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He Walks Alone

He Walks Alone

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He Walks Alone

Longueur:
590 pages
9 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Aug 5, 2013
ISBN:
9781301518555
Format:
Livre

Description

Before Martha Washington, there was Sally, Sally Fairfax.
An ambitious woman, thirsting for power, Sally could have married a dozen times before William Fairfax came along but William was the best offer. He had the most money, and he was in line for the title.
Then George saw her for the first time. "She was standing across the room from him at the end of the fireplace, one arm resting on the mantel. Her black hair, brushed back from a smooth,high forehead was shaped into curls and caught at the neck with a ribbon the color of the gown. Her only adornment was a white blossom tucked into the curls over her left ear. George caught his breath and held it a moment before he expelled it in disbelief."
After Martha Washington, there was still Sally.
George was Martha's husband, . More than that the hope of the Colonies, and there was the fire the slumbering spark of desire for Sally.

Éditeur:
Sortie:
Aug 5, 2013
ISBN:
9781301518555
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Helen Captin Grimm grew up in Cleveland Ohio. Her family survived the depression. The flaming redhead was interested in writing and believed that members of her family were direct descendants of George Washington. This quest for a connection became her avocation. She married Victor Grimm and they had two daughters, Jeanette Grimm Wood and Elinor Grimm Luse. Both girls shared their mother's love of history. Mrs. Grimm taught at Cleveland College. She continued her research about George Washington, traveling to Virginia among other places to do research. Her novel took years of research and rewrites on her old Royal typewriter. During this time she also had two books of poetry published, Different Patterns and Tall White Candles, as well as several short stories. It is her older daughter, Elinor, who has brought to fruition, this project, her mother's dream. This could not have been accomplished without the help and editing of Witt Wittmann when she was working on a research project at the school where Witt was teaching. Without this assistance Mrs. Grimm's dream would not be a reality today.

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He Walks Alone - Helen Grimm

AUTHOR

Chapter ONE

The fresh spring wind, wholly unpredictable, touched the bodies of the two men on horseback, one moment caressing their cheeks with a light warmth and then spanking their backs as it pushed horses and riders to new speed.

The men sat erect in their saddles, broad shoulders squared, ruddy faces lifted to the weather, welcoming the slap of the wind. A light rain had fallen the night before, washing the air, settling the dust of the highway, and leaving the Virginia countryside permeated with an earthly smell.

The highway veered to the left, but the men rode straight ahead, taking the trail leading into the forest. Here tall, old trees almost closed out the sun, allowing only an occasional shaft of light to pierce the gloom.

The air was pregnant with dampness. It had a clean, yet musty smell, that of rich loam blanketed by layers of moldering leaves. Stirred by the rain, the moisture assailed the nostrils of the men as they plunged deeper into virgin wood. Rain dropped from the trees and bushes, wetting their clothing as well as their horses' hides.

The older man was in the lead, setting a determined pace. Yet as the minutes passed, his body slumped slowly, even dejectedly. His face was grooved with displeasure as he slowed down the horse and turned to speak to the young man who had drawn close to his side.

A wife. Lord Fairfax growled. A wife. The repeated words were ragged in his throat as he tried to control his anger. I knew something would happen if we rode off and left William alone at Belvoir. His body was vibrant with indignation.

You knew he was courting her, his companion returned.

I didn't know the young fool was serious. William has little regard for women.

I have heard William's wife is a very beautiful lady.

Have you met her, George? For a moment Fairfax surrendered to curiosity.

No, I haven't. I've been to Ceelys many times, but I have never met Sally Cary.

Sally, indeed. Lord Fairfax grumbled as he tugged at the lace cravat encircling his short neck. What kind of a woman has that boy married anyway? Her given name is Sarah, and she calls herself Sally.

She must be something to catch William, George murmured then chuckled.

What did you say, George? Fairfax demanded.

I'm sure William's choice is a wise one, sir, George replied quickly. The Carys are important people. They own miles of land along the James River. Ceelys is the finest plantation in Virginia.

Colonial stock. The old lord's tone was scathing. That woman has her eye on the Fairfax title. Nothing else. She lives in Virginia. She must know of William's reputation. He has no respect for women. He's been put out of more drawing rooms than any young buck in the county.

He always gets back in, George put in slyly.

That woman's after the title, Fairfax went on, ignoring George's innuendo.

Perhaps William married her to insure the title.

Silenced for a moment, Fairfax covered his irritation by pretending to search for a blaze although he was very familiar with the trail that they were following. The blaze marks made by earlier pioneers were still visible through the trees though years of rain and snow had darkened them until they were almost the color of the bark on which they appeared.

Lord Fairfax drew his bushy, gray brows together in a frown. William is right, he said at last. You Washingtons were born old.

His friend's statement did little to ruffle the calm of the young man. A slow smile touched his lips and then faded as his face again became graven with seriousness.

