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Chapter 35

December 18, 1814
New Orleans

The next day, Jackson ordered a review of the troops in the Place d'Armes. It was more in the way of a public spectacle, really, held as it was in the city's central square, rather than on a training field. The purpose of the event was to bolster the morale of the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding area. Which...


Needed it badly.


Sam had concluded as much on his own, just in the short time since he'd arrived. New Orleans was a city with shaky loyalties and a multitude of social divisions. The white population was still primarily Creole, of French and Spanish extraction, many of whom spoke no English at all—and few of those who could did so by choice. They'd been U.S. citizens for only a few years, following the Louisiana Purchase, and no one was yet sure whether their new national identity would withstand the pressure of a British onslaught. Not even, Sam suspected, the Anglo American officials and new settlers who had recently come into the area.


But Jackson had driven over that problem the same way he drove over most problems. He'd simply ignored it, officially, while conducting himself with such energy and confidence that he boosted the spirits of everyone around him.


"Of course they'll fight the British," he said to Sam, as they prepared for the review. "Why shouldn't they? They're French, mostly—no love there for England—and the ones who are Spanish won't feel much different. Especially because they'll remember Badajoz."


The siege of Badajoz, during Wellington's campaign against the French in Spain, had happened less than three years earlier. After breaching the walls, the British troops had run amok and sacked the city, despite the fact that the population was mainly Spanish, and they were supposedly liberating the city from French occupation. Murder, rape, looting—the incident had become notorious, and had added to the reputation of British troops, which had been none too savory to begin with.


As much as anything, it was fear of a similar incident that inclined the citizenry of New Orleans to support Jackson, whatever they might think privately of being part of the United States. At least Jackson kept his troops under control. But continued support would depend entirely on the citizens' assessment of Jackson's ability to fight off the oncoming enemy.


Hence the review, which was somewhat silly, from a purely military standpoint.


At least, Sam thought it was silly. The big square looked more like the site of a festival—New Orleans had been celebrating Mardi Gras for over a century—than a stern military affair.


For Sam, the highlight of the march came when Major Ridge, John Ross, and about two hundred Cherokee warriors arrived that morning, just in time to join the festivities. And join them they did, with typical flair and panache.


Because of their late arrival, the Cherokees formed the tail end of the parade that passed before General Jackson's reviewing stand. And if their ranks had none of the precision of the Creole battalions, or even Jackson's own Tennessee militia, they made up for it with their warlike appearance. Except for Ross and Ridge, who wore U.S. Army uniforms and took their place with Jackson on the stand, the two hundred Cherokees who passed below were dressed and painted for battle.


Sam was particularly amused by the fearsome manner in which they brandished their spears and war clubs. He knew full well that the first thing Major Ridge was going to do was start negotiating for muskets and ammunition. Cherokee warriors might still use traditional weapons, but they were quick to adapt to new military methods.


Sam also was amused to observe that Major Ridge did not think the affair was silly. He didn't seem to think it was quite sane, but not silly. He was no stranger himself to the sometimes preposterous displays a chief staged in order to bolster the morale of his warriors.


So for the first hour, as the march proceeded past the reviewing stand, the Cherokee chief just stood there looking very solemn and dignified. But once that was done and Jackson had started his speech, he tilted his head over toward Sam, who was standing right next to him.


"How many muskets can we get?" he asked. To anyone but Sam, Ridge's half whisper was covered by the shrill sound of Jackson's voice, as he continued his peroration.


"—fellow citizens of every description—"


Sam restrained the urge to scratch. It was an unseasonably bright and sunny day in New Orleans, and the heat was making him sweat under the heavy dress uniform. But colonels, he suspected, weren't supposed to scratch in public.


"—country blessed with every gift of nature—for property, for life—"


"Don't know," he murmured in return. "There's a shortage of good firearms. Jackson's been screeching at just about everybody over the problem for weeks now, from what I heard. Promises come in from everywhere—but still precious few guns make it into town."


There might have been a trace of a smile on Ridge's lips. "You mean we're not the only ones who find that the white man's promises are usually empty?"


Sam made no attempt to suppress his own smile.


