When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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Papa Plauche is rejoiced at being thus thrust into the center.
“For my heroes!” cries Papa Plauche, in a speech which he makes the “Fathers,” the center is the heart – the home of honor! “On us, my Fathers, devolves the main defense of our beloved city, where sleep our wives and children. Wherefore, be brave as vigilant – vigilant as brave!”
Papa Plauche’s voice is husky, but not from fear. No, it is husky by reason of a cold which, despite certain woolen nightcaps wherewith the excellent Madam Plauche equipped him for the field, he has contracted in sleeping damply among the stubble and the river fogs.
Six hundred yards in front of the General’s mud walls, and near the river, are a huddle of plantation buildings. The English, he argues, will mask a part of their advance with these structures. The forethoughtful General prepares for this, and has furnaces heating shot, to set those buildings blazing at the psychological moment.
Also, in response to a comic cynicism not usual with him, he has out the brass band of Papa Plauche, with instructions to strike up “Yankee Doodle” as the first gun is fired. The band, in compliment to the General, has been privily rehearsing “‘Possum up a Gum Tree,” which it understands is the national anthem of Tennessee, and offers to play that.
The General thanks the band, but declines “‘Possum up a Gum Tree.” It will not be understood by the English; whereas “Yankee Doodle” they have known and loathed for forty years.
“Give ‘em ‘Yankee Doodle,’” says the General. “Since they are so eager to dance, we’ll furnish the proper music.”
Sir Edward is as soon afoot as is the General. He finds his English steady yet dull; they will fight, but not with spirit. As the General assured the conferring Coffee, the hunting-shirt men, with their long rifles like wands of death, have broken the English heart.
The English are to advance in three columns; General Keane on the right with Rennie’s Rifles, in the center Dale’s Highlanders, on the left, where the main attack is to be launched, General Gibbs, with three thousand of the pride of England at his back. General Lambert is to hold himself in the rear of General Gibbs, with two regiments as a reserve. As the columns form, there are eighty-five hundred of the English; against which the-General opposes a scanty thirty-two hundred. And yet, upon those overpowering eighty-five hundred hangs a silence like a sadness, as though they are about to go marching to their graves.
The solemn fear in which the English hold the hunting-shirt men finds pathetic evidence. As the columns wheel into position, Colonel Dale of the Highlanders gives a letter and his watch to the surgeon.
“Carry them to my wife,” says he.
“I’ll peel for no American!” and twenty-four hours later he is buried in that cloak.
The English stand to their arms, and wait the breaking of day. Slowly the minutes drag their leaden length along; morning comes at last.
With the first streaks of livid dawn, a Congreve rocket flashes skyward from Sir Edward’s headquarters.The rocket is the English signal to advance. In a moment, General Gibbs, General Keane, and Colonel Dale with his “praying” Highlanders are in motion.
The signal rocket uncouples thousands upon thousands of fellow rockets; the air is on fire with them as they blaze aloft in mighty arcs, to fall and explode among the hunting-shirt men.
“Toys for children, boys,” cries the General, as he observes the hunting-shirt men watching the flaming shower with curious, non-understanding eyes; “toys for children! They’ll hurt no one!”
The General is right. Those congreve rockets are supposed to be as deadly as artillery. Like many another commodity of war, however, meant primarily to fatten contractors, they prove as innocuous as so many huge fireflies. The hunting-shirt men laugh at them. The battery of eighteen-pounders, wherewith the English second that flight of rockets, is a more serious affair.
As the sun shoots up above the cypress swamp and rolls back the mists of morning, the English make a gallant picture. The dull yellow of the stubble in front of the General’s line is gay with splotches of red and gray and green and tartan, the colors of the various English corps.
The hunting-shirt men, however, are not given much space for admiration; for, with one grand crash, the big guns go into action and the red-green-gray-tartan picture is swallowed up in powder smoke. Also, it is now that Papa Plauche’s band blares forth “Yankee Doodle,” while those anticipatory hot shot set fire to the plantation buildings. As the latter burst out at door and window in smoke and flames, Colonel Rennie and his riflemen are driven into the open. The conflagration gets much in the English way, and spoils the drill-room nicety of Sir Edward’s onset as he has it planned.
Colonel Rennie, being capable of brisk decision, makes the best of a disconcerting situation. When the flames and smoke from those fired plantation buildings drive him into the open before he is ready, he promptly orders a charge. This his riflemen obey; for the inexorable Patterson, across the river, is already upon them with those eighteen-pounders, and his solid shot are mowing ghastly swaths through the rifle-green ranks, tossing dead men in the air like old bags. With so little inducement to stand still, the riflemen hail that word to charge as a relief, and head for the General’s mud walls at double quick.
