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   Chapter 25 THE FORT SURRENDERS.

Fort Amity By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 11093

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The red-coats, who had forced their way up the tower by weight of numbers and at the point of the bayonet, were now ordered to face about and clear the stairway; which they did, driving the mixed rabble of Canadians and Indians down before them, and collecting the dead and wounded as they went. Five of the Oneidas had been bayoneted or trampled to death in the struggle; two of the garrison would never fight again, and scarcely a man had escaped cuts or bruises.

But Diane, as she followed her father's body down the stairs, knew nothing of this. The dead and wounded had been removed. The narrow lancet windows let in a faint light, enough to reveal some ugly stains and splashes on the walls; but she walked with fixed unseeing eyes. Once only on the way down her foot slid on the edge of a slippery step, and she shivered.

In the sunlight outside the doorway a group of men, mauled and sullen, some wearing bandages, others with blood yet trickling down their faces, stood listening to an altercation between M. Etienne and a couple of spick-and-span British officers. As their Commandant's body came through the doorway they drew together with a growl. Love was in that sound, and sorrow, and helpless rage. One or two broke into sobs.

The British officers-one of them was the General himself, the other his messenger, Captain Muspratt-bared their heads. M. Etienne, checked in the midst of an harangue, stepped to Diane and took her hand tenderly.

She gazed slowly around on the group of battered men. There was no reproach in her look-Had she not failed as miserably as they?-and yet it held a word of injustice. She could not know that for her sake they carried these wounds. And Dominique Guyon, the one man who could have answered her thoughts, stared savagely at the ground, offering no defence.

"Dominique Guyon," commanded M. Etienne, "four of you will relieve these messieurs of their burden. Carry your master to the chapel, where you will find Father Launoy and Father Joly."

"But pardon me, monsieur," interposed Amherst politely, "my soldiers will be proud to bear so gallant a foe."

"I thank you "-M. Etienne's bow was stiff and obstinate-"but I assert again that I still command this fortress, and the bearers shall be of my choosing."

Diane laid a hand on her uncle's arm. "He is dead," said she. "What matters it?" She did not understand this dispute. "Perhaps if I promise M. le General that these men shall return to him when they have laid my father in the chapel-"

The General-a tall, lean, horse-faced man with a shrewd and not unkindly eye-yielded the point at once. "Willingly, mademoiselle, and with all the respect an enemy may pay to your sorrow."

He ordered the men to give place to the new bearers.

In the chapel Diane sank on her knees, but not to pray-rather to escape the consolations of the two priests and be alone with her thoughts. And her thoughts were not of her father. The stroke had fallen; but not yet could she feel the pain. He was happy; he alone of them all had kept his quiet vow, and died disdaining defeat; whereas she-ah, there lay the terrible thought!-she had not merely failed, had not been overpowered. In the crisis, beside her father's corpse, she had played the traitress to her resolve.

The two priests moved about the body, arranging it, fetching trestles, draperies, and candles for the lit de parade, always with stealthy glances at the bowed figure in the shadow just within the door. But she knelt on, nor lifted her face.

In the sunlit courtyard without the two commanders were still disputing. M. Etienne flatly refused to yield up his sword, maintaining that he had never surrendered, had agreed to no terms of capitulation; that the redcoats had swarmed over his walls in the temporary absence of their defenders, gathered at the gateway to parley under a flag of truce, and should be drawn off at once.

The mischief was, he could not be gainsaid. Major Etherington explained-at first in English, to his General, and again, at his General's request, in the best French he could command, for the benefit of all, that he had indeed heard the recall blown, and had with difficulty drawn off his men from the scaling-ladders, persuading them (as he himself was persuaded) that the fort had surrendered. He knew nothing of the white flag at the gateway, but had formed his conclusions from the bugle-calls and the bare flagstaff above the tower.

"Nevertheless, we had not capitulated," persisted M. Etienne.

The Major continued that, albeit he had tried his best, the Indians were not to be restrained. They had poured into the fort, and, although he had obeyed the bugles and kept his men back, it had cost him grave misgivings. But when the Ojibway called down so urgently from the summit of the tower, he had risked disobedience, hoping to prevent the massacre which he knew to be afoot. He appealed to his General to approve, or at least condone, this breach of orders. For undoubtedly massacre had been prevented. Witness the crowd he had found jammed in the stairway, and fighting ferociously. Witness the scene that had met him at the head of the stairs. Here he swung round upon John and beckoned him to stand out from the listening group of red-coats.

