And I was giving you an account of Gen turned President Ulysses S.Grant from the viewpoint of the celebrated Sir Harry Flashman. I described the initial meeting and then Flashman running into an old acquaintance, that “crackpot” Col George Custer (described as “a reckless firebrand who absolutely enjoyed warfare and would have been better suited to the Age of Chivalry, when he’d have broken the Holy Grail in his hurry to get at it”), who beseeches him to intercede with Grant on his behalf. Flashman eventually agrees, for mischief’s sake.
Lets see what happens…… I must say it is one of the funniest passages I have ever have read and confirms that George MacDonald Fraser is undoubtedly one of the most humorous writers I have come across, apart Sir Pelham (Wodehouse to you all), Jerome K Jerome, Miles Noonan and Bill Bryson, to say the few figuring in my mind. But see for yourself.
~~ From that exotic vision to the surly bearded presence of Ulysses S.Grant was a most damnable translation, I can tell you. I had endured Custer’s rantings on the way down – release from Washington and a return to his command were what I was expected to achieve – and while it seemed to me that my uncalled-for Limey interference could only make matters worse, well I didn’t mind that. I was quite enjoying the prospect of playing bluff, honest Harry at the White House, creating what mischief I could. When Ingalls, the Quartermaster-General, heard what we’d come for, he said bluntly that Grant would have kicked into the street, and I said I’d take my chance of that, and would he kindly send in my card? He clucked like an old hen, but presently I was ushered in to the big airy room, and Grant was shaking hands with fair cordiality for him. He thanked me again for Camp Robinson, inquired after Elspeth, snarled at the thought he was going to have open the Philadelphia exhibition, and asked what he could do for me. Knowing my man, I went straight in.
“Custer, Mr President.”
“Whats that?” His cordiality vanished, and his burly shoulders stiffened. “Has he been at you?”
“He asked me to see you, since he can’t. As a friend of his -“
“Have you come here to intercede for him? Is that it?”
“I don’t know, sir,” says I. “Is intercession necessary?”
He took a breath, and his jaw came out like a cannon. “Now see here, Flashman – the affairs of Colonel Custer with this office are no concern of yours, and I am astonished, sir, and most displeased, that you should presume to intrude in them. Poking your godamm nose – I will hear no representations from you, sir! As an officer of a. . . another country, you should know very well that you have no standing in this. Confound it! None whatsoever. I am gravely angered, sir!”
I let him boil. “May I remind you with the greatest respect, Mr President,” says I gently, “that I hold the rank of major, retired, United States Army, and also the Congressional Medal of Honour? If those do not entitle me to address the Commander-in-Chief on behalf of a brother-officer – then, sir, I can only offer my profound apologies for having disturbed you, and bid you a very good day.”
I stood up as I said it, perfectly composed, bowed slightly, and turned towards the door. If the little bugger had let me go I was prepared to turn on the threshold and roar in a voice they could hear in Maryland: “I deeply regret, sir, that I have found here only the President of the United States; I had hoped to find Ulysses S. Grant!” But I knew Sam; before I’d gone two steps he barked:
“Come back here!” So I did, while he stood hunched, glowering at me. “Very good – major,” says he at last. “Lets have it.”
“Thank’ee General.” I knew my line now, I thought. “It’s like this, sir: Custer believes, justly or not, that he has been denied a fair hearing. He also believes he’s being held in Washington to prevent his taking part in the campaign.”
I paused, and he looked at me flint-faced. “Well, sir?”
“If that’s true, General, I’d say he’s entitled to know why, and that he’s sufficiently senior to hear it from you in person. That’s all, Mr President.”
The brevity of it startled him, as I’d known it would……
To be continued…..