Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

I have discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow longer, when possibly I may be looking in Doomsday book.”

There is not much that can be added to his own concise description of the simple life he led at home. The rest and quiet were very pleasant, but still there was a touch of sadness in his words. The long interval of absence made the changes which time had wrought stand out more vividly than if they had come one by one in the course of daily life at home. Washington looked on the ruins of Belvoir, and sighed to think of the many happy hours he had passed with the Fairfaxes, now gone from the land forever. Other old friends had been taken away by death, and the gaps were not filled by the new faces of which he speaks to McHenry. Indeed, the crowd of visitors coming to Mount Vernon from all parts of his own country and of the world, whether they came from respect or curiosity, brought a good deal of weariness to a man tired with the cares of state and longing for absolute repose. Yet he would not close his doors to any one, for the Virginian sense of hospitality, always peculiarly strong in him, forbade such action. To relieve himself, therefore, in this respect, he sent for his nephew Lawrence Lewis, who took the social burden from his shoulders. But although the visitors tired him when he felt respon. sible for their pleasure, he did not shut himself up now any more than at any other time in selfcontemplation. He was constantly thinking of others; and the education of his nephews, the care of young Lafayette until he should return to France, as well as the happy love-match of Nellie Custis and his nephew, supplied the human interest with out which he was never happy.

Before we trace his connection with public affairs in these closing years, let us take one look at him, through the eyes of a disinterested but keen observer. John Bernard, an English actor, who had come to this country in the year when Washington left the presidency, was playing an engagement with his company at Annapolis, in 1798. One day he mounted his horse and rode down below Alexandria, to pay a visit to an acquaintance who lived on the banks of the Potomac. When he was returning, a chaise in front of him, containing a man and a young woman, was overturned, and the occupants were thrown out. As Bernard rode to the scene of the accident, another horseman galloped up from the opposite direction. The two riders dismounted, found that the driver was not hurt, and succeeded in restoring the young woman to consciousness; an event which was marked, Bernard tells us, by a volley of invectives addressed to her unfortunate husband. “The horse," continues Bernard, “was now on his legs, but the vehicle still prostrate, heavy in its frame, and laden with at least half a ton of luggage. My fellow-helper set me an example of activity in relieving it of the internal weight; and when all was clear, we grasped the wheel between us, and to the peril of our spinal columns righted the conveyance. The horse was then put in, and we lent a hand to help up the luggage. All this helping, hauling, and lifting occupied' at least half an hour, under a meridian sun, in the middle of July, which fairly boiled the perspiration out of our foreheads.” The possessor of the chaise beguiled the labor by a full personal history of himself and his wife, and when the work was done invited the two Samari. tans to go with him to Alexandria, and take a drop of something sociable.” This being declined, the couple mounted into the chaise and drove on! “Then,” says Bernard, “my companion, after an exclamation at the heat, offered very courteously to dust my coat, a favor the return of which enabled me to take deliberate survey of his person. He was a tall, erect, well-made man, evidently advanced in years, but who appeared to have retained all the vigor and elasticity resulting from a life of temperance and exercise. His dress was a blue coat buttoned to his chin, and buckskin breeches. Though the instant he took off his hat I could not avoid the recognition of familiar lineaments, which indeed I was in the habit of seeing on every sign-post and over every fireplace, still I failed to identify him, and to my surprise I found that I was an object of equal speculation in his eyes." The actor evidently did not have the royal gift of remembering faces, but the stranger possessed that quality, for after a moment's pause he said, “Mr. Bernard, I believe," and mentioned

[ocr errors]

the occasion on which he had seen him play in Philadelphia. He then asked Bernard to go home with him for a couple of hours' rest, and pointed out the house in the distance. At last Bernard knew to whom he was speaking. “Mount Vernon!' I exclaimed; and then drawing back with a stare of wonder, 'Have I the honor of addressing General Washington?' With a smile whose expression of benevolence I have rarely seen equaled, he offered his hand and replied: "An odd sort of introduction, Mr. Bernard; but I am pleased to find you can play so active a part in private, and without a prompter.' So they rode on together to the house and had a chat, to which we must recur further on.

There is no contemporary narrative of which I am aware that shows Washington to us more clearly than this little adventure with Bernard, for it is in the common affairs of daily life that men come nearest to each other, and the same rule holds good in history. We know Washington much better from these few lines of description left by a chance acquaintance on the road than we do from volumes of state papers. It is such a pleasant story, too. There is the great man, retired from the world, still handsome and imposing in his old age, with the strong and ready hand to succor those who had fallen by the wayside; there are the genuine hospitality, the perfect manners, and the well-turned little sentence with which he complimented the actor, put him at his ease, and asked him to his house. Nothing can well be added to the picture of Washington as we see him here, not long before the end of all things came. We must break off, however, from the quiet charm of home life, and turn again briefly to the affairs of state. Let us, therefore, leave these two riding along the road together in the warm Virginia sunshine to the house which has since become one of the Meccas of humanity, in memory of the man who once dwelt in it.

The highly prized retirement to Mount Vernon did not now, more than at any previous time, separate Washington from the affairs of the country. He continued to take a keen interest in all that went on, to correspond with his friends, and to use his influence for what he thought wisest and best for the general welfare. These were stirring times, too, and the progress of events brought him to take a more active part than he had ever expected to play again; for France, having failed, thanks to his policy, to draw us either by fair words or trickery from our independent and neutral position, determined, apparently, to try the effect of force and ill usage. Pinckney, sent out as minister, had been rebuffed; and then Adams, with the cordial support of the country, had made another effort for peace by sending Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry as a special commission. The history of that commission is one of the best known epi. sodes in our history. Our envoys were insulted, asked for bribes, and browbeaten, until the two

« ZurückWeiter »