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Chapter 30

Monroe glanced at Houston. For the first time since he'd met him, the young captain was obviously at a complete loss for words. In fact, he was almost gaping like a fish. Whatever else he'd expected from Driscol, clearly enough, Houston hadn't anticipated that coldly furious tirade.


No, not tirade, Monroe cautioned himself. It was the lieutenant's harsh words—the tone, even more than the words themselves—that had infuriated some part of Monroe. That part of him which was Virginia gentry by birth, and whose status had grown great with time.


Yet the fact remained that Driscol had said nothing which, in substance if not with the same pitiless condemnation, Monroe hadn't heard said time and again. He'd even said as much himself.


It was indeed true, as Driscol had charged, that as governor of Virginia, Monroe had had to sentence the leaders of a slave insurrection. Would-be insurrection, to be more accurate, since— as was usually true in such cases—informers had revealed the slaves' plans before they could set them into motion. Monroe had been astonished, at the time, at the hostility which his lenient policy had generated from most of his fellow gentlemen. He'd hung the leader Gabriel and several others, because as governor he was charged with maintaining public order and existing laws and property relations. But that had seemed enough, to him, for the purpose. To go further would have been simple cruelty—yet that had been precisely what many others wanted. Why? For no better reason than Driscol's very accusation— they'd been gentlemen, aggrieved by the impudence of slaves, demanding vengeance for their injured dignity.


Monroe took a deep breath, calming and dispelling that stupid, vicious, gentleman's anger. Driscol's charge cut to the very soul of the nation, after all—and Monroe knew it. If most men might not wrestle with the problem of slavery, the greatest of them did. George Washington had done so, in his own austere way—and, in his will, he had freed his slaves. Thomas Jefferson, in his far more voluble—some might say, histrionic—manner, had done the same. He'd once concluded a denunciation of slavery with the words, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.


And Madison, too, in his quiet manner. He'd already told Monroe that once he was no longer president, and could finally retire from public life, he hoped to convince Dolley to move to Ohio. So he could, at least in his own person, finally be rid of slavery.


The president hadn't had much hope of success, however. His wife Dolley was Quaker-born, not southern, and had no theoretical attachment to the peculiar institution. But she also had an improvident son, and enjoyed her wealth. And slavery was profitable.


Money. In the end, Monroe knew, it all came down to that. For him, as much as any man of his class. Nothing else, nothing more. Certainly nothing more exalted. Just the endless, well-nigh irresistible seduction of Mammon—who was surely a demon.


He almost laughed, then. Leave it to Lieutenant Patrick Driscol to call a gentleman a demon worshipper, and do it to his face!


That wry thought was enough finally to bring the statesman to the helm.


"Actually, Lieutenant," the secretary of state said calmly, "your objections strike me as speaking well for your qualifications in this mission. Very well, in fact."


Driscol's eyes narrowed, and his head turned partway from the window.


"You must be joking."


"Not at all." Monroe couldn't convince a man who wouldn't look at him. His years as an ambassador to France and England and Spain—failures and successes alike—had taught him that. "Please, Lieutenant Driscol, will you simply listen to me?"


Courtesy—especially when it came unexpectedly—did the trick. Driscol turned completely away from the window and faced him squarely. True, the man's eyes were still cold, and his slightly lowered brow could have butted a bull senseless, but...he was listening. And Monroe knew how to talk. Far better, if not in formal speeches, than a youngster like Houston.


"All of it is a Gordian knot, Lieutenant. All threads tangled together. A republic which rests in good part on slavery—yet it is a republic. Which means, among other things, that it must respect the property of its citizens until such time as those citizens decree otherwise. Or would you have me take the power, and wield it like a despot? And if so, why do you think the end result would be better? How well did Napoleon do, after he became emperor? You served under him, I believe."


Driscol's jaws tightened. "So I did. I left his service...after some time in Spain. Just butchery, that was."


Monroe nodded. "The contradictions continue, on and on. The United States is also a nation coming into being by robbing the lands of other nations—yet it is a nation, and one that you would see grow yourself. Why else did you come here from Europe? Did far more than that!" He pointed at Driscol's stump. "Gave that nation your own arm."


