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'Young Mr. C came here about a fortnight ago, to dinner, and left us next morning after breakfast. If his object was such as you say has been reported, it was not declared here; and therefore the less is said upon the subject, particularly by your sister's friends, the more prudent it will be until the subject develops itself more."
In his next letter, in reply to this, young Custis ventured only to say: "With respect to what I mentioned of Mr. C in my last, I had no other foundation but report, which has since been contradicted."*
Lawrence Lewis triumphed, yet the foster-father had some time doubted respecting the result, for other suitors came to Mount Vernon, and made their homage at the shrine of Nelly's wit and beauty.
"I was young and romantic then," she said to a lady, from whose lips Mr. Irving has quoted "I was young and romantic then, and fond of wandering alone by moonlight in the woods of Mount Vernon. Grandmamma thought it wrong and unsafe, and scolded and coaxed me into a promise that I would not wander in the woods again unaccompanied. But I was missing one evening, and was brought home from the interdicted woods to the drawing-room, where the General was walking up and down with his hands behind him, as was his wont. Grandmamma, seated in her great arm-chair, opened a severe reproof."
* For very interesting correspondence between General Washington and his adopted son, G. W. P. Custis, while the latter was in college at Princeton and Annapolis, from November, 1796, to January, 1799, see Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, by his adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis edited by the author of this work.
"Poor Miss Nelly," says Mr. Irving, "was reminded of her promise, and taxed with her delinquency. She knew that she had done wrong-admitted her fault, and essayed no excuse; but, when there was a slight pause, moved to retire from the room. She was just shutting the door when she overheard the General attempting, in a low voice, to intercede in her behalf. 'My dear,' observed he, 'I would say no more-perhaps she was not alone.'
"His intercession stopped Miss Nelly in her retreat. She reopened the door and advanced up to the General with a firm step. 'Sir,' said she, 'you brought me up to speak the truth, and when I told Grandmamma I was alone, I hope you believed I was alone.'
"The General made one of his most magnanimous bows. 'My child,' replied he, 'I beg your pardon.'
Lawrence and Nelly were married at Mount Vernon on Washington's birthday, 1799. It was Friday, and a bright and beautiful day. The early spring flowers were budding in the hedges, and the bluebird, making its way cautiously northward, gave a few joyous notes in the garden that morning. The occasion was one of great hilarity at Mount Vernon, for the bride was beloved by all, and Major Lewis, the bridegroom, had ever been near to the heart of his uncle, since the death of his mother, who so much resembled her illustrious brother, that when, in sport, she would place a chapeau on her head and throw a military cloak over her shoulders, she might easily have been mistaken for the Chief.
It was the wish of the young bride, said her brother, that the general of the armies of the United States should wear, on that occasion, the splendidly-embroidered uniform which the
board of general officers had adopted, but Washington could not be persuaded to appear in a costume bedizened with tinsel. He preferred the plain old continental blue and buff, and the modest black ribbon cockade. Magnificent white plumes, which General Pinckney had presented to him, he gave to the bride; and to the Reverend Thomas Davis, rector of Christ Church, Alexandria, who performed the marriage ceremony, he presented an elegant copy of Mrs. Macaulay's History of England, in eight octavo volumes, saying, when he handed them to him:
“These, sir, were written by a remarkable lady, who visited America many years ago; and here is also her treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth, which she sent me just before her death-read it and return it to me."
With characteristic modesty, Washington made no allusion to the fact that Mrs. Macaulay (Catharine Macaulay Graham) crossed the Atlantic in the spring of 1785, for no other purpose, as she avowed, than to see the great leader of the American armies, whom she revered as a second Moses. Washington thus alluded to her, in a letter to General Knox, written on the 18th of June, 1785:
"Mrs. Macaulay Graham, Mr. Graham, and others, have just left us, after a stay of about ten days. A visit from a lady so celebrated in the literary world could not but be very flattering to me."
The year 1799-next to the last year of the century, and the last of Washington's life-was now drawing to a close, and he appears to have made preparations for his departure, as if the fact that the summons from earth would soon be presented had been revealed to him. In March he said, in a letter to
Mr. Mcllenry, after alluding to business affairs: "My greatest anxiety is to have all these concerns in such a clear and distinct form, that no reproach may attach itself to me when I have taken my departure for the land of spirits."
In July he executed his last will and testament. It was written entirely by himself, and at the bottom of each page of manuscript he signed his name. During the autumn he digested a complete system of management for his estate for several succeeding years, in which were tables designating the rotation of crops. This document occupied thirty folio pages, all written in his peculiar and clear style. It was completed only four days before his death, and was accompanied by a letter, dated December 10th, 1799, to his manager or steward, giving him special directions, as if the master was about to depart on a journey.
At this time Washington was in full health and vigor, and the beautiful days of a serene old age were promised him. He had once said: "I am of a short-lived family, and cannot expect to remain very long upon the earth;" yet now, at the age of almost sixty-eight, he appeared to have full expectations of octogenarian honors.
Only a few days before his death, he had walked out, on a cold, frosty morning, with his nephew, Major Lewis, and pointed out his anticipated improvements, especially showing him the spot where he intended to build a new family vault. "This change," he said, "I shall make the first of all, for I may require it before the rest.”
"When I parted from him," said Major Lewis, to James K. Faulding, "he stood on the steps of the front door, where he took leave of myself and another. He had taken his usual
ride, and the clear healthy flush on his cheek and his sprightly manner, brought the remark from both of us that we had never seen the general look so well. I have sometimes thought him decidedly the handsomest man I ever saw; and when in a lively mood, so full of pleasantry, so agreeable to all with whom he associated, I could hardly realize that he was the same Washington whose dignity awed all who approached him."
On the 11th of December Washington noted in his diary that there was wind and rain, and "at night a large circle round the moon." This portent of snow was truthful, for at one o'clock the next day it began to fall. It soon changed to hail, and then to rain.
Washington had been out on horseback, as usual, since ten o'clock in the morning, and returned only in time for late dinner. Mr. Lear, who was again residing at Mount Vernon, as Washington's secretary and business manager, carried some letters to him to frank, when he observed snow hanging to the general's hair about his neck, and expressed a fear that he was wet. "No," Washington replied, "my great coat has kept me dry;" and after franking the letters, and observing that the storm was too heavy to send a servant to the post-office that evening, he sat down to dinner without changing his damp clothes.
On the following day (Friday, the 13th) the snow was three inches deep upon the ground, and still falling. Washington complained of a sore throat, and the storm continuing, he omitted his usual ride. At noon the clouds broke, the sun came out clear and warm, and he occupied himself before dinner in marking some trees, between the mansion and the