Read 1824: The Arkansas War Online

Authors: Eric Flint

Tags: #Fiction

1824: The Arkansas War (9 page)

“I was hoping you’d ask,” he replied, smiling cheerfully. “Yes, please. One more and I’ll be steady enough for that blasted horse. I felt peckish, waking up this morning.”

“Well, I don’t wonder. As much as you drank last night.”

She said nothing more. Just got up and went into the house. One of the many things Sam liked about Julia Chinn was that she wasn’t given to nattering. Not even at the senator, really.

She was back a few seconds later with a half-full bottle and refilled his tumbler. And that was another thing Sam liked about the woman. No half-full tumblers when
she
poured.

He took a hefty first sip and continued. “My point is that Patrick never stops thinking like a soldier. Doesn’t matter how rich he gets. He’s wound up making money hand over fist with each new company he sets up—not to mention his bank—but that’s never why he does it. Each and every one of those companies, even the bank, has a military purpose.”

Julia’s eyes widened. “Whatever for? There’s a treaty with our government, and the wild Indian tribes out there can’t be that much of a threat.”

“No, they’re not. Dangerous, yes, but not what you’d call a real threat to the Confederacy. And, nowadays, even the Osages pretty much stay out of the Arkansas Chiefdom altogether. Patrick’s soldiers are…rough, when they get riled. Not undisciplined, mind you.” The chuckle, this time, was very harsh. “Not hardly, with Patrick’s ways. But he’s a firm believer that if someone picks a fight with him, he will surely give them what they asked for. And then some. Like I said, a scary man.”

It was getting time to go, and Sam still had one last piece of business to take care of. So he left off the sipping and drained most of the tumbler in one slug.

“It’s the U.S. he’s thinking about, Julia. Not now, of course, with James Monroe in office. If John Quincy Adams succeeds him, that would be, if anything, even better. Adams is a diplomat by instinct and background. He’ll always try to settle something by negotiation if he can. And I don’t think Patrick even worries much, if the general gets elected instead. As ornery as they both are—and it’s hard to choose between the man from County Antrim and Old Hickory—he and Andy Jackson could manage to get along. Well enough, anyway. No, it’s Clay he’s thinking about. You never know what Henry Clay will decide to do if he thinks it’ll advance his prospects.”

Julia made a face. Her common-law husband detested Henry Clay. Clearly enough, she didn’t disagree with him on the subject.

Neither did Sam. He didn’t share Andy Jackson’s corrosive hatred for Clay, but that was simply because Sam didn’t have it in him to hate anyone that much. If he did, though, Clay would be pretty much at the top of his list also. In the near vicinity, for sure. The man’s personal morals stank, and his political morals were even worse.

“So, to get back to the point, there’s no way Patrick would want the Red River cleared of the Great Raft. In fact, I think that’s the main reason he went into business with Henry Shreve. Sure, and he’s gotten rich from that partnership, too—everything Patrick touches seems to turn to gold, these days—but that’s not why he did it. Now that Fulton’s dead, Shreve’s probably the only man in the United States today who’d have the wherewithal to figure out how to clear the Great Raft. So Patrick made sure to tie him down good and solid. As long as the Great Raft stays where it is, he doesn’t have to worry about anybody using the Red River to attack him. His southern flank is pretty well protected.”

Julia shook her head. “Man sounds a little crazy, to me.”

Sam drained the last of the whiskey, grinning through the glass. “So people say. Lots of them.”

He didn’t bother to add
but not me.
The grin alone made it obvious enough.

He found Richard Johnson in one of the barns, attending to farm business of one kind or another. Something to do with a cow, apparently. Sam wasn’t quite sure, because he’d decided at an early age that farming was even more boring than storekeeping. Tedium was bad enough on its own without piling study onto the affair.

He didn’t need to, anyway, since as soon as the senator spotted him, Johnson broke off his discussion with the two slaves handling the barn animals and came over.

“You leaving now?”

