Part 2 out of 5
year, and the time of my graduation was at hand. And it was then that the
great event happened which changed my whole life by giving me something
to live for.
It was the custom for the first class, the year of its graduation, to
attend the second of the grand assemblies given by the governor while the
House of Burgesses was in session, and we had been looking forward to the
event with no small anticipation. Many of us, myself among the number,
had ordered suits from London for the occasion, and I thought that I
looked uncommon well as I arrayed myself that night before the glass.
Such is the vanity of youth, for I have since been assured many times by
one who saw me that I was a very ordinary looking fellow. Half a dozen of
us, the better to gather courage, went down Duke of Gloucester Street arm
in arm toward the governor's palace with its great lantern alight to
honor the occasion, and mounted the steps together,--our trifling over
our toilets had made us late,--and as we entered the high doorway, did
our best to look as though a great assembly was an every-day event to us.
A moment later, I saw a sight which took my breath away.
It was only a girl of seventeen--but such a girl! Can I describe her as I
close my eyes and see her again before me? No, I cannot trust my pen, nor
would any such description do her justice; for her charm lay not in
beauty only, but in a certain rare, sweet girlishness, which seemed to
form a nimbus round her. Yet was her beauty worth remarking, too; and I
have loved to think that, while others saw that only, I, looking with
more perceptive eyes, saw more truly to her heart. I did not reason all
this out at the first; I only stood and stared at her amazed, until some
one knocking against me brought me to my senses. There were a dozen men
about her, and one of these I saw with delight was Dr. Price, our
registrar at the college, a benign old man, who could deny me nothing. I
waited with scarce concealed impatience until he turned away from the
group, and then I was at his side in an instant.
"Dr. Price," I whispered eagerly, "will you do me the favor of presenting
me to that young lady?"
"Why, bless my soul!" he exclaimed, looking at me over his glasses in
astonishment, "you seem quite excited. Which young lady?"
"The one you have just left," I answered breathlessly.
He looked at me quizzically for a moment, and laughed to himself as
though I had uttered a joke.
"Why, certainly," he said. "Come with me."
I could have kissed his hand in my gratitude, as he turned back toward
the group. I followed a pace behind, and felt that my hands were
trembling. The group opened a little as we approached, and in a moment we
were before her.
"Miss Randolph," said Dr. Price, "here is a young gentleman who has just
begged of me the favor of an introduction. Permit me to present Mr.
"Why, 'pon my word," cried that young lady, "'t is cousin Tom!" and as I
stood gaping at her like a fool, in helpless bewilderment, she came to me
and gave me her hand with the prettiest grace in the world.
I DECIDE TO BE A SOLDIER
Now who would have thought that in three short years the red-cheeked girl
whom I had left at Riverview, and of whom I had never thought twice,
could have grown into this brown-eyed fairy? Certainly not I, and my
hopeless astonishment must have been quite apparent, for Mistress Dorothy
laughed merrily as she looked at me.
"Come, cousin," she cried, "you look as though you saw a ghost. I assure
you I am not a ghost, but very substantial flesh and blood."
"'Twas not of a ghost I was thinking," I said, recovering my wits a
little under the magic of her voice, which I thought the sweetest I had
ever heard, "but of the three Graces, and methought I saw a fourth."
She gazed at me a moment with bright, intent eyes, the faintest touch of
color in her cheek. Then she smiled--a smile that brought two tiny
dimples into being--oh, such a smile! But there--why weary you with
telling what I felt? You have all felt very like it when you gazed into a
certain pair of eyes,--or if you have not, you will some day,--and if you
never do, why, God pity you!
She laid her hand on my arm and turned to the group about us.
"Gentlemen," she said, with a little curtsy, "I know you will excuse us.
My cousin Tom and I have not seen each other these three years, and have
a hundred things to say;" and so I walked off with her, my head in the
air, and my heart beating madly, the proudest man in the colony, I dare
say, and with as good cause, too, as any.
Dorothy led the way, for I was too blinded with joy to see where I was
going, and with a directness which showed acquaintance with the great
house, proceeded to a corner under the stair which had a bit of tapestry
before it that quite shut us out from interruption. She sat down opposite
me, and I pinched my arm to make sure I was not dreaming.
"Why, Tom," she cried, with a little laugh, as she saw me wince at the
pain, "you surely do not think yourself asleep?"
"I know not whether 't is dreaming or enchantment," said I; "but sleep or
sorcery, 't is very pleasant and I trust will never end."
"What is it that you think enchantment, Tom?" she asked.
"What could it be but you?" I retorted, and she smiled the slyest little
smile in the world. "I swear that when I entered that door ten minutes
since, I was wide awake as any man, but the moment I clapt eyes on you, I
lost all sense of my surroundings, and have since trod on air."
"Oh, what do you think it can be?" she questioned, pretending to look
mightily concerned, "Do you think it is the fever, Tom?"
But I was far past teasing.
"To think that you should be Dorothy!" I said. "I may call you Dorothy,
may I not?"
"Why, of course you may!" she cried. "Are we not cousins, Tom?"
What a thrill it gave me to hear her call me Tom! Of course we were not
cousins, but I fancy all the tortures of the Inquisition could not at
that moment have made me deny the relationship. Well, we talked and
talked. Of what I said, I have not the slightest remembrance,--it was all
foolish enough, no doubt,--but Dorothy told me how her mother had been
managing the estate, greatly assisted by the advice of a Major
Washington, living ten miles up the river at Mount Vernon; how her
brother James had been tutored by my old preceptor, but showed far
greater liking for his horse and cocks than for his books; and how Mr.
Washington had come to Riverview a month before to propose that Mistress
Dorothy accompany him and his mother and sister to Williamsburg, and how
her mother had consented, and the flurry there was to get her ready, and
how she finally was got ready, and started, and reached Williamsburg, and
had been with the Washingtons for a week, and had attended the first
assembly, which accounted for her knowing the house so well, and had had
a splendid time.
"And who was it you sat with here last time, Dorothy?" I asked, for I
could not bear that she should connect this place with any one but me.
"Let me see," and the sly minx seemed to hesitate in the effort at
recollection. "Was it Mr. Burke? No, I was with him on the veranda. Was
it Mr. Forsythe? No. Ah, I have it!" and she paused a moment to prolong
my agony. "It was with Betty Washington; she had something to tell me
which must be told at once, and which was very private. But what a
great goose you are, to be sure. Do you know, Tom, I had no idea that
melancholy boy I saw sometimes at Riverview would grow into such
"Such a what, Dorothy?" I asked, as she hesitated.
"Such a big, overgrown fellow, with all his heart in his face. What a
monstrous fine suit that is you have on, Tom!"
The jade was laughing at me, and here was I, who was a year her senior
and twice her size, sitting like an idiot, red to the ears. In faith, the
larger a man is, the more the women seem tempted to torment him; but on
me she presently took pity, and as the fiddles tuned up in the great
ballroom, she led the way thither and permitted me to tread a minuet with
her. Of course there were a score of others eager to share her dances,
but she was more kind to me than I deserved, and in particular, when the
fiddles struck up "High Betty Martin," threw herself upon my arm and
laughed up into my face in the sheer joy of living. But between the
dances I had great opportunity of being jealous, and spent the time
moping in a corner, where, as I reviewed her talk, the frequency of her
mention of Mr. Washington occurred to me, and at the end of five minutes
I had conceived a desperate jealousy of him.
"How old is this Mr. Washington?" I asked, when I had managed to get by
her side again.
"Not yet twenty-two," she answered, and then as she saw my gloomy face,
she burst into a peal of laughter. "He is adorable," she continued, when
she had regained her breath. "Not handsome, perhaps, but so courtly, so
dignified, so distinguished. I can't imagine why he is not here to-night,
for he is very fond of dancing. Do you know, I fancy Governor Dinwiddie
has selected him for some signal service, for it was at his invitation
that Mr. Washington came to Williamsburg. He is just the kind of man one
would fix upon instinctively to do anything that was very dangerous or
"I dare say," I muttered, biting my lips with vexation, and avoiding
Dorothy's laughing eyes. I was a mere puppy, or I should have known that
a woman never praises openly the man she loves.
"I am sure you will admire him when you meet him," she continued, "as I
am determined you shall do this very night. He is a neighbor, you know,
and I'll wager that when you come to live at Riverview, you will be
forever riding over to Mount Vernon."
"Oh, doubtless!" I said, between my teeth, and I longed to have Mr.
Washington by the throat. "How comes it I heard nothing of him when I was
"'Tis only since last year he has been there," she answered. "The estate
belonged to his elder brother, Lawrence, who died July a year ago, and
Major Washington has since then been with his mother, helping her in its
management. Before that time, he had been over the mountains surveying
all that western country, and then to the West Indies, where he had the
smallpox, because he would not break a promise to dine with a family
where it was. But what is the matter? You seem quite ill."
"It is nothing," I said, after a moment. "It was the smallpox which
killed my father and my mother."
"Pardon me," and her hand was on mine for an instant. Indeed, the shudder
which always shook me whenever I heard that dread infection mentioned had
already passed. "He has the rank of major," she continued, hoping
doubtless to distract my thoughts, "because he has been appointed
adjutant-general of one of the districts, but somehow we rarely call him
major, for he says he does not want the title until he has done something
to deserve it."
"He seems a very extraordinary man," I said gloomily, "to have done so
much and to be yet scarce twenty-two."
"He is an extraordinary man," cried Dorothy, "as you will say when you
meet him. A word of caution, Tom," she added, seeing my desperate plight,
and relenting a little. "Say nothing to him of the tender passion, for he
has lately been crossed in love, and is very sore about it. A certain
Mistress Cary, to whom he was paying court, hath rejected him, and
wounded him as much in his self-esteem as in his love, which, I fancy,
was not great, but which, on that account, he is anxious to have appear
even greater, as is the way with men."
"Trust me," said I, with a great lightening of the heart; "I shall be
very careful not to wound him, Dorothy."
"Pray, why dost thou smile so, Tom?" she asked, her eyes agleam. "Is it
that there is a pair of bright eyes here in Williamsburg which you are
dying to talk about? Well, I will be your confidante."
"Oh, Dorothy!" I stammered, but my tongue refused to utter the thought
which was in my heart,--that there was only one pair of eyes in the whole
world I cared for, and that I was looking into them at this very moment.
"Ah, you blush, you stammer!" cried my tormentor. "Come, I'll wager
there's a pretty maid. Tell me her name, Tom."
I looked at her and gripped my hands at my side. If only this crowd
was not about us--if only we were alone together somewhere--I would be
"And why do you look so savage, Tom?" she asked, and I could have sworn
she had read my thought. "You are not angry with me already! Why, you
have known me scarce an hour!"
I could endure no more, and I reached out after her, heedless of the time
and of the place. Doubtless there would have been great scandal among
the stately dames who surrounded us, but that she sprang away from me
with a little laugh and ran plump into a man who had been hastening
toward her. The sight of her in the arms of a stranger brought me to my
senses, and I stopped dead where I was.
"'Tis Mr. Washington!" she cried, looking up into his face, and as he set
her gently on her feet, she held out her hand to him. He raised it to his
lips with a courtly grace I greatly envied. "Mr. Washington, this is my
cousin, Thomas Stewart."
