Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XVIII. The Steep Path of Conquest
Now I am come to a period on which I shall not dwell, nor repeat a tale of suffering greater than that I had yet endured. All the first night of this new imprisonment I tossed on my wretched bed in pain and misery. A strange and surly soldier came and went, bringing bread and water; but when I asked that a physician be sent me, he replied, with a vile oath, that the devil should be my only surgeon. Soon he came again, accompanied by another soldier, and put irons on me. With what quietness I could I asked him by whose orders this was done; but he vouchsafed no reply save that I was to "go bound to fires of hell."
"There is no journeying there," I answered; "here is the place itself."
Then a chain was roughly put round my injured ankle, and it gave me such agony that I turned sick, but I kept back groaning, for I would not have these varlets catch me quaking.
"I'll have you grilled for this one day," said I. "You are no men, but butchers. Can you not see my ankle has been sorely hurt?"
"You are for killing," was the gruff reply, "and here's a taste of it."
With that he drew the chain with a jerk round the hurt member, so that it drove me to madness. I caught him by the throat and hurled him back against the wall, and snatching a pistol from his comrade's belt aimed it at his head. I was beside myself with pain, and if he had been further violent I should have shot him. His fellow dared not stir in his defence, for the pistol was trained on him too surely; and so at last the wretch, promising better treatment, crawled to his feet, and made motion for the pistol to be given him. But I would not yield it, telling him it should be a guarantee of truce. Presently the door closed behind them, and I sank back upon the half-fettered chains.
I must have sat for more than an hour, when there was a noise without, and there entered the Commandant, the Marquis de Montcalm, and the Seigneur Duvarney. The pistol was in my hand, and I did not put it down, but struggled to my feet, and waited for them to speak.
For a moment there was silence, and then the Commandant said, "Your guards have brought me word, Monsieur le Capitaine, that you are violent. You have resisted them, and have threatened them with their own pistols."
"With one pistol, monsieur le commandant," answered I. Then, in bitter words, I told them of my treatment by those rascals, and I showed them how my ankle had been tortured. "I have no fear of death," said I, "but I will not lie and let dogs bite me with 'I thank you.' Death can come but once, it is a damned brutality to make one die a hundred and yet live--the work of Turks, not Christians. If you want my life, why, take it and have done."
The Marquis de Montcalm whispered to the Commandant. The Seigneur Duvarney, to whom I had not yet spoken, nor he to me, stood leaning against the wall, gazing at me seriously and kindly.
Presently Ramesay, the Commandant, spoke, not unkindly: "It was ordered you should wear chains, but not that you should be maltreated. A surgeon shall be sent to you, and this chain shall be taken from your ankle. Meanwhile, your guards shall be changed."
I held out the pistol, and he took it. "I can not hope for justice here," said I, "but men are men, and not dogs, and I ask for human usage till my hour comes and my country is your jailer."
The Marquis smiled, and his gay eyes sparkled. "Some find comfort in daily bread, and some in prophecy," he rejoined. "One should envy your spirit, Captain Moray."
"Permit me, your Excellency," replied I; "all Englishmen must envy the spirit of the Marquis de Montcalm, though none is envious of his cause."
He bowed gravely. "Causes are good or bad as they are ours or our neighbours'. The lion has a good cause when it goes hunting for its young; the deer has a good cause when it resists the lion's leap upon its fawn."
I did not reply, for I felt a faintness coming; and at that moment the Seigneur Duvarney came to me, and put his arm through mine. A dizziness seized me, my head sank upon his shoulder, and I felt myself floating away into darkness, while from a great distance came a voice:
"It had been kinder to have ended it last year."
"He nearly killed your son, Duvarney." This was the voice of the Marquis in a tone of surprise.
"He saved my life, Marquis," was the sorrowful reply. "I have not paid back those forty pistoles, nor ever can, in spite of all."
"Ah, pardon me, seigneur," was the courteous rejoinder of the General.
That was all I heard, for I had entered the land of complete darkness. When I came to, I found that my foot had been bandaged, there was a torch in the wall, and by my side something in a jug, of which I drank, according to directions in a surgeon's hand on a paper beside it.
