George Washington, Frontiersmanby Zane Grey, Carlton Jackson (Foreword by)
But even more thrilling is that Zane Grey chose for the central character of this culminating work the father of our country, George Washington, as a young man on the frontier. Grey presents the drama of the life of young Washington: from his birth to his early surveying trips into the Ohio River Valley and the Shenandoah, to his role in General Braddock's disastrous campaign to wrest Fort Duquesne from the French, to his taking command of the Continental Army in 1775. George Washington, Frontiersman is a newly discovered American classic: one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century taking on the story of the father of our nation.
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George Washington, Frontiersman
By Grey, Zane
Tor BooksCopyright © 2002 Grey, Zane
All right reserved.
Young George Washington
The two men stood on the porch looking out into the cold Virginia night, conversing softly. "Well, Augustine, you are about to become a father again. How do you feel about it?"
"Humble, I suppose," Augustine replied. "Though Jane and I had children before she died, this child is Mary's first, and we have many plans for him. If it's a boy, we plan to call him George, after our sovereign."
"Ah, things will become different--quite different--I'll wager," said the other man, "between what you know of English royalty and what your George will know. You never were much of a hand to talk politics, and you seem not to care a hoot what becomes of these American colonies. If it is a boy, I predict that he will grow into a man who will take an interest in our conditions here. It would serve you right if he turned out not to be so loyal to the king he is going to be named after. But I will not bore you any more with such chatter.... We must talk and think of what a beautiful night it was last night. And that great white screaming comet that paled all the stars--how magnificent! This man Halley who calls himself an astronomer, his father boiled soap, made himself wealthy, and this son sees a comet--when was it? 1682--and predicts that it would show again seventy-six years later. By jove, he was right! It occurs to me that we won't either of us live to see the next one."
ANegro slave girl came running out upon the porch and cried, "Massa Washington, Massa Doctor, the time has come."
* * *
Four tranquil February the twenty-seconds passed over the Bridge Creek plantation, adding years to Augustine's life, new cultivated acres to his plantation, and numbers to his slaves. Mary was fond of commenting on her young son's precociousness. "He's very much different from the others," she said often to her patient husband.
"And what do you mean by different?" asked Augustine, smiling.
"Oh, he's much larger than most boys of that age," she returned earnestly. "He has a violent temper. Runs away into the woods every chance he gets. They found him stark naked on several occasions. Seems to hate his clothes and to be washed clean. He does so many queer things like squatting on the ground and watching a hole. There are so many things, all normal I think, but different from what I have observed in other children."
"Mary, that is not so different from other boys," observed her husband thoughtfully, divided between amusement and gravity. "He's your only child, and it's quite natural that you should imagine little George is reserved for some special and noble place in the world. I hope so. We will need great men in the troublesome times ahead."
"Augustine, you are always predicting a dark future for the colonists. Nothing has happened to worry us since George was born. We are certainly better off, and you have more leisure than ever. In fact, too much leisure. I think you take Lawrence hunting and fishing too often, and I am worried because little George shows undue interest in those idle pursuits."
"Mary, the best foundation for a youth in this country is to learn the ways of the woods and water. American boys will be dependent on their guns and fishing poles for a living. I would be very glad if George took to the woods like an Indian. There is much to learn from the Indians."
"But we hear more and more all the time about the growing hostility of the Indians and their fraternizing with the French. I certainly don't want George learning anything from those red men."
The oldest son Lawrence entered the big sitting room, bringing with him the odors of the woods. He was now eighteen years old, a tall, sallow young man, not robust and strong.
"Mother, what do you think George has been doing?" he asked in a pleasant voice.
"Oh, gracious me, I have no idea," she returned in excitement. "Tell me."
"Well, it appears that George's slave, William, turned his back a moment, and George made off into the woods. When William found him he had fallen into Muddy Slough. It was quite deep water, but what do you think? The young rascal didn't drown. Maybe he was too fat to sink. Maybe he held to some bushes or something. William was too frightened to observe what kept him up. He fished George out and fetched him back home. I saw them when they came past the barn. George was a sight to behold but not in the least concerned. He's a great youngster."
"I fear he must be punished," murmured Mary, as she left the room.
"So you think your little stepbrother is a great youngster?" inquired Augustine, with keen eyes on Lawrence.
"I certainly do," returned the young fellow heartily. "I always was fond of George, and lately I have been paying more attention to him. He interests me more than my own brothers. When he gets a little older I will surely make a chum of him."
