Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.
TO HENRY NEWBOLT.
My dear Newbolt,
Two schoolfellows, who had sat together in the Sixth at Clifton, met at Paddington some twenty years later and travelled down to enter their two sons at one school. On their way, while the boys shyly became acquainted, the fathers discussed the project of this story; a small matter in comparison with the real business of that day—but that it happened so gives me the opportunity of dedicating Fort Amity to you, its editor in The Monthly Review, as a reminder to outlast the short life granted in these days to novels.
Yet if either of our sons shall turn its pages some years hence, though but to remind himself of his first journey to school, I hope he will not lay it down too contemptuously. The tale has, for its own purposes, so seriously confused the geography of Fort Amitie, that he may search the map and end by doubting if any such fortress ever existed and stood a siege: but I trust it will leave him in no doubt of what his elders understood by honour and friendship.
Of these two themes, at any rate, I have composed it, and dedicate it to a poet who has sung nobly of both. "Like to the generations of leaves are those of men"—but while we last, let these deciduous pages commemorate the day when we two went back to school four strong. May they also contain nothing unworthy to survive us in our two fellow-travellers!
A. T. QUILLER-COUCH.
The Haven, April 20th, 1904.
More than once, attempting a story of high and passionate love—in this book, for example, and still more recklessly in my tale of Sir John Constantine—I have had to pause and ask myself the elementary question: Can such a story, if at once true and exemplary, conclude otherwise than in sorrow?
The great artists in poetry and prose fiction seem to consent that it cannot: and this, I think, not because—understanding love as they do, with all its wonder and wild desire—they would conduct it to life-long bliss if they could, but simply because they cannot fit it into this muddy vesture of decay. They may dismiss us in the end with peace and consolation:
And calm of mind, all passion spent.
And we know or have known that of its impulse among us lesser folk it holifies and populates this world. But our own transience qualifies it. Only when love here claims to be above the world—"All for Love, and the World well Lost"—we feel that its exorbitance must wreck it here and now, however it may shine hereafter. That is why all the great legends of love—the tale of Tristan and Iseult, for instance— are unhappy legends: as that is why they still tease us.
I hope these remarks will not be deemed too pompous for the preface to a story in which true love is crossed by a soldier's sense of honour. The theme is a variant on a great commonplace: and, following my habit, I let the incidents and characters have their own way without the author's comment or interference.
I. MALBROUCK S'EN VA-T'EN GUERRE.
II. A BIVOUAC IN THE FOREST.
IV. THE VOYAGEURS.
V. CONTAINS THE APOLOGUE OF MANABOZHO'S TOE.
VII. THE WATCHER IN THE PASS.
VIII. THE FARTHER SLOPE.
IX. MENEHWEHNA SETTLES ACCOUNTS.
XI. FATHER LAUNOY HAS HIS DOUBTS.
XII. THE WHITE TUNIC.
XIII. FORT AMITIE.
XIV. AGAIN THE WHITE TUNIC.
XV. THE SECOND DESPATCH.
XVI. THE DISMISSAL.
XVII. FRONTENAC SHORE.
XIX. THE LODGES IN THE SNOW.
XX. THE REVEILLE.
XXI. FORT AMITIE LEARNS ITS FATE.
XXIII. THE FLAGSTAFF TOWER.
XXIV. THE FORT SURRENDERS.
XXV. THE RAPIDS.
XXVI. DICK'S JUDGEMENT.
II.—THE PHANTOM GUARD.
MALBROUCK S'EN VA-T'EN GUERRE.
