By George, What a Tale

Article excerpt

An author who comes to the lunch table with a flintlock pistol in hand must have more than food in mind.

Anticipating questions about the authenticity of his latest novel, "Major Washington," a fictionalized account of George Washington's early life in the military, Michael Kilian came prepared.

The book, which is to be published next week by St. Martin's Press, tells how, as an ambitious officer, the young Washington involved himself in nothing less than murder and adultery.

Our national icon a murderer? Mr. Kilian, 58, claims in his very readable tale that the act perpetrated upon a French soldier on a diplomatic mission in frontier lands - whether deliberate or not - led to the French and Indian War, at the root of which lay Colonial expansionist aims that helped fuel America's break from England.

The "adultery," he concedes, might have been nothing more than an unconsummated but real passion for a neighbor, Sally Fairfax, the wife of Washington's best friend, George William Fairfax.

His pistol and the place he has chosen to display it - Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, founded in 1770 and frequented by Washington after he had left the military and was living at Mount Vernon - almost seem to validate Mr. Kilian's plot.

A costumed waitress doesn't seem at all concerned about the hardware, a replica of a weapon Washington might have carried as aide-de-camp to a British general on exploratory treks into the Appalachian Mountains long before he was deemed father of the country.

"This [book] is not in any way meant to debunk him," Mr. Kilian says, putting the pistol away for the moment. "I wanted to meet the real man. Everyone treats him as an icon. This is a form of time travel so we could go back and meet him. Actual events I thought were exciting enough. . . . And Washington conducted himself really admirably as an aide. He was probably the best officer out there.

"It seems to me that in addition to ambition - social, military, political and otherwise - he was driven by his yearning for glory, the kind of glory to impress young women. I found him a fascinating fellow. He wasn't a good tactician. He was fiercely stubborn and determined and also extremely well-intentioned and well-meaning."

"The area where I got into conjecture was Sally Fairfax, where historians come down hard trying to protect Washington. …