Does the truth make a man old? he queried. Not waiting for a reply, young Washington checked his horse and dropped behind Fairfax as the trail through the forest narrowed. The two men had been riding steadily without rest since Lord Fairfax had received the news of William's marriage. In vain Washington pointed out the futility of their grueling pace, suggesting a stopover at one of the farms scattered along the trail on their way back to Belvoir.

Lord Fairfax ignored Washington's advice as he had ignored invitations to stop for the night. Slapping his reins stubbornly, he kept his nearsighted gray eyes straight ahead, contenting himself with lifting his round planter's hat in acknowledgment of the welcoming shouts of settlers as the two men galloped past their moss-chinked cabins.

It's a long ride to Belvoir, they had called. Better lay over.

Not this time. Washington had waved to his friends. We want to reach Belvoir by sundown.

Now they were coming nearer to Belvoir, the home of the Fairfaxes. One more stretch of dense forest, across cleared acres of rolling lands, after that the Potomac River, and then Belvoir.

I don't know why we push our horses, Lord Fairfax admitted testily. That young cousin of mine is already married, and without consulting me.

William's a grown man, Washington pointed out.

He's old enough to know that a proper marriage is important to the Fairfaxes.

An alliance with the Carys is important.

And that girl. Fairfax continued. Haven't you heard gossip?

I don't think so, Washington returned slowly. I have heard that she's high-spirited, and very well educated.

A woman doesn't need education.

Wilson Cary apparently doesn't agree with you. He gave his daughter all of the advantages his sons had.

How old is she? Fairfax snapped his question. Sally Cary is about my age, sir.

Eighteen! Fairfax exploded. William's a good ten years her senior. He had his head turned by a pretty face.

Not William. Washington spoke quietly. You can be sure of one thing—William knew what he was about. He chose his wife with cool-headed deliberation.

And the girl? Why did she marry William? Maybe you can tell me that.

She may be in love with William.

Love? Fairfax bounced in his saddle. There isn't any woman on either side of the Atlantic who has any regard for love. They're all alike—after money and a title. Look at that little chit in England who turned me down. Why? Because she wanted a duke.

And you came to America to escape an unhappy love affair, Washington taunted affectionately.

All right, Fairfax admitted. I did leave England. I came here for a visit and I stayed. I bought land in the Shenandoah Valley, and I built Greenway Court, didn't I? The girl had nothing to do with that. I like America.

But you don't like women.

Women. I don't trust them. Haven't I warned both you and William? After the way that one served me. Home, furniture, servants, everything ready. She even set the wedding date and then ran off with a duke.

George Washington had heard the story often. Lord Fairfax talked of his disappointment around campfires, on surveying trips, over a flagon of wine at Greenway Court, coloring it as the mood of the moment possessed him. Around the campfire his voice always became shaded with regret as he spoke of his lost love. On surveying trips he would tell his story happily, seemingly grateful for his bachelor freedom. Over the wine at Greenway Court his voice would thunder with bitterness. Let the ladies love you, he would roar at George and William. "Never love them. His voice would roll in his throat and emerge in a full, rounded, worldly-wise laugh. He would emphasize his words, jabbing a well-padded forefinger at his drinking companions, who would lean forward, listening avidly, arms elbowed on the table, hands encircling huge mugs of wine. Handle the ladies as you handle your wine. Both were made for man's enjoyment, not for ruling him."

Now Washington smiled quizzically. With characteristic canniness, he put his finger on the one thing that would restore Fairfax to good humor, his vanity. He shook his head with amused puzzlement. I can't understand it. You must have been a handsome devil.

Oh, I wasn't too bad. Fairfax admitted, preening a little. I had quite a reputation in those days, he chuckled. I was handy with the ladies. As handy with the ladies as I was with the horses in the stables.

And you do know horses.

Know horses. I held a commission in The Blues, finest horsemen England ever saw. Our blue and gold uniforms made quite an impression on the ladies.

I wouldn't doubt that, Washington said dryly. Are you ever going back to England?

Never. I cut all ties with the homeland.

All but one. Washington couldn't resist a final taunt. One? Fairfax glanced at his friend.

After all these years, you still correspond with the lady who jilted you.

Fairfax made an explosive sound with his lips and dug his heels into his horse's flanks.

Washington's amused laughter followed him along the trail. We should be back on the highway soon, he called. Then after a moment he suggested, We can stop at the Boots and Saddle to dry out. Receiving no answer, he continued, pressing his point, We can still make Belvoir by sundown.

All right, Fairfax conceded grudgingly. We'll stop at the tavern, but mind you, his voice was threatening, only until we are dried out.

When they reached the highway, they quickened their pace, pressing their horses toward promised respite. The sun that had been trying valiantly all morning to overcome the lowering clouds finally surrendered, defeated. Their increased speed made conversation impossible, and they rode in silence, each man busy with his own thoughts. Now and then, Fairfax switched his damp cloak around his shoulders with an impatient gesture.