"So adieu, Jack, until we meet in Quebec! You have the start of us, report says, and this may even find you drinking his Majesty's health in Fort Carillon. Why not? You carry Howe, and who carries Howe carries the eagles on his standards; or so you announce in your last. Well, but have we, on our part, no vexillum? Brother Romulus presents his compliments to Brother Remus, and begs leave to answer 'Wolfe!' 'Tis scarce forty-eight hours since Wry-necked Dick brought his ships into harbour with the Brigadier on board, and already I have seen him and—what is more—fallen in love. 'What like is he?' says you. 'Just a sandy-haired slip of a man,' says I, 'with a cock nose': but I love him, Jack, for he knows his business. We've a professional at last. No more Pall Mall promenaders—no more Braddocks. Loudons, Webbs! We live in the consulship of Pitt, my lad—deprome Caecubum—we'll tap a cask to it in Quebec. And if Abercromby's your Caesar—"
Here a bugle sounded, and Ensign John a Cleeve of the 46th Regiment of Foot (Murray's) crushed his friend's letter into his pocket and sprang off the woodpile where he had seated himself with the regimental colours across his knees. He unfolded them from their staff, assured himself that they hung becomingly—gilt tassels and yellow silken folds—and stepped down to the lake-side where the bateaux waited.
The scene is known to-day for one of the fairest in the world. Populous cities lie near it and pour their holiday-makers upon it through the summer season. Trains whistle along the shore under its forests; pleasure-steamers, with music on their decks, shoot across bays churned of old by the paddles of war-canoes; from wildernesses where Indians lurked in ambush smile neat hotels, white-walled, with green shutters and deep verandas; and lovers, wandering among the hemlocks, happen on a clearing with a few turfed mounds, and seat themselves on these last ruins of an ancient fort, nor care to remember even its name. Behind them—behind the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains—and pushed but a little way back in these hundred and fifty years, lies the primeval forest, trodden no longer now by the wasting redman, but untamed yet, almost unhandselled. And still, as the holidaymakers leave it, winter closes down on the lake-side and wraps it in silence, broken by the loon's cry or the crash of a snow-laden tree deep in the forest—the same sounds, the same aching silence, endured by French and English garrisons watching each other and the winter through in Fort Carillon or Fort William Henry.
"The world's great age begins anew." . . . It begins anew, and hourly, wherever hearts are high and youth sets out with bright eyes to meet his fate. It began anew for Ensign John a Cleeve on this morning of July 5, 1758; it was sounded up by bugles, shattering the forest silence; it breathed in the wind of the boat's speed shaking the silken flag above him. His was one of twelve hundred boats spreading like brilliant water-fowl across the lake which stretched for thirty miles ahead, gay with British uniforms, scarlet and gold, with Highland tartans, with the blue jackets of the Provincials; flash of oars, innumerable glints of steel, of epaulettes, of belt, cross-belt and badge; gilt knops and tassels and sheen of flags. Yonder went Blakeney's 27th Regiment, and yonder the Highlanders of the Black Watch; Abercromby's 44th, Howe's 55th with their idolised young commander, the 60th or Royal Americans in two battalions; Gage's Light Infantry, Bradstreet's axemen and bateau-men, Starke's rangers; a few friendly Indians—but the great Johnson was hurrying up with more, maybe with five hundred; in all fifteen thousand men and over. Never had America seen such an armament; and it went to take a fort from three thousand Frenchmen.
No need to cover so triumphant an advance in silence! Why should not the regimental bands strike up? For what else had we dragged them up the Hudson from Albany and across the fourteen-mile portage to the lake? Weary work with a big drum in so much brushwood! And play they did, as the flotilla pushed forth and spread and left the stockades far behind; stockades planted on the scene of last year's massacre. Though for weeks before our arrival Bradstreet and his men had been clearing and building, sights remained to nerve our arms and set our blood boiling to the cry "Remember Fort William Henry!" Its shores fade, and somewhere at the foot of the lake three thousand Frenchmen are waiting for us (if indeed they dare to wait). Let the bands play "Britons strike home!"
Play they did: drums tunding and bagpipes skirling as though Fort Carillon (or Ticonderoga, as the Indians called it) would succumb like another Jericho to their clamour. The Green Mountains tossed its echoes to the Adirondacks, and the Adirondacks flung it back; and under it, down the blue waterway toward the Narrows, went Ensign John a Cleeve, canopied by the golden flag of the 46th.