"I am very happy to meet Mr. Stewart," he said, and he grasped my
hand with a heartiness which warmed my heart. I had to look up to
meet his eyes, for he must have been an inch or two better than six
feet in height, and of a most commanding presence. His eyes were
blue-gray, penetrating, and overhung by a heavy brow, his face long
rather than broad, with high, round cheekbones and a large mouth,
which could smile most agreeably, or--as I was afterward to
learn--close in a firm, straight line with dogged resolution. At this
moment his face was luminous with joy, and he was plainly laboring
under some intense emotion.
"Where is my mother, Dolly?" he asked. "I have news for her."
"She is in the reception hall with the governor's wife," she answered.
"But may we not have your news, Mr. Washington?"
He paused and looked back at her a moment.
"'T is all settled," he said, "and I am to start at once."
"I was right, then!" she cried, her eyes sparkling in sympathy with
his. "I was just telling cousin Tom I believed the governor had a
mission for you."
"Well, so he has, and I got my papers not ten minutes since. You could
never guess my destination."
"Boston? New York? London?" she questioned, but he shook his head at
each, smiling evermore broadly.
"No, 't is none of those. 'T is Venango."
"Venango?" cried Dorothy. "Where, in heaven's name, may that be?" Nor was
I any the less at a loss.
"'T is a French outpost in the Ohio country," answered Washington, "and
my mission, in brief, is to warn the French off English territory."
Dorothy gazed at him, eyes wide with amazement. There was something in
the speaker's words and look which fired my blood.
"You will need companions, will you not, Major Washington?" I asked.
He smiled in comprehension, as he met my eyes.
"Only two or three, Mr. Stewart. Two or three guides and a few Indians
will be all."
My disappointment must have shown in my face, for he gave me his
"I thank you for your offer, Mr. Stewart," he said earnestly. "Believe
me, if it were possible, I should ask no better companion. But do not
despair. I have little hope the French will heed the warning, and 't
will then be a question of arms. In such event, there will be great need
of brave and loyal men, and you will have good opportunity to see the
country beyond the mountains. But I must find my mother, and tell her of
my great good fortune."
I watched him as he strode away, and I fancy there was a new light in my
eyes,--certainly there was a new purpose in my heart. For I had been
often sadly puzzled as to what I should do when once I was out of
college. I had no mind to become an idler at Riverview, but was
determined to win myself a place in the world. Yet when I came to look
about me, I saw small prospect of success. The professions--the law,
medicine, and even the church--were overrun with vagabonds who had
brought them so low that no gentleman could think of earning a
livelihood--much less a place in the world--by them. Trade was equally
out of the question, for there was little trade in the colony, and that
in the hands of sharpers. But Mr. Washington's words had opened a new
vista. What possibilities lay in the profession of arms! And my
resolution was taken in an instant,--I would be a soldier. I said nothing
of my resolve to Dorothy, fearing that she would laugh at me, as she
doubtless would have done, and the remainder of the evening passed very
quickly. Dorothy presented me to Mrs. Washington, a stately and beautiful
lady, who spoke of her son with evident love and pride. He had been
called away, she said, for he had much to do, and thus reminded, I
remembered that it was time for me also to depart. Before I went, I
obtained permission from Mrs. Washington to call and see her next
day,--Dorothy standing by with eyes demurely downcast, as though she did
not know it was she and she only whom I hoped to see.
"I am very sorry I teased you, cousin Tom," she said very softly, as I
turned to her to say goodnight. "Your eagerness to go with Mr. Washington
pleased me mightily. It is just what I should have done if I were a man.
Good-night," and before I could find my tongue, she was again at Mrs.
I made my way back to my room at the college, and went to bed, but it
seemed to me that the night, albeit already far spent, would never pass.
Sleep was out of the question, and I tossed from side to side, thinking
now of Dorothy, now of my new friend and his perilous expedition over the
Alleghenies, now of my late resolve. It was in no wise weakened in the
morning, as so many resolves of youth are like to be, and so soon as I
had dressed and breakfasted, I sought out the best master of fence in the
place,--a man whose skill had won him much renown, and who for three or
four years past, finding life on the continent grown very unhealthy, had
been imparting such of it as he could to the Virginia gentry,--and
insisted that he give me a lesson straightway.
He gave me a half hour's practice, for the most part in quatre and
tierce,--my A B C's, as it were,--and the ease with which he held me off
and bent his foil against my breast at pleasure chafed me greatly, and
showed me how much I had yet to learn, besides making me somewhat less
vain of my size and strength. For my antagonist was but a small man, and
yet held me at a distance with consummate ease, and twisted my foil from
my hand with a mere turn of his wrist. Still, he had the grace to commend
me when the bout was ended, and I at once arranged to take two lessons
daily while I remained in Williamsburg.
It was ten o'clock when I turned my steps toward the house where the
Washingtons were stopping, and, with much inward trepidation, walked up
to the door and knocked. In a moment I was in the presence of the ladies,
Mrs. Washington receiving me very kindly, and Dorothy looking doubly
adorable in her simple morning frock. But I was ill at ease, and the
sound of voices in an adjoining room increased my restlessness.
"Do you not see what it is, madam?" cried Dorothy, at last. "He has no
wish for the society of women this morning. He has gone mad like the
rest of them. He is dying to talk of war and the French and expeditions
over the mountains, as Mr. Washington and his friends are doing. Is it
not so, sir?"
"Indeed, I cannot deny it," I said, with a very red face. "I am immensely
interested in Major Washington's expedition."
Mrs. Washington smiled kindly and bade Dorothy take me to the gentlemen,
which she did with a wicked twinkle in her eye that warned me I should
yet pay dear for my effrontery. Mr. Washington and half a dozen friends
were seated about the room, talking through clouds of tobacco smoke of
the coming expedition. There were George Fairfax, and Colonel Nelson, and
Judge Pegram, and three or four other gentlemen, to all of whom I was
introduced. The host waved me to a pile of pipes and case of
sweet-scented on the table, and I was soon adding my quota to the clouds
which enveloped us, and listening with all my ears to what was said.
It had been agreed that the start should be made at once, the party
meeting at Will's Creek, where the Ohio company had a station, and
proceeding thence to Logstown, and so on to Venango, or, if necessary, to
the fort on French Creek. How my cheeks burned as I thought of that
journey through the wilderness and over the mountains, and how I longed
to be of the party! But I soon saw how impossible this was, for Mr.
Washington's companions must needs be hardened men, accustomed to the
perils of the forest and acquainted with the country. A bowl of punch was
brought, and after discussing this, the company separated, though not
till all of them had wrung Mr. Washington's hand and wished him a quick
journey. I was going with the others, when he detained me.
"I wish a word with you, Mr. Stewart," he said. "I shall have to leave
for Mount Vernon at once, and make the trip as rapidly as possible, in
order to prepare for this expedition. May I ask if it would be possible
for you to accompany my mother and Miss Dolly home when their visit here
is ended, which will be in about a week's time?"
"Certainly," I answered warmly, "I shall be only too glad to be of
service to you and to them, Mr. Washington," and I thought with tingling
nerves that Dorothy and I could not fail to be thrown much together.
So it was arranged, and that afternoon he set out for Mount Vernon,
whence he would go direct to Will's Creek. His mother cried a little
after he was gone, so Dorothy told me, but she was proud of her boy, as
she had good cause to be, and appeared before the world with smiling
face. The week which followed flew by like a dream. I took my lesson
with the foils morning and evening, and soon began to make some progress
in the art. As much time as Dorothy would permit, I spent with her, and
in one of our talks she told me that she had drawn from her mother by
much questioning the story of my father's marriage and of the quarrel
"When I heard," she concluded, "how Riverview might have been yours but
for that unhappy dispute,"--so Mrs. Stewart had not told the whole truth,
and I smiled grimly to myself,--"I saw how unjustly and harshly we had
always used you, and I made up my mind to be very good to you when next
we met, as some slight recompense."
"And is it for that only you are kind to me, Dorothy?" I asked. "Is it
not a little for my own sake?"
"Hoity-toity," she cried, "an you try me too far, I shall withdraw my
favor altogether, sir. My cheeks burn still when I think what might have
happened at the ball the other night, when you so far forgot yourself as
to grab at me like a wild Indian. 'Twas well I had my wits about me."
"But, indeed, Dorothy," I protested, "'twas all your fault. You had
plagued me beyond endurance."
"I fear you are a very bold young man," she answered pensively, and when
I would have proved the truth of her assertion, sent me packing.
So the week passed, the day came when we were to leave Williamsburg, and
at six o'clock one cool October morning, the great coach of the
Washingtons rolled westward down the sandy street, the maples casting
long shadows across the road. And on the side where Mistress Dorothy sat,
I was riding at the window.
A RIDE TO WILLIAMSBURG
I was received civilly enough at Riverview, and soon determined to remain
there until Major Washington returned from the west. My aunt treated me
with great consideration, doubtless because she feared to anger me, and I
soon fell into the routine of the estate. My cousin James, a roystering
boy of fourteen, was not yet old enough to be covetous, and he and I were
soon friends. Dorothy treated me as she had always done, with a hearty
sisterly affection, which gave me much uneasiness, 't was so unlike my
own, and I was at some pains to point out to her that we were not
cousins, nor, indeed, any relation whatsoever. In return for which she
merely laughed at me.
By great good fortune, I found among the overseers on my aunt's estate a
man who had been a soldier of fortune in the Old World until some
escapade had driven him to seek safety in the colonies, and with my
aunt's permission, I secured him to teach me what he knew of the practice
of arms, a tutelage which he entered upon with fine enthusiasm. He was
called Captain Paul on the plantation,--a little, wiry man, with fierce
mustaches and flashing eyes, greatly feared by the negroes, though he
always treated them kindly enough, so far as I could see. He claimed to
be an Englishman,--certainly he spoke the language as well as any I ever
heard,--but his dark eyes and swarthy skin bespoke the Spaniard or
Italian, and his quickness with the foils the French. A strain of all
these bloods I think he must have had, but of his family he would tell me
nothing, nor of the trouble which had brought him over-sea. But of his
feats of arms he loved to speak,--and they were worth the telling. He had
been with Plelo's heroic little band of Frenchmen before Dantzic, where a
hundred deeds of valor were performed every day, and with Broglie before
Parma, where he had witnessed the rout of the Austrians. For hours
together I made him recount to me the story of his campaigns, and when he
grew weary of talking and I of listening, we had a round with the rapier,
or a bout with the sword on horseback, and as the weeks passed, I found I
was gaining some small proficiency. He drilled me, too, in another
exercise which he thought most important, that of shooting from horseback
with the pistol.
"'T is an accomplishment which has saved my life a score of times," he
would say, "and of more value in a charge than any swordsmanship. A man
must be a swordsman to defend his honor, and a good shot with the pistol
to defend his life. Accomplished in both, he is armed cap-a-pie against
the world. The pistol has its rules as well as the sword. For instance,--
"'When you charge an adversary, always compel him to fire first, for the
one who fires first rarely hits his mark.
