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FORT AMITIE LEARNS ITS FATE.
That Spring, three British generals sat at the three gates of Canada, waiting for the signal to enter and end the last agony of New France. But the snows melted, the days lengthened, and still the signal did not come; for the general by the sea gate was himself besieged.
Through the winter he and his small army sat patiently in the city they had ruined. Conquerors in lands more southerly may bury their dead with speed, rebuild captured walls, set up a pillar and statue of Victory, and in a month or two, the green grass helping them, forget all but the glory of the battle. But here in the north the same hand arrests them and for six months petrifies the memorials of their rage. Until the Spring dissolves it, the image of war lives face to face with them, white, with frozen eyes, sparing them only the colour of its wounds.
General Murray, like many a soldier in his army, had dreams of emulating Wolfe's glory. But Wolfe had snatched victory out of the shadow of coming winter; and, almost before Murray's army could cut wood for fuel, the cold was upon them. For two months Quebec had been pounded with shot and shell. Her churches and hospitals stood roofless; hundreds of houses had been fired, vaults and storehouses pillaged, doors and windows riddled everywhere. There was no digging entrenchments in the frozen earth. Walls six feet thick had been breached by artillery; and the loose stones, so cold they were, could hardly be handled.
Among these ruins, on the frozen cliff over the frozen river, Murray and his seven thousand men settled down to wear the winter through. They were short of food, short of fuel. Frost-bite maimed them at first; then scurvy, dysentery, fever, began to kill. They laid their dead out on the snow, to be buried when spring should return and thaw the earth; and by the end of April their dead numbered six hundred and fifty. Yet they kept up their spirits. Early in November there had been rumours that the French under Levis meant to march on the city and retake it. In December deserters brought word that he was on his way--that he would storm the city on the twenty-second, and dine within the citadel on Christmas Day. In January news arrived that he was preparing scaling-ladders and training his men in the use of them. Still the days dragged by. The ice on the river began to break up and swirl past the ramparts on the tides. The end of April came, and with it a furious midnight storm, and out of the storm a feeble cry--the voice of a half-dead Frenchman clinging to a floe of ice far out on the river. He was rescued, placed in a hammock, and carried up Mountain Street to the General's quarters; and Murray, roused from sleep at three o'clock in the morning, listened to his story. He was an artillery-sergeant of Levis's army; and that army, twelve thousand strong, was close to the gates of Quebec.
The storm had fallen to a cold drizzle of rain when at dawn Murray's troops issued from the St. Louis gate and dragged their guns out through the slush of the St. Foy road. On the ground where Wolfe had given battle, or hard by, they unlimbered in face of the enemy and opened fire. Two hours later, outflanked by numbers, having lost a third of their three thousand in the short fight, they fell back on the battered walls they had mistrusted. For a few hours the fate of Quebec hung on a hair. But the garrison could build now; and, while Levis dragged up his guns from the river, the English worked like demons. They had guns, at any rate, in plenty; and, while the French dug and entrenched themselves on the ground they had won, daily the breaches closed and the English fire grew hotter.
April gave place to May, and the artillery fire continued on the heights; but, as it grew noisier it grew also less important, for now the eyes of both commanders were fastened on the river. Two fleets were racing for Quebec, and she would belong to the first to drop anchor within her now navigable river.
Then came a day when, as Murray sat brooding by the fire in his quarters in St. Louis Street, an officer ran in with the news of a ship of war in the Basin, beating up towards the city. "Whatever she is," said the General, "we will hoist our colours." Weather had frayed out the halliards on the flagstaff over Cape Diamond, but a sailor climbed the pole and lashed the British colours beneath the truck. By this time men and officers in a mob had gathered on the ramparts of the Chateau St. Louis, all straining their eyes at a frigate fetching up close-hauled against the wind.
Her colours ran aloft; but they were bent, sailor-fashion, in a tight bundle, ready to be broken out when they reached the top-gallant masthead.
An officer, looking through a glass, cried out nervously that the bundle was white. But this they knew without telling. Only--what would the flag carry on its white ground? The red cross? or the golden fleurs-de-lys?
The halliards shook; the folds flew broad to the wind; and, with a gasp, men leaped on the ramparts--flung their hats in the air and cheered--dropped, sobbing, on their knees.
