Back | Next

Chapter 23

Since John Ross had no idea what he should be doing, he simply attached himself to Sam Houston. He trotted along with him as the young maybe-captain charged back and forth from the House to the Senate to the artillery battery emplaced between the two and gave speech after speech.

Houston was a superb speechifyer, too. Even a Cherokee like Ross, accustomed to the eloquence of chiefs' councils, was impressed.

John had no idea if Houston was citing the quotations from the Iliad properly. He'd read the poem, once, but he certainly hadn't impressed it to memory. On the other hand, it hardly mattered. John was quite sure that none of the soldiers manning the Capitol had memorized the poem, either, so who could argue the matter?

And if Sam's rendition of the Iliad was his own half-remembered words instead of those of Pope, then the breezy youngster from Tennessee was something of a poet himself.

Shall I my prize resign
With tame content, and thou possess'd of thine?
Great as thou art, and like a god in fight,
Think not to rob me of a soldier's right.

It sounded splendid in the House of Representatives, regardless of whose words they actually were. And it seemed to lift the spirits of the men.

When he said as much to Houston, as they hurried across to the Senate, Sam just grinned at him.

"Not too appropriate a citation, perhaps. They were disputing over a captured woman, you know, not a nation's capital. But it seemed suitable to the occasion, so long as I kept it to a few lines."

Suddenly the grin was replaced by a frown. "Speaking of women, where is Tiana now?"

It was John's turn to grin. For all the martial speeches, the only actual battle Houston had fought so far had been his desperate struggle to keep Tiana Rogers from accompanying him everywhere he went. Partly because he was worried about her safety; partly because Tiana would inevitably distract the men; but mostly, he confided to Ross, because he was in enough trouble as it was. If Tiana remained at his side during the battle, the gossip would have it afterward that she was his concubine. So fornication would be added to the charges of treason and insubordination!

Americans were odd, John mused, when it came to sex. Cherokees were far more rational on the subject. Marriage was taken seriously among them, and adultery was frowned upon, of course. But it was also taken more or less for granted that energetic and curious youngsters would inevitably do what they would do, and where was the harm? Granted, such a relaxed attitude was easier for a matrilineal society than one that, like the American, granted ridiculous authority to fathers and husbands.

"Bastardy," an obsession for the whites, was almost a meaningless term for Cherokees. A child's place came from the mother's position, not the father's.

"She's sulking in her tent, I imagine," John replied.

Sam flashed another grin. But they were already striding into the Senate, and it was time for another speech.

"And will we be become one with the Trojans, boys?" Sam bellowed, gesturing to the soldiers.

"My heroes slain, my bridal bed o'erturned,
My daughters ravished, and my city burn'd,
My bleeding infants dash'd against the floor—"

"No, sir! No, sir!" came the responding roar.


The exclamation, coming unexpectedly out of the shadows, literally made Henry Crowell jump. Except for a few lamps here and there, there was no illumination in the cavernous foundry at night.

Not this night, anyway. On some other nights, in the past, work crews laboring on a rush order would have kept the foundry lit just by the nature of their work. In years past, Henry had put in a fair number of sixteen-hour days himself.

He peered into the darkness. That voice...

"Is that you, Mr. Kendall?"

A figure came from behind one of the furnaces, dressed in heavy work clothes, a musket in his hands. "Yes, it's me all right. What are you doing here, Henry?"

Kendall's voice wasn't quite suspicious, and the musket wasn't quite pointing directly at him. Still, Henry figured a quick explanation was in order.

"I was sent here by Captain Houston, Mr. Kendall. Me and"—he turned and gestured behind him—"these other men."

Henry had been the first one through the door, and he was relieved to see Pendleton coming forward. Even in the poor lighting, the young volunteer's uniform was flamboyantly visible.

"The captain's in charge of the Capitol's defense," Henry elaborated. "He instructed me and these Baltimore dragoons to come to the foundry and see if we could find some ammunition and shot. Maybe some ordnance, too."