“ ’Fraid so, Dick. I want to make it to the Confederacy by the end of the month, and…ah…”

“You’ve got to pay a visit to the general first.”

Sam half winced. “Yes, I do. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it, this time.”

Johnson studied him. “On account of how you figure you may have lost the general his chance to get elected president.”

“You could have maybe sweetened that a little. But…yeah. On account of that.”

Johnson looked away for a moment, then shrugged. “Well, maybe you did. Although I think Jack Hartfield’s right. If Andy had just kept his mouth shut after Algiers, I don’t think the affair would have hurt him much. He was not in any way directly involved, after all.”

“I think Jack’s probably right, too. But you know the general. Andy Jackson has a lot of virtues. Being fair-minded—especially when it involves something he did—just isn’t one of them. Not usually, at least.”

“True enough. Well, you have my sympathies. Give the general my best regards, will you?”

“Certainly.”

Sam hesitated, then added: “But there’s something else I wanted to raise with you, Dick. Tell me the truth. How bad are you hurting?”

Johnson looked away again. “In terms of money? Pretty bad, Sam.” A half-whining note of resentment crept into his voice. “I was hoping the school…”

The one thing Sam didn’t want to do was rehash that matter. “Forget the school,” he said forcibly. “You would have lost money on it, anyway.
Did
lose money, and plenty of it, before you even got it set up.”

He summoned up the memory of his mad charge on the Creek barricade at the Horseshoe Bend. That seemed as good a model as any.

“Look, Dick, face it. You’re a man I think well of personally, and a public figure I admire even more. But when it comes to business, you’re a walking disaster. You’ve got no head for it, at all.”

The senator scowled but didn’t argue the point. Given his track record, that’d be pretty much impossible, even for a man as generally insouciant as he was.

So Sam kept the charge going. “I think there’s a way out of the bind you’re in, but you’d have to be willing to do two things. First, go into partnership with a man who
does
know how to make businesses run profitably.”

Johnson snorted. “And why would that be a problem for me? Except—good luck, finding a smart businessman who’d touch me with a ten-foot pole. Why should he? I’ve got nothing to bring to a partnership, Sam. No skill at it”—the scowl came back, for an instant—“as you’ve just been unkind enough to rub my nose in. And no capital to back someone who is. I’m broke, Sam. Worse than broke. I’m up to my waist in debts, and pretty soon the creditors are going to take me to court. The ones who haven’t already, that is. Won’t be surprised at all to see Henry Clay arguing the case for ’em. My biggest creditor is the Second Bank, after all, and he’s one of their top lawyers whenever he takes the time away from his political chiseling.”

Sam took a deep breath, remembering that final moment when he’d scaled the barricade. Right after Major Montgomery got his brains blown out by a Creek bullet.

“I’ve
got
a partner for you, Dick. He’ll put up the skill, and he’ll put up all the money. In fact, he’ll advance you enough to fend off your creditors. Far enough off to give you some breathing room, anyway, while he gets the business up and running and turning a profit.”

Johnson’s eyes widened, and then immediately narrowed. “
What
business? And who is this paragon? Or bedlamite, I should say. Why in the world would a sane man do something like that?”

“The business is complicated. More complicated than I can follow, to be honest. Mostly it involves setting up a big foundry—biggest west of Cincinnati—but that also requires expanding the steamboat traffic. Expanding a foundry, I should say, since it’s already in operation. But the expansion would be major. The man I’m talking about is one of the silent partners in the steamboat business Henry Shreve and Patrick Driscol set up.”

Another deep breath. “His name is Henry Crowell, and the reason he’s silent is because he’s black. He’s gotten rich enough over the past few years that he’d like to expand his business into the United States, but he can’t do that without a white partner as his public face.”

Sam was half expecting an outraged reaction. Despite his relationship to Julia, Richard Johnson’s general attitudes on matters of race weren’t really all that different from those of most people in the country. Like Andy Jackson, Johnson was always willing to make personal exceptions to generalities. But the generalities themselves, he didn’t really question much.