"Lawrence, that's fine," said the father feelingly. "Only don't wait. He's big enough now to learn the ways of outdoors. His mother will not approve and surely she won't allow us to take George on any camping trips, but begin to teach him what you can. Precocious or not, he's not quite old enough for his letters yet, but a youngster is never too young to get his first lessons in outdoors."
"Father, that boy is old for his age. He stole my fishing pole and hid it in the bushes. When I taxed him about it, he did not commit himself, but when I found it, he frankly said he put it there. George is clever and deep, but he's honest."
Mary paused in the spacious dining room and gazed at the picture of her father which hung above the mantelpiece: a noble picture of a man whose stature equaled his qualities. She had always been convinced that little George looked more like her father than anyone else. And it had been her secret prayer that he would inherit those qualities which her parent had possessed. During the prolonged months while she waited for George to come, her imaginative and dreamy nature had come to have full sway. She did not believe that she was unduly foolish or sentimental; yet there was something she felt but could not explain. Her own mother, and other women who had confided intimately with her, had related natural ambitions and hopes for their offsprings; however, no one she knew had ever been so possessed before the birth of her child with the fantasies and songs of her inmost soul which seemed to have had their origins in the convictions that her son had been born for an unusual and great life.
The few timid overtures she had made to her husband that might have led to full confession had always been inhibited by his amused tolerance and convictions of his own about his son. He wanted George to be a hunter, fisherman, planter, and a good subject to the King. Mary believed secretly that, loyal as the colonists were, the time would come when they would want to make their own lives and their own state, but she had never dared speak her mind.
She went out across the yard and looked everywhere, calling George. She finally found him at the woodpile, busily tearing it down. He was a sight to behold: soaked from head to foot, with a bloody scratch on the back of his leg. Along with Mary's serious thought about him, she felt a thrill at his size and energy. At the moment he had none of the handsome attributes which she took so much pride in.
"George," she called severely, halting behind him. "What are you doing?"
The urchin ceased tearing at the sticks of wood and turned around. He had wiped the mud from his face, but it was still streaked and stained. "I'm chasing a chipmunk," he replied.
"Did it occur to you that the chipmunk might have a nest in there and might have young ones?" she asked.
"I didn't think about that. I jest wanted to ketch him."
"Well, George, you may desist in your play and listen to me. I do not need to be told that you have disobeyed me and fallen into Muddy Slough."
"Mother, I didn't promise I wouldn't fall in, an' William took me."
"How did it come that William let you fall into the water?"
"It was my fault, Mother. I said I'd sit still while he went for fishing worms. An'--an' I didn't."
"Why didn't you?" queried his mother reprovingly.
"I don't know. I saw a little turtle, an'--an' then I forgot."
"You slipped in the water, of course, and then what happened?"
"I held to the bushes an' waited for William."
"Did you cry out--call for him?" she inquired wonderingly.
"No. I wasn't scared."
"George, you will have to be punished for this," she cried.
He gazed up at her with clear apprehensive eyes. Then he dropped his head.
"You understand, of course, that William will have to be punished too."
"But he didn't do nothin'," protested the lad.
Mary, hands trembling, broke off a switch from a nearby bush. She had never punished George before. He watched her with steady, unflinching eyes.
"George, if you promise not to do it again, the punishment will not be so severe. Will you promise?"
"Mother, I promised before an' I did it anyhow, so I won't promise."
She laid hold of her unresisting boy, and, with her heart mounting to her throat, she switched him over his bare leg. As she had never done this before and was under stress, she must have struck harder than she had any idea. He grew stiff under her hold but did not resist or cry out. When she saw welts coming upon his legs, she desisted.
"Now, sir, do wash yourself and put on clean clothes. You are to stay in the house, but you will not get any supper tonight."
As she let him go, he ran off swiftly around the back of the house. It was then as she stood holding the switch, remorseful in spite of herself, that she heard him hollering. That relieved her somewhat for it was her opinion that children who did not cry when they were whipped were not normal. As she turned to go in, she saw William dart from behind the shed where evidently he had watched the performance, and the fleeting glimpse she had of his face showed that he was frightened. She would consult Augustine about what kind of punishment to mete out for William. What she did not feel at all right about was the punishment she had given George, and this caused her concern. Probably she would not be able to repeat it, and the incident showed her that George had passed babyhood and was fast growing up.
