Eric Flint: 1824: The Arkansas War

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Eric Flint 1824: The Arkansas War
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    1824: The Arkansas War
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One of the white men glared at her and started to snarl something, but the gaunt-jawed man cut him off.

"It matters not, anyway. This is Ohio. We do not tolerate the heathen institution of slavery here." He nodded toward the negroes squatting by the fire. "They are men, and thus they are by nature free. So God decrees. I care not in the least what some sinner claims in Virginia or the Carolinas. Soon enough, his flesh will roast in eternal hellfire."

He took a step forward, his musket held higher. "Begone, all of you."

The seven original white men just stared at him.

"Begone," he repeated.

One of them had had enough. He snatched his hat from his head and slammed it to the ground, then planted his hand on the pistol at his belt.

"The hell we will! I don't know what crazy notions you've got in your head, but we-"

The gaunt-jawed man took another step forward. He was now standing not fifteen feet away from the man with the pistol.

"I believe in the Golden Rule, sir, and the Declaration of Independence. I think that both mean the same thing. And, that being so, it is better that a whole generation should pass off the face of the earth-men, women, and children-by a violent death than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, sir."

The man with the pistol hesitated. Then he sneered. "You won't shoot."

The musket came up like dawn rising. Not quickly, no. Sheff wasn't sure, but he didn't think the gaunt-jawed man was really what people meant by a "gun man." He wasn't handling the musket awkwardly, but he didn't seem especially favored with it, either.

It mattered not at all. The dawn rises. It just does, whether any man wills it or not.

At the end, the pistol-man seemed to realize it also. "Hey-! " he started to shout, before the bullet took him in the chest and hammered him to the ground.

"Hey!" two of the others echoed in protest.

The gaunt-jawed man ignored them as he began reloading his musket. "If any of them move, Salmon and Levi, slay them."

They didn't move. Even though they all had guns, too, and had the gaunt-jawed man and his fellows outnumbered.

Well:maybe. From the corner of his eye, Sheff could see his uncle Jem and two of the other men in their party reaching for their knives. His mother was doing the same.

Sheff wished he had a knife himself.

Halfway through reloading his musket, the gaunt-jawed man looked up. He was close enough now that Sheff could finally see the true color of his eyes.

Grayish blue, sure enough. That same frightening, cold color. But since it wasn't aimed at him for once, Sheff wasn't so scared.

"All of you," the man said quietly to the six white men still alive and facing him, "were condemned before you were born. God is Almighty and so He decreed, for purposes of His own. I will shoot each and every one of you-shoot you as dead as that one, sirs-and I will simply be the instrument of God's will. So do not think-ever-to say to me 'thou wilt not do it.' Oh, no, sirs. I assure you. I most certainly will."

They were strange words, in a way, coming from a man whom Sheff suddenly realized was quite young. Somewhere in his early twenties, at a guess, although the harsh features of his face made him seem older. Yet, he'd spoken the words like one of the ancient prophets, and Sheff knew that some of them had lived to be hundreds of years old.

"I most certainly will," the man repeated. He was close to being done, now, with the reloading. "Indeed, I shall, the moment this musket is ready to fire again."

He broke off the work for an instant to point with the ramrod at one of the six white men.

"I will kill you first. After that, the others. Those whom my brothers-black as well as white-have left alive. If there are any."

Sheff 's uncle rose to his feet. So did the other two black men. Their knives were all visible, out in the open and with campfire light on them.

"Won't be a one, sir," Uncle Jem predicted. "Not if your brothers shoot as straight as you do."

The eyes of the six original white men were very wide, by now.

"Hey!" one of them cried.

"Begone, I said." The gaunt-jawed man didn't look up from the reloading. "And do not-ever-come near me again."

Sheff almost laughed, watching how they ran away. His mother did, after one of them tripped over a root.

Before they slept for the night, the gaunt-jawed man insisted on leading them in prayer. Then he read from his Bible for a few minutes, until he passed it over to Jem.

Sheff didn't mind. His uncle Jem's heavy voice was a reassuring counter-tone to the white man's. And it wasn't as if they were quarreling over the biblical text, after all.

The next morning, when he awoke, Sheff saw that the white man and his two brothers were already awake. Awake, clothed-and armed.

For the first time in his sixteen years of life, the sight of an armed white man didn't scare Sheff. Even if the man in question was still the scariest-looking white man he'd ever seen.

Once the party were all awake and ready to resume their travel, the man spoke.

"My brothers and I will go with you as far as the Confederacy. To make sure nothing happens like last night."

"It's a far stretch, sir," pointed out Jem.

The man shrugged. "We've been thinking of settling in the Confederacy, anyway. I would much like to make the acquaintance of Patrick Driscol. In a world full of sinners, his like is not often encountered."

Uncle Jem nodded. "We'd much appreciate it, sir. Ever since Calhoun and his bunch got those freedmen exclusion laws passed, it's been nigh horrible for black folks."

"Yes, I know. Calhoun will burn. Not for us to know why God chose to inflict him upon us. No doubt He had His reasons."

By the time they reached the Mississippi, almost two weeks later, Sheff had worked up the courage to ask the man's name. He was the first one to do so.

It helped that a party of Cherokees was there, ready to escort them the rest of the way to the Arkansas Confederacy. Cherokees were frightening, to be sure, but they weren't as frightening as white men.

Not even all white men were frightening to Sheff any longer. Not even him. He was learning to make distinctions that hadn't seemed very clear, back in the freedmens' quarters of Baltimore.

"Please, sir," he said. "I'd really appreciate to know your name."

The man nodded gravely. Then he smiled. He had quite a nice smile, even if it wasn't often evident.

"I wondered when one of you might ask." He pointed to his two brothers. "That's Salmon. The other is my adopted brother, Levi Blakeslee. My name is Brown. John Brown."

1824: TheArkansasWar

1824: TheArkansasWar


Washington, D.C.

A PRIL 25, 1824

"Houston must have known." The president turned his head away from the window, presenting his profile to the other two men. The expression on his face was not condemnatory so much as simply pensive. "Must have known for several years, in fact. Am I right, Winfield?"

The tall, handsome general in one of the chairs in Monroe's office shifted his position. Only slightly, of course. The very fancy uniform he favored didn't lend itself well to extravagant movement while he was seated.

"Oh, certainly," General Scott replied. "Driscol's been building another Line of Torres Vedras in those mountains. The original took Wellington over a year to build-and he had the population of Lisbon to draw on. Even with all the negroes who have migrated to Arkansas the past few years, Driscol doesn't begin to have that large a labor force. And the Cherokees and Creeks are useless for that sort of work, of course. For the most part, at least."

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