Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XXIII. With Wolfe at Montmorenci
At Louisburg we found that Admiral Saunders and General Wolfe were gone to Quebec. They had passed us as we came down, for we had sailed inside some islands of the coast, getting shelter and better passage, and the fleet had, no doubt, passed outside. This was a blow to me, for I had hoped to be in time to join General Wolfe and proceed with him to Quebec, where my knowledge of the place should be of service to him. It was, however, no time for lament, and I set about to find my way back again. Our prisoners I handed over to the authorities. The two Provincials decided to remain and take service under General Amherst; Mr. Stevens would join his own Rangers at once, but Clark would go back with me to have his hour with his hated foes.
I paid Mr. Stevens and the two Provincials for their shares in the schooner, and Clark and I manned her afresh, and prepared to return instantly to Quebec. From General Amherst I received correspondence to carry to General Wolfe and Admiral Saunders. Before I started back, I sent letters to Governor Dinwiddie and to Mr. (now Colonel) George Washington, but I had no sooner done so than I received others from them through General Amherst. They had been sent to him to convey to General Wolfe at Quebec, who was, in turn, to hand them to me, when, as was hoped, I should be released from captivity, if not already beyond the power of men to free me.
The letters from these friends almost atoned for my past sufferings, and I was ashamed that ever I had thought my countrymen forgot me in my worst misery; for this was the first matter I saw when I opened the Governor's letter:
By the House of Burgesses.
Resolved, That the sum of three hundred pounds be paid to Captain Robert Moray, in consideration of his services to the country, and his singular sufferings in his confinement, as a hostage, in Quebec.
This, I learned, was one of three such resolutions.
But there were other matters in his letter which much amazed me. An attempt, he said, had been made one dark night upon his strong-room, which would have succeeded but for the great bravery and loyalty of an old retainer. Two men were engaged in the attempt, one of whom was a Frenchman. Both men were masked, and, when set upon, fought with consummate bravery, and escaped. It was found the next day that the safe of my partner had also been rifled and all my papers stolen. There was no doubt in my mind what this meant. Doltaire, with some renegade Virginian who knew Williamsburg and myself, had made essay to get my papers. But they had failed in their designs, for all my valuable documents--and those desired by Doltaire among them--remained safe in the Governor's strong-room.
I got away again for Quebec five days after reaching Louisburg. We came along with good winds, having no check, though twice we sighted French sloops, which, however, seemed most concerned to leave us to ourselves. At last, with colours flying, we sighted Kamaraska Isles, which I saluted, remembering the Chevalier de la Darante; then Isle aux Coudres, below which we poor fugitives came so near disaster. Here we all felt new fervour, for the British flag flew from a staff on a lofty point, tents were pitched thereon in a pretty cluster, and, rounding a point, we came plump upon Admiral Durell's little fleet, which was here to bar advance of French ships and to waylay stragglers.
On a blithe summer day we sighted, far off, the Island of Orleans and the tall masts of two patrol ships of war, which in due time we passed, saluting, and ran abreast of the island in the North Channel. Coming up this passage, I could see on an eminence, far distant, the tower of the Chateau Alixe.
Presently there opened on our sight the great bluff at the Falls of Montmorenci, and, crowning it, tents and batteries, the camp of General Wolfe himself, with the good ship Centurion standing off like a sentinel at a point where the Basin, the River Montmorenci, and the North Channel seem to meet. To our left, across the shoals, was Major Hardy's post, on the extreme eastern point of the Isle Orleans; and again beyond that, in a straight line, Point Levis on the south shore, where Brigadier-General Monckton's camp was pitched; and farther on his batteries, from which shell and shot were poured into the town. How all had changed in the two months since I left there! Around the Seigneur Duvarney's manor, in the sweet village of Beauport, was encamped the French army, and redoubts and batteries were ranged where Alixe and I and her brother Juste had many a time walked in a sylvan quiet. Here, as it were, round the bent and broken sides of a bowl, war raged, and the centre was like some caldron out of which imps of ships sprang and sailed to hand up fires of hell to the battalions on the ledges. Here swung Admiral Saunders's and Admiral Holmes's divisions, out of reach of the French batteries, yet able to menace and destroy, and to feed the British camps with men and munitions. There was no French ship in sight--only two old hulks with guns in the mouth of the St. Charles River, to protect the road to the palace gate--that is, at the Intendance.
