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       Mount Vernon Love Story: A Novel of George and Martha Washington, p.1

           Mary Higgins Clark
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Mount Vernon Love Story: A Novel of George and Martha Washington




  “Clark certainly has a few tricks left in her bag.”

  —Boston Globe

  “Her best in years . . . a tightly woven, emotionally potent tale of suspense and revenge . . . . With its textured plot, well-sketched secondary characters, strong pacing and appealing heroine, this is Clark at her most winning.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Few stories of obsession will grab readers quite like this one.”

  —Ottowa Citizen

  “A fast and fascinating read.”

  —Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)

  “Daddy’s Little Girl is the best book Clark has written in two years. Her work seems somehow more solid, the plotting more deft. The . . . ending is so unexpected and harrowing I just had to sit back and allow the story to run through my mind until I absorbed the depth of all I’d just read.”

  —Tulsa World (OK)


  “Is a reincarnated serial killer at work in a New Jersey resort town more than a century after he first drew blood? That’s the catchy premise that supports Clark’s 24th book . . . . This is a plot-driven novel, with Clark’s story mechanics at their peak of complexity, clever and tricky.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Like all of Clark’s novels, this one is a suspenseful page-turner that will delight her many fans.”


  “The cleverly complex plot gallops along at a great clip, the little background details are au courant, and the identities of both murderers come as an enjoyable surprise. On the Street Where You Live just may be Clark’s best in years.”



  “Mary Higgins Clark knows what she’s doing . . . . This savvy author always comes up with something unexpected. . . . A hold-your-breath ending.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  “Romantic suspense has no more reliable champion than Mary Higgins Clark. Her characters are . . . breezy and fun, and so is this confection of a book.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “For someone who loves plot, Mary Higgins Clark’s Before I Say Good-Bye should be like manna from heaven . . . . [The] ‘Queen of Suspense’ clearly knows what her readers want. Here she provides it, in spades.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “A smooth and easy read.”

  —New York Post

  “The storytelling skills of the newest grandmaster of mystery writing have never been better.”

  —The Hartford Courant (CT)

  “Clark holds the reins the whole way through this tale of mischief and secrets, allowing us to unwind her labyrinth of hidden clues only as she wants them to unfold.”

  —The Christian Science Monitor

  “Characters so interesting the reader can identify with them in an instant.”

  —Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)

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  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  In joyful memory of Warren

  and for Marilyn, Warren, David, Carol and Patty who are the best of both of us

  Dear Reader:

  I grew up with the idea that George Washington, our first president, was both pedantic and humorless. That notion was fostered by the quotes attributed to him, such as, “Father, I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree.”

  When, as a radio scriptwriter, I researched the life for a historical series I was writing, I was surprised and delighted to find the engaging man behind the pious legend. The self-righteous quotes attributed to him were all fabrications of Parson Weems, an after-dinner speaker who made his living inventing stories about Washington after Washington’s death. The pity is, the truth would have served him better.

  Washington was a giant of a man in every way, starting with his physical height. In an era when men averaged five foot seven inches, he towered over everyone at six foot three. In my research, I learned that our first president was the best dancer in the colony of Virginia. He was also a master horseman, which was why the Indians gave him their highest compliment: “He rides his horse like an Indian.”

  I had always believed that he married an older woman, a widow, and that his true love was Sally Carey, his best friend’s wife. The fact is that George and Martha loved each other deeply. Yes, she was older, but only three months older than he, twenty-seven to his twenty-six when they were married. For the next forty-two years she shared his life in every way. She crossed the British lines to join him in Boston, and she endured with him the bitter hardship of the winter in Valley Forge. As Lady Bird Johnson was never called Claudia, Martha Washington was never known as Martha. Her family and friends called her Patsy. George always called her “my dearest Patsy” and wore a locket with her picture around his neck.

  Mount Vernon Love Story is my first book, a biographical novel about two people I came to respect and love. It was published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens, which was the family motto of Washington’s mother. All the events, dates, scenes and people are based on verified historical research.

  I am delighted that this novel is being reissued now.

  I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


  March 4, 1797

  11:45 A.M.

  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  IT WAS A WINDSWEPT, RAW MARCH MORNING and the city looked bleak and dreary as it shivered under the overcast sky. But the man who stood at the window of his study in the large house on Market Street didn’t hear the rattling of the wind against the panes or even feel the persistent draft that penetrated between the window frame and sill. He was staring unseeingly into the street.

