Muse (Muse #1) by Brittany Cavallaro

Preamble


MAY 1782



He had heard the rumors for weeks before the letter reached Mount Vernon, but when it finally arrived, he found himself unprepared to answer.

The envelope sat on his desk where he’d left it, leaning against a tallow candle. It was before dawn, perhaps four or five in the morning, and he’d passed an uneasy night considering the implications. He was so seldom home in Virginia, and at first he allowed himself to think that was the reason for his restlessness. At the presidential mansion in Philadelphia, he was often woken up by little sputterings of noise: a carriage rattling down the brick road, a tomcat howling at the night sky. At Mount Vernon, all was quiet, like a heavy blanket over the mouth.

And now he was awake.

He made his customary rounds, lighting the fire, quickly bathing, buttoning his shirt as daylight stole in. The letter slept on his desk.

Before he turned to face it, he took a breath, and considered the fields outside his window. He had left this place when the country had been founded; he had hired workers to tend his fields while he went north to tend to his country instead. But he was here now, overseeing the last of spring planting—well, looking in on the planting, at least. Virginia didn’t need him anymore.

He didn’t miss it, Virginia, not in the way he thought he should. Instead it stole over him in strange moments: midnight, ink-stained, reworking a letter with Monroe’s notes in mind, and suddenly he was fourteen again, copying out The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, his quill nib leaking all over his palms. Mount Vernon’s spring breathing in through the window.

A cockerel crowed outside, and he knew he must open the envelope.

He had to do it now, before his household was awake. But first he let himself do the thing he’d been avoiding.

He let himself imagine what it might say.

One thing he knew for certain: the American army was afraid. They had just won a decisive battle against the British and the French, and they were justifiably proud, and now they were afraid, because soldiers who were paid only through the goodwill of individual states—and not through, say, taxes imposed by Congress—were soldiers who didn’t rightly know where their next meal came from.

They were soldiers who didn’t believe in their Congress. In any Congress at all.

And say that, rather than passing laws to pay the army, Congress refused. Say that, perhaps, those generals who were tired of waiting met one night under cover of darkness. That they each swore an oath to secrecy before beginning to speak. Together, they would write their president a letter. They would remind him how their country loved him, how a benevolent monarchy had ruled Britain well and for years. Why shouldn’t America improve on their idea? Why, they could even imagine a country without something as inconvenient as a Parliament or, say, a Congress.

What was the purpose of elected officials? None that they could see. Only partisanship. Infighting. Disunity.

He was reading the letter now, he had it in his shaking hands, and though he wanted to throw it in the fire—this letter that asked him to destroy all he’d built—he told himself to stop first, and think. To consider, fully, the question.

He trusted his own judgment. He knew those who among his men would make good leaders. James Monroe, perhaps, and Thomas Jefferson. (Had Benjamin Franklin not been struck by lightning, he’d have been an excellent choice as well.) If they were not forced to cater to the whims of the public, if they did not need to seek reelection in Congress—why, they could certainly accomplish the work that was important to them. Give them each a territory, the way the British did with their colonial Governors. Let them rule it as he saw fit.

And his grandson, George, was only a year old, but he and Martha had the raising of the child, and he knew that he’d instill in him the values he’d grown up with. The ones he’d so painstakingly copied out when he himself was a boy.

Little George would make a good king someday, he was certain.

When you considered the idea—considered it, mind you, not yet acting on that consideration—it made a certain kind of sense.

Oh, it was absurd. He would answer the letter quickly and put on his workman’s boots and ride Nelson out through the morning fog until he forgot this notion altogether.

George Washington set himself down at his desk. He took up a piece of good British paper and shrugged up his cuffs and dipped his quill.

Dear Sirs, he wrote, and then he stopped, his nib dribbling onto the page.

It was, he had to admit, a hell of an idea.