It was all there before me, the investment of Quebec, for which I had prayed and waited seven long years.
All at once, on a lull in the fighting which had lasted twenty-four hours, the heavy batteries from the Levis shore opened upon the town, emptying therein the fatal fuel. Mixed feelings possessed me. I had at first listened to Clark's delighted imprecations and devilish praises with a feeling of brag almost akin to his own--that was the soldier and the Briton in me. But all at once the man, the lover, and the husband spoke: my wife was in that beleaguered town under that monstrous shower! She had said that she would never leave it till I came to fetch her. For I knew well that our marriage must become known after I had escaped; that she would not, for her own good pride and womanhood, keep it secret then; that it would be proclaimed while yet Gabord and the excellent chaplain were alive to attest all.
Summoned by the Centurion, we were passed on beyond the eastern point of the Isle of Orleans to the admiral's ship, which lay in the channel off the point, with battleships in front and rear, and a line of frigates curving towards the rocky peninsula of Quebec. Then came a line of buoys beyond these, with manned boats moored alongside to protect the fleet from fire rafts, which once already the enemy had unavailingly sent down to ruin and burn our fleet.
Admiral Saunders received me with great cordiality, thanked me for the dispatches, heard with applause of my adventures with the convoy, and at once, with dry humour, said he would be glad, if General Wolfe consented, to make my captured schooner one of his fleet. Later, when her history and doings became known in the fleet, she was at once called the Terror of France; for she did a wild thing or two before Quebec fell, though from first to last she had but her six swivel guns, which I had taken from the burnt sloop. Clark had command of her.
From Admiral Saunders I learned that Bigot had recovered from his hurt, which had not been severe, and of the death of Monsieur Cournal, who had ridden his horse over the cliff in the dark. From the Admiral I came to General Wolfe at Montmorenci.
I shall never forget my first look at my hero, my General, that flaming, exhaustless spirit, in a body so gauche and so unshapely. When I was brought to him, he was standing on a knoll alone, looking through a glass towards the batteries of Levis. The first thing that struck me, as he lowered the glass and leaned against a gun, was the melancholy in the lines of his figure. I never forget that, for it seemed to me even then that, whatever glory there was for British arms ahead, there was tragedy for him. Yet, as he turned at the sound of our footsteps, I almost laughed; for his straight red hair, his face defying all regularity, with the nose thrust out like a wedge and the chin falling back from an affectionate sort of mouth, his tall straggling frame and far from athletic shoulders, challenged contrast with the compact, handsome, graciously shaped Montcalm. In Montcalm was all manner of things to charm--all save that which presently filled me with awe, and showed me wherein this sallow-featured, pain-racked Briton was greater than his rival beyond measure: in that searching, burning eye, which carried all the distinction and greatness denied him elsewhere. There resolution, courage, endurance, deep design, clear vision, dogged will, and heroism, lived: a bright furnace of daring resolves and hopes, which gave England her sound desire.
An officer of his staff presented me. He looked at me with piercing intelligence, and then, presently, his long hand made a swift motion of knowledge and greeting, and he said:
"Yes, yes, and you are welcome, Captain Moray. I have heard of you, of much to your credit. You were for years in durance there."
He pointed towards the town, where we could see the dome of the cathedral shine, and the leaping smoke and flame of the roaring batteries.
"Six years, your Excellency," said I.
"Papers of yours fell into General Braddock's hands, and they tried you for a spy--a curious case--a curious case! Wherein were they wrong and you justified, and why was all exchange refused?"
I told him the main, the bare facts, and how, to force certain papers from me, I had been hounded to the edge of the grave. He nodded, and seemed lost in study of the mud-flats at the Beauport shore, and presently took to beating his foot upon the ground. After a minute, as if he had come back from a distance, he said: "Yes, yes, broken articles. Few women have a sense of national honour, such as La Pompadour none! An interesting matter."
Then, after a moment: "You shall talk with our chief engineer; you know the town you should be useful to me, Captain Moray. What do you suggest concerning this siege of ours?"
"Has any attack been made from above the town, your Excellency?"
He lifted his eyebrows. "Is it vulnerable from there? From Cap Rouge, you mean?"
