All my life I have done what my
family wanted. I have performed
and made them happy. Until now.
Now I have broken out on my own
Sarah Tracy has spent her entire life under constant supervision, always under the thumb of one older sibling or another. Now, at eighteen it's time for her to get married, so she is sent to dinner parties, plays, teas, soirees, talks, and chaperoned walks -- always accompanied, always watched.
Sarah's tired of it -- tired of being shipped around, tired of being reminded that it's time to find a suitable husband. She knows that a husband is definitely not what she wants. But the year is 1861 and it's not proper for girls of Sarah's age to be single or independent.
Then Sarah sees an advertisement looking for a young woman to oversee Mount Vernon, the beloved, though now dilapidated, family home of George Washington. Intent on securing the position, she lies to her family and her potential employer, and she becomes mistress of this decaying symbol of American freedom.
And then comes the American Civil War. As battles rage around her, Sarah is determined to create a haven of peace at Mount Vernon. With consummate skills, feminine wiles, and a true sense of diplomacy, Sarah single-handedly manages to keep Mount Vernon out of the war. But while she is able to influence generals, soldiers, and even the president, she learns she doesn't hold such sway over her own heart -- as she also discovers true love.
Based on a true story, this is the amazing tale of one girl's path to womanhood.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Ann Rinaldi is acclaimed for her historical novels, of which eight have been named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Author of more than thirty titles, she sets the standard for the genre in excellence and accuracy with her modern-day classics Wolf by the Ears and In My Father's House. She lives in New Jersey with her husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My older sister, Fanny, put me in a closet once when we were children. She, being the elder, had her reasons, I suppose. I can think of half a dozen reasons right now why she may have done it. I was always a plague to Fanny. Like the time I stole her pearl hair comb when she was going to a party where Herman Melville was to be guest of honor. Mr. Melville came from Troy, New York, where I come from.
We have both a small farm and a town house in Troy, across from the Hart-Cluett mansion. Life there was not dull. But it was confining. Before I made the decision to come to Washington City, my life was like I was in a closet.
Always I was watched. Always I was under someone else's supervision. If it wasn't Fanny's, it was that of one of my older brothers or sisters-in-law, who were, in their own words, "taking the problem away from my parents."
Or it was the teachers at Troy Female Seminary. That was on Mount Ida, above the city, where in the rarified air I learned how to stand straight, play the pianoforte, and stitch a fine seam, to say nothing of science, mathematics, French and philosophy, deportment and dancing.
Always I failed deportment.
"Face your problems head-on, girls. Stare them in the eye," Miss Semple used to say. She was the headmistress, and when she was not telling us to face our problems, she was telling us to express our opinions, but never to be pushy. Pushy girls were the worst sinners in her book. They were to be abhorred. She would not tolerate pushy girls at Troy Female Seminary.
She never explained to us how we were supposed to face our problems head-on without being pushy. I supposed it was a secret we would all learn someday.
Oh, how often I wanted to run away! If it had been sixty years earlier, I might have dressed like a man and run for a pirate ship. In George Washington's time I'd have donned breeches and a rifle frock, taken up a musket, and joined a regiment to fight the British. Or gone west, over the Shenandoahs, to face the Indians. Where indeed I would have been pushy.
But somehow I finished Troy Female Seminary, if only to keep from breaking my parents' hearts. They are considerably older than most parents are with a daughter my age. And being so, it is to be expected that their hearts are very fragile. I was reminded of that constantly by my older brothers, George and Albert.
All my life I have done what my family wanted. I have performed and made them happy. Until now. Now I have broken out on my own. I have applied for a position at Mr. Washington's home as a sort of live-in caretaker. When I told my parents that it was backed by honorable people, they consented. And I got their friends the Maxwells and the Goodriches, who have money and influence, to write me letters of recommendation.
Oh, I won't exactly be a caretaker. I will have servants and won't have to clean or scrub or even cook. But I will be making decisions about the house, which has long been neglected. Not alone, of course. Miss Cunningham, who is to interview me today, will be there.
And a man called Mr. Upton Herbert. He is the superintendent. At least that's the way it was when I first wrote the letter to Miss Cunningham. But now things have changed.
It is spring of 1861 as I sit here in my room of the Willard Hotel and write this. And South Carolina has seceded from the Union since I wrote that first letter. And war is coming. Things couldn't have changed more than that. But I feel safe here, as if things will turn out well.
Even if Miss Cunningham is from South Carolina. And already she has written to me that she fears she may be needed at home. As if South Carolina has actually broken off from the continent and is about to float out into the Atlantic Ocean.
But she has been honest with me. She has told me that Mount Vernon is in a dilapidated state. That General Washington's great-great-grandnephew, or whatever Mr. John Augustine Washington is, has left Mount Vernon by now, being the last Washington to have residence there, with all those children of his. Six, I think.
She has told me she is not well, so likely it will be up to me to try to bring to the place some semblance of what it once was.
