The Trail of The Sword by Gilbert Parker
Epoch the Fourth
Chapter XIX. Which Tells of a Brother's Blood Crying From the Ground
Two men stood leaning against a great gun aloft on the heights of Quebec. The air of an October morning fluttered the lace at their breasts and lifted the long brown hair of the younger man from his shoulders. His companion was tall, alert, bronzed, grey-headed, with an eagle eye and a glance of authority. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the younger man and said: "I am glad you have come, Iberville, for I need you, as I need all your brave family--I could spare not one."
"You honour me, sir," was the reply; "and, believe me, there is none in Quebec but thanks God that their governor is here before Phips rounds Isle Orleans yonder."
"You did nobly while I was away there in Montreal waiting for the New Yorkers to take it--if they could. They were a sorry rabble, for they rushed on La Prairie, that meagre place,--massacred and turned tail."
"That's strange, sir, for they are brave men, stupid though they be. I have fought them."
"Well, well, as that may be! We will give them chance for bravery. Our forts are strong from the Sault au Matelot round to Champigny's palace, the trenches and embankments are well ended, and if they give me but two days more I will hold the place against twice their thirty-four sail and twenty-five hundred men."
"For how long, your excellency?"
Count Frontenac nodded. "Spoken like a soldier. There's the vital point. By the mass, just so long as food lasts! But here we are with near two thousand men, and all the people from the villages, besides Callieres's seven or eight hundred, should they arrive in time--and, pray God they may, for there will be work to do. If they come at us in front here and behind from the Saint Charles, shielding their men as they cross the river, we shall have none too many; but we must hold it."
The governor drew himself up proudly. He had sniffed the air of battle for over fifty years with all manner of enemies, and his heart was in the thing. Never had there been in Quebec a more moving sight than when he arrived from Montreal the evening before, and climbed Mountain Street on his way to the chateau. Women and children pressed round him, blessing him; priests, as he passed, lifted hands in benediction; men cheered and cried for joy; in every house there was thanksgiving that the imperious old veteran had come in time.
Prevost the town mayor, Champigny the Intendant, Sainte-Helene, Maricourt, and Longueil, had worked with the skill of soldiers who knew their duty, and it was incredible what had been done since the alarm had come to Prevost that Phips had entered the St. Lawrence and was anchored at Tadousac.
"And how came you to be here, Iberville?" queried the governor pleasantly. "We scarce expected you."
"The promptings of the saints and the happy kindness of King Louis, who will send my ship here after me. I boarded the first merchantman with its nose to the sea, and landed here soon after you left for Montreal."
"So? Good! See you, see you, Iberville: what of the lady Puritan's marriage with the fire-eating Englishman?"
The governor smiled as he spoke, not looking at Iberville. His glance was upon the batteries in lower town. He had inquired carelessly, for he did not think the question serious at this distance of time. Getting no answer, he turned smartly upon Iberville, surprised, and he was struck by the sudden hardness in the sun-browned face and the flashing eyes. Years had deepened the power of face and form.
"Your excellency will remember," he answered, in a low, cold tone, "that I once was counselled to marry the sword."
The governor laid his hand upon Iberville's shoulder. "Pardon me," he said. "I was not wise or kind. But--I warrant the sword will be your best wife in the end."
"I have a favour to ask, your excellency."
"You might ask many, my Iberville. If all gentlemen here, clerics and laymen, asked as few as you, my life would be peaceful. Your services have been great, one way and another. Ask, and I almost promise now.
"'Tis this. Six months ago you had a prisoner here, captured on the New England border. After he was exchanged you found that he had sent a plan of the fortifications to the Government of Massachusetts. He passed in the name of George Escott. Do you remember?"
"Very well indeed."
"Suppose he were taken prisoner again?"
"I should try him."
"And shoot him, if guilty?"
"Or hang him."
"His name was not Escott. It was Gering--Captain George Gering."
The governor looked hard at Iberville for a moment, and a grim smile played upon his lips. "H'm! How do you guess that?"