Less than an hour later, around a turn in the road, they came in sight of the tavern. A thin finger of smoke reached straight up from the chimney, hesitated momentarily in the still air and then slapped by a sudden wind, danced impishly to lose itself against the gray sky. The weather-beaten frame structure was built close to the road and had the appearance of having stood there as long as the huge trees serving as its background. The tavern yard was fenced with logs, standing upright close together in the manner of a colonial stockade built for protection against the Indians. Indeed, the tavern yard had offered haven many times in the past to settlers threatened by uprisings. As the two travelers rode into the yard, the signboard creaked a cheerful welcome. It swung in the wind, suspended from a wooden arm that projected from the tavern. It was an elaborate sign but hardly more so than other tavern signs of the day. Sam Cheever, keeper of the Boots and Saddle, was a painter. He liked to call himself an artist. All of his imagination and skill were displayed in the carving and painting of his curious sign. The upper half of the board showed the carving of a saddle while a pair of boots strutted across the lower half. The saddle was painted brown, highlighted with copper tints. Mellowed by the weather, it had the look of a well-oiled and well-cared-for piece of equipment. With stubborn inconsistency, Sam painted the boots a brilliant yellow. It was an unusual sign that achieved the purpose for which it was designed. It commanded notice.

The sign of the Boots and Saddle, Fairfax murmured. We're almost home, George.

Almost home, young Washington agreed. Almost home. I'd like to turn around and ride straight back to Greenway Court.

Nonsense. Don't let any silly woman keep you away from Belvoir. It's as much your home as it is hers.

It isn't that, Washington said as he dismounted and hitched his horse to the post, I have a feeling that I'm riding into trouble.

* *

George Washington lingered at the hitching post as Lord Fairfax started toward the tavern. He lowered his eyes, studying the toe of his boot. The hard-packed earth of the tavern yard, brown underfoot, became green, smoothly-clipped grass as Washington recalled an awkward, gangling boy, all arms and legs, crossing the lawn at Belvoir for the first time with his brother Lawrence.

Now remember what I tell you, George, Lawrence had said. The Fairfaxes are influential people. They can do a lot for you.

Was this dancing lesson their idea? the young George had grumbled.

Lawrence had smiled. No, he admitted. It was mine. Anyone worth meeting will be at Belvoir sooner or later, and I mean to see that you make good contacts.

George could understand that. Good connections were important. Influential friends were a necessity. He was fortunate to have a brother who was concerned about his future.

Don't let Lord Fairfax frighten you, Lawrence went on. Most of his fierceness is only bluster.

Washington remembered how he had shifted from one foot to the other the first time that he had entered Belvoir to pay his respects to Lord Fairfax.

Stand still, boy, Fairfax had ordered, not unkindly, however. You have a find figure, but you ruin it with that fidgeting.

George's feet froze to the carpet. Stiffly, he stood at attention while Lawrence conversed with Lord Fairfax. At last they remembered George and turned to him.

He looks as if he could stand some teaching. Fairfax's eyes traveled over the boy.

George's education has not been neglected, Lawrence had returned stiffly, and I mean to bring a teacher to Mount Vernon.

Oh, devil take it. I don't mean book learning. You take care of the book learning, Lawrence, Fairfax chuckled. I'll teach him the things a man should know. Lord Fairfax was as good as his word. He was a colorful teacher, and the boy a willing pupil. George had spent most of his time at Belvoir, sometimes not returning to Mount Vernon for days.

Fairfax's disappointment in love had made a great change in his life. Unforgiving, he nursed his grievance until it grew into a hatred for all women. He shunned them, but when thrown into their company, his caustic tongue gave them little peace. The courtly gentleman became a bitter misogynist. He lashed the ladies with pointed barbs, but with their perversity, the women sought him out, baiting him and then trembled under the punishment of his tongue.

Fairfax's views, expressed at all times, influenced both William and young George. William Fairfax, delighted with his relative's caustic tongue, aped him. He developed a spicy, cutting wit of his own that was disastrous because he lacked the inbred kindness of Lord Fairfax.

George thrived under the salty tutelage of the old lord. He developed from a shy, self-conscious boy into a reserved young man. Lord Fairfax never permitted the difference in age to raise barriers between them. Their friendship grew, nurtured by days of riding to the hounds at Belvoir and by weeks of comradeship in the wilderness. The regard Washington had for Fairfax, born in his boyhood, had grown to such proportions that the old lord's influence was apparent in almost everything concerning his young friend. Now George turned as Fairfax's voice reached him across the tavern yard.

Coming, George? he called.

I'm right behind you, was Washington's reply.

* *

The door of the tavern was flung wide. Madam Cheever stood there, her plump body almost lost in the cavernous shadows. When an occasional shooting flame from the fireplace lighted up the room, it edged her figure with a thread of red-gold. She extended both hands in welcome as the two men approached. Lord Fairfax, and Mr. Washington. Her voiced lilted with delight. Come in. Come in. I'll have a room ready for you in no time—no time at all. She stepped back into the warm room allowing the men to enter.

We don't want a room for the night, Washington told her. We stopped to get dry. We've come over the old trail through the forest, and the trees are still full of last night's rain.