To his surprise, though, Johnson’s face simply seemed pensive. “Crowell? That name’s familiar.”

“Well, it ought to be!” Sam exclaimed. “He was the teamster who supplied us at the Capitol during the battle with the British. He fought well himself, later, as part of a gun crew at the battle of the Mississippi.”

Best to leave it at that, he thought. The same Henry Crowell had also been the cause of the Algiers Incident—as the victim who triggered it, if not the instigator—but Sam saw no reason to bring that up.

“Yes, that’s it. But I think there was something…”

“Look, Dick,” Sam said, maintaining the stout tone to keep Johnson from dwelling on the name, “Henry’s as good a businessman as you can find; I don’t care what color. He parlayed the supply contract I got for him for the New Orleans campaign into a small fortune—okay, real small fortune, but big enough…”

His voice trailed off. He’d just stumbled into the pit he’d been trying to avoid.

Alas, that was sufficient to jog Johnson’s memory. “
That
Crowell? The one they castrated in New Orleans? Set off the whole blasted ruckus there?”

Sam gritted his teeth. Tarnation, he was tired of being diplomatic.

“Yes, that one,” he growled. “The reason the Creoles had him castrated was because he’d gotten rich enough and prominent enough that he drew the attention of one of the girls they were grooming for one of their stinking Quadroon Balls. He almost died from the injury—castration’s usually fatal, though most people don’t realize it—and, yes, that’s what set off the Battle of Algiers. Driscol called the Iron Battalion back into service. They marched into the French Quarter and blew the place half apart, and strung up every slave-catcher they got their hands on. Seeing as how they’d done the dirty work. Killed the Creole grandee who’d ordered it done, too. Patrick saw to that himself.”

To his surprise, Johnson laughed. Quite a cheerful laugh. “And then pounded into splinters the Louisiana militia, when they got sent in to ‘suppress a servile insurrection.’ ”

He laughed again, seeing the expression on Sam’s face. “You know, Sam, you might be surprised at how a lot of people looked at that. Publicly, sure, it was a scandal and an outrage. But people have their own private thoughts—and don’t ever underestimate the general. He would have done better to keep his mouth shut, but his own reaction was heartfelt. And the one thing about Andy is that he has a sure and certain knack for catching the sentiments of the common folk. That was a nasty filthy business, and there are still plenty of people in the United States for whom Patrick Driscol and the Iron Battalion are, were, and always will be the heroes who won the Battle of the Mississippi.”

He gave Sam something of a sly look. “Meaning no disrespect to your own glorious part in the affair.”

Sam just smiled. He’d gotten more public credit for winning that battle than Patrick had, but that was simply because he was a lot more acceptable figure than the grim and dour Irish rebel—and, most of all, because Sam’s soldiers had been white. But Sam himself knew perfectly well that the valiant stand of the Iron Battalion had been the key to winning that battle. So did Andy Jackson, for that matter.

“Yes, that Crowell. After he recovered, well…He just got more determined than ever to be a successful man. Married the girl involved, in fact. And if he can’t produce any children of his own, he makes up for it with an orphanage and the schools he set up.” His tone hardened a bit. “And, yes, if you’re wondering, he’s Gerrit Smith’s silent partner in that school of yours Smith is buying and moving to New Antrim.”

Johnson shook his head. But it wasn’t a gesture of refusal, more one of bewilderment.

“What in the name of Sam Hill is the world coming to?” he asked, wonderingly.

By now, Sam thought he’d come to know the answer to that question. And, for once, decided he’d say it out loud to another white man. “I’m Cherokee by adoption, Dick. What the world is coming to—if I’ve got anything to say about it—is that I’d like to see what happens if we use Cherokee methods for a change. At least in one part of the continent.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I’m sick and tired of stumbling over race, everywhere I go. So I’d like to try clans, instead. I don’t ask for a perfect world, just one where people deal with each other instead of categories. Imperfect as they may be.”

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