The oncoming Colonel Rennie and his English are met full in the face by a tempest of grape, from Major Humphrey and the pirates Dominique and Bluche, which throws them backward upon themselves. They bunch up and clot into lumps of disorder, like clumps of demoralized sheep in rifle-green. At that, Commodore Patterson serves his eighteen-pounders with multiplied speed, and the great balls tear those sheep-clumps to pieces, staining with crimson the rifle-green. The English marvel at the artillery work of the General’s men, whose every shot comes on, well aimed and low, bringing death in its whistling wake.
They should reflect: The theory, not to say the eye, which aims a squirrel rifle will point a cannon.
Colonel Rennie, when his English recoil, keeps on – face red with grief and rage.
“It’s my time to die!” says he to Captain Henry. “But before I die, I shall at least see the inside of those mud walls.”
Colonel Rennie is wrong. A bullet finds his brain as he lifts his head above the breastworks, and he slips back dead in the ditch outside. Major King and Captain Henry die with him, pierced each by a handful of bullets.
When the English flinch and Colonel Rennie falls, the bugler – a boy of fourteen – climbs a tree, not one hundred yards from the General’s line. Perched among the branches, he sounds his dauntless charges. The General gives orders to let the boy alone. And so the little bugler, protected by the word of the General, sings his shrill onsets to the last.
Finally an artillery-man goes out to him.
“Come down, my son!” says the cannoneer. “The war’s about over!”
The little bugler comes down, and is at once taken to the fatherly heart of Papa Plauche, who declares him to be a sucking Hector, and is for adopting him as his son on the spot, but is restrained by thoughts of Madam Plauche.
Sir Edward’s main assault, with General Gibbs, meets no fairer fortune than falls to Colonel Rennie by the river. Confusion prevails on the threshold of the movement; for Colonel Mullins with his Forty-fourth refuses to go forward. Later he will be courtmartialed, and dismissed in disgrace. Just now, however, the recreant makes a shameful tangle of the English van. As a quickest method of setting the tangle straight, General Gibbs, as did Colonel Rennie, orders a charge. The column moves forward, the mutinous Forty-fourth on the right flank, led by its major.
General Gibbs advances, brushing with the shoulder of his corps, the cypress swamp. Behind the mud walls in his front, the steady hunting-shirt men are waiting. The General is there, to give the latter patience and hold them in even check.
“Easy, boys!” he cries. “Remember your ranges! Don’t fire until they are within two hundred yards!”
On rush the English. At six hundred yards they are met by the fire of the artillery. They heed it not, but press sullenly forward, closing up the gaps in their ranks, where the solid shot go crashing through, as fast as made. Five hundred yards, four hundred, three hundred! Still they come! Two hundred yards!
And now the hunting-shirt men! A line of fire unending glances from right to left and left to right, along the crest of those mud walls, and Death begins his reaping. The head of the English column burns away, as though thrust into a furnace! The column wavers and welters like a red ship in a murky sea of smoke! It pauses, falteringly – disdaining to fly, yet unable to advance!
“Forward, men!” shouts General Gibbs. “This is the way you should go!”
As he points with his sword to those terrible mud walls, he falls riddled by the hunting-shirt men.
CHAPTER XVII – THE SLAUGHTER AMONG THE STUBBLE
WHEN the main advance begins, Sir Edward is in the center with the Highlanders. The latter are not to move until he has word of their success from General Keane with Rennie’s rifle corps, and General Gibbs with the main column – the one by the river and the other by the cypress swamp. He has not long to wait; a courier dashes up from the river – eye haggard, disorder in his look!
“General Keane?” cries Sir Edward, his apprehension on edge.
“Fallen!” returns the courier hoarsely.
“Dead. The Rifles are in full retreat!” Sir Edward stands like one stricken. Then he pulls himself together.
“Bring on your Highlanders!” he cries to Colonel Dale. “We must force their lines in front of General Gibbs. It is our only chance!”
Sir Edward dashes across to General Gibbs, in the shadow of that significant cypress swamp. He sees General Gibbs go down! He sees the red column torn and twisted by that storm of lead which the hunting-shirt men unloose.
As the English reel away from those low-flying messengers of death, Sir Edward seeks to rally them.
“Are you Englishmen?” he cries. “Have you but marched upon a battlefield to stain the glory of your flag?”
Sir Edward’s gesticulating arm falls, smashed by a bullet from some sharp-shooting hunting-shirt man. He seems not to know his hurt! He is on fire with the thought that those honors, won upon forty fields, are to be wrested from him by a “Copper Captain,” backed by a mob of peasants in buckskin! He rushes among the shaken English to check the panic which is seizing them!