You must be in a hurry to take the short cut. Madam Cheever bustled about the taproom, pulling a small table closer to the fireplace and arranging two chairs on either side of it. She reached for a poker to stir the fire into flame, but Washington stepped before her. With a deft twist of his wrist, he lifted the huge log smoldering on the hearth, balanced it for a moment on the poker and then stepped back as it crashed into wild flame.

You'll want some flip, Madam Cheever beamed, her round cheeks the color of the greedy flame licking at the log. Flip made with cider.

How well you know our tastes. Washington grinned at her. Flip it is. Only a hot drink can warm a man's insides on a cold day.

The woman bent low over the fire as she thrust a loggerhead into the flames. I have some young hens on the spit, she offered. Done to a turn. Rising to her feet, she brushed the front of her dress with the back of a chubby hand, lifted her skirt and shook it, whisking some ashes from the hem.

The men were hungry, hungry as only men who live in the wilderness can be. Their bellies were tired of food hurriedly prepared over a campfire and eaten not for enjoyment but to fortify them against the rigors of the wilderness. As they took their places at the table, Fairfax tilted his chair. Leaning back, he rubbed his stomach with a circular motion. Hens. Tender young hens, and Indian bread? He smacked his lips. Indian bread as only Madam Cheever can make it.

She simpered at the compliment. There's yams and baked potatoes, she hesitated and then went on, boiled rice, squash, apple betty… Fairfax stopped her with a wave of the hand. Leaning forward in his chair, he placed an elbow on the table, cupping his chin. He grinned at her, his eyes alight with anticipation. We'll have everything—everything but the yams. Give the yams to the darkies.

The yams is good. They're swimming in molasses.

No yams. Fairfax was firm.

No yams, she agreed, dimpling. While I'm dishing up, I'll send Sam in to mix your flip.

Nutmeg, not ginger, Fairfax gave warning.

Nutmeg is hard to come by these days, she told him, but I did save a bit for you. Her tone rebuffed him. Fairfax guffawed and pinched her dimpled elbow to show his appreciation.

I'll get the eggs for your flip. With that, she excused herself. Fairfax nodded after her retreating figure. She's a good cook. Washington smiled his agreement. She's a fine woman. I admire her.

You admire too many women, George. Some day you're going to look at the wrong one, and then there'll be trouble. What about this lowland beauty of yours? Who is she?

Slowly George Washington rose to his feet. Removing his jacket, he hung it over the back of his chair, arranging it so that the fire would dissipate its dampness. He seated himself again, still maintaining silence.

Come now, George. Fairfax's tone was wheedling. You can tell me.

Washington drew circles on the table with his forefinger. He avoided his friend's eyes. There's not much to tell. She… The rest of his words were lost in the clatter of Sam Cheever's arrival.

Tricky weather we're having, he called cheerfully, interrupting the conversation. It blows hot, and then it blows cold. Sam's short, rotund body was swathed in a saddle blanket. It lay across his shoulders, fastened in front under the chin by a piece of rope that was drawn through two holes that had been torn raggedly in the cloth. His round, almost bald head was completely covered with his wife's shawl. Crossing the room, he untied the shawl and dropped it to the earthen floor in front of the bar. His rolling walk betrayed his former occupation. Sam Cheever had followed the sea. He bent his shining pink head, his lips pushing in and out as he fussed with the knot. Successful at last, he dropped the blanket and let it lie where it heaped on top of the shawl. Then he lifted his head and smiled. Sam's smiles chased one another around his face like soldiers coming down the highway, one after the other, an endless procession. Then, suddenly, there were no more.

Sam's face smoothed. He turned to the bar, lifted a great square of homespun off a peg, and proceeded to tie it around his middle. I took care of your horses. You must have come a long way. Those beasts are worn out.

From Greeway Court, Washington spoke.

Greenway Court! Sam lifted two pitchers and placed them side by side on the bar. His movements were painfully slow. Did you get the surveying done? he asked. He turned and selected a bottle of brandy from the shelf back of the bar and set it beside the pitchers.

We finished the strip before we got the news of the wedding at Belvoir. My young friend here is quite a surveyor. It would have taken twice as long with anyone else, Fairfax answered.

Good surveyor, eh? Sam grunted as he bent almost double to reach under the bar. He came up with a partly filled jug of cider and tilted it, pouring the contents into a kettle, which he set on the coals in the fireplace. Milly, he yelled, bring me the eggs.

Madam Cheever came into the taproom, a basket of eggs swinging from her arm. I was busy with the food, Sam. She nodded to her husband, mobcap slightly askew. She reached up to switch it into place as she set the basket of eggs on the bar. Just make yourselves comfortable, she called to Washington and Fairfax. The food will be in directly, and you, Sam, she turned to her husband, you get a move on. The men are cold, she scolded. They want that flip.

