I was in the middle of presenting a supremely well-written piece of writing, displaying a rare humour, splendid characterisation, irony, observation, description, atmosphere – you name it! … and featuring no less than the 18th President of the United States, President Ulysses S. Grant. The narrator is Sir Harry Flashman, V.C. You will anyway have to read the earlier posts to find how the scene began, and you will also find the background there. Here I will just proceed….
~~ The brevity of it startled him, as I’d known it would. He stuck forward his bullet head, frowning. “That’s all you have to say? No other . . . plea on his behalf?”
“Not my biznay, sir. There may be political reasons I don’t know about. And I’m no longer your military adviser.”
“You never were!” he barked. “Not that that ever stopped you from advancing your opinions.” He stumped to the windows and peered out, growling; apparently he didn’t care for the view. “Oh, come on!” he snapped suddenly. “You don’t fool me! What have you got to say for this damned jacknapes? I may tell you,” he faced round abruptly, “that I’ve already had appeals from Sherman and Phil Sheridan, urging his professional competence, distinguished service, and all the rest of it. They also conceded, what they couldn’t dam’ well deny,” he added with satisfaction, “that he’s a meddlesome mountebank who’s too big for his britches, and gave me sentimental slop about the shame of not allowing him to ride forth at the head of his regiment. Well, sir, they failed to convince me.” He eyed me almost triumphantly. “I am not inclined, either on professional or personal grounds, to entrust Colonel George A. Custer with an important command. Well – major?”
I couldn’t credit he hadn’t been swayed, at least a little, by Sherman and Sheridan, otherwise he wouldn’t be wasting time talking to me. My guess was they’d pushed him to the edge, and another touch would do it, if properly applied.
“Well, Mr President,” says I, “I’ve no doubt you’re right.”
“Damned right I’m right.” He frowned. “What’s that mean? Don’t you agree with Sherman and Sheridan?”
“Well, sir,” says I doubtfully, “I gather you don’t agree with them yourself…”
“What I agree or don’t agree with is not to the point,” says he testily. “”You’re here to badger me on this fellow’s behalf, aren’t you? Well, get on with it! I’m listening.”
“Mr President, I submitted only that if he’s to lose his command he should be told so, and not kept kicking his heels in your anteroom – “
“I’m not seeing him, so now! And that’s flat!”
“Well, beyond that, sir, it’s not for me to press my views.”
“That’s a day I’ll live to see!” scoffs he. “I know you – you’re like all the rest. You think I’m being unjust, don’t you? That I’m putting personal and political considerations – of which, by the way, you know nothing – above the good of the service? You want to tell me George Custer’s the finest thing since Murat – “
“Hardly that, sir,” says I, and quietly gave him both barrels. “I wouldn’t give him charge of an escort, myself.”
I’m possibly the only man who’s ever seen Ulysses S. Grant with his eyes wide open. His mouth, too.
To be continued….