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The attack of cold from which my father suffered in October had beenvery severe. Rapid exercise on horseback or on foot produced painand difficulty in breathing. After he was considered by most of hisfriends to have gotten well over it, it was very evident to his doctorsand himself that there was a serious trouble about the heart, and heoften had great weariness and depression. He complained but little,was often very bright and cheerful, and still kept up his old-timefun and humour in his conversation and letters, but his letters writtenduring this year to his immediate family show that he was constantlyin pain and had begun to look upon himself as an invalid. To Mildred,who was in Richmond on a visit to friends, he writes jokingly aboutthe difficulty experienced by the family in finding out what she meantin a letter to him:
"Lexington, Virginia, January 8, 1870.
"My Precious Life: I received your letter of the 4th. We held a familycouncil over it. It was passed from eager hand to hand and attractedwondering eyes and mysterious looks. It produced few words but adeal of thinking, and the conclusion arrived at, I believe unanimously,was that there was a great fund of amusement and information in itif it could be extracted. I have therefore determined to put itcarefully away till your return, seize a leisure day, and get you tointerpret it. Your mother's commentary, in a suppressed soliloquy,was that you had succeeded in writing a wretched hand. Agnes thoughtthat it would keep this cold weather--her thoughts running on jelliesand oysters in the storeroom; but I, indignant at such aspersionsupon your accomplishments, retained your epistle and read in anelevated tone an interesting narrative of travels in sundry countries,describing gorgeous scenery, hairbreadth escapes, and a series ofremarkable events by flood and field, not a word of which they declaredwas in your letter. Your return, I hope, will prove the correctnessof my version of your annals.... I have little to tell. Gaietycontinues. Last night there was a cadet hop. Night before, a partyat Colonel Johnston's. The night preceding, a college conversazioneat your mother's. It was given in honour of Miss Maggie Johnston'svisit of a few days to us. You know how agreeable I am on suchoccasions, but on this, I am told, I surpassed myself.
"On New year's Day the usual receptions. many of our friends called.Many of my ancients as well as juniors were present, and all enjoyedsome good Norfolk oysters. I refer you to Agnes for details. Weare pretty well. I think I am better. Your mother and sisters asusual. Custis busy with the examination of the cadets, the studentspreparing for theirs. Cadet Cook, who was so dangerously injured bya fall from his window on the 1st, it is hoped now will recover. TheMisses Pendleton were to have arrived this morning, and Miss EllaHeninberger is on a visit to Miss Campbell. Miss Lizzie Letcherstill absent. Messrs. Anderson, Baker, W. Graves, Moorman, Strickler,and Webb have all been on visits to their sweethearts, and have leftwithout them. 'Mrs. Smith' is as usual. 'Gus' is as wild as ever["Mrs. Smith" and "Gus" were the names of two of the pet cats of mysister. "Gus" was short for Gustavus Adolphus.]. We catch our ownrats and mice now, and are independent of cats. All unite in loveto you.
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Miss Mildred Lee."
A month later he writes again to this daughter in the same playfulstrain, and sends his remembrances to many friends in Richmond:
"Lexington, Virginia, February 2, 1870.
"My Precious Life: Your letter of the 29th ultimo, which has beenfour days on the road, reached me this morning, and my reply, unlessour mails whip up, will not get to you before Sunday or Monday.There is no danger, therefore, of our correspondence becoming toobrisk. What do the young girls do whose lovers are at WashingtonCollege or the Institute? Their tender hearts must always be in alacerated and bleeding condition! I hope you are not now in thatcategory, for I see no pining swains among them, whose thoughts andwishes are stretching eagerly toward Richmond. I am glad you havehad so pleasant a visit to the Andersons. You must present my regardsto them all, and I hope that Misses Ellen and Mary will come to seeyou in the summer. I am sure you will have an agreeable time atBrook Hill. Remember me to all the family, and tell Miss Belleto spare my friend Wilkins. He is not in a condition to enjoy thesufferings which she imposes on her Richmond beaux. Besides, hisposition entitles him to tender treatment.