He completed the introductions. "Corporal, this here is Mr. David Kendall. He used to be my foreman, when I worked at Foxall's."

By now, Kendall was relaxing. He even seemed pleased to see them. He leaned the musket against a pillar and slapped his hands together. "Defend the Capitol! Yes, you'll need some shot and powder for that. Be right down magged without it!"

He turned and headed toward the interior of the foundry, waving for Henry to follow. "I've got better, too. There's a couple of three-pounders just finished and ready. You can take them back with you."

Even with his limp, Kendall soon outdistanced the men who were following him. It had been several years since Henry had worked in Foxall's, and he'd half forgotten the complicated layout of the place. There were too many half-seen obstructions for him to want to risk getting bruised—or worse. The only soft thing in a foundry is human flesh.

"He seems to like you well enough," Pendleton commented. "Lucky thing, eh?"

Henry shook his head. "Well, I suppose he ought to. He got that limp some years ago when a blank rolled onto his leg. Liked to have crushed it completely, 'cept I picked up one end of it so's he could get out from under."

Pendleton looked puzzled. "Blank?"

"One of them." Henry pointed at a solid bar of iron they were moving past. It was over six inches in diameter and several feet long.

Pendleton ogled the thing. "That must weigh..."

"Don't know how much, exactly. A lot. Thought my back would break by the end."

Now Pendleton was ogling him.

"I'm powerful strong," Henry said, half apologetically.

He needed that strength, later. One of the three-pounders got stuck while the dragoons tried to haul it out through the dark foundry, after they fit it onto its carriage. Henry freed the wheel by the simple expedient of lifting it up.

"Remind me not to arm-wrestle you," Pendleton murmured.

Kendall barked a laugh. "I can't remember anybody being dumb enough to arm-wrestle him since the first week he started working here. How old was you then, Henry?"

"Sixteen, Mr. Kendall."

"Well, you haven't lost it, even living that easy new life of yours as a teamster." He patted Henry's heavy shoulder and gave the dragoons a friendly nod. "Good luck, boys, and do the best you can."

Before he'd gone more than two blocks, two well-dressed, middle-aged white civilians armed with muskets accosted Henry on the lead wagon. The only real trouble came after they left the foundry.

"What're you doing, boy?" demanded one of them.

Henry didn't need to answer. Pendleton trotted his horse forward, holding up his own musket and glowering as fiercely as a youngster can.

"You there! We're on official military business!" he snapped. "Now move out of the way!"

Seeing other dragoons coming up behind him, as well as two more wagons, the civilians backed off. One of them, however, didn't move quite fast enough to suit Pendleton.

"Keep dawdling like that," he snarled, "and we'll make you arm-wrestle Henry here."

"You'll look good," another dragoon commented, "your arm in a sling. All busted up the way it'll be."

Tiana wasn't sulking in her tent. In fact, she wasn't sulking at all.

Not any longer, anyway.

She'd given in to Sam's demands that she remain behind while he dashed to and fro rallying the soldiers. No sooner had he left, however, than her sullen resentment had turned impish.

Houston had told her and the other children—as if she were a "child"!—to remain in the Senate. So, naturally, as soon as he had left with John Ross in tow, she led them across to the House of Representatives. Even Sequoyah didn't argue the matter. She thought he was a bit disgruntled himself, at being left out of the battle.

It had been a fortunate move, even if driven only by rebellious impulse. In the Senate, she and the Ridge children had just been underfoot. But, once in the House, she discovered Commodore Barney, lying wounded on his settee. The small mob of admirers who had earlier surrounded the commodore was gone, and he was looking a bit forlorn. He was obviously in considerable pain, too, now that the excitement of his arrival was past.

Tiana needed something to keep her mind off the coming battle. So she decided to tend to the commodore's injuries.

