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george washington

The Spirit of George Washington
He was beset by women and children. They knew “the Lord, He is God.” In that year a quiet country gentleman was living in Virginia. Boston was considered a hotbed of sedition. They did not appear to be acquainted with public matters. He did all he could  for their bodily comfort. Preserved as by a series of miracles, in almost every possible misfortune, they counted up their gains and losses.
Having completed his surveys, he returned. There was neither pen nor paper at hand and night had fallen. He had gained much valuable experience and reputation. But it soon became clear that no middle course was open to them. They had stepped forth in defense of everything that is dear and valuable. There was no excuse for the cruelty and insult of those last moments. The way was long, cold and rough. He was relieved of all responsibility in the matter. The road was a mere track cut in the woods.
His mother was distressed at having her son exposed to dangers. The latter part of their march must have been sad and disheartening enough. People took pride in wearing their old clothes again and again. He wisely withdrew his objection and the young couple were married. He was universally kind and polite to all alike. To an indifferent spectator it must have seemed absolute madness. They were panic-struck. He felt the situation was critical. He admired her greatly. He was sent out on some secret expedition. They stood ready to repel invasion at a moment’s warning. The outlook was dark, to human eyes almost hopeless. They were too stingy to pay their share.
The wild shrieks and yells of the savages added to the uproar. Men were taken from church while engaged in divine service. He returned home to busy himself with preparations for the struggle he knew was impending. The time went on, an anxious crowd gathered in the street. Still the bell was silent.
His spirit was moved by the insult. He was discouraged by their apparent strength. He spoke of him in a way that did not honor his character as a soldier and a gentleman. The emergency was pressing. His bare word was respected by everyone. They lived in a sort of feudal state, surrounded by their retainers. He had his own share of vexations and annoyances. No doubt the children, both black and white, had reason to rejoice in the pound of sugar included in the list. Undismayed, they drove the enemy into the plain and pursued them with ardor. Terrible stories of their brutality are yet told in the state. He begged that “a dreadful calamity should not be brought about.”
Here revengeful feelings were happily prevented. They were employed in erecting fortifications in every part of the town. But the plan was interrupted by a very sad occurrence. They took uncommon pains to conduct themselves with the greatest propriety. He showed no false modesty. The following day the bridge was torn up. He was harassed by fire at night. “He wept with the tenderness of a child,” she said. The danger of utter ruin was near and threatening. He thought that in the morning he should be able to capture the whole.
There was an anxious race. The wind was adverse. The generals and their officers were engaged in a series of balls enlivened by music, wine, and cards. They called him cold, vacillating, and undecided. The little army and its commander were warmly praised. The floating ice made it impossible to cross the river. He sat up late nights, and received his officers in his bath. He ridiculed the idea when it was advanced. He could not be prevailed upon to abandon his darling road-making. His cabin was burned and his wife and children were murdered by the Indians. He earnestly repeated his advice. Scouts were sent out who returned without seeing the enemy. The motives that led him there were pure and noble.
He gave the guide a cake of bread. With difficulty he escaped drowning. A man who digs a pit for his neighbor often falls in himself. They seemed to be waiting there to meet the travelers. It was with difficulty that he got them away from the dangerous neighborhood.
They came glittering in all the “pomp of ordered war.” They told their own story. His conduct in lurking about and concealing himself also told a story. They were very late in making their appearance and were useless when they arrived. He presided with calm seriousness over a motley assembly. He had neither the power nor the means to grant their demand. They refused to take part in the toils incident to a retreat and walked along at their ease. He set fire to some stores that could not be carried away and again set to work at entrenchments. The constant change as they went and came threw everything into confusion. The practice of plundering had begun to prevail to an alarming extent.
It was a bright moonlight night and they reached the heights wholly undiscovered. He stood ready to make a diversion. He saw that one or two things must be done. They seemed quite strangers to the vices of the older soldiers. Friends of Liberty hung him in effigy and printed a dying speech for him. They declared a door of mercy open to the penitent. Between the two extremes might be found every shade of opinion.