The lake smiled at all his expectations and surpassed them. He had imagined it a sepulchral sheet of water, sunk between cavernous woods. And lo! it lay high in the light of day, broad-rimmed, with the forests diminishing as they shelved down to its waters. The mountains rimmed it, amethystine, remote, delicate as carving, as vapours almost transparent; and within the rim it twinkled like a great cup of champagne held high in a god's hand—so high that John a Cleeve, who had been climbing ever since his regiment left Albany, seemed lifted with all these flashing boats and uniforms upon a platform where men were heroes, and all great deeds possible, and the mere air laughed in the veins like wine.
Two heavy flat-boats ploughed alongside of his; deep in the bows and yawing their sterns ludicrously. They carried a gun apiece, and the artillerymen had laded them too far forward. To the 46th they were a sufficiently good joke to last for miles. "Look at them up-tailed ducks a-searching for worms! Guns? Who wants guns on this trip? Take 'em home before they sink and the General loses his temper." The crews grinned back and sweated and tugged, at every third drive drenching the bowmen with spray, although not a breath of wind rippled the lake's surface.
The boat ahead of John's carried Elliott the Senior Ensign of the 46th, with the King's colours—the flag of Union, drooping in stripes of scarlet, white, and blue. On his right strained a boat's crew of the New York regiment, with the great patroon, Philip Schuyler himself, erect in the stern sheets and steering, in blue uniform and three-cornered hat; too grand a gentleman to recognise our Ensign, although John had danced the night through in the Schuylers' famous white ball-room on the eve of marching from Albany, and had flung packets of sweetmeats into the nursery windows at dawn and awakened three night-gowned little girls to blow kisses after him as he took his way down the hill from the Schuyler mansion. That was a month ago. To John it seemed years since he had left Albany and its straight sidewalks dappled with maple shade: but the patroon's face was the same, sedately cheerful now as then when he had moved among his guests with a gracious word for each and a brow unclouded by the morrow.
Men like Philip Schuyler do not suffer to-morrows to perturb them, since to them every morrow dawns big with duties, responsibilities, risks. John caught himself wondering to what that calm face looked forward, at the lake-end, where the forests slept upon their shadows and the mountains descended and closed like fairy gates! For John himself Fame waited beyond those gates. Although in the last three or four weeks he had endured more actual hardships than in all his life before, he had enjoyed them thoroughly and felt that they were hardening him into a man. He understood now why the tales he had read at school in his Homer and Ovid—tales of Ulysses, of Hercules and Perseus—were never sorrowful, however severe the heroes' labours. For were they not undergone in just such a shining atmosphere as this?
His mind ran on these ancient tales, and so, memory reverting to Douai and the seminary class-room in which he had first construed them, he began unconsciously to set the lines of an old repetition-lesson to the stroke of the oars.
Angustam amice pauperiem pati robustus acri militia puer condiscat et Parthos feroces vexet eques metuendus hasta:
Vitamque sub divo et trepidis agat in rebus . . .
—And so on, with halts and breaks where memory failed him. Parthos—these would be the Indians—Abenakis, Algonquins, Hurons, whomsoever Montcalm might have gathered yonder in the woods with him. Dulce et decorum est—yes, to be sure; in a little while he would be facing death for his country; but he did not feel in the least like dying. A sight of Philip Schuyler's face sent him sliding into the next ode—Justum et tenacem . . . non voltus instantis tyranni. . . . John a Cleeve would have started had the future opened for an instant and revealed the face of the tyrant Philip Schuyler was soon to defy: and Schuyler would have started too.
Then John remembered his cousin's letter, and pulled it from his pocket again. . . .
