Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Rivers of War: Snippet Seventy One

       Last updated: Monday, May 9, 2005 05:54 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 71:

    Monroe sighed softly. That subtlety was enough to transmit some of the truth to the president. James Madison and James Monroe had been friends and close associates for a very long time, and knew each other extremely well.

    “Sulking in his tent?” Madison asked. Nodding toward Houston, who was now coming to the end of his speech: “Jealous of the captain’s acclaim?”

    Monroe shook his head. “Oh, not that, surely. Envy is not the vice of a man like Driscol. I’m quite sure he doesn’t begrudge young Houston anything. It’s simply . . .”

    Houston was closing his speech with another Homeric citation, which provided Monroe with the cue. “Let me put it this way, Mr. President. Patrick Driscol is surely not sulking in his tent over some perceived personal slight. He’s no petulant child. But I dare say he could teach Achilles the true meaning of wrath.”

“I see.”

    “He’s from northern Ireland, Mr. President,” Monroe elaborated. “I’ve heard bits of the story from Houston. It seems Driscol’s father was one of the United Irishmen. A blacksmith in a small town near Belfast. You may recall that, when the British decided to squelch the insurrection in its early stages, they made blacksmiths a special target. Driscol’s father was one of them.”

    Madison grimaced. British tactics in Ireland had been ...severe.

    “Oh, yes. Since the British knew that blacksmiths were making most of the arms for the rebels—pikes, more often than guns—they seized all blacksmiths in the towns and chained them to tripods in the town squares. Then, lashed them until they revealed where the weapons were hidden.”

    “As many as five hundred lashes, I heard. How does a man survive that?”

    Monroe took a deep breath. “As a rule, he doesn’t. Even those who speak under the torture. Which, apparently, Driscol’s father never did. He died, silent.”

    There was a pause. Houston clambered off the desk. Sprang, rather. He was quite a graceful man, for one so large.

    “Such is Patrick Driscol, sir. A lesson for the world—does it really need it?—that destroying a father may seem a sensible measure at the time, but not a generation later.” Monroe nodded toward the east. “As several hundred British officers and soldiers discovered this past night. General Ross himself was felled by a volley from a platoon at Driscol’s orders. He did his best to kill Admiral Cockburn, also.”

    The president grimaced again. Unlike Monroe, who had fought in the Revolution under Washington, through its most dire moments, Madison had little personal experience with warfare. He tended to be more delicate-minded about these matters. The man who was now a secretary of state had once been a subaltern of cavalry. Monroe had been one of the two officers who led the charge that captured the critical Hessian guns at Trenton, at the junction of King and Queen Streets. He could still remember the bloody fury of that charge—and the long months of pain that followed, as he recovered slowly from the wounds he’d received.

    Gallant foe was a phrase for afterward. At the time, Monroe’s sole and single purpose had been to saber Hessian artillerymen, butchering them as pitilessly as he would have butchered animals—but with a venom that he’d never have visited upon mere beasts. Ugly emotions, yes, looking back upon them— but the act of looking back was itself their fruit. The trick was in being able to set them aside, when the time came.

    That was easy enough for a man of Monroe’s class. Not easy, often, for a man who did not come into the world with the easy perquisites of a gentleman.

    “Much like Andrew Jackson, then,” Madison commented.

    “Yes.” Jackson’s mother had died during the Revolution. From privations she’d endured after the British drove them out of their home. Like Driscol, Jackson had been a teenager at the time. And, like Driscol, Jackson had never forgiven the British.

    And never would, in all likelihood. Monroe could understand the matter, well enough. It was still a problem for the republic. Nations could no more be guided by unthinking hatreds than unthinking enthusiasms.

    “Your captain was right, by the way,” the president added. “I just spoke to John, and he tells me he received word two days ago from Hawkins. Jackson did, indeed, force the Creeks to sign away half their land, in a treaty early this month.”

    Monroe nodded. As secretary of war, in charge of relations with the Indian tribes, Armstrong would have received the news first. Naturally enough, he hadn’t raised the matter at the cabinet meeting the day before, which had focused entirely on the British assault on the capital.

    “And so, once again, Mr. President, we are presented with an accomplished fact,” Monroe said. “Whether we like it or not. If we nullify the treaty, now that Jackson coerced the Creeks into signing it, we’ll infuriate every settler west of the mountains, and every southerner below the Carolinas.”

    “And half the Carolinians,” Madison muttered.

    “Yes. And those are the same people—Andrew Jackson himself, first and foremost—whom we have to rely upon to repel the British. The theater of war will shift to the gulf, now.”

    The president sighed. “That’s why we have made him a general in the regular army. It’s a strange way, one would think, to punish a man for insubordination.”

    Monroe said nothing, for there was nothing to say. Events on the frontier were being driven by forces far too powerful for any government to control. All the more so because Andrew Jackson was not even the source of it, ultimately, simply its representative and visible face. Behind Jackson, lifting him up, driving him forward, were hundreds of thousands of nameless folk. Nameless, at least, to the eastern gentry and northern merchant class. Scots-Irish immigrants, in the main, now known as “the people of the western waters.”

    Relentless, implacable. Much like—

    A thought came to Monroe. “Excuse me for a bit, Mr. President. I have something to attend to.”

    He turned around and beckoned to John Ross. The lieutenant had been standing just a feet away; close enough to be ready for any task the secretary might require of him, but distant enough to allow Monroe privacy of conversation. In this, as in every other respect the secretary had seen thus far, the Cherokee was proving to be as adept and subtle as any white assistant he had ever had.

    Houston. Ross. Driscol. Perhaps some others...

    Always Jackson, of course, for good or ill.

    James Monroe subscribed to the sweeping principles of republicanism, and had done so all of his adult life. But he also firmly believed that problems were solved by men, not abstractions. Specific men, in specific places, in specific combinations. Just so, as a young officer, had he seen George Washington forge a nation. Just so, as a man coming into his own maturity, had he seen that nation grow and swell, when other men did the same.

    With Ross in tow, he intercepted Houston as another gaggle of congressmen were coming forward to extend their congratulations.

    “A moment of your time, Captain, if you’d be so kind. Where is Lieutenant Driscol? I’d like to have a word with both of you.” He glanced to the side. “The three of you, actually.”


Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image