"Oh, not hardly. You know how it is—and don't try to tell me the same thing doesn't happen among your folk. Every chief makes his brag in the council—and then goes home and starts thinking about how he really needs to keep this and that for himself, instead of throwing it to the winds."


"—opulent and commercial town—"


Major Ridge grunted. "True. But I need at least fifty guns to start with. We can get the rest from the enemy, I think, now that I've seen the land we'll be fighting on."


"You didn't bring any guns?" Sam asked, already pretty sure he knew the answer.


There was no question that Major Ridge was smiling now, even if it was a thin sort of business. "Of course not. Needed to keep them for ourselves, back home. In case the Georgians showed up again."


Sam chuckled. "Has there ever been such a ragtag army in the history of the world?"


But Jackson didn't seem to share his doubts—not publicly, at least, on that square on that day. The general's shrill penetrating voice kept spouting sure and confident proclamations throughout Sam's little exchange with Ridge.


"—and for liberty, dearer than all!"


A goodly part of Jackson's speech, needless to say, dwelt on the despicable nature of the foe.


"—who vows a war of vengeance and desolation—"


Actually, the British had done no such thing. Indeed, they'd assured the citizens of their safety, and claimed simply to be defending international law from American thievery. They had a point, too, since Napoleon had promised the Spanish he wouldn't sell any of their land in the New World.


"—marked by cruelty, lust, and horrors unknown to civilized nations—"


Sam thought that was a nice touch. Absurd, true. Not even Driscol would claim that the Sassenach were worse than the ancient Greeks and Romans, who had thought nothing of sacking a city by way of a summer's pastime. But, Sam wasn't inclined to argue the matter. Demon-spawned or not, there was no doubt that if the British succeeded in taking New Orleans, they'd refuse to give it up again, regardless of the terms outlined in any subsequent peace treaty.


And with the outlet of the Mississippi under British control— formally Spanish, of course, but that meant nothing—they'd have their hands on the throat of all commerce to the western states of America.


The Federalists could prattle all they wanted about the glories of state-built roads and canals, but every settler and merchant west of the Appalachians knew that there was no genuine substitute for the Mississippi River.


Jackson was winding down his speech, showering the thousands of citizens who were assembled in the square with praise for their courage and strength. Another nice touch, Sam mused, given that the population of New Orleans was famous across the Western Hemisphere for many things. Decadence, lewdness, moral laxity—the list went on and on. "Courage and strength" were conspicuously absent from most accounts.


But skeptical men never led armies to victory, and Jackson could and would.


"—the prize of valor and the rewards of fame!"


Major Ridge grunted approvingly, after Sam had translated that final Jacksonian promise. "He'll forget it all by next year," the Cherokee chief murmured. "But most won't remember any of the promises, other than victory."


No skeptic there, either. But Major Ridge had also led men to victory, and would again.


Sam looked toward John Ross, who was standing not far away. "Have you come to any decision?" he asked Ridge.


The Cherokee chief shook his head. Anyone who didn't know him would have missed the gesture entirely. "No." He glanced at Ross himself. "Neither has he, really, although you've got him talking persuasively."


Sam was neither surprised nor discouraged. He hadn't expected Major Ridge—much less most of the Cherokee chiefs— to make their decision quickly. And he knew full well that Ross was still riddled with doubts concerning the proposal that had been sketched out in Washington between Sam, Driscol, Ross, and Monroe.


Nor could he blame Ridge, really. Easy enough for someone like the secretary of state to issue philosophical pronouncements regarding the course of a nation's destiny. Especially when it was someone else's nation. It was something else again for that nation to agree to give up its material land in the here-and-now, all for the sake of an abstract future.


True, the offer was more sweeping than any the United States had made before, to any Indian tribe. The Cherokees would be given somewhere over one hundred thousand square miles, an area larger than the territory they currently occupied. The exact boundaries would be determined in later negotiations. Furthermore, the United States would provide the Cherokees with the weapons and tools they needed to secure and develop that land, along with other material assistance to the amount of several million dollars. And Monroe had promised that the government would bear the financial burden of the relocation itself.