  In his mind he was hundreds of miles away and just arriving at Mount Vernon. Eagerly he pictured the last few minutes of that journey. The carriage would gather speed as the horses galloped up the winding road. Then they’d round the bend and it would be there . . . the great house, gleaming and white in the afternoon sun.

  For years he’d looked forward to that homecoming. Several times during severe illness he’d thought that he wouldn’t live to enjoy Mount Vernon. But now the hour was at hand. Now he could go home.

  He was a tall man who still carried himself impressively well. When he was twenty-six an Indian chief had exclaimed that he walked
straighter than any brave in the tribe. At sixty-five he’d begun to bend forward a little like a giant tree that could no longer resist the battering force of the wind.

  The width of his shoulders was still there, although the shoulders no longer suggested the agile strength that had once made him seem near godlike to an army. The long white hair was caught in a silk net at the nape of his neck. The black velvet suit and pearl-colored vest had become almost a uniform. The days of blues and scarlets were behind him.

  He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the light tap on the study door, nor did he note when the door opened. For a long moment Patsy stood surveying him intently. To her worried eyes he seemed weary and gaunt. But beneath the concern a current of joy rippled and danced through her. Her fears had been groundless! For eight years a persistent instinct had nagged her that something would happen to him . . . that he wouldn’t live to go home with her . . . but she’d been wrong. Thank the dear, dear God, she’d been wrong.

  She was a short woman. The gently rounded figure that had once made her seem doll-like had thickened into solid matronly lines. Still, she moved with a quick, light step and from under her morning cap silvery ringlets lined her fore head giving her a disarmingly youthful look. Long ago she’d explained to the man she was watching that even though her name was Martha, her father had dubbed her Patsy because he thought Martha too serious and weighty. Now this man was almost the only one left who called her Patsy.

  She started across the room and went up to him. “Are you ready to go?” she asked. “It’s getting late.”

  He turned quickly, looked puzzled for an instant, then wrenched himself back into the present. With a sheepish expression he reached for his black military hat and yellow kid gloves. “Indeed, after professing to have longed for this day, it would seem unfit to be tardy for my deliverance,” he commented wryly. He pulled on his gloves then sighed, “It really is over, isn’t it, Patsy?”

  For a moment her expression became anxious. “You don’t mind giving up, do you, my dear? You’re surely not sorry that you didn’t accept another term.”

  He put his hat under his arm and now his eyes twinkled. “My dear, if John Adams is as happy to enter this office as I am to leave it, he must be the happiest man in the world.”

  Lightly he touched his lips to her cheek. “I won’t be long,” he told her, “and then if Lady Washington will not mind spending her afternoon with a private citizen . . .”

  “I wish I were going with you now,” she said.

  He shook his head. “Since Mrs. Adams couldn’t be here to watch John take the oath of office, your presence might point up her absence.”

  Then he was gone. His valet, Christopher, was waiting downstairs to open the front door. Usually Christopher said, “Good-bye, Mr. President,” but now he only bowed. The words had trembled and died on his lips as he realized that he would never be saying them again. But after he closed the door behind the tall old gentleman, he whispered softly, “Good-bye, Mr. President.”

  The wind whipped around the wide-rimmed black hat. He raised his hand to steady it, then quickly braced himself and with a rapid stride started down the block. A small cluster of people were waiting on the street just beyond the grounds of the executive mansion. They bowed and he nodded to them. He heard their footsteps behind him as he turned in the direction of Federal Hall.

  The full blast of the March gale pushed hard against him and he leaned forward slightly. He had a fleeting thought that he should have ordered the carriage, but it was a relatively short walk and there was something about going to this ceremony on foot that appealed to him. It was less obtrusive and he wanted to be unobtrusive now.

  Maybe he needed this bit of solitude, too. One had to adjust to the end of the road as thoroughly as one adjusted to its beginning.

  The beginning . . . In a way it seemed only yesterday that his mother had warned him about always dreaming and never accomplishing. But it wasn’t yesterday. That was over fifty years ago when he was a lad of twelve or thirteen and back at Ferry Farm.

  The coldness of the March air faded into the bleak chill of a forbidding parlor. The crunching of his boots became the tapping of his foot on the uncarpeted floor-boards. The stark branches of the trees took on the appearance of the depressing furniture in his mother’s home. He was absorbed in the memory of that home as he continued on the last walk he would ever take as President of the United States . . .

  March, 1745

  3 P.M.

  Ferry Farm

  HIS FOOT TAPPED AGAINST THE FLOOR AS he sprawled uncomfortably on one of the stiff old chairs in the parlor at Ferry Farm. As always he’d had a time becoming absorbed in his book. There was something forbidding and uncomfortable about the spartanly furnished room, about the house itself.

