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A Parody Outline of History(18)

2006-09-07 21:54

  CHAPTER VII How Love Came to General Grant

  In the Manner of Harold Bell Wright

  On a brisk winter evening in the winter of 1864 the palatial Fifth Avenue "palace" of Cornelius van der Griff was brilliantly lighted with many brilliant lights. Outside the imposing front entrance a small group of pedestrians had gathered to gape enviously at the invited guests of the "four hundred" who were beginning to arrive in elegant equipages, expensive ball-dresses and fashionable "swallowtails".

  "Hully gee!" exclaimed little Frank, a crippled newsboy who was the only support of an aged mother, as a particularly sumptuous carriage drove up and a stylishly dressed lady of fifty-five or sixty stepped out accompanied by a haughty society girl and an elderly gentleman in clerical dress. It was Mrs. Rhinelander, a social leader, and her daughter Geraldine, together with the Rev. Dr. Gedney, pastor of an exclusive Fifth Avenue church.

  "What common looking people," said Mrs. Rhinelander, surveying the crowd aristocratically with her lorgnette.

  "Yes, aren't they?" replied the clergyman with a condescending glance which ill befit his clerical garb.

  "I'm glad you don't have people like that dans votre eglise, Dr. Gedney," said young Geraldine, who thought it was "smart" to display her proficiency in the stylish French tongue. At this moment the door of the van der Griff residence was opened for them by an imposing footman in scarlet livery and they passed into the abode of the "elect".

  "Hully gee!" repeated little Frank.

  "What's going on to-night?" asked a newcomer.

  "Gee——don't youse know?" answered the newsboy. "Dis is de van der Griffs' and tonight dey are giving a swell dinner for General Grant. Dat lady wot just went in was old Mrs. Rhinelander. I seen her pitcher in de last Harper's Weekly and dere was a story in de paper dis morning dat her daughter Geraldine was going to marry de General."

  "That isn't so," broke in another. "It was just a rumor."

  "Well, anyway," said Frank, "I wisht de General would hurry up and come—— it's getting cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey." The onlookers laughed merrily at his humorous reference to the frigid temperature, although many cast sympathetic looks at his thin threadbare garments and registered a kindly thought for this brave boy who so philosophically accepted the buffets of fate.

  "I bet this is him now," cried Frank, and all waited expectantly as a vehicle drove up. The cabman jumped off his box and held the carriage door open.

  "Here you are, Miss Flowers," he said, touching his hat respectfully.

  A silver peal of rippling laughter sounded from the interior of the carriage.

  "Why Jerry," came in velvet tones addressed to the coachman, "You mustn't be so formal just because I have come to New York to live. Call me 'Miss Ella,' of course, just like you did when we lived out in Kansas," and with these words Miss Ella Flowers, for it was she, stepped out of the carriage.

  A hush fell on the crowd as they caught sight of her face——a hush of silent tribute to the clear sweet womanhood of that pure countenance. A young man on the edge of the crowd who was on the verge of becoming a drunkard burst into tears and walked rapidly away to join the nearest church. A pr-st——te who had been plying her nefarious trade on the avenue, sank to her knees to pray for strength to go back to her aged parents on the farm. Another young man, catching sight of Ella's pure face, vowed to write home to his old mother and send her the money he had been expending in the city on drinks and dissipation.

  And well might these city people be affected by the glimpse of the sweet noble virtue which shone forth so radiantly in this Kansas girl's countenance. Although born in Jersey City, Ella had moved with her parents to the west at an early age and she had grown up in the open country where a man's a man and women lead clean sweet womanly lives. Out in the pure air of God's green places and amid kindly, simple, big hearted folks, little Ella had blossomed and thrived, the pride of the whole country, and as she had grown to womanhood there was many a masculine heart beat a little faster for her presence and many a manly blush of admiration came into the features of her admirers as she whirled gracefully with them in the innocent pleasure of a simple country dance. But on her eighteenth birthday, her parents had passed on to the Great Beyond and the heartbroken Ella had come East to live with Mrs. Montgomery, her aunt in Jersey City. This lady, being socially prominent in New York's "four hundred", was of course quite ambitious that her pretty little niece from the West should also enter society. For the last three months, therefore, Ella had been feted at all the better class homes in New York and Jersey City, and as Mrs. van der Griff, the Fifth Avenue social leader, was in the same set as Ella's aunt, it was only natural that when making out her list of guests for the dinner in honor of General Grant she should include the beautiful niece of her friend.

