The Web of War

The Web of War

by E. R. Baillie


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491724453
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/25/2014
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)

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By E. R. Baillie

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2014 E. R. Baillie
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-2445-3


July 1812

Matthew Elliott

Sarah was wantin' me to use the big office in the front of the house and spend less time in the little room off the kitchen, but it suited me here where the table was solid and the chairs were rough; where the back door used by the Indians was close; where merchants came and went carryin' food and gossip; and where sweet fragrances seeped in from the kitchen. Far as I was concerned there couldn't be a better office. Since I married sweet Sarah, I'd run my farm and my Indian trade from that room and become pretty damn rich in the process.

It sure as hell wasn't in my plans for this office to turn into what was fast becomin' a war room.

Alone, I put my feet up on the table, tilted my chair back, sipped my brandy and stared at the blurred vision of myself in the window. There I was, Matthew Elliott, who, not of my own choosin', had become "Lieutenant Commander, Chief of Indian Affairs." 'Twas a glorious title for an Irishman who had just completed his 72nd year, and in spite of not wanting it, didn't it pleasure me to know how it must stick in the craw of every English officer hereabouts? 'Course, I damned well deserved it, havin' devoted the best years of my life to livin' and workin' with the Indians in the Ohio and Upper Canada regions, but I wasn't stupid; I knew that were it not for the threat of war and the need for a man of my talents, the fekin' British would have had me out on my ear before my next piss.

Alexander, my son, disturbed my reverie when he came in with a letter in his hand. "A soldier delivered this to the front door. Looks like it's from

Lieutenant Colonel Procter. Should I open it?"

I sighed and nodded my head. "Sure ta hell it's some kind of complaint!"

I watched Alexander as he tore open the letter. This son was my pride—the man who would take the Elliott name from a rough-and-tumble reputation to one that would be looked up to in Canadian society. He was small-like, and like me no beauty, havin' my sharp cheekbones and receding hairline, but his skin was white like mine, which was fortunate. If he'd had the skin colour of his brother, Boy, and his mother, Love, my beautiful Indian first wife, 'twould have damaged the future I'd planned for him.

I had sent him East for many years, first to study and later to become a lawyer, and here he was back, dressed in frock coat and leggings, every bit the gentleman. Now we would have time to get to know each other again.

Alexander read the note slowly. "It is from Procter. There's a covering note: It says, 'Elliott, because you have repeatedly ignored my orders, I'm forced to send this letter to Quebec.'" Alexander put aside the cover letter and read through the several pages of the official missive.

I was in no big hurry to hear.

"Says here that you are suspected of peculation, that you clash with the military authorities and that you are secretive about the affairs of the Indian department and careless about the department's accounting. Quite a damning document, Da!"

I slammed my feet to the floor and started for the door. "Tear the damned thing up! I'm going to see the snot-nosed son of a bitch and tell him how things get done in this part of the world."

Alexander followed me out. "Procter's the man with the gold on his shoulders, Da. We'd best try to smooth things over."

"That son of a bitch is doin' this because he can't stand the sight of me and this is his way of lettin' me know it."

We kept at it while we waited for a servant to bring our horses up. In frustration, Alexander thrust his fingers through his thick mane of black hair. "You have to own that you don't help matters. When he's in the room, you're worse than a hissing cat!"

I mounted my horse. "Can't help it, my boy. The idjit is girdled by the fekin' 'military rules' and can't see that they don't work with the Indians! Are you coming with me?"

We usually went from my farm to Fort Malden by canoe along the Detroit River, but it was a blustery day and the Indians would be paddling against the wind. Anyway, a gallop into the wind best suited my mood.

The soldier guarding the palisade gate waved us through, and we walked our horses directly to Procter's headquarters.

Alexander took the reins of my horse and tied both animals to the hitching post. "Watch your temper please, Da."

He was right, but men like Procter, weak men with a lot of power, were dangerous human beings who always left a man like me growling with helplessness.

Procter did not look up from his paperwork when we were shown in. All we could see was his receding hairline, long nose and drooping jowls. "I deduce you received my note, Elliott." He continued signing papers, moving each one aside after it had received his venerable signature.

"I did that, sir, and am here to ask you to explain yer complaints."

He stopped writing and looked up but kept his pen poised. "There's really no need to go into it all, Elliott, as you'll not be with us much longer, but as long as you're asking I'll tell you. I ordered you to keep weapons out of the hands of the Indians until we were ready to have them fight. You've disobeyed me and not gone by the book. That's enough for a court-martial right there."

