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Chapter 29

August 25, 1814
Washington, D.C.

It was fortunate, thought the secretary of state, that Captain Houston was a good-humored man, and in both senses of the term: generally cheerful in his disposition, as well as possessed of a ready wit. A solemn or humorless fellow might have been chagrined, even upset, to receive the thanks and congratulations of a grateful nation in a form which was so completely...


Sodden. Try as he might, Monroe could think of no better term.


The storm had finally broken, and had proven more ferocious than any Washington storm that anyone could recall. At the height of it, a tornado had swept through parts of the city, adding nature's havoc to the destruction wreaked by human foes.


On the positive side, the rain had squelched all the many smoldering fires left over from the British ravages, as well as the self-imposed arson of the Navy Yard. But if that added to the capital's safety, it did nothing for its appearance. There was nothing quite so miserable-looking as half-burned buildings whose embers looked more like jagged excrescences than man-made edifices.


By midafternoon, the nation's capital was drenched—as were those of its inhabitants who had chosen to brave the elements to come to the Capitol.


Half the remaining population, Monroe estimated—and a far higher percentage of its political classes. As soon as word arrived that the British had been driven off, those latter had come racing back into the city. Rain be damned. They'd kept one wary eye out for tornadoes, of course, but the other—and warier—eye had never left off scrutinizing the new political situation.


Soaked to the bone or not, looking like cats tossed into a pond or not, every holder or would-be holder of public office who was anywhere near Washington wanted to be seen that day, at some point or other, standing alongside Captain Houston and his valiant men.


Houston, for a marvel, even spotted the frequent hypocrisies, and seemed simply amused by them. Most young men of Monroe's acquaintance—he did not exempt himself, at that age— would have been too full of themselves to notice. Or, if they had, they would have reacted with youthful self-righteousness.


"I suppose there's always this to be said for despotism," the young captain murmured to Monroe at one point. "The despot himself serves to draw all courtier flattery and insincere praise, thereby sparing the innocent."


Monroe chuckled. "Surely you're not likening our glorious republican customs to flypaper, Captain?"


Another newly arrived congressman came forward to vigorously shake Houston's hand and assure him that he was the pride of the nation; a true son of the republic; etc.; etc.; etc. Your obedient servant, sir, and should you desire anything, simply call upon me—


And off he went, without even taking the time to dry his clothes or finish wiping the mud from his boots. No doubt he was looking for military units from his district, upon which he could shower like-minded encomiums.


Houston handled it perfectly, as he had handled all such from the moment the crowd began pouring into the Capitol. A firm handshake, a friendly smile—modest, but not too modest—and, most of all, a few well-chosen words that deflected the praise onto the soldiers and sailors who had stood with him.


It was well done.


Very well done. A man like this, Monroe knew—provided, of course, he had no as-yet-hidden weaknesses or vices—could go as far as he wanted in the republic, with some patience and good sense. The fact that he came from modest birth would not stand in his way, either. It might have, were he uneducated, but Houston had already disposed of that problem.


Indeed, he disposed of it again that very moment. The Capitol was still full of soldiers and sailors, too, and now—for the fifth time, if Monroe recalled correctly—several of them sent up the cry.


"A speech, Captain, a speech!"


Houston was never at a loss for words, either. A moment later he was back up on the desk that he'd appropriated some time earlier for his speechifying, and launched into it.


Monroe listened to the speech, as he had to all the others, the way a master craftsman gauges the work of a very promising apprentice. A sure and self-confident craftsman, to boot, who has no trouble accepting the fact that the apprentice, at least when it came to the specific skill of oration, was more naturally gifted than the master himself.


Granted, there wasn't much in the way of real substance to the speech. But substance was too much to ask from the young—indeed, would have made Monroe a bit suspicious. In the secretary of state's experience, twenty-one-year-old men who had achieved substance in their public pronouncements usually did so by seizing upon formulas and simplistic schemas. To be sure, that was a natural condition, the philosophical equivalent of measles or mumps. Still, there was always the risk they'd never outgrow the condition.