"It'll all unravel," Driscol growled. "See if it doesn't."


"Perhaps it might," Monroe allowed. "But in what manner? I'd gladly see it unravel myself, if I could be sure all the threads wouldn't be lost, the good along with the bad."


"You don't unravel a Gordian knot."


"Precisely." Now, finally, it was time for a smile. One of Monroe's best—and he was good at smiling, even if he did it rarely. "A Gordian knot needs to be cut. So who better to ask than someone like you, Patrick Driscol?"


After the secretary left, a few minutes later—dragged away by his aides once they found out where he'd gone—Driscol glared at Houston.


"How in the name of creation did he talk me into this madness?"


Houston had recovered his own equilibrium by now, along with his good cheer. "Patrick, you can't be that iron-headed. Do you think a man has the career he's had—with the presidency still to come, most like—if he doesn't know how to talk people into things?" He placed an arm over Driscol's shoulder and gave him a friendly, reassuring little shake. "Think of it this way. You can always console yourself with the knowledge that you were swindled by an expert."


Driscol grunted. The sound was half sour, half...


Not.


"It's an interesting idea, I'll give it that. The core of it's yours, I assume? Monroe's too much the proper gentleman to have come up with it, even leaving aside his English heritage. Only a daft Irishman would think this scheme could work."


The lieutenant's pale eyes moved to John Ross. Always a sergeant's, those eyes, never an officer's. "You won't have agreed, of course."


Hesitantly, Ross shook his head.


"No, of course not. So far I don't see where"—he shot Houston an apologetic glance—"it's fundamentally any different from what's been proposed many times before. We move across the Mississippi—and you take our land." He shook his head again, this time more firmly. "It's simply not just. It's our land, and you can't even claim the right of conquest. We've been your allies, most of the time."


Houston was a little afraid that the Cherokee's bluntly stated opposition would deter Driscol. Instead, it seemed to have just the opposite effect.


"Oh, it's justice you want from the white man, is it? Well, it's good to see the Irish have no monopoly on blithering idiocy. You might as well expect an Irishman to get justice from a Sassenach, as so many did and do. Let me explain something to you, my proud young Cherokee. Looking for justice from the mighty is the work of fools. You'd do far better to look for redress in the form of vengeance. Or haven't you figured out yet that's really Houston's scheme?"


Ross's eyes widened.


So did Houston's.


"I never—"


Then Sam realized what Patrick meant. At which point, his eyes widened still further.


"I know the stories," Driscol continued, "even if I can't cite the verses. So, tell him, Sam. Tell him what finally happened to the Trojans, in the end." His eyes swept the room. "Tell all of them. Henry, too. He's got as much right to know as any."


Everyone was staring at Houston, now. He cleared his throat. "Well, it's just a story..."


"They're all just stories," Driscol rasped. "Which means one's just as good as another—if people act by it."


"Well, ah... true enough. According to the poet Virgil—he was a Roman, not a Greek—some of the Trojans survived and fled to Italy. After many adventures. And... they founded Rome."


"The whole story."


Sam sighed. Driscol was glaring again. He was so glad he'd never been a soldier who'd had to serve with Driscol as his sergeant. The man was a veritable troll!


"Well, yes. And in the end, of course, the Romans conquered the Greeks. So the Trojans got their vengeance. Mind you, it took about a thousand years, and there were a lot of twists and turns."


There was silence, for a moment.


Then, suddenly, James Rogers laughed. "That's ridiculous!"


He held up the war club that seemed to be inseparable from him, practically an extension of his arm. "I can fight as well as any Cherokee. But the idea that we'd ever be able to conquer the Americans. It's just ridiculous. There are too many of them. Kill one, and ten more step forward in their place."


But Sam could finally see what Driscol was hinting at. "A thousand years, remember. With lots of twists and turns. And then the Greeks turned the tables again, because the Romans all wound up speaking Greek and quoting Greek philosophers."


James shrugged. "So?"


"So 'conquest' is a word with many different meanings." But Ross was the key here, not the Rogers brothers, so Sam turned to him. "Here's how it is, John—and I'll do my best to talk you into it. You and all the others, in the time to come. Stay where you are, and you'll be crushed out of existence. There's no way around it. But move—move yourselves, like men, rather than being driven like beasts—and you stand the chance of forging something powerful out there. Something which can shape its own destiny."