The Highlanders come up!
“Hurrah! brave Highlanders!” he shouts.
At Sir Edward’s welcoming shout, Colonel Dale waves a salute! It is his last; the huntingshirt men are upon him with those unerring rifles, and he falls dead before his General’s eyes. Coincident with the fall of his beloved Dale, Sir Edward is struck by a second bullet. It enters near the heart. As his aide catches him in his arms, he beckons feebly to Sir John Tylden.
“Call up Lambert with the reserves!” he whispers.
As he lies supported in the arms of his aide, a third bullet puffs out his lamp of life, and England loses a second Sir Philip Sidney.
The main column falls into renewed disorder! It begins to retreat; the retreat becomes a rout! Only the Highlanders stay! They cannot go forward; they will not go back! There they stand rooted, until five hundred and forty of their nine hundred and fifty are shot down.
As the main column breaks, Major Wilkinson turns to Lieutenant Lavack.
“This is too much disgrace to take home!” says he.
Like Colonel Rennie, a mile away by the river, Major Wilkinson charges the mud walls. Lieutenant Lavack, sharing his feelings, shares with him that desperate, disgrace-defying charge. Through the singing, droning “zip! zip!” of the bullets, they press on! They reach the ditch, and splash through! Up the mud walls they swarm! Major Wilkinson falls inside, dead, three times shot through and through! Lieutenant Lavack, with a luck that is like a charm, lands in the midst of the hunting-shirt men without a scratch! They receive him hilariously, offer whisky and compliments, and assure him that they like his style. Lieutenant Lavack accepts the whisky and the compliments, and gains distinction as the one live Englishman over the General’s mud walls this January day.
The field is swept of hostile English; all is silent in front, and not a shot is heard. Now when the firing is wholly on one side, the General passes the word for the hunting-shirt men to cease.
The hard-working Coffee comes up, face a-smudge of powder stains; for he has been taking his turn with a rifle, like any other hunting-shirt man. He finds the General as drunk on battle as some folk are on brandy.
“They can’t beat us, Coffee!” cries the General, wringing his friend’s big hand. “By the living Eternal they can’t beat us!”
The General unslings his ramshackle telescope, and leaps upon the mud walls for a survey of the field. The less curious Coffee devotes himself to wiping the sweat and powder smudges from his face. His impromptu toilet results only in unhappy smears, which make him resemble an overgrown sweep. He looks at his watch.
“Sharp, short work!” he mutters, as he notes that they have been fighting but twenty-five minutes.
Those plantation buildings are still blazing, no more than half-burned down, and the smoke hides the scene toward the river. The General turns his ramshackle spyglass upon his immediate front. The ground is fairly carpeted with dead English. As he gazes he calls to Colonel Coffee, who is now broadening the powder smears ingeniously with the sleeve of his hunting shirt.
“Jump up here, Coffee!” cries the General. “It’s like resurrection day!”
Thus urged, Colonel Coffee abandons his attempts to improve his looks, and joins the General on the mud walls. He is in time to behold four hundred odd Highlanders scramble to their brogues among those five hundred and forty who will never march again, and come forward to surrender.
It has been a hot and bloody morning. Of those six thousand whom Sir Edward takes into action – for the reserves with General Lambert are never within range – over twenty-one hundred are fallen. Seven hundred and thirty are killed as they stand in their ranks; and of the fourteen hundred marked “wounded,” more than six hundred are to die within the week. Among the twenty-one hundred killed and wounded, sixteen hundred go to swell the red record of the dire hunting-shirt men.
The two attacks, being at the ends of the General’s lines, involve no more than two-thirds of his thirty-two hundred. Papa Plauche’s “Fathers” in the center, as well as General Adair’s Kentuckians who act as reserves, are merest spectators.
That his “Fathers” are not called upon to fire a shot, in no wise depresses Papa Plauche. He harangues his brave followers, and eloquently explains:
“It is because of your sanguinary fame, my heroes!” vociferates Papa Plauche. “The English knew your position, and avoided you. They went as far to the right and to the left as they could, to escape that destruction you else would have infallibly meted out to them. Ah! my ‘Fathers,’ see what it is to have a terrible name! You must sit idle in battle, because no foe dare engage you! Be comforted, my glorious heroes! Achilles could have done no more!”
Colonel Coffee, still busy with the powder smears, calls the General’s attention to an English group of three, made up of a colonel, a bugler, and a soldier bearing a white flag. The trio halt six hundred respectful yards away. The bugler sounds a fanfare; the soldier waves his white flag.