No danger of that here, though. Houston's speech contained enough in the way of the standard phrases to make it clear that the young captain was a staunch Republican. Abasement of monarchy's pretensions; staunch yeomanry the base of public virtue; the common man the pedestal upon which Liberty rests, etc.; etc.; etc. But there was no gratuitous attempt to turn the matter into a partisan one.


It was a speech to make Federalists frown, not one to make them snarl. There were enough references to states' rights to please any Republican in the crowd, certainly. But Houston didn't go out of his way to sneer at such Federalist enthusiasms as internal improvements—which tended to be popular in the West, anyway—or manufacturing tariffs.


Thankfully, he avoided the issue of a national bank altogether.


In short, it was a speech to salute a nation's victory, not one to deepen its rancorous political divisions. Under the circumstances, splendid.


President Madison had come up to stand beside the secretary of state partway through the speech. "A good Republican, it seems."


"Oh, yes, Mr. President. I've spoken to him at some length in private, and I can assure you he's solidly with our party."


And then some, Monroe thought wryly. It was perhaps best he warn the president. "Mind you, sir, he does have some radical notions. He's much influenced by General Jackson and his people."


Madison nodded. "Well, that's to be expected. He's from Tennessee himself, after all. Still..."


The president looked toward the settee where, in hours past, Commodore Barney had rested. The settee was now spilling over with congressmen and senators, since Barney himself had finally been evacuated to a place where proper medical attention could be given him.


"I wouldn't have thought, from their reputation, that one of Jackson's men would have been accompanied by a party of Indians. What happened to them, by the way?"


"The children went with the commodore. He'd more or less taken them under his wing by then. The quiet one named Sequoyah went with them also. I believe the others are somewhere upstairs with Lieutenant Driscol."


The speech had come to what Monroe now recognized as the inevitable Homeric portion.


The weapon flew, its course unerring held; Unerring, but the heav'nly shield repell'd The mortal dart; resulting with a bound From off the ringing orb, it struck the ground.


"And have you met this mysterious lieutenant, James?" Madison asked. "For all that Captain Houston has been effusive in his public praise for Driscol, I've not yet caught so much as a glimpse of the man."


How to answer that? As the night had passed, Monroe had come to take the measure of Patrick Driscol, as well. He couldn't claim to know the man, certainly. Men like Driscol were difficult to know, especially if you were a man of Monroe's own class. But he understood him, well enough.


It was all very good to give speeches about staunch yeomanry and the stalwart common man. But what got lost in the fulsome phrases was the fact that such men often bore terrible scars, and the fierce and unforgiving hatreds that came with them. Hatreds which, often enough, were too deep and bitter to make fine distinctions. To a man like Driscol, a president could look much like a king; a secretary of state, much like a royal courtier. And gentlemen, not so very different from noblemen.


True, the lieutenant had punctiliously discharged his duty to escort General Ross into the Capitol, where the British officer could begin to receive the medical care he so desperately needed. But if others—Sam Houston among them—had showered Ross with praise for his gallantry and courage, Driscol had not. He had even refused to let himself be introduced to the British general, simply stalking out of the chamber once his duty was done.


Monroe sighed softly. That subtlety was enough to transmit some of the truth to the president. James Madison and James Monroe had been friends and close associates for a very long time, and knew each other extremely well.


"Sulking in his tent?" Madison asked. Nodding toward Houston, who was now coming to the end of his speech: "Jealous of the captain's acclaim?"


Monroe shook his head. "Oh, not that, surely. Envy is not the vice of a man like Driscol. I'm quite sure he doesn't begrudge young Houston anything. It's simply..."


Houston was closing his speech with another Homeric citation, which provided Monroe with the cue. "Let me put it this way, Mr. President. Patrick Driscol is surely not sulking in his tent over some perceived personal slight. He's no petulant child. But I daresay he could teach Achilles the true meaning of wrath."


"I see."


"He's from Northern Ireland, Mr. President," Monroe elaborated. "I've heard bits of the story from Houston. It seems Driscol's father was one of the United Irishmen. A blacksmith in a small town near Belfast. You may recall that, when the British decided to squelch the insurrection in its early stages, they made blacksmiths a special target. Driscol's father was one of them."


Madison grimaced. British tactics in Ireland had been...severe.