I chewed on my anger. Alexander elbowed me lightly. "Soldiers don't understand how the Indian Department has to be run. Jaysus, God almighty!" Alexander cleared his throat to get my attention, but I ignored him. "Indians have never heard of 'the book,' and there's no way in hell I'll be able to keep them happy by doing things your way!"

"I could have you arrested for speaking to your commanding officer like that."

"You, sir, are not my commanding officer. You've given me a title because you need me to keep Tecumseh under wraps until you're ready to have him fight. And I know that to succeed, not only must we feed the Indians, we're going to have to arm him and his men." I leaned on the desk and stared right into the face of the mealy-mouthed bastard. "And do somthin' more concrete than hollow words about our promises of land on this side of the Great Lakes."

He leaned over and opened a drawer, from which he pulled what I figured was the famous document, and then he pushed his bulk out of the chair and waved the document in front of my face, stepping too close to me. "An officer has gone over the financing for Fort Malden, and it shows that your Indian Department is spending far more than can be easily explained. Quebec will be very interested in your peculations."

I did not retreat from his fat face. He was not going to frighten me. "You go right ahead and send it! We'll see whether Quebec values my services enough to ignore your unproven accusations."

His face blossomed in furor, but he did not back off a single inch. "I was born in Ireland; my father was a surgeon in the British army. I know about men like you, Elliott. You can't resist skimming off the top."

Aha! Then I understood! A Brit who grew up in Ireland! 'Twas sure he'd never be able to tolerate the likes of me. "Do as you see fit, Lieutenant Colonel. Just don't forget that I'm the man who can lead a force of Indians, and without them Indians you're banjaxed before you start."

"You're right, I need the Indians, but I don't need you, Elliott." I could smell his rotten breath, he was that close. "I'll do my level best to relieve you of your position and find someone who is willing to do things by the book. I'll hold on to the letter for a month, but if you don't change your attitude, it will go in August."

I turned to leave, saying, "You won't send it. You need me too much. If you do, I guarantee you'll regret it."

The wind had died down by the time we left. We rode side by side in silence, Alexander respectin' my need to rid myself of the stink of Proctor's breath and the words that spouted out of it. I kept blowing air out of my nose to try to rid myself of the rotten sensations.

Halfway home, Alexander looked over at me. "Are you ready to talk, Da?"

I gave a final blow through my nose and nodded my head.

"You've never told me about your life in Ireland. The Lieutenant Colonel seemed to suggest that he was a superior human being because he grew up there."

"'Course he thought that. Why wouldn't he? The British had passed the goddamned penal laws, which said Irish Catholics couldn't go to school, we couldn't serve as apprentices, and we couldn't even practice our religion or do any other damned thing that might raise us up. I was born into a poor Irish family, and like all the other Irish we lived in scrabblin' misery, too hungry and too poor to revolt. To live in Ireland under fekin' British landlords like that man we just left was to live without hope."

Alexander was quiet for a while as he absorbed the story I'd never told. "That's why you left?" he asked finally.

"Aye, but had I stayed in the country, sure ta God I'd have been jailed for some kind of violence against them snotty overlords."

"It must have been hard to leave your family."

I shook my head. "I'll confess something to you, my son. 'Twas not the departure from kin that weighed me down as I leaned on the railing of the ship and watched the Emerald Isle disappear. No, 'twas a whole load guilt at the relief I felt leaving a family I could not entirely love. They were victims who had accepted their lot, and pity soiled my feelings toward them. For me, real love needed to be packaged in respect." I reached over and squeezed his arm. "Like my love for your mother."

'Twas Alexander's turn to be silent. I knew he was thinking of his mother, as was I.

After a few minutes, he leaned into the neck of his horse and stroked its mane. "It's said that before you married Mother, in your years trading with the Indians, you left a lot of 'half-breeds' like us in your tracks." He choked on the word "half-breeds."

I laughed. "I never denied it a'cause it added to my manly reputation, but truth be told, I didn't shoot any fertile bullets until I married your mother when I was 50 years old. I guess my body was waitin' till the real thing came along."

Alexander slowed his horse down to listen. "I hardly remember her."

I reined my horse in to match the pace of his. "I know, and it breaks my heart. She was small, your mother was, but strong, with large hands and a vertical crease between her eyes, which disappeared when she smiled. She could do everything: medicate, cook, plant and love; Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, could she love! That's why I called her Love, because it felt right and her Indian name was too damned long."

My voice choked on the memories. "I suspect that not everyone has been privileged to experience a special moment in life, one so unforgettable that it never leaves you." The rhythm of the ride rocked my memories. "It happened to me when lyin' on my bed of deerskin-covered pine boughs, with you straddled on my stomach and Love lyin' beside me feeding the baby, Matthew. Your delighted giggle, the cooing of Love, the sucking of the baby and the fragrance of cut pine were all isolated and bathed in light, and my mind sang the words, 'I am happy!'"

