Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XXVIII. "To Cheat the Devil Yet."
My hurt proved more serious than I had looked for, and the day after my escape I was in a high fever. General Wolfe himself, having heard of my return, sent to inquire after me. He also was ill, and our forces were depressed in consequence; for he had a power to inspire them not given to any other of our accomplished and admirable generals. He forbore to question me concerning the state of the town and what I had seen; for which I was glad. My adventure had been of a private nature, and such I wished it to remain. The general desired me to come to him as soon as I was able, that I might proceed with him above the town to reconnoitre. But for many a day this was impossible, for my wound gave me much pain and I was confined to my bed.
Yet we on the Terror of France served our good general, too; for one dark night, when the wind was fair, we piloted the remaining ships of Admiral Holmes's division above the town. This move was made on my constant assertion that there was a way by which Quebec might be taken from above; and when General Wolfe made known my representations to his general officers, they accepted it as a last resort; for otherwise what hope had they? At Montmorenci our troops had been repulsed, the mud flats of the Beauport shore and the St. Charles River were as good as an army against us; the Upper Town and citadel were practically impregnable; and for eight miles west of the town to the cove and river at Cap Rouge there was one long precipice, broken in but one spot; but just there, I was sure, men could come up with stiff climbing as I had done. Bougainville came to Cap Rouge now with three thousand men, for he thought that this was to be our point of attack. Along the shore from Cap Rouge to Cape Diamond small batteries were posted, such as that of Lancy's at Anse du Foulon; but they were careless, for no conjectures might seem so wild as that of bringing an army up where I had climbed.
"Tut, tut," said General Murray, when he came to me on the Terror of France, after having, at my suggestion, gone to the south shore opposite Anse du Foulon, and scanned the faint line that marked the narrow cleft on the cliff side--"tut, tut, man," said he, "'tis the dream of a cat or a damned mathematician."
Once, after all was done, he said to me that cats and mathematicians were the only generals.
With a belligerent pride Clark showed the way up the river one evening, the batteries of the town giving us plunging shots as we went, and ours at Point Levis answering gallantly. To me it was a good if most anxious time: good, in that I was having some sort of compensation for my own sufferings in the town; anxious, because no single word came to me of Alixe or her father, and all the time we were pouring death into the place.
But this we knew from deserters, that Vaudreuil was Governor and Bigot Intendant still; by which it would seem that, on the momentous night when Doltaire was wounded by Madame Cournal, he gave back the governorship to Vaudreuil and reinstated Bigot. Presently, from an officer who had been captured as he was setting free a fire-raft upon the river to run among the boats of our fleet, I heard that Doltaire had been confined in the Intendance from a wound given by a stupid sentry. Thus the true story had been kept from the public. From him, too, I learned that nothing was known of the Seigneur Duvarney and his daughter; that they had suddenly disappeared from the Intendance, as if the earth had swallowed them; and that even Juste Duvarney knew nothing of them, and was, in consequence, much distressed.
This officer also said that now, when it might seem as if both the Seigneur and his daughter were dead, opinion had turned in Alixe's favour, and the feeling had crept about, first among the common folk and afterwards among the people of the garrison, that she had been used harshly. This was due largely, he thought, to the constant advocacy of the Chevalier de la Darante, whose nephew had married Mademoiselle Georgette Duvarney. This piece of news, in spite of the uncertainty of Alixe's fate, touched me, for the Chevalier had indeed kept his word to me.
At last all of Admiral Holmes's division was got above the town, with very little damage, and I never saw a man so elated, so profoundly elated as Clark over his share in the business. He was a daredevil, too; for the day that the last of the division was taken up the river, without my permission or the permission of the admiral or any one else, he took the Terror of France almost up to Bougainville's earthworks in the cove at Cap Rouge and insolently emptied his six swivels into them, and then came out and stood down the river. When I asked what he was doing--for I was now well enough to come on deck--he said he was going to see how monkeys could throw nuts; when I pressed him, he said he had a will to hear the cats in the eaves; and when I became severe, he added that he would bring the Terror of France up past the batteries of the town in broad daylight, swearing that they could no more hit him than a woman could a bird on a flagstaff. I did not relish this foolish bravado, and I forbade it; but presently I consented, on condition that he take me to General Wolfe's camp at Montmorenci first; for now I felt strong enough to be again on active service.