  As Ella stepped from the carriage, her gaze fell upon little Frank, the crippled newsboy, and her eyes quickly filled with tears, for social success had not yet caused her to forget that "blessed are the weak". Taking out her purse, she gave Frank a silver dollar and a warm look of sympathy as she passed into the house.

  "Gee, there went an angel," whispered the little cripple, and many who heard him silently echoed that thought in their hearts. Nor were they far from wrong.

  But even an angel is not free from temptation, and by letting Ella go into society her aunt was exposing the girl to the whisperings of Satan—— whisperings of things material rather than things spiritual. Many a girl just as pure as Ella has found her standards gradually lowered and her moral character slowly weakened by the contact with the so-called "refined" and "cultured" infidels one meets in fashionable society. Many a father and mother whose ambition has caused them to have their daughter go out in society have bitterly repented of that step as they watched the poor girl gradually succumbing to the temptation of the world. Let her who thinks it is "smart" to be in society consider that our brothels with their red plush curtains, their hardwood floors and their luxurious appointments, are filled largely with the worn out belles and debutantes of fashionable society.

  The next minute a bugle call sounded down the street and up drove a team of prancing grays. Two soldiers sprang down from the coachman's box and stood at rigid attention while the door of the carriage opened and out stepped General Ulysses S. Grant.

  A murmur of admiration swept over the crowd at the sight of his manly inspiring features, in which the clean cut virility of a life free from dissipation was accentuated by the neatly trimmed black beard. His erect military bearing——his neat, well fitting uniform——but above all his frank open face proclaimed him a man's man——a man among men. A cheer burst from the lips of the onlookers and the brave but modest general lowered his eyes and blushed as he acknowledged their greeting.

  "Men and women," he said, in a voice which although low, one could see was accustomed to being obeyed, "I thank you for your cheers. It makes my heart rejoice to hear them, for I know you are not cheering me personally but only as one of the many men who are fighting for the cause of liberty and freedom, and for——" the general's voice broke a little, but he mastered his emotion and went on——"for the flag we all love."

  At this he pulled from his pocket an American flag and held it up so that all could see. Cheer after cheer rent the air, and tears came to the general's eyes at this mark of devotion to the common cause.

  "Wipe the d——d rebels off the face of the earth, G-d d——'em," shouted a too enthusiastic member of the crowd who, I fear, was a little the worse for drink. In an instant General Grant had stepped up to him and fixed upon him those fearless blue eyes.

  "My man," said the general, "It hurts me to hear you give vent to those oaths, especially in the presence of ladies. Soldiers do not curse, and I think you would do well to follow their example."

  The other lowered his head shamefacedly. "General," he said, "You're right and I apologize."

  A smile lit up the general's handsome features and he extended his hand to the other.

  "Shake on it," he said simply, and as the crowd roared its approval of this speech the two men "shook".

  Meanwhile within the van der Griff house all were agog with excitement in expectation of the arrival of the distinguished guest. Expensively dressed ladies fluttered here and there amid the elegant appointments; servants in stylish livery passed to and fro with trays of wine and other spirituous liquors.

  At the sound of the cheering outside, the haughty Mrs. Rhinelander patted her daughter Geraldine nervously, and between mother and daughter passed a glance of understanding, for both felt that to-night, if ever, was Geraldine's opportunity to win the handsome and popular general.

  The doorbell rang, and a hush fell over the chattering assemblage; then came the proud announcement from the doorman——"General Ulysses S. Grant"——and all the society belles crowded forward around the guest of honor.

  It had been rumored that the general, being a soldier, was ignorant of social etiquette, but such proved to be far from the case. Indeed, he handled himself with such ease of manner that he captivated all, and for each and every young miss he had an apt phrase or a pretty compliment, greatly to their delight.

