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   Chapter 3 A BIVOUAC IN THE FOREST.

Fort Amity By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10843

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Through the night, meanwhile, Montcalm and his men had been working like demons.

The stone fort of Ticonderoga stood far out on a bluff at the head of Lake Champlain, its base descending on the one hand into the still lake-water, on the other swept by the river which the British had been trying to follow, and which here, its rapids passed, disembogues in a smooth strong flood. It stood high, too, over these meeting waters; but as a military position was next to worthless, being dominated, across the river on the south, by a loftier hill called Rattlesnake Mountain.

Such was Ticonderoga; and hither Montcalm had hurried up the Richelieu River from the north to find Bourlamaque, that good fighter, posted with the regiments of La Reine, Béarn, and Guienne, and a few Canadian regulars and militia. He himself had brought the battalions of La Sarre and De Berry-a picked force, if ever there was one, but scarcely above three thousand strong.

A couple of miles above the fort and just below the rapids, a bridge spanned the river. A saw-mill stood beside it: and here Montcalm had crossed and taken up his quarters, pushing forward Bourlamaque to guard the upper end of the rapids, and holding Langy ready with three hundred rangers to patrol the woods on the outer side of the river's loop.

But when his scouts and Indians came in with the news of the British embarking on the upper shore, and with reports of their multitude, Montcalm perceived that the river could not be held; and, having recalled Bourlamaque and broken down the bridges above and below the rapids, withdrew his force again to Ticonderoga, leaving only Langy's rangers in the farther woods to feel the enemy's approach.

Next he had to ask himself, Could the fort be defended? All agreed that it could not, with Rattlesnake Mountain overtopping it: and the most were for evacuating it and retiring up Lake Champlain to the stronger French fort on Crown Point. But Montcalm was expecting Lévis at any moment with reinforcements; and studying the ridge at the extreme end of which the fort stood, he decided that the position ought not to be abandoned. This ridge ran inland, its slope narrowed on either side between the river and the lake by swamps, and approachable only from landward over the col, where it broadened and dipped to the foothills. Here, at the entrance to the ridge, and half a mile from his fort, he commanded his men to throw up an entrenchment and cut down trees; and while the sappers fell to work he traced out the lines of a rude star-fort, with curtains and jutting angles from which the curtains could be enfiladed. Through the dawn, while the British slept in the woods, the Frenchmen laboured, hacking and felling. Scores of trees they left to lie and encumber the ground: others they dragged, unlopped, to the entrenchment, and piled them before it, trunks inward and radiating from its angles; lacing their boughs together or roughly pointing them with a few strokes of the axe.

In the growing daylight the chevaux-de-frise began to look formidable; but Bourlamaque, watching it with Montcalm, shook his head, hunched his shoulders, and jerked a thumb toward a spur of Rattlesnake Mountain, by which their defences were glaringly commanded.

Montcalm said, "We will risk it. Those English Generals are inconceivable."

"But a cannon or two-"

"If he think of them! Believe me, who have tried: you never know what an English General will do-or what his soldiers won't. Pile the trees higher, my braves-more than breast-high- mountain-high if time serves! But this Abercromby comes from a land where the bees fly tail-foremost by rule."

"With all submission, I would still recommend Crown Point."

"Should he, by chance, think of planting a gun yonder, I feel sure that notion will exclude all others. We shall open the door and retreat on Crown Point unmolested."

Bourlamaque drew in a long breath and emitted it in a mighty pouf!

"I am not conducting his campaign for him," said his superior calmly. "God forbid! I once imagined myself in his predecessor's place, the Earl of Loudon's, and within twenty minutes France had lost Canada. I shudder at it still!"

Bourlamaque laughed. Montcalm had said it with a whimsical smile, and it passed him unheeded that the smile ended in a contracting of the brows and a bitter little sigh. The fighter judged war by its victories; the strategist by their effects. Montcalm could win victories; even now, by putting himself into what might pass for his adversary's mind, he hoped to snatch a success against odds. But what avails it to administer drubbings which but leave your foe the more stubbornly aggressive? British Generals blundered; but always the British armies came on. War had been declared three years ago; actually it had lasted for four; and the sum of its results was that France, with her chain of forts planted for aggression from the St. Lawrence to the Ohio, had turned to defending them. His countrymen might throw up their caps over splendid repulses of the foe, and hail such for triumphs; but Montcalm looked beneath the laurels.