"They have you at advantage everywhere, sir," I said. "A thousand men could keep the town, so long as this river, those mud-flats, and those high cliffs are there."
"But above the town--"
"Above the citadel there is a way--the only way: a feint from the basin here, a sham menace and attack, and the real action at the other door of the town."
"They will, of course, throw fresh strength and vigilance above, if our fleet run their batteries and attack there; the river at Cap Rouge is like this Montmorenci for defense." He shook his head. "There is no way, I fear."
"General," said I, "if you will take me into your service, and then give me leave to handle my little schooner in this basin and in the river above, I will prove that you may take your army into Quebec by entering it myself, and returning with something as precious to me as the taking of Quebec to you."
He looked at me piercingly for a minute, then a sour sort of smile played at his lips. "A woman!" he said. "Well, it were not the first time the love of a wench opened the gates to a nation's victory."
"Love of a wife, sir, should carry a man farther."
He turned on me a commanding look. "Speak plainly," said he. "If we are to use you, let us know you in all."
He waved farther back the officers with him.
"I have no other wish, your Excellency," I answered him. Then I told him briefly of the Seigneur Duvarney, Alixe, and of Doltaire.
"Duvarney! Duvarney!" he said, and a light came into his look. Then he called an officer. "Was it not one Seigneur Duvarney who this morning prayed protection for his chateau on the Isle of Orleans?" he asked.
"Even so, your Excellency," was the reply; "and he said that if Captain Moray was with us, he would surely speak for the humanity and kindness he and his household had shown to British prisoners."
"You speak, then, for this gentleman?" he asked, with a dry sort of smile.
"With all my heart," I answered. "But why asks he protection at this late day?"
"New orders are issued to lay waste the country; hitherto all property was safe," was the General's reply. "See that the Seigneur Duvarney's suit is granted," he added to his officer, "and say it is by Captain Moray's intervention.--There is another matter of this kind to be arranged this noon," he continued: "an exchange of prisoners, among whom are some ladies of birth and breeding, captured but two days ago. A gentleman comes from General Montcalm directly upon the point. You might be useful herein," he added, "if you will come to my tent in an hour." He turned to go.
"And my ship, and permission to enter the town, your Excellency?" I asked.
"What do you call your--ship?" he asked a little grimly.
I told him how the sailors had already christened her. He smiled. "Then let her prove her title to Terror of France," he said, "by being pilot to the rest of our fleet, up the river, and you, Captain Moray, be guide to a footing on those heights"--he pointed to the town. "Then this army and its General, and all England, please God, will thank you. Your craft shall have commission as a rover--but if she gets into trouble?"
"She will do as her owner has done these six years, your Excellency: she will fight her way out alone."
He gazed long at the town and at the Levis shore. "From above, then, there is a way?"
"For proof, if I come back alive--"
"For proof that you have been--" he answered meaningly, with an amused flash of his eyes, though at the very moment a spasm of pain crossed his face, for he was suffering from incurable disease, and went about his great task in daily misery, yet cheerful and inspiring.
"For proof, my wife, sir," said I.
He nodded, but his thoughts were diverted instantly, and he went from me at once abstracted. But again he came back. "If you return," said he, "you shall serve upon my staff. You will care to view our operations," he added, motioning towards the intrenchments at the river. Then he stepped quickly away, and I was taken by an officer to the river, and though my heart warmed within me to hear that an attack was presently to be made from the shore not far distant from the falls, I felt that the attempt could not succeed: the French were too well intrenched.
At the close of an hour I returned to the General's tent. It was luncheon-time, and they were about to sit as I was announced. The General motioned me to a seat, and then again, as if on second thought, made as though to introduce me to some one who stood beside him. My amazement was unbounded when I saw, smiling cynically at me, Monsieur Doltaire.
He was the envoy from Quebec. I looked him in the eyes steadily for a moment, into malicious, unswerving eyes, as maliciously and unswervingly myself, and then we both bowed.
"Captain Moray and I have sat at meat together before," he said, with mannered coolness. "We have played host and guest also: but that was ere he won our hearts by bold, romantic feats. Still, I dared scarcely hope to meet him at this table."
"Which is sacred to good manners," said I meaningly and coolly, for my anger and surprise were too deep for excitement.