  "Pleased to know you"——"Glad to shake the hand of such a pretty girl"——"What a nice little hand——I wish I might hold it all evening"—— with these and kindred pleasantries the general won the way into the graces of Mrs. van der Griff's fair guests, and many a female heart fluttered in her bosom as she gazed into the clear blue eyes of the soldier, and listened to his well chosen tactful words.

  "And how is the dear General this evening?"——this in the affected tone of old Mrs. Rhinelander, as she forced her way through the crowd.

  "Finer than silk," replied he, and he added, solicitously, "I hope you have recovered from your lumbago, Mrs. Rhinelander."

  "Oh quite," answered she, "and here is Geraldine, General," and the ambitious mother pushed her daughter forward.

  "Comment vous portez vous, mon General," said Geraldine in French, "I hope we can have a nice tete-a-tete to-night," and she fawned upon her prey in a manner that would have sickened a less artificial gathering.

  Were there not some amid all that fashionable throng in whom ideals of purity and true womanhood lived——some who cared enough for the sacredness of real love to cry upon this hollow mockery that was being used to ensnare the simple, honest soldier? There was only one, and she was at that moment entering the drawing room for the purpose of being presented to the general. Need I name her?

  Ella, for it was she, had been upstairs busying herself with her toilet when General Grant had arrived and she now hurried forward to pay her homage to the great soldier. And then, as she caught sight of his face, she stopped suddenly and a deep crimson blush spread over her features. She looked again, and then drew back behind a nearby portiere, her heart beating wildly.

  Well did Ella remember where she had seen that countenance before, and as she stood there trembling the whole scene of her folly came back to her. It had happened in Kansas, just before her parents died, on one sunny May morning. She had gone for a walk; her footsteps had led her to the banks of a secluded lake where she often went when she wished to be alone. Many an afternoon had Ella dreamed idly away on this shore, but that day, for some reason, she had felt unusually full of life and not at all like dreaming. Obeying a thoughtless but innocent impulse, with no intention of evil, she had taken off her clothes and plunged thus n-k-d into the cool waters of the lake. After she had swum around a little she began to realize the extent of her folly and was hurriedly swimming towards the shore when a terrific cramp had seized her lower limbs, rendering them powerless. Her first impulse, to scream for help, was quickly checked with a deep blush, as she realized the consequences if a man should hear her call, for nearby was an encampment of Union soldiers, none of whom she knew. The perplexed and helpless girl was in sore straits and was slowly sinking for the third time, when a bearded stranger in soldier's uniform appeared on the bank and dove into the water. To her horror he swam rapidly towards her——but her shame was soon changed to joy when she realized that he was purposely keeping his eyes tight shut. With a few swift powerful strokes he reached her side, and, blushing deeply, took off his blue coat, fastened it around her, opened his eyes, and swam with her to the shore. Carrying her to where she had left her clothes he stayed only long enough to assure himself that she had completely recovered the use of her limbs, and evidently to spare her further embarrassment, had vanished as quickly and as mysteriously as he had appeared.

  Many a night after that had Ella lain awake thinking of the splendid features and, the even more splendid conduct of this unknown knight who wore the uniform of the Union army. "How I love him," she would whisper to herself; "but how he must despise me!" she would cry, and her pillow was often wet with tears of shame and mortification at her folly.

  It was shortly after this episode that her parents had taken sick and passed away. Ella had come East and had given up hope of ever seeing her rescuer again. You may imagine her feelings then when, on entering the drawing room at the van der Griffs', she discovered that the stranger who had so gallantly and tactfully rescued her from a watery grave was none other than General Ulysses S. Grant.

  The poor girl was torn by a tumult of contrary emotions. Suppose he should remember her face. She blushed at the thought. And besides what chance had she to win such a great man's heart in competition with these society girls like Geraldine Rhinelander who had been "abroad" and spoke French.

  At that moment one of the liveried servants approached the general with a trayful of filled wine glasses. So engrossed was the soldier hero in talking to Geraldine——or, rather, in listening to her alluring chatter—— that he did not at first notice what was being offered him.

  "Will you have a drink of champagne wine, General?" said Mrs. van der Griff who stood near.