"And if Abercromby's your Caesar—which is as much as I'll risk saying in a letter which may be opened before it reaches you— why, you have Howe to clip his parade wig as he's already docked the men's coat-tails. So here's five pounds on it, and let it be a match—Wolfe against Howe, and shall J. a C. or R. M. be first in Quebec? And another five pounds, if you will, on our epaulettes: for I repeat to you, this is Pitt's consulship, and promotion henceforth comes to men as they deserve it. Look at Wolfe, sir—a man barely thirty-two—and the ball but just set rolling! Wherefore I too am resolved to enter Quebec a Brigadier-General, who now go carrying the colours of the 17th to Louisbourg. We but wait Genl. Amherst, who is expected daily, and then yeo-heave-ho for the nor'ard! Farewell, dearest Jack! Given in this our camp at Halifax, the twelfth of May, 1758, in the middle of a plaguy fog, by your affect. cousin— R. Montgomery."
John smiled as he folded up the letter, so characteristic of Dick. Dick was always in perfect spirits, always confident in himself. It was characteristic of Dick, too, to call himself Romulus and his friend Remus, meaning no slight, simply because he always took himself for granted as the leading spirit. It had always been so even in the days when they had gone birds'-nesting or rook-shooting together in the woods around John's Devonshire home. Always John had yielded the lead to this freckled Irish cousin (the kinship was, in fact, a remote one and lay on their mother's side through the Ranelagh family); and years had but seemed to widen the three months' gap in their ages.
Dick's parents were Protestant; and Dick had gone to Trinity College, Dublin, passing thence to an ensigncy in the 17th (Forbes') Regiment. The a Cleeves, on the other hand, had always been Roman Catholics, and by consequence had lived for generations somewhat isolated among the Devon gentry, their neighbours. When John looked back on his boyhood, his prevailing impressions were of a large house set low in a valley, belted with sombre dripping elms and haunted by Roman Catholic priests—some fat and rosy—some lean and cadaverous—but all soft-footed; of an insufficiency of light in the rooms; and of a sad lack of fellow-creatures willing to play with him. His parents were old, and he had been born late to them—twelve years after Philip, his only brother and the heir. From the first his mother had destined him for the priesthood, and a succession of priests had been his tutors: but—What instinct is there in the sacerdotal mind which warns it off some cases as hopeless from the first? Here was a child, docile, affectionate, moody at times, but eager to please and glad to be rewarded by a smile; bred among priests and designed to be a priest; yet amid a thousand admonishments, chastisements, encouragements, blandishments, the child—with a child's sure instinct for sincerity—could not remember having been spoken to sincerely, with heart open to heart. Years later, when in the seminary at Douai the little worm of scepticism began to stir in his brain and grow, feeding on the books of M. Voltaire and other forbidden writings, he wondered if his many tutors had been, one and all, unconsciously prescient. But he was an honest lad. He threw up the seminary, returned to Cleeve Court, and announced with tears to his mother (his father had died two years before) that he could not be a priest. She told him, stonily, that he had disappointed her dearest hopes and broken her heart. His brother—the Squire now, and a prig from his cradle—took him out for a long walk, argued with him as with a fractious child, and, without attending to his answers, finally gave him up as a bad job. So an ensigncy was procured, and John a Cleeve shipped from Cork to Halifax, to fight the French in America. At Cork he had met and renewed acquaintance with his Irish cousin, Dick Montgomery. They had met again in Halifax, which they reached in separate transports, and had passed the winter there in company. Dick clapped his cousin on the back and laughed impartially at his doubts and the family distress. Dick had no doubts; always saw clearly and made up his mind at once; was, moreover, very little concerned with religion (beyond damning the Pope), and a great deal concerned with soldiering. He fascinated John, as the practical man usually fascinates the speculative. So Remus listened to Romulus and began to be less contrite in his home-letters. To the smallest love at home (of the kind that understands, or tries to understand) he would have responded religiously; but he had found such nowhere save in Dick—who, besides, was a gallant young gentleman, and scrupulous on all points of honour. He took fire from Dick; almost worshipped him; and wished now, as the flotilla swept on and the bands woke louder echoes from the narrowing shore, that Dick were here to see how the last few weeks had tanned and hardened him.
