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Rivers of War: Snippet Five

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2005 09:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 5:

    Finally, Sam couldn’t keep the question from bursting out.

    “He was faking it?”

    As they walked away from Jackson’s tent, General Coffee cast the young ensign a sidelong stare.

    “I have known Andy Jackson for ten years, both as a friend and a business partner. I married his wife’s niece, and I fought a duel with Dickinson’s friend McNairy two months before Andy killed Dickinson. I know him as well as anyone does. Andy Jackson doesn’t fake anything.

    “It’s just . . .” Coffee looked away, as if gathering his thoughts. “It’s a little hard to explain. Let’s just say that the general is a lot smarter than most people think he is.”

    Something in Sam’s face must have made it clear that he wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. Coffee issued a little chuckle.

    “All right, then let me put it this way. With Andy Jackson, you just never know. He does, in fact, have a temper that can shake buildings. And he can be as cold-blooded and ruthless as anyone you’ll ever meet. You heard about the time a company of militiamen tried to march back to Tennessee—it happened last November—because their term of enlistment was up? Andy rode out on his horse, planted himself square in front of them, and leveled his rifle at them. Said he’d shoot the first man who took another step.”

    Sam nodded. By now, the story was famous—notorious, more like—all over the frontier. He’d even heard that it was stirring up a ruckus in Washington, D.C.

    “And there’s the time Hall told Jackson his brigade was planning to desert—this happened at Fort Deposit, a month later. The story goes that Jackson had two cannons trained on them. Then mounted his horse and swore that he’d have them fired on, despite the fact that he and his horse were right there in the line of fire. You heard that one, too, I’d wager.”

    Sam nodded.

    “Well, both stories are absolutely true. In every detail. I was an eyewitness to the first one myself. And I can tell you there wasn’t a single one of those militiamen who doubted for a minute that Andy would pull the trigger. They don’t call him ‘Old Hickory’ for nothing.”

    The two men walked on in silence for a moment, negotiating their way around a group of soldiers who were squatting at a campfire. After they were past, they found themselves picking their way a little more slowly, now that the sun had set. Coffee spoke again.

    “You just never know, that’s the point. And that’s the way Andy likes it. Did they tell you when you were a kid that bullies are always cowards?”

    Sam laughed softly. “Yeah, but I didn’t believe it, even then.”

“Smart lad. It’s pure horseshit—and Andy Jackson is the living proof of it. He’s a ferocious bully, and he’s a sneaky conniving bastard who won’t hesitate for a second to trade on that reputation. But he doesn’t have a cowardly bone in his body. Even his fingernails have guts.”

    Coffee stopped then and turned to face Sam straight on. The general was as big as Houston, so their eyes were on a level. There was still enough light shed by the sundown to enable Sam to make out his features. Coffee’s round face was surmounted by a mass of black hair and centered on a prominent nose. He had very dark eyes. Despite the natural solemnity of the face, Sam thought he detected a trace of a smile playing across the general’s lips.

    “And I’ll tell you what else is true, young man. The British probably will beat Napoleon. And if they do, they’ll send their crack units here—Welling-ton’s veterans—to crush the only republic left on the face of the earth.”

    Sam thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. The Swiss were a republic, and they were likely to survive the fall of Napoleon. However . . .

    He wasn’t inclined to argue the point, since he understood what Coffee was saying. The Swiss had been around for centuries, and they weren’t any sort of threat to the aristocracies that ruled Europe. The United States, on the other hand, really stuck in their craw.

    “If they can get away with it,” Coffee continued, “don’t think for a moment that the British wouldn’t love to throw our little revolution here into the waste heap. If they can land and seize control of the gulf, along with the mouth of the Mississippi, they’ll have us by the throat.”

    He stopped talking for a moment, and cocked his head questioningly.

    Sam nodded in agreement, and firmly. He’d already come to the same conclusions.

    “Okay, then.” Coffee turned and resumed walking. “So here’s what else is true. Just be damn glad that conniving, way-smarter-than-he-looks, bullying son-of-a-bitch Andy Jackson is in command. We’ll need him, before this is over.”


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