The man seemed surprised—even a bit shocked—by the easy and casual manner in which she went about the business. Why? she wondered. Injuries, even injuries taken in battle, were messy and undignified by their very nature. The scars to come would be suitable objects for boasting, but the open wounds themselves were simply ugly.

"They did a good job," she pronounced, after lacing and buttoning the commodore back up. "I don't care for that poultice, but I suppose it'll do."

"You speak English?" he asked, still rather wide-eyed.

Tiana snorted, then muttered something in Cherokee.

"I'm sorry, lass. I didn't understand that."

Tiana decided the mutter was probably best left untranslated.

"Of course I speak English, Commodore. I can read it, too. My father's a Scotsman, and he's hardly the only one in my family tree. Many Cherokees speak English."

She pointed to the Ridge children. "They can read and speak the language, too. They've been studying with the Moravians."

Barney's eyes moved to the youngsters. Nancy Ridge smiled shyly. John Ridge and Buck Watie just looked solemn.

"Indeed." The commodore cleared his throat. "A day of many surprises for me, then—or perhaps I should say, considerable learning."

He looked back at Tiana. "What are you doing here, if I might ask, in the company of Captain Houston?"

Tiana stood up, grinning. "Major Ridge—he's one of our chiefs and the father of John and Nancy here—wanted his children to get a better American education. So he asked Sam to bring them to Washington with him and find them a proper school. I came because...Well, I felt like it."

Like a small whirlwind, Sam Houston and John Ross came blowing into the chamber, followed by a gaggle of soldiers who seemed to be serving them as an escort. Sam's eyebrows went up a bit, seeing Tiana and the children in the chamber, but—wisely—he just went on his way. Tiana could hear him start speechifying again as soon as he left. His booming voice penetrated back into the chamber from one of the adjoining rooms.

"To human force and human skill the field:
Dark show'rs of javelins fly from foes to foes;
Now here, now there, the tide of combat flows—"

"Does that silly chatter really do any good?" Tiana wondered.

The commodore smiled. "Oh, yes, lass. A great deal, in fact. Not so much the words—never much liked Homer myself, the truth be told—but just the fact that he's spouting them so surely. Terror is the great enemy, in a battle. The first duty of a commander is to slay the monster, which is what your fine young captain is about. And doing splendidly well at it."

Tiana shook her head dubiously. "I'd think—"

She fell silent. Another officer had come into the chamber. This one, with a pace that could be better described as that of the tides.

She met his eyes across the room. Quite pale in color, those eyes had been earlier, when she'd seen them in the sunlight. Now, lit only by the lamps in the chamber, they seemed very dark.

The darkness was the truer color. Asgá siti, that man was. More so than even Major Ridge, she thought.

An American girl might have been repelled by that knowledge. Tiana, Cherokee, was not. In the end, nations lived and died by such men.

So she met his gaze calmly and levelly. It was he who looked away.

Ha! He was attracted to her! That was...


Barney's eyes had now moved to the new arrival, as well.

"Lieutenant Driscol," he said. "What a great pleasure to see you here."

Commodore Barney knew very little about Lieutenant Patrick Driscol, beyond the man's name. But he was far too experienced a commander not to recognize what he was, just from watching the way the lieutenant had carried himself thus far.

A great pleasure, indeed. There wasn't a single naval engagement Barney had won in the war of independence—he'd fought thirty-five, in all, and been defeated only five times—that hadn't, in the end, been won because of men such as Driscol. If captains like Houston could rally a broken army, it was only because lieutenants like Driscol provided it with a spine that had remained intact. The Driscols of the world could be beaten, surely. Broken, never.

Barney gestured toward the man, inviting him to approach. It was obvious that the lieutenant had entered the chamber for that very purpose, although—

Barney glanced up at Tiana, and suppressed a smile. Now that he was here, clearly enough, the good lieutenant had found another item of interest in the place. Even if he was doing his level best not to make it evident.

Driscol came forward, to stand beside the settee.

"May I be of any assistance, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir. It's the rockets, Commodore. I was wondering about them."