She traveled with her own carriage and horses. They met with such a cold reception that they were glad to return. There was a great deal of dinner parties which waxed warm with contest. They were specially selected. How precious was every moment as they lingered over the table, bantering. He at once abandoned everything and devoted himself to her care. Weary with his delay, he resolved to proceed on foot. He heard the report of a gun and turned his steps northward. At another time, they were detained by stress of weather. He took his way homeward, laded with valuable furs. Neither side had as yet made any important step toward taking possession of the land in question. They were disposed to be friendly to their protectors.
He must have heard the news with much satisfaction. He flattered himself that he had for the better obeyed “the spirit” of his orders. His confidence in him had received an incurable wound. He sincerely wished that his labors be crowned with the desired success.
She bore an ill-omened name. They stuck to their guns with greatest constancy. They were desirous of making a great impression. They had never experienced so rude an encounter. They conjured never to abandon the standard of liberty. Those who lost their limbs never left their posts. At last he was permitted to leave the country. The affair in general was a disastrous failure. Her situation had been a lonely and at times dangerous one. The combatants dispersed in all directions. There was an end of the entertainment. He was most bitterly annoyed and perplexed. He was now prepared for a desperate defense. Children were suffering for the necessaries of life. They were not the only ones who felt this “unconquerable desire.”
He early learned the expense and waste of the system. He speaks with bitter contempt of the duty and discipline of soldiers. They were convinced that no other course was open to them. It was now a trial of skill. Every night they lie down with the most anxious fears. Rushing in the confusion, he tried in vain to rally the runaways. He endeared himself to every one by his kind and gracious manners.
Much was left to his discretion. He had a confidence on this occasion not a little misplaced. He had no doubt he would follow with dispatch. They were more terrible in appearance than in reality. Beset on all sides, he was holding his army together with utmost difficulty. Many looked only to immediate success, without weighing the obstacles. They were straining every nerve. Help was hourly expected as if from heaven.
They were not disposed to sit down quietly. The frontier was drenched with blood. They grew by their neglect. They endured a host of petty but recurring vexations. It was a cursed affair! He was wearied almost to death with the retrograde motion of things. An indecisive mind is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall any army. It illustrated the state of matter at that period.
War is a history of endurance. He directed that they should pay them suitable respect. He was very cautious in imbibing customs that would vitiate his heart. He had a great deal to contend with at home. He was horribly afraid of dying. They were chained day and night. They were starved or survived on scant allowance, resorting at times to boiled grass and nettles. They felt no reverence for their faithful dead. His mind “reverted to the mournful past.” Gaming of every kind was expressly forbidden, as being the foundation of evil. “I hear, I learn, I am satisfied,” he said. They denied point blank the stories about their ill-treatment. He was like most indolent people: careless of sufferings unobserved.
They came filing out from between the wooded banks. He was entrusted with secret powers to adjust all differences. He ideas were strangely mistaken. They saw him flying on his horse, covered with foam, for the purpose of issuing orders. A cold wind produced a sudden change in the temperature.
The people were a good deal scattered on farms and plantations. They often engaged in quarrels on questions of slavery. He was highly educated, of a manly and adventurous frame of mind. Her naturally high temper and determined spirit were thoroughly under control. He was said to be remarkably dexterous at throwing stones. The contest soon became alarming to the spectators. He took instant measures against the pressing dangers. He had never felt such a sensation before. It seemed to crown his disgrace. All that night it seemed the sky was on fire, so bright was the blaze.
Learning what was required, he immediately volunteered. The war was not likely to be the work of a day. There was great loss and suffering in the town. He charged through the river waist deep at the head of his men. He was just too faithful and trusting in his judgment. He was anxious to see a friend before he died. He never failed to turn the laugh back on himself. He came in sight of the stony brook and broke up his camp. It vanished as if by magic! A deep and distant roar was heard. His men shed tears as they stood around his grave.
