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A short story by Etta Belle Walker


Title:     Lexington
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

When he was beset and overwhelmed, and without supplies, Robert Edward Lee reached Appomattox in April, 1865, and surrendered to General Grant on April 9th. He realized that the people of the South needed courage and strength, and though he was offered many places of honor with splendid salaries, he decided to help rebuild Virginia. When the call came to become president of Washington College in Lexington he accepted and took up his duties there in October, 1865.

As he spoke to the students assembled in the new chapel he saw familiar faces. Many of them had followed him during the years of the War Between the States; they, too, had courage and hope. These boys and men loved the noble man and they were willing to follow him in rebuilding their homes and the Southland.

"All good citizens must unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They must not abandon their country, but go to work and build up its prosperity.

"The young men especially must stay at home, bearing themselves in such a manner as to gain the esteem of every one, at the same time that they maintain their own respect.

"It should be the object of all to avoid controversy, to allay passion, and to give scope to every kindly feeling."

In every respect he was prepared to be the president of a great school, for he himself had been a model student at West Point. He had already served as Superintendent there for three years.

He was very happy during the short years he lived in Lexington. He had the grounds improved, planted many trees, and repaired the much worn buildings. He studied and worked over the courses of study and enlarged the faculty.

A young girl who was visiting in the home of General Lee in Lexington, tells the following story. It was soon after the Surrender at Appomattox and his acceptance of the Presidency of Washington College.

General Lee, with his family, was living in one of the comfortable and large houses near the college. Their home at Arlington had been confiscated during the War Between the States, and they had no furniture except some which neighbors had lent them.

One day a letter came to General Lee, telling him good news. A lady who lived in New York wrote him that her husband had died, and having no children she had decided to give up housekeeping. She had been very happy and had loved her home. Now she wanted the furnishings to belong to someone who would appreciate and would care for them. She wrote she sympathized with them in not having their own furniture and that there was no one to whom she had rather give hers.

General Lee hated the thought of accepting, until he read on, that if he could not use the furniture himself, perhaps he could use it in his college. After some time he wrote the lady he would be very grateful and would appreciate it very much.

In the meantime Mrs. Lee was looking forward to its coming, for her large rooms were indeed very bare. At last the great boxes came. General Lee was busy, so Mrs. Lee waited until he could be present to have them opened.

After lunch one day, General Lee had men come to open them. Mrs. Lee's eyes shone as the first box revealed two huge red velvet carpets.

She looked at the General. His eyes were shining too.

"Look, my dear," he said, "The very thing we need! If we cut them carefully, we will have enough to carpet the platform and the aisles of the new chapel!"

"Of course," she smiled, never saying one word about how warm and lovely they would make the double parlors in their own home.

The next box was opened with intense interest. The men lifted out the upper part of a handsome bookcase. The next brought the lower half, a lovely desk, with many drawers.

"Oh," thought Mrs. Lee. "That will fill up that terrible space between the windows."

"This is the very thing we want," General Lee said, as the men took them to the walk. "We will put that in the basement of the new chapel. We will use it for our records and put our best books in the bookcase, and this will be the beginning of our college library."

And so it went. He used the best of everything for his college, and Mrs. Lee took only the odds and ends which did not fit anywhere else. Someone told her she should have taken a stand and insisted upon taking some of the best.

"Oh, no," she laughed, "it was worth giving all of it up to see the joy the General had in putting it to use in his college. The boys come first--both of us are so interested in them."

General Lee died in October, 1870, loved by men and women, boys and girls in both the North and South. His body rests under a beautiful white marble figure, which was sculptured by his friend, Edward Valentine. It is called the Recumbent Statue of General Lee and lies in the Chapel of Washington and Lee. This is now a shrine to which hundreds come daily from all over the world to pay their homage, love and respect to this great man.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Lexington