I saw the General look at both of us keenly, then his marvellous eyes flashed intelligence, and a grim smile played at his lips a moment. After a little general conversation Doltaire addressed me:
"We are not yet so overwhelmed with war but your being here again will give a fillip to our gossip. It must seem sad to you--you were so long with us--you have broken bread with so many of us--to see us pelted so. Sometimes a dinner-table is disordered by a riotous shell."
He bent on torturing me. And it was not hard to do that, for how knew I what had happened? How came he back so soon from the Bastile? It was incredible. Perhaps he had never gone, in spite of all. After luncheon, the matter of exchange of prisoners was gone into, and one by one the names of the French prisoners in our hands--ladies and gentlemen apprehended at the chateau were ticked off, and I knew them all save two. The General deferred to me several times as to the persons and positions of the captives, and asked my suggestions. Immediately I proposed Mr. Wainfleet, the chaplain, in exchange for a prisoner, though his name was not on the list, but Doltaire shook his head in a blank sort of way.
"Mr. Wainfleet! Mr. Wainfleet! There was no such prisoner in the town," he said.
I insisted, but he stared at me inscrutably, and said that he had no record of the man. Then I spoke most forcibly to the General, and said that Mr. Wainfleet should be produced, or an account of him be given by the French Governor. Doltaire then said:
"I am only responsible for these names recorded. Our General trusts to your honour, and you to ours, Monsieur le General."
There was nothing more to say, and presently the exchanges were arranged, and, after compliments, Doltaire took his leave. I left the Governor also, and followed Doltaire. He turned to meet me.
"Captain Moray and I," he remarked to the officers near, "are old--enemies; and there is a sad sweetness in meetings like these. May I--"
The officers drew away at a little distance at once before the suggestion was made, and we were left alone. I was in a white heat, but yet in fair control.
"You are surprised to see me here," he said. "Did you think the Bastile was for me? Tut! I had not got out of the country when we a packet came, bearing fresh commands. La Pompadour forgave me, and in the King's name bade me return to New France, and in her own she bade me get your papers, or hang you straight. And--you will think it singular--if need be, I was to relieve the Governor and Bigot also, and work to save New France with the excellent Marquis de Montcalm." He laughed. "You can see how absurd that is. I have held my peace, and I keep my commission in my pocket."
I looked at him amazed that he should tell me this. He read my look, and said:
"Yes, you are my confidant in this. I do not fear you. Your enemy is bound in honour, your friend may seek to serve himself." Again he laughed. "As if I, Tinoir Doltaire--note the agreeable combination of peasant and gentleman in my name--who held his hand from ambition for large things in France, should stake a lifetime on this foolish hazard! When I play, Captain Moray, it is for things large and vital. Else I remain the idler, the courtier--the son of the King."
"Yet you lend your vast talent, the genius of those unknown possibilities, to this, monsieur--this little business of exchange of prisoners," I retorted ironically.
"That is my whim--a social courtesy."
"You said you knew nothing of the chaplain," I broke out.
"Not so. I said he was on no record given me. Officially I know nothing of him."
"Come," said I, "you know well how I am concerned for him. You quibble; you lied to our General."
A wicked light shone in his eyes. "I choose to pass that by, for the moment," said he. "I am sorry you forget yourself; it were better for you and me to be courteous till our hour of reckoning, Shall we not meet some day?" he said, with a sweet hatred in his tone.
"With all my heart."
"In yonder town," said I, pointing.
He laughed provokingly. "You are melodramatic," he rejoined. "I could hold that town with one thousand men against all your army and five times your fleet."
"You have ever talked and nothing done," said I. "Will you tell me the truth of the chaplain?"
"Yes, in private the truth you shall hear," he said. "The man is dead."
"If you speak true, he was murdered," I broke out. "You know well why."
"No, no," he answered. "He was put in prison, escaped, made for the river, was pursued, fought, and was killed. So much for serving you."
"Will you answer me one question?" said I. "Is my wife well? Is she safe? She is there set among villainies."
"Your wife?" he answered, sneering. "If you mean Mademoiselle Duvarney, she is not there." Then he added solemnly and slowly: "She is in no fear of your batteries now--she is beyond them. When she was there, she was not child enough to think that foolish game with the vanished chaplain was a marriage. Did you think to gull a lady so beyond the minute's wildness? She is not there," he added again in a low voice.
"She is dead?" I gasped. "My wife is dead?"