"And who knows?" Patrick added. "You may end up shaping your enemy, too. Create a nation powerful enough, in a place you can do so, and over time you'll begin changing the nature of your neighbors." He looked a bit uncomfortable then. "Now that it's all over, I'll admit that Robert Ross seemed a fine enough fellow. Of course, he was born in Ireland."


John Ross just stared at him. Driscol shrugged. "Look, lad. I hate the Sassenach as much as any man. But the fact is, I speak their language. So do most Scots or Irishmen. The same language in which the Declaration of Independence was written— and humbled the bastards in their own tongue."


He gestured toward the door through which Monroe had departed. "It was that, in the end, which convinced me. The man's right enough about that. Let two generations pass, and the threads are all tangled up again. So now we Irishmen speak English, and the English argue with themselves about Ireland. Sometimes they even listen to Irishmen. And their cousins here in America—English, Scots, Irish, all tangled together—intrude rudely into the dispute with opinions of their own, which they mostly derived from Englishmen, but didn't hesitate to impose by force of arms when needed."


* * *

Patrick Driscol took a deep breath. The quite unexpected reaction of a Virginia politician had cracked, perhaps for the first time in his life, his unyielding animosity toward gentlemen.


Well, not the first time. Another Virginian named Winfield Scott had done that. But Scott had been a general, and Driscol always gave more leeway to soldiers.


"My point is this, John. After a time, it all becomes something of a family quarrel. And now, for good or ill, and whether you asked for it or not, your Cherokees have become embroiled in it." He looked Ross up and down, then glanced at Tiana Rogers and her brothers. "And not just embroiled in the quarrel, either. You're now embroiled in the family itself."


Ross cocked his head. "Granted. Sequoyah's even talking about creating our own written script. To add to all the rest—the mills, and the separate houses, and raising livestock. Yes, slaves, too. I suppose we're adopting all the white vices, as well as the virtues. But we're still different, and we want to stay independent." He also glanced at the Rogerses; then, smiling a bit, down at his own hand. "Even if we're none too fussy about who we mate with."


Driscol snorted. "I'd say so, given the way you mate with the Scots-Irish. Pack of ruffians—and I know whereof I speak."


Driscol flushed a bit, then. He carefully avoided looking at Tiana. All the more so, because he suspected she was grinning at him.


"Those fancy stories of the ancients, Greek and Roman both. What I think? If you could trace it all back, you'd find some sordid family dispute at the heart of them. Properly dressed up, of course, as the centuries passed. Gods and heroes, the lot. Somebody cuckolded somebody else—probably a cousin—and they got their revenge, and then their children struck back, and they're still arguing about it to this day even if nobody can remember what it was all about in the first place. Because it just doesn't matter, any longer."


He took another deep breath. "I am not a fool. I know perfectly well that my blessed Scot and Irish ancestors were a pack of brawling clansmen, mostly illiterate and always pigheaded. More than willing to kill each other and steal each other's sheep at the bidding of some mangy clan chief whose 'palace' wasn't much more than the biggest hut in the village. The English played us all for fools. Played this one against the other—most any clan chief was always willing to be bribed—"


Seeing Ross wince, Driscol snorted. "Yours, too, eh? I'm hardly surprised. And so what?—if, in the end, our demands for justice are couched in the Englishman's tongue. More than that—are couched in English ways of thought. But not entirely, because we shape them for our own purposes. And then—"


Grudgingly: "They pay some attention. Some. Even start to think a bit differently themselves. Not because they want to, but because they're forced to. That's always the problem with a family quarrel. You can't ignore the bastards, because they're yours. Especially if they're mean, tough bastards with a house of their own. And that's the heart of Houston's plan, when you get down to it. Move now, while you can still do it as a solid and intact nation, not a band of refugees. Build a house of your own now, in a place where you'll have enough time to build it strong and big."


Ross was following him intently, but obviously still not convinced. He stared out the window, for a moment. Then, looked back at Houston.