Sam refused to be hurried. His movements measured, he worked with the deftness of the experienced tavern keeper. He kept up a running flow of conversation as he beat the eggs and then mixed them with brandy and sugar in one of the pitchers on the bar. Mighty fine girl William Fairfax married. Sam nodded in the direction of the old lord. Wilson Cary did all right by his daughter, Sam continued. I understand she brought a goodly dowry to Belvoir and two wagon loads of Negroes. Sam's voice was as slow as his motions.

William didn't marry her for her money, Fairfax growled. He didn't have to.

Of course not. Sam agreed affably. She's a fine girl, mighty fine. Sam wagged his head. A little spirited maybe…

Sally Fairfax is a lady, Madam Cheever announced, breaking into the conversation as she entered the room in time to hear Sam's last remark. Her arms were loaded with dishes.

Of course she is, Milly, Sam quickly agreed with his wife as he went to her assistance. Of course she is. He held his tongue while she tarried in the room, arranging the dishes on the table. He eyed her warily as he moved to the fireplace where he lifted the kettle of warmed cider from the coals. Returning to the bar, he transferred it from the kettle into the empty pitcher. Sam remained silent as he lifted the first pitcher and poured the contents into the heated cider. He continued to turn it from one pitcher to the other until the mixture became creamy. At last, when the flip was turned to Sam's satisfaction, he carried it to the table and placed it between Fairfax and Washington.

Madam Cheever was close at his heels with two flip glasses and a fat blue bowl cupped in the palm of her hand. She handed the bowl to her husband and turned to leave the room. Smiles galloped across Sam's face as he lifted a wooden spoon from the dish and stirred the contents slowly, but he didn't speak until the door closed on his wife's back.

Too bad you weren't here yesterday, he said, lifting a spoonful of nutmeg from the bowl and sprinkling it on top of the foaming brew.

Yesterday? Washington queried. He leaned over and pulled the red-hot loggerhead from the flames and lifting it, plunged it into the pitcher. The mixture bubbled and hissed wildly, sending a roll of steam ceilingward. Washington inhaled the pungent aroma with deep satisfaction before withdrawing the loggerhead and pushing it back into the flames. Why yesterday, Sam? he asked.

We had an auction.

Horses? Washington was busy pouring the flip into the waiting glasses, and he didn't look up.

Horses, Sam drew in a deep breath, and slaves.

The two thirsty men gave but surface attention to Sam's words. They nodded at each other over the rims of their glasses.

William Fairfax was here, Sam said.

William here? Fairfax took a long swallow of his drink and grunted with satisfaction before asking the question Sam was waiting for. What did William want here?

A wench. Sam dropped his words carefully.

A wench? William? Lord Fairfax lowered his glass, and his eyes met those of George Washington. Both men tensed, waiting for Sam's next words.

Yes, sir, Sam went on casually, his eyes dancing like two naughty elves escaping into the forest. Apparently he was unaware of the change in the two men before him. He got the best of the lot, too, Sam wagged his head, a pretty high-yellow girl. William Fairfax sure knows darkies, especially wenches. His chuckle rumbled and then died in his throat. Madam Cheever was in the room. She stood at the corner of the bar shaking her head.

Now, Sam, she scolded.

I meant no offense, Sam offered meekly, silenced by her frown. He retreated to the bar where he busied himself rearranging glasses and bottles stacked on the shelves against the wall.

Washington stretched his long legs toward the fire while his fingers remained wrapped around his glass. He shifted his position and then reached for the pitcher to refill the glasses.

William is up to his old tricks, Fairfax spoke in an undertone. Impossible, Washington retorted. He's not a fool, and he does have a wife at Belvoir. He drank deeply before continuing. That's it. William's wife. She probably wanted a maid, a young one to train for her own use.

With the Belvoir cabins overflowing with Negroes? She did bring her own servants with her from the Ceelys. You heard what Sam said about two wagon loads of darkies. Fairfax shook his head, You don't believe that any more than I do.

Let's not misjudge William.

Misjudge him? Fairfax snorted. I know William. Fairfax drained his glass and raised the pitcher. Sam, he shouted. Sam, more flip.

The minutes passed slowly while the two men waited for Sam to mix the flip. Washington glanced at his friend, surprised to find Fairfax's eyes had grown suddenly old. His body sagged over the table, and his voice burred with weariness.

It's my fault, he said. I always talked too much.

George Washington lifted his shoulders. William was going his own way long before you came to Belvoir.

All my smart talk about women, wine, and darkies didn't help any. Remember when he brought Dessie to Belvoir? I should have put a stop to it then.

* *

George did remember when William had brought Dessie to Belvoir. He remembered well the scene that had followed.

Why in hell did you buy that Negro? Fairfax had demanded. She's pretty, William had drawled, flicking an imaginary speck of dirt from the lace at one wrist with a well-cared-for hand.

Pretty? William Fairfax, you are making such a black reputation for yourself that no lady in Virginia will allow you in the same room with her daughter.

Black? William's crooked eyebrow climbed on his forehead. Any lady in Virginia would be happy to have me marry one of her daughters. They're after your title, Uncle.