They were placed, as he said, “between hawk and buzzard.” Everything tended to show that the war should be mainly defensive. Meanwhile the desertions continued. A thousand men were drawn from Mercer’s flying camp. She thought that the grief of the boy was punishment enough. Her naturally vehement temper was not lost upon him. He was a sort of umpire in the school, appealed to in all disputes. Influences were brought to bear on him which came near to altering his destiny. It is no wonder that he conceived a strong desire to go to sea. Everything was as neat and exact as if it was related to real transactions. Although he was sedate and dignified, he had a vein of romance in his nature.
He was persuaded. There had been a fine fray in New York and a battle had taken place in which many lives were lost. He was extremely mortified. He had never imagined that escape was possible. All night long the men labored with sail and oar. He stood there on the shore while the fate of his little army hung in the balance. He lost sight of him in the dust and smoke. On his white charger he rushed past the ranks of the faltering militia.
In the course of an hour the wind turned to the north and the roads froze hard like iron. The game was now in his own hands. The bridge was so narrow, the men were greatly crowded. Some were delayed for some time. Time was given to draw their scattered forces together more tightly. He was driven into the background. He restated the facts and brought forth his argument. They were rendered more unhappy than words can describe. He was an adventurer of very doubtful character.
With sad hearts they withdrew. All the passing boats were searched and their owners examined. Here they were met by a six-pounder. Not wanting in self-confidence, he was elated by his success in the South. He wanted to have nothing to do with the islands to which they had been clinging so desperately.
He spoke little of his melancholy. They whiled away their time on an excursion. He resided till his death in a rough stone house. Everything seemed to be in a prosperous train. He was chiefly struck by the beauty of the trees. He did not seem very well fitted for the business he undertook. At this time, he was constantly in the saddle choosing sites for his works. The camp was pitched on a rocky eminence. Barriers were created with great rapidity. They were pinched by the winter campaign, which already they felt severely.
He suffered his judgment to be overruled. It seemed as though he bore a charmed life. In the midst of a hot cannonade he was not even touched. He kept his flag flying to the last. He presented such an obstinate front that it relieved him of all anxiety. He met the two generals returning. He had spoken with prophetic insight. He had plans of his own which he resolved to carry out.
They fell into the snare. They set out to walk home through the wilderness. He probably did not think the life of an Indian of any great consequence. It was out of the question that he had evil intentions. They left their fire burning and pushed on. With swiftness and secrecy he made his preparations to steal away from the place. He embarked immediately and as quietly as possible, and moved up to fill the vacancy in the anxious hush.
A light breeze blew aside the fog for a few moments. The soldiers were almost broken down. They scoured the road to search for intelligence. Their homely equipment was sneered at as useless. He drew them off to a hollow way. What brave fellows he lost that day!
The scattering, unmeaning and fruitless fire only wasted ammunition. They betrayed that the pass had been left unguarded. He assured the gentlemen. “Be cool, but determined,” was his order. He carefully acquainted himself with the ground. Fuel was added to the patriotic fire by the news. He was conscious that it was a trust beyond his capacities. The liberties of the country were at stake!
The project was hurried forward. A man who ventured outside was killed. They had no notion of what was going on. Much valuable time was lost in discussion. He was oppressed with his responsibility. The grounds were swept by guns. Nothing had been seen before more dreadfully terrible. They said he was remarkable for his kindness to his servants.
They were ready to go home, with the end of the year now expired, exhausted by fatigue, anxious for their families. He met a man to whom he told his perplexities. It was with due reluctance that he called them into common danger. It’s amusing to find he was almost caught napping himself. In a wind which drove in their faces, they were on their way.
An alarm was given from the outposts. He made a careful examination of the neighborhood. That strong soul suffered what must have been the darkest hour of his life! Another precious hour slipped away. He immediately hurried forward to join them. He traced the blood in the snow of the barefoot ones. His duty forbade the thought. There was little certainty in any plan concerning separate forces. Their spirit had exceeded their strength.