Clark took the Terror of France up the river in midday, running perilously close to the batteries; and though they pounded at him petulantly, foolishly angry at his contemptuous defiance, he ran the gauntlet safely, and coming to the flagship, the Sutherland, saluted with his six swivels, to the laughter of the whole fleet and his own profane joy.
"Mr. Moray," said General Wolfe, when I saw him, racked with pain, studying a chart of the river and town which his chief engineer had just brought him, "show me here this passage in the hillside."
I did so, tracing the plains of Maitre Abraham, which I assured him would be good ground for a pitched battle. He nodded; then rose, and walked up and down for a time, thinking. Suddenly he stopped, and fixed his eyes upon me.
"Mr. Moray," said he, "it would seem that you, angering La Pompadour, brought down this war upon us." He paused, smiling in a dry way, as if the thought amused him, as if indeed he doubted it; but for that I cared not, it was an honour I could easily live without.
I bowed to his words, and said, "Mine was the last straw, sir."
Again he nodded, and replied, "Well, well, you got us into trouble; you must show us the way out," and he looked at the passage I had traced upon the chart. "You will remain with me until we meet our enemy on these heights." He pointed to the plains of Maitre Abraham. Then he turned away, and began walking up and down again. "It is the last chance!" he said to himself in a tone despairing and yet heroic. "Please God, please God!" he added.
"You will speak nothing of these plans," he said to me at last, half mechanically. "We must make feints of landing at Cap Rouge--feints of landing everywhere save at the one possible place; confuse both Bougainville and Montcalm; tire out their armies with watchings and want of sleep; and then, on the auspicious night, make the great trial."
I had remained respectfully standing at a little distance from him. Now he suddenly came to me, and, pressing my hand, said quickly, "You have trouble, Mr. Moray. I am sorry for you. But maybe it is for better things to come."
I thanked him stumblingly, and a moment later left him, to serve him on the morrow, and so on through many days, till, in divers perils, the camp at Montmorenci was abandoned, the troops were got aboard the ships, and the general took up his quarters on the Sutherland; from which, one notable day, I sallied forth with him to a point at the south shore opposite the Anse du Foulon, where he saw the thin crack in the cliff side. From that moment instant and final attack was his purpose.
The great night came, starlit and serene. The camp-fires of two armies spotted the shores of the wide river, and the ships lay like wild fowl in convoys above the town from where the arrow of fate should be sped. Darkness upon the river, and fireflies upon the shore. At Beauport, an untiring general, who for a hundred days had snatched sleep, booted and spurred, and in the ebb of a losing game, longed for his adored Candiac, grieved for a beloved daughter's death, sent cheerful messages to his aged mother and to his wife, and by the deeper protests of his love foreshadowed his own doom. At Cap Rouge, a dying commander, unperturbed and valiant, reached out a finger to trace the last movements in a desperate campaign of life that opened in Flanders at sixteen; of which the end began when he took from his bosom the portrait of his affianced wife, and said to his old schoolfellow, "Give this to her, Jervis, for we shall meet no more."
Then, passing to the deck, silent and steady, no signs of pain upon his face, so had the calm come to him, as to Nature and this beleaguered city, before the whirlwind, he looked out upon the clustered groups of boats filled with the flower of his army, settled in a menacing tranquillity. There lay the Light Infantry, Bragg's, Kennedy's, Lascelles's, Anstruther's Regiment, Fraser's Highlanders, and the much-loved, much-blamed, and impetuous Louisburg Grenadiers. Steady, indomitable, silent as cats, precise as mathematicians, he could trust them, as they loved his awkward pain-twisted body and ugly red hair. "Damme, Jack, didst thee ever take hell in tow before?" said a sailor from the Terror of France to his fellow once, as the marines grappled with a flotilla of French fire-ships, and dragged them, spitting destruction, clear of the fleet, to the shore. "Nay, but I've been in tow of Jimmy Wolfe's red head; that's hell-fire, lad!" was the reply.
