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Chapter 32

October 1, 1814
Washington, D.C.

"You'd best come get him, Lieutenant," said Henry Crowell, his tone full of concern. "Or he'll land in some trouble. Again."


The teamster glanced at the new insignia on Driscol's uniform. "Sorry. Major, I should have said."


Driscol smiled thinly. "Don't apologize. I forget the new rank myself. And it's all ridiculous. I'm a sergeant, blast it. Never intended to be anything else."


He levered himself up from the padded chair, and placed the book he'd been reading onto the small table that stood next to it. Thomas Paine's Common Sense, that was. Driscol wasn't quite sure why he was reading it again, since by now he practically had the book memorized. Probably just to fortify his soul, given the situation he'd be finding himself in, once he got to New Orleans.


He paused, and studied Henry for a moment. The big teamster was carrying himself differently these days. He seemed taller, and broader, as if he was finally coming to accept his own size. He still retained much of the self-effacing diffidence of a freedman, of course. It would be dangerous to do otherwise. Even in New York or Boston.


Still, his bearing was subtly different. More self-confident. Even, at times, almost swaggering.


And well it should be, Driscol thought. Leaving aside the public acclaim Henry had received due to his role in the defense of the Capitol—the National Intelligencer had even devoted two paragraphs of an article to his deeds—what was more important was that Henry was on the verge of becoming one of the very few prosperous black men in America.


"So how drunk is he?"


"Falling-down drunk, Major. Me and Charles would have just carried him out of the saloon, but..."


Driscol nodded. "Yes, I understand. He would have raised a ruckus."


"Oh, he's not a mean drunk, sir. Not at all. It's just... well..."


Again, his voice trailed off; and, again, Driscol nodded. He didn't think there was a mean bone anywhere in Sam Houston's body. The problem was that, in drunken bonhomie, Sam would have simply insisted that Crowell and Ball join him for a friendly drink. Or ten.


In a saloon, where the only other black people were servants; where all the customers were prosperous white men, half of them politicians; and in a capital city that was every bit as southern in its attitudes as Richmond or Charleston.


Driscol couldn't help but grin a little. "Would've been a fight."


"Yup." Henry's grin was a more rueful thing. "Sam Houston challenging some rich congressman to a duel. 'Cept it wouldn't have been no formal duel. He'd a just started swinging."


"True."


If Sam didn't have any mean bones in his body, he didn't have any bashful ones either. The only reason Houston might be able to avoid fighting a duel sometime in his life—leaving aside his habits with a bottle—would be his sense of humor and his lack of touchiness about matters of "honor." It certainly wouldn't be because he was afraid to fight. On two recent occasions now, that Driscol knew about, Sam had cheerfully joined into a tavern brawl.


Fortunately, those had been brawls in lower-class saloons. The sort of places where getting a bloody nose with a drink was more or less taken for granted, and nobody would even think of meeting at dawn with pistols. Following one of those brawls, the man Houston had flattened had bought him a drink afterward, and bragged for days that he was a drinking companion of the Hero of the Capitol. Of course, the fact that Sam had bought the next three drinks hadn't hurt any.


The saloon he was getting drunk in today was different. It was one of the taverns that catered to Washington's elite, and its clientele was predominantly southern politicians and their hangers-on. Plantation owners, almost to a man.


Now that Driscol had gained some experience with the breed, during the few weeks he'd been in Washington, he had developed a mental list—a very, very long list—of reasons he detested wealthy southern slave owners. A concrete and specific list, not the general condemnation he had leveled onto the breed in times past from abstract considerations.


Somewhere near the top of the list—probably third, he thought, after their brutality toward their male slaves and their lies and hypocrisy on the subject of how they dealt with female slaves—was their endless posturing and braggadocio concerning their "honor." As if the term could be applied to armed robbers and rapists in the first place.


He ascribed it to idleness. They did not toil. Their Negroes toiled for them. In their fields, by day; in their beds, by night. So they were able to spend their time giving longwinded speeches on the glories of republicanism and issuing challenges to each other over the pettiest slights imaginable.