Promises, promises. Coming from a United States which had—being honest—a wretched track record for keeping its promises. And which, as this looming battle illustrated once again, had just as wretched a reputation for interpreting promises without much regard for the facts. After all—being honest— Napoleon hadn't had the right to sell Spain's Louisiana territory.


"We'll still keep it," Sam growled to himself. Because, right or wrong, millions of people whom Europe had despised would create a life for themselves on that land. And what was so great about Europe, anyway, riddled as it was with kings and noblemen? If the world's only republic swelled into power as much by swindling and theft as by glorious feats of arms, so be it. The same could be said for every dynasty of Europe, down to the tiniest German robber baron who'd been put back in power by the Congress of Versailles, after Napoleon's defeat.


Driscol didn't participate in the gala affair at the Place d'Armes that Sunday, because he was still recovering from a different sort of gala affair that had taken place the previous night.


More precisely, because his newly forming unit was still recovering. Driscol had the sort of iron constitution that would have allowed him to march even after a full night's carousing, but Charles Ball and his artillerymen didn't.


So they claimed, anyway. Driscol wasn't inclined to argue the point. First, because he'd already warned the general not to expect the new "Freedmen Iron Battalion" to be parading past the reviewing stand, not that Jackson had really cared.


"Just as well," the general had grunted. "I'd have to listen to more squawking from the plantation owners—and the free men of color would probably whine at me, too."


Secondly, because while Driscol could have marched that morning, he certainly didn't want to.


Patrick Driscol rarely drank liquor. But when he did, he tended to drink a lot.


"My head hurts," he complained to Ball after he woke the gunner up. That feat had been relatively simple. It had required no more than stumbling to his feet, taking three steps, and giving the artillery sergeant's shoulder a vigorous shake.


Driscol, with a lack of sensibility that would have shocked any proper citizen of the United States, had fallen asleep—become comatose, rather—on the floor of the same dilapidated house in the freedmen's quarter of the city as the chief noncommissioned officer of his unit. And done so, moreover, with no regard for other delicate aspects of the business.


True, the floor was covered with a carpet of sorts. But those same respectable citizens would have been aghast to note that it was Sergeant Ball, not Major Driscol, who occupied the only bed in the house. They would have been scandalized further by the fact that the sergeant's head was well cushioned on the bosom of a lady who, in addition to suffering from the shame of Ham's lineage, did not seem any too virtuous. Judging, at least, from her clothing, which was both flamboyant and—for the most part—flamboyantly absent.


Bad enough that Driscol would get drunk with darkies; worse yet, that in his drunkenness, he would fall asleep on a darkie's floor. Positively insane that he wasn't the one sleeping in the bed with the voluptuous darkie who owned the house.


Driscol essayed an erect posture. Giving that up as hopeless, he resumed his crouch and gave Ball's shoulder another shake.


Ball uttered some sort of incoherent protest.


"It's for your own good, Sergeant," Driscol insisted. "If you don't pry yourself loose from Marie, your leprosy will get worse."


Ball chuckled, but his eyes remained closed. The eyes of the lady in question, however, popped wide open.


"Who you calling a leper, Patrick Driscol?" she demanded. "You watch yourself, or I'll curse you. See if I don't!"


That was no idle threat, either. Though only in her twenties, Marie Laveau was already a well-known voudou queen in New Orleans's colored quarters. Everywhere in the city, in fact, because quite a few white people followed at least some of the voudou rituals. That was especially true of the women who employed Marie as their hairdresser.


Driscol probably didn't believe in voudou. On the other hand, it was a faith he knew little about, and he saw no reason to take unnecessary chances. Besides, whether she could hex him or not, he'd seen enough of Mademoiselle Laveau to realize that smiting a man with a blunt instrument was well within her capabilities. His lily-white skin be damned. This was the black side of Ramparts Street, not a plantation in Georgia.


"It's not my opinion," Driscol added hastily. "I'm just passing on the advice of a famous doctor."


"Doctors!" Marie pried Ball loose and sat up in the bed, seemingly oblivious to her half-bare chest—quite an impressive chest, too—and Driscol's presence.


"Doctors!" she repeated. "The priests ought to ban the lot of them, seein' as how suicide is a sin."