From boat to boat the General's eye passed, then shifted to the ships--the Squirrel, the Leostaff, the Seahorse, and the rest--and lastly to where the army of Bougainville lay. Then there came towards him an officer, who said quietly, "The tide has turned, sir." For reply the general made a swift motion towards the maintop shrouds, and almost instantly lanterns showed in them. In response the crowded boats began to cast away, and, immediately descending, the General passed into his own boat, drew to the front, and drifted in the current ahead of his gallant men, the ships following after.
It was two by the clock when the boats began to move, and slowly we ranged down the stream, silently steered, carried by the current. No paddle, no creaking oarlock, broke the stillness. I was in the next boat to the General's, for, with Clark and twenty-two other volunteers to the forlorn hope, I was to show the way up the heights, and we were near to his person for over two hours that night. No moon was shining, but I could see the General plainly; and once, when our boats almost touched, he saw me, and said graciously, "If they get up, Mr. Moray, you are free to serve yourself."
My heart was full of love of country then, and I answered, "I hope, sir, to serve you till your flag is hoisted in the citadel."
He turned to a young midshipman beside him, and said, "How old are you, sir?"
"Seventeen, sir," was the reply.
"It is the most lasting passion," he said, musing.
It seemed to me then, and I still think it, that the passion he meant was love of country. A moment afterwards I heard him recite to the officers about him, in a low clear tone, some verses by Mr. Gray, the poet, which I had never then read, though I have prized them since. Under those frowning heights, and the smell from our roaring thirty-two-pounders in the air, I heard him say:
"The curfew tolls, the knell of parting day; The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea; The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me."
I have heard finer voices than his--it was as tin beside Doltaire's--but something in it pierced me that night, and I felt the man, the perfect hero, when he said:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Await alike the inevitable hour-- The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
Soon afterwards we neared the end of our quest, the tide carrying us in to shore; and down from the dark heights there came a challenge, satisfied by an officer who said in French that we were provision-boats for Montcalm: these, we knew, had been expected! Then came the batteries of Samos. Again we passed with the same excuse, and we rounded a headland, and the great work was begun.
The boats of the Light Infantry swung in to shore. No sentry challenged, but I knew that at the top Lancy's tents were set. When the Light Infantry had landed, we twenty-four volunteers stood still for a moment, and I pointed out the way. Before we started, we stooped beside a brook that leaped lightly down the ravine, and drank a little rum and water. Then I led the way, Clark at one side of me, and a soldier of the Light Infantry at the other. It was hard climbing, but, following in our careful steps as silently as they might, the good fellows came eagerly after. Once a rock broke loose and came tumbling down, but plunged into a thicket, where it stayed; else it might have done for us entirely. I breathed freely when it stopped. Once, too, a branch cracked loudly, and we lay still; but hearing nothing above, we pushed on, and, sweating greatly, came close to the top.
Here I drew back with Clark, for such honour as there might be in gaining the heights first I wished to go to these soldiers who had trusted their lives to my guidance. I let six go by and reach the heights, and then I drew myself up. We did not stir till all twenty-four were safe; then we made a dash for the tents of Lancy, which now showed in the first gray light of morning. We made a dash for them, were discovered, and shots greeted us; but we were on them instantly, and in a moment I had the pleasure of putting a bullet in Lancy's heel, and brought him down. Our cheers told the general the news, and soon hundreds of soldiers were climbing the hard way that we had come.
And now while an army climbed to the heights of Maitre Abraham, Admiral Saunders in the gray dawn was bombarding Montcalm's encampment, and boats filled with marines and soldiers drew to the Beauport flats, as if to land there; while shots, bombs, shells, and carcasses were hurled from Levis upon the town, deceiving Montcalm. At last, however, suspecting, he rode towards the town at six o'clock, and saw our scarlet ranks spread across the plains between him and Bougainville, and on the crest, nearer to him, eying us in amazement, the white-coated battalion of Guienne, which should the day before have occupied the very ground held by Lancy. A slight rain falling added to their gloom, but cheered us. It gave us a better light to fight by, for in the clear September air, the bright sun shining in our faces, they would have had us at advantage.
