When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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“Two!” says hair-trigger Overton.
There comes the flash and roar, and dead-shot Dickinson is seen to stagger. He totters, stumbles slowly forward, and falls all along on his face. The bullet has bored through his body.
The General stays by his peg – cold and hard and stern. Hair-trigger Overton approaches the wounded Dickinson. One glance is enough. He crosses to the General and takes his arm.
“Come!” he says. “There is nothing more to do!”
Hair-trigger Overton leads the General back to their inn. As the pair journey through the poplar wood, he asks:
“What was that you put in your mouth?”
“It was a bullet,” returns the General; “I placed it between my teeth. By setting my jaws firmly upon it I make my hand as steady as a church.”
As the General says this, he gives that steadying pellet of lead to hair-trigger Overton, who looks it over curiously. It has been crushed between the clenched teeth of the General until now it is as flat and thin as a two-bit piece. As the two approach the tavern they come upon a negress churning butter, and the General pauses to drink a quart of milk.
Once in his room, hair-trigger Overton pulls off the General’s boot, which is full of blood.
“Not there!” says the General. “His bullet found me here”; and he throws open the black coat.
Dead-shot Dickinson’s aim was better than his surmise. He struck that indicated third button; but, thanks to the strategy of hair-trigger Overton which prompted the voluminous coat, the button did not cover the General’s heart. The deceived bullet has only broken two ribs and grazed the breastbone.
The surgeon is called; the wound is dressed and bandaged. He describes it as serious, and shakes his head.
“Still,” he observes, “you are more fortunate than Mr. Dickinson. He cannot live an hour.” As the man of probe and forceps is about to retire the General detains him.
“You are not to speak of my wound until we are back in Nashville.”
He of the probe and forceps bows assent. When he has left the room hair-trigger Overton asks:
“What was that for?”
The brow of the General grows cloudy with a reminiscent war frown.
“Have you forgotten those four shots inside the circle of a dollar, and that bullet-severed string? I want the braggart to die thinking he has missed a man at twelve paces.”
The two light pipes and hair-trigger Overton sends for his whisky. Once it has come he gives the General a stiff four fingers, and under the fiery spell of the liquor the color struggles into the pale hollow of his cheek.
He of the probe and forceps comes to the door.
“Gentlemen,” he says, palms outward with a sort of deprecatory gesture – “gentlemen, Mr. Dickinson is dead.”
The General knocks the ashes from his pipe. Then he crosses to the open window and looks out into the May sunshine. From over near the poplar wood drifts up the liquid whistle of a quail.Presently he returns to his seat and begins refilling his pipe.
“It speaks worlds for your will power, that you should have kept your feet after being hit so hard. Not one in ten thousand could have held himself together while he made that shot!” This is a marvelous burst of loquacity for hair-trigger Overton, who deals out words as some men deal out ducats.
“I was thinking on her, whom his slanderous tongue had hurt. I should have stood there till I killed him, though he had shot me through the heart!”
CHAPTER VIII – ENGLAND AND GRIM-VISAGED WAR
THE saw-handles are cleaned and oiled and laid away to that repose which they have won. No more will they be summoned to defend the blooming Rachel. No one now speaks evil of her; for that tragedy which reddened a May Kentucky morning has sealed the lips of slander. The General does not speak of that battle at twelve paces in the poplar wood; and yet the blooming Rachel knows. She, like her lover-husband, never refers to it; but her worship of him finds multiplication, while he, towards her, grows more and more the Bayard. Much are they revered and looked up to along the Cumberland, he for his gentle loyalty, she for her love; and the common tongue is tireless in reciting the story of their perfect happiness.
The currents of time roll on and the General is busy with his planting, his storekeeping, and his boat building. He is fortunate; and the three-sided profits pile themselves into moderate riches. In the midst of his prosperity he is visited by Aaron Burr. The late vice-president has killed Alexander Hamilton – a name despised along the Cumberland. Also he was aforetime the champion of Tennessee, when she asked the boon of statehood.
For these sundry matters, as well as for what good unconscious lessons in deportment were taught him by the courtly Colonel Burr, the General fails not to take that polished exile to his heart and to his hearth. Colonel Burr is in and out of Nashville many times. He comes and goes and comes and goes and comes again; and writes his daughter Theodosia:
“I am housed with General Jackson, who is one of those prompt, frank, loyal souls whom I like.”
