The Colonel’s Folly And The President’s Distress

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A little thing indicated the President’s agitation and consideration for Colonel House. It was part of his methodical habits always to wipe the ink from his pen and lay it carefully in the rack before he rose from his desk, but this time he got up quickly, with the pen still in his hand, and said: “Come with me.” We went to the Colonel’s bedroom; the President sat down on the edge of the bed, took the Colonel by the hand affectionately, and said: “Grayson tells me, my dear fellow, that you are worrying about a book which has just been published called The Real Colonel House . I want to tell you that I have not read it and I do not intend to read it, and it will make no difference in my confidence and faith and affection for you. So please forget it.” The Colonel looked up at him with moist eyes and pressed his hand. At that juncture I stepped out of the room. In a few minutes the President returned to his study and resumed his work. That evening the Colonel had on his dinner coat, joined the President, Mrs. Wilson, and myself at dinner, and was in his usual good spirits and conversational mood. In sheer human kindness the President had removed a great burden from an overstrained mind and restored health and normality to his good friend.

Mr. Wilson had so much deep personal feeling that notwithstanding his subsequent silence about Colonel House I am inclined to think that the disappointment in his old friend had its part in impairing his health. But he bled internally. After he was stricken in America and lay again in a sickbed, someone said something to him about writing to Colonel House (I do not recall what the subject was), but Mr. Wilson simply turned and said: “Don’t mention House to me any more. The door is closed.” An open quarrel would have been easier to bear than a silent grief.

The last time the two men met was in Paris on Saturday, June 28, 1919, when the President was taking the train for Brest, whence he was to embark for home. Most of the principal officials of the various governments were on the platform. Mr. Lloyd George, ill and exhausted, had said good-by to President Wilson at the temporary White House in Paris, but Mr. Arthur Balfour [British foreign secretary], who was very fond of the President both personally and officially, was at the station. So was President Poincaré, so was Premier Clemenceau. Several members of the French Cabinet and of the American Peace Commission, Premier Venizelos of Greece, and many other prominent participants in the Conference were there, including General Pershing and a number of Americans. M. Clemenceau, with a tremble in his voice and moisture in his eyes, said to me: “In saying good-by to the President I feel that I am saying good-by to my best friend.” When the whistle of the train sounded, many crowded around the President for a final farewell. Among them was Colonel House, who had a guilty expression as though he had not played fair. The President turned his head toward him, and, with a stern look, said coldly: “Good-by, House.”

They never met again.