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Mount Vernon Love Story: A Novel of George and Martha Washingtonby Mary Higgins Clark
from Mount Vernon Love Story
His foot tapped against the floor as he sprawled uncomfortably on one of the stiff old chairs in the parlor at Ferry Farm. As always he'd had a time becoming absorbed in his book. There was something forbidding and uncomfortable about the spartanly furnished room, about the house itself.
He was a scant thirteen but had already decided that when he grew up, his home would be warm and welcoming. It would have fine papers on the walls and a marble chimney, papier-mâché on the ceilings and neat mahogany tables which could be joined together for company. George spent much time envisioning that home.
Sighing, he turned back to his reader. Once more he shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. There simply didn't seem to be room enough for his legs anymore — in the past year he'd gained three inches, was now nearly 6 feet 1 inch, and did not seem to be finished growing. Even his shoulders were pushing their way out of the plain shirting that his mother considered suitable garb.
His book that day was the Young Man's Companion. His favorite lines in it were:
Get what you get honestly.
George thought again of the story he'd heard of when his mother first came into this house as a bride. His father carried her over the threshold and the first thing her eye fell on was the family copy of Matthew Hale's Contemplations. The housekeeper had left the book open at the page that bore the signature of her husband's first wife.
Mary Washington said to her husband, "Put me down, please." Firmly she walked over to the book, picked up a pen, and wrote her own name, boldly and with flourishes. The new mistress was very much in charge from that day on.
George loved his mother but he didn't like her very much. Since his father's death when George was eleven he'd tried to be the man of the house for her, but Mary Washington allowed no smidgen of authority to be taken from her even by her own son. She took care of her brood, wrangled with the overseers who handled the vast lands her husband had left to her and the children, and carried a leather whip at her belt to ensure obedience from her offspring.
George had an uneasy conscience about the fact that he was much happier during his long visits to his half brothers Augustine and Lawrence. They lived on their own estates now. Lawrence on the Hunting Creek land that he'd renamed Mount Vernon, and Augustine on the Rappahannock Farm near Fredericksburg.
Both young men seemed to understand George's feelings because he was frequently invited to spend long periods of time with them. "And how is your good mother?" Lawrence would ask when George arrived. "The same?"
"The same," George would say, hoping that a wry note did not creep into his voice. He wished he could love his mother more. And then he'd forget her and settle into the comfortable atmosphere of his brothers' homes and families.
Now his mother stalked into the room. "Idle?" Her spare figure was even straighter than usual. The nostrils of her roman nose suggested a sniff...always a dangerous sign.
George sprang up. "No, madame. I have been reading my meditations." Lamely he pointed to the book which had slid unnoticed to the floor.
His mother picked it up. "It is not enough to read about how to live life, or to dream it. It is quite more important to do something about it. Are your chores finished?"
"Yes, Mother." He hesitated a moment. It was probably a dangerous time to bring up a sore subject but intense desire to know his mother's mind pushed him on. "And, Mother, have you given further thought to my going to sea?"
It was the wrong time. His mother's eyebrows, thick and well-shaped, drew into an almost unbroken line. "I see no need to think about it today. I have at least three years longer to give that subject my thoughts." She turned and stalked from the room.
She'd only been gone a moment when his sister Betty slipped in. "Is she vexed with you again?" Betty asked anxiously.
George smiled a welcome. Betty was only a year younger than he and they'd always been close. He wondered again how she had ever been their mother's daughter. Betty was pretty, gay, and lighthearted. She always had a light novel tucked in her workbasket. She never walked but seemed to dance across a room. Oddly, of all the children, she got along best with the mother.
She and George understood each other completely and shared dreams. Betty, too, had her own ideas about her future home. "I shall have the very grandest house in all Fredericksburg," she often said. "It shall be built just for me and have great beams and fine brass, a beautiful reception hall with lovely, lovely furnishings. And I shall be the mistress in the finest gowns from London. I'll have lots of company and be very gay all the time and not live like this." Whenever she got to that part of her dream, she would give a near sniff and look greatly like her mother.
Now she stood in front of her tall brother and looked at him adoringly.
George cupped her chin in his hand. "God help the young men in a year or two. No, little one, she isn't really vexed. She just wants to get vexed about something, so beware."
Betty giggled. "Well, if she goes to the kitchen, she'll have plenty of reason. Cook's new assistant has vastly overcooked the pork and cook is in a state."
George groaned. "Dinner should be a pleasant affair indeed. Thank God I'm off for Mount Vernon tomorrow."
Betty sighed. "I'm glad for you but how I shall miss you. You love Mount Vernon very much, don't you?"
George considered a moment. "Yes," he said. "Lawrence and Anne are so kind to me but it's more than that. That land...just the way the sun shines on it, or the snow blankets it in white. The way it looks in autumn when the great trees are losing their leaves. It's the joy of riding across the acres next door to Belvoir and visiting with the Fairfaxes. It's riding home again late, when evening shadows are touching the house and the sun is sinking and the Potomac is half dark, half gleaming. Yes, Betty, I truly love Mount Vernon."
Copyright © 1968, 2002 by Mary Higgins Clark
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