The British, having slept the night in the woods, were mustered at dawn and marched back to the landing-place. Their General, falling back upon common sense after the loss of a precious day, was now resolved to try the short and beaten path by which Montcalm had retreated. It formed

a four-mile chord, with the loop of the river for arc, and presented no real difficulty except the broken bridge, which Bradstreet was sent forward to repair.

But though beaten and easy to follow, the road was rough; and Abercromby-in a sweating hurry now-determined to leave his guns behind. John à Cleeve, passing forward with his regiment, took note of them as they lay unlimbered amid the brushwood by the landing-stage, and thought little of it. He had his drill-book by heart, relied for orders on his senior officers, and took pride in obeying them smartly. This seemed to him the way for a young soldier to learn his calling; for the rest, war was a game of valour and would give him his opportunity. Theoretically he knew the uses of artillery, but he was not an artilleryman; nor had he ever felt the temptation to teach his grandmother to suck eggs. His cousin Dick's free comments upon white-headed Generals of division and brigade he let pass with a laugh. To Dick, the Earl of Loudon was "a mournful thickhead," Webb "a mighty handsome figure for a poltroon," Sackville "a discreet footman for a ladies' drum," and the ancestors of Abercromby had all been hanged for fools. Dick, very much at his ease in Sion, would have court-martialled and cashiered the lot out of hand. But John's priestly tutors had schooled him in diffidence, if in nothing else.

His men to-day were in no pleasant humour, and a few of them- veterans too-grumbled viciously as they passed the guns. "Silence in the ranks!" shouted the captain of his company; and the familiar words soothed him, and he wondered what had provoked the grumbling. A minute later he had forgotten it. The column crawled forward sulkily. The shadow of Howe's loss lay heavy on it, and a sense that his life had been flung away. They had been marched into a jungle and marched back again, with nothing to show for it but twenty-four wasted hours. On they crawled beneath the sweltering July heat; and coming to the bridge, found more delays.

Bradstreet and his men had worked like heroes, but the bridge would not be ready to carry troops before the early morning. A wooden saw-mill stood beside it, melancholy and deserted; and here the General took up his quarters, while the army cooked its supper and disposed itself for the night in the trampled clearing around the mill and in the forest beyond. The 46th lay close alongside the river, and the noise of Bradstreet's hammers on the bridge kept John for a long while awake and staring up at the high eastern ridges, black as ink against the radiance of a climbing moon. In the intervals of hammering, the swirl of the river kept tune in his ears with the whir-r-r of a saw in the rear of the mill, slicing up the last planks for the bridge. There was a mill in the valley at home, and he had heard it a hundred times making just such music with the stream that ran down from Dartmoor and past Cleeve Court. His thoughts went back to Devonshire, but not to linger there; only to wonder how much love his mother would put into her prayers could she be reached by a vision of him stretched here with his first battle waiting for him on the morrow. He wondered, not bitterly, if her chief reflection would be that he had brought the unpleasant experience on himself when he might have been safe in a priest's cassock. He laughed. How little she understood him, or had ever understood!

His heart went out to salute the morrow-and yet soberly. Outside of his simple duties of routine he was just an unshaped subaltern, with eyes sealed as yet to war's practical teachings. To him, albeit he would have been puzzled had anyone told him so, war existed as yet only as a spiritual conflict in which men proved themselves heroes or cowards: and he meant to be a hero. For him everything lay in the will to dare or to endure. He recalled tales of old knights keeping vigil by their arms in solitary chapels, and he questioned the far hill-tops and the stars-What substitute for faith supported him? Did he believe in God? Yes, after a fashion-in some tremendous and overruling Power, at any rate. A Power that had made the mountains yonder? Yes, he supposed so. A loving Power-an intimate counsellor-a Father attending all his steps? Well, perhaps; and if so, a Father to be answered with all a man's love: but, before answering, he honestly needed more assurance. As for another world and a continuing life there, should he happen to fall to-morrow, John searched his heart and decided that he asked for nothing of the sort. Such promises struck him as unworthy bribes, belittling the sacrifice he came prepared to make. He despised men who bargained with them. Here was he, young, abounding in life, ready to risk extinction. Why? For a cause (some might say), and that cause his country's. Maybe: he had never thought this out. To be sure he was proud to carry the regimental colours, and had rather belong to the 46th than to any other regiment. The honour of the 46th was dear to him now as his own. But why, again? Pure accident had assigned him to the 46th: as for love of his country, he could not remember that it had played any conspicuous part in sending him to join the army. The hammering on the bridge had ceased without his noting it, and also the whirr of the great hands-driven saw. Only the river sang to him now: and to the swirl of it he dropped off into a dreamless, healthy sleep.

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