In another hour the gates of St. John and St. Louis emptied out upon this battlefield a warring flood of our foes. It was a handsome sight: the white uniforms of the brave regiments, Roussillon, La Sarre, Guienne, Languedoc, Bearn, mixed with the dark, excitable militia, the sturdy burghers of the town, a band of coureurs de bois in their rough hunter's costume, and whooping Indians, painted and furious, ready to eat us. At last here was to be a test of fighting in open field, though the French had in their whole army twice the number of our men, a walled and provisioned city behind them, and field-pieces in great number to bring against us.
But there was bungling with them. Vaudreuil hung back or came tardily from Beauport; Bougainville had not yet arrived; and when they might have pitted twice our number against us, they had not many more than we. With Bougainville behind us and Montcalm in front, we might have been checked, though there was no man in all our army but believed that we should win the day. I could plainly see Montcalm, mounted on a dark horse, riding along the lines as they formed against us, waving his sword, a truly gallant figure. He was answered by a roar of applause and greeting. On the left their Indians and burghers overlapped our second line, where Townsend with Amherst's and the Light Infantry, and Colonel Burton with the Royal Americans and Light Infantry, guarded our flank, prepared to meet Bougainville. In vain our foes tried to get between our right flank and the river; Otway's Regiment, thrown out, defeated that.
It was my hope that Doltaire was with Montcalm, and that we might meet and end our quarrel. I came to know afterwards that it was he who had induced Montcalm to send the battalion of Guienne to the heights above the Anse du Foulon. The battalion had not been moved till twenty-four hours after the order was given, or we should never have gained those heights; stones rolled from the cliff would have destroyed an army.
We waited, Clark and I, with the Louisburg Grenadiers while they formed. We made no noise, but stood steady and still, the bagpipes of the Highlanders shrilly challenging. At eight o'clock sharpshooters began firing on us from the left, and skirmishers were thrown out to hold them in check, or dislodge them and drive them from the houses where they sheltered and galled Townsend's men. Their field-pieces opened on us, too, and yet we did nothing, but at nine o'clock, being ordered, lay down and waited still. There was no restlessness, no anxiety, no show of doubt, for these men of ours were old fighters, and they trusted their leaders. From bushes, trees, coverts, and fields of grain there came that constant hail of fire, and there fell upon our ranks a doggedness, a quiet anger, which grew into a grisly patience. The only pleasure we had in two long hours was in watching our two brass six-pounders play upon the irregular ranks of our foes, making confusion, and Townsend drive back a detachment of cavalry from Cap Rouge, which sought to break our left flank and reach Montcalm.
We had seen the stars go down, the cold, mottled light of dawn break over the battered city and the heights of Charlesbourg; we had watched the sun come up, and then steal away behind slow-travelling clouds and hanging mist; we had looked across over unreaped cornfields and the dull, slovenly St. Charles, knowing that endless leagues of country, north and south, east and west, lay in the balance for the last time. I believed that this day would see the last of the strife between England and France for dominion here; of La Pompadour's spite which I had roused to action against my country; of the struggle between Doltaire and myself.
The public stake was worthy of our army--worthy of the dauntless soldier, who had begged his physicians to patch him up long enough to fight this fight, whereon he staked reputation, life, all that a man loves in the world; the private stake was more than worthy of my long sufferings. I thought that Montcalm would have waited for Vaudreuil, but no. At ten o'clock his three columns moved down upon us briskly, making a wild rattle; two columns moving upon our right and one upon our left, firing obliquely and constantly as they marched. Then came the command to rise, and we stood up and waited, our muskets loaded with an extra ball. I could feel the stern malice in our ranks, as we stood there and took, without returning a shot, that damnable fire. Minute after minute passed; then came the sharp command to advance. We did so, and again halted, and yet no shot came from us. We stood there, a long palisade of red.
At last I saw our general raise his sword, a command rang down the long line of battle, and, like one terrible cannon-shot, our muskets sang together with as perfect a precision as on a private field of exercise. Then, waiting for the smoke to clear a little, another volley came with almost the same precision; after which the firing came in choppy waves of sound, and again in a persistent clattering. Then a light breeze lifted the smoke and mist well away, and a wayward sunlight showed us our foe, like a long white wave retreating from a rocky shore, bending, crumpling, breaking, and, in a hundred little billows, fleeing seaward.