If any girl marries you for the title, William, I'll see to it that she never gets it, Lord Fairfax had threatened.

My wife will be Lady Fairfax. William had lifted one leg and crossed it over the other nonchalantly, careful not to rub his varnished boots against the other.

Brian is next in line for the title, Fairfax had reminded William. My psalm-singing brother doesn't want the title.

He'll get it, Fairfax had thundered, whether he wants it or not.

Now, Uncle, William rose with pretended concern. Let's keep that between ourselves, eh? We can't let the ladies know I might not get the title. Lazily William had strolled toward the door. His hand on the latch. He turned, Your title is my greatest attraction, Uncle Thomas.

* *

Now sitting across the table from George Washington, Fairfax groaned anew at the memory. I tried to be a father to that boy…

You're blaming yourself unnecessarily. After all, we don't know what's been going on. We have only Sam's version, and we both know he gossips like an old woman, Washington offered sensibly.

Both men welcomed Madam Cheever's appearance at the table with their food, glad for an excuse to shelve the problem of William's indiscretions. They attacked the meal served them with the appetites of healthy men. Sam's excellent flip and Madam Cheever's good food wooed them into gratified relaxation. Appeased and warm, they lounged in their chairs facing the crackling fire, reluctant to leave the comfort of the tavern. Lord Fairfax rose first and sauntered to the bar. He leaned his back against it, body bowed, resting on his elbows. For want of something other than William to occupy his mind, he studied the signs decorating the wall that right-angled the bar.

Where do you get these signs, Sam? he asked, not really interested.

He paints most of them, Madam Cheever answered for her husband. He's an artist. There was pride in her voice.

And a poet, Fairfax remarked dryly. Listen to this one, George: 'My name is Samuel Cheever, tavern keeper, not a weaver.' And this one, Fairfax chuckled, 'Master hand at mixing flip, stop awhile and have a sip.'

Sam's amusing signs failed to hold Fairfax's interest for long. Sliding his elbows off the bar, he straightened up and then sighed as if reluctant to face reality. Well, George, he called, ready?

Anytime. George rose to his feet. Selecting some coins from his pouch, he eased them onto the table. Slipping into his jacket, he buttoned it over his cravat, drawing it close to his throat before adjusting a thick muffler around his neck. Across the room with the help of Sam, Fairfax was struggling into his caped greatcoat.

Dwarfing Madam Cheever, the two men stood in the doorway, talking to her while they waited for Sam to bring their horses. Mounted, they raised their hats in farewell before swinging onto the highway.

Chapter TWO

Late afternoon shadows were falling across their path when they came upon a Virginia rail fence that rose almost eight feet in height. The fence did not bar their way. It ended at the path, to be continued on the other side, leaving the narrow trail clear for travelers.

William has been busy. The fence is moved again. Fairfax indicated approval.

Washington, who was as familiar as Fairfax with every stone and tree in the vast Belvior estate, nodded. The zigzag Virginia rail fence, a device used by the planters to enclose areas of girdled trees, was a series of logs about twelve feet in length, laid one on the other in the form of W's, eliminating the use of post and post hole. As every new field was cleared for planting, the fence was taken apart log by log and erected at the boundaries of the next area to be cleared.

William Fairfax was making deep inroads into the forest, tirelessly clearing land, adding field after field to the areas already under cultivation.

Fairfax and Washington rode through the girdled tree area, their horses picking a way along the path, detouring around trees that had crashed to the ground, blocking the trail.

Men must push back the forest if they want land, yet I don't like the sight of this. Washington indicated the rotting trees.

Of course not, Fairfax agreed, but the planter in you will like the sight of crops growing on this same ground next season.

They were through the dismal area now and on plowed land. As far as they could see, fat rolls of black earth met the eye. The trail widened into a lane that cut through the turned earth leading to tobacco fields on the other side of the clearing. It was a new road smoothed by hundreds of black feet padding their way back and forth to the daily work of clearing and plowing. It was not yet firm underfoot, and the horses' hoofs sank into the fresh earth as they plodded their way over the strip. Once across, they turned into the land that wound ribbon-like around the tobacco fields following the course of the river. Shadows thrust long fingers between endless rows of hillocks that disappeared into a common vanishing point on the horizon. Tobacco. Everywhere one looked there was tobacco. It was in its early growth, and the slaves were kept in the fields from sunup to sundown pruning the plants and removing the lower leaves and suckers to permit them to become well-bunched at the top. Scarcely a weed was visible.

The voices of the Negroes rolled across the land, accompanied by the rhythmic beat of bare feet on soft earth as they flowed from the fields into the lane. They moved toward their cabins at Belvoir, a solid mass of black humanity, separating to the sides of the road to permit Fairfax and Washington clear passage. They ceased their song long enough to shout greetings and then picked it up, the rhythm unbroken as they moved together again and followed the horsemen.

* *

Darkies will always sing, Washington mused.