"'At the instant you see him about to fire, make your horse rear. This
will throw your horse before you as a shield, and if the aim is true, 't
will be your horse that is hit and not yourself. The life of a horse is
valuable, but that of a man is more so.
"If your horse has not been hit, or is not badly hurt, you have your
adversary at your mercy, and can either kill him or take him prisoner, as
you may choose. If he be well mounted, and well accoutred, it is usually
wisest to take him prisoner.
"'If your horse has been hit mortally, take care that in falling you get
clear of him by holding your leg well out and so alighting on your feet.
You can easily recover in time to pistol your adversary as he passes.
"'Above everything, learn to aim quickly, with both eyes open, the arm
slightly bent, the pistol no higher than the breast. When the arm is
fully extended, the tension causes it to tremble and so destroys the aim,
and the man who cannot hit the mark without sighting along the barrel is
usually dead before he can pull the trigger.'"
These and many other things he told me, and that I threw myself with
eagerness into the lessons I need hardly say, though I never acquired his
proficiency with either pistol or rapier. For I have seen him bring down
a hawk upon the wing, or throwing his finger-ring high into the air, pass
his rapier neatly through it as it shot down past him. Another trick of
his do I remember,--une, deux, trois, and a turn of the wrist in
flanconade,--which seldom failed to tear my sword from my hand, so
quickly and irresistibly did he perform it. What his lot has been I do
not know, for when the king's troops came to Virginia, he was seized with
a strange restlessness and resigned from my aunt's service, going I know
not whither; but if he be alive, there is a place at my board and a
corner of my chimney for him, where he would be more than welcome.
In the mean time, not a word had been received from Major Washington--we
called him major now, deeming that he had well earned the title--since
he had plunged into the wilderness at Will's Creek in mid-November,
accompanied only by Christopher Gist as guide, John Davidson and Jacob
Van Braam as interpreters, and four woodsmen, Barnaby Currin, John
M'Quire, Henry Steward, and William Jenkins, as servants. November and
December passed, and Christmas was at hand. There had been great
preparation for it at Riverview, for we of Virginia loved the holiday the
more because the Puritans detested it, and all the smaller gentry of the
county was gathered at the house, where there were feasting and dancing
and much merry-making. One incident of it do I remember most
distinctly,--that having, with consummate generalship, cornered Mistress
Dorothy under a sprig of mistletoe, I suddenly found myself utterly
bereft of the courage to carry the matter to a conclusion, and allowed
her to escape unkissed, for which she laughed at me most unmercifully
once the danger was passed, though she had feigned the utmost indignation
while the assault threatened. So the holidays went and New Year's came.
It was the thirteenth of January, and in the dusk of the evening I was
riding back to the house as usual after my bout with Captain Paul, when I
heard far up the road behind me the beat of horse's hoofs. Instinctively
I knew it was Major Washington, and I drew rein and watched the rider
swinging toward me. In a moment he was at my side, and we exchanged a
warm handclasp from saddle to saddle.
"I am on my way to Riverview," he said, as we again urged our horses
forward. "I hope to stay there the night and start at daybreak for
Williamsburg to make my report to the governor. Do you care to accompany
me, Mr. Stewart?"
"Do you need to ask?" I cried. "And what was the outcome of your
"There will be war," he said, and his face darkened. "It is as I
foresaw. The French are impudent, and claim the land belongs to them and
not to us."
Neither of us spoke again, but I confess I was far from sharing the gloom
of my companion. Had I not determined to be a soldier, and how was a
soldier to find employment, but in war? I looked at him narrowly as we
rode, and saw that he was thinner than when he had left us, and that his
face was browned by much exposure.
Right heartily was he welcomed to Riverview, and when dinner had been
served and ended, nothing would do but that he should sit down among us
and tell us the story of his mission. He could scarce have failed to draw
inspiration from such an audience, for Dorothy's eyes were sparkling, and
I was fairly trembling with excitement. Would that I could tell the story
as he told it, but that were impossible.
He and his little party had gone from Will's Creek to the forks of the
Ohio, through the untrodden wilderness and across swollen streams,
struggling on over the threatening mountains and fighting their way
through the gloomy and unbroken forest, and thence down the river to the
Indian village of Logstown. There he had parleyed with the Indians for
near a week before he could persuade the Half King and three of his
tribesmen to accompany him as guides. Buffeted by unceasing storms, they
toiled on to Venango, where there was an English trading-house, which the
French had seized and converted into a military post. Chabert de Joncaire
commanded, and received the party most civilly. Major Washington was
banqueted that evening by the officers of the post, and as the wine
flowed freely, the French forgot their prudence, and declared
unreservedly that they intended keeping possession of the Ohio, whether
the English liked it or not. Joncaire, however, asserted that he could
not receive Dinwiddie's letter, and referred Major Washington to his
superior officer at Fort le Boeuf. So, leaving Venango, for four days
more the party struggled northward. The narrow traders' path had been
quite blotted out, and the forest was piled waist-deep with snow. At
last, when it seemed that human endurance could win no further, they
sighted the squared chestnut walls of Fort le Boeuf.
The commander here, Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, also received them well,
and to him Major Washington delivered his letter from Governor Dinwiddie,
asking by what right the French had crossed the Lakes and invaded British
territory, and demanding their immediate withdrawal. Saint-Pierre was
three days preparing his answer, which he intrusted to Major Washington,
and at the end of that time the latter, with great difficulty persuading
his Indians to accompany him, started back to Virginia. They reached
Venango on Christmas Day. Here their horses gave out, and he and Gist
pushed forward alone on foot, leaving the others to follow as best they
might. A French Indian fired at them from ambush, but missed his mark,
and to escape pursuit by his tribesmen, they walked steadily forward for
a day and a night, until they reached the Allegheny. They tried to make
the crossing on a raft, but were caught in the drifting ice and nearly
drowned before they gained an island in the middle of the river. Here
they remained all night, foodless and well-nigh frozen, and in the
morning, finding the ice set, crossed in safety to the shore. Once
across, they reached the house of a man named Fraser, on the
Monongahela,--a house they were to see again, but under far different
circumstances,--and leaving there on the first day of January, they made
their way back to the settlements without adventure. Major Washington had
reached Mount Vernon that afternoon, and after stopping to see his
mother, had ridden on to Riverview.
Long before the recital ended, I was out of my chair and pacing up and
down the room, and Dorothy clapped her hands with joy when that perilous
passage of the Allegheny had been accomplished.
"So you think there will be war?" I asked. "But you do not know what M.
de Saint-Pierre has written to the governor."
"I can guess," he answered, with a smile. "Yes, there will be war."
"And if there is?" I cried, all my eagerness in my face.
"And if there is, Mr. Stewart," he said calmly, but with a deep light in
his eyes, "depend upon it, you shall go with me."
I wrung his hand madly. I could have embraced him. Dorothy laughed at my
enthusiasm, but with a trace of tears in her eyes, or so I fancied.
Well, we were finally abed, and up betimes in the morning. Our horses
were brought round from the stable, and our bags swung up behind the
saddles. I had tried in vain, all the morning, to corner Dorothy so
that I might say good-by with no one looking on, but the minx had
eluded me, and I had to be content with a mere handclasp on the steps
before the others. But as we rode away and I looked back for a last
sight of her, she waved her hands to me and blew me a kiss from her
fingers. So my heart was warm within me as we pushed on through the
dark aisles of the forest.
The roads were heavy with mud and melting snow, for the weather had
turned warm, and it was not until mid-afternoon that we reached
Fredericksburg. We stopped there an hour to feed and wind our horses, and
then pressed on to the country seat of Mr. Philip Clayton, below Port
Royal, on the Rappahannock. Major Washington had met Mr. Clayton at
Williamsburg, and he welcomed us most kindly. By the evening of the
second day we had reached King William Court House, where we found a very
good inn, and the next day, just as evening came, we clattered into
Williamsburg, very tired and very dirty. But without drawing rein, Major
Washington rode straight to the governor's house, threw his bridle to a
negro, and ordered a footman to announce him at once to his master.
"You are to come with me, Mr. Stewart," he said, seeing that I hesitated.
"'T will be a good time to present you to his Excellency," and we walked
together up the wide steps which led to the veranda.
Even as we reached the top, the door at the end of the hall was thrown
violently open, and Governor Dinwiddie stumbled toward us, his face red
with excitement. He had evidently just risen from table, for he carried a
napkin in his hand, and there were traces of food on his expansive
waistcoat, for he was anything but a dainty feeder. His uncertain gait
showed that he still suffered from the effects of a recent attack of
"By God, Major Washington," he cried, "but I'm glad to see you! I'd begun
to think the French or the Indians had gobbled you up. So you've got
back, sir? And did you see the French?"
"I saw the French, your Excellency," answered Washington, taking his
outstretched hand. "I delivered your message, and brought one in reply.
But first let me present my friend, Mr. Thomas Stewart, who is a neighbor
of mine at Mount Vernon and a man of spirit."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Stewart," said Dinwiddie, and he gave me his hand
for an instant. "We may have need erelong of men of spirit."
"I trust so, certainly, your Excellency," I cried, and bowed before him.
Dinwiddie looked at me for an instant with a smile.
"Come, gentlemen," he said, "you have been riding all day, I dare say,
and must have some refreshment," but Washington placed a hand on his arm
as he turned to give an order to one of the waiting negroes.
"Not until I have made my report, Governor Dinwiddie," he said.
Dinwiddie turned back to him.
"You're a man after my own heart, Major Washington!" he cried. "Come into
my office, both of you, for, in truth, I am dying of impatience to hear
of the journey," and he led the way into a spacious room, where there was
a great table littered with papers, a dozen chairs, but little other
furniture. The candles were brought, and Dinwiddie dropped into a deep
chair, motioning Washington and myself to sit down opposite him. "Now,
major," he cried, "let us have your story."
So Washington told again of the trip over the mountains and through the
forests, Dinwiddie interrupting from time to time with an exclamation of
wonder or approbation.
"Here is the message from M. de Saint-Pierre," concluded Washington,
drawing a sealed packet from an inner pocket. "'T is somewhat stained by
water, but I trust still legible."
Dinwiddie took it with nervous fingers, glanced at the superscription,
tore it open, and ran his eyes rapidly over the contents. My hands were
trembling, for I realized that on this note hung the issue of war or
peace for America. He read it through a second time more slowly, then
folded it very calmly and laid it down before him on the table. My heart
sank within me,--it was peace, then, and there would be no employment for
my sword. I had been wasting my time with Captain Paul. But when
Dinwiddie raised his eyes, I saw they were agleam.
"M. de Saint-Pierre writes," he said, "that he cannot discuss the
question of territory, since that is quite without his province, but will
send my message to the Marquis Duquesne, in command of the French armies
in America, at Quebec, and will await his orders. He adds that, in the
mean time, he will remain at his post, as his general has commanded."
We were all upon our feet. I drew a deep breath, and saw that
Washington's hand was trembling on his sword-hilt.
"Since he will not leave of his own accord," cried Dinwiddie, his
calmness slipping from him in an instant, "there remains only one thing
to be done,--he must be made to leave, and not a French uniform must be
left in the Ohio valley! Major Washington, I offer you the senior
majorship of the regiment which will march against him."