They were, he had concluded, a breed of men so foul that they had to elevate "honor" to absurdly mystical proportions. Or they couldn't have looked at themselves in a mirror at all.


Houston possessed none of their faults. Unfortunately, he thought they were very good fellows, and liked to drink and carouse with them.


And he could not handle his liquor.


"Bah," Driscol snarled. "Animals, the lot of them."


He was looking forward to leaving Washington. Sam would sober up—hopefully—and Driscol would no longer have to rub shoulders with men he despised. Frontiersmen had their faults, true enough. They were frequently illiterate, had many crude habits, and they owned slaves themselves, many of them. But Driscol had come to realize from talking with Houston and Tiana and her brothers that slavery on the frontier tended to have a different flavor than it did in the settled society of the eastern seaboard.


He was still utterly opposed to the institution, under any circumstances. But he had begun to understand that in the West it was more akin to the sort of traditional thralldom that his own Celtic and Norse ancestors had practiced than it was to the cold-blooded profiteering of large plantation owners. Especially among the Indian tribes, who generally didn't share the white man's obsession with race.


"They're not all so bad as that, sir," Henry said quietly. "I think well of Mr. Monroe. Don't know a single black man who doesn't. And I never heard of any black woman raising one of his bastards."


It was all Driscol could do not to glare at him. The man from County Antrim liked things simple. The fact that there were men like Monroe, who were exceptions to the rule—nor was he the only one, not by any means—didn't sway him at all.


Damn all exceptions to the rule. Ought to hang them first, because they provide the others with a mask.


Then he took a deep breath of air, and his mood lightened. It had been doing that more often, lately, much to his surprise. Tiana ascribed that to her good influence on him.


So did Driscol.


"Let's go get him," he said, a hint of amusement creeping into his voice. "Lead the way, Henry."


He took the time, before leaving the hotel room that served him as official living quarters, to plant his new major's hat on his head and buckle on his sword. It wouldn't do to march into that fancy saloon without all the paraphernalia of his rank.


"Not that it'll do much good," he grumbled on the way out. "Never met a rich slave owner yet who wasn't a colonel of some sort."


They'd reached the street, where Charles Ball was waiting for them. The gunner heard his last remark and grinned.


"'Tain't true, sir. There's supposed to be a big plantation owner somewhere down in the Carolinas who's only a captain. Course, it's just a wild rumor."


More seriously, he added: "Those are militia ranks, Major. They hand them out like candy to kids. In the North just as much as the South. Your rank is a real one—and they wasn't at the Chippewa and the Capitol."


That was true enough. As he walked up the street toward Pennsylvania Avenue, Driscol noticed more than one person stopping briefly to stare at him.


He was becoming used to it, more or less. His own role in the Capitol's defense was well-known, by now, even if he'd never attained the sheer celebrity of the glamorous Houston.


That had become especially true after the Intelligencer had published a long article that amounted to an interview with Robert Ross. Without taking anything away from Houston's role, the British general had made it quite clear that he thought the assault itself had been turned back because of Driscol's professional skill and leadership.


Sensing that some sort of rancorous personal dispute might be in the offing, the Intelligencer had immediately raced to Houston to see what he thought about the matter.


At that point, whatever hopes Driscol might have entertained for remaining reasonably anonymous had gone sailing out the window. Houston had not only expressed his full agreement with General Ross's assessment, but had added to it in his own inimitable style.


Sam Houston had a way with words. So now, whether he liked it or not, Patrick Driscol was labeled with the public cognomen of America's one-armed Odysseus.


"Bah," he snarled again, speaking to no one in particular. "I'm a sergeant."


From the window of her own hotel room, Tiana Rogers stared down over the city below. Like almost all of the U.S. capital beyond the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the president's mansion, the city looked like a small boy wearing adult clothing. A "capital city" whose grandiose plans laid down by a French architect were still mostly a fantasy. The city's population still wasn't more than ten thousand, of whom a fourth were black slaves or freedmen. Just beyond the outskirts of the city, in most directions, lay what amounted to wilderness.