William was not the only witness to that unprecedented switching near the woodpile. Lawrence, too, had spied on the scene. It recalled to him the many switchings he had endured when he was that age and older. He was particularly intrigued by the way little George had manfully taken his licking. But, presently, when Lawrence had made his escape from his hiding place into the house, he was suddenly brought to a standstill by George's lusty yowling. He was glad none of his brothers and sisters were around to enjoy George's pain and grief, and he began to feel a little sorry himself for the youngster. After all, if George had taken the punishment without a whimper, it would have made the boy seem unnatural.
Lawrence went into his room and waited a while until George's caterwauling had subsided. Then he tiptoed to the door, and, knocking, he entered. He found the youngster seated on the floor, dirty and ragged, with his long locks hanging down over his head. Tearstains had added further to his forlorn aspect. George had a leg turned around and was rubbing the back of it where little welts ran across the calf. Lawrence was shocked to see blood. George's mother must have whipped him cruelly. Slumping down on the floor beside him, he said, "George let me see? Oh, does it hurt?"
George looked up as if he thought that question was silly.
"Of course it hurts, but the thing to do is to think that it doesn't," said Lawrence.
"How's I gonna-do that?" sniffled George.
"It seems funny, but it can be done,...This is a bad scratch, George. It'll have to be bound up. I first thought Mother's switch had cut it out of you."
"I cut myself there--then I fell in....And Mother whipped me right over it. It hurts--something awful."
"Sure it does; you forget it. I'll tie it up for you and help you wash and change your clothes, and then I have something wonderful to tell you."
George did not show any interest and went on tenderly rubbing his leg until Lawrence wiped the blood and the dirt away and tied up the wound.
"Young man, I'll bet you will be interested when I tell you. Where's some of your clean clothes? Here's some....Where's your towel? Here it is, and almost as dirty as you are. George, did you know that Indian boys are cleaner than you are?"
"Injuns!" exclaimed George, looking up.
"Yes, but of course they don't wear very much. Stand up now till I fix you. And, listen, I don't think Father will punish you. A man doesn't think it's so bad when a boy falls in the water or gets dirty and soils his clothes. Mother is very particular about such things. She insists on you and your brothers being little gentlemen all the while. I told Father about your stealing my fishing pole and that you wouldn't deny it. He doesn't think you are too young to learn something about the outdoors. So I am hoping to take you in hand. Every day we'll do something. We'll fish Muddy Slough and Ridge Creek and then the river. I know a great deal about hunting and fishing, and all about the birds and squirrels and snakes and turkeys and everything in the woods, and I'm going to teach you."
Long before Lawrence had gotten that far in his information, George had forgotten his pain and that he hated to have his face washed and his hair combed and was standing erect, tingling all over, with his large eyes shining, fixed raptly upon his brother.
"An' Injuns!" he burst out.
"Yes, Injuns too. We may see some now and then, but, George, most all the Injuns now are bad Injuns. We'll have to be pretty careful when we go far away into the woods."
"An' will I get to go campin' out with Father an' you?"
"Sure you will, someday, when you have learned a lot and can better take care of yourself."
"An' can I have a fishin' pole of my own?"
"I'll give you that small one you stole from me on condition you'll never steal anything again. Promise?"
"I will, promise," replied George solemnly.
"And soon as you learn how to use it, you shall have a knife, and then someday a tomahawk."
"An Injun hatchet?" rejoined George breathlessly.
"Yes, someday. It depends on how much you learn and how much you mind your teacher. You shall have a bow and arrow someday and then, when you get big enough, a gun."
This was wholly too much for little George, who was speechless. Lawrence considered the moment as definitely establishing a new relationship with the youngster. Young as George was, he had something that drew Lawrence to him. He wasn't afraid and he wasn't deceitful and he had always looked up to Lawrence as someone to worship.
When Lawrence had made George presentable again they were called to supper. "Now, George, you go to Mother and tell her you're sorry and that you'll never do it again." They went into the dining room and there, before the other children and his father, George approached his mother and without embarrassment or timidity made his plea to her. And Mary, quite surprised and touched, looked from George to her husband and then back again to tell George that, as he had made amends, he could have his supper. There were some curious looks and snickerings from George's half brothers which were detected by the father, who straightaway stopped them. Lawrence observed, however, that George did not notice the conduct of the other children. They had supper and then Lawrence took George for a walk out along the creek.
