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at a cheerful board! The usual time of sitting at table, a walk, and tea bring me within the dawn of candle light; previous to which, if not prevented by company, I resolve that, as soon as the glimmering taper supplies the place of the great luminary, I will retire to my writing table and acknowledge the letters I have received; but when the lights are brought I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next night comes, and with it the same causes for postponement, and so on. Having given you the history of a day, it will serve for a year, and, I am persuaded, you will not require a second edition of it. But it may strike you that in this detail no mention is made of any portion of time allotted for reading. The remark would be just, for I have not looked into a book since I came home; nor shall I be able to do it until I have discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow longer, when possibly I may be looking in Doomsday Book.'
In his solitary rides about Mount Vernon and its woodlands, fond and melancholy thoughts would occasionally sadden the landscape as his mind reverted to past times and early associates. In a letter to Mrs. S. Fairfax, now in England, he writes: "It is a matter of sore regret when I cast my eyes toward Belvoir, which I often do, to reflect that the former inhabitants of it, with whom we lived in such harmony and friendship, no longer reside there, and the ruins only can be viewed as the mementoes of former pleasures."
The influx of strange faces alluded to in the letter to Mr. McHenry, soon became overwhelming, and Washington felt the necessity of having some one at
THE HISTORY OF A DAY.
hand to relieve him from a part of the self-imposed duties of Virginia hospitality.
With this view he bethought him of his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, the same who had gained favor with him by volunteering in the Western expedition, and accompanying General Knox as aide-de-camp. He accordingly addressed a letter to him in which he writes: "Whenever it is convenient to you to make this place your home, I shall be glad to see you. As both your aunt and I are in the decline of life, and regular in our habits, especially in our hours of rising and going to bed, I require some person (fit and proper) to ease me of the trouble of entertaining company, particularly of nights, as it is my inclination to retire, (and unless prevented by very particular company, I always do retire,) either to bed or to my study soon after candle light. In taking those duties (which hospitality obliges one to bestow on company) off my hands, it would render me a very acceptable service." *
In consequence of this invitation, Lawrence thenceforward became an occasional inmate at Mount Vernon. The place at this time possessed attractions for gay as well as grave, and was often enlivened by young company. One great attraction was Miss Nelly Custis, Mrs. Washington's grand-daughter, who, with her brother George W. P. Custis, had been adopted by the General at their father's death, when they were quite children, and brought up by him with the most affectionate care. He was fond of children, especially girls; as to boys, with all his spirit of command, he found them at times somewhat unmanageable. I can govern
men, would he say, but I cannot govern boys. Miss Nelly had grown up under the special eye of her grandmother, to whom she was devotedly attached, and who was particular in enforcing her observance of all her lessons, as well as instructing her in the arts of house-keeping. She was a great favorite with the General; whom, as we have before observed, she delighted with her gay whims and sprightly sallies, often overcoming his habitual gravity, and surprising him into a hearty laugh.
MISS NELLY CUSTIS.
She was now maturing into a lovely and attractive woman, and the attention she received began to awaken some solicitude in the General's mind. This is evinced in a half-sportive letter of advice written to her during a temporary absence from Mount Vernon, when she was about to make her first appearance at a ball at Georgetown. It is curious as a specimen of Washington's counsel in love matters. It would appear that Miss Nelly, to allay his solicitude, had already, in her correspondence, professed "a perfect apathy toward the youth of the present day, and a determination never to give herself a moment's uneasiness on account of any of them." Washington doubted the firmness and constancy of her resolves. "Men and women," writes he, "feel the same inclination towards each other now that they always have done, and which they will continue to do, until there is a new order of things; and you, as others have done, may find that the passions of your sex are easier raised than allayed. Do not, therefore, boast too soon, nor too strongly of your insensibility. * Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true in part only,
* * *
for like all things else, when nourished and supplied plentifully with aliment, it is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn, and it may be stifled in its birth, or much stinted in its growth. Although we cannot avoid first impressions, we may assuredly place them under guard. When the fire is beginning to kindle and your heart growing warm, propound these questions to it. Who is this invader? Have I a competent knowledge of him? Is he a man of good character? A man of sense? For, be assured, a sensible woman can never be happy with a fool. What has been his walk in life? * Is his fortune sufficient to maintain me in the manner I have been accustomed to live, and as my sisters do live? And is he one to whom my friends can have no reasonable objection? If all these interrogatories can be satisfactorily answered, there will remain but one more to be asked; that, however, is an important one. Have I sufficient ground to conclude that his affections are engaged by me? Without this the heart of sensibility will struggle against a passion that is not reciprocated.'
The sage counsels of Washington and the susceptible feelings of Miss Nelly, were soon brought to the test by the residence of Lawrence Lewis at Mount Vernon. A strong attachment for her grew up on his part, or perhaps already existed, and was strengthened by daily intercourse. It was favorably viewed by his uncle. Whether it was fully reciprocated was uncertain. A formidable rival to Lewis appeared in the person of young Carroll of Carrollton, who had just returned from Europe, adorned with the graces of foreign travel,
* MS. Letter.
and whose suit was countenanced by Mrs. Washington. These were among the poetic days of Mount Vernon, when its halls echoed to the tread of lovers. They were halcyon days with Miss Nelly, as she herself declared, in after years, to a lady, from whom we have the story: "I was young and romantic then," said she, "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."
Poor Miss Nelly 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 re-opened 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."
We will anticipate dates, and observe that the romantic episode of Miss Nelly Custis terminated to the
A ROMANTIC EPISODE.