"It will never happen without a break, at some point. Some place, some time, where a line is finally drawn. 'This far and no farther.' "


Houston nodded. "Sure. Let people push you and they'll push you forever. But the other mistake is to push back when you're standing on thin air. Which is where you are today, John—and, if you're honest, you know it yourself. General Jackson will strip you of your land, sooner or later, don't think he won't. And how will you stop him? On that land?"


"And you'll support him," came the accusation.


Houston didn't flinch. "If it comes to it, yes. I'll fight for a worthy cause, John, but this one is already lost. And in the meantime, my own nation—the only republic on the face of the earth—needs that land to grow. Which is also a worthy cause, and one which is not lost." He shrugged. "I don't claim that it's 'just,' because I couldn't begin to figure that out. 'Justice' mostly depends which side you're on—and I'm an American, when all is said and done.


"Give yourself another cause, though, John, and you can count on me. My word on it."


Ross's gaze came back to Driscol. "And your word?"


Driscol snorted. "Do I look like a bloody gentleman? My word! That wouldn't buy you a pint of whiskey. But I will give you my advice, as a soldier. Any commander who insists on standing his ground when the battle is lost is a fool and a blunderer. Worse than that, he's a killer of his own men. Retreat's never pleasant, but there are times when it's necessary. Retreat, regroup, and fight again on ground that favors you."


He looked at Tiana. She and her brothers. If she'd been grinning earlier, she wasn't now. Neither she nor her kinsmen. Driscol continued. "I don't know much about your nation, but this much is obvious—you're in no condition to even fight this battle, much less win it. So do what's necessary. Retreat in order to buy yourselves the time you need. Whether you use that time wisely or not, of course, will be up to you. But that's no business of mine."


"What is your business, then?" Tiana interjected, before Ross could say anything.


Driscol shrugged, uncomfortably. "What I agreed to." He jerked a thumb at Houston. "Help this young idiot buy you the time."


"That's not what I meant. What is your business?"


He stared at her blankly. "I'm a soldier, girl."


She shook her head. "That's a trade, not a business. You could have chosen to take the English king's colors. Plenty of Scotsmen and Irishmen do. And don't tell me otherwise! My father was a Tory soldier in the Revolution, after he came here from Scotland." Impishly: "Although he'll never admit it today."


Driscol's mind was a blank. "I still don't understand the question, girl."


"I'm sixteen years old. And Cherokee. So I'm not a girl."


She gave her brothers a quick, fierce, warning glance. Wisely, they kept their peace.


Then, with that impish smile that Driscol could feel pulling him like the tides: "What I think, Patrick Driscol, is that your business is lost causes." She gave Houston a cool, dismissing sniff. "Whatever he thinks about it."


Private McParland burst into the room.


"Dolley Madison's back! And she says there's going to be a victory ball."


* * *

"And how did I get talked into this, too?" Driscol grumbled.


Houston had no sympathy at all, as could be expected from a man who was not only the favored dancing partner of the evening but who could also—was there anything the blasted youngster wasn't good at?—dance superbly well. He was only at Driscol's side to hear the grumble, in fact, because he was taking a moment's break.


"Stop grousing, Patrick. You could learn to dance, if you wanted to. All that stands in your way is that surly peasant attitude." He mimicked Driscol's rasping voice: " 'Dancin's for stinkin' decadent gentlemen. Damme if I will.' "


He gave Driscol a grin, and then was swirled away by yet another Washington belle. Her matronly dame, rather, who plucked Houston off with expert skill in order to introduce her daughter.


Or daughters.


Or nieces.


Or several of each, all at once.


It was almost laughable. Not only was Houston the young and glamorous hero of the hour. Sooner than Driscol could have imagined possible, the word had spread through the city's distaff elite—most of Baltimore's, too, it seemed, British threat be damned—that he was a bachelor to boot. Dolley Madison's sponsorship of the evening's affair would have guaranteed a large crowd, anyway. With the added attraction of Houston...


—he's got Monroe's favor, they say—


—Jackson's too, I hear. Of course, he's a roughneck—Jackson, I mean; they say Houston's quite the gentleman—but still—


Driscol did chuckle, then. Why not? Like his brother had been, Houston was a man who found women just as charming as they found him. Driscol might feel completely out of place here, but Houston was in his element. And if there wasn't much chance that he'd be successfully wooed tonight, or even in the few weeks before they'd have to leave for New Orleans, there was always the possibility that the basis might be laid for later success. Marriages in America's high society rarely proceeded with any great speed anyway. Calculating matrons always knew they had time on their side, after all.