Lawrence Washington, owing to weak lungs and a constitution that required building up, had divided his time between schooling and living in the open. He began little George's education, and there was never a day that they were not out somewhere in the forest or along the streams. George proved such an apt pupil that there was nothing too little for Lawrence to call his attention to and explain and study. The youngster asked questions that were far beyond Lawrence's knowledge of natural history, but Lawrence religiously tried to reply in some way to every query. George was going to be a most desirable companion in the wilderness. Sometimes in a whole afternoon he did not say anything at all. He had a marvelously quick eye and his ears were as keen as a deer's.
After they had been fishing for days and days and Lawrence had expected the boy to lose his interest, he found that time and experience only added to the lad's obsession with natural and exciting things. George learned rapidly, but his emotional temperament was equal to his attention. He did not forget instruction but he could not resist impulsiveness. While they were fishing, he would sit motionless on a log or beside the bank, and, although absorbed in watching his fishing line and float, he never missed the flight of a wild duck or the swoop of a hawk or the drumming of a pheasant deep in the woods or the ripple of a breaking fish or any of the sights and sounds that one would suppose so young a boy would not catch instantly. When a fish bit, he never could wait for the right time to jerk, and, therefore, more often than not, he would miss the hooking.
"Wait until your float bobs under," advised Lawrence, time and again.
But George did not soon learn the art of waiting. When he did hook a little fish and it escaped, it was impossible to assuage his grief, and, if he hooked one that stayed on, he invariably threw it back over his head into the grass or bushes. And when he did catch one, he would put it on a string and back into the water where he watched it until Lawrence called him again.
The time came when George required a new and stronger fishing line and of course a larger hook. There were good-sized catfish in the streams, and sooner or later George was going to hook one of them. Lawrence thought that he certainly did not want to miss that occasion.
The boy seemed fair to make a better hunter than fisherman. He followed along after Lawrence through the woods and in his bare feet made no more noise than a mouse. He learned to see and be careful where he stopped. He could see snakes and frogs as quickly as they saw him. Poisonous snakes were not numerous in that country, but it was wise to be cautious. He never developed a desire to kill snakes, but he would watch them as long as he was permitted. Birds in their nests with eggs or young ones fascinated him. But he did not rouse any of them. On the trails it did not take him long to tell the difference between deer tracks and raccoon or cat tracks. Lawrence had a dog that they often took with them, and George became familiar with dog tracks. When Lawrence went after wild game, he always put George on the back of one of his gentle horses. He taught him how to ride bareback.
On the occasions when Lawrence could not go with George, William accompanied the boy. William's job was to take care of the lad he called master. When they went fishing, William carried the poles, the bucket, the bait, and the lunch. On the return from a successful fishing trip, however, George insisted on carrying the fish he had caught and sometimes brought a live one home in the bucket to put in the watering trough by the barn. Before the summer was over he had a lot of little fish in that trough and spent hours watching them.
During these months George grew like a weed. He lost his pudginess, and though he did not get thin he grew tall for a youngster his age. Augustine was happy over Lawrence's tutelage of the lad, and his promise of growing to be big and strong and an outdoor man. He even persuaded Mary of the good that was being accomplished and how much George was improving in every way.
When Indian summer came with its melancholy days and the coloring of the leaves and the purple haze in the glades of the forest, and when the afternoon stillness was seldom broken by anything but the plaintive notes of a bird, then Augustine knew that soon they would be taking their camping trip into the woods. Although Lawrence thought it would be all right to take the youngster with them, the father decided against that for another year. Some of their jaunts would be quite far into the forest and might possibly be too much for the lad. But Lawrence averred that George could outwalk him. The lad would not be in the way at all, and, aside from being an asset to the hunts, he would be a source of great fun. Nevertheless, the father decided against it because of George's youth.
Not until Augustine had made arrangements to take the first hunt did he tell George that he would have to stay home. And then he found what this prospect had meant to the boy. His disappointment was so keen that Augustine almost relented. That night, appeasingly, hiding something behind his back, he approached George and said, "Lad, I have something for you that you have waited for for a long time."
"What?" cried George, his large eyes trying to peer through his father.
Whereupon Augustine brought into view a bright little tomahawk.
"Oh, my Indian hatchet!" burst out George, trying to keep from snatching it out of his father's hands.
"There! Be careful what you chop with it," admonished his father.
Copyright 1994 by Loren Grey and Betty Grosso
Excerpted from George Washington, Frontiersman by Grey, Zane Copyright © 2002 by Grey, Zane. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Zane Grey, the bestselling author of sixty-five Western novels, is one of the most recognized and respected writers of Western fiction. His works have been translated into twenty-three languages and have been made into more than one hundred movies. Even today, in both hardcover and paperback, his fiction remains extremely popular.
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