"And I accept, sir!" cried Washington, moved as I had seldom seen him.
"May I ask your Excellency's permission to appoint Mr. Stewart here one
of my ensigns?"
"Certainly," said the governor heartily. "From what I have seen of Mr.
Stewart, I should conclude that nothing could be better;" and when I
tried to stammer my thanks, he waved his hand to me kindly and rang for
wine. "Let us drink," he said, as he filled the glasses, "to the success
of our arms and the establishment of his Majesty's dominion on the Ohio."
MY FIRST TASTE OF WARFARE
Whatever defects Dinwiddie may have had, indecision was certainly not one
of them, and the very next day the machinery was set in motion for the
advance against the French. Colonel Joshua Fry was selected to head the
expedition, and Colonel Washington made second in command. Colonel Fry at
one time taught mathematics at William and Mary, but found the routine of
the class-room too humdrum, and so sought a more exciting life. He had
found it along the borders of the frontier, and in 1750 was made colonel
of militia and member of the governor's council. Two years later, he was
sent to Logstown to treat with the Indians, and made a map of the colony.
He knew the frontier as well as any white man, and because of this was
chosen our commander.
Not a moment was to be lost, for Colonel Washington, while at Fort le
Boeuf, had observed the great preparations made by the French to
descend the Allegheny in the spring and take possession of the Ohio
valley, but we hoped to forestall them. The triangle between the forks
of the Ohio was admirably adapted for fortification, and it was
proposed to throw up a fort there so that the French would get a warm
reception when their canoes came floating down the river, and be forced
to retreat to the Lakes. Dinwiddie's energy was wide-felt, and the
whole colony was soon astir.
He convened the House of Burgesses, laid Colonel Washington's report
before it, and secured a grant of L10,000 for purposes of defense; he
urged the governors of the other colonies, from the Carolinas north to
Jersey, to send reinforcements at once to Will's Creek, whence the start
was to be made; he sent messengers with presents to the Ohio Indians,
pressing them to take up the hatchet against the French, and authorized
the enlistment of three hundred men. William Trent, an Indian trader, and
brother-in-law of Colonel George Croghan, was commissioned to raise a
company of a hundred men from among the backwoodsmen along the frontier,
and started at once for the Ohio country to get his men together and
begin work on the fort, the main body to follow so soon as it could be
Long before this I had secured my uniform and accoutrements,--which my
three shillings a day were far from paying for,--and was kept busy
superintending the storage of wagons or drilling under Captain Adam
Stephen, in whose company I was, at Alexandria. The men were for the most
part poor whites, who had enlisted because they could earn their bread no
other way, and promised to make but indifferent soldiers. We were
provided with ten cannon, all four-pounders, which had been presented by
the king to Virginia, and eighty barrels of powder, together with
small-arms, thirty tents, and six months' provision of flour, pork, and
beef. These were forwarded to Will's Creek as rapidly as possible, but at
the best it was slow work, and April was in sight before the expedition
was ready to move. During near all of this time, Colonel Washington was
virtually in command, for Colonel Fry was taken with a fever, which kept
him for the most part to his bed. There seemed no prospect of his
improvement, so he ordered the expedition to advance without him, he to
follow so soon as he could sit a horse. That time was never to come, for
he died at Will's Creek on the last day of May.
So at last the advance commenced, and from daylight to sunset we fought
our way through the forest. It rained almost incessantly, and I admit the
work was more severe than I had ever done, for the bridle-paths were too
narrow to permit the passage of the guns and wagons, and a way had to be
cut for them; yet all the men were in good spirits, animated by the
example of Colonel Washington and the other officers. Those I came to
know best were of Captain Stephen's company, and a braver, merrier set of
men it has never been my privilege to meet. We were drawn from all the
quarters of the globe. There was Lieutenant William Poison, a Scot, who
had been concerned in the rebellion of '45, and so found it imperative to
come to Virginia to spend the remainder of his days, though at the first
scent of battle he was in arms again. There was Ensign William,
Chevalier de Peyronie, a French Protestant, driven from his home much as
the Fontaine family, and who had settled in Virginia. There was
Lieutenant Thomas Waggoner, whom I was to know so well a year later. And
above all, there was Ensign Carolus Gustavus de Spiltdorph, a quiet,
unassuming fellow, but brave as a lion, who lies to-day in an unmarked
grave on the bank of the Monongahela. I can see him yet, with his blue
eyes and blond beard, sitting behind a cloud of smoke in one corner of
the tent, listening to our wild talk with a queer gleam in his eyes, and
putting in a word of dry sarcasm now and then. For when the day's march
was done, those of us who were not on duty gathered in our tent and
talked of the time when we should meet the French. And Peyronie, because,
though a Frenchman, he had suffered most at their hands, was the most
bloodthirsty of us all.
Then the first blow fell. It was the night of the twentieth of April, and
our force had halted near Colonel Cresap's house, sixteen miles from
Will's Creek. I was in charge of the sentries to the west of the camp.
The weather had been cold and threatening, with a dash of rain now and
then, and we had made only five miles that day, the guns and wagons
miring in the muddy road, which for the most part was through a marsh. As
evening came, the rain had set in steadily, and the sentries protected
themselves as best they could behind the trees or under hastily
constructed shelters. I had just made my first round and found all well,
when I heard a sentry near by challenge sharply.
"What is it?" I cried, hastening to him, and then I saw that he had
stopped a horseman. The horse was breathing in short, uncertain gasps, as
though near winded.
"A courier from the Ohio, so he says, sir," answered the sentry.
"With an urgent message for Colonel Washington," added the man on
"Very well," I said, "come with me," and catching the horse by the
bridle, I started toward the commander's tent, in which a light was still
burning. A word to the sentry before it brought Colonel Washington
himself to the door, and he signed for us to enter. The courier slipped
from his horse, and would have fallen, had I not caught him and placed
him on his feet.
"'T is the first time I have left the saddle for two days," he gasped,
and I helped him into the tent, where he dropped upon a stool. Washington
poured out a glass of brandy and handed it to him. He swallowed it at a
gulp, and it gave him back a little of his strength.
"I bring bad news, Colonel Washington," he said. "Lieutenant Ward and his
whole command were captured by the French on the seventeenth, and the
fort at the forks of the Ohio is in their hands."
I turned cold under the blow, but Washington did not move a muscle, only
his mouth seemed to tighten at the corners.
"How did it happen?" he asked.
"Captain Trent and his men arrived at the Ohio on the tenth of April,"
said the courier, "and we set to work at once to throw up the fort. We
made good progress, but on the morning of the seventeenth, while Captain
Trent and thirty of the men were absent, leaving Lieutenant Ward in
command, the river was suddenly covered with canoes crowded with French
and Indians. There were at least eight hundred of them, and they had a
dozen pieces of artillery. We had no choice but to surrender."
"On what terms?" questioned Washington quickly.
"That we march out with the honors of war and return to Virginia."
"And this was done?"
"Yes, this was done. Lieutenant Ward and his men will join you in a
day or two."
"You have done well," said Washington warmly. "I am sure Lieutenant Ward
could have done naught else under the circumstances. Forty men are not
expected to resist eight hundred, and I shall see that the occurrence is
properly represented to the governor. Lieutenant Stewart, will you see
that a meal and a good bed be provided? Good night, gentlemen."
We saluted and left the tent, and I led him over to our company quarters,
where the best we had was placed before him. Other officers, who had got
wind of his arrival, dropped in, and he told again the story of the
meeting with the enemy. It was certain that there were from six to eight
hundred French and a great number of Indians before us, while we were
barely three hundred, and as I returned to my post, I wondered if
Colonel Washington would dare press on to face such odds. The answer came
in the morning, when the order was given to march as usual. Two days
later, we had reached Will's Creek, where we found Lieutenant Ward and
his men awaiting us. He stated that there were not less than a thousand
French at the forks of the Ohio. It was sheer folly to advance with our
petty force in face of odds so overwhelming, and a council of the
officers was called by Colonel Washington to determine what course to
follow. It was decided that we advance as far as Red Stone Creek, on the
Monongahela, thirty-seven miles this side the Forks, and there erect a
fortification and await fresh orders. Stores had already been built at
Red Stone for our munitions, and from there our great guns could be sent
by water so soon as we were ready to attack the French. In conclusion, it
was judged that it were better to occupy our men in cutting a road
through the wilderness than that they should be allowed to waste their
time in idleness and dissipation.
Captain Trent and the thirty men who were with him, hearing from the
Indians of the disaster which had overtaken their companions, marched
back to meet us, and joined us the next day. Trent himself met cold
welcome, for his absence from the fort at the time of the attack was held
to be most culpable. Dinwiddie was so enraged, when he learned of it,
that he ordered Trent court-martialed forthwith, but this was never done.
His backwoodsmen were wild and reckless fellows, incapable of
discipline, and soon took themselves off to the settlements, while we
toiled on westward through the now unbroken forest. Our advance to Will's
Creek had been difficult enough, but it was nothing to the task which now
confronted us, for the country grew more rough and broken, and there was
not the semblance of a road. We were a week in making twenty miles, and
accomplished that only by labor well-nigh superhuman.
The story of one day was the story of all the others. Obstacles
confronted us at every step, but we struggled forward, dragging the
wagons ourselves when the horses gave out, as they soon did, and finally,
toward the end of May, we won through to a pleasant valley named Great
Meadows, dominated by a mountain called Laurel Hill. Here there was
abundant forage, and as the horses could go no further, Colonel
Washington ordered a halt, and determined to await the promised
reinforcements. A few days later, a company of regulars under Captain
Mackay joined us, together with near a hundred men of the regiment who
had remained behind with Colonel Fry, raising our numbers to four hundred
men, though many were wasted with fever and dysentery.
Those of us who were able set to work throwing up a breastwork of logs,
under the direction of Captain Robert Stobo, and at the end of three days
had completed an inclosure a hundred feet square, with a rude cabin in
the centre to hold our munitions and supplies.
There had been many alarms that the French were marching against us, but
all of them had proved untrue, so when, some days after, the report
spread through the camp again that the enemy were near, I paid little
heed to it, and went to sleep as usual. How long I slept, I do not know,
but I was awakened by some one shaking me by the shoulder.
"Get up at once, lieutenant, and report at headquarters," said a voice I
recognized as Waggoner's, and as I sat upright with a jerk, he passed on
to awake another sleeper. I was out of bed in an instant, and threw on my
clothing with nervous haste. I could hear a storm raging, and when I
stepped outside the tent, I was almost blinded by the rain, driven in
great sheets before the wind. I fought my way against it to Washington's
tent, where I found Captain Stephen and some thirty men, and others
coming up every moment.
"What is it?" I asked of Waggoner, who had got back to headquarters
before me, but he shook his head to show that he knew no more than I.
A moment later, the flap of the tent was raised, and Colonel Washington
appeared, wrapped in his cloak as though for a journey, and followed by
an Indian, who, I learned afterwards, was none other than the Half King.
He spoke a few words to Captain Stephen, and the order was given to form
in double rank and march, Colonel Washington himself leading the
expedition, which numbered all told some forty men.
