The Two Georges, A Tragedy

by Grace Greenwood

The summer that I was eight years old I went to school, at our little brown country schoolhouse, alone; my elder sister going to a select school in the village, where she actually studied grammar and wrote compositions! Our school-mistress was Miss Grey, quite a pretty young lady, but folks said not a good teacher. They said she had "no government," and certainly we had a very easy time of it. She was what is called "absent-minded," and often forgot to hear some of our lessons, and we thought it would n't be polite to remind her of them. She had a soft and mournful voice, and a droopy sort of a look, especially about her hair. She dressed a little queer sometimes, and played on the accordion, so it was whispered about that she wrote poetry. I know she read it a good deal, and novels too. She had in her desk a very long romance, called "The Children of the Abbey," which she used to read at noontime and recess. She read it through, and then she appeared to read it backward, for it lasted nearly all summer. It seemed to me that the story went on and on, till it came to the last page of the book, then turned round and went the other way.

I said I went to school alone; yet after a while I had company, which no one else would have thought of much account, but which was quite a comfort to me. One day I made a purchase with my own money. It was only a little pocket-handkerchief, but such a handkerchief! On it was printed, in bright blue, a picture of General George Washington, in full regimentals, with his sword in his hand, flanked by the Ten Commandments, and with a scroll labelled "Constitution" for his base.

At first I looked upon that stern face, with its strong, tight mouth, like a steel-trap just sprung, with a good deal of reverence; but as I grew familiar with him I became fond of him, and part of the time treated him as a doll; indeed, he seemed to me more real than any doll I ever had, and far dearer. I folded him carefully every morning and laid him in my dinner-basket, over my rations, grieving that I was obliged from limited space to fold under his legs, giving them an amputated look. But I laid him out at full length in my desk, and often lifted the cover to take an admiring look at him, during the day. At night, I laid him in one of my dolls' beds, and actually "tucked in" the "Father of his Country," calling him "George, my boy," and telling him to be good, and not to get up in the morning and go to hacking away at cherry-trees, with that sword of his.

He was two in one,—George I. and II. He was little George, or the great General, just as the occasion demanded. On the Fourth of July, I remember, he appeared in all his glory to deliver an oration to "a large and appreciative audience" of dolls and kittens. He spoke in this wise: "Fellow-Citizens, and your wives and daughters, I 'm a warrior, not an orator. I only want to say—to say—to tell you that if it had n't been for me you would n't have had any Fourth of July the year round, nor any parades, nor rockets, nor squibs, nor star-spangled banners, nor pumpkin-pies, nor ginger-pop. We should all have been British, or Irish, and worn red coats, and ate blood-puddings, and drank ale, and hurrahed for King George forevermore. This is the truth, fellow-citizens, for I cannot tell a lie,—you know I cannot tell a lie. But I don't want to brag over you, and if you will still be good Yankee Christians, brave and industrious, I will still be the father of your country, world without end, Amen! Band, please strike up 'Hail Columbia!'"

By the middle of the summer the poor General's face became as badly soiled as ever it was after a long march, over dusty summer roads. Yet I declined to have him washed, fearing that, after all, his colors might not be "true blue."

One Monday morning my mother sent by me a note to Miss Grey, inviting her to accompany me home that day, and spend a week with us. With my head full of thoughts of this invitation, I hurried away to school earlier than usual, and for the first time left General George behind me, lying on his bed in my chamber. I missed him sadly during the day, but came home in triumph at night, bringing Miss Grey with me. I took her at once about the premises, to show her my pets. I exhibited with much pride my tame hawk Toby, but she was afraid of him; though I assured her that he was a hawk of most exemplary character, and civilized to such a degree that he respected the rights of all the mother-hens and ducks, and never asked for spring-chickens, but contented himself with frogs, like a Frenchman. Then I took her to the woodshed, to see my cat, with almost a barrelful of young kittens. What a lovely sight it was! Then I led her to where my speckled hen kept house in a coop, with half a dozen cunning little chicks. The hen-mother was frightened as we came near, and called to her little ones to come in out of danger; but they would n't mind, and she was very angry, and ruffled up her feathers, and scolded furiously at their disobedience. "I think biddies are very unamiable creatures," said Miss Grey. I said nothing, but I thought to myself, "Ah, Miss Grey, if you were a mother, with ever so many children, playing around the door so peacefully, and you shut up in jail, for no crime but scratching up food in gardens for them, and you should love them dreadfully, and should see two giantesses, a big giantess and a middling-sized giantess, come tramping right in among them, and you not able to help them only by ruffling up your feathers and scolding, you 'd be a little unamiable too, perhaps, for I've heard my mother say that hen nature was a good deal like human nature." Then I showed her our gray goose's nest, with an egg in it. But when I expected her to be astonished, she only said, "Why, I thought the egg of the fowl that saved Rome was much larger than this." Now this goose laid the largest eggs of any goose in the neighborhood. "Did you expect it to be as big as the roc's egg in 'Sinbad the Sailor'?" I asked.

As we were passing through the yard, going to the stable, to see my brother's little colt, we encountered the week's washing, hanging on the line, and right before my eyes swung my handkerchief, with the beloved portrait almost washed out! Indeed, scarce a ghost of the great and worthy George remained. I caught it off and burst into tears, crying, "O, it's all faded out,—it's all faded out!"

"Why, you silly child," said Miss Grey, "don't cry so for a little scrap of a handkerchief like that."

"It ain't only a handkerchief," I sobbed, "it's General Washington and my boy George both together. I 've seen you cry, Miss Grey, over the 'Children of the Abbey,' and mother says they never lived; but General Washington did live, and was the Father of his Country; and then there were all the Ten Commandments, too. I declare Nancy is as bad as Moses was, when he smashed the tables of stone."

But Miss Grey only laughed at my sorrow, and went into the house. When I followed her, I whispered to mother, "Have we got the 'Children of the Abbey'? If we have, please give it to Miss Grey to amuse herself with."

Then I went up stairs and laid out my dead George, and had my foolish little cry out. After all, my great General had faded and wilted away into an unsightly little rag of a handkerchief. What a fall was there! We have seen some very like it in these days.

I had no heart to keep him by me any longer, so I gave him to my little brother, who put him to every possible use except that of a handkerchief. That was a hard campaign for the feeble old General. Sometimes he did service as the sail for a boat; sometimes green apples, or rabbit feed, or worms for bait were tied up in him. His feet, with what was left of the Constitution, were torn off and rammed into a small cannon's mouth for wadding; and, finally, he went up on the tail of a kite. In mid-air he became detached, and dropped into a tall thorn-tree. Here he got stuck fast, and so remained till he fluttered himself to pieces bit by bit.