"Enough of that," he answered with cold fierceness. "The lady saw the folly of it all, before she had done with the world. You--you, monsieur! It was but the pity of her gentle heart, of a romantic nature. You--you blundering alien, spy, and seducer!"
With a gasp of anger I struck him in the face, and whipped out my sword. But the officers near came instantly between us, and I could see that they thought me gross, ill-mannered, and wild, to do this thing before the General's tent, and to an envoy.
Doltaire stood still a moment. Then presently wiped a little blood from his mouth, and said:
"Messieurs, Captain Moray's anger was justified; and for the blow he will justify that in some happier time--for me. He said that I had lied, and I proved him wrong. I called him a spy and a seducer--he sought to shame, he covered with sorrow, one of the noblest families of New France--and he has yet to prove me wrong. As envoy I may not fight him now, but I may tell you that I have every cue to send him to hell one day. He will do me the credit to say that it is not cowardice that stays me."
"If no coward in the way of fighting, coward in all other things," I retorted instantly.
"Well, well, as you may think." He turned to go. "We will meet there, then?" he said, pointing to the town. "And when?"
"To-morrow," said I.
He shrugged his shoulder as to a boyish petulance, for he thought it an idle boast. "To-morrow? Then come and pray with me in the cathedral, and after that we will cast up accounts--to-morrow," he said, with a poignant and exultant malice. A moment afterwards he was gone, and I was left alone.
Presently I saw a boat shoot out from the shore below, and he was in it. Seeing me, he waved a hand in an ironical way. I paced up and down, sick and distracted, for half an hour or more. I knew not whether he lied concerning Alixe, but my heart was wrung with misery, for indeed he spoke with an air of truth.
Dead! dead! dead! "In no fear of your batteries now," he had said. "Done with the world!" he had said. What else could it mean? Yet the more I thought, there came a feeling that somehow I had been tricked. "Done with the world!" Ay, a nunnery--was that it? But then, "In no fear of your batteries now"--that, what did that mean but death?
At this distressful moment a message came from the General, and I went to his tent, trying to calm myself, but overcome with apprehension. I was kept another half hour waiting, and then, coming in to him, he questioned me closely for a little about Doltaire, and I told him the whole story briefly. Presently his secretary brought me the commission for my appointment to special service on the General's own staff.
"Your first duty," said his Excellency, "will be to--reconnoitre; and if you come back safe, we will talk further."
While he was speaking I kept looking at the list of prisoners which still lay upon his table. It ran thus:
Monsieur and Madame Joubert. Monsieur and Madame Carcanal. Madame Rousillon. Madame Champigny. Monsieur Pipon. Mademoiselle La Rose. L'Abbe Durand. Monsieur Halboir. La Soeur Angelique. La Soeur Seraphine.
I know not why it was, but the last three names held my eyes. Each of the other names I knew, and their owners also. When I looked close, I saw that where "La Soeur Angelique" now was another name had been written and then erased. I saw also that the writing was recent. Again, where "Halboir" was written there had been another name, and the same process of erasure and substitution had been made. It was not so with "La Soeur Seraphine." I said to the General at once, "Your excellency, it is possible you have been tricked." Then I pointed out what I had discovered. He nodded.
"Will you let me go, sir?" said I. "Will you let me see this exchange?"
"I fear you will be too late," he answered. "It is not a vital matter, I fancy."
"Perhaps to me most vital," said I, and I explained my fears.
"Then go, go," he said kindly. He quickly gave directions to have me carried to Admiral Saunders's ship, where the exchange was to be effected, and at the same time a general passport.
In a few moments we were hard on our way. Now the batteries were silent. By the General's orders, the bombardment ceased while the exchange was being effected, and the French batteries also were still. A sudden quietness seemed to settle on land and sea, and there was only heard, now and then, the note of a bugle from a ship of war. The water in the basin was moveless, and the air was calm and quiet. This heraldry of war was all unnatural in the golden weather and sweet-smelling land.
I urged the rowers to their task, and we flew on. We passed another boat loaded with men, singing boisterously a disorderly sort of song, called "Hot Stuff," set to the air "Lilies of France." It was out of touch with the general quiet:
"When the gay Forty-Seventh is dashing ashore, While bullets are whistling and cannons do roar, Says Montcalm, 'Those are Shirleys--I know the lapels.' 'You lie,' says Ned Botwood, 'we swipe for Lascelles! Though our clothing is changed, and we scout powder-puff, Here's at you, ye swabs--here's give you Hot Stuff!'"