I shall never forget that midnight march through the forest, with the
rain falling in a deluge through the dripping trees, the lightning
flashing and the thunder rolling. We stumbled along upon each other's
heels, falling over logs or underbrush, the wet branches switching our
faces raw and soaking us through and through. It seemed to me that we
must have covered fifteen or twenty miles, at least, when the first gray
of the morning brightened the horizon and a halt was called, but really
we had come little more than five. Here it was found that seven men had
been lost upon the way, and that our powder was so wet that most of it
was useless, to many of us the charge in our firelocks being all that
remained serviceable. After an hour's halt, the order came again to
march, with caution to move warily. Scouts were thrown out ahead, and
soon came back with tidings that the enemy was hard by.
My hands were trembling with excitement as we crept forward to the edge
of a rocky hollow, and as we looked down the slope, we could see the
French below. There were thirty of them or more, and they were getting
breakfast, their arms stacked beside them. Almost at the same instant
their sentries saw us and gave the alarm.
"Follow me, men!" cried Washington, and he started down the slope, we
after him. As we went, the French sprang to arms and gave us a volley,
but it was badly aimed in their excitement and so did little damage. As
we closed in on them we returned their fire, and some eight or nine fell,
while the others, thinking doubtless that they had been surprised by a
large force, threw down their guns and held up their hands in token of
surrender. Captain Stephen had been slightly wounded, but charged on
down the slope ahead of us, and took prisoner a young officer, who
refused to surrender, but kept on fighting until his sword was knocked
from his hand. Then he began to tear his hair and curse in French,
pointing now and again to another officer who lay among the dead. He grew
so violent that he attracted Colonel Washington's attention.
"Come here a moment, Lieutenant Peyronie," he called. "You understand
French. What is this fellow saying?"
Peyronie exchanged a few words with the prisoner, who stooped, drew a
paper from the inner pocket of the dead officer's coat, and held it
toward us. Peyronie took it, glanced over it with grave countenance, and
turned to Colonel Washington.
"This man is Ensign Marie Drouillon, sir," he said. "The party was in
command of Ensign Coulon de Jumonville, whom you see lying dead there. M.
Drouillon claims that the party did not come against us as spies, or for
the purpose of fighting, but simply to bring a message to you from M. de
Contrecoeur, who is in command of the fort at the forks of the Ohio,
which, it seems, has been named Fort Duquesne. This is the message," and
he held out the paper to Washington.
"'Tis in French," said the latter, glancing over it. "What does it say?"
"It warns you to return to the settlements," answered Peyronie, "on the
pretext that all the land this side the mountains belongs to France."
Here the prisoner, who was evidently laboring under great excitement,
broke in, and said something rapidly in a loud voice, which made Peyronie
flush, and drew nods and cries of approbation from the other prisoners.
"What does he say?" asked Washington, seeing that Peyronie hesitated.
"He says, sir," answered Peyronie, with evident reluctance, "that M. de
Jumonville came in the character of an ambassador and has been
Washington flushed hotly and his eyes grew dark.
"Ask M. Drouillon," he said, "why an ambassador thought it necessary to
bring with him a guard of thirty men?"
Peyronie put the question, but Drouillon did not reply.
"Ask him also," continued Washington, "why he remained concealed near my
troops for three days, instead of coming directly to me as an ambassador
should have done?"
Again Peyronie put the question, and again there was no answer.
"Tell him," said Washington sternly, "that I see through his trick,--that
I comprehend it thoroughly. M. Jumonville counted on using his pretext of
ambassador to spy upon my camp, and to avert an attack in case he was
discovered. Well, he produced his message too late. He has behaved as an
enemy, and has been treated as such. That he is dead is wholly his own
fault. Had he chosen the part of an ambassador instead of that of a spy,
this would not have happened."
He turned away, and apparently dismissed the matter from his mind, but
that it troubled him long afterward I am quite certain, though in the
whole affair no particle of blame attached to him. The French made a
great outcry about it, but I have never heard that any of them ever
answered the questions which were put to M. Drouillon. The truth of the
matter is, that they were only too eager for some pretext upon which to
base the assertion that it was the English who began hostilities, and
this flimsy excuse was the best they could invent. But that little brush
under the trees on that windy May morning was to have momentous
consequences, for it was the beginning of the struggle which drenched the
continent in blood.
THE FRENCH SCORE FIRST
We marched back to the camp at Great Meadows with our prisoners,--some
twenty in all,--much elated at our success, but near dead with fatigue.
Lieutenant Spiltdorph was selected to escort them to Virginia, and set
off with them toward noon, together with twenty men, cursing the ill-luck
which deprived him of the opportunity to make the remainder of the
campaign with us.
For that the French would march against us in force was well-nigh
certain, once they learned of Jumonville's defeat, of which the Indians
would soon inform them, and that we should be outnumbered three or four
to one seemed inevitable. But no one thought of retreat, our commander, I
am sure, least of all. He seemed everywhere at once, heartening the men,
inspecting equipment, overseeing the preparations for defense. The only
hostile element in the camp was the company of regulars under Captain
Mackay, who refused to assist in any of the work, asserting that they
were employed only to fight. Captain Mackay, too, holding his commission
from the king, claimed to outrank Colonel Washington, and yielded him but
a reluctant and sullen obedience.
Christopher Gist, who had just come from Will's Creek with tidings of
Colonel Fry's death, was of the opinion that a much more effective
resistance might be made at his plantation, twelve miles further on,
where there were some strong log buildings and a ground, so he claimed,
admirably suited for intrenchment. Accordingly, we set out for there,
arriving after a fatiguing journey. The horses were in worse case than
ever, and only two miserable teams and a few tottering pack-horses
remained capable of working. Finally, on the twenty-ninth of June, the
Half King, who had been our faithful friend throughout, brought us word
that seven hundred French and three or four hundred Indians had marched
from Fort Duquesne against us. As the news spread through the camp, the
officers left the intrenchments upon which they had been at work, and
gathered to discuss the news. There a message from Colonel Washington
summoned us to a conference at Gist's cabin.
"Gentlemen," he said, when we had all assembled, "I need not tell you
that the situation is most critical. We can scarce hope to successfully
oppose an enemy who outnumbers us three to one, and yet 't is impossible
to retreat without abandoning all our baggage and munitions, since we
have no means of transport."
He fell silent for a moment, and no one spoke. I saw that the worry of
the last few weeks had left its mark upon him, for there was a line
between his eyes which I had never seen before, but which never left him
"What I propose," he said at last, "is to fall back to Great Meadows. I
believe it to be better fitted for defense than this place, which is
commanded by half a dozen hills, and where we could not hope to hold out
against artillery fire. At Great Meadows we can strengthen our
intrenchment in the middle of the plain, and the French will hardly dare
attempt to carry it by assault, since they must advance without cover for
two hundred yards or more. It is a charming field for an encounter. Has
any one a better plan?"
Mackay was the first to speak.
"'Tis better to lose our baggage than to lose both it and our lives," he
said. "The French may not care to risk an assault, but they have only to
sit down about the work for a day or two to starve us out."
"That is true," answered Washington, and his face was very grave; "yet
reinforcements cannot be far distant. Two independent companies from New
York reached Annapolis a fortnight since, and are doubtless being hurried
forward. Other companies have arrived in the colony, and must be near at
hand. Besides," he added, in a firmer tone, "I cannot consent to return
to Virginia without striking at least one blow at the French, else this
expedition might just as well have never been begun."
"That is the point!" cried Stephen. "Let us not run away until we see
something to run from. Your plan is the best possible under the
circumstances, Colonel Washington."
We all of us echoed this opinion, and after thanking us warmly, our
commander bade us make ready at once for the return to Great Meadows. The
baggage was done into packs as large as a man could carry; a force was
told off to drag the swivels; the officers added their horses to the
train, and prepared to carry packs just as the men did. Colonel
Washington left half of his personal baggage behind, paying some soldiers
four pistoles to carry the remainder. So at daybreak we set out, the
sufferings of our men being greatly aggravated by the conduct of the
regulars, who refused to carry a pound of baggage or place a hand upon
the ropes by which we dragged our guns after us.
The miseries of that day I hope never to see repeated. Men dropped
senseless on the road, or fell beneath the trees, unable to go further.
The main body of the troops struggled on, leaving these stragglers to
follow when they could, and on the morning of the next day we reached
Great Meadows, weak, trembling, and exhausted. But even here there was no
rest for us, for it was necessary to strengthen our defenses against the
attack which could not be long deferred. The breastwork seemed all too
weak now we knew the force which would be brought against it, and we
started to dig a trench around it, but so feeble were the men that it was
only half completed. Even at the best, our condition was little short of
desperate. Much of our ammunition had been ruined, and our supply of
provisions was near gone. We had been without bread for above a week,
and while we had plenty of cattle for beef, we had no salt with which to
cure the meat, and the hot summer sun soon made it unfit to eat.
Yet, with all this, there was little murmuring, the example of our
commander encouraging us all. At our council in our tent that evening,
Peyronie, with invincible good humor, declared that no man could complain
so long as the tobacco lasted, and in a cloud of blue-gray smoke, we gave
our hastily constructed fort the suggestive name of "Fort Necessity."
The morning of the third of July was spent by us in overhauling the
firelocks and making the last dispositions of our men. Colonel Washington
inspected personally the whole line, and saw that no detail was
overlooked. He had not slept for two nights, but seemed indefatigable,
and even the regulars cheered him as he passed along the breastwork. But
at last the inspection was finished and we settled down to wait.
Peyronie and myself had been stationed at the northwest corner of the
fort with thirty men, and just before noon, from far away in the forest,
came the sound of a single musket shot. We waited in suspense for what
might follow, and in a moment a sentry came running from the wood with
one arm swinging useless by his side.
"They have come!" he cried, as he tumbled over the breastwork. "They will
be here in a moment," and even as he spoke, the edge of the forest was
filled with French and Indians, and a lively fire was opened against us,
but the range was so great that the bullets did no damage. The drums beat
the alarm, and expecting a general attack, we were formed in column
before the intrenchment. But the enemy had no stomach for that kind of
work, and veered off to the south, where they occupied two little hills,
whence they could enfilade a portion of our position. We answered their
fire as best we could, but it was cruel, disheartening work.
"Do you call this war?" asked Peyronie impatiently, after an hour of this
gunnery. "In faith, had I thought 'twould be like this, I had been less
eager to enlist. Why don't the cowards try an assault?"
"Yes, why don't they?" and I looked gloomily at the wall of trees from
which jets of smoke and flame puffed incessantly.
"'Tis not the kind of fighting I've been used to," cried Peyronie. "In
Europe we fight on open ground, where the best man wins; we do not skulk
behind the trees and through the underbrush. I've a good notion to try a
sally. What say you, Stewart?"
"Here comes Colonel Washington," I answered. "Let us ask him." But he
shook his head when we proposed it to him.
"'Twould be madness," he said. "They are three times our number, and
would pick us all off before we could reach the trees. No, the best we
can do is to remain behind our breastwork. It seems a mean kind of
warfare, I admit, but 'tis a kind we must get accustomed to, if we are
to fight the French and Indians;" and he walked on along his rounds,
speaking a word of encouragement here and there, and seemingly quite
unconscious of the bullets which whistled about him.