It was the red cross of England.
They were cheering yet and shouting themselves hoarse when the Lowestoffe frigate dropped anchor and saluted with all her twenty-four guns. On the heights the French guns answered spitefully. Levis would not believe. He had brought his artillery at length into position, and began to knock the defences vigorously. He lingered until the battleship Vanguard and the frigate Diane came sailing up into harbour; until the Vanguard, pressing on with the Lowestoffe, took or burned the vessels which had brought his artillery down from Montreal. Then, in the night, he decamped, leaving his siege-train, baggage, and sick men behind him. News of his retreat reached Murray at nightfall, and soon the English guns were bowling round-shot after him in the dusk across the Plains of Abraham; but by daybreak, when Murray pushed out after him, to fall on his rear, he had hurried his columns out of reach.
Three months had passed since the flying of the signal from the Lowestoffe, and now in the early days of August three British armies were moving slowly upon Montreal, where Levis and Governor Vaudreuil had drawn the main French forces together for a last resistance.
Murray came up the river from Quebec with twenty-four hundred men, in thirty-two vessels and a fleet of boats in company; followed by Lord Rollo with thirteen hundred men drawn off from dismantled Louisbourg. As the ships tacked up the river, with their floating batteries ranged in line to protect the advance, bodies of French troops followed them along the shore--regiments of white-coated infantry and horsemen in blue jackets faced with scarlet. Bourlamaque watched from the southern shore, Dumas from the northern. But neither dared to attack; and day after day through the lovely weather, past fields and settlements and woodlands, between banks which narrowed until from deck one could listen to the song of birds on either hand and catch the wafted scent of wild flowers, the British wound their way to Isle Sainte-Therese below Montreal, encamped, and waited for their comrades.
From the south came Haviland. He brought thirty-four hundred regulars, provincials, and Indians from Crown Point on Lake Champlain, and moved down the Richelieu, driving Bougainville before him.
Last, descending from the west by the gate of the Great Lakes, came the Commander in Chief, the cautious Amherst, with eighteen hundred soldiers and Indians and over eight hundred bateaux and whale-boats. He had gathered them at Oswego in July, and now in the second week of August had crossed the lake to its outlet, threaded the channels of the Thousand Islands, and was bearing down on the broad river towards Fort Amitie.
And how did it stand with Fort Amitie?
Well, to begin with, the Commandant was thoroughly perplexed. The British must be near; by latest reports they had reached the Thousand Islands; even hours were becoming precious, and yet most unaccountably the reinforcements had not arrived!
What could M. de Vaudreuil be dreaming of? Already the great Indian leader, Saint-Luc de la Come, had reached Coteau du Lac with a strong force of militia. Dominique Guyon had been sent down with an urgent message of inquiry. But what had been La Corne's answer? "I know not what M. de Vaudreuil intends. My business is to stay here and watch the rapids."
"Now what can be the meaning of that?" the Commandant demanded of his brother.
M. Etienne shook his head pensively. "Rusticus expectat . . . I should have supposed the rapids to stand in no danger."
"Had the Governor sent word to abandon the Fort, I might have understood. It would have been the bitterest blow of my life--"
"Yes, yes, brother," M. Etienne murmured in sympathy.
"But to leave us here without a word! No; it is impossible. They must be on their way!"
In the strength of this confidence Dominique and Bateese had been dispatched down the river again to meet the reinforcements and hurry them forward.
Dominique and Bateese had been absent for a week now on this errand. Still no relief-boats hove in sight, and the British were coming down through the Thousand Islands.
Save in one respect the appearance of the Fort had not changed since the evening of John a Cleeve's dismissal. The garrison cows still graced along the river-bank, and in the clearing under the eastern wall the Indian corn was ripe for harvest (M. Etienne suggested reaping it; the labour, he urged, would soothe everyone's nerves). Only on Sans Quartier's cabbage-patch the lunette now stood complete. All the habitants of Boisveyrac had been brought up to labour in its erection, building it to the height of ten feet, with an abattis of trees in front and a raised platform within for the riflemen. Day after day the garrison manned it and burned powder in defence against imaginary assaults, and by this time the Commandant and Sergeant Bedard between them had discussed and provided against every possible mode of attack.