While yet we were about two miles away, I saw a boat put out from the admiral's ship, then, at the same moment, one from the Lower Town, and they drew towards each other. I urged my men to their task, and as we were passing some of Admiral Saunders's ships, their sailors cheered us. Then came a silence, and it seemed to me that all our army and fleet, and that at Beauport, and the garrison of Quebec, were watching us; for the ramparts and shore were crowded. We drove on at an angle, to intercept the boat that left the admiral's ship before it reached the town.
War leaned upon its arms and watched a strange duel. There was no authority in any one's hands save my own to stop the boat, and the two armies must avoid firing, for the people of both nations were here in this space between--ladies and gentlemen in the French boat going to the town, Englishmen and a poor woman or two coming to our own fleet.
My men strained every muscle, but the pace was impossible--it could not last; and the rowers in the French boat hung over their oars also with enthusiasm. With the glass of the officer near me--Kingdon of Anstruther's Regiment--I could now see Doltaire standing erect in the boat, urging the boatmen on.
All round that basin, on shore and cliff and mountains, thousands of veteran fighters--Fraser's, Otway's, Townsend's, Murray's; and on the other side the splendid soldiers of La Sarre, Languedoc, Bearn, and Guienne--watched in silence. Well they might, for in this entr'acte was the little weapon forged which opened the door of New France to England's glory. So may the little talent or opportunity make possible the genius of the great.
The pain of this suspense grew so, that I longed for some sound to break the stillness; but there was nothing for minute after minute. Then, at last, on the halcyon air of that summer day floated the Angelus from the cathedral tower. Only a moment, in which one could feel, and see also, the French army praying, then came from the ramparts the sharp inspiring roll of a drum, and presently all was still again. Nearer and nearer the boat of prisoners approached the stone steps of the landing, and we were several hundred yards behind.
I motioned to Doltaire to stop, but he made no sign. I saw the cloaked figures of the nuns near him, and I strained my eyes, but I could not note their faces. My men worked on ardently, and presently we gained. But I saw that it was impossible to reach them before they set foot on shore. Now their boat came to the steps, and one by one they hastily got out. Then I called twice to Doltaire to stop. The air was still, and my voice carried distinctly. Suddenly one of the cloaked figures sprang towards the steps with arms outstretched, calling aloud, "Robert! Robert!" After a moment, "Robert, my husband!" rang out again, and then a young officer and the other nun took her by the arm to force her away. At the sharp instigation of Doltaire, instantly some companies of marines filed in upon the place where they had stood, leveled their muskets on us, and hid my beloved wife from my view. I recognized the young officer who had put a hand upon Alixe. It was her brother Juste.
"Alixe! Alixe!" I called, as my boat still came on.
"Save me, Robert!" came the anguished reply, a faint but searching sound, and then no more.
Misery and mystery were in my heart all at once. Doltaire had tricked me. "Those batteries can not harm her now!" Yes, yes, they could not while she was a prisoner in our camp. "Done with the world!" Truly, when wearing the garb of the Sister Angelique. But why that garb? I swore that I would be within that town by the morrow, that I would fetch my wife into safety, out from the damnable arts and devices of Master Devil Doltaire, as Gabord had called him.
The captain of the marines called to us that another boat's length would fetch upon us the fire of his men. There was nothing to do, but to turn back, while from the shore I was reviled by soldiers and by the rabble. My marriage with Alixe had been made a national matter--of race and religion. So, as my men rowed back towards our fleet, I faced my enemies, and looked towards them without moving. I was grim enough that moment, God knows; I felt turned to stone. I did not stir when--ineffaceable brutality--the batteries on the heights began to play upon us, the shot falling round us, and passing over our heads, and musket-firing followed.
"Damned villains! Faithless brutes!" cried Kingdon beside me. I did not speak a word, but stood there defiant, as when we first had turned back. Now, sharply, angrily, from all our batteries, there came reply to the French; and as we came on with only one man wounded and one oar broken, the whole fleet cheered us. I steered straight for the Terror of France, and there Clark and I, he swearing violently, laid plans.