Driscol smiled at her. "You'll get no argument from me."


After a moment, Laveau returned the smile. Then she gave Ball's shoulder a shake that was a lot more vigorous than either of Driscol's. "Get up, Charles! Before the major has you shot for insubordination."


" 'E wouldn't do that," mumbled Ball, struggling to rise. "Not a fellow sergeant! 'Sides, I'm a friend of his."


Which...


Was true enough. Driscol didn't make friends easily. But when he did, it was usually with another sergeant—and, in the months since the battle at the Capitol, he and Charles Ball had become quite close, as these things went.


So much for established wisdom. That commodity, never valued too highly by Driscol, had suffered still a further decline over the past period. Weeks—no, months now—in close proximity with Indians and Negroes had demonstrated to Driscol that the official certitudes of white American society were as shaky as a badly made roof.


As was always the case, those certitudes and their results were written down by literate men of the upper classes. Granted, taken as a whole, the certitudes described social affairs well enough. But social affairs are never taken as a whole. The very notion was an abstraction. In the real world, in the literary shadows where people of the lower classes met and mingled, the truth could be quite different.


* * *

Not everyone saw it the way he did, of course. Often enough, not even members of the lower classes were involved. That had been made pretty clear the previous evening.


"Oh, that's just silly!" Marie Laveau had snorted at one point in the drunken conversation that had taken place around her kitchen table. "Patrick Driscol, every lynch mob I ever seen or heard about was mostly made up of the poorest white trash around. You won't see hardly any rich men around."


"Sure," Driscol replied. "So what?"


He took the time, politely, to pour Charles Ball another drink. That took quite a bit of time, because by now his hand was very far from steady.


"Same was true in Ireland. The Sassenach could always get plenty of dirt-poor Irishmen to do their dirty work for them. But they were the ones who called the tune, not the slobs—and they could have stopped it in a minute if they'd wanted to."


" 'E's right," Charles burped. "You know it well's I do, Marie. Mos' o' the time, anyhow. There's a lynching, there's rich men gave the signal for it. And they sure always the ones see to it nobody gets punished afterward."


Marie glared at him. "Since when do you start spoutin' this crazy Scots-Irishman's radical notions?"


"You only known me a short while, girl," Charles protested.


Marie's glare never wavered. After a bit, Charles grinned and shrugged. "Didn' say I did. But 'e's right about that. And I'll tell you what else."


Ball clapped a friendly hand on Driscol's shoulder, spilling some of the liquor from Driscol's glass onto his lap. But nobody noticed. It wasn't as if those were the first liquor stains on the now-bedraggled uniform.


"This here fine Irishman ain't the first white friend I've ever had. Been several of them, before, in the navy. Still got some, in fact—three o' our new unit is white, just 'cause they more comfortable with us than they was with the others. And you know what, girl? Not a one of those white-boy friends of mine had any bigger pot to piss in than I did."


"Aye!" Driscol exclaimed, gesturing dramatically with his glass. The liquor stains on his trousers expanded. "That's the point, Marie. I didn't say poor people were virtuous. I've known far too many of them to think any such foolishness. All I'm saying is that they can be—because the money isn't standing in the way."


He pointed to her hand. "Look there, woman. If that skin is 'black,' I'll eat this fancy officer's hat."


"High yeller, we call it," Ball said. He did his best to keep a smug tone out of his voice. His best was... not very good.


Marie's lips twisted. "There's a lot more white in me than black, is the truth of it. Not that it matters any."


"Aye, and that's the point, also. It didn't matter to somebody else, either, or you wouldn' be here at all."


"You livin' in the clouds! Maybe it didn't matter when the blood was running hot, but it sure mattered afterward. Not a one of those white forefathers of mine ever married one of those black foremothers." She hesitated a moment, taking a drink from her own glass. "Well. All right. I know that one of them wanted to, and lived as if he did. But the law didn't allow for it."


"Aye. And who passed the law? Poor men, or rich men?"


Driscol rose from the chair. He needed to use his remaining arm to brace himself, and still had trouble. He was very, very drunk, he realized. Drunker than he'd been in years.