Colonel Burr has been in France, and tells the General of Napoleon. He draws a battle map of Quebec, shows where Montgomery fell, and relates how he, Colonel Burr, bore that dead chieftain from the field. In the end, he gives a dim outline of his dreams for the conquest of that Spanish America, lying on the thither side of the Mississippi; and to these latter tales of empire the General lends eager ear.
By the General’s suggestion a dinner is given at the Nashville Inn in honor of Colonel Burr. The General presides, and, with a heart full of anger against Barbary pirates, offers among others the toast:
“Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!”
Colonel Burr, being dined, confides to the General how he is not without an ally in the Southwest, and says that Commander Wilkinson, in control for the Government at New Orleans, stands ready to advance his anti-Spanish projects. At the name of “Wilkinson” the General shakes his prudent head. He declares that Commander Wilkinson is a faithless, caitiff creature, with a brandified nose, a coward heart, and a weakness for breaking his word. The crafty Burr, confident to vanity of his own genius for intrigue, insists that he can trust Commander Wilkinson. Then he arranges with the General for the building of a flotilla of flat-boats at the latter’s yards, and goes his scheming way. Later, when Colonel Burr is on trial for treason in Richmond, the General will ride over the Blue Ridge to give him aid and comfort, and make street-corner speeches defending him, wherein he will say things more explicit than flattering concerning President Jefferson, who is urging the prosecution of Colonel Burr.
The hours, never resting, never sleeping, march onward with our planter-General, until the procession in its passing is remembered and spoken of as years. Then comes the war with England. That saber scar on the General’s head begins to throb, and he sends word to Washington that he is ready, with twenty-five hundred of his hunting-shirt militia, to kill British wherever they shall be found.
The Government thanks him, and orders him with his hunting-shirt followers to report to General Wilkinson at New Orleans. The General does not like this, the Wilkinson in question being that red-nosed renegade one, against whom long ago he warned the ambitious Colonel Burr. For all that, orders are orders; and besides a fight under any commander is not to be despised. The General presently hurries his hunting-shirt forces aboard flatboats, and floats away on the convenient bosom of the Cumberland. He will go down that stream to the Ohio, and so to the Mississippi and to New Orleans. As they float downward with the stream, the General recalls a former voyage when love and the blooming Rachel were his companions, and is heard to sigh.
At Natchez, word from Commander Wilkinson meets the General. He is told to land, and wait for further orders. The General takes his boys of the hunting shirts ashore, and pitches camp. Privily he unbends in oaths and maledictions, all addressed to the ex-grocer Wilkinson; for he thinks the order, preventing his entrance into New Orleans, born of the mean rivalry of that red-nosed ignobility.
The General waits, and curses Commander Wilkinson, for divers weeks. Then occurs one of those imbecilities, of which only the witlessness of Government is capable, and whereof the archives at Washington carry so many examples. The General receives a curt dispatch from the war secretary, “dismissing” him and his hunting-shirt soldiers from the service of the United States. Not a word is said as to pay, or provision for returning to the Cumberland. Having gotten the General and his little army several hundred wilderness miles from home, the thick-head Government, with no intelligence and as little heart, coolly reduces him and them to the practical status of vagrants; which feat accomplished, it walks away, as it were, hands in pockets, whistling “Yankee Doodle.” Possibly, the Government thinks that the General and his hunting-shirt friends can float upstream as they floated down. The angry General, however, makes no such marine mistake, and the intricate oaths which he now evolves and fulminates, as expressive of his feelings, would have won the admiration of any army that ever fought in Flanders.
The General’s credit is golden, since he has ever been a fanatic about paying debts. Invoking that credit, he cashes a handful of drafts, and marches home with his hunting-shirt contingent at his own expense. Also he indites a letter to that war secretary which reddens the latter’s departmental ears, and causes his departmental head to buzz like a nest of hornets. Later, the Government pays the General the amount of those drafts; not because it is right – since the argument of right has little Washington weight – but for the far more moving reason that Tennessee, in a rage, is preparing to desert the boneless President Madison for the Federalists. It is the latter thought which brings a ray of common sense to the besotted Government, and his money to our General, now back in Tennessee.
The bellicose General is vastly disappointed at missing a brush with invading British; for, aside from a saber-engrafted hatred of all English things and men, he is one to dote on fighting for fighting’s crimson sake, and is almost as well pleased with mere battle as with victory. However, he is given scanty room for sorrowful reflections, since fate is hurrying to his relief with a private war of his own.
The General, ever an expositor of the duello, and the peaceful hours resting heavy on his hands, goes out as second for a Captain Carroll against Mr. Jesse Benton. Captain Carroll is shot in the toe, and Mr. Benton in the leg; whereat the General and the Cumberland public groan over results so inadequate.