Yet the breastwork did not protect us wholly, for now and then a man
would throw up his arms and fall with a single shrill cry, or roll over
in the mud of the trench, cursing horribly, with a bullet in him
somewhere. Doctor Craik, who had enlisted as lieutenant, was soon
compelled to lay aside his gun and do what he could to relieve their
suffering. Not for a moment during the afternoon did the enemy's fire
slacken, and the strain began to tell upon our men. The pieces grew foul,
there were only two screw-rods in the camp with which to clean them, and
as the hours passed, our fire grew less and less. The swivels had long
since been abandoned, for the gunners were picked off so soon as they
showed themselves above the breastwork.
There had been mutterings of thunder and dashes of rain all the
afternoon, and now the storm broke in earnest, the rain falling in such
fury as I had never seen. The trenches filled with water, and we tried in
vain to keep dry the powder in our cartouch boxes. Not only was this wet,
but the rain leaked through the magazine we had built in the middle of
the camp, and ruined the ammunition we had stored there. So soon as the
rain slackened, the enemy resumed their fire, but Major Washington
forbade us to reply, since there was scarce a dozen rounds in the fort.
I confess that this species of fighting took the heart out of me, and I
could see no chance of a successful issue.
I was sitting thus, looking gloomily out at the forest in front of me,
and wondering why the fire from there had ceased, when I noticed that
there seemed to be many more rocks and bushes scattered about the plain
than I had ever before observed. The gloom of the evening had fallen, and
I rubbed my eyes and looked again to make sure I was not mistaken. No,
there was no mistake, and I suddenly understood what was about to happen.
"Peyronie," I whispered to my neighbor, who was sitting in the mud,
swearing softly under his mustache, "we are going to have some excitement
presently. The Indians are creeping up to carry us by assault."
"What?" he exclaimed, sitting suddenly upright. "Oh, no such luck!"
"Yes, but they are," I insisted. "Watch those bushes out there. See, they
're moving up toward us."
He rose to his knees and peered keenly out through the gloom.
"Pardieu," he muttered after a moment, "so they are! Well, we shall be
ready for them."
We passed the word around to our men, and startled them into new life.
The muskets were primed sparingly with dry powder, and we waited with
tense nerves for the assault. The fusillade from the hills had been
redoubled, but a terrible and threatening silence hung over the
intrenchment, and doubtless encouraged our assailants to believe that our
ammunition was quite gone. Near and nearer crept the Indians, fifty or
sixty of them at least, and perhaps many more, and we lay still with
bursting pulses and waited. Now the foremost of them was scarce forty
yards away, and suddenly, with a yell, they were all upon their feet and
"Tirez, tirez!" shouted Peyronie, forgetting his English in his
excitement, and we sent a volley full into them. It was a warmer
reception than they had counted on, and they wavered for a moment, but
there must have been a Frenchman leading them, for they rallied, and came
on again with a rush. We met them with fixed bayonets, but they
outnumbered us so greatly that we must have given way before them had not
Colonel Washington, hearing the uproar and guessing its meaning, dashed
over at the head of reinforcements and given them another volley. As I
was reloading with feverish haste, I saw an Indian rush at Colonel
Washington with raised tomahawk. Washington raised his pistol, coolly
took aim, and pulled the trigger, but the powder flashed and did not
explode. With the sweat starting from my forehead, I dashed some powder
into the pan of my pistol, jerked it up, and fired. Ah, Captain Paul, how
I blessed your lessons in that moment! for the ball went true, and the
Indian rolled in the mud almost at Washington's feet. They had had
enough, and those who were still alive leaped the trench and disappeared
into the outer darkness.
"They won't try that again," I remarked to Peyronie, who was sitting
against the breastwork. "But what is it, man? Are you wounded?" I cried,
seeing that he was very pale and held both hands to his breast.
"Yes, I am hit here," he answered, and added, as I fell on my knees
beside him and began to tear the clothing from the wound, "but do not
distress yourself, Stewart. I can be attended after the battle is won."
"Nonsense," I said. "You shall be attended at once." He smiled up at me,
and then went suddenly white and fell against my shoulder. I tore away
his shirt, and saw that blood was welling from a wound in the breast. I
propped him against the wall, and ordering one of the men to go for
Doctor Craik, stanched the blood as well as I could. The doctor hastened
to us so soon as he could leave his other wounded, but he shook his head
gravely when he saw Peyronie's injury.
"A bad case," he said. "Clear into the lungs, I think. But I have seen
men recover of worse hurts," he added, seeing how pale I was.
I watched him as he bound up the wound with deft fingers, and then
between us we carried him to the little cabin, which had been converted
from magazine to hospital, and was already crowded from wall to wall. It
was with a sore heart that I left him and returned to the breastwork, for
I had come to love Peyronie dearly. The event was not so serious as I
then feared, for, after a gallant fight for life, he won the battle,
recovered of his wound, and lived to do service in another war.
The repulse of the Indians seemed to have disheartened the enemy, for
their fire slackened until only a shot now and then broke the stillness
of the night. Our condition was desperate as it could well be, yet I
heard no word of surrender. I was sitting listlessly, thinking of
Peyronie's wound, when a whisper ran along the lines that the French were
sending a flag of truce. Sure enough, we could see a man in white uniform
approaching the breastwork, waving a white flag above his head. He was
halted by the sentries while yet some distance off, and Colonel
Washington sent for. He appeared in a moment.
"Where is Lieutenant Peyronie?" he asked. "We will have need of him."
"He is wounded, sir," I answered. "He was shot through the breast during
Washington glanced about at the circle of faces.
"Is there any other here who speaks French?" he asked.
There was a moment's silence.
"Why, sir," said Vanbraam at last, "I have managed to pick up the fag
ends of a good many languages during my life, and I can jabber French
"Very well," and Washington motioned him forward. "Mount the breastwork
and ask this fellow what he wants."
Vanbraam did as he was bid, and there was a moment's high-toned
conversation between him and the Frenchman.
"He says, sir," said Vanbraam, "that he has been sent by his commander,
M. Coulon-Villiers, to propose a parley."
Washington looked at him keenly.
"And he wishes to enter the fort?"
"He says he wishes to see you, sir."
Washington glanced about at the mud-filled trenches, the ragged, weary
men, the haggard faces of the officers, the dead scattered here and there
along the breastwork, and his face grew stern.
"'Tis a trick!" he cried. "He wishes to see how we are situated. Tell him
that we do not care to parley, but are well prepared to defend ourselves
against any force the French can muster."
I gasped at the audacity of the man, and the Frenchman was doubtless no
less astonished. He disappeared into the forest, but half an hour later
again approached the fort. Vanbraam's services as interpreter were called
for a second time, and there was a longer parley between him and the
"He proposes," said Vanbraam, when the talk was finished, "that we send
two officers to meet two French officers, for the purpose of agreeing
upon articles of capitulation. M. Coulon-Villiers states that he is
prepared to make many concessions, and he believes this course will be
for the advantage of both parties."
Washington looked around at the officers grouped about him.
"It is clear that we must endeavor to make terms, gentlemen," he said.
"The morning will disclose our plight to the enemy, and it will then be
no longer a question of terms, but of surrender. At present they believe
us capable of defense, hence they talk of concessions. What say you,
There was nothing to be said except to agree, and Vanbraam and Captain
Stephen were sent out to confer with the French. They returned in the
course of an hour, bringing with them the articles already signed by
Coulon-Villiers, and awaiting only Colonel Washington's ratification.
Vanbraam read them aloud by the light of a flickering candle, and we
listened in silence until he had finished. They were better than we could
have hoped, providing that we should march out at daybreak with all the
honors of war, drums beating, flags flying, and match lighted for our
cannon; that we should take with us our baggage, be protected from the
Indians, and be permitted to retire unmolested to Virginia, in return for
which we were to release all the prisoners we had taken a few days
before, and as they were already on their way to the colony, should leave
two officers with the French as hostages until the prisoners had been
delivered to them.
There was a moment's silence when Vanbraam had finished reading, and
then, without raising his head, Colonel Washington signed, and threw the
pen far from him. Then he arose and walked slowly to his quarters, and I
saw him no more that night. Captain Mackay insisted also that he must
sign the paper, and, to my intense disgust, wrote his name in above that
of our commander.
There was little sleep for any of us that night, and I almost envied
Peyronie tossing on his blanket, oblivious to what was passing about him.
Vanbraam and Robert Stobo were appointed to accompany the French back to
the Ohio, to remain there as hostages, and we all shook hands with them
before they went away through the darkness toward the French camp.
But the night passed, and at daybreak we abandoned the fort and began the
retreat, carrying our sick and wounded on our backs, since the Indians
had killed all our horses. Most of our baggage was perforce left behind,
and the Indians lost no time in looting it. That done, they pressed
threateningly upon our rear, so that an attack seemed imminent, nor did
the French make any effort to restrain them; but we held firm, and the
Indians finally drew off and returned to the fort, leaving us to cover as
best we might those weary miles over the mountains. By the promise of ten
pistoles, I had secured two men to bear Peyronie between them on a
blanket, but 'twas impossible to treat all the wounded so, and the
fainting men staggered along under their screaming burdens, falling
sometimes, and lying where they fell from sheer exhaustion.
What Colonel Washington's feelings were I could only guess. He strode at
the head of the column, his head bowed on his breast, his heart doubtless
torn by the suffering about him, and saying not a word for hours
together, nor did any venture to approach him. I doubt if ever in his
life he will be called upon to pass through a darker hour than he did on
that morning of the fourth of July, 1754. Through no fault of his, the
power of England on the Ohio had been dealt a staggering blow, and his
pride and ambition crushed into the dust.
What need to tell of that weary march back to the settlements, the
suffering by the way, the sorry reception accorded us, the consternation
caused by the news of French success? At Winchester we met two companies
from North Carolina which had been marching to join us, and these were
ordered to Will's Creek, to establish a post to protect the frontier from
the expected Indian aggression. Captain Mackay and his men remained at
Winchester, while our regiment returned to Alexandria to rest and
recruit. As for me, I was glad enough to put off the harness of war and
make the best of my way back to Riverview, saddened and humbled by this
first experience, which was so different from the warfare of which I had
read and dreamed, with its bright pageantry, its charges and shock of
arms, its feats of single combat. Fate willed that I was yet to see
another, trained on the battlefields of Europe, humbled in the dust by
these foes whom I found so despicable, and the soldiers of the king
taught a lesson they were never to forget.
One word more. Perhaps I have been unjust to Captain Mackay and his men.
Time has done much to soften the bitterness with which their conduct
filled me, and as I look back now across the score of years that lie
between, I can appreciate to some degree their attitude toward our
commander. Certainly it might seem a dangerous thing to intrust an
enterprise of such moment to a youth of twenty-two, with no knowledge of
warfare but that he had gained from books. It is perhaps not wonderful
that veterans should have looked at him askance, and I would not think of
them too harshly. He doubtless made mistakes,--as what man would not
have done?--yet I believe that not even the first captain of the empire
could have snatched victory from odds so desperate.