Still, it was the biggest town Tiana herself had ever seen. Much bigger than Knoxville, which was the only other major American town she'd visited. That had impressed her, at first. But now, after weeks in Washington, she'd come to the conclusion that the main difference between a city and a village was simply that dirt accumulated in a city three times as fast as it did anywhere else. Now that she'd experienced the joys of city living, the "rough frontier" seemed as clean as fresh creek water from melting snows.


Washington was always dirty. No, filthy. Muddy after a rain, dusty after two days of sunshine. And, in these summer and early autumn months, sweltering and fetid whether it rained or shined.


She'd be glad to leave. Would have left long ago, in fact— forcing her brothers to take her away, if she had to—except for


Driscol.


"Well?" James asked, from behind her.


"Don't hurry me. I'm still thinking about it."


That was a lie, actually, at least insofar as her own sentiments were concerned. What was really happening was that Patrick was still mulling over the matter, and Tiana was willing to wait for him to finish doing so.


James saw through it at once. "That's silly. You're even claiming he's not ugly these days."


"He's not ugly."


"Giddy as an American girl!" her other brother laughed.


"I'm not giddy."


She turned and glared at them. James and John were both sitting cross-legged on the floor, disdaining the plush armchairs in the fancy hotel room. They claimed the floor was more comfortable, except the carpet was too soft.


And that was a lie, too. At home, on John Jolly's island, they were just as prone to luxuriate in whatever American furniture could be obtained as any sensible Cherokee would. Her brothers' ridiculously exaggerated attachment to "traditional customs" since they'd arrived in Washington was just James and John's way of shielding themselves against the same uncertainties that plagued Tiana herself.


Mixed blood, mixed ways, mixed customs—everything mixed. It was hard to know what to do.


"I never thought he was ugly," she said softly, almost sadly. "I really didn't. Not once."


That much was true. Her brothers wouldn't understand, because they were men. A man's definition of "handsome" just wasn't the same as a woman's.


Not that even Tiana had ever thought Patrick Driscol was handsome. But the blocky, craggy features that men described, as if he were some sort of monster, just seemed very masculine to Tiana. They had, even from the beginning.


They did so all the more now, as she'd spent more and more time in his company. She'd come to understand that the grim bleakness of that face was more a thing of his soul than of his flesh. As if all the scar tissue in his heart had been transplanted onto his features. Patrick Driscol's way of shielding himself. No different, really, than James and John's insistence on squatting on a floor, and walking about the streets of Washington in full and traditional Cherokee regalia.


"It's not that," she said, still speaking softly. "It's that he's not Cherokee. And never will be."


John cocked his head. "Do you care? I know you don't want to spend any more time in American schools. But do you really care if you wind up living in an American town, instead of one of our villages?"


"I wouldn't like it much."


"Who would?" chuckled James. "From what I can see, they measure 'civilization' by how much tobacco they spit. Still and all, do you really care?"


She shook her head. "It's not whether I'd care. It's whether he wouldn't."


They didn't understand. She couldn't blame them, really, since she was only groping at it herself.


She'd try it a different way.


"How long do we stay married?"


James and John looked at each other.


"Until the women throw us out," said James.


"Unreasonable creatures," John added.


Tiana smiled. Very sweetly. "And how long do they stay married?"


James winced. John shuddered a bit.


"That's the point, brothers of mine. And don't think that Patrick Driscol isn't a white man, just because he hates a lot of what white people do."


She turned back to the window. "I wouldn't mind, I don't think. But I don't know if he'd feel safe enough. Happy enough. I don't think he knows, either."


There was silence, for a moment. Then James asked: "And do you care?"


"Yes. I do."


She felt, again, the shivery sensation that started somewhere in her feet and ended up in her loins. That was a new thing, too. One of the other ways, she now realized, that there was a big difference between being thirteen and being sixteen years old.