"From Perrot, who knows him well."
"Why did Perrot not tell me?"
"Perrot and Sainte-Helene had been up at Sault Sainte Marie. They did not arrive until the day he was exchanged, nor did not know till then. There was no grave reason for speaking, and they said nothing."
"And what imports this?"
"I have no doubt that Mr. Gering is with Sir William Phips below at Tadousac. If he is taken let him be at my disposal."
The governor pursed his lips, then flashed a deep, inquiring glance at his companion. "The new mistress turned against the old, Iberville!" he said. "Gering is her husband, eh? Well, I will trust you: it shall be as you wish--a matter for us two alone."
At that moment Sainte-Helene and Maricourt appeared and presently, in the waning light, they all went down towards the convent of the Ursulines, and made their way round the rock, past the three gates to the palace of the Intendant, and so on to the St. Charles River.
Next morning word was brought that Phips was coming steadily up, and would probably arrive that day. All was bustle in the town, and prayers and work went on without ceasing. Late in the afternoon the watchers from the rock of Quebec saw the ships of the New England fleet slowly rounding the point of the Island of Orleans.
To the eyes of Sir William Phips and his men the great fortress, crowned with walls, towers, and guns, rising three hundred feet above the water, the white banner flaunting from the chateau and the citadel, the batteries, the sentinels upon the walls--were suggestive of stern work. Presently there drew away from Phips's fleet a boat carrying a subaltern with a flag of truce, who was taken blindfold to the Chateau St. Louis. Frontenac's final words to the youth were these: "Bid your master do his best, and I will do mine."
Disguised as a river-man, Iberville himself, with others, rowed the subaltern back almost to the side of the admiral's ship, for by the freak of some peasants the boat which had brought him had been set adrift. As they rowed from the ship back towards the shore, Iberville, looking up, saw, standing on the deck, Phips and George Gering. He had come for this. He stood up in his boat and took off his cap. His long clustering curls fell loose on his shoulders, and he waved a hand with a nonchalant courtesy. Gering sprang forward. "Iberville!" he cried, and drew his pistol.
Iberville saw the motion, but did not stir. He called up, however, in a clear, distinct voice: "Breaker of parole, keep your truce!"
"He is right," said Gering quietly; "quite right." Gering was now hot for instant landing and attack. Had Phips acted upon his advice the record of the next few days might have been reversed. But the disease of counsel, deliberation, and prayer had entered into the soul of the sailor and treasure-hunter, now Sir William Phips, governor of Massachusetts. He delayed too long: the tide turned; there could be no landing that night.
Just after sundown there was a great noise, and the ringing of bells and sound of singing came over the water to the idle fleet.
"What does it mean?" asked Phips of a French prisoner captured at Tadousac.
"Ma foi! That you lose the game," was the reply. "Callieres, the governor of Montreal, with his Canadians, and Nicholas Perrot with his coureurs du bois have arrived. You have too much delay, monsieur."
In Quebec, when this contingent arrived, the people went wild. And Perrot was never prouder than when, in Mountain Street, Iberville, after three years' absence, threw his arms round him and kissed him on each cheek.
It was in the dark hour before daybreak that Iberville and Perrot met for their first talk after the long separation. What had occurred on the day of Jessica's marriage Perrot had, with the Abbe de Casson's help, written to Iberville. But they had had no words together. Now, in a room of the citadel which looked out on the darkness of the river and the deeper gloom of the Levis shore, they sat and talked, a single candle burning, their weapons laid on the table between them.
They said little at first, but sat in the window looking down on the town and the river. At last Iberville spoke. "Tell me it all as you remember it, Perrot." Perrot, usually swift of speech when once started, was very slow now. He felt the weight of every word, and he had rather have told of the scalping of a hundred men than of his last meeting with Jessica. When he had finished, Iberville said: "She kept the letter, you say?"
Perrot nodded, and drew the ring from a pouch which he carried. "I have kept it safe," he said, and held it out. Iberville took it and turned it over in his hand, with an enigmatical smile. "I will hand it to her myself," he said, half beneath his breath.
