the
passengersstood suddenly stillbent pryingly over the companionstole
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 didnt 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 friendif
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."
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 respector I shall know how to resent your
"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 skippera round, red-faced, jolly-looking seaman, who had
observed from the helm the conduct of Mr. Stafford; "vast there, I
sayIll have no monkey tricks on board o my ship. That young lady is
under my especial care; for, dye see, her father was once one of my
owners, and so was her husband and his father before himand I just tell
ye, ceevily, my canny lad, ye had better shove your boat off."
Mr. Stafford, surveying him with a look of contempt, "do you know to whom
"I neither know nor care,
young gentleman," replied the skipper; "but Ill let you know that neither
you nor any man shall came fellow, or use any indecent liberties
on board my ship, so ye had better take in a reef, or keep a look out for
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! Ill 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 Im maister of this
"Confound you and your
vessel!"retorted the little man, stamping more passionately than
before; "dare you open your frogs 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 sparrows! As sure as
death, Sir, if ye drop another word o your insolence to me Ill 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 dont ask my pardon instantly,
before the whole ships company, Sir, Ill put a brace of bullets through
your asss head. I will, sir! Do you think with your cowardly carcase to
intimidate me? Were you as big as Goliath, Id let you know Im a
"Here, Jack, take the
helm," roared the skipper to one of his crew, "and now, ye chattering
morsel ohumanity, Ill 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 Ill no hurt
himsmash 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! Ill teach such fellows how to interfere with a
gentleman! Unhand him, and Ill 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"Dont hold him, gentlementhese will do
"I tell ye again, sirs,"
shouted the skipper, "dont hold me! Do you think a thing like that shall
threaten to shoot me on board o my own ship?" And he struggled to
"See to yourselves,
gentlemen!"cried Mr. Stafford, laying his hand fiercely upon the
"O sir!pray sir!dear
sir!"screamed the ladies, grasping him in their arms.
"Oh, dont be alarmed,"
said the little Honourable; "pon honour, I shall only wing himI have had
some experience in these matters."
The skipper made a
desperate rush forwardthe ladies screamed louderMr. Stafford seized the
pistol case furiously, crying"Then die, fellow!"----
His exclamation was cut
shorta 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 gentlemans sea stock of cigars! The gentlemen
laughedthe 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, sirgather 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
"Well, maam," 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 passagethats all." The agony and confusion of Mr. Stafford cannot be
described. He blushed, swore, threatened, and wept by turnsrushed to the
cabin, hurried back, threw his card in the captains facestamped,
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 Quakers 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 horrornone 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
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, "Ill neither allow
Sabbath-breaking, nor any wickedness that I can prevent, on board a ship
"Come, old prig," returned
Stafford, "Ive paid for my passage, I suppose, and Ill have you to know
that Ill amuse myself as I please. Dont 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
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 decka
bawling and a bustle. Darkness hung over themthick, 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 safetyeach 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-passengerswho in their eagerness for escape, had
wedged up the cabin doordoubting 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 widthhe 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
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. Fultons 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 deceitit 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
"Vy, yes," replied he, "I
knows the house well enough; it is Mr. Fultons 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. Fultons 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. Fultons 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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