Being thus shot in the leg, Mr. Benton displays his bad taste by falling into a fury with the General. He recounts what he regards as his “wrongs” to his brother Thomas, and that intemperate individual loses no time in taking up his brother’s quarrel. The pair say things of the General which would arouse the wrath of an image; with that, the General calls for his saw-handles, and begins to plan trouble for those verbally reckless Bentons.
The General takes with him as guide, philosopher and friend, his faithful subaltern, Colonel Coffee. The two establish themselves, strategically, at the Nashville Inn.
Across the corner of the public square upon which the Nashville Inn finds hospitable frontage, stands the City Hotel. Sunning themselves in the veranda of the latter caravansary, but with war written upon their angry visages, the General and the faithful Coffee perceive the brothers Benton. The enemies glare at one another, and the General says to Colonel Coffee that they will now go to the post office. Since a trip to the post office is calculated to bring them within touching distance of the brothers Benton, Colonel Coffee at once discerns the propriety of such a journey.
The pair go to the post office, staring haughtily at the brothers Benton as they pass. The brothers Benton, for their side, being apoplectic of habit, grow black in the face with rage.
Having visited the post office, and being now upon their return, the General and Colonel Coffee again draw near the apoplectic Bentons, glowering from their veranda. When within three feet of them, the General abruptly whips out one of those celebrated saw-handles, and jams its muzzle against the horrified stomach of brother Thomas Benton. That imperiled personage thereupon backs rapidly away from the saw-handle, which as rapidly follows; while the public, assembling on the run, confidently expects the General to shoot brother Thomas Benton in two.
The General might have done so, and thus gratified the public, but the unexpected occurs. As brother Thomas Benton backs briskly from the muzzle of the saw-handle, brother Jesse, who is not wanting in a genius for decision, whirls, and from a huge horse pistol plants two balls in the General’s left shoulder. As the warrior goes down, Colonel Coffee empties his pistol at brother Thomas, who avoids having his head blown off only by the fortunate fact of a cellar, into whose receptive depths he tumbles, just in what novelists call “the nick of time.” As brother Thomas lapses into the cellar, young Hays, a nephew of the blooming Rachel, hurls brother Jesse to the floor, to which he makes heartfelt attempts to pin him with a dirk, but is baffled by the activity of the restless brother Jesse, who will not lie still to be pinned.
The whole riot has not covered the space of sixty seconds, when the public, suddenly conceiving its duty to lie in that direction, seizes young Hays, releases the recumbent brother Jesse, disarms Colonel Coffee, fishes brother Thomas out of that receptive cellar, and carries the badly wounded General to a bed in the Nashville Inn. The City Hotel mentions its own beds, and lays claim to the injured General, on the argument that the battle has been fought in its bar. The claim is disallowed and the General conveyed to the rival hostelry aforesaid, as being peculiarly his own proper inn, since it is there he has ever repaired for billiards, mint juleps, and to hold conferences over pipe and glass with his friends.
Once in bed, the local surgeons burst in and offer to cut off the General’s arm. The offer is declined fiercely and a poultice of slippery-elm bark is substituted for that proposed surgery. This latter medicament works wonders; under its soothing influences, and the revivifying effects of whisky – both being remedies much in vogue along the Cumberland – the General begins to mend.
The General, the patient object of a deal of slippery-elm bark and whisky – the one applied externally and the other internally – lies in bed a month. Then the awful word arrives of the massacre at Fort Mims. Five hundred and fifty-three souls have been slaughtered, and Chief Weathersford with all his Creeks, valor sharpened by English gold and English firewater, is reported on the warpath. The news brings the General out of bed in a moment. His friends remonstrate, the doctors command, the blooming Rachel pleads; but he puts them aside. Gaunt of cheek, face paper-white with weakness, left arm in a sling, he climbs painfully into the saddle and takes command.
The General sends Colonel Coffee and his mounted riflemen to the fore, with orders to wait for him at Fayettesville. Meanwhile, he himself lingers briefly to enroll and organize his little army. A few weeks later he follows the doughty Coffee, and the entire command – horns full of powder, pouches heavy with bullets, hunting knives whetted to a razor edge – moves southward after hostile Creeks.