  The general raised his head and frowned as if he did not understand.

  "Come, mon General," cried Geraldine gayly, "We shall drink a votre succes dans la guerre," and the flighty girl raised a glass of wine on high. Several of the guests crowded around and all were about to drink to the general's health.

  "Stop," cried General Grant suddenly realizing what was being done, and something in the tone of his voice made everyone pause.

  "Madam," said he, turning to Mrs. van der Griff, "Am I to understand that there is liquor in those glasses?"

  "Why yes, General," said the hostess smiling uneasily. "It is just a little champagne wine."

  "Madam," said the general, "It may be 'just champagne wine' to you, but 'just champagne wine' has ruined many a poor fellow and to me all alcoholic beverages are an abomination. I cannot consent, madam, to remain under your roof if they are to be served. I have never taken a drop——I have tried to stamp it out of the army, and I owe it to my soldiers to decline to be a guest at a house where wine and liquor are served."

  An excited buzz of comment arose as the general delivered this ultimatum. A few there were who secretly approved his sentiments, but they were far too few in numbers and constant indulgence in alcohol had weakened their wills so that they dared not stand forth. An angry flush appeared on the face of the hostess, for in society, "good form" is more important than courage and ideals, and by his frank statement General Grant had violently violated the canons of correct social etiquette.

  "Very well, Mr. Grant," she said, stressing the "Mr."——"if that's the way you feel about it——"

  "Stop," cried an unexpected voice, and to the amazement of all Ella Flowers stepped forward, her teeth clenched, her eyes blazing.

  "Stop," she repeated, "He is right——the liquor evil is one of the worst curses of modern civilization, and if General Grant leaves, so do I."

  Mrs. van der Griff hesitated for an instant, and then suddenly forced a smile.

  "Why Ella dear, of course General Grant is right," said she, for it was well known in financial circles that her husband, Mr. van der Griff, had recently borrowed heavily from Ella's uncle. "There will not be a drop of wine served to-night, and now General, shall we go in to dinner? Will you be so kind as to lead the way with Miss Rhinelander?" The hostess had recovered her composure, and smiling sweetly at the guest of honor, gave orders to the servants to remove the wine glasses.

  But General Grant did not hear her; he was looking at Ella Flowers. And as he gazed at the sweet beauty of her countenance he seemed to feel rising within him something which he had never felt before—— something which made everything else seem petty and trivial. And as he looked into her eyes and she looked into his, he read her answer—— the only answer true womanhood can make to clean, worthy manhood.

  "Shall we go a la salle-a-manger?" sounded a voice in his ears, and Geraldine's sinuous arm was thrust through his.

  General Grant took the proffered talon and gently removed it from him.

  "Miss Rhinelander," he said firmly, "I am taking this young lady as my partner," and suiting the action to the word, he graciously extended his arm to Ella who took it with a pretty blush.

  It was General Grant's turn to blush when the other guests, with a few exceptions, applauded his choice loudly, and made way enthusiastically as the handsome couple advanced to the brilliantly lighted dining room.

  But although the hostess had provided the most costly of viands, I am afraid that the brave general did not fully appreciate them, for in his soul was the joy of a strong man who has found his mate and in his heart was the singing of the eternal song, "I love her—— I love her——I love her!"

  It was only too apparent to the other guests what had happened and to their credit be it said that they heartily approved his choice, for Mrs. Rhinelander and her scheming daughter Geraldine had made countless enemies with their haughty manners, whereas the sweet simplicity of Ella Flowers had won her numerous friends. And all laughed merrily when General Grant, in his after dinner speech, said "flowers" instead of "flour" when speaking of provisioning the army——a slip which caused both the general and Miss Flowers to blush furiously, greatly to the delight of the good-natured guests. "All the world loves a lover"——truer words were never penned.

  After dinner, while the other men, according to the usages of best society, were filling the air of the dining room with the fumes of nicotine, the general, who did not use tobacco, excused himself——amid many sly winks from the other men—— and wandered out into the conservatory.

  There he found Ella.

  "General," she began.

  "Miss Flowers," said the strong man simply, "Call me Ulysses."

  And there let us leave them.

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