"My Dear Son: I am glad you have obtained a good pair of oxen. Try to get another pair to work with them. I will make good the deficit in my contribution. Your fences will be a great advantage to you, and I am delighted at the good appearance of your wheat. I hope it will continue to maturity. It is very probable, as you say, however, that it may fail in the grain. Should you find it so, would it not be well next year to experiment with phosphates? That must be the quality the land lacks. Have you yet heard from Mr. West about your house? What are the estimates? Let me know. The difficulty I fear now will be that the burning of the bricks may draw you away from your crops. You must try not to neglect them. What would the bricks cost if purchased? Ask F--- to cut the lumber for you. I will furnish the funds to pay for it. I hope the break in the mill will not prove serious, and that you may be able to make up your delay in plowing occasioned by the necessary hauling. I am very glad to hear that you and F--- can visit each other so easily. It will be advantageous to communicate with each other, as well as a pleasure. I suppose Tabb has not returned to the White House yet. I am delighted to hear that she and her boy are so well. They will make everything on the Pamunkey shine. We are all as usual.
"General Breckenridge [General John C. Breckenridge, of Kentucky, ex-secretary of War of the Confederate South, had two sons at Washington College at this time. One of them was since United States Minister a the Court of St. Petersburg.] is on a visit to his sons and has been with us to-day. He will return to Baltimore Monday. He looks well, seems cheerful, and talks hopefully. All unite in love to you, and your acquaintances inquire regularly after you. I think of you very often, and wish I were nearer and could assist you. Custis is in better health this winter than he has been, and seems content, though his sisters look after him very closely. I have no news and never have. General B--- saw Fitzhugh Lee in Alexandria. He told him he was a great farmer now, and when he was away, his father, who had now taken to the land, showed uncommon signs of management. Good-bye, my dear son. May you enjoy every happiness prays your affectionate father,
The completion of the railroad from the "White House" to "West Point" made communication between Fitzhugh and myself very easy. On February 11th, my father had become the proud and happy possessor of a grandson, which event gave him great joy. Mr. West, an architect of Richmond, had drawn me up plans and estimates for a house. My father had also sent me a plan drawn by himself. These plans I had submitted to several builders and sent their bids to him to examine and consider. In the following letter, he gives me his opinion:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 21, 1869.
"My Dear Rob: I have received your two letters of the 3d and 9th insts., and would have answered the former before, but had written a few days before its date, and as our letters had been crossing each other, I determined to let them get right.
"First, as to Smith's Island, I merely want to fulfil the conditions of the sale as prescribed in the published notice. I should have required them of any other purchasers, and must require them of you....
"Now as for the house: The estimates of your bidders are higher than I anticipated, and I think too high by at least $1,000. You see, there is about $1,000 difference between the highest and lowest of their offers you sent me. What does F--- say about it? I am confident that the could build that house here for but little over $2,000, including materials, and I could to it there, if I could get two good workmen. But you are unaccustomed to building, and I would not advise you to undertake it, unless you could engage a proper foreman. If, therefore, I were in your place, I should reject all the offers, unless the one you had not received when you wrote suited better. I would not, however, give up my house, but procure the bricks either by purchase or by making them on the ground, as was most advantageous, and the shingles in the same way, and get all the lumber and flooring prepared. While preparing the necessary materials, I would see the builder that made the lowest offer, or any other that I preferred, and get him to revise his estimate and cut it down, leaving him a margin for profit; and when satisfied with his offer, accept it and set him to work.
"Now as for the means: I understood when you were here that you could manage the materials--that is, make arrangements for procuring the bricks, lumber, shingles, and flooring. Indeed, you might also get the lime and sand cheaper, perhaps, than the builder, and make a deduction on his bill. I can let you have funds to pay your contractor. If I did not understand you rightly--that is, if you cannot procure the materials, I can help you in them too. In fact, if you desire so much, I can let you have the whole amount, $3,500. you can have the use of it without interest, and return it to me when I require it, or sooner if you are able, as I take it from the fund I was saving for a homestead for your mother. At present, I cannot use it, and it is of no advantage to me, except its possession. Will that suit you? If it does not, let me know what will, and you shall have that, too. You must feel that it gives me pleasure to do anything I can for you, and if I had only myself to consider, you should have it unconditionally, but I must consider one person above all. I want you to do, therefore just as you prefer. I want you to have the comfort of a house, but I do not wish to force one upon you, against your will or against your judgement. I merely wish you to feel that you can procure one without inconveniencing me. The only hesitation I have on the subject is that I think you ought to get a better house for $3,500 than I fear you will get. The house according to the first plan, in my opinion, ought not to cost more than that sum. But if you think the estimate is a fair one, and are satisfied, accept it and set to work. But consult Fitzhugh, and let me know when you want the money, and in what sums. Now that is plain, I hope, so keep this letter for reference, as I have not time to take a copy.