"You do not give her up, monsieur?"
Iberville laughed. Then he leaned forward, and found Perrot's eyes in the half darkness. "Perrot, she kept the letter, she would have kept the ring if she could. Listen: Monsieur Gering has held to his word; he has come to seek me this time. He knows that while I live the woman is not his, though she bears his name. She married him--Why? It is no matter --he was there, I was not. There were her father, her friends! I was a Frenchman, a Catholic--a thousand things! And a woman will yield her hand while her heart remains in her own keeping. Well, he has come. Now, one way or another, he must be mine. We have great accounts to settle, and I want it done between him and me. If he remains in the ship we must board it. With our one little craft there in the St. Charles we will sail out, grapple the admiral's ship, and play a great game: one against thirty-four. It has been done before. Capture the admiral's ship and we can play the devil with the rest of them. If not, we can die. Or, if Gering lands and fights, he also must be ours. Sainte-Helene and Maricourt know him, and they with myself, Clermont, and Saint Denis, are to lead and resist attacks by land--Frontenac has promised that: so he must be ours one way or another. He must be captured, tried as a spy, and then he is mine--is mine!"
"Tried as a spy--ah, I see! You would disgrace? Well, but even then he is not yours."
Iberville got to his feet. "Don't try to think it out, Perrot. It will come to you in good time. I can trust you--you are with me in all?"
"Have I ever failed you?"
"Never. You will not hesitate to go against the admiral's ship? Think, what an adventure! Remember Adam Dollard and the Long Sault!"
What man in Canada did not remember that handful of men, going out with an antique courage to hold back the Iroquois, and save the colony, and die? Perrot grasped Iberville's hand, and said: "Where you go, I go. Where I go, my men will follow."
Their pact was made. They sat there in silence till the grey light of morning crept slowly in. Still they did not lie down to rest; they were waiting for De Casson. He came before a ray of sunshine had pierced the leaden light. Tall, massive, proudly built, his white hair a rim about his forehead, his deep eyes watchful and piercing, he looked a soldier in disguise, as indeed he was to-day as much a soldier as when he fought under Turenne forty years before.
The three comrades were together again.
Iberville told his plans. The abbe lifted his fingers in admonition once or twice, but his eyes flashed as Iberville spoke of an attempt to capture the admiral on his own ship. When Iberville had finished, he said in a low voice:
"Pierre, must it still be so--that the woman shall prompt you to these things?"
"I have spoken of no woman, abbe."
"Yet you have spoken." He sighed and raised his hand. "The man--the men--down there would destroy our country. They are our enemies, and we do well to slay. But remember, Pierre--'What God hath joined let no man put asunder!' To fight him as an enemy of your country--well; to fight him that you may put asunder is not well."
A look, half-pained, half-amused, crossed Iberville's face.
"And yet heretics--heretics, abbe"
"Marriage is no heresy."
"H'm-they say different at Versailles."
"Since De Montespan went, and De Maintenon rules?"
Iberville laughed. "Well, well, perhaps not."
They sat silent for a time, but presently Iberville rose, went to a cupboard, drew forth some wine and meat, and put the coffee on the fire. Then, with a gesture as of remembrance, he went to a box, drew forth his own violin, and placed it in the priest's hands. It seemed strange that, in the midst of such great events, the loss or keeping of an empire, these men should thus devote the few hours granted them for sleep; but they did according to their natures. The priest took the instrument and tuned it softly. Iberville blew out the candle. There was only the light of the fire, with the gleam of the slow-coming dawn. Once again, even as years before in the little house at Montreal, De Casson played--now with a martial air. At last he struck the chords of a song which had been a favourite with the Carignan-Salieres regiment.
Instantly Iberville and Perrot responded, and there rang out from three strong throats the words:
"There was a king of Normandy, And he rode forth to war, Gai faluron falurette! He had five hundred men-no more! Gai faluron donde! "There was a king of Normandy, Came back from war again; He brought a maid, O, fair was she! And twice five hundred men-- Gai faluron falurette! Gai faluron donde!"