"Oh, yes. Since the British knew that blacksmiths were making most of the arms for the rebels—pikes, more often than guns—they seized all blacksmiths in the towns and chained them to tripods in the town squares. Then, lashed them until they revealed where the weapons were hidden."


"As many as five hundred lashes, I heard. How does a man survive that?"


Monroe took a deep breath. "As a rule, he doesn't. Even those who speak under the torture. Which, apparently, Driscol's father never did. He died, silent."


There was a pause. Houston clambered off the desk. Sprang, rather. He was quite a graceful man, for one so large.


"Such is Patrick Driscol, sir. A lesson for the world—does it really need it?—that destroying a father may seem a sensible measure at the time, but not a generation later." Monroe nodded toward the east. "As several hundred British officers and soldiers discovered this past night. General Ross himself was felled by a volley from a platoon at Driscol's orders. He did his best to kill Admiral Cockburn, also."


The president grimaced again. Unlike Monroe, who had fought in the Revolution under Washington, through its most dire moments, Madison had little personal experience with warfare. He tended to be more delicate-minded about these matters. The man who was now a secretary of state had once been a subaltern of cavalry. Monroe had been one of the two officers who led the charge that captured the critical Hessian guns at Trenton, at the junction of King and Queen Streets. He could still remember the bloody fury of that charge—and the long months of pain that followed, as he recovered slowly from the wounds he'd received.


Gallant foe was a phrase for afterward. At the time, Monroe's sole and single purpose had been to saber Hessian artillerymen, butchering them as pitilessly as he would have butchered animals—but with a venom that he'd never have visited upon mere beasts. Ugly emotions, yes, looking back upon them—but the act of looking back was itself their fruit. The trick was in being able to set them aside, when the time came.


That was easy enough for a man of Monroe's class. Not easy, often, for a man who did not come into the world with the easy perquisites of a gentleman.


"Much like Andrew Jackson, then," Madison commented.


"Yes." Jackson's mother had died during the Revolution.


From privations she'd endured after the British drove them out of their home. Like Driscol, Jackson had been a teenager at the time. And, like Driscol, Jackson had never forgiven the British.


And never would, in all likelihood. Monroe could understand the matter, well enough. It was still a problem for the republic. Nations could no more be guided by unthinking hatreds than unthinking enthusiasms.


"Your captain was right, by the way," the president added. "I just spoke to John, and he tells me he received word two days ago from Hawkins. Jackson did, indeed, force the Creeks to sign away half their land, in a treaty early this month."


Monroe nodded. As secretary of war, in charge of relations with the Indian tribes, Armstrong would have received the news first. Naturally enough, he hadn't raised the matter at the cabinet meeting the day before, which had focused entirely on the British assault on the capital.


"And so, once again, Mr. President, we are presented with an accomplished fact," Monroe said. "Whether we like it or not. If we nullify the treaty, now that Jackson coerced the Creeks into signing it, we'll infuriate every settler west of the mountains, and every southerner below the Carolinas."


"And half the Carolinians," Madison muttered.


"Yes. And those are the same people—Andrew Jackson himself, first and foremost—whom we have to rely upon to repel the British. The theater of war will shift to the gulf, now."


The president sighed. "That's why we have made him a general in the regular army. It's a strange way, one would think, to punish a man for insubordination."


Monroe said nothing, for there was nothing to say. Events on the frontier were being driven by forces far too powerful for any government to control. All the more so because Andrew Jackson was not even the source of it, ultimately, simply its representative and visible face. Behind Jackson, lifting him up, driving him forward, were hundreds of thousands of nameless folk. Nameless, at least, to the eastern gentry and northern merchant class. Scots-Irish immigrants, in the main, now known as "the people of the western waters."


Relentless, implacable. Much like—


A thought came to Monroe. "Excuse me for a bit, Mr. President. I have something to attend to."


He turned around and beckoned to John Ross. The lieutenant had been standing just a feet away; close enough to be ready for any task the secretary might require of him, but distant enough to allow Monroe privacy of conversation. In this, as in every other respect the secretary had seen thus far, the Cherokee was proving to be as adept and subtle as any white assistant he had ever had.


Houston. Ross. Driscol. Perhaps some others...


Always Jackson, of course, for good or ill.