Whatever else he might be, Houston was obviously ambitious. That was considered a virtue in the new republic, not a vice—but it still had to be done virtuously. That meant marriage, among other things, and at a reasonably early age. The commonly held attitude, among men and women alike, was that if a man was still unmarried in his thirties, he was suspect for some reason. Whether because he was riddled with vice, or simply unwilling to assume the responsibility of an adult, who could say?


But any hope of a political career would start plummeting thereafter—and in the United States in the year 1814, there was no real distinction between a political career and most others suited to a gentleman. Officer, lawyer, planter, merchant—they all wove in and out of the political corridors.


So, Houston would have to make a suitable marriage, sooner or later. That was a given, and matrons could calculate accordingly. If he dillydallied for a few years—which he very well might; he was only twenty-one, still young to be a husband— there were always younger daughters or nieces coming down the line.


Driscol's wry observations were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. The left shoulder, which surprised him. Most people were gingerly about—


Most people. He knew who owned the hand before he even looked. She'd not care, he realized. Neither about the missing arm, nor about whatever sensitivities he might have regarding the loss.


Well enough. It struck him as a reasonable bargain. If she'd accept the missing limb, he'd accept the fact that she didn't care about it.


"And what may I do for you, Miss Rogers?"


"You still haven't answered my question, Lieutenant. Neither one, in fact."


Driscol tried to remember the first question. He couldn't. Couldn't remember the more recent one, for that matter. It was a bit frightening, the way the woman could muddle his mind.


She wasn't smiling impishly, though. Smiling, yes, but the undertones seemed a bit melancholy. Without warning, she changed the subject.


"Can you teach me to dance? Like this, I mean. I don't dare go out there and start dancing the way we do at the Green Corn ceremony."


Driscol stared at the city's upper crust, busy with their elaborate... whatever it was. A quadrille, he thought. He wasn't sure.


"No, I suppose not. They'd be scandalized."


He was having a hard time—a very hard time—keeping his eyes on the dance instead of Tiana. Somewhere, somehow— Driscol suspected the subtle hand of the secretary of state at work—Tiana had managed to get herself outfitted in a real gown. It was the first time he'd ever seen her in clothing designed to be decorative, rather than utilitarian, and he'd been struck by her beauty even in such.


Dolley Madison had transformed fashion in Washington, ever since her husband had become president. She favored French fashions, in particular what the French called the "Empire" style. That was their own, somewhat more flamboyant version of the Greek Revival fashions that had swept Britain for the past few years.


Tiana's gown was a fairly typical example. White in color, very simple in design, it was patterned after the flowing lines of ancient Greek robes. The soft muslin fabric clung to her body and was so thin it was almost sheer. For all the fancy lacework and geometric designs that decorated the hems—also patterned on ancient Greek models—the gown was basically a very expensive nightgown.


Anywhere except at a formal ball, Tiana would have been wearing a chemisette underneath for modesty. But here, she wasn't, and the low-cut square décolletage and the high waist of the gown emphasized her very feminine figure. She wasn't an especially bosomy woman, but with her size and firm musculature, it hardly mattered. The bare flesh of her shoulders and upper chest was...


Dazzling. All the more so because the long and slender lines of the gown as a whole made her stand out even more than she would have anyway. Tiana was the tallest woman there—and made no attempt to hide the fact.


Dolley Madison was perhaps thirty feet away and having a conversation with several other women. Tiana glanced at them and smiled wryly. Then, stroked fingers through her long black hair.


"At least I'm not wearing a turban, like they are. As if they were Cherokees! I think I scandalize these people enough as it is."


Driscol felt a moment's anger, as he always did when confronted by hypocrisy. The scandal wouldn't be caused by Tiana's Indian heritage. Full-blooded Indians had been appearing at fancy affairs in European dress for two centuries now, in Europe as well as America, and no one thought anything of it.