The lieutenant looked a bit embarrassed, for an instant, the way a master craftsman might when he is forced to confess that he lacks a certain bit of knowledge concerning his own trade.

"It's simply that I've never faced them, sir. The Congreves are a newfangled device, and we never had to deal with them on the continent when I was in the French army. Nor did Riall have any at the Chippewa. But they started using them at Lundy's Lane, and I've heard that Cockburn and Ross seem to have brought shiploads of the things."

The continent. That explained a great deal.

"You were serving with the emperor, I take it?"

Driscol nodded. "Aye, sir. For a goodly number of years."

Barney nodded, then extended a hand toward Tiana. "Help me up, would you, lass?"

A moment later, he was sitting erect. Tiana's grip surprised him with its strength. He was even more surprised at the instant way she acceded to his request. A white girl would have wasted time insisting he was too weak to move.

"Don't worry yourself about the rockets, Lieutenant, at least not beyond the question of morale. The truth? Congreves are frightening, when you first encounter them, but their effect is almost entirely upon the mind. As actual weapons, they don't amount to much."

Driscol's blocky face showed no expression at all. "I'd come to suspect as much, from the accounts I'd heard. Inaccurate, I take it?"

Barney chuckled. "If I was one of the men firing them, I'd be as concerned that the blasted things might decide to land on me as on the enemy. Not to mention the fact that they're bloody dangerous to fire in the first place. From what I've seen, they're far more likely to blow up in your face than even the most poorly made cannon."

Driscol and Barney simultaneously scanned the chamber. They were both gauging the walls that lay beneath the fancy trappings.

"The rockets have no real breaching power, either," Barney stated. "To take the Capitol, firmly defended, the British would be far better off with some real siege guns. But I saw no such at Bladensburg."


The stump of Driscol's left arm twitched, as if he'd begun an old gesture that was now impossible. A moment later, with a rueful little smile on his face, the lieutenant brought up his right hand to scratch his chin.

"The big guns from a ship of the line would do the trick," he commented. "But can you imagine the difficulty of taking such out of a ship, and hauling them here all the way from the coast?"

Barney smiled. "I'm a naval officer myself, Lieutenant Driscol. That's not a chore I'd want to be assigned, for a surety." He shook his head. "No, I don't think you need worry about siege guns. As I said, I saw none at Bladensburg. In fact, I saw little proper artillery at all in the possession of the enemy. Just a barrage of Congreves. Less than a handful of field pieces—two three-pounders and one six-pounder, nothing more."

His good humor faded. "Mind you, the Congreves did quite well when it came to panicking our troops. But that was on an open field, with little enough in the way of shelter. Worst of all, of course, was that our top command was—"

He cleared his throat. "Well. Inadequate to the task, let's say."

Barney peered up at Driscol. The lieutenant was not tall, but he seemed as wide and solid as an old oak.

"I daresay that won't be a problem here."

Driscol's answering smile was a cool thing, just barely this side of cold.

"No, sir. That'll not be a problem here. Captain Houston's not got much in the way of experience, but he's stalwart—and I believe I'll be able to make good his lack when it comes to the rest."

"Yes, I imagine you will." Barney glanced around the chamber again. "It's possible that one of the rockets might by great poor chance come through one of the windows—and then, by still greater poor chance, explode at that very inopportune moment. If so, you'll suffer some bad casualties. But even then, the havoc will be confined to one room of the building."

Driscol nodded. "I've already seen to a surgery, sir. As it happens, there were several doctors among the Baltimore volunteers. Enough to staff surgeries in both wings of the Capitol."

"Proper doctors, is it?" The commodore decided to keep his true feelings to himself. "Well. That'll bolster the men's confidence."

From the momentary look that flashed across the lieutenant's face, Barney suspected that Driscol shared his own low opinion of "proper doctors." In truth, for all that the Cherokee girl's immodesty had startled Barney, he was rather inclined to think that her savage Indian methods of medicine were less likely to produce bad results than those of educated white doctors. For many years now, Barney had noted that the death rate of wounded men taken to a hospital was worse than it was when they were tended on an open field, or even left to their own self-treatment.