The troops came to land before nightfall at Sabbath Day Point, twenty-five miles down the lake; stretched themselves to doze for a while in the dry undergrowth; re-embarked under the stars and, rowing on through the dawn, reached the lake-end at ten in the morning. Here they found the first trace of the enemy—a bridge broken in two over the river which drains into Lake Champlain. A small French rear-guard loitered here; but two companies of riflemen were landed and drove it back into the woods, without loss. The boats discharged the British unopposed, who now set forward afoot through the forest to follow the left bank of the stream, which, leaving the lake tranquilly, is broken presently by stony rapids and grows smooth again only as it nears its new reservoir. Smooth, rapid, and smooth again, it sweeps round a long bend; and this bend the British prepared to follow, leaving a force to guard the boats.
Howe led, feeling forward with his light infantry; and the army followed in much the same disposition they had held down the lake; regulars in the centre, provincials on either flank; a long scarlet body creeping with broad blue wings—or so it might have appeared to a bird with sight able to pierce the overlacing boughs. To John a Cleeve, warily testing the thickets with the butt of his staff and pulling the thorns aside lest they should rip its precious silken folds, the advance, after the first ten minutes, seemed to keep no more order than a gang of children pressing after blackberries. Somewhere on his right the rapids murmured; men struggled beside him—now a dozen redcoats, now a few knowing Provincials who had lost their regiments, but were cocksure of the right path. And always— before, behind and all around him—sounded the calls of the parade-ground:—"Sub-divisions—left front—mark time! Left, half turn! Three files on the left—left turn—wheel!—files to the front!" Singular instructions for men grappling with a virgin forest!
If the standing trees were bad, the fallen ones—and there seemed to be a diabolical number of them—were ten times worse. John was straddling the trunk of one and cursing vehemently when a sound struck on his ears, more intelligible than any parade-call. It came back to him from the front: the sharp sound of musketry—two volleys.
The parade-calls ceased suddenly all around him. He listened, still sitting astride the trunk. One or two redcoats leaped it, shouting as they leaped, and followed the sound, which crackled now as though the whole green forest were on fire. By and by, as he listened, a mustachioed man in a short jacket—one of Gage's light infantry—came bursting through the undergrowth, capless, shouting for a surgeon.
"What's wrong in front?" asked John, as the man—scarcely regarding him—laid his hands on the trunk to vault it.
"Faith, and I don't know, redcoat; except that they've killed him. Whereabouts is the General?"
"The best man amongst us: Lord Howe!"
A second runner, following, shouted the same news; and the two passed on together in search of the General. But already the tidings had spread along the front of the main body, as though wafted by a sudden wind through the undergrowth. Already, as John sat astride his log endeavouring to measure up the loss, to right and left of him bugles were sounding the halt. It seemed that as yet the mass of troops scarcely took in the meaning of the rumour, but awoke under the shock only to find themselves astray and without bearings.
John's first sense was of a day made dark at a stroke. If this thing had happened, then the glory had gone out of the campaign. The army would by and by be marching on, and would march again to-morrow; the drill cries would begin again, the dull wrestle through swamps and thickets; and in due time the men would press down upon the French forts and take them. But where would be the morning's cheerfulness, the spirit of youth which had carried the boats down the lake amid laughter and challenges to race, and at the landing-place set the men romping like schoolboys? The longer John considered, the more he marvelled at the hopes he and all the army had been building on this young soldier—and not the army only, but every colony. Messengers even now would be heading up the lake as fast as paddles could drive them, to take horse and gallop smoking to the Hudson, to bear the tidings to Albany, and from Albany ride south with it to New York, to Philadelphia, to Richmond. "Lord Howe killed!" From that long track of dismay John called his thoughts back to himself and the army. Howe—dead? He, that up to an hour ago had been the pivot of so many activities, the centre on which veterans rested their confidence, and from which young soldiers drew their high spirits, the one commander whom the Provincials trusted and liked because he understood them; for whom and for their faith in him the regulars would march till their legs failed them! Wonderful how youth and looks and gallantry and brains together will grip hold of men and sway their imaginations! But how rare the alliance, and on how brittle a hazard resting! An unaimed bullet—a stop in the heart's pulsation—and the star we followed has gone out, God knows whither. The hope of fifteen thousand men lies broken and sightless, dead of purpose, far from home. They assure us that nothing in this world perishes, nor in the firmament above it: but we look up at the black space where a star has been quenched and know that something has failed us which to-morrow will not bring again.