But Tiana was obviously a half-breed. Her hair, her skin color, her features—the blue eyes that were so startling against those prominent cheekbones and dark complexion—all these were signs, to a gentry that preferred to think otherwise, that the lines they drew around themselves blurred at the edges.


It was mostly a southern gentry, too, which made it all the worse. None of those proper Virginia and Maryland matrons wanted to be reminded that, often enough, some of the children of their slaves had a readily recognizable father.


He could feel himself starting to slip into an old, familiar bleakness. Vileness, everywhere he looked. But Tiana's little laugh pulled him out.


"But that's not what I'm worried about!" Again, she sniffed. It was quite an impressive sniff, too; no proper matron could have done better. "I don't care what those people think. It's when I got back! The Green Corn Festival is a religious affair, you know. Well, no, you probably didn't. But it is. If my people found out—" She shivered slightly. "I'd never hear the end of it."


Driscol realized again how little he knew about the Cherokees, or any other Indian tribe. "Well, look on the bright side. They wouldn't be able to say much of anything to you, for a few years. You'll be in school up here. By the time you get back, they might have forgotten."


She shook her head. "I'm not going to school. I'm going back with you and Captain Houston next month."


Driscol's startlement must have been obvious. "Ah."


"Didn't Sam tell you?"


He tried to control the sudden excitement that filled him. Confusion also. He'd been assuming that in a few weeks, after he left for New Orleans, he wouldn't see Tiana again for...


Who was to say? Months, at the very least. Quite possibly forever.


He'd become reconciled to the fact. Even relieved, in some ways. Now, realizing that he'd be in the woman's company, indefinitely, he didn't know what to think.


Or do.


Or feel.


Well, that last was a lie. He knew exactly how he felt. He'd never been so thrilled in his life.


"No," he said, almost choking out the word. "He didn't."


"I'm not surprised." Her eyes moved across the crowd. Not for long, since Houston was easy to spot.


Driscol couldn't determine what was in those eyes. Sadness? Anger?


Perhaps neither. The fact that Driscol thought all people were essentially the same beneath the skin didn't mean they all thought alike. Otherwise, why would he have spent half his lifetime in the single-minded pursuit of slaying his English "brethren"?


"I only came here on a whim, really," she said softly. "Call it a childhood's fancy."


Driscol knew about the girl's oft-proclaimed intentions with regard to Houston. James and John Rogers had been with him through most of the battle, and they were fond of joking. Indeed, they joked about most everything.


Tiana studied Houston for a bit. He was swirling everywhere, passing from one dancing partner to another, and obviously enjoying himself immensely.


"There's no place for me here," she said, even more softly. "I want to go home."


Driscol's mind went back. "Then why did you ask me if I could teach you to dance?"


Her eyes came to him. Still with that same look in them he couldn't quite fathom. "I'm not a white girl, Patrick Driscol. What you call 'romance' is a silly business to me. I fancied Sam Houston for a time, because he's a man to fancy. But if you think for one moment I'm going to pine away"—again, that majestic sniff—"I'd as soon waste my time pining over the moon, when there's a harvest to gather or a deer to be dressed. Not likely, ha!"


Finally, he understood. They were simply calm eyes, accepting. Not liking what they saw, perhaps, but accepting it nonetheless.


"Can you read?" he asked. Not thinking, until he blurted the words, that she might be offended by them.


Fortunately, she wasn't. "Oh, yes. Quite well, the Moravians tell me."


"Ah. But I imagine you prefer prose to poetry?"


The little smile widened. "For a man who insists he's no gentleman, Patrick Driscol, you dance more than any gentleman I can imagine."


Much more Tiana-like, the smile was now. "Why did I ask you if you could teach me to dance? The simplest reason of all. I wanted to hear what your answer would be. Not because I cared, one way or the other, about the dancing."


"Ah." It occurred to Driscol that if he said "ah" one more time, he'd never hear the end of it. Or, still worse, might—because he'd never hear that voice again at all.


Either prospect was suddenly unbearable. His mind cast wildly about, for an instant, until it found a safe and secure refuge in...


Patrick Driscol. Where it damn well properly belonged.


