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Harlem River, where, twenty years later, Washington, as leader of a host of Americans, in arms against the king, held his head-quarters, the master and mistress of the mansion being proscribed as "enemies to their country!"
But, three years later, there was a presiding angel over the mansion on Mount Vernon. Meanwhile the tramp of steeds, the clangor of arms, and every sound betokening warlike preparations, were heard there, and the decisive campaign of 1758 was opened.
Washington went to the camp as soon as his health would permit; and toward Fort du Quesne, at the confluence of the forks of the Ohio, quite a large army made its way. Wasting delays and weary marches consumed the summer time; and late in autumn, having traversed deep forests and rugged mountains, the invading army found rest, beyond the Alleghanies. Colonel Washington, with an advanced guard, took possession of all that was left of Fort du Quesne, where Pittsburg now stands. It had been the prize for which Braddock contended-the nest from which came the vultures that
preyed upon the frontier settlements. Over its smoking ruins the red cross of St. George was unfurled, where for four years had waved the lilies of France. Then French dominion ceased southward of Lake Erie; and the young hero, whose wisdom, skill, and valor had contributed so largely toward the accomplishment of that result, returned to Mount Vernon sick and wearied, fully resolved to leave the army forever, and seek repose and happiness, usefulness and fair fame, in domestic and civil life.
For these Washington was now prepared. During the previous spring, while on his way to Williamsburg, from his camp at Winchester, he had been taught to love one of the best of Virginia's daughters; and in the autumn, while he was making his toilsome march toward Fort du Quesne, he had been elected a delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
The story of Washington's love and courtship is simple, yet full of the elements of romance. No words can better tell that story than those used for the purpose, in after years, by a grandson of the lady.* "It was in 1758," he says, "that Washington, attired in military undress, and attended by a body servant, tall and militaire as his chief, was crossing William's Ferry over the Pamunkey River, a branch of the York River. On the boat touching the southern or New Kent side, the soldier's progress was arrested by one of those personages who give the beau ideal of the Virginia gentleman of the old régime-the very soul of kindliness and hospitality.
* The late George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of Washingtor. See Custis's Recollections of Washington. New York, 1859
It was in vain the soldier urged his business at Williamsburg, important communications to the governor, etc. Mr. Chamberlayne, on whose domain the militaire had just landed, would hear of no excuse. Colonel Washington's was a name and character so dear to all the Virginians that his passing by one of the old castles of the Dominion without calling and partaking of the hospitalities of the host was entirely out of the question.
"The colonel, however, did not surrender at discretion, but stoutly maintained his ground, till Chamberlayne bringing up his reserve, in the intimation that he would introduce his friend to a young and charming widow, then beneath his roof, the soldier capitulated, on condition that he should dineonly dine- and then, by pressing his charger and borrowing of the night, he would reach Williamsburg before, his Excellency could shake off his morning slumbers. Orders were accordingly issued to Bishop, the Colonel's body-servant and faithful follower, who, together with the fine English charger, had been bequeathed by the dying Braddock to Major Washington, on the famed and fatal field of the Monongahela. Bishop, bred in the school of European discipline, raised his hand to his cap, as much as to say, 'Your honor's orders shall be obeyed.'
"The colonel now proceeded to the mansion, and was introduced to various guests (for when was a Virginian domicile of the olden time without guests?) and, above all, to the charming widow. Tradition relates that they were mutually pleased on this their first interview. Nor is it remarkable. They were of an age when impressions are strongest. The lady was fair to behold, of fascinating manners and splen
didly endowed with worldly benefits. The hero, fresh from his early fields, redolent of fame, and with a form on which
"Every god did seem to set his seal,
"The morning passed pleasantly away; evening came, with Bishop, true to his orders and firm at his post, holding the favorite charger with one hand, while the other was waiting to offer the ready stirrup.
"The sun sank in the horizon, and yet the colonel appeared not. And then the old soldier marvelled at his chief's delay. 'Twas strange, 'twas passing strange-surely he was not wont to be a single moment behind his appointments, for he was the most punctual of all punctual men.' Meantime, the host enjoyed the scene of the veteran on duty at the gate, while the colonel was so agreeably employed in the parlor, and proclaiming that no guest ever left his house after sunset, his military visitor was, without much difficulty, persuaded to order Bishop to put up the horses for the night.
"The sun rode high in the heavens the ensuing day, when the enamored soldier pressed with his spur his charger's side, and speeded on his way to the seat of government, where, having dispatched his public business, he retraced his steps, and, at the White House, a marriage engagement took place."
That "charming widow" was Martha Custis, daughter of John Dandridge, whose husband, Daniel Parke Custis, had been dead between two and three years. He had left her with two young children and a very large fortune in lands and money, the legal evidence of which, in the form of deeds, mortgages, bonds, and certificates of deposit in the Bank of
England, were contained in a strong iron box, which is care
fully preserved by her descendants, at their beautiful seat at Arlington, on the Potomac, opposite Washington City.
"And much," continues the writer we have quoted, "hath the biographer heard of that marriage of domestics who waited at
Washington, from the grayhaired the board where love made the feast and the Virginia colonel was the guest.
DANIEL PARKE CUSTIS.