I entered the parlour and spied Jacky at a window, his knees perched upon a chair.
"What are you doing, son?"
"Is he coming soon, Mamma?"
"Yes. Soon. But I am not certain of the time. You should come away from the window and go about your day. I am sure Patsy would love to have you play with—"
"No! I am waiting here. I want to be the first to see him."
As long as I was the second.
I looked about the parlour, making certain everything was just so. This would be George's second visit to White House in less than a month, and if my intuition was correct, this visit would result in a proposal. If it did not, I would be sorely disappointed, for during the two occasions we had spent time together, I had come to revere him as a man, respect him as a soldier, relish him as good company, and react to him as a woman. When in his presence, I wished to be nowhere else. And when apart, I longed to be with him.
Was I in love?
If so, it was a different love than what I had felt for Daniel. Perhaps it was Daniel's age that had made my love for him rooted in comfort and security. With Daniel I was the woman I had spent my entire life training to be: I was the wife of a plantation owner and the mother of many. We complemented each other, he and I. But—may Daniel forgive me—there was never any true passion between us. There was an amiable regard, a fondness, a mutual respect and acceptance, but I do not remember feeling pulled beyond myself, lured into a place where the known Martha became a different Martha, someone more than I had ever been before.
When I was with George ... he made me feel as though I was incomplete as I was now. There was more to Martha, more depth, more complexities, more excitement that were yet to be harvested. In his presence the world was vast and wide and held secrets I longed to explore. My role by his side would expand beyond the normal framework of a plantation wife. I did not know how, but the possibilities were enticing.
I had never traveled beyond the twenty-five miles to Williamsburg. When I married Daniel, the move from Chestnut Grove to White House encompassed but a short distance.
But George ... George had been to Barbados with his ailing brother. He had surveyed wilderness lands never surveyed before. He had fought Indians and the French in the far—off Ohio Valley. He knew rivers with odd names like the Monongahela and Youghiogeheny.
In our last visit he had confided he had not been raised to be a gentleman. His family was considered (by his own words) second tier. His father, Gus, had sired two sons by his first wife—George's older stepbrothers, Lawrence and Austin—before marrying George's mother, Mary. They had six children in seven years, George being the eldest. With each passing pregnancy, Mary grew bitter and angry. It was not a pleasant household and was devoid of happy memories. Then Gus died young—at age forty. George, only eleven, was forced into the role of man of the house, forced to deal with a sour and resentful mother who was incapable of showing love toward her children or joy of any kind.
When he told me the story, I grieved for him, for one of my largest goals was to create a happy home for my Jacky and Patsy. Children were a blessing that deserved the full dedication of their parents. Nothing less.
Yet George did attain happiness through the intervention of his stepbrother Lawrence. Lawrence had been a soldier, fighting with Britain against Spain. George was enthralled with his brother's military bearing and his uniform. (When a boy is used to homespun and rough linen, the fine fabrics of a vivid costume are sure to impress.)
Lawrence had inherited some land on the Potomac that he named Mount Vernon after his commander, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. He married the daughter of an extremely wealthy landowner who lived in Belvoir, just four miles away. The family of Ann Fairfax held nearly five million acres of land. When Lawrence lost three children in four years, he began to think of his little brother as a son, and he and Ann groomed George to be a gentleman, teaching him how to dance, speak, fence, dress, ride a horse, and otherwise giving him his first real education. Colonel William Fairfax, the master of Belvoir, gave George free rein to his vast library and taught him about art and the finer things of a cultured life. The life he experienced with his brother and with the Fairfaxes was a stunning contrast to the silence and oppression of his mother's house at Ferry Farm, where the library consisted of a Bible and a book of sermons.
When Colonel Fairfax's son, George William, came home from attending school in England, he and George became fast friends, even though George William was seven years his elder.
George confided to me that his goal, even at that young age, was to appear honourable and virtuous. Toward that end he even hand-copied a Jesuit guidebook on manners in order to instill them in his mind. He had always been self-conscious about his looks, especially his height. He was six feet three inches, and his teeth were bad. Regarding the latter, he rarely laughed full voice, and when I caught him once and saw his teeth, I knew why he kept his reactions restrained. They were gray and at least one was missing. I, for one, had been blessed with lovely teeth. If ever the time seemed right, I planned to share my homemade tooth powder with him.
That George had had to fight for his honour and position, work hard for it ... these things raised him in my eyes. Obtaining position and distinction through inheritance is one thing, but to obtain them through determination and merit is far another. Through his confidences, I was endeared to him even more. Not all men would admit lowly beginnings.
I adjusted the books that sat upon a table and found myself smiling at the memory of another of George's shared confidences. He had sat in this very chair and fingered the edges of these books as he told me the story.
He had just returned from the horrible defeat under the command of the late General Braddock. George had thought it his duty to explain why they had lost—as a means to prevent such a slaughter again. Colonel Fairfax had listened to his impassioned report and had spread the word to those higher up in the military.
In response to George's wisdom, he was made Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all the Colonial Forces. Quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year-old man with no formal education.
George could have left his rendition of the story to me there—with his triumph—but he did not. He proceeded to tell me that feeling proud in his new position, he decided to visit the Virginia regiment at a parade ground in Alexandria. He forecast his coming and yet ... only ten officers and twenty recruits showed up. "It was evident I was commander in chief of nothing and almost no one."
I believed all he said, but none of his assessment. For from what I knew of Colonel George Washington, he was a true commander, and would eventually have a myriad of troops at his beck and call. I could see it in him, in his eyes, in his stance, in his heart. He was a born leader.
And I was ready to be led.
Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser
Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764205002
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.