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14 The Empty Room My father was a loyal gar man.To him, naturally, the literature, the ceremonies and the comradeship of the Grand Army of the Republic were of heroic significance for, notwithstanding all other events of his stirring life, his two years as a soldier remained his most moving, most poetic experience.On all special occasions he wore the regulation blue coat with the bronze button of the Legion in its lapel, and faithfully attended all the local meetings of his “Post,” but he had not been able to take part in the National Conventions for the double reason that they were always too far away from his Dakota home and invariably came at the time when his presence was most needed on the farm.With a feeling of mingled envy and sadness he had seen his comrades,year after year, jubilantly set out for Washington or Boston or San Francisco whilst he remained at work. Now the case was different. He had the money, he had the leisure and the Grand Review was about to take place in Chicago. “Hamlin,” said he,on the morning after my return from Montana, “I want you to go with me to the gar meeting in Chicago.” Although I did not say so,I was sadly averse to making this trip. Aching to write,impatient to get my new conceptions down on paper , I could hardly restrain an expression of reluctance, but I did, for the old soldier, more afraid of towns than of mountains, needed me in the city. “All right, father,” I said, and put my notes away. He made a handsome figure in his new suit, and his broadrimmed hat with its gold cord.He was as excited as a boy when we set out for the station and commented with a tone of satisfaction on the number of his comrades to be seen on the train. He was not in need of me during this part of his excursion for he hailed every old soldier as “Comrade” and made a dozen new friendships before we reached Madison.No one resented his fraternal interest.Occasion168 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 168 ally he brought one of his acquaintances over to my seat, explaining with perfectly obvious pride that I had written a history of General Grant and that I lived in Chicago.“I’m taking him along to be my scout,” he declared,at the close of each introduction. At my lodgings on Elm Street he made himself so beloved that I feared for his digestion.The landlady and the cook were determined that he should eat hot biscuit and jam and pie in addition to roast chicken and gravy,and I was obliged to insist on his going to bed early in order to be up and in good condition for the parade next day. “I’ve no desire to march in the ranks,” he said.“I’m perfectly content to sit on the fence and see the columns pass.” “You needn’t sit on the fence,” I replied.“I’ve got two of the best seats in the Grand Stand.You can rest there in comfort all through the parade.” He didn’t know how much I paid for our chairs, but a knowledge that he was in the seats of the extravagant pleased him while it troubled him.He was never quite at ease while enjoying luxury. It didn’t seem natural,someway,for him to be wholly comfortable. We were in our places hours before the start (he was like a boy on Circus Day—afraid of missing something), but that he was enjoying in high degree his comfortable outlook, made me almost equally content. At last with blare of bugle and throb of drum, that grand and melancholy procession of time-scarred veterans came to view,and their tattered flags and faded guidons brought quick tears to my father’s eyes.Few of them stepped out with a swing,many of them limped pitifully—all were white-haired—an army on its downward slope, marching toward its final, silent bivouac. None of them were gay and yet each took a poignant pleasure in sharing the rhythm of the column, and my father voiced this emotion when he murmured,“I ought to be down there with my company.” To touch elbows just once more, to be a part of the file would have been at once profoundly sad and sadly...


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