James Monroe subscribed to the sweeping principles of republicanism, and had done so all of his adult life. But he also firmly believed that problems were solved by men, not abstractions. Specific men, in specific places, in specific combinations. Just so, as a young officer, had he seen George Washington forge a nation. Just so, as a man coming into his own maturity, had he seen that nation grow and swell, when other men did the same.


With Ross in tow, he intercepted Houston as another gaggle of congressmen were coming forward to extend their congratulations.


"A moment of your time, Captain, if you'd be so kind. Where is Lieutenant Driscol? I'd like to have a word with both of you." He glanced to the side. "The three of you, actually."


Staring out of an upper-floor window of the House at the rain-drenched and wind-battered city to the west, Driscol thought his mood matched the sight. Bleak and bitter, just like Washington itself, even if both he and the city were supposed to be celebrating a victory. That victory, however, was being marred not only by the weather, but by the rumors of a slave insurrection.


The rumors had grown so wild that even a freedman like Henry Crowell, who'd played an important role in defending the Capitol, had been forced into hiding. In his case, fortunately, that wasn't hard. He was sitting on a chair in a corner of the same room Driscol occupied. McParland and the two Rogers brothers were squatting in the same corner, having a quiet and friendly conversation with the wagon driver. That was probably enough to reassure Henry that he had nothing to fear, as long as he stayed with the lieutenant and his men in the Capitol.


Driscol was startled by a soft, feminine voice. "What's that expression you use? 'A penny for your thoughts,' I think."


His eyes shied away from the source of the words. Not because he didn't want to look, but because he did—and was afraid of that feeling.


When the Rogers brothers had offered to introduce him to Tiana, he'd felt his heart surge in a way he hadn't felt since he was a teenager. And the same again, when they'd made the "real introduction" less than half an hour earlier.


There'd only been one woman in his life who'd ever produced that feeling in him. A young Irish girl by the name of Maureen. He'd been sixteen at the time, and so had she. The same age Tiana was now.


He'd never seen Maureen again, after he'd been forced to flee Ireland. For all he knew, she was dead.


In the years that followed, he'd pretty well squelched that side of his soul. There just hadn't seemed to be any place for it in his new life as a soldier. Now...


"My thoughts would hardly be worth a cent," he said harshly, his lips half twisted. "I'd not pay a half cent for them, myself."


"Look at me, Lieutenant."


That startled him even more. Softly spoken or not, the tone had been utterly...


Imperious, was the only word.


He looked. Up. Standing right next to him, all of Tiana Rogers's height was evident. The girl was about six feet tall, topping him by several inches.


"What is the matter with you, Patrick Driscol?" she asked quietly. She didn't seem cross, so much as puzzled. "Do you think I'm blind? Do you really think I needed my brothers to make a formal introduction? When you think I'm not looking, I can feel your eyes on me. Yet when I look, you look away. If you keep it up, I'll start thinking you're a lecher."


Now, a smile came. "An old and decrepit lecher, at that, too worried about his capacities to do more than leer at a distance."


Driscol flushed. There was just enough truth in that statement to make him uncomfortable. He wasn't, in fact, a lecher—and he knew full well that his capacities were still those of a young man. Still, he couldn't deny that the Cherokee girl aroused him, in ways he found hard to understand, much less explain.


Sheer beauty was part of it, of course. The athletic grace of her body even more than the face. Perhaps it was the combination—or, rather, the contradiction. Tiana Rogers was exotic. Half white, half Indian, never seeming one or the other to Driscol. The same with her bearing. At one moment she could act like a princess, the next like a hoyden, the next like a...


Farm girl? Squaw?


And where, precisely, did one end and the other begin? He'd heard her brother John praise her talents at gutting and dressing a deer. His mother had possessed similar, plebian skills. So had Maureen.


It was that confusion, not lust, which had kept him so constantly off balance around her. He simply didn't know what to make of her. Had he not been so attracted to the girl, of course, none of it would have mattered. Given that he was, he'd reacted the way Patrick Driscol usually reacted to being puzzled.


That thought finally allowed him to smile. Houston, he suspected, would accuse him of sulking in his tent. Not because of a conflict with a king, but because Patrick Driscol resented being confused. Kings he could deal with. Nothing easier, at least in theory. Just cut their throats and bleed them out.