"Feels good," he muttered, thinking not of the drunkenness but the reason for it. It was nice to have lots of friends again. That had been missing, since Ireland, except for a few stretches in the emperor's army.


"I'll be to bed now, so's to leave the two of you to yourselves. You don't mind, I'll just use a part of your floor."


Marie nodded. There was a certain air of satisfaction about the gesture, as if she'd just scored a point in the debate.


"You best do so! You try makin' it back to your officer's quarters, in your condition and this late at night, you won't get there. Not in this part of New Orleans. Not without being robbed, for sure, and maybe havin' your throat cut. And it won't be no evil rich white man do it, neither. Be one of those virtuous poor niggers you blathering about."


Driscol grinned at her. "Did I ever say I thought being stepped on made a man a saint? Not hardly!"


He drained his glass and set it down carefully on the table. "Leave it at this, Marie. I just feel more comfortable—always did—in the midst of outcasts. Lot more than I ever do with the so-called proper classes, that's for sure. Maybe that's my ideals at work. Maybe it's just my contrary nature. Whichever, it's the way it is."


She looked up at him, coolly and consideringly. Marie had drunk a lot less than he or Ball.


"Good enough for me. Help yourself to the floor, Patrick Driscol. I recommend somewhere there's a carpet. Thin as it'll be, it'll be better than nothing. And there'll be some breakfast for you in the morning."


Ball managed to sit fully erect. "Lordie," he muttered. "Marie, what poison you give us last night?"


Marie was on her feet now, wrapping herself in a robe and heading for the kitchen area of the apartment. "Poison! I told you Criollo Jim's so-called whiskey was rotgut. Maroons make it, out in the bayous. What you expect?"


Maroons were runaway slaves who lived in the semi-impenetrable waterways and cypress swamps west of the city. There were entire little towns of them out there, according to the stories Driscol had heard.


He was inclined to believe the tales, being a veteran of Napoleon's Spanish campaign. Periodically, the authorities made sweeps through the bayous, but it was always hard to catch the maroons. If they were pressured too much, they'd simply drift further west, finding shelter among the scattered fragments of Indian tribes. In the meantime, they maintained a lively traffic with the large slave and freedmen population of the city.


The black city dwellers provided the maroons with needed tools and other manufactured goods; in exchange, they got the products of the swamp—moonshine always being a popular item—as well as, for the slaves, a potential escape route, should they ever need it. Most slaves were inclined to remain in bondage, though, since—in practice—most New Orleans masters were smart enough not to make that bondage too oppressive. But there were always some stupid or vicious masters whose slaves would eventually decide that the bayous were preferable.


There were some white people out there, too, or their mixed-blood descendants. Like any great seaport, New Orleans had a constant trickle of crewmen who jumped ship, as well as indentured servants brought over from Europe. For such white men and women, the cypress swamps were often their best refuge, as well. One of the stories Driscol had heard the night before had amused him simply because of its rampant race-mixing—what proper American citizens called "amalgamation." It seemed that, in the previous century, fifteen people had been accused of plotting to run away together to the Choctaw lands. Among the accused had been a teenage Indian slave, a teenage African slave, a French sergeant, a Swiss soldier, and a twenty-sevenyear old French woman sent to Louisiana against her will in a forced marriage.


Amalgamation, indeed—and a lot more of it happened than polite society recognized and its antiquarians recorded. The history of families, formal and informal, whose members were semiliterate at best and thus beyond the pale of Official History as practiced by the world's respectable scholars.


Marie started cooking up... something. Driscol wasn't inclined to inquire as to the details. Food was food, and he needed it.


"So when you goin' to propose to that Indian girl of yours, Patrick?" her voice carried clearly from the kitchen. "I'm warning you, she must be crazy. First, to come all the way here. Second—really crazy—looking for the likes of you."


"Does everybody in the world know about my private affairs?" Driscol grumbled. He shot Charles Ball a very unfriendly look.


The gunnery sergeant raised protesting hands. "I didn' say nothing last night! 'Sides, you were there. In all that commotion in the Place des Nègres, who could have heard me anyway?"