They were still singing when soldiers came by the window in the first warm light of sunrise. These caught it up, singing it as they marched on. It was taken up again by other companies, and by the time Iberville presented himself to Count Frontenac, not long after, there was hardly a citizen, soldier, or woodsman, but was singing it.
The weather and water were blustering all that day, and Phips did not move, save for a small attempt--repulsed--by a handful of men to examine the landing. The next morning, however, the attack began. Twelve hundred men were landed at Beauport, in the mud and low water, under one Major Walley. With him was Gering, keen for action--he had persuaded Phips to allow him to fight on land.
To meet the English, Iberville, Sainte-Helene, and Perrot issued forth with three hundred sharpshooters and a band of Huron Indians. In the skirmish that followed, Iberville and Perrot pressed with a handful of men forward very close to the ranks of the English. In the charge which the New Englander ordered, Iberville and Perrot saw Gering, and they tried hard to reach him. But the movement between made it impossible without running too great risk. For hours the fierce skirmishing went on, but in the evening the French withdrew and the New Englanders made their way towards the St. Charles, where vessels were to meet them, and protect them as they crossed the river and attacked the town in the rear --help that never came. For Phips, impatient, spent his day in a terrible cannonading, which did no great damage to the town--or the cliff. It was a game of thunder, nothing worse, and Walley and Gering with their men were neglected.
The fight with the ships began again at daybreak. Iberville, seeing that Walley would not attack, joined Sainte-Helene and Maricourt at the battery, and one of Iberville's shots brought down the admiral's flagstaff, with its cross of St. George. It drifted towards the shore, and Maurice Joval went out in a canoe under a galling fire and brought it up to Frontenac.
Iberville and Sainte-Helene concentrated themselves on the Six Friends-- the admiral's ship. In vain Phips's gunners tried to dislodge them and their guns. They sent ball after ball into her hull and through her rigging; they tore away her mainmast, shattered her mizzenmast, and handled her as viciously as only expert gunners could. The New Englander replied bravely, but Quebec was not destined to be taken by bombardment, and Iberville saw the Six Friends drift, a shattered remnant, out of his line of fire.
It was the beginning of the end. One by one the thirty-four craft drew away, and Walley and Gering were left with their men, unaided in the siege. There was one moment when the cannonading was greatest and the skirmishers seemed withdrawn, that Gering, furious with the delay, almost prevailed upon the cautious Walley to dash across the river and make a desperate charge up the hill, and in at the back door of the town. But Walley was, after all, a merchant and not a soldier, and would not do it. Gering fretted on his chain, sure that Iberville was with the guns against the ships, and would return to harass his New Englanders soon. That evening it turned bitter cold, and without the ammunition promised by Phips, with little or no food and useless field-pieces, their lot was hard.
But Gering had his way the next morning. Walley set out to the Six Friends to represent his case to the admiral. Gering saw how the men chafed, and he sounded a few of them. Their wills were with him they had come to fight, and fight they would, if they could but get the chance. With a miraculous swiftness the whispered word went through the lines. Gering could not command them to it, but if the men went forward he must go with them. The ships in front were silent. Quebec was now interested in these men near the St. Charles River.
As Iberville stood with Frontenac near the palace of the Intendant, watching, he saw the enemy suddenly hurry forward. In an instant he was dashing down to join his brothers, Sainte-Helene, Longueil, and Perrot; and at the head of a body of men they pushed on to get over the ford and hold it, while Frontenac, leading three battalions of troops, got away more slowly. There were but a few hundred men with Iberville, arrayed against Gering's many hundreds; but the French were bush-fighters and the New Englanders were only stout sailors and ploughmen. Yet Gering had no reason to be ashamed of his men that day; they charged bravely, but their enemies were hid to deadly advantage behind trees and thickets, the best sharpshooters of the province.
