« ZurückWeiter »
as important in its way as any that a teacher can impart.
Lord Fairfax and Washington became fast friends. They hunted the fox together, and hunted him hard. They engaged in all the rough sports and perilous excitements that Virginia winter life could afford, and the boy's bold and skilful riding, his love of sports and his fine temper, commended him to the warm and affectionate interest of the old nobleman. Other qualities, too, the experienced man of the world saw in his young companion: a high and persistent courage, robust and calm sense, and, above all, unusual force of will and character. Washington impressed profoundly everybody with whom he was brought into personal contact, a fact which is one of the most marked features of his character and career, and one which deserves study more than almost any other. Lord Fairfax was no exception to the rule. He saw in Washington not simply a promising, brave, open-hearted boy, diligent in practising his profession, and whom he was anxious to help, but something more; something which so impressed him that he confided to this lad a task which, according to its performance, would affect both his fortune and his peace. In a word, he trusted Washington, and told him, as the spring of 1748 was opening, to go forth and survey the vast Fairfax estates beyond the Ridge, define their boundaries, and save them from future litigation. With this commission from Lord Fairfax, Wash
ington entered on the first period of his career. He passed it on the frontier, fighting nature, the Indians, and the French. He went in a schoolboy; he came out the first soldier in the colonies, and one of the leading men of Virginia. Let us pause a moment and look at him as he stands on the threshold of this momentous period, rightly called momentous because it was the formative period in the life of such a man. He had just passed his sixteenth birthday. He was tall and muscular, approaching the stature of more than six feet which he afterwards attained. He was not yet filled out to manly proportions, but was rather spare, after the fashion of youth. He had a well-shaped, active figure, symmetrical except for the unusual length of the arms, indicating uncommon strength. His light brown hair was drawn back from a broad forehead, and grayishblue eyes looked happily, and perhaps a trifle soberly, on the pleasant Virginia world about him. The face was open and manly, with a square, massive jaw, and a general expression of calmness and strength. “Fair and florid,” big and strong, he was, take him for all in all, as fine a specimen of his race as could be found in the English colonies. Let us look a little closer through the keen eyes of one who studied many faces to good purpose. The great painter of portraits, Gilbert Stuart, tells us of Washington that he never saw in any man such large eye-sockets, or such a breadth of nose and forehead between the eyes, and that he read there the evidences of the strongest passions possible to human nature. John Bernard the actor, a good observer, too, saw in Washington's face, in 1797, the signs of an habitual conflict and mastery of passions, witnessed by the compressed mouth and deeply indented brow. The problem had been solved then; but in 1748, passion and will alike slumbered, and no man could tell which would prevail, or whether they would work together to great purpose or go jarring on to nothingness. He rises up to us out of the past in that early springtime a fine, handsome, athletic boy, beloved by those about him, who found him a charming companion and did not guess that he might be a terribly dangerous foe. He rises up instinct with life and strength, a being capable, as we know, of great things whether for good or evil, with hot blood pulsing in his veins and beating in his heart, with violent passions and relentless will still undeveloped, and no one in all that jolly, generous Virginian society even dimly dreamed what that development would be, or what it would mean to the world. It was in March, 1748, that George Fairfax and Washington set forth on their adventures, and passing through Ashby's Gap in the Blue Ridge, entered the valley of Virginia. Thence they worked their way up the valley of the Shenandoah, surveying as they went, returned and swam the swollen Potomac, surveyed the lands about its south branch and in the mountainous region of Frederick County, and finally reached Mount Vernon again on April 12th. It was a rough experience for a beginner, but a wholesome one, and furnished the usual vicissitudes of frontier life. They were wet and cold and hungry, or warm and dry and well fed, by turns. They slept in a tent, or the huts of the scattered settlers, and oftener still beneath the stars. They met a war party of Indians, and having plied them with liquor, watched one of their mad dances round the camp-fire. In another place they came on a straggling settlement of Germans, dull, patient, and illiterate, strangely unfit for the life of the wilderness. All these things, as well as the progress of their work and their various restingplaces, Washington noted down briefly but methodically in a diary, showing in these rough notes the first evidences of that keen observation of nature and men and daily incidents which he developed to such good purpose in after-life. There are no rhapsodies and no reflections in these hasty jottings, but the employments and the discomforts are all set down in a simple and matter-of-fact way, which omitted no essential thing and excluded all that was worthless. His work, too, was well done, and Lord Fairfax was so much pleased by the report that he moved across the Blue Ridge, built a hunting lodge preparatory to something more splendid which never came to pass, and laid out a noble manor, to which he gave the name of Greenway Court. He also procured for Washington an appointment as a public surveyor, which conferred authority on his surveys and provided him with regular work. Thus started, Washington toiled at his profession for three years, living and working as he did on his first expedition. It was a rough life, but a manly and robust one, and the men who live it, although often rude and coarse, are never weak or effeminate. To Washington it was an admirable school. It strengthened his muscles and hardened him to exposure and fatigue. It accustomed him to risks and perils of various kinds, and made him fertile in expedients and confident of himself, while the nature of his work rendered him careful and industrious. That his work was well done is shown by the fact that his surveys were considered of the first authority, and stand unquestioned to this day, like certain other work which he was subsequently called to do. It was part of his character, when he did anything, to do it in a lasting fashion, and it is worth while to remember that the surveys he made as a boy were the best that could be made. He wrote to a friend at this time: “Since you received my letter of October last, I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed, but, after walking a good deal all the day, I have lain down before the fire upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or a . bearskin, whichever was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. Nothing would make it pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain every day that the weather will permit of my going out, and sometimes six pistoles.” He was evidently a thrifty lad, and