CHAPTER IX – THE GENERAL AT THE HORSESHOE
THE General goes to Fayettesville, and orders Colonel Coffee with his eager five hundred to Huntsville, as a point nearer the heart of savage war. Volunteers, each bringing his own rifle and riding his own horse, join Colonel Coffee, who sends back inspiring word that his five hundred have grown to thirteen hundred, all thirsting for Creek blood. Meanwhile, the General, weak and worn to a shadow, can hardly keep the saddle, and must be bathed hourly in whisky to hold soul and body together. Unable to eat, he lives by his will alone. The shot-shattered left arm, lest he faint with the awful agony which attends its least disturbance, is bound tightly to his side.
The General takes the field, and presently comes up with the Creeks. He smites them hip and thigh at Tallushatches, Talladega, and divers other places of equally complicated names, slaying hundreds while losing few himself. The Creeks give way before the invincible General. Wherever he goes they scatter like an affrighted flock of blackbirds.
The Indian is terrible only when he is winning. He is not upholstered, whether mentally or morally, for an uphill, losing war. The General would like it better if this were otherwise. Could he but coax his evanescent enemy into a pitched battle, he would break both his heart and his power with one and the same blow.
Chief Weathersford is as well aware of this defect in the Indian make-up as is the General. He himself is half white, and knows what points of strength and weakness belong with either race. Wherefore, when now his Creeks have been beaten, and their hearts are low in defeat, he makes no effort to lead them against the General’s front; but breaks them into squads and little bands, with directions to harass the hunting-shirt men and hang about their flanks in the name of flea-bite annoyance and isolated scalps. Thus is the General plagued and fatigued nigh unto death, without once being able to lay hand upon those skulking, hiding, flying foot-Parthians against whom he has come forth.
Also, he and his hunting-shirt men are getting farther and farther from anything that might be termed a base of supplies. At last, many a pathless mile through wood and swamp, and many an unbridged river, lie between the nearest barrel of flour and their stomachs clamorous for food.
The military stomach is the first great base of every military operation. The war-wise Frederick had it for his aphorism, that an army is so much like a snake it can move forward only on its belly. The General is made painfully aware of this truism when he and his hunting-shirt men find themselves penned up with starvation at Fort Strother. In the teeth of his troubles, however, he makes shift to send home an orphaned papoose for the blooming Rachel to raise.
Famine takes command at Fort Strother, and the General writes: “He is an enemy I dread more than hostile Creeks – I mean the meager monster, Famine!” There is murmuring among the hunting-shirt men, who have, with the appetite common to bordermen, that contempt of discipline which belongs to their rude caste. They are reduced to roots and berries, with an occasional pigeon or squirrel, which latter diminutive deer no one waits to cook, but devours raw. One day a backwoods boy, whose appetite is even with his effrontery, waylays the General on his rounds and demands food.
“Here is what I was saving for supper,” says the General; “you may have that.” And he tosses the hungry one a double handful of acorns.
The starving hunting-shirt men mutiny; they draw themselves up preparatory to marching north, to find that home-fatness which waits for them on the Cumberland. At this the General changes his manner. Heretofore he has been the symbol of fatherly sympathy and toleration. He can make excuses for the grumbling of hungry men, and makes them. But this goes beyond grumbling, which, when all is in, comes to be no more than a healthful blowing off of angry steam; this is desertion by wholesale.
As the lean-flanked, rancorous ones line up to begin their homeward march, the General, haggard and emaciated by those Benton wounds and a want of food, rides out in front. Halting forty yards from the foremost mutineers, he swings from the saddle. In his right hand he carries a long eight-square rifle. This, since he has no left hand to support his aim, he runs across the empty saddle. Being ready, he calls on the hunting-shirt men to give the order to march, if they dare.
“For by the Eternal,” says he, “I’ll shoot down the first of you who takes a forward step!”
The sulky, hungry hunting-shirt men scowl at the General. He scowls back at them, with the wicked ferocity of a tiger and an iron determination not to be revoked. And thus they stand glaring – one against hundreds! Then the courage of the hungry hundreds oozes away, and they fall back before that menacing apparition which glowers at them along the rifle barrel. They melt away by the rear, those hunting-shirt men, and lurk off to their quarters – ashamed of their weakness, yet afraid to go on.
At last, a herd of beef, quite as gaunt as the starved hunting-shirt men themselves, arrives. Fires are set going and knives drawn. There is a measureless eating. Belts are let out to the full-fed holes of other days; mutiny, like an evil spirit, takes its flight. The gorged hunting-shirt men, as though in amends for their scowl-ings and mutinous grumblings, beg to be led instantly against the Creeks. This the General is very willing to do, since he suspects the Creeks of possessing corn.
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