Perrot had had his orders from Iberville: Iberville himself was, if possible, to engage Gering in a hand-to-hand fight; Perrot, on the other hand, was to cut Gering off from his men and bring him in a prisoner. More than once both had Gering within range of their muskets, but they held their hands, nor indeed did Gering himself, who once also had a chance of bringing Iberville down, act on his opportunity. Gering's men were badly exposed, and he sent them hard at the thickets, clearing the outposts at some heavy loss. His men were now scattered, and he shifted his position so as to bring him nearer the spot where Sainte-Helene and Longueil were pushing forward fresh outposts. He saw the activity of the two brothers, but did not recognise them, and sent a handful of men to dislodge them. Both Sainte-Helene and Longueil exposed themselves for a moment, as they made for an advantageous thicket. Gering saw his opportunity, took a musket from a soldier, and fired. Sainte-Helene fell mortally wounded. Longueil sprang forward with a cry of rage, but a spent ball struck him.
Iberville, at a distance, saw the affair. With a smothered oath he snatched a musket from Maurice Joval, took steady aim and fired. The distance was too great, the wind too strong; he only carried away an epaulet. But Perrot, who was not far from the fallen brothers, suddenly made a dash within easy range of the rifles of the British, and cut Gering and two of his companions off from the main body. It was done so suddenly that Gering found himself between two fires. His companions drew close to him, prepared to sell their lives dearly, but Perrot called to them to surrender. Gering saw the fruitlessness of resistance and, to save his companions' lives, yielded.
The siege of Quebec was over. The British contented themselves with holding their position till Walley returned bearing the admiral's orders to embark again for the fleet. And so in due time they did--in rain, cold, and gloom.
In a few days Sir William Phips, having patched up his shattered ships, sailed away, with the knowledge that the capture of Quebec was not so easy as finding a lost treasure. He had tried in vain to effect Gering's release.
When Gering surrendered, Perrot took his sword with a grim coolness and said: "Come, monsieur, and see what you think your stay with us may be like."
In a moment he was stopped beside the dead body of Sainte-Helene. "Your musket did this," said Perrot, pointing down. "Do you know him?"
Gering stooped over and looked. "My God-Sainte-Helene!" he cried.
Perrot crossed himself and mumbled a prayer. Then he took from his bosom a scarf and drew it over the face of the dead man. He turned to Longueil.
"And here, monsieur, is another brother of Monsieur Iberville," he said.
Longueil was insensible but not dangerously wounded. Perrot gave a signal and the two brothers were lifted and carried down towards the ford, followed by Perrot and Gering. On their way they met Iberville.
All the brother, the comrade, in Iberville spoke first. He felt Longueil's hand and touched his pulse, then turned, as though he had not seen Gering, to the dead body of Sainte-Helene. Motioning to the men to put it down, he stooped and took Perrot's scarf from the dead face. It was yet warm, and the handsome features wore a smile. Iberville looked for a moment with a strange, cold quietness. He laid his hand upon the brow, touched the cheek, gave a great sigh, and made the sacred gesture over the body; then taking his own handkerchief he spread it over the face. Presently he motioned for the bodies to be carried on.
Perrot whispered to him, and now he turned and look at Gering with a malignant steadiness.
"You have had the great honour, sir," he said, "to kill one of the bravest gentlemen of France. More than once to-day myself and my friend here"--pointing to Perrot "could have killed you. Why did we not? Think you, that you might kill my brother, whose shoe-latchet were too high for you? Monsieur, the sum mounts up." His voice was full of bitterness and hatred. "Why did we spare you?" he repeated, and paused.
Gering could understand Iberville's quiet, vicious anger. He would rather have lost a hand than have killed Sainte-Helene, who had, on board the Maid of Provence, treated him with great courtesy. He only shook his head now.
"Well, I will tell you," said Iberville. "We have spared you to try you for a spy. And after--after! His laugh was not pleasant to hear.
"A spy? It is false!" cried Gering.
"You will remember--monsieur, that once before you gave me the lie!"
Gering made a proud gesture of defiance, but answered nothing. That night he was lodged in the citadel.