In every season and for every reason, Fairfax agreed absentmindedly. His eyes were on Belvior. Seen from a distance the flower gardens presented a crazy-quilt design alive with color. Thousands of hardy plants were heavy with swelling buds ready to burst into bloom and take their places among the earlier full-blown flowers. Ivy hugged the wing ends of the house crowning the garden with twin bonnets of glossy green.

It's a bit of old England transplanted into the Virginia wilderness. Fairfax was scarcely aware he spoke aloud. Ashamed of his sentiment, he growled roughly. It will never be the same with a woman in it. I'm going in at the kitchen entrance, he announced. I don't want to meet that woman until I am well fortified.

The two men followed the lane from the river, turning left toward the stables. When they reached the barns, they dismounted wearily and surrendered their horses to the stable boys.

To avoid discovery, they approached the house cautiously, lithe as Indians, keeping close to the tall hedge bordering the kitchen garden. At the cookhouse Fairfax's hiss brought Maryella, the Belvior cook, to the window. Her heavy black face beamed welcome, and her pendulous lips parted to shout the news of their arrival.

No, no, Maryella. Fairfax warned. Placing his finger to his lips, he admonished her to silence. Bring a jug of wine up to my room, and don't tell the family we're home.

Maryella grinned and wagged her head affirmatively, enjoying the shared conspiracy.

We want to get cleaned up before we see anyone, Fairfax explained ambiguously. He winked broadly, aware that Maryella understood his reason for secrecy. Her whispered words confirmed his thought.

You'll love her, she prophesied.

The two men were almost at the door ready to enter the house when Fairfax turned suddenly and called softly, Maryella.

Yas, sah.Yas, sah. She poked her head out of the window of the cookhouse and in her eagerness bumping her turban, knocking it askew.

Better make that two jugs. My young friend is thirsty, too.

Maryella bobbed her head, and her lips split into a wide smile that threatened to turn into a hearty chuckle. She swallowed, closing her lips over a noisy gulp as Fairfax's frown reached her.

Later in Lord Fairfax's room the two men dressed leisurely, giving great attention to every detail. Smoothing his cravat before a cheval mirror, Washington turned to survey his friend who was fidgeting under the deft hands of Benjy as the Negro patted the huge fat curls of his peruke into place.

I suppose they know we're home, Lord Fairfax spoke to the servant.

Benjy nodded. "Mis' Sally an' Mar'se William's already downstairs.

Mis' Sally was put out 'cause you went t' yo' rooms 'thout seeing her first. Benjy was delighted with his announcement. I hears Mar'se William tell her Mar'se George was his bes' frien' and she was t' act 'cordingly. Mis' Sally…she tol' him she know how t' act. Benjy lifted his woolly head. She gots a temper, that one. Yo' has t' sweet-talk 'er. But she be's mighty good to the darkies. Yas, sah."

That's enough, Benjy. Stop fiddling with me and take care of Mr. George. Fairfax ordered. He wants to make a good impression on the lady, too. Fairfax pretended not to see George's frown.

Brush my hair and cue, George said gruffly, waving aside the wig Benjy had lifted from the chest of drawers. Get the ribbon straight, he added as the servant fumbled with the knot. He glanced again into the mirror and nodded with approval as Benjy's questioning eyes met his in the glass. His hair was brushed to a mahogany smoothness, the two rolls over each ear pinned in exactly the manner that he liked. When Benjy was finished with his tasks and the last traces of their baths removed, the two friends stepped apart to appraise each other.

Their taste in dress was much alike though the clothes were worn for vastly different reasons. Although Fairfax's wardrobe was filled to overflowing with garb of the latest style and color, he couldn't resist buying everything offered him, he scorned fine feathers. I will not dress to please the women, he insisted. They like color. I shall wear black. He wore black almost exclusively.

Washington's taste was controlled by his purse. He chose black, dark blue, and occasionally green if dark enough to appear almost black. Unobtrusive dark colors could be worn more often and much longer than flashy reds, brilliant greens, or the lighter hues affected by his young friends. Always fastidious, he liked good materials and chose his limited wardrobe with an eye to quality.

You're dressed up fine enough for a ball, Fairfax accused. Washington's black breeches, carefully tailored, fitted his long body without pucker or wrinkle. His jacket of finest broadcloth was buttoned smoothly over a handmade ruffled shirt.

London shirt, Fairfax remarked.

Made to my order, Washington admitted, adjusting the lace at his wrists. Lifting one foot, he rested it on a small stool while he inspected the buckle on his shoe. It exactly matched his knee buckles.

Neither was hungry. They dawdled over the food brought to them and lingered over the wine, which they sipped slowly and finally swallowed with reluctance. Their movements were slow and studied, each man delaying the meeting with William's bride for reasons of his own, Fairfax because he was prepared to dislike her and meant to tell William so, and George because he feared the woman William had married would put an end to a friendship of many years. At least, with every reason for delay exhausted, they rose to go below stairs. Slowly, they walked through the carpeted hall. Reaching the wide staircase, they descended with deliberation.

Want to put it off till tomorrow? George whispered.