But that is not what worries me. What worries me is that I have not been honest with her.
And I am afraid she will find me out.
I told her I was twenty-two in my letter. And I am only eighteen, going on nineteen. The Maxwells didn't mention my age in their letter. I know because I read it. Neither did the Goodriches. Not that they were conspiring. They just didn't. And my parents know nothing about the deception. No, the lie is all my own.
So I sit here in my room and worry the matter. But I wouldn't stand a chance at getting the position if I hadn't lied. Oh well, it will all be over soon, and I will either shortly be hired or leave here in disgrace. And, as Miss Semple said, I must face up to the problem.
Within the hour I am to meet with Miss Cunningham.
I sit here writing in my journal. I think I shall try to keep a journal. After all, it isn't every day one gets invited to live in the home of the father of one's country. Something important may happen. And if it doesn't, then I must learn to make important the little things that do happen every day. I must learn that I am important.
If I had learned that a long time ago, I wouldn't be living like a gypsy, getting shipped place to place by my family. But more about that later.
Here at Willard's I have stayed in my room, fearful of taking to the streets, of even going into the lobby, advised against it by the concierge.
"Congress is in session, miss. The halls, parlors, and dining room are loud and crowded. The din is frightful. We can deliver meals to your room."
They say that to be seen here at Willard's marks one as important. They say they serve fifteen hundred of a Sunday when Congress is in session. But I keep to my room. I don't particularly want to be seen. I want to stay right here, away from it all.
The Federal City is a bedlam. Everybody expects war to happen soon, and the streets are filled with office seekers, soldiers, plug-uglies, hangers-on, and if all that were not bad enough, the elite who have come to see and criticize our backwoods president.
If Miss Cunningham does not approve of me, what shall I do? Go home to Troy to help Father plant the spring corn? Go back to Mount Savage in Maryland to be a governess for the Maxwell children?
I suppose I could stay with my friend Mary McMakin in Philadelphia for a while.
Mayhap if Miss Cunningham doesn't like me, I'll run away to sea.
It is terrible being the youngest in the family. I was never spoiled. I was admonished, preached to, and told by my much older siblings that I was the blessing of my parents' old age. And constantly reminded to act like a blessing. But being a blessing can be a tiresome business. My older siblings -- George, Albert, and Fanny -- raised me for the most part. When home from school, I mostly stayed at one of their houses or the other. Mother's heart really is weak. And Father lost his arm in the Mexican War. Still, he manages to be a gentleman farmer who owns the largest mercantile in Troy. My brothers run it for him. I think my older siblings put this burden of being a blessing on me so I wouldn't be a worry to them, or my parents. And never, never was I taken seriously about anything.
I think that is why I am doing this. To be taken seriously. To have a part in what is going on around me.
Of course, when I applied for this position, my sister, Fanny, didn't help my situation any. She's forever buzzing in my parents' ears about me. "You're going to allow her to be alone? In that place? I hear it's falling down around the superintendent's ears! And do you know who the superintendent is? They say he's the most eligible bachelor in Fairfax County. Mother, you're not going to let her go there!"
Fanny really took on about it. Which I don't understand. Miss Cunningham will be there with me. And for two years, since I graduated from Mrs. Mercier's Academy for Young Ladies in New Orleans, after I completed Troy Female Seminary, my family has been shipping me about like a Christmas fruitcake to find a husband. And now that I pursue a position where there is a young man present, they are all ready to have me put in a lunatic asylum.
I have not yet met the most eligible bachelor in Fairfax County, but he is safe from me. I must remember to tell him. The last thing I want right now, with war coming, is a husband. There are too many things to be done, not the least of them is to write a book. I really want to do that someday. I intend to do all of the things I want.
But I started to tell how I've been shipped around. And if I'm going to keep a journal about my experience, I must be coherent. It was, of course, to find a husband. After all, what do you do with a young lady recently graduated from two of the nation's best schools, and possibly overeducated to boot? You ship her out.
First there was six months at No. 1 Washington Square with the Grahams, friends of Father's, where I was touted as an excellent dinner companion and conversationalist. Three months with the Maxwells on Savage Mountain in Maryland in the summer -- not an official governess, no, but somehow I was always reading to, and looking after, the children. Another six months with the Goodriches in Philadelphia. Mrs. Goodrich is some sort of kin to Mother. And very wealthy.
If I never go to another dinner party in my life, I shall be happy. If I never have to sit through another play in the theater, I shall be ecstatic. As for teas, soirees, hearing professors talk about Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott, chaperoned walks in the park with insipid young men, I am sick to the teeth of all of it.
"Mrs. Lincoln found her husband that way," Mother told me. "She was visiting her sister in Springfield, Illinois, when they met."
"She was shipped there by her father and stepmother," I said. But I mustn't be saucy to Mother. Brother George would not tolerate it. I si...
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Book Description Simon & Schuster Books For You, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110689859244
Book Description Simon & Schuster Books For You, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0689859244
Book Description Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0689859244 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1201952