Diane stood in the dawn on the terre-plein of the river-wall. The latest news of the British had arrived but a few hours since, with a boatload of fugitives from the upstream mission-house of La Galette, off which an armed brig lay moored with ten cannon and one hundred men to check the advance of the flotilla. It could do no more.
The fugitives included Father Launoy, and he had landed and begged Diane to take his place in the crowded boat. For himself (he said) he would stay and help to serve out ammunition to Fort Amitie--that was, if the Commandant meant to resist.
"Do you suppose, then, that I would retire?" the Commandant asked with indignation.
"It may be possible to do neither," suggested Father Launoy.
But this the Commandant could by no means understand. It seemed to him that either he must be losing his wits or the whole of New France, from M. de Vaudreuil down, was banded in a league of folly. "Resist? Of course I shall resist! My men are few enough, Father; but I beg you to dismiss the notion that Fort Amitie is garrisoned by cowards."
"I will stay with you then," said the Jesuit. "I may be useful, in many ways. But mademoiselle will take my place in the boat and escape to Montreal."
"I also stay," answered Diane simply.
"Excuse me, but there is like to be serious work. They bring the Iroquois with them, besides Indians from the West." Father Launoy spoke as one reasoning with a child.
Diane drew a small pistol from her bodice. "I have thought of that, you see."
"But M. de Noel--" He swung round upon the Commandant, expostulating.
"In a few hours," said the Commandant, meeting his eyes with a smile, "New France will have ceased to be. I have no authority to force my child to endure what I cannot endure myself. She has claimed a promise of me, and I have given it."
The priest stepped back a pace, wondering. Swiftly before him passed a vision of the Intendant's palace at Quebec, with its women and riot and rottenness. His hand went up to his eyes, and under the shade of it he looked upon father and daughter--this pair of the old noblesse, clean, comely, ready for the sacrifice. What had New France done for these that they were cheerful to die for her? She had doled them out poverty, and now, in the end, betrayal; she had neglected her children for aliens, she had taken their revenues to feed extortioners and wantons, and now in the supreme act of treachery, herself falling with them, she turned too late to read in their eyes a divine and damning love. There all the while she had lived--the true New France, loyally trusted, innocently worshipped. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." . . . Father Launoy lowered his gaze to the floor. He had looked and learned why some nations fall and others worthily endure.
All that night the garrison had slept by their arms, until with the first streak of day the drums called them out to their alarm-post.
Diane stood on the terre-plein watching the sunrise. As yet the river lay indistinct, a broad wan-coloured band of light stretching away across the darkness. The outwork on the slope beneath her was a formless shadow astir with smaller shadows equally formless. She heard the tread of feet on the wooden platform, the clink of side-arms and accoutrements, the soft thud of ramrods, the voice of old Bedard, peevish and grumbling as usual.
Her face, turned to the revealing dawn, was like and yet curiously unlike the face into which John a Cleeve had looked and taken his dismissal; a woman's face now, serener than of old and thoughtfuller. These two years had lengthened it to a perfect oval, adding a touch of strength to the brow, a touch of decision to the chin; and, lest these should overweight it, had removed from the eyes their clouded trouble and left them clear to the depths. The elfin Diane, the small woodland-haunting Indian, no longer looked forth from those windows; no search might find her captive shadow behind them. She had died young, or had faded away perhaps and escaped back to her native forests.
But she is not all forgotten, this lost playmate. Some trick of gesture reappears as Diane lifts her face suddenly towards the flagstaff tower. The watchman there has spied something on the river, and is shouting the news from the summit.
His arm points down the river. What has he seen? "Canoes!"--the relief is at hand then! No: there is only one canoe. It comes swiftly and yet the day overtakes and passes it, spreading a causeway of light along which it shoots to the landing-quay.
Two men paddle it--Dominique and Bateese Guyon. Their faces are haggard, their eyes glassy with want of sleep, their limbs so stiff that they have to be helped ashore.
The Commandant steps forward. "What news, my children?" he asks. His voice is studiously cheerful.
Dominique shakes his head.
"There is no relief, Monseigneur."
"You have met none, you mean?"
"None is coming, Monseigneur. We have heard it in Montreal."
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