When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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CHAPTER I – SALISBURY AND THE LAW
IN this year of our Lord’s grace, 1787, the ancient town of Salisbury, seat of justice for Rowan County, and the buzzing metropolis of its region, numbers by word of a partisan citizenry eight hundred souls. Its streets are unpaved, and present an unbroken expanse of red North Carolina clay from one narrow plank sidewalk to another. In the summer, if the weather be dry, the red clay resolves itself into blinding brick-red dust. In the spring, when the rains fall, it lapses into brick-red mud, and the Salisbury streets become bottomless morasses, the despair of travelers. Just now, it being a bright October afternoon and a shower having paid the town a visit but an hour before, the streets offer no suggestion of either mud or dust, but are as clean and straight and beautiful as a good man’s morals. Trees rank either side, and their branches interlock overhead. These make every street a cathedral aisle, groined and arched in leafy green.
In one of the suburbs, that is to say about pistol shot from the town’s commercial center, stands a two-story mansion. It is painted white, and thereby distinguished above its neighbors, and has a heavily columned veranda all across its wide face. This edifice is the residence of Spruce McCay, a foremost member of the Rowan County bar.
In a corner of the lawn, which unfolds verdantly in front of the house, is a one-story one-room structure, the law office of Spruce McCay. Inside are two or three pine desks, much visited of knives in the past, and a half-dozen ramshackle chairs, which have seen stronger if not better days. Also there is a collection of shelves; and these latter hold scores of law books, among which “Blackstone’s Commentaries,” “Coke on Littleton,” and “Hales’s Pleas of the Crown” are given prominent place. The books show musty and dog-eared, and it is many years since the youngest among them came from the printing press.
On this October afternoon, the office has but one occupant. He is tall, being six feet and an inch, and so slim and meager that he seems six inches taller. Besides, he stands as straight as a lance, with nothing of stoop to his narrow shoulders, and this has the effect of augmenting his height.
The face is a boy’s face. It is likewise of the sort called “horse”; with hollow cheeks and lantern jaws. The forehead is high and narrow. The yellow hair is long, and tied in a cue with an eelskin – for eelskins are according to the latest fashionable command sent up from Charleston. The redeeming feature to the horse face is the eyes. These are big and blue and deep, and tell of a mighty power for either love or hate. They are Scotch-Irish eyes, loyal eyes, steadfast eyes, and of that inveterate breed which if aroused can outstare, outdomineer Satan.
As adding to the horse face a look of command, which sets well with those blue eyes – so capable of tenderness and ferocity – is a high predatory nose.The mouth, thin-lipped and wide, is replete of what folk call character, but does nothing to soften a general expression which is nothing if not iron. And yet the last word is applicable only at times. The horse face never turns iron-hard unless danger presses, or perilous deeds are to be done. In easier, relaxed hours one finds no sternness there, but gayety and lightness and a love of pleasure.
In dress the horse-faced boy is rather the fop, with a bottle-green surtout of latest cut, high-collared, long-tailed, open to display a flowered waistcoat of as many hues as May, from which struggles a ruffle stiff with starch. The horsefaced boy has his predatory nose buried in a law book. This is as it should be, for he is a student of the learned Spruce McCay.
There comes a step at the door; the horsefaced boy takes his nose from between the covers of the book. Spruce McCay walks in, and throws himself carelessly into a seat. He is a square, hearty man, with nose up-tilted and eager, as though somewhere in the distance it sniffed an orchard. He is of middle years, and well arrived at that highest ground, just where the pathway of life begins to slope downward toward the final yet still distant grave.
Spruce McCay glances at a paper or two on his desk. Then, shoving all aside, he fills and lights a corn-cob pipe. Through the smoke rings he surveys the horse-faced boy; plainly he meditates a communication.
“Andy, I’ve been thinking you over.”
Andy says “Yes?” expectantly.
“You should cross the mountains.”
The blue eyes take on a bluer glint, and light up the horse face like azure lamps.
“Yes, a new country is the place for you. You are now about to be admitted to practice law; not because you know law, but for the reason that I have recommended it. As I say, you have little law knowledge; but you possess courage, brains, perseverance, honesty, prudence and divers other traits, which you take from your Carrickfergus ancestors. These should carry you farther in the wilderness than any knowledge of the books.”
The predatory nose snorts, and the horse face begins to glow resentfully.
“You think I know no law?”