  He was a scant thirteen but had already decided that when he grew up, his home would be warm and welcoming. It would have fine papers on the walls and a marble chimney, papier-mâché on the ceilings and neat mahogany tables which could be joined together for company. George spent much time envisioning that home.

  Sighing, he turned back to his reader. Once more he shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. There simply didn’t seem to be room enough for his legs anymore—in the past year he’d gained three inches, was now nearly 6 feet 1 inch, and did not seem to be finished growing. Even his shoulders were pushing their way out of the plain shirting that his mother considered suitable garb.

  His book that day was the Young Man’s Companion. His favorite lines in it were:

  Get what you get honestly.

  Use what you get frugally.

  That’s the way to live comfortably

  And die honorably.

  The book slid from his lap. He would have a useful life. Long ago he’d promised his mother that he’d live up to her family’s motto. Mary Ball Washington was a difficult woman to please, but that promise had pleased her and evoked one of her rare moments of tenderness.

  George thought again of the story he’d heard of when his mother first came into this house as a bride. His father carried her over the threshold and the first thing her eye fell on was the family copy of Matthew Hale’s Contemplations. The housekeeper had left the book open at the page that bore the signature of her husband’s first wife.

  Mary Washington said to her husband, “Put me down, please.” Firmly she walked over to the book, picked up a pen, and wrote her own name, boldly and with flourishes. The new mistress was very much in charge from that day on.

  George loved his mother but he didn’t like her very much. Since his father’s death when George was eleven he’d tried to be the man of the house for her, but Mary Washington allowed no smidgen of authority to be taken from her even by her own son. She took care of her brood, wrangled with the overseers who handled the vast lands her husband had left to her and the children, and carried a leather whip at her belt to ensure obedience from her offspring.

  George had an uneasy conscience about the fact that he was much happier during his long visits to his half brothers Augustine and Lawrence. They lived on their own estates now. Lawrence on the Hunting Creek land that he’d renamed Mount Vernon, and Augustine on the Rappahannock Farm near Fredericksburg.

  Both young men seemed to understand George’s feelings because he was frequently invited to spend long periods of time with them. “And how is your good mother?” Lawrence would ask when George arrived. “The same?”

  “The same,” George would say, hoping that a wry note did not creep into his voice. He wished he could love his mother more. And then he’d forget her and settle into the comfortable atmosphere of his brothers’ homes and families.

  Now his mother stalked into the room. “Idle?” Her spare figure was even straighter than usual. The nostrils of her roman nose suggested a sniff . . . always a dangerous sign.

  George sprang up. “No, madame. I have been reading my meditations.” Lamely he pointed to the book which had slid unnoticed to the floo

  His mother picked it up. “It is not enough to read about how to live life, or to dream it. It is quite more important to do something about it. Are your chores finished?”

  “Yes, Mother.” He hesitated a moment. It was probably a dangerous time to bring up a sore subject but intense desire to know his mother’s mind pushed him on. “And, Mother, have you given further thought to my going to sea?”

  It was the wrong time. His mother’s eyebrows, thick and well-shaped, drew into an almost unbroken line. “I see no need to think about it today. I have at least three years longer to give that subject my thoughts.” She turned and stalked from the room.

  She’d only been gone a moment when his sister Betty slipped in. “Is she vexed with you again?” Betty asked anxiously.

  George smiled a welcome. Betty was only a year younger than he and they’d always been close. He wondered again how she had ever been their mother’s daughter. Betty was pretty, gay, and lighthearted. She always had a light novel tucked in her workbasket. She never walked but seemed to dance across a room. Oddly, of all the children, she got along best with the mother.

  She and George understood each other completely and shared dreams. Betty, too, had her own ideas about her future home. “I shall have the very grandest house in all Fredericksburg,” she often said. “It shall be built just for me and have great beams and fine brass, a beautiful reception hall with lovely, lovely furnishings. And I shall be the mistress in the finest gowns from London. I’ll have lots of company and be very gay all the time and not live like this.” Whenever she got to that part of her dream, she would give a near sniff and look greatly like her mother.

  Now she stood in front of her tall brother and looked at him adoringly.

  George cupped her chin in his hand. “God help the young men in a year or two. No, little one, she isn’t really vexed. She just wants to get vexed about something, so beware.”

  Betty giggled. “Well, if she goes to the kitchen, she’ll have plenty of reason. Cook’s new assistant has vastly overcooked the pork and cook is in a state.”

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