DREAM DAYS AT RIVERVIEW
In the many summer evenings which followed, I played the part of that
broken soldier, who, as Mr. Goldsmith tells us so delightfully,
"talked the night away,
Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch and showed how fields were won."
Alas, I could show not how they were won, but only how they were lost,
and how was one to clothe in romance a battle which had been fought in
the midst of mud and rain, from behind a breastwork, and with scarce a
glimpse of the enemy? But I had a rapt audience of two in James and
Dorothy. They were not critical, and I told the story of Great Meadows
over and over again, a score of times.
A hundred yards from the house, overlooking on one side the willow-draped
waters of Occoquan Inlet, and on the other the broad and placid river, a
seat had been fashioned between two massive oaks, and here, of an
evening, it was our wont to go. Sometimes, by great good fortune, James
did not accompany us, and Dorothy and I would sit there alone together
and watch the shadows deepen across the water. Our talk would falter and
die away before the beauty of the scene, and there would be long
silences, broken only now and then by a half whispered sentence. I had
never known a sweeter time, and even yet, when night is coming on, I love
to steal forth to sit there again and gaze across the water and dream
upon the past.
During the day, I saw but little of the other members of the family, and
was left greatly to my own resources. My aunt was ever busy with the
management of the estate, to every detail of which she gave personal
attention, and which she administered with a thrift and thoroughness I
could not but admire. The worry of incessant business left its mark upon
her. The lines in her face deepened, and the silver in her hair grew more
pronounced, but though she doubtless felt her strength failing, she clung
grimly to the work. I would have offered to assist her but that I knew
she would resent the suggestion, and would believe I made it to gain some
knowledge of the income from the estate, of which I had always been kept
in densest ignorance, and with which, indeed, I troubled myself but
little. I think her old fear of my claiming the place came on her again,
and though she always tried to treat me civilly, the effort in the end
proved too great for her overwrought nerves, as you shall presently hear.
Upon Dorothy fell the duty of looking after the household, and she went
about it cheerfully and willingly. Her mornings were passed in
instructing the servants in their duties and seeing that their work was
properly done. There were visits to the pantry and kitchen, and a long
conference with the cook, so that noon was soon at hand. The afternoon
was spent in the great workroom on the upper floor, into which I ventured
to peep once or twice, only to be bidden to go about my business. But it
was a pleasant sight, and I sometimes gathered courage to steal down the
corridor for a glimpse of it. There sat Dorothy in a dainty gown of
Covent Garden calico, directing half a dozen old negro women, who were
cutting out and sewing together the winter clothing of fearnaught for the
slaves. Two or three girls had been brought in to be taught the mysteries
of needle-craft, and Dorothy turned to them from time to time to watch
their work and direct their rebellious fingers. I would fain have taken a
lesson, too, but when I proposed this one day, representing how great my
need might be when I was over the mountains far away from any woman,
Dorothy informed me sternly, amid the titters of the others, that my
fingers were too big and clumsy to be taught to manage so delicate an
instrument as a needle, and sent me from the room.
Young James had also much to occupy his time. His mother was as yet in
doubt whether he should complete his education at William and Mary, as I
had done, or should be sent to London to acquire the true polish. The boy
greatly favored the latter course, as any boy of spirit would have done,
and his mother would have yielded to him readily, but for the stories she
had heard of the riotous living which prevailed among the young blades in
London, and of which she had had ample confirmation from Parson Scott,
who, I suspect, before coming to his estate at Westwood, had ruffled it
with the best of them. Whether it should be Williamsburg or London, the
boy was required to be kept at his books every morning, and was off every
afternoon to the Dumfries tavern, where there was always a crowd of
ne'er-do-wells, promoting a cock-fight, or a horse race, or eye-gouging
contest. Sometimes, he elected to spend the evening in this company, and
it was then that Dorothy and I were left alone together on the seat
beside the river.
But when Sunday came, there was another story. The great coach was
brought from the stable and polished till it shone again,--indeed, it had
been polished so often and so vigorously that its gilding and paint began
to show the marks of it. The four horses were led out, rubbed down from
nose to heel, and harnessed in their brightest trappings. The driver,
footman, and two outriders donned their liveries, in which they were the
envy of all the other servants, and the coach was driven around to the
front of the house, from which presently emerged Madame Stewart, in a
stately gown of flowered calamanco, her fan and gold pomander in her
hand. Then came Dorothy, her sweet face looking most coquettish under her
Ranelagh mob of gauze, the ribbons crossed beneath her chin and
fluttering half a yard behind. As she tripped down the stops and lifted
her tiffany petticoat ever so little, I could catch a glimpse of the
prettiest pair of ankles in the world in silk-clocked hose, for the
reader can guess without my telling that I was close behind, holding her
kerchief or her fan or her silver etui until she should be safely seated
in the coach. And that once done, the whip cracked, the wheels started,
and I swung myself on horseback and trotted along beside the window, on
Dorothy's side, you may be sure.
So, in great state, we proceeded to the new Quantico church near
Dumfries, a prodigious fine structure of brick, built the year before at
a cost of a hundred thousand weight of tobacco, of which my aunt had
contributed a tenth. The other members of the congregation awaited our
arrival, grouped before the door, and, entering after us, remained
decently standing till we had mounted to the loft and taken our seats, a
show of deference which greatly pleased my aunt. The church was built in
a little recess from the road, in the midst of a grove of ancient trees,
cruciform, as so many others were throughout the colony, and stands today
just as it stood then,--as I have good cause to know, for 't was in that
church, before that altar--But there, you shall learn it all in time.
Doctor Scott was a goodly preacher, but the one portion of the service
for me was the singing, when I might stand beside Dorothy and listen to
her voice. She sang with whole heart and undivided mind, recking nothing
of me standing spellbound there. Indeed, I think the pastor shrewdly saw
that her singing was a means of grace no less than his expounding, and he
never failed to journey to Riverview on a Friday to talk over with her
what should be her part in the service on the coming Sunday. Nor did I
ever know her to refuse this labor,--not because she was vain of her
power, but because she saw the good it did.
The service once over, there were greetings to exchange, the news of the
neighborhood to talk over, crops to discuss, and what not. My heart would
burn within me as I saw the men buzzing about Dorothy like flies about a
dish of honey, though my jealousy was lightened when I saw that while she
had a gay word for each of them, she smiled on all alike. The minx could
read my mind like an open book, whether I was moping in one corner of the
churchyard or on the bench beside her, and she loved to tease me by
pretending great admiration for this man or that, and consulting me about
him as she would have done a brother. Which, I need hardly say, annoyed
The gossip over, we drove home again to lunch, after which, on the wide
veranda or the bench by the river's edge, I would read Dorothy some bits
of Mr. Addison or Mr. Pope, which latter she could not abide, though his
pungent verses fell in exceeding well with my melancholy humor. Evening
past and bedtime come, I lighted Dorothy's candle for her at the table in
the lower hall, where the silver sticks were set out in their nightly
array like French soldiers, gleaming all in white, and when I gave it to
her and bade her good-night at the stair-foot, I got her hand to hold for
an instant. Then to my room, where over innumerable pipes of
sweet-scented, I struggled with some halting verses of my own until my
candle guttered in its stick.
Hours and hours did I pass thinking how I might tell her of my love, but
at the last I concluded it were better to say nothing, until I had
something more to offer her. What right had I, I questioned bitterly, to
offer marriage to any maid, when I had no home to which to take a wife,
and I had never felt the irksomeness of my circumstances as I did at that
moment. Something of my thought she must have understood, for she was
very kind to me, and never by any word or act showed that she thought of
the poverty of my condition.
So August and September passed, and great events were stirring. The House
of Burgesses had met, and had been much impressed by the showing we had
made against the French, so that they passed a vote of thanks to Colonel
Washington for his distinguished services, and to the officers and men
who had been with him. Dinwiddie was most eager that another advance
should be made at once against Duquesne, but Colonel Washington pointed
out how hopeless any such attempt must be against the overwhelming odds
the enemy would bring against us.
The news of French aggression on the Ohio and of our defeat at Fort
Necessity had opened the eyes of the court to the danger which threatened
the colonies, and great preparations were set on foot for an expedition
to be sent to Virginia in the early spring. Parliament voted L50,000
toward its expenses, and it was proposed to equip it on such a scale
that the French could not hope to stand before it. So it was decided that
nothing more should be attempted by the colony until the forces from
England had arrived. And then, one day, came the astounding news that
Colonel Washington had resigned from the service and returned to Mount
Vernon. A negro whom Dorothy had sent on some errand to Betty Washington
had brought the news back with him. I could scarcely credit it, and was
soon galloping toward Mount Vernon to confirm it for myself. I dare say
the ten miles of river road were never more quickly covered. As I turned
into the broad graveled way which led past the garden up to the house, I
saw a tall and well-known figure standing before the door, and he came
toward me with a smile as I threw myself from the saddle.
"Ah, Tom," he cried, "I thought I should see you soon," and he took my
"Is it true," I asked, too anxious to delay an instant the solution of
the mystery, "that you have left the service?"
"Yes, it is true."
"And you will not make the campaign?"
"I see no prospect now of doing so."
"But why?" I asked. "Pardon me, if I am indiscreet."
"'Tis a reason which all may know," and he smiled grimly, "which, indeed,
I wish all to know, that my action may not be misjudged."
We were walking up and down before the door, and he paused a moment as
though to choose his words, lest he say more than he desired.
"You know there has been great unpleasantness," he said at last, "between
officers holding royal commissions and those holding provincial ones,
concerning the matter of precedence. You may remember that Captain Mackay
held himself my superior at Fort Necessity, because he had his commission
from the crown."
Of course I remembered it, as well as the many disagreements which the
contention had occasioned.
"It was evident that the question must be settled one way or another,"
continued Washington, "and to do this, an order has just been issued by
the governor. The order provides that no officer who does not derive his
commission immediately from the king can command one who does."
It was some minutes before I understood the full effect which such an
order would have.
"Do you mean," I asked at last, "that you would be outranked by every
subaltern in the service who holds a royal commission?"
"Unquestionably," and Washington looked away across the fields with a
"But that is an outrage!" I cried. "What, every whippersnapper in the
line be your superior? Why, it's rank folly!"
"So I thought," said Washington, "and therefore I resigned, and refused
to serve under such conditions."
"And you did right," I said warmly. "You could have taken no other
But much pressure was brought to bear upon him to get him back into the
service. General Sharpe was most anxious to secure the services of the
best fighter and most experienced soldier in Virginia, and urged him to
accept a company of the Virginia troops; but he replied shortly that,
though strongly bent to arms, he had no inclination to hold a commission
to which neither rank nor emolument attached. And that remained his
answer to all like importunities. Whereat the authorities were greatly
wroth at him, from Governor Dinwiddie down, and seeking how they might
wound him further, cut from the rolls the names of half a dozen officers
whom they knew to be his friends. I was one of those who got a discharge,
the reason alleged in my case being that the companies had been so
reduced in number that there was not need of so many officers. It was a
heavy blow to me, I admit, and I think for a time Washington wavered in
his purpose; but his friends, of whom many now came to Mount Vernon,
persuaded him to remain firm in his resolution, confident that when the
commander-in-chief arrived and learned how matters stood, he would make
every reparation in his power. At the bottom of the entire trouble was, I
think, Dinwiddie's jealousy of Washington's growing popularity and
influence, a jealousy which had been roused by every man who had come
into great favor with the people since Dinwiddie had been
lieutenant-governor of Virginia.