“No more than does Necessity! Not enough to keep you from being laughed at in Rowan County! How should you? Your attention and your interest have both run away to other things. I’ve watched you for two years past. You are deep in the lore of cockfighting, but guiltless of the Commentaries of our worthy Master Blackstone. If I were to ask you for the Rule in Shelly’s Case, you would be posed. At the same time you could expound every rule that governs a horse race. In brief you are accomplished in many gentlemanly things, while as barren of law learning as a Hottentot. Now if you were a lad of fortune, instead of being as poor as the crows, you might easily cut a figure of elegant idleness on the North Carolina circuits. But you lack utterly of that money required to gild and make tolerable your ignorance here at home. In the woods along the Cumberland, that is to say in the Nashville and Jonesboro courts, where ignorance and poverty are the rule, your deficiencies will count for trifles. Also you will be surrounded by conditions that promote courage, honesty and quickness to a first importance. On the Cumberland the fact that you are a dead shot with rifle or pistol, and can back the most unmanageable horse that ever looked through a bridle, will place you higher in the confidence of men than would all the law that Hobart, Hales and Hawkins ever knew. Now don’t get angry. Think over what I’ve said; the longer you look at it, the more you’ll feel that I am right. I’ll see that you are given your sheepskin as a lawyer; and, when you decide to migrate, I’ll have you commissioned in that new country as attorney for the state. This last will send you headlong into the midst of a backwoods practice, where those native virtues you own should find a field for their exercise, and your talents for cockfighting and horse racing, added to your absolute genius for firearms, be sure to advance you far.”
Spruce McCay raps the ashes from his corncob pipe. Just then one of the house negroes taps at the door, as preliminary to intruding a respectful head. The respectful head announces that visitors have arrived at the big white mansion. Spruce McCay at this quits the office, and the horse-faced Andy finds himself alone.
For one hour he ponders the unpalatable words of his worthy master. His vanity has been hurt; his self-love ruffled. None the less he feels that a deal of truth lies tucked away in what Spruce McCay has said. Besides a plunge into the untried wilderness rather matches his taste, and a promised state’s attorneyship is not to be despised.
As the horse-faced Andy ruminates these things, laughter and much joyous clatter is heard at the door. This time it is his two fellow students, Crawford and McNairy. These young gentlemen have been out with their guns, and now present themselves with a double backload of quails as the fruits of it. The pair begin vociferously to inform the horse-faced Andy concerning their day’s adventures. He halts the conversational flow with a repressive lift of the hand.
“Gentlemen,” says he, with a vast affectation of dignity, and as though sixty were the years of each instead of twenty, “I desire your company at supper in my rooms. Come at 7 o’clock. I shall have news for you – news, and a proposition.”
CHAPTER II – THE ROWAN HOUSE SUPPER
THE horse-faced Andy precedes the coming of his two friends to that supper by two hours. As he moves up the street toward the Rowan House, fair faces beam on him and fair hands wave him a salutation from certain Salisbury verandas. In return he doffs his hat with an exaggerated politeness, which becomes him as the acknowledged beau of the town. One cannot blame those beaming fair faces and those saluting hands. Slim, elegant, confident with a kind of polished cockyness that does not ill become his years, our horse-faced one possesses what the world calls “presence.” No one will look on him without being impressed; he is congenitally remarkable, and to see him once is to ever afterward expect to hear him. Besides, for all his foppishness, there is a scar on his sandy head, and a second on his hand, which were made by an English saber when he had no more than entered upon his teens. Also he has shed English blood to pay for those scars; and in a day which still heaves and tosses with the ground swells of the Revolution, such stark matters brevet one to the respect of men and the love of women.
The foppish, horse-faced Andy strides into the Rowan House. In the long-room he meets mine host Brown, who has fame as a publican, and none as a sinner, throughout North Carolina.
“Supper in my rooms, Mr. Brown,” commands our hero; “supper for three. Have it hot and ready at sharp seven. Also let us have plenty of whisky and tobacco.”
Mine host Brown says that all shall be as ordered.
The foppish Andy, with that grave manner of dignity which laughs at his boyish twenty years, explains to his landlord that he will call for his bill in the morning.
“Have my horse, Cherokee,” he says, “well groomed and saddled. To-morrow I leave Salisbury.”
“West,” returns Andy.
“As to the bill,” ventures mine host Brown, “would you like to play a game of all-fours, and make it double or nothing?”
Andy the horse-faced hesitates.
“You have such vile luck,” he says, as though remonstrating with mine host Brown for a fault. “It seems shameful to play with you, since you never win.”
Mine host Brown looks sheepishly apologetic.
“For one as eager to play as I am,” he responds, “it does look as though I ought to know more about the game. However, since it’s your last night, we might as well preserve a record.”
Andy the horse-faced yields to the rabid anxiety of mine host Brown to gamble. The game shall be played presently; meanwhile, there is an errand which takes him to his rooms.