"It can be proved, sir," he went on, addressing M. Etienne, "that the lady-your niece, is she not?-owes her life, and more than her life perhaps, to this savage. I claim only that, answering his call, I led my men with all possible speed to the rescue. Up there on

the leads I found your brother lying dead, with a sergeant dead beside him; and their wounds again will prove to you that they had perished by the bursting of a shell. But this man alone stood on the hatchway and held it against a dozen Iroquois, as your niece will testify. What you suppose yourself to owe him, I won't pretend to say; but I tell you-and I tell you, General-that cleaner pluck I never saw in my life."

John, the soldiers pushing him forward, stood out with bent head. He prayed that there might be no Ojibway interpreter at hand; he knew of none in the fort but Father Launoy, now busy in the chapel laying out the Commandant's body. Of all the spectators there was but one- the General himself-who had not known him either as Ensign John a Cleeve or as the wounded sergeant from Ticonderoga. He had met Captain Muspratt at Albany, and remembered him well on the march up the Hudson to Lake George. With Major Etherington he had marched, messed, played at cards, and lived in close comradeship for months together-only two years ago! It was not before their eyes that he hung his head, but before the thought of two eyes that in the chapel yonder were covered by the hands of a kneeling girl.

M. Etienne stepped forward and took his hand.

"I thank you, my friend-if you can understand my thanks."

Dominique Guyon, returning from the chapel, saw only an Indian stepping back upon the ranks of the red-coats, who clapped him on the shoulder for a good fellow; and Dominique paid him no more attention, being occupied with M. Etienne's next words.

"Nevertheless," said M. Etienne, turning upon Amherst, "my duty to his Majesty obliges me to insist that I have not capitulated; and your troops, sir, though they have done me this service, must be at once withdrawn."

And clearly, by all the rules of war, M. Etienne had the right on his side. Amherst shrugged his shoulders, frowning and yet forced to smile-the fix was so entirely absurd. As discipline went in these North American campaigns, he commanded a well-disciplined army; but numbers of provincials and bateau-men had filtered in through the breaches almost unobserved during the parley, and were now strolling about the fortifications like a crowd of inquisitive tourists. He ordered Major Etherington to clear them out, and essayed once more to reason with the enemy.

"You do not seriously urge me, monsieur, to withdraw my men and renew the bombardment?"

"That is precisely what I require of you."

"But-good heavens, my dear sir!-look at the state of your walls!" He waved a hand towards the defences.

"I see them; but you, sir, as a gentleman, should have no eyes for their condition-on this side."

The General arched his eyebrows and glanced from M. Etienne to the Canadians; he did not for a moment mean to appeal to them, but his glance said involuntarily, "A pretty madman you have for commander!"

And in fact they were already murmuring. What nonsense was this of M. Etienne's? The fort had fallen, as any man with eyes could see. Their Commandant was dead. They had fought to gain time? Well, they had succeeded, and won compliments even from their enemy.

Corporal Sans Quartier spoke up. "With all respect, M. le Capitaine, if we fight again some of us would like to know what we are fighting for."

M. Etienne swung round upon him.

"Tais-toi, poltron!"

A murmur answered him; and looking along the line of faces he read sympathy, respect, even a little shame, but nowhere the response he sought.

Nor did he reproach them. Bitter reproaches indeed shook his lips, but trembled there and died unuttered. For five-maybe ten-long seconds he gazed, and so turned towards the General.

"Achevez, monsieur!… Je vous demande pardon si vous me trouvéz un peu pointilleux." His voice shook; he unbuckled his sword, held it for a moment between his hands as if hesitating, then offered it to Amherst with the ghost of a bitter smile. "Cela ne vaut pas-sauf à moi-la peine de le casser…"

He bowed, and would have passed on towards the chapel. Amherst gently detained him.

"I spare you my compliments, sir, and my condolence; they would be idly offered to a brave man at such a moment. Forgive me, though, that I cannot spare to consult you on my own affairs. Time presses with us. You have, as I am told, good pilots here who know the rapids between this and Montreal, and I must beg to have them pointed out to me."

M. Etienne paused. "The best pilots, sir, are Dominique Guyon there, and his brother Bateese. But you will find that most of these men know the river tolerably well."

"And the rest of your garrison? Your pardon, again, but I must hold you responsible, to deliver up all your men within the Fort."

"I do not understand… This, sir, is all the garrison of Fort Amitié."

Amherst stared at the nineteen or twenty hurt and dishevelled men ranged against the tower wall, then back into a face impossible to associate with untruth.

"M. le Capitaine," said he very slowly, "if with these men you have made a laughing-stock of me for two days and a half, why then I owe you a grudge. But something else I owe, and must repay at once. Be so good as to receive back a sword, sir, of which I am all unworthy to deprive you."

But as he proffered it, M. Etienne put up both hands to thrust the gift away, then covered his face with them.

"Not now, monsieur-not now! To-morrow perhaps… but not now, or I may break it indeed!"

Still with his face covered, he tottered off towards the chapel.

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