During the months that followed I was much at Mount Vernon. Indeed, it
was during that winter that we formed the warm attachment which still
continues. The family life there attracted me greatly, and I cannot
sufficiently express my admiration for Mrs. Washington. She was slight
and delicate of figure, but not even her eldest son, who towered above
her, possessed a greater dignity or grace. I loved to sit at one corner
of the great fireplace and see her eyes kindle with pride and affection
as she gazed at him, nor did her other children love him less than she.
With the new year came renewed reports of activity in England. Two
regiments under command of Major-General Braddock were to be sent to
Virginia, whence, after being enforced by provincial levies, they were to
march against the French. I need not say how both Colonel Washington and
myself chafed at the thought that we were not to make the campaign; but
when he suggested accepting a commission as captain of the provincial
troops, his friends protested so against it that he finally abandoned the
idea for good and all, and we settled down to bear the inactivity as best
we could. But at last the summons came.
It was Colonel Washington's twenty-third birthday, and there was quite a
celebration at Mount Vernon. The members of the family were all there, as
were Dorothy, her brother, and myself, as well as many other friends from
farther down the neck. Dinner was served in the long, low-ceilinged
dining-room, with the wide fireplace in one corner. What a meal it was,
with Mrs. Washington at the table-head and her son at the foot, yes, and
Dorothy there beside me with the brightest of bright eyes! I was ever a
good trencherman, and never did venison, wild turkey, and great yellow
sweet potatoes taste more savorsome than they did that day, with a jar of
Mrs. Washington's marmalade for relish. At the end came Pompey with a
great steaming bowl of flip, and as the mugs were filled and passed from
hand to hand, Dorothy and Betty Washington plunged in the red-hot irons
with great hissing and sizzle and an aroma most delicious. We pledged our
host, the ladies sipping from our cups--need I say who from mine?--with
little startled cries of agitation when the liquor stung them. Then they
left us to our pipes; but before the smoke was fairly started, there came
the gallop of a horse up the roadway past the kitchen garden, and a
moment later the great brass knocker was plied by a vigorous hand. We sat
in mute expectancy, and presently old Pompey thrust in his head.
"Gen'leman t' see you, sah," he said to Colonel Washington.
"Show him in here, Pomp," said the colonel; and a moment later one of
the governor's messengers entered, booted and spurred, his clothing
splashed with mud.
"I have a message for you from the governor, Colonel Washington," he
said, saluting, and holding out a letter bearing the governor's
Washington took it without a trace of emotion, though I doubt not his
heart was beating as madly as my own.
"Sit down, sir," he said heartily to the messenger, "and taste our
punch. I am sure you will find it excellent;" and when he had seen him
seated and served, he turned away to the window and opened the letter.
I watched him eagerly as he read it, and saw a slow flush steal into
"There is nothing here I may not tell, gentlemen," he said after a
moment, turning back to the group about the table. "Governor Dinwiddie
writes me that General Braddock and the first of the transports have
arrived safely off Hampton, and that he desires me to meet him in
Williamsburg as soon as possible, as he thinks my knowledge of the
country may be of some value. I shall start in the morning," he added,
turning to the messenger. "I trust you will remain and be our guest
"Gladly," answered the man, "and ride back with you." So it was settled.
We were not long away from the women after that, for they must hear the
great news. Colonel Washington refused to speculate about it, but I was
certain he was to be proffered some employment in the coming campaign
commensurate with his merit. The afternoon passed all too quickly, and
the moment came for us to start back to Riverview. Dorothy ran upstairs
to don her safeguard, the horses were brought out, and James and I
struggled into our coats. Dorothy was back in a moment, kissed Mrs.
Washington and Betty, and I helped her adjust her mask and lifted her to
the saddle. I felt my cheeks burning as I turned to bid good-by to
Colonel Washington, who had followed us from the house.
"If it should be an appointment," I began, as I grasped his hand.
"You maybe sure I shall not forget you, Tom," he said, smiling down into
my eager face. "I think it very likely that we shall march together to
fight the French."
And those last words rang in my ears all the way back to Riverview.
DOROTHY MAKES HER CHOICE
I had been much from home during the winter, and, engrossed in my own
thoughts, had taken small account of what was passing, but I soon found
enough to occupy me. Dorothy had spent a month at Mount Pleasant, the
seat of the Lees, some distance down the river, and when she returned, I
soon began to suspect that she had left her heart there; for one day
there came riding up to Riverview Mr. Willoughby Newton, whose estate was
near Mount Pleasant, and the way that Dorothy blushed when she welcomed
him aroused my ire at once. Now Mr. Willoughby Newton was a very handsome
and proper gentleman, and on his broad acres grew some of the sweetest
tobacco that ever left Virginia; but I could scarce treat him civilly,
which only shows what an insufferable puppy I still was, and I made
myself most miserable. His learning was more of the court and camp than
of the bookshelf,--a defect which I soon discovered,--and I loved to set
him tripping over some quibble of words, a proceeding which amused me
vastly, though my mirth was shared by none of the others who witnessed
it. In fact, Madame Stewart was partial to the man from the first, in
which I do not blame her, for a better match could not have been desired
for her daughter. She made him see his welcome, and he doubtless thought
the road to Dorothy's heart a fair and easy one. I certainly thought so,
and I spent my days in moping about the place, cutting a most melancholy
and unattractive figure.
I can look back now with a smile upon those days, realizing what a
ridiculous sight I must have been, but at the time, their tragedy was for
me a very real and living one. Newton had passed some years in London,
and had picked up there the graces of the court, as well as much of its
frippery gossip, which latter he was fond of retailing, to my great
disgust, but to the vast entertainment of the ladies, who found no fault
with it, though it was four or five years old. He could tell a story well
and turn a joke to a nicety,--a fact which I was at that time far from
admitting,--and under other circumstances I should have found him a witty
and amusing friend. I think he soon saw what my feelings were,--indeed,
even a more obtuse man would have had no difficulty in understanding
them,--and he treated me with a good-humored condescension which
irritated me beyond measure. And yet, unquestionably, it was the only
treatment my behavior merited.
The climax came one evening after dinner. We had both, perhaps, had a
glass of wine too much before we joined the ladies. Certainly, no words
had passed between us when they had left the table, and there was nothing
to do but drink, which we did with moody perseverance. But once before
the fire in the great hall, with Madame Stewart knitting on one side and
Dorothy bending over her tambour on the other, his mood changed and he
grew talkative enough, while I sat down near the candles and pretended to
be absorbed in a book.
"Do you know, ladies," he said, "this reminds me of nothing so much as a
night in London just five years ago, when the great earthquake was. We
were sitting around the fire, just as we are siting now, Tommy Collier on
my right, and Harry Sibley on my left, when the bottles on the table
began to clink and the windows to rattle, and poor Harry, who was leaning
back in his chair, crashed over backwards to the floor. We picked him up
and went out into the street, where there was confusion worse confounded.
Windows were thrown open, women were running up and down clad only in
their smocks, and one fellow had mounted a barrel and was calling on the
people to repent because the Day of Judgment was at hand. Somebody
predicted there would be another earthquake in a week, and so the next
day the people began to pour out of town, not because they were
frightened, but 'Lord, the weather is so fine,' they said, 'one can't
help going into the country.'"
"You found the country very pleasant, Mr. Newton, I dare say," I
remarked, looking up from my book. He did not at once understand the
meaning of my question, but Dorothy did, and flushed crimson with
anger. The sight of her disapproval and Madame Stewart's frowning face
"No," he said slowly, after a moment, "I did not leave the city, but
hundreds of people did. Within three days, over seven hundred coaches
were counted passing Hyde Park corner, with whole families going to the
country. The clergy preached that it was judgment on London for its
wickedness, and that the next earthquake would swallow up the whole town.
The ridotto had to be put off because there was no one to attend it, and
the women who remained in town spent their time between reading
Sherlock's sermons and making earthquake gowns, in which they proposed to
sit out of doors all night."
"Pray, what was the color of your gown, Mr. Newton?" I inquired, with a
polite show of interest.
Newton rose slowly from his chair and came toward me.
"Am I to understand that you mean to insult me, sir?" he asked, when he
had got quite near.
"You are to understand whatever you please," I answered hotly, throwing
my book upon the table.
"Tom," cried Dorothy, "for shame, sir! Have you taken leave of
"Do not be frightened, I beg of you, Miss Randolph," interrupted Newton,
restraining her with one hand. "I assure you that I have no intention of
injuring the boy."
"Injuring me, indeed!" I cried, springing to my feet, furious with rage,
for I could not bear to be patronized. "It is you who are insulting, and
by God you shall answer for it!"
"As you will," he said, with a light laugh, and turned back to the fire.
I knew that I had got all the worst of the encounter, that I had behaved
with a rudeness for which there was no excuse, and that I cut a sorry
figure standing there, and my face burned at the knowledge. But
preserving what semblance of dignity I could, I stalked from the hall and
upstairs to my room. I sat a long time thinking over the occurrence, and
the more I pondered it, the more clearly I saw that I had played the
fool. I did not know then, but I learned long afterward, that my conduct
that night came near losing me the great happiness of my life. My cheeks
flush even now as I think of my behavior. How foolish do the tragedies of
youth appear, once time has tamed the blood!
I did not wonder in the morning to receive a summons from my aunt, and I
found her in her accustomed chair before the table piled with papers. She
glanced at me coldly as I entered, and finished looking over a paper she
held in her hand before she spoke to me.
"I need not tell you," she said at length, "how greatly your boorish
conduct of last night surprised me. To insult a guest, and especially to
do so without provocation, is not the part of a gentleman."
I flushed angrily, for the justness of this statement only irritated me
the more. I think it is always the man who is in the wrong that shows the
greatest violence, and the man that most deserves rebuke who is most
impatient of it.
"There is no need for you to counsel me how a gentleman should behave,"
I answered hotly.
"I did not summon you here to counsel you," she said still more coldly,
"but to inform you that this disgraceful affair is to go no further, at
least beneath this roof. Mr. Newton has promised me to overlook your
behavior, which is most generous on his part, and I trust you will see
the wisdom of making peace with him."
"And why, may I ask, madame?"
"Because," she said, looking me in the eyes, "it is most likely that he
will marry my daughter, and nothing is more vulgar than a family whose
members are forever quarreling."
I clenched my hands until the nails pierced the flesh. She had hit me a
hard blow, and she knew it.
"And what does Dorothy think of this arrangement?" I asked, with as great
composure as I could muster.
She smiled with a calm assurance which made my heart sink. "Dorothy would
be a fool not to accept him, for he is one of the most eligible gentlemen
in Virginia. Indeed, perhaps she has already done so, for I gave him
leave to speak to her this morning," and she smiled again as she noted my
trembling hands, which I tried in vain to steady. "You seem much
interested in the matter."