Thus checked, confounded, the French army trembled and fell back. Then I heard the order to charge, and from near four thousand throats there came for the first time our exultant British cheer, and high over all rang the slogan of Fraser's Highlanders. To my left I saw the flashing broadswords of the clansmen, ahead of all the rest. Those sickles of death clove through and broke the battalions of La Sarre, and Lascelles scattered the good soldiers of Languedoc into flying columns. We on the right, led by Wolfe, charged the desperate and valiant men of Roussillon and Guienne and the impetuous sharpshooters of the militia. As we came on, I observed the general sway and push forward again, and then I lost sight of him, for I saw what gave the battle a new interest to me: Doltaire, cool and deliberate, animating and encouraging the French troops.
I moved in a shaking hedge of bayonets, keeping my eye on him; and presently there was a hand-to-hand melee, out of which I fought to reach him. I was making for him, where he now sought to rally the retreating columns, when I noticed, not far away, Gabord, mounted, and attacked by three grenadiers. Looking back now, I see him, with his sabre cutting right and left, as he drove his horse at one grenadier, who slipped and fell on the slippery ground, while the horse rode on him, battering him. Obliquely down swept the sabre, and drove through the cheek and chin of one foe; another sweep, and the bayonet of the other was struck aside; and another, which was turned aside as Gabord's horse came down, bayoneted by the fallen grenadier. But Gabord was on his feet again, roaring like a bull, with a wild grin on his face, as he partly struck aside the bayonet of the last grenadier. It caught him in the flesh of the left side. He grasped the musket-barrel, and swung his sabre with fierce precision. The man's head dropped back like the lid of a pot, and he tumbled into a heap of the faded golden-rod flower which spattered the field.
It was at this moment I saw Juste Duvarney making towards me, hatred and deadly purpose in his eyes. I had will enough to meet him, and to kill him too, yet I could not help but think of Alixe. Gabord saw him, also, and, being nearer, made for me as well. For that act I cherish his memory. The thought was worthy of a gentleman of breeding; he had the true thing in his heart. He would save us--two brothers--from fighting, by fighting me himself.
He reached me first, and with an "Au diable!" made a stroke at me. It was a matter of sword and sabre now. Clark met Juste Duvarney's rush; and there we were, at as fine a game of cross-purposes as you can think: Clark hungering for Gabord's life (Gabord had once been his jailer, too), and Juste Duvarney for mine; the battle faring on ahead of us. Soon the two were clean cut off from the French army, and must fight to the death or surrender.
Juste Duvarney spoke only once, and then it was but the rancorous word "Renegade!" nor did I speak at all; but Clark was blasphemous, and Gabord, bleeding, fought with a sputtering relish.
"Fair fight and fowl for spitting," he cried. "Go home to heaven, dickey-bird."
Between phrases of this kind we cut and thrust for life, an odd sort of fighting. I fought with a desperate alertness, and presently my sword passed through his body, drew out, and he shivered--fell--where he stood, collapsing suddenly like a bag. I knelt beside him, and lifted up his head. His eyes were glazing fast.
"Gabord! Gabord!" I called, grief-stricken, for that work was the worst I ever did in this world.
He started, stared, and fumbled at his waistcoat. I quickly put my hand in, and drew out--one of Mathilde's wooden crosses.
"To cheat--the devil--yet--aho!" he whispered, kissed the cross, and so was done with life.
When I turned from him, Clark stood beside me. Dazed as I was, I did not at first grasp the significance of that fact. I looked towards the town, and saw the French army hustling into the St. Louis Gate; saw the Highlanders charging the bushes at the Cote Ste. Genevieve, where the brave Canadians made their last stand; saw, not fifty feet away, the noblest soldier of our time, even General Wolfe, dead in the arms of Mr. Henderson, a volunteer in the Twenty-Second; and then, almost at my feet, stretched out as I had seen him lie in the Palace courtyard two years before, Juste Duvarney.
But now he was beyond all friendship or reconciliation--forever.