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Rivers of War: Snippet Seventy Seven

       Last updated: Friday, May 13, 2005 12:21 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 76:

    “No,” he said, almost choking out the word. “He didn’t.”

    “I’m not surprised.” Her eyes moved across the crowd. Not for long, since Houston was easy to spot.

    Driscol couldn’t determine what was in those eyes. Sadness? Anger?

    Perhaps neither. The fact that Driscol thought all people were essentially the same beneath the skin didn’t mean they all thought alike. Otherwise, why would he have spent half his lifetime in the single-minded pursuit of slaying his English “brethren”?

    “I only came here on a whim, really,” she said softly. “Call it a childhood’s fancy.”

    Driscol knew about the girl’s oft-proclaimed intentions with regard to Houston. James and John Rogers had been with him through most of the battle, and they were fond of joking. Indeed, they joked about most everything.

    Tiana studied Houston for a bit. He was swirling everywhere, passing from one dancing partner to another, and obviously enjoying himself immensely.

    “There’s no place for me here,” she said, even more softly. “I want to go home.”

    Driscol’s mind went back. “Then why did you ask me if I could teach you to dance?”

    Her eyes came to him. Still with that same look in them he couldn’t quite fathom. “I’m not a white girl, Patrick Driscol. What you call ‘romance’ is a silly business to me. I fancied Sam Houston for a time, because he’s a man to fancy. But if you think for one moment I’m going to pine away”—again, that majestic sniff—“I’d as soon waste my time pining over the moon, when there’s a harvest to gather or a deer to be dressed. Not likely, ha!”

    Finally, he understood. They were simply calm eyes, accepting. Not liking what they saw, perhaps, but accepting it nonetheless.

    “Can you read?” he asked. Not thinking, until he blurted the words, that she might be offended by them.

    Fortunately, she wasn’t. “Oh, yes. Quite well, the Moravians tell me.”

    “Ah. But I imagine you prefer prose to poetry?”

    The little smile widened. “For a man who insists he’s no gentleman, Patrick Driscol, you dance more than any gentleman I can imagine.”

    Much more Tiana-like, the smile was now. “Why did I ask you if you could teach me to dance? The simplest reason of all. I wanted to hear what your answer would be. Not because I cared, one way or the other, about the dancing.”

    “Ah.” It occured to Driscol that if he said “ah” one more time, he’d never hear the end of it. Or, still worse, might—because he’d never hear that voice again at all.

    Either prospect was suddenly unbearable. His mind cast wildly about, for an instant, until it found a safe and secure refuge in . . .

    Patrick Driscol. Where it damn well properly belonged.

    “No,” he said gruffly, “I can’t teach you to dance. But I do have a social obligation I’ve been remiss in carrying out. I was wondering, Miss Rogers, if you’d do me the pleasure of accompanying me?”

    “I’d be delighted.”

    He extended his arm. Alas, the wrong one. He still hadn’t quite adjusted. Probably because the bloody blasted thing still felt like it was there. It hurt enough, anyway.

    She grinned at him. “I’d look like a proper fool, being led around by a stump.”

    “Sorry.” He swiveled, bringing his right arm into position. A moment later, her hand tucked into his elbow, he led her toward the door.

    No one noticed them leaving. All eyes were on Sam Houston.


    General Ross was out of surgery, and awake. “And your own defense was most gallant as well, Lieutenant,” he said pleasantly. Ross cocked his head on the pillow, studying Driscol. “I suspect we’ve met before. Have we?”

    Driscol cleared his throat. “In a manner of speaking, sir. I was across the field at Corunna. And, ah . . .”

    Ross chuckled drily. “Took part in the very vigorous pursuit afterward. You have the look of a relentless man.”

    Driscol must have looked uncomfortable. Ross chuckled again, very dryly, glancing at his heavily bandaged shoulder. “I had a feeling that volley was targeted. You, I presume.”

    “Ah. Yes, sir.” Before he’d ushered them in, the doctor had told Driscol that Ross would most likely survive. But he’d need to spend months recovering, and would never really be able to use that arm very well again.


    Patrick Driscol would do it again. In an instant.

    Looking into Ross’s eyes, he knew the man understood. So, a crack that one gentleman officer had started, and a gentleman politician widened, was widened still farther by a third. And this one a Sassenach general, to boot.

    Driscol began to fear for his soul.

    “I was surprised at the time by the professional quality of the Capitol’s defense,” Ross went on. “Not to detract anything from Captain Houston—a very estimable young man—but that wasn’t his doing.”

    “Ah. No, sir.”

    Ross nodded. “Good. I feel much better. It’s embarrassing to be repulsed so decisively by an inexperienced militia officer. Now, at least, I’ll be able to say I was defeated by one of Napoleon’s veterans. Even if he was a lieutenant.”

    “Ah. I’m not exactly a lieutenant, sir. That’s a field rank, which still hasn’t been confirmed by the War Department. Properly speaking, I’m still a sergeant.”

    “Better still!” Ross actually grinned. “One of the emperor’s sergeants. A lot of trolls, everyone knows it. Fearsome brutes.”

    They both chuckled, then.

    “Belfast, from the accent?”

    “Not the town, sir. But, yes, County Antrim.”

    “I see.” Ross was back to studying him. “I’m from County Down,” he said abruptly. “Not far south of there.”

    Driscol didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.

    Again, Ross seemed to understand. “But I went to Trinity College, and you did not.”

    “No, sir. My family was not Church of England.”

    “Yes. Mine was. And so I became an officer of the British army, and you became my foe. Such is the working of Providence.”

    They were very keen eyes, even in a man who must be throbbing with pain. Driscol had no difficulty, any longer, understanding Ross’s reputation as a soldier’s general. Had ...Providence not ruled otherwise, he’d not have minded serving under him.

    “I’m afraid I’m a bit tired, Lieutenant Driscol, Miss Rogers, so I’ll have to ask you to excuse me.” He smiled thinly. “Or I shall have that miser—ah, fine doctor—nattering at me again.”

    “Of course, sir.” Driscol started to turn away, extending his arm to Tiana.

    “One thing, though, Lieutenant. It seems important to tell you. We’ve met twice now, and—who knows?—may meet again. But we never met before Corunna.”

    Driscol cocked his head. “Sir?”

    “What I mean, Lieutenant—Sergeant, rather, for this purpose—is that I was in Holland in 1798.”


    “You understand, had I been in Ireland, I would have obeyed orders. Whether I approved of them or not. But, as it happens, I was not there.”

    Driscol thought about it. And decided that was good enough.

    “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, General Ross. Our best wishes for your recovery.”

    He probably said it too stiffly. But Tiana’s smile made up the difference.

    Tiana was silent, most of the way back to the Capitol. That was unusual, for she was not a quiet young woman by temperament. Driscol suspected she understood that he was lost in his own thoughts, and was accepting of the fact.

    When she did finally speak, of course, she made up for it.

    “I warn you, Patrick. If you keep saying ‘ah’ all the time, I’ll start making fun of you.”


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