"But then my mother died."

"She did. Just like a damned river reflection, seems happiness has to have its opposite. I came down with a fever, Love caught it and it killed her. It hurts to think about that time."

"Is that when you moved us to Amherstburg?"

"We might have moved anyway. For the Indians in the Ohio region, 'twas the beginnin' of the end. The Americans were going after their lands and the British had pulled in their wings and retreated further north."

Alexander shook his head. "You didn't give me enough time to make Amherstburg a home. You dragged me across the Erie and Ontario and down the St. Lawrence River and left me there to be schooled."

"I did that and I'd do it again."

"I was only nine years old!" he complained.

I knew it had been difficult for him, but there was anger mixed with my guilt. "You should be grateful. You got the education not allowed me in Ireland, and look at you now."

That shut him up for a few minutes as he mulled over the conversation. Finally he gave me a sad smile. "At least now I understand."

We spurred our horses and headed for home with unwelcome emotions as passengers on both horses.

As we handed the reins of our horses over to the stable boy, I said to Alexander, "We have to get our hands on Procter's letter before it is sent."

I found Sarah in the parlour with my namesake, Matthew (whom we'd nicknamed Boy so there'd be less confusion with names), and with the two babes born to me and Sarah, my second wife. I was sapped dry and exhausted, but the sight of my little family brought a tired smile to my face. The birth of these two little ones when I was 70 and 72 years of age put a polish on my reputation, that was for certain. My wish had been to spend my senior years enjoying my wealth, running my farm and having time to take advantage of the pleasures of my young family. It was all I wanted.

It was I who should have been down on my knees playing with the little ones, but Boy was there instead. "Rest your weary bones, Da," he said without looking away from the babes. "I'm here."

Did I hear a tinge of sarcasm in his voice?

Alexander disturbed the confusing scene. "They've sent news from the fort. The Americans have declared war!"

Sarah's Diary

I heard the juice in their whispers as they sat down behind me at Father's funeral. There was sympathy, I know, but it was spiked with titillations. "They say he was so drunk he sat backward on Old George and that horse just reared up and threw him headfirst into the rocks." I stared hard at the altar pretending I had not heard and clung to the front of the pew imagining listeners shaking their heads in false sympathy while they bit back smiles and other tales about the wild antics of the Irish schoolmaster.

I heard a woman who more than likely was wiping fictitious tears with a dainty handkerchief mutter, "Poor Sarah, they say she'll have to give up the house to pay her father's debts," and another reply, "She can probably take her father's position. He, at least, trained her well for that."

I was damned if I'd let them see how I loved my wild, sad, brilliant father, so I said my private farewells to him, wiped my tears and followed the coffin down the aisle with emotions locked up tight. I kept them that way through the burial and the gathering that followed, not relaxing until I was finally home alone. I collapsed in Father's chair, which would soon go with the house when the bankers confiscated the property.

That night I stood in front of the mirror, let down my auburn hair and attacked my sparkling vanity with harsh brush strokes. I, "Poor Sarah," had no intention of becoming the teacher of little urchins, all of whom were interested only in shooting, shouting and scrapping.

While I brushed out the tangles, Mr. Matthew Elliott's face popped into my head and with it a plan began to take shape. I had been aware of Mr. Elliott for years because he was always on the tip of everyone's tongue: a man who teetered on the fence of legality but, without fail, seemed to survive the richer for each undertaking.

As I smoothed my hair that night and looked at myself in the mirror, I guessed my youth might appeal to him. My reflection and I developed a plan.

Now here I am, "Poor Sarah," mistress of the biggest house in the area, mother of two beautiful babes.

Mr. Matthew's "peter" is as old as he is. Oh, how I wish I'd known how beautiful his son Boy was before committing myself to the senior member of the family! Since my husband can't read, I shall hide you under my pillow, Dear Diary. I would not want Alexander to find it. He already looks at me with suspicion.

In spite of my yearnings, it has been a successful few years, and now all might be ruined by war.


July 1812


Since I was 7, I'd crossed the river every day to go to school in Mr. Donovan's schoolhouse in Detroit. Everybody knew Mr. Donovan was a drunk, but Papa said he was also the best teacher in the whole area, so even if he missed a day here and there I'd still get a better education than I would at the Sandwich Schoolhouse. Mr. Donovan died when I was 9, but by then I had good friends, so I kept going.


Excerpted from THE WEB OF WAR by E. R. Baillie. Copyright © 2014 E. R. Baillie. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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