He was not destined to win any brilliant laurels. They were all becoming dispirited and discontented. He took her up on horseback behind him and carried her at once to headquarters. Many had been killed before him. They quarreled about precedence. He was an awkward lout, equipped with a huge wig and a rusty sword. He furnished an unexpected conclusion. The time had come for a decisive step. There was so much interest and danger. He saw in a moment what had been gained. The alternative was too humiliating to think of. He worked on their fears by terrifying hints. 
They sustained some injury but followed their course. He was to maintain his position. The safety of the bleeding country depended on their harmony and agreement. Only the foolish and wicked practiced profane swearing. They were quite unlettered and extremely superstitious. He was obliged by the courtesy he had been shown.
In the meantime matters were growing worse. They wept like children. He adopted a course usual among great personages. They were lying calmly in the July sunshine. The opinion of others concurred with his own. He would not step over the least line of his duty. Women and children did their best or their worst to increase the confusion, running hither and thither, lamenting their approaching destruction.
They were disgusted at his partiality for martial music. In their confidence, they had grown careless. They felt the old fighting blood stir in their veins. A reputation to lose, an estate to forfeit, the blessings of liberty at risk, and a devoted life to fail -- that was his excuse! He was conversant with what went on behind the scenes. His thoughts during that hurried ride must have been wretched indeed. They went to the southerly side of the house across the street to enjoy the sun.
They were not encumbered in those days with beds or blankets. He insulted and swore at them. Knowing the story, they read the letter with indignation. He frequently mentioned their situation and the necessity of their aid. Overtaken by a heavy snowstorm in a lonely valley, he was cut off from all sources of information. He was assured he was very strong. He saw the last of the worn, ragged, forlorn troops hurrying over the river in retreat.
He expected that after his departure there would be great confusion. The city was deserted by its old inhabitants and filled with soldiers. It had now become the great magazine of America. They were left to wander in the field of conjecture. There was almost no social intercourse. They worked from morning till night “hearing and answering letters and applications.” They were still feeding themselves upon the dainty food of reconciliation.
He watched with sorrow and anxiety the series of acts which drove them to arms. They thought it essential to make their guests drunk. He found the lecture too interesting to be comfortable. No sooner had he withdrawn, than the baronet broke his parole of honor. “Pay the money and take the book,” he said. He put his most valuable effects into an iron chest, which he buried in the garden. He warned him that, if discovered, he would be hanged. Hardly had this alarm subsided when it was followed by another. This is all they had to expect. Their cruel and unrelenting enemy left them no choice but a brave resistance. 
He had always felt respect and affection for his character. He felt the value of what he had lost. He attempted to explain what had taken place. “The impartial world will do you ample justice before long,” he said. They continued flying before the army. The fools had lost the assistance of knaves. “Bind him as little as possible,” he ordered. That made a wide difference. The request was too reasonable to refuse. So strange were the procedures, that he was suspected of treacherous designs.
They had a bright example before them. Noble fellows were mortally wounded. They sailed directly into the harbor. They were treated not only as children, but as slaves. With the remnant of their fortunes, they cheerfully supported him. He called on them to signify their sentiments. A few more flaming arguments added to the unanswerable reasoning. They omitted certain phrases which were thought too violent. He was sorry to grate their ears with truth. He felt like a dog at a dancing school. He was constantly doing grand and dignified deeds. The cool courage they displayed astonished and enraptured him. He made the best of mankind as they were, not as he wished them.
He stuck a willow twig into the ground, saying, “Let that grow to remember me by.” He wrote a sentence as midnight bells and cannon balls sounded in the entrance. Under such a variety of distresses, it was esteemed a most fortunate exit. He looked with an eye of disbelief. It was something singular. There never was a man so infamously scandalized and ill-treated. But no conception could be more false. He possessed an uncommon share of good sense and spirit. He was first in military knowledge and experience. He rose far above the petty vexations and troubles that wear out the patience of common humanity.

-- from the novel Washington and Seventy-six by Lucy E. and Clara F. Guernsey;
 American Sunday-School Union, 1876

-- May 2010