"I think it time that you should be thinking of returning home. Iwant to see you very much, and as you have been receiving instructionfrom the learned pig, I shall expect to see you much improved. Weare not reduced to apply to such instructors at Lexington. Here wehave learned professors to teach us what we wish to know, and theFranklin Institute to furnish us lectures on science and literature.You had better come back, if you are in search of information on anysubject. I am glad that Miss 'Nannie' Wise found one occasion onwhich her ready tongue failed her. She will have to hold it insubjection now. I should like to see Miss Belle under such similarcircumstances, provided she did not die from suppressed ideas. Whatan awful feeling she must experience, if the occasion should evercome for her to restrain that active member! Although my friendWilkins would be very indulgent, I think he would want her to listensometimes. Miss Pendleton has just been over to give us some pleasingnews. Her niece, Miss Susan Meade, Philip's daughter, is to be marriednext month to a Mr. Brown, of Kentucky, who visited her two year agoupon the recommendation of the Reverend Charles Page, found her aschool-girl, and has waited until she became a woman. He is rich,forty-nine, and has six children. There is a fair start in the worldfor a young woman! I recommend her example to you. We are all asusual, and 'Mrs. Smith' is just the same. Miss Maggie Johnston,who has been staying with us occasionally for a few days at a time,is now on a visit to us. There is to be an anniversary celebrationof the societies of the Institute on Friday, and a student's partyon Monday night, and a dance at the College Hotel. To-morrow nightyour mother has an evening for some young students. Gaiety willnever cease in Lexington so long as the ladies are so attractiveand the men so agreeable. Surprise parties are the fashion now. MissLucy Campbell has her cousin, Miss Ella Heninberger, staying with her,who assists her to surprise and capture too unwary youths. I amsorry to hear of Mrs. Ould's illness. If you see her, present memost kindly to her; also to Mrs. George Randolph. Do beware ofvanilla cream. Recollect how far you are from home, and do not tamperwith yourself. Our semi-annual examination has been in progress fora fortnight. We shall conclude on Saturday, which will be a greatrelief for me, for, in addition to other things, I have to be sixhours daily in the examination rooms. I was sorry that I could notattend Mr. Peabody's funeral, but I did not feel able to undertakethe journey, especially at this season. I am getting better, I hope,and feel stronger than I did, but I cannot walk much farther than tothe college, though when I get on my horse I can ride with comfort.Agnes accompanies me very often. I must refer you to her and yourmother for all local news. Give my love to Fitzhugh, and Tabb, andRobert when you see them, and for yourself keep an abundance. Ihave received letters from Edward and Blanche. They are very anxiousabout the condition of political affairs in France. Blanche sent yousome receipts for creams, etc. You had better come and try them.
"Your affectionate father, R. Lee.
"Miss Mildred Lee."
The following letter to his son, Fitzhugh, further shows his tenderinterest in his children and grandson:
"Lexington, Viriginia, February 14, 1870.
"My Dear Fitzhugh:...I hope that you are all well and that you willnot let any one spoil my grandson. Your mother has written all thefamily and Lexington news. She gathers much more than I do. I gonowhere but to the college, and when the weather permits I ride inthe mountains. I am better, I think, but still troubled. Mildred,I hope, is with you. When she gets away from her papa, she does notknow what she wants to do, tell her. You have had a fine winter forwork, and later you will have a profitable season. Custis is welland very retired; I see no alarming exhibition of attention to theladies. I have great hopes of Robert. Give much love to my daughterTabb and to poor little 'Life.' I wish I could see you all; itwould do my pains good. Poor little Agnes is not at all well, andI am urging her to go away for a while. Mary as usual.
"Affectionately your father, R. Lee.
"General W. H. F. Lee."