Alas, such well-worn and simple tactics were quite unsuited to this problem.


He tried to find the words to explain, as best he could. Fortunately, a welcome interruption came. Houston strode into the room, followed by Secretary of State Monroe and John Ross.


The captain was smiling cheerfully, as he so often was. And, as it so often did, the smile warmed Driscol. His brother had smiled like that, before he died on the road from Randallstown to Antrim, and had been tossed into the sandpit by the Sassenach. Such a smile would never come to Patrick Driscol—and might not have, being honest with himself, even if his life had been different. But seeing it on Houston's face reminded him of all the many families in the world that had not been destroyed.


"Mr. Monroe's made me a proposition, Patrick—and it involves you."


After he'd heard what Houston had to say, all of Driscol's earlier bleak thoughts returned. Rude though it might be, he went back to staring out the window. For a moment, his sentiments were so hostile that he was unable to speak.


Perhaps I shouldn't speak at all, he thought. What's the point? He'd probably just ruin his own chances, small as they were already with an arm now missing.


But a lifetime's stubbornness wouldn't let him remain silent.


He reminded himself that a man who advocated letting the blood from monarchs should at least have the courage to speak the truth to a secretary of state. And face the prospect of being broken from the ranks with the same unyielding courage he'd faced lines of Sassenach muskets.


So he turned back and looked at Monroe. "Fine words, Mr. Secretary. I'm sure they came from you, even if young Sam here gave them a heady and enthusiastic lilt. But I'm no great believer in airy sentiments."


He pointed into a corner of the room. "I'm sure you didn't notice him when you came in. But you might ask yourself why Henry Crowell is huddling over there."


Everyone turned to look in the corner, where the black wagon driver was sitting. Just as startled as everyone else had been by Driscol's words, Crowell's eyes were wide.


"Oh, aye," Driscol said, half snarling. "It's not safe right now for a freedman in the city. Any man with a black skin. It seems there are rumors of a slave insurrection, and half the soldiery is out there charging about to put it down." The rest, he did snarl: "While the Sassenach, needless to say—the ones who did burn and loot and plunder—make their escape with no pursuit."


He kept the finger pointing, as steadily as a musket. "So Henry Crowell, who brought the munitions which held the enemy at bay, cowers here in a corner. Not knowing, even, what's happened to the wagon which is his sole means of earning a livelihood. And slavemasters give speeches about the glories of republicanism in the chamber below, and come up here to propose schemes for bringing just settlements to the Indians. Well, there's nothing I can do about it. But I fail to see why Patrick Driscol should lend himself to the furtherance of the lies and hypocrisies of gentlemen."


Driscol's pale eyes were cold, but all the hot, boiling anger surfaced in the words. "Oh, aye, it's always class that tells, isn't it? You'll ladle praise onto a stinking Sassenach general for his gallantry. But let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, when you were governor of Virginia, did you ladle the same praise onto the man named Gabriel when you hung him? And if not, why not? What crime was he guilty of, other than opposing the tyranny of his so-called betters, with arms in hand?"


The anger was all encompassing, now. The cold, pale eyes moved to John Ross.


"And you, Lieutenant. What is your complaint? That the white man won't let you remain on your plantations, lording it over your own slaves?" He jerked his head toward the Rogers brothers. "Just a few hours ago, they were telling me—boasting, to call things by the right name—that most of your chiefs have plantations as fine as any white men. Your Major Ridge, I'm told, is a great man—and nothing proves it so much as his twenty slaves. So you, too, are nothing but lordlings who, like all lordlings since the dawn of time, seized their status by theft and murder and then used the plundered goods to prove the status. And now—now—have the unmitigated gall to claim that you are the victims of injustice."


He turned away. "Be damned to all of you. Do what you will. But do not ask me to give it my blessing, much less my active participation."


His eyes searched the city below. Looking for a dwelling wretched enough that he might be able to afford it—on whatever income a discharged lieutenant might have.


Sergeant, he reminded himself. His promotion to lieutenant had not been approved as yet by the War Department. And now, of course, surely wouldn't be.


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