She'd been insisting for a year now that she was no longer a girl. Well. That, at least, wasn't a lie.


She looked down at the street. It hadn't gotten any cleaner, or less ugly, in the minutes that had gone by.


So be it.


She'd wait. She wanted Patrick Driscol.


Henry and Charles waited in the street while Driscol marched into the saloon.


Three minutes later, he came back out, with Houston draped over his shoulder. He was staggering a little.


"I'll carry him," said Henry.


"Damn right you will," Driscol muttered. "You're the only one big enough and strong enough."


He passed Houston over. "Lord, he's heavy. If he starts getting fat, he'll be as great as an ox."


Henry handled it easily, though. Now that Driscol had been around the teamster long enough to see past the somewhat shy exterior, he'd come to realize that Henry might well be the strongest man he'd ever met.


Few other men of Driscol's acquaintance, certainly, could have carried on a conversation while toting such a great burden on his shoulder.


"Got two other boys signed up, Major," Henry said cheerfully. "That'll do it."


"Good ones?"


"Oh, sure. Isaac and Rufus Young. They're first cousins, not brothers. I've known 'em for years. Both good drivers, and both of them steady men."


Driscol glanced at Houston. His head was hanging down near Henry's hip, and he was drooling a little.


Better to ignore that. Driscol had known plenty of drunks in his life. Precious few of them had had any of Houston's other qualities.


If Driscol hadn't already respected the young colonel, he would have done so after watching the battle he put up for the logistics of the new unit he'd be leading to New Orleans.


Henry Crowell was there when nobody else was—so he gets the contract.


And I'll raise Jesse in the press—no, in Congress!—if anybody foists some chiseling nephew on me!


An empty threat, in some ways. Driscol had no doubt at all that the capital's newspaper editors—not to mention most of its senators and congressmen—were no more taken by the idea than the horde of angry businessmen who'd been bypassed for the plum contract. All the more so, because most of those were, indeed, some editor or politician's nephew.


Or cousin, or brother, or uncle—the nepotism of Washington was notorious.


But Houston was still the Hero of the Day, after all. And, in what had probably been an even more decisive development, James Monroe was now the secretary of war, and he'd given Houston his quiet but firm support behind the scenes.


In the end, Driscol was fairly certain, the decisive argument in the private conversations of the city's elite had been that anything that lessened Washington's large population of freedmen was a blessing. So let that too-big-for-his-britches Henry Crow-ell and his gang of black teamsters take the contract. It'd get them out of the city, if nothing else.


Freedmen were always a thorn in the side of slave society. Neither fish nor fowl. On the one hand, always a quiet reminder to gentility that its vaunted republic rested on a dark and shaky foundation; on the other—worse still—always a temptation to the slave. More often than not, the first step of a runaway slave was to vanish into the anonymity of the little-known freedmen societies of the nation's larger towns and cities.


Let them go to New Orleans. That depraved city had the largest freedmen community in North America, given the slackness of its French and Spanish inhabitants. Hopefully, they'd all choose to stay there, after the war was over.


They probably would, too. Driscol knew that was Henry Crowell's plan. Still shy of thirty he might be, built like Hercules to boot, and half literate at best. But Crowell was proving to be quite the shrewd businessman. He and the freedmen partners he'd organized to handle this very lucrative government contract stood to come out at the end with a very solid stake. And New Orleans was the one city in the United States where a free black man could set himself up in business with relatively little in the way of obstruction.


Some, of course. Even New Orleans expected a white man to be the visible face of the business. But for decades the city had institutionalized ways to deal with that, Henry had learned. There were supposed to be any number of white lawyers in New Orleans willing to place their name on a partnership— some without even charging exorbitant fees—so the black men who really ran the business could do so unmolested.


