I knew it might come to this one day. When such a great tree as he falls, it does not go quietly, nor without an echo. This was to be his final echo.
“The men are aligned and ready, your excellency,” my adjutant, Gates said. More than 12,000 regulars and militiamen filed in ranks behind me. My heart leapt at the chance to lead an army again.
“Have them hold position until I give the order, Gates. Let’s see what the old fox has up his sleeve besides a flask of corn liquor,” I said.
Gates could barely stand me since I jumped over him in command after our success in New York. But he knew I was a fighter, a leader of my men from their front and took my new role as seriously and with as much humility as a man of my station and reputation could.
And out there, the Old Man sat astride his white horse, like he was posing for a portrait by Stuart, at the head of a ragtag army of frontier rabble in rebellion against the very nation we both fought to bring independence. With his history of failure, you would think him foolish to side against the full force of this united army–my army.
But defeat does not sit well with one who once was himself the commander of armies, now relegated to the role of “gentleman farmer.” Actually he was not much more than a law-breaker, a rebel who would not pay the legally legislated tax on his farm’s major product. He wasn’t that much different from those dirt-scratching over-mountain bumpkins. He just had the benefit of aristocratic birth and a workforce of I don’t know how many slaves to make him the leader of these rebels.
He never had to fight against the discrimination of the born rich against the man who had the courage and audacity to build his own reputation. He never had to buck the tide of Congressional cronyism, the jealous finagling of other so-called military leaders, sheep who led from the safety of a headquarters well behind the line of battle. Never felt the sting of hot lead nor the sickening snap of bone.
He raised a white flag, coming forward with his lieutenants to parley. I can’t believe he has the gall to wear his blue uniform coat with its gold epaulets in front of these men in filthy linsey-woolsy and buckskin. They actually think of him as their champion when he is using them to line his own pockets. The fools. I pray they don’t decide to fight today, but if they do, I’ll see this rebellion quashed by sundown and the Old Man hanged.
“Gates, bring Hamilton forward. He started this thing. Let’s see what their paramount leader’s jealous machinations will be.” I said.
Together with Gates, Hamilton and a squadron of dragoons for security, we met in the center of the field in western Pennsylvania. The Old Man looked more haggard than when last I saw him when he was sacked by Congress, which had the good sense to place me in total command of our forces. Though he looked tired and old in his countenance, he still sat a horse well, his height and erect posture no doubt persuading a shallow Congress to put him in command in the first place.
Well, those days were over. They played a different tune after my victories on the Hudson and his running from battle to battle.
“Good day to you, Your Excellency,” the Old Man said, his jaw clenched.
“And to you, General. You look well, sir. I see the infirmities of rustic camp life have not diminished your old vigour,” I said.
I could see the jealousy in his eyes, the despair that I was the one who won independence and he was banished to his home, to distill his spirits and sell them at an obscene profit to both sides. Such was the weakness of the undisciplined army he left to me. Well, I straightened them out, baptizing them in blood and blessed in the incense of gun smoke.
“General, violence will not solve this dispute. It is the law of the nation, established by your very own erstwhile adjutant. You and your ‘army’ stand no chance against the assembled arms you see behind me. In fact, I see scores of your rebels already melting back into the countryside from which they came,” I said. I had acquired consummate skill in statesmanship once a proud nation chose me its first leader.
The Old Man sagged, no longer able to hold up the pretense of his ability to fight, to lead, to win. Not against the rule of law, not against the might of my forces, and surely not against me.
“I must agree with you, Your Excellency. Such a battle would leave this field littered with our dead. And while it would be a tragedy for independent men who turn the bounty of their crops into a public necessity, such bloodshed would leave your government bereft of individuals from whom to bleed your tax, something you and I fought a war to free our people from,” the Old Man said.
“So, General, will you retire from the field and send your people back to their loving families and bountiful farmsteads?” I said.
“Aye, sir. You have bested me once again with a reputation built upon the bones of your enemies. You may send your tax collectors where you may to bleed us dry so the nation may drink to your honour,” the Old Man said, and wheeled his white horse without another word.
“And to yours, good sir, and to your continued good health,” I replied.
As we returned to our cheering army, i felt the swell of pride in my latest victory. This one not as a mere soldier anymore. Not like at Quebec, or Ticonderoga, or Stanwix, or Saratoga, or Yorktown. No, now as President of the United States.
“Congratulations, Your Excellency You knew all along that Washington would never fight against you, didn’t you?” Gates said, still with jealousy in his voice.
“A military leader must always fight to win, Gates. That has been my motto, my creed, my life since I left Connecticut to fight for independence, lo, these sixteen years ago,” I replied. “That is what helped us become the United States of America, and I, Benedict Arnold, their President.”
A little speculative history about the Whisky Rebellion of 1791 in response to the Day 4 prompt in my September Story a Day Challenge. This one called for a story written in first person. The idea for this tale has been banging around in my head for a couple of years. And now I’ve written its first draft in an hour. Funny how these things work out, like Benedict Arnold becoming our first President.