May 30, 1806 – Adairville, Kentucky…
Andy felt the sting and push of the pistol ball as it crashed through a rib just below his right armpit, but he had gritted his teeth and planted his feet firmly in anticipation of it, and so he did not move from his mark. The loose-fitting shirt and jacket he had chosen had done their work – his heart still beat; fast and strong. His skinny frame was not centered in his silhouette; else he would be breathing his last.
“Great God! Have I missed him?!” Just eight paces away, Charles Dickinson stood pale and horrified. He stumbled a few steps back.
“Back to your mark, Sir!” Andy’s second – Tom Overton – leveled his own pistol, brought the hammer back to full-cock, and pointed it at Dickinson’s chest. Dickinson’s hands began to tremble as he resumed his place, turning slightly sideways to present the least target possible.
Andy raised his pistol. Dickinson could see the pistol was not held steady; the barrel seemed to move in small circles. Andy squeezed the trigger…
CLICK…
The hammer had caught at half-cock. Andy grunted, and his eyes rolled back slightly as he reached with his left hand to pull the hammer all the way back again. The circles in which the barrel moved were larger now. Everyone could hear the breathing of both men – Andy’s deep gasps as he tried to steady himself, and Dickinson’s nervous panting. Andy squeezed the trigger again….
CLICK-BOOM!
Dickinson screamed and doubled over; both hands clutching his right hip, which began spurting blood. In the few seconds it took for him to fully collapse upon the ground he was already in a large red pool. Andy slowly approached, but the ball had severed the femoral artery, and within a few moments Dickinson bled out.
Not until he was pronounced dead did Andy waiver. Tom steadied him. As he helped him back to the carriage, they could hear the awful squish of Andy’s right boot filling with his own blood, running down from his right side under his jacket and pants.
“Why to the death, Andy? There’s more to this than calling you a “poltroon” in print over some horse race, isn’t there?”
“Rachel.”
“What about Rachel?”
“He called her a bigamist… He knew what we went through with that blackheart she was married to, and he said it anyway. By the eternal I’ll shoot the next twenty men who call her that, and the sooner Tennessee high society learns that, the better off they’ll be!”
“I didn’t know he said that.”
“Oh, he tried to say that he was in his cups at the time, and offered this tepid apology, and for Rachel’s sake I let it go no further… until I could maneuver him to insult me publically over that horse race business with his father-in-law. When he sent that jackass Swann to ask me about it, I gave him a good rap with my cane, called him a fool and sent him scurrying back to his master. The obligatory newspaper insults followed, and I had him!”
“He almost had you… That looks bad.” Tom pointed to the bloody cloth Andy was holding against his ribs. “He was hailed as the best shot in the county. You saw the strings he left in the trees along the way, cut by a pistol shot to amuse his friends.”
“If he’d shot me through the brain I’d have still killed him.”
“We need to get you to a doctor… Driver! Pick up the pace!”
“OOOOHH… Easy…” Andy winced. “No need for speed – too many bumps in this old country road. Tis a pity we had to cross over to Kentucky to avoid Tennessee’s dueling law foolishness. The roads are so much better near Nashville. Besides, not much a sawbones can do. They ain’t gonna go cuttin’ away in here like they was guttin’ a fish.” Andy said, tapping his chest. “I can feel where the ball stopped. Right here….” Andy pointed to his heart. “They try to take it out; they’ll finish me for certain….”
******

May 23, 1831 – The White House, Washington D.C….
“Damnit Martin! Do you suppose I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?!”
“I think I may have a solution to offer, General…”
“Really? I called these spineless, witless, henpecked jellyfish to a full cabinet meeting, made clear my views upon the subject of Mrs. Eaton’s virtue; and that I would have no more of these social slights… And still it continues!”
“Yes, General, and led by Floride Calhoun… These men are as much bridled and led around by her husband as they are by their own wives.”
“Well I’ll have no more of it! This… this… damn poisonous snobbery and gossip is what broke poor Rachel’s heart in the end! That snake Adams and that vulture Clay…. I’ll never forgive nor forget what they, their minions and their lady friends put out against her, and I’ll not stand idly by whilst Peggy Eaton goes through anything like it!
I don’t attend services as often as I should, but not long after Rachel passed, I heard a pastor expound upon a verse – I think it is somewhere in I Timothy – that has stayed with me word-for-word ever since: ‘And besides, they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but tattlers and busybodies, speaking things they ought not.‘ Now, does that not describe to perfection the so-called ‘ladies’ of the capitol???”
“Indeed, sir… But to be rid of the wives we must be rid of the men; which is why John Eaton and I should offer you our resignations.”
“WHAT?!”
“Please consider the position that would place you in, General. If I join him in the offer, you would have cover to demand that they all do so. Then you may sort the matter out as you see fit.”
“I see… Clean out the Augean stables, Hercules style. I like it!”
“And then you could put John and Peggy someplace comfortable; out of reach of those who humiliate them for their own nefarious purposes… Something diplomatic perhaps; or a post in the territories.”
“And you?”
“At your service, General, in whatever position you see fit.”
“Oh, I may have just the thing… You see, your plan has left someone in his place; someone who, I found out recently, tried to have me censured behind my back for my campaign in Florida… the man you just mentioned, whose wife is at the heart of the matter at hand – John Caldwell Calhoun, Vice President of these United States.”
“Well, I’m afraid there’s not much to be done with him, General.”
“That’s true, until the next election – at which time we shall see to it that YOU are elected the next Vice President of these United States.”
“Oh, no, sir. Please reconsider.”
“And why should I do that?”
“Because as things stand now, Calhoun is gagged in the Senate. Turn him out of the Senate President’s chair and onto the Senate floor, and he will instantly become the firebrand champion of the nullifiers and secessionists…. Dark and divisive days could lie ahead.”
“If he so much as whispers secession, by God, I’ll hang him higher than Haman!”
“Long life to you, General, but weak men have preceded you in this office, and those that follow you – or me – may not have the fortitude to stand up to him and his kind. We may be at war with ourselves before long. Calhoun is a dangerous man and would be a skilled adversary. He bears much watching, and he is easier to watch when he is closer.”
“‘Or me’ you say… I see you have not taken long in warming up to the idea of replacing him on the ticket. In any case, when I mature my course, I am immovable. You will indeed be the next Vice President, but the time for all that has not yet come. In the meanwhile, how does ambassador to the Court of St. James sound to your ears?”
“Tis a rather pleasant sound, General.”
“I’ll have those resignations then…. Oh, to be a fly upon the wall when it dawns upon those egg-sucking biddies how their venomous tongues have driven their husband’s careers into the ditch!”
Andrew Jackson stared out the window across the muddy squalor of a capitol that had been carved out of a swamp. With one hand he drummed his fingers on the back of a chair, and with the other he reached beneath his waistcoat to feel the surface of the miniature hung about his neck under his shirt on a thin silver chain. It was a picture of Rachel. It was over the bullet that was over his heart, and it would be found there years later when they dressed his body for burial.
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