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Rivers of War: Snippet Fifty Four

       Last updated: Sunday, April 17, 2005 11:55 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 54:

    CHAPTER 23

    Since John Ross had no idea what he should be doing, he simply attached himself to Sam Houston. He trotted along with him as the young maybe-captain charged back and forth from the House to the Senate to the artillery battery emplaced between the two and gave speech after speech.

    Houston was a superb speechifyer, too. Even a Cherokee like Ross, accustomed to the eloquence of chiefs’ councils, was impressed.

    John had no idea if Houston was citing the quotations from the Iliad properly. He’d read the poem, once, but he certainly hadn’t impressed it to memory. On the other hand, it hardly mattered. John was quite sure that none of the soldiers manning the Capitol had memorized the poem, either, so who could argue the matter?

    And if Sam’s rendition of the Iliad was his own half-remembered words instead of those of Pope, then the breezy youngster from Tennessee was something of a poet himself.

    Shall I my prize resign With tame content, and thou possess’d of thine? Great as thou art, and like a god in fight, Think not to rob me of a soldier’s right.

    It sounded splendid in the House of Representatives, regardless of whose words they actually were. And it seemed to lift the spirits of the men.

    When he said as much to Houston, as they hurried across to the Senate, Sam just grinned at him.

    “Not too appropriate a citation, perhaps. They were disputing over a captured woman, you know, not a nation’s capitol. But it seemed suitable to the occasion, so long as I kept it to a few lines.”

    Suddenly the grin was replaced by a frown. “Speaking of women, where is Tiana now?”

    It was John’s turn to grin. For all the martial speeches, the only actual battle Houston had fought so far had been his desperate struggle to keep Tiana Rogers from accompanying him everywhere he went. Partly because he was worried about her safety; partly because Tiana would inevitably distract the men; but mostly, he confided to Ross, because he was in enough trouble as it was. If Tiana remained at his side during the battle, the gossip would have it afterward that she was his concubine. So fornication would be added to the charges of treason and insubordination!

    Americans were odd, John mused, when it came to sex. Cherokees were far more rational on the subject. Marriage was taken seriously among them, and adultery was frowned upon, of course. But it was also taken more or less for granted that energetic and curious youngsters would inevitably do what they would do, and where was the harm? Granted, such a relaxed attitude was easier for a matrilineal society than one that, like the American, granted ridiculous authority to fathers and husbands.

    “Bastardy,” an obsession for the whites, was almost a meaningless term for Cherokees. A child’s place came from the mother’s position, not the father’s.

    “She’s sulking in her tent, I imagine,” John replied.

    Sam flashed another grin. But they were already striding into the Senate, and it was time for another speech.

    “And will we be become one with the Trojans, boys?” Sam bellowed, gesturing to the soldiers.

    “My heroes slain, my bridal bed o’erturned, My daughters ravished, and my city burn’d, My bleeding infants dash’d against the floor—”

    “No, sir! No, sir!” came the responding roar.



    The exclamation, coming unexpectedly out of the shadows, literally made Henry Crowell jump. Except for a few lamps here and there, there was no illumination in the cavernous foundry at night.

    Not this night, anyway. On some other nights, in the past, work crews laboring on a rush order would have kept the foundry lit just by the nature of their work. In years past, Henry had put in a fair number of sixteen-hour days himself.

    He peered into the darkness. That voice . . .

    “Is that you, Mr. Kendall?”

    A figure came from behind one of the furnaces, dressed in heavy work clothes, a musket in his hands. “Yes, it’s me all right. What are you doing here, Henry?”

    Kendall’s voice wasn’t quite suspicious, and the musket wasn’t quite pointing directly at him. Still, Henry figured a quick explanation was in order.

    “I was sent here by Captain Houston, Mr. Kendall. Me and”—he turned and gestured behind him—“these other men.”

    Henry had been the first one through the door, and he was relieved to see Pendleton coming forward. Even in the poor lighting, the young volunteer’s uniform was flamboyantly visible.

    “The captain’s in charge of the Capitol’s defense,” Henry elaborated. “He instructed me and these Baltimore dragoons to come to the foundry and see if we could find some ammunition and shot. Maybe some ordnance, too.”

    He completed the introductions. “Corporal, this here is Mr. David Kendall. He used to be my foreman, when I worked at Foxall’s.”

    By now, Kendall was relaxing. He even seemed pleased to see them. He leaned the musket against a pillar and slapped his hands together. “Defend the Capitol! Yes, you’ll need some shot and powder for that. Be right down magged without it!”

    He turned and headed toward the interior of the foundry, waving for Henry to follow. “I’ve got better, too. There’s a couple of three-pounders just finished and ready. You can take them back with you.”

    Even with his limp, Kendall soon outdistanced the men who were following him. It had been several years since Henry had worked in Foxall’s, and he’d half forgotten the complicated layout of the place. There were too many half-seen obstructions for him to want to risk getting bruised—or worse. The only soft thing in a foundry is human flesh.

    “He seems to like you well enough,” Pendleton commented. “Lucky thing, eh?”

    Henry shook his head. “Well, I suppose he ought to. He got that limp some years ago when a blank rolled onto his leg. Liked to have crushed it completely, ’cept I picked up one end of it so’s he could get out from under.”

    Pendleton looked puzzled. “Blank?”

    “One of them.” Henry pointed at a solid bar of iron they were moving past. It was over six inches in diameter and several feet long.

    Pendleton ogled the thing. “That must weigh . . .”

    “Don’t know how much, exactly. A lot. Thought my back would break by the end.”

    Now Pendleton was ogling him.

    “I’m powerful strong,” Henry said, half apologetically.

    He needed that strength, later. One of the three-pounders got stuck while the dragoons tried to haul it out through the dark foundry, after they fit it onto its carriage. Henry freed the wheel by the simple expedient of lifting it up.

    “Remind me not to arm-wrestle you,” Pendleton murmured.

    Kendall barked a laugh. “I can’t remember anybody being dumb enough to arm-wrestle him since the first week he started working here. How old was you then, Henry?”

    “Sixteen, Mr. Kendall.”

    “Well, you haven’t lost it, even living that easy new life of yours as a teamster.” He patted Henry’s heavy shoulder and gave the dragoons a friendly nod. “Good luck, boys, and do the best you can.”


    Before he’d gone more than two blocks, two well-dressed, middle-aged white civilians armed with muskets accosted Henry on the lead wagon. The only real trouble came after they left the foundry.

    “What’re you doing, boy?” demanded one of them.

    Henry didn’t need to answer. Pendleton trotted his horse forward, holding up his own musket and glowering as fiercely as a youngster can.

    “You there! We’re on official military business!” he snapped. “Now move out of the way!”

    Seeing other dragoons coming up behind him, as well as two more wagons, the civilians backed off. One of them, however, didn’t move quite fast enough to suit Pendleton.

    “Keep dawdling like that,” he snarled, “and we’ll make you arm-wrestle Henry here.”

    “You’ll look good,” another dragoon commented, “your arm in a sling. All busted up the way it’ll be.”


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