"Humours," the doctors claimed, were at the bottom of all illness and disease. If so, Barney was convinced, the "humours" which seemed to follow doctors around were worse than any other.

Lieutenant Ross came in, this time alone. "Captain Houston would like to see you, Lieutenant. He thinks the enemy are beginning their attack."

Driscol departed at once. Barney was pleased, but not surprised, to see the way the man moved—with a tread that covered ground swiftly, but still seemed sure, rather than hurried or nervous. The commodore knew that tread, allowing for the difference between one learned on soil and one learned on a rolling ship's deck. Just so had he himself moved, in times past, when battle loomed.

"Damned if I don't think we'll win this thing," he said softly to himself. "And wouldn't that be a wonder, to save a day I'd thought already lost in ignominy."

The pain and weariness threatened to overwhelm him, now. He gave Tiana a pleading look, and within seconds she had him lowered back on the settee. She was a very graceful girl, he thought, as well as a strong one.

"When this is over," he murmured, "I'll speak to some people I know. I'm quite sure a good school can be found for the children."

Tiana's expression bore a sudden undertone of anger. Barney chuckled. "Oh, please, girl. For you, of course, something more suitable would have to be arranged."

That seemed to mollify her.

But what? he wondered, closing his eyes. There was a notable shortage of finishing schools for Amazons. Nary a single one, as far as he knew.

He heard a familiar hissing sound, muted by the walls, but quite audible nonetheless.

"Well, it's started," he said.

"Are those the Congreve rockets you and the lieutenant were talking about?" asked one of the Cherokee boys.

"Oh, yes. Nasty-sounding things, aren't they? But don't be afraid."

"I'm not!" insisted the lad stoutly. "Just curious."

The commodore didn't believe that for an instant. He himself, for all his experience, had been a little shaken by the dragon fire when he first encountered it. But the boy seemed to believe it, which was all that really mattered.

Joshua Barney couldn't have recited a single verse of the Iliad to save his life or soul. Yet he had no doubt at all that, thousands of years earlier, boys in bronze armor standing atop and in front of the walls of Troy had assured themselves that they were really not afraid.

All lies, of course. But lies that they made true, because they believed them.

All traces of twilight were gone by the time Monroe and his escort reached the president's mansion. But, even in the dark of night, it was impossible to miss the Capitol. That would have been true even if the Naval Yard hadn't been burning like an inferno. A barrage of rockets was blazing down upon the seat of the nation's legislature, adding its own flaring illumination. Clearly enough, the British had decided to soften up the defenses by a bombardment, before trying to storm them.

"Are you certain about this, sir?" asked the lieutenant. The young officer nodded nervously toward the Capitol. "Be a risky business, that, trying to get in."

James Monroe hesitated, before he answered. Now that the task of smuggling his way into a fortress under siege was actually at hand, he found himself hesitating a bit. What sane man wouldn't?

On the other hand, ambition and honor impelled him powerfully forward.

Ambition, because as secretary of state he was widely considered President Madison's logical successor. Armstrong would take the blame for this disaster. If Monroe took his stand with the men defending the Capitol, he would come out of it smelling like the proverbial rose. Assuming he survived, of course. But that was always a risk for one who chose to lead a nation.

Even more, there was honor at stake, too. In the end, perhaps, the survival of the nation itself. Monarchs and their courtiers might flee their capitals easily enough, because their legitimacy was a matter of blood. But if no leading elected official of a republic placed himself beside the valiant junior officers who were resisting the enemy in that republic's very capital, when given the chance, could such a republic deserve the name at all?

"Yes, I'm quite sure. Lead the way, Lieutenant—and quickly. If we arrive before the British fully launch their assault, we should be able to make an entry through one of the western doors."

Back | Next