Yes, Fairfax hissed in reply, but I'm not going to. I mean to talk to William tonight.

The lower hall was brilliantly lighted, and Washington grinned as Fairfax muttered something about that woman's extravagant waste of candles. For a moment they stood before the doors of the drawing room until George opened them with an exaggerated flourish, bowed slightly and permitted Lord Fairfax to precede him into the room. Then George's courage, sharpened by the wine that he had consumed, deserted him, and he wished he had gone directly to Mount Vernon without stopping at Belvoir to meet William's wife.

He couldn't retreat now. He entered the room behind his friend, closed the doors with studied care and turned slowly, raising his eyes. After the light in the hall, the room seemed dim. For a moment the only thing that he saw was the leaping of flames as they skipped across a log in the fireplace. He was aware of Benjy moving about, a silent dark figure touching a taper to the candles.

Then he saw her. She was standing across the room from him at the end of the fireplace, one arm resting on the mantel. Her satin gown was the color of old ivory, now warm and then cold as the uncertain flickering of candles and flames highlighted the brocaded figures in the material casting them into deep shadow. The gown could not have belonged to any other woman. It was so much a part of her, a smooth flow of satin into satin, that it was difficult to draw a line between flesh and material. Her black hair, brushed back from a smooth, high forehead, was shaped into curls and caught at the neck with a ribbon the color of the gown. Her only adornment was a white blossom tucked into the curls over her left ear. George caught his breath and held it a moment before he expelled it in disbelief. He had been told that William's wife was the most beautiful woman in Virginia, but he had not been prepared for this realization.

He couldn't understand why his thoughts raced across the miles to the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. Then he remembered. There was an ivory figurine which graced the mantel of the governor's chamber, a seemingly cold object of art that had warmed under the touch of his eager fingers. Age had polished the rare ivory to almost pearl-like transparency, and the caressing touch of many hands had smoothed the artist's original carving until it seemed to be a work of nature, not art, and never to have had any other form. Fascinated with its beauty, Washington had always coveted it. Sally Fairfax was like that figurine.

George's fingers curled into his palms, and he was surprised to find them moist. His first glimpse of Sally Fairfax covered one moment that would remain forever suspended in time, a fixed picture in his mind. Then she moved. Her face lighted with welcome, but she had eyes only for Lord Fairfax. She acknowledged his bow with a deep curtsy, extending a hand innocent of jewelry. Lord Fairfax took her hand in both of his as she rose to her natural height.

Suddenly the old lord's valuation of William's wife became a thing of great importance to George. Quickly his eyes went to his friend's face. He found it serious, uncompromising, almost cold. The silence mounted and George shifted uneasily, not daring to take his eyes from the face of his friend for fear her would miss a change of expression that would betray Fairfax's thoughts. George knew when Benjy left the room. He heard the whisper of the door as the well-trained servant departed. He heard, also, William's habitual clearing of the throat, a mixture of half-laughter, half-snicker, that told of his amusement. Then George warmed with reassurance as Lord Fairfax's booming voice filled every corner of the room. The gallant tones seemed to echo and re-echo as he spoke to William's wife.

Now I understand, was what he said.

Lord Fairfax's loud approval seemed to act as a signal. Without apparent effort, William, who had been standing in the shadows of the draperies, moved forward. His dark eyes became veiled with indifference, but not before George detected a look of pleased calculation. William's manner was casual as always, but George knew that he was secretly pleased with the first meeting between his wife and his benefactor.

Satisfied, Uncle? William asked.

Lord Fairfax rewarded the young man with a frown, annoyed at his flippancy.

William's lips parted in amusement as he turned to George. He closed one eye, indicating a shared secret. Come here, George, he called. Come here and meet Sally Fairfax.

Washington avoided the eyes of the two men as he addressed Sally, bowing from the waist, silently cursing his extraordinary height. He felt clumsy in her presence, clumsy and huge. He could have spared himself the churning of self-consciousness, however, for she scarcely noticed him. She didn't offer her hand when William presented him. George was glad that she didn't. He couldn't have touched her then.

Again he remembered the figurine. It has almost come to life under his touch, warmed by his desire for possession. Sally was like that. She seemed to be waiting for life to touch her to warmth, to bring luster to her smooth eyes and a tremor to her perfectly chiseled lips.

Perhaps, in the seclusion of the room, which she shared with William, that cool body flushed pink, and the eyes riffled with flame as her lips curved to meet those of her husband. Quickly, Washington thrust that thought but not before he realized how distasteful it was.

William linked his arm in Sally's and drew close with a possessive gesture that flaunted ownership. George almost hated his friend then as he felt color rise to dye his cheekbones. He was confused and angry at himself for his confusion. He had a notion that Sally needed protection. Then he knew the notion was foolish as he glanced at her. Certainly she was the most self-reliant woman that he had ever met. There was strength in the carriage of her slender body, determination in the line from cheek to chin, and pride that would survive any catastrophe in the coolness of her eyes. Years later, he was to remember his first summation of her and

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