Andy goes to his rooms; mine host Brown, after preparing a table in the long-room for the promised game, saunters fatly – being rotund as a publican should be – into the kitchen, to leave directions concerning that triangular supper. There he encounters his wife, as rotund as himself, supervising the energies of a phalanx of black Amazons, who form the culinary forces of the Rowan House.
“Young Jackson leaves in the morning, mother,” observes mine host Brown to Mrs. Brown, whom he always addresses as “mother.”
“For good?” asks Mrs. Brown, who is singeing the pin feathers from a chicken of much fatness, and exceeding yellow as to leg.
“Oh, I knew he was going,” returns mine host Brown, rather irrelevantly. “Spruce Mc-Cay told me that he was about to advise him to emigrate to the western counties. Spruce says the Cumberland country is just the place for him.”
“And now I suppose,” remarks Mrs. Brown, “you’ll let him win a good-by game of cards, to square his bill.”
“Why not?” returns mine host Brown. “He’s got no money; never had any money. You yourself said, when he came here, to give him his board free, because you knew and loved his dead mother. Now the Christian thing is to let him win it. In that way his pride is saved; at the same time it gives me amusement.”
“Well, Marmaduke,” says Mrs. Brown, moving off with the yellow-legged fowl, “I’m sure I don’t care how you manage, only so you don’t take his money.”
“There never was a chance, mother. He never has any money, after his clothes are bought.”
The game of all-fours is played; and is won by Andy of the horse face, who thereby rounds off a run of card-luck that has continued unbroken for two years.
“It looks as though I’d never beat you!” exclaims mine host Brown, pretending sadness and imitating a sigh.
“You ought never to gamble,” advises the horse-faced Andy solemnly.
Mine host Brown produces his bill, wherein the charges for board, lodging, laundry, tobacco, and whisky in pints, quarts and gallons are set down on one side, to be balanced and acquitted by divers sums lost at all-fours, the same being noted opposite.
“There you are! All square!” says mine host Brown.
“But the charges for to-night’s supper?”
“Mother” – meaning Mrs. Brown – “says the supper is to be with her compliments.”
Steaming hot, the supper comes promptly at seven. It is followed, steaming hot, by unlimited whisky punch. Pipes are lighted, and, with glasses at easy hand, the three boys draw about the fire. The punch, the pipes, and the crackling log fire are very comfortable adjuncts on an October night.
“And now,” cries Crawford, who is full of life and interest, “now for the news and the proposition!”
McNairy nods owlish assent to the words of his volatile friend. He intends one day to be a judge, and, while quite as lively as Crawford, seizes on occasions such as this to practice his features in a formidable woolsack gravity.
“First,” observes Andy, soberly sipping his punch, “let me put a question: What is my standing in Rowan County?”
“You are the recognized authority,” cries Crawford, “on dog fighting, cockfighting, and horse racing.”
“Humph!” says Andy. Then, on the heels of a pause: “And what should you say were my chief accomplishments?”
Again Crawford takes it upon himself to reply.
“You ride, shoot, run, jump, wrestle, dance and make love beyond expression.”
McNairy the judicial nods.
“Humph!” says Andy.
The trio puff and sip in silence.
“You say nothing for my knowledge of law?” This from the disgruntled Andy, with a rising inflection that is like finding fault.
“No!” cry the others in hearty concert.
“You wouldn’t believe us if we did,” adds McNairy of the future woolsack.
“Neither would the Judge,” returns Andy cynically. “The Judge” is the title by which the three designate their master, Spruce Mc-Cay. Andy goes on: “The news I promised is this. To-morrow I leave Salisbury. The Judge has recommended my admission to the bar, and I shall take the oath and get my license before I start. I shall transfer myself to the region along the Cumberland, where I am told a barrister of my singular lack of ability should find plenty of practice.”
“Why do you leave old Rowan?” asks woolsack McNairy, beginning to take an interest.
“Because I have no education, less law, and still less money. It seems that these are conditions precedent to staying in Rowan with credit.”
“Well,” cries McNairy the judicial, grasping Andy’s long bony hand, “you have as much education, as much law, and as much money as I. Under the circumstances I shall go with you.”
“And I,” breaks in the lively Crawford, “since I have none of those ignorant and poverty-eaten qualifications you name, but on the contrary am rich, wise and learned – I shall remain here. When the wilderness casts you fellows out, come back and I shall welcome you. Pending which – as Parson Hicks would say – receive my blessing.”
The evening wears on amid clouds of tobacco smoke and rivers of punch. At the close the three take hold of hands, and sing a farewell song very badly. Then, since they look on the evening as a sacred one, they wind up by breaking the pipes they have smoked and the glasses they have drunk from, to save them in the hereafter from profane and vulgar uses. At last, rather deviously, they make their various ways to bed.