"No," he said gruffly, "I can't teach you to dance. But I do have a social obligation I've been remiss in carrying out. I was wondering, Miss Rogers, if you'd do me the pleasure of accompanying me?"


"I'd be delighted."


He extended his arm. Alas, the wrong one. He still hadn't quite adjusted. Probably because the bloody blasted thing still felt like it was there. It hurt enough, anyway.


She grinned at him. "I'd look like a proper fool, being led around by a stump."


"Sorry." He swiveled, bringing his right arm into position. A moment later, her hand tucked into his elbow, he led her toward the door.


No one noticed them leaving. All eyes were on Sam Houston.


General Ross was out of surgery, and awake.


"And your own defense was most gallant as well, Lieutenant," he said pleasantly. Ross cocked his head on the pillow, studying Driscol. "I suspect we've met before. Have we?"


Driscol cleared his throat. "In a manner of speaking, sir. I was across the field at Corunna. And, ah..."


Ross chuckled drily. "Took part in the very vigorous pursuit afterward. You have the look of a relentless man."


Driscol must have looked uncomfortable. Ross chuckled again, very drily, glancing at his heavily bandaged shoulder. "I had a feeling that volley was targeted. You, I presume."


"Ah. Yes, sir." Before he'd ushered them in, the doctor had told Driscol that Ross would most likely survive. But he'd need to spend months recovering, and would never really be able to use that arm very well again.


And...


Patrick Driscol would do it again. In an instant.


Looking into Ross's eyes, he knew the man understood. So, a crack that one gentleman officer had started, and a gentleman politician widened, was widened still farther by a third. And this one a Sassenach general, to boot.


Driscol began to fear for his soul.


"I was surprised at the time by the professional quality of the Capitol's defense," Ross went on. "Not to detract anything from Captain Houston—a very estimable young man—but that wasn't his doing."


"Ah. No, sir."


Ross nodded. "Good. I feel much better. It's embarrassing to be repulsed so decisively by an inexperienced militia officer. Now, at least, I'll be able to say I was defeated by one of Napoleon's veterans. Even if he was a lieutenant."


"Ah. I'm not exactly a lieutenant, sir. That's a field rank, which still hasn't been confirmed by the War Department. Properly speaking, I'm still a sergeant."


"Better still!" Ross actually grinned. "One of the emperor's sergeants. A lot of trolls, everyone knows it. Fearsome brutes."


They both chuckled, then.


"Belfast, from the accent?"


"Not the town, sir. But, yes, County Antrim."


"I see." Ross was back to studying him. "I'm from County Down," he said abruptly. "Not far south of there."


Driscol didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.


Again, Ross seemed to understand. "But I went to Trinity College, and you did not."


"No, sir. My family was not Church of England."


"Yes. Mine was. And so I became an officer of the British army, and you became my foe. Such is the working of Providence."


They were very keen eyes, even in a man who must be throbbing with pain. Driscol had no difficulty, any longer, understanding Ross's reputation as a soldier's general. Had... Providence not ruled otherwise, he'd not have minded serving under him.


"I'm afraid I'm a bit tired, Lieutenant Driscol, Miss Rogers, so I'll have to ask you to excuse me." He smiled thinly. "Or I shall have that miser—ah, fine doctor—nattering at me again."


"Of course, sir." Driscol started to turn away, extending his arm to Tiana.


"One thing, though, Lieutenant. It seems important to tell you. We've met twice now, and—who knows?—may meet again. But we never met before Corunna."


Driscol cocked his head. "Sir?"


"What I mean, Lieutenant—Sergeant, rather, for this purpose—is that I was in Holland in 1798."


"Ah."


"You understand, had I been in Ireland, I would have obeyed orders. Whether I approved of them or not. But, as it happens, I was not there."


Driscol thought about it. And decided that was good enough.


"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, General Ross. Our best wishes for your recovery."


He probably said it too stiffly. But Tiana's smile made up the difference.


Tiana was silent, most of the way back to the Capitol. That was unusual, for she was not a quiet young woman by temperament. Driscol suspected she understood that he was lost in his own thoughts, and was accepting of the fact.


When she did finally speak, of course, she made up for it.


"I warn you, Patrick. If you keep saying 'ah' all the time, I'll start making fun of you."


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Framed