There was just enough truth to that claim for Ball's protest to fall into the range of the Scottish jury verdict. Not proven. The Place des Nègres, on New Orleans's northern outskirts, had been established for a century as the locale where the city's black population—free or slave, either way or both—could create its own market. At night, the place also served as an informal outdoor ballroom. The beat of the bamboulas and the wail of the banzas were enough to drown out most anything, even leaving aside the congeries of dancers.


"You talked well enough in that same ruckus to wheedle your way into Mademoiselle Laveau's good graces," Driscol pointed out darkly.


Hungover or not, Ball shifted his defense with all the grace of a mountain goat leaping the rocks on a hillside. " 'Xactly so! How could I have been preaching on your private business when I was sweet-talking a voudou queen?"


The look he gave Driscol combined reproach and the injured innocence of a cherub. How Ball managed that, with his rugged sailor's face, was a mystery to Driscol. "You think that's so easy, Major Patrick, you try it sometime."


He spoke loudly enough for Marie to hear him in the kitchen. "Sweet-talking is right!" her voice rang out. The tone was half angry, half amused. "I can't believe I let a black curree like you sample my golden charms."


"Did more'n sample 'em," Charles said smugly—but, this time, too softly to be overheard by her. The quadroon in the kitchen was a fearsome woman in her own right, and now she was armed with kitchen implements, to boot.


Before he could continue, there was a knocking at the door.


"Answer that!" Marie hollered. "Tell whoever it is I don't have enough for his breakfast, too." Something in a skillet made a sizzling sound that was way too loud for any respectable foodstuff Driscol was familiar with. But, again, he didn't inquire, simply went to the door and opened it.


Outside, standing on the open-air stairs that led up to Marie's second-floor apartment, was Henry Crowell.


Grinning. Below him, the street seemed to be jampacked with young black men. Most of them dark-skinned, but with a sprinkling of that "high-yeller" color that usually denoted a black Creole in New Orleans.


"Oh, no," Driscol croaked.


"Good morning to you, master and commander!" Crowell boomed. "The Freedmen Iron Battalion is present and accounted for, sir!"


"We are not marching in any parade today," Driscol croaked.


"Course not, sir! These are fighting men. They're here today to begin their training."


Crowell's grin was wide enough to scare a shark.


Charles Ball staggered over to stand next to Driscol, and gaze dumbfounded at the mob below.


"Where they come from?" he groaned.


"You recruited them last night, Sergeant! You and the major!"


Driscol had a vague memory of some speech making at the Place des Nègres. The memory was so vague he'd passed it off as drunken fantasy.


"I did what?" protested Ball. He waved a feeble hand toward the kitchen. "Couldna. I was busy sweet-talking a voudou queen."


"Yes, sir! Your valor impressed the men deeply, sir!"


"Will you stop shouting, Henry?" Driscol's croak was beginning to resemble a respectable growl. "Listen, just keep them there. We'll be down in a minute. Or ten."


"Sir!" Crowell ripped off a salute that came from no army known to Driscol. Perhaps the teamster had learned it in another life, if the Hindoos had it right. The Fantastical Moola Scimitars of the High Panjandrum of Somewherestan. Who could say?


Driscol closed the door and gave Ball another glare.


"So. Speech making, when you were supposed to be sweet-talking a voudou queen. Who knows what else you were babbling about last night?"


Marie came out of the kitchen bearing plates full of... something. Driscol decided he could eat without looking, even with only one hand.


"You didn't answer my question, Patrick," she scolded. "When you goin' propose to that Indian girl of yours? She's waiting for you at the Trémoulet House. Her daddy must be rich, putting up there. Most expensive hotel in New Orleans. Didn't know any Indians were rich."


"Her father's not an Indian," Driscol grumbled. "Captain John Rogers is a thieving, swindling, conniving Scotsman—and a blackguard to boot. He got the rank of captain fighting for the Tories in the Revolution."


"Oh." She set the plates down on the table. Now that he had a better view of the contents, Driscol really didn't want to look. If that was meat, it had way too many legs for a proper Scots-Irishman.


"She's got one of you Scots-Irish for a daddy and wants to marry another? Somebody put a grigri on that poor girl. You send her to me and I'll lift the curse."


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