Driscol's eyes turned to Charles Ball, who was striding alongside and looking very cheerful. All of the black sailors in Barney's unit had volunteered for Houston's expedition. They were all veterans, so Driscol doubted very much if that was because they were eager to join another battle. They, too, probably planned to stay in New Orleans after the war was over. Why not? They'd most likely be demobilized anyway, and in New Orleans they wouldn't face the same difficulties they would elsewhere. Fewer difficulties, at least.


"Looking forward to New Orleans?" he asked.


Charles grinned, as he so easily and often did. "Yes, I am, Major. Best city in the world, people say. Sure as creation for a Negro. Think I'll stay there, after the war, like Henry's planning to."


Houston came back to consciousness after Henry lowered him onto the bed in his room. He was staying in the same hotel Driscol was quartered in.


He peered blearily up at Crowell and said, "Thanks, Henry."


Then, more blearily still—almost teary-eyed, in fact—he gazed accusingly at Driscol.


"You stole my girl."


"You didn't want her," Driscol rasped. "I asked."


"Wasn't fair. I didn't have any choice."


"Yes, you did. And you made it. So don't whine."


Houston started crying. There wasn't any real emotion to it, though, just the easy tears of a man in a drunken stupor. Driscol knew that Sam was a bit jealous concerning the situation between himself and Tiana. He also knew that the jealousy didn't run very deep, and that Houston would get over it, easily enough.


Within a minute, in fact, Houston was unconscious again.


Driscol sighed. "Whom the gods would destroy . . ." he murmured.


He'd wondered, in times past—a bit jealous himself—if there was anything about Sam Houston that was flawed. In so many ways, the youngster seemed like someone out of Greek legend.


Well, now he knew. And wished he didn't.


"You've got the Irish curse, lad," he said sadly.


Henry, always quick to be charitable, shook his head. "Lots of people drink too much, Major."


That was true enough, of course. Foreign travelers to America were always a bit stunned at the level of alcohol consumption throughout the new republic. People—men, especially, but a fair number of women, too—drank whiskey as if it were water.


But Driscol knew drunkenness backward and forward, and he knew he was looking at the curse.


So did Charles Ball. His personality was a lot more acerbic than Henry's. "Don't fool yourself, Henry. By the time he's forty, Sam Houston will either have quit drinking, or he'll be lying in the gutter. Or just be dead. The major's got it right. It's the Irish curse."


Henry was stubborn, though, in his quiet way. "Lots of black folks drink too much, too, Charles."


The gunner snorted. "Sure. That's 'cause most of us are part Irish. My grandfather was a white plantation owner, name of O'Connell. Course, he never fessed up to it. But he freed my grandmother, in his will, which is how I got to be born free."


"How good of him," Driscol growled. "I notice he didn't free her until after he died."


"Course not. If he a freed her sooner, his bed woulda been cold at night. His wife had died years earlier." Charles shook his head admiringly. "She was a powerful good-lookin' woman. Chirk and lively, too. Still was, even when I knew her."


"I can't wait to get out of this stinking city." Driscol was now almost literally growling. "A nest of snakes, it is."


Despite his color, Ball didn't share much of Driscol's animosity toward the world's injustices. He was frighteningly good-humored about it, in fact.


"We better get out fast, too," the gunner said, grinning. He pointed down at Houston. "Before our handsome and dashing young colonel figures out that if he stops crawling into the taverns with the boys, he can be crawling into the beds of half the girls in town."


Driscol rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "I did not need to hear that, Charles."


"Hey, Major, you know it's true. They falling all over him, every chance they get. Sam Houston's the prize bachelor, right now. You think those prim and proper matrons ain't figured out the oldest way known to man to get a fella to the altar? You think their prim and proper daughters won't be willing? Enough of 'em, anyway."


Driscol was still staring at the ceiling. The paint was peeling in one of the corners. In case he needed a reminder that appearances are usually a veneer. Especially in Washington, D.C.


"I did not need to hear that."


"Look on the bright side. Couple of months, we'll be in New Orleans. Most sinful city in the New World. They'll love Sam Houston."


"I did not need to hear that."


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