I was easier in all my body, yet miserably sick still, and I remained so, now shivering and now burning, a racking pain in my chest. My couch was filled with fresh straw, but in no other wise was my condition altered from the first time I had entered this place. My new jailer was a man of no feeling that I could see, yet of no violence or cruelty; one whose life was like a wheel, doing the eternal round. He did no more nor less than his orders, and I made no complaint nor asked any favour. No one came to me, no message found its way.
Full three months went by in this fashion, and then, one day, who should step into my dungeon, torch in hand, but Gabord! He raised the light above his head, and looked down at me most quizzically.
"Upon my soul--Gabord!" said I. "I did not kill you, then?"
"Upon your soul and upon your body, you killed not Gabord."
"And what now, quarrelsome Gabord?" I questioned cheerfully.
He shook some keys. "Back again to dickey-bird's cage. 'Look you,' quoth Governor, 'who will guard and bait this prisoner like the man he mauled?' 'No one,' quoth a lady who stands by Governor's chair. And she it was who had Governor send me here--even Ma'm'selle Duvarney. And she it was who made the Governor loose off these chains."
He began to free me from the chains. I was in a vile condition. The irons had made sores upon my wrists and legs, my limbs now trembled so beneath me that I could scarcely walk, and my head was very light and dizzy at times. Presently Gabord ordered a new bed of straw brought in; and from that hour we returned to our old relations, as if there had not been between us a fight to the death. Of what was going on abroad he would not tell me, and soon I found myself in as ill a state as before. No Voban came to me, no Doltaire, no one at all. I sank into a deep silence, dropped out of a busy world, a morsel of earth slowly coming to Mother Earth again.
A strange apathy began to settle on me. All those resources of my first year's imprisonment had gone, and I was alone: my mouse was dead; there was no history of my life to write, no incident to break the pitiful monotony. There seemed only one hope: that our army under Amherst would invest Quebec and take it. I had no news of any movement, winter again was here, and it must be five or six months before any action could successfully be taken; for the St. Lawrence was frozen over in winter, and if the city was to be seized it must be from the water, with simultaneous action by land.
I knew the way, the only way, to take the city. At Sillery, west of the town, there was a hollow in the cliffs, up which men, secretly conveyed above the town by water, could climb. At the top was a plateau, smooth and fine as a parade-ground, where battle could be given, or move be made upon the city and citadel, which lay on ground no higher. Then, with the guns playing on the town from the fleet, and from the Levis shore with forces on the Beauport side, attacking the lower town where was the Intendant's palace, the great fortress might be taken, and Canada be ours.
This passage up the cliff side at Sillery I had discovered three years before.
When winter set well in Gabord brought me a blanket, and though last year I had not needed it, now it was most grateful. I had been fed for months on bread and water, as in my first imprisonment, but at last--whether by orders or not, I never knew--he brought me a little meat every day, and some wine also. Yet I did not care for them, and often left them untasted. A hacking cough had never left me since my attempt at escape, and I was miserably thin, and so weak that I could hardly drag myself about my dungeon. So, many weeks of the winter went on, and at last I was not able to rise from my bed of straw, and could do little more than lift a cup of water to my lips and nibble at some bread. I felt that my hours were numbered.
At last, one day, I heard commotion at my dungeon door; it opened, and Gabord entered and closed it after him. He came and stood over me, as with difficulty I lifted myself upon my elbow.
"Come, try your wings," said he.
"It is the end, Gabord?" asked I.
"Not paradise yet!" said he.
"Then I am free?" I asked.
"Free from this dungeon," he answered cheerily.
I raised myself and tried to stand upon my feet, but fell back. He helped me to rise, and I rested an arm on his shoulder.
I tried to walk, but faintness came over me, and I sank back. Then Gabord laid me down, went to the door, and called in two soldiers with a mattress. I was wrapped in my cloak and blankets, laid thereon, and so was borne forth, all covered even to my weak eyes. I was placed in a sleigh, and as the horses sprang away, the clear sleigh-bells rang out, and a gun from the ramparts was fired to give the noon hour, I sank into unconsciousness.