And with this post, I arrive at another milestone – the 600th post on this blog. As I approached the figure, I kept on thinking what could be the best way to mark this point – should it be another installment of the dastaan Fasana-e-Ajaib I am more that halfway through in transliterating, should it be the collection of some key dialogues from a stage play I saw again after 20+ plus years and was fully captivated by, or the account of an unforgettable journey I recently made. Well, it turned out to be something else, albeit one I was mulling over for some time but became feasible recently after someone returned some of my most favourite books to me.
These included the one containing a scene I long wanted to share, an account, in matchless prose, of a certain historical personage – the commander of Union Armies in the American Civil War and the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. However, this passage may not show him in the light history regards him, but in the views of the celebrated “hero” of the Victorian era, Sir Harry Flashman, V.C.
So let Sir Harry explain it in his own words, from the volume of his papers entitled “Flashman and the Redskins”.
First about how he knows Grant:
~~ I must digress briefly to remind you of the vast change that twenty-five years had wrought in my own fortunes. Back in ’49, though a popular hero in England, I’d been a nameless fugitive in the States; now, in 1875, I was Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., K.C.B., with all the supposed heroics of the Crimea, Mutiny, and China behind me, to say nothing of distinguished service to the Union in the Civil War. No one had been too clear what that service was, since it had seen me engaged on both sides, but I’d come out of it with their Medal of Honour, and immense, if mysterious, credit, and the only man who knew the whole truth had got a bullet in the back at Ford’s Theatre, so he wasn’t telling. Neither was I – although I will some day, all about Jeb Stuart, and Libby Prison, and my mission for Lincoln (God rest him for a genial blackmailer), and my renewed bouts with the elfin Mrs Mandeville, among others. But that ain’t to the point just now; all that signifies is that I’d gained the acquaintance of such notables such as Grant (now President0 and Sherman and Sheridan – as well as such lesser lights as young Custer, whom I’d met briefly and informally, and Wild Bill Hickok, whom I’d known well (but the story of my deputy marshal’s badge must wait for another day, too).
And then the meeting with Grant….
~~ We met Grant, though, and a portentous encounter it proved. It was at some dinner given by a Senator, and Burden, the military attache from our Embassy, whom I knew slightly was there. Grant was the same burly, surly bargee I remembered, more like a city storekeeper than the first-rate soldier he had been and the disillusioned President he was. He looked dead-tired, but the glances he shot from under those knit brows were still sharp; he gave a wary start at sight of me – its remarkable how many people do – and then asked guardedly how I did. I truckled in my manly way, while he watched me though he thought I was there to pinch the silver.
“You look pretty well,” says he grudgingly, and I told him so did he.
“No, I don’t,” he snapped. “No man could look well who has endured the presidency.”
I said something soothing about the cares of state. “Not a bit,” barks he. “Its this infernal hand-shaking. Do you realise how frequently the office demands that the incumbent’s fingers shall be mauled and his arm jerked from his socket? No human constitution can stand it, I tell you! Pump-pump-pump, it’s all damned well they do. Ought to be abolished.” Still happy old Sam, I could see. He growled and asked cautiously if I was staying long, and when I told him of our projected trip across the Plains he chewed his beard moodily and said I was lucky, at least the damned Indians didn’t shake hands.
Our appetites sharpened by these brilliant exchanges, we went in to dinner,…….
To be continued…..