The General dispatches Colonel Butler with two captains to receive their message. It is a note signed “Lambert,” asking an armistice of twenty-four hours to bury the dead.
“Who is Lambert?” asks the General, and sends to the English colonel, with his bugler and white flag, to find out.
The three presently return; this time the note is signed “John Lambert, Commander-in-Chief.” The alteration proves to the General’s liking, and the armistice is arranged.
The seven hundred and thirty dead English are buried where they fell. Thereafter the superstitious blacks will defy lash and torture rather than plow the land where they lie. It will raise no more sugar cane; but in time a cypress grove will sorrowfully cover it, as though in mournful memory of those who sleep beneath. The General carries his own dead to the city. They are not many, four dead and four wounded being the limit of his loss.
General Lambert and the beaten English go wallowing, hip-deep, through the swamps to their boats. They will not fight again. The booming of the batteries, or mayhap the unusual warmth of the sun, has roused from their winter beds a scaly host of alligators. These saurians uplift their hideous heads and gaze sleepily, yet inquisitively, at the wallowing retreating English. Now and then one widely yawns, and the spectacle sends an icy thrill along what English spines bear witness to it.
In the end the beaten English are all departed. That tremendous invasion which, with “Beauty and Booty!” for its cry, sailed out of Negril Bay six weeks before to the sack of New Orleans, is abandoned, and the last defeated man jack once more aboard the ships and mighty glad to be there. The fleet sails south and east; but not until the tallest ship is hull down in the horizon does the General march into New Orleans.
The General cannot bring himself to believe that the retreat of the English is genuine. They have still, as they sail away, full thirteen thousand fighting men aboard those ships, with a round one thousand cannon, and munitions and provisions for a year’s campaign. He judges them by himself, and will not be convinced that they have fled. With this on his mind, he plants his pickets far and wide, and insists on double vigilance.
Now when fear of the English is rolled like a stone from their breasts, the folk of New Orleans fret under the General’s iron rule. With that the prudent General tightens his grip. Even so excellent a soldier as Papa Plauche complains. He says that the hearts of the “Fathers of Families” are bursting with victory. His valiant “Fathers” burn to express their joy.
The General suggests that the joy-swollen “Fathers” repair to the Cathedral, and hear the Abb? Duborg conduct a Te Deum.
Papa Plauche points out that, while a Te Deum is all very well in its way, it is a rite and not a festival. What his “Fathers” – who are thunderbolts of war! – desire is to give a ball.
The General says that he has no objections to the ball.
Papa Plauche explains that a ball is not possible, with the city held fast in the controlling coils of military law. The rule that all lights must be out at nine o’clock, of itself forbids a ball. As affairs stand the “Fathers” are helpless in their happiness. No one may dance by daylight; that would be too fantastic, too bizarre! And yet who, pray, can rejoice in the dark? It is against human nature, argues Papa Plauche.
The General refuses to be moved; but continues to hold the city in his unrelenting clutch – maintaining the while a wary eye for sly returning English, with an occasional glance at the local treason which is simmering about him.
The public murmur grows louder and deeper. A rumor of the peace comes ashore, no one knows how. The General refuses the rumor, fearing an English ruse to throw him off his guard. At the peace whisper, the popular discontent increases. The General, in the teeth of it, remains unchanged.
Citizen Hollander expresses himself with more heat than prudence. The General locks up the vituperative Citizen Hollander. M. Toussand, Consul for France, considers such action high-handed; and says so. The General marches Consul Toussand out of town, with a brace of bayonets at the consular back. Legislator Louaillier protests against the casting out of Consul Toussand. The General consigns the protesting Legislator Louaillier to a cell in the calaboose. Jurist Hall of the District Court issues a writ of habeas corpus for the relief and release of the captive Louaillier. The General responds by arresting Jurist Hall, who is given a cell between captives Louaillier and Hollander, where by raising his voice he may condole with them through the intervening stone walls.
Thus are affairs arranged when official notice of the peace reaches the General from Washington. Instantly he withdraws his grip from the city, restores the civil rule, and releases from captivity Jurist Hall, Citizen Hollander, and Legislator Louaillier.
Upon the disappearance of martial law, Papa Plauche, with his immortal “Fathers of Families,” gives that ball of victory, the exiled Consul Toussand creeps back into town, while Jurist Hall signalizes his restoration to the woolsack by fining the General one thousand dollars for contempt of court – which he pays.
The Legislature, guards withdrawn from its treasonable doors, expands into lawmaking. Its earliest action is a resolution of thanks for their brave defense of the city to officers Coffee, Carroll, Hinds, Adair, and Patterson. The Legislature pointedly does not thank the General, who grins dryly.
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