The next day, young Andrew Jackson, barrister and counselor at law, with all his belongings – save the rifle he carries, and the pistols in his saddle holsters – crowded into a pair of saddlebags, rides out of Salisbury on his bay horse Cherokee. He will stop at Martinsville for a space, awaiting the judicial McNairy.
Then the pair are to set their willing, hopeful faces for the Cumberland.
As Andy the horse-faced rides away that October afternoon, Henry Clay is a fatherless boy of nine, living with his mother at the Virginia Slashes; Daniel Webster, a sickly child of six, is toddling about his father’s New Hampshire farm; John C. Calhoun is a baby four years old in a South Carolina farmhouse; John Quincy Adams, nineteen and just home from a polishing trip to France, is a Harvard student; Martin Van Buren, aged four, is playing about the tap room of his Dutch father’s tavern at Kinder-hook; while Aaron Burr, fortunate, foremost and full of promise, has already won high station at the New York bar. None of these has ever heard of Andy the horse-faced, nor he of them; yet one and all they are fated to grow well acquainted with one another in the years to come, and before the curtain is rung finally down on that tragedy-comedy-farce which, played to benches ever full and ever empty, men call Existence.
CHAPTER III – THE BLOOMING RACHEL
NASHVILLE is the merest scrambling huddle of log houses. The most imposing edifice is a blockhouse, built of logs squared by the broadaxe. It is the home of the widow Donelson; and, since it is all her husband left her when the Indians shot him down at the plow-stilts, and because she must live, the widow Donelson has turned the blockhouse into a boarding house.
With the widow Donelson dwells her daughter Rachel, a beautiful brunette of twenty, and the belle of the Cumberland. Rachel is vivacious and bright; and, while there is much confusion among her nouns, pronouns, verbs and adverbs in the matters of case, number, and tense, she shines forth an indomitable conversationist. With frontier freedom she laughs with everybody, jests with everybody, delights in everybody’s admiration; and this does not please her husband, Lewis Robards, who is ignorant, suspicious, narrow, lazy, shiftless, jealous, and generally drunk. One time and another he has accused Rachel of a tenderness for every man in the settlement, and their quarrels have been frequent and fierce.
It is evening; the widow Donelson is preparing supper for the half dozen boarders, assisted by the blooming Rachel. The moody Robards, half soaked in corn whisky, sits by the open door, ear on the conversation, eye on the not-over-distant woods. If the worthless Robards will not work, at least he may maintain a halfbright lookout for murderous Indians; and he does.
The widow Donelson glances across from the corn bread she is mixing.
“The runner who came on ahead,” she says, addressing the blooming Rachel, “reports the party as being due to-morrow. Mr. Jackson, the new State’s Attorney, who will come with it, is to board and lodge with us.”
The blooming Rachel looks brightly up. The drunken Robards likewise looks up; but his face is gloomy with incipient jealousy.
“A Mr. Jackson, eh?” he sneers. Then, to the blooming Rachel: “It’s mighty likely you’ll find in him a new lover to try your wiles on.”
The blooming Rachel colors and her black eyes snap, but she holds her tongue. The widow Donelson is also silent. The mother and daughter have found wordlessness the best return to those insults, which it is the habit of the jealous drunkard to hurl at his pretty wife.
The runner made true report, and the party in which travels the horse-faced Andy makes its appearance next day. Tall, slender, elegant, self-possessed, and with a manner which marks him above the common, he is disliked by the drunken Robards on sight. When he declines to drink with that sot, the dislike crystallizes into hatred. The outrageous jealousy of Robards has found a new reason for its green-eyed existence, and he already goes drunkenly pondering the slaughter of the horse-faced Andy. Since he will never advance beyond the pondering stage, for certain reasons called “craven” among men of clean courage, his homicidal lucubrations are the less important.
Andy the horse-faced does not notice Robards. He does, however, notice with a thrill of pleasure the beautiful Rachel, and is glad to find his lines are down in such pleasant places.
He is vastly taken with the boarding house of the widow Donelson, and incautiously says as much. He praises her corn pone and fried squirrel, and vehemently avers that her hog and hominy are the best he ever ate.
Rachel the blooming does not allow her husband’s jealousy to interrupt hospitality, and piles high the young State’s Attorney’s plate with these delicacies. She even brings out a store of wild honey and cream – dainties sparse and few and far between in these rude regions. She calls this “hospitality”; her jealous drunkard of a husband calls it “making advances.” He says that in the course of a long, and he might have added misspent, life, he has observed that a coquette, with designs on a man’s heart, never fails to begin by making an ally of his stomach.
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