It was learnt afterwards that he had been killed by the first shot in the campaign. Montcalm had thrown out three hundred rangers overnight under Langy to feel the British advance: but so dense was the tangle that even these experienced woodmen went astray during the night and, in hunting for tracks, blundered upon Howe's light infantry at unawares. In the moment of surprise each side let fly with a volley, and Howe fell instantly, shot through the heart.
The British bivouacked in the woods that night. Toward dawn John a Cleeve stretched himself, felt for his arms, and lay for a while staring up at a solitary star visible through the overhanging boughs. He was wondering what had awakened him, when his ears grew aware of a voice in the distance, singing—either deep in the forest or on some hillside to the northward: a clear tenor voice shaken out on the still air with a tremolo such as the Provencals love. It sang to the army and to him:—
Malbrouck s'en-va-t'en guerre: Mironton, mironton, mirontaine! Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre: —Ne sais quand reviendra!
A BIVOUAC IN THE FOREST.
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, Bearn, 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 Levis 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 a 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.
At the alarm-post next morning the men were in high spirits again. Everyone seemed to be posted in the day's work ahead. The French had thrown up an outwork on the landward end of the ridge; an engineer had climbed Rattlesnake Mountain at daybreak and conned it through his glass, and had brought down his report two hours ago. The white-coats had been working like niggers, helped by some reinforcements which had come in overnight—Levis with the Royal Roussillon, the scouts said: but the thing was a rough-and-ready affair of logs and the troops were to carry it with the bayonet. John asked in what direction it lay, and thumbs were jerked towards the screening forest across the river. The distance (some said) was not two miles. Colonel Beaver, returning from a visit to the saw-mill, confirmed the rumour. The 46th would march in a couple of hours or less.
At breakfast Howe's death seemed to be forgotten, and John found no time for solemn thoughts. Bets were laid that the French would not wait for the assault, but slip away to their boats; even with Levis they could scarcely be four thousand strong. Bradstreet, having finished his bridge, had started back for the landing-stage to haul a dozen of the lighter bateaux across the portage and float them down to Lake Champlain filled with riflemen. Bradstreet was a glutton for work—but would he be in time? That old fox Montcalm would never let his earths be stopped so easily, and to pile defences on the ridge was simply to build himself into a trap. A good half of the officers maintained that there would be no fighting.
Well, fighting or no, some business was in hand. Here was the battalion in motion; and, to leave the enemy in no doubt of our martial ardour, here were the drums playing away like mad. The echo of John's feet on the wooden bridge awoke him from these vain shows and rattlings of war to its real meaning, and his thoughts again kept him solemn company as he breasted the slope beyond and began the tedious climb to the right through the woods.
The scouts, coming in one by one, reported them undefended: and the battalion, though perforce moving slowly, kept good order. Towards the summit, indeed, the front ranks appeared to straggle and extend themselves confusedly: but the disorder, no more than apparent, came from the skirmishers returning and falling back upon either flank as the column scrambled up the last five hundred yards and halted on the fringe of the clearing. Of the enemy John could see nothing: only a broad belt of sunlight beyond the last few tree-trunks and their green eaves. The advance had been well timed, the separate columns arriving and coming to the halt almost at clockwork intervals; nor did the halt give him much leisure to look about him. To the right were drawn up the Highlanders, their dark plaids blending with the forest glooms. In the space between, Beaver had stepped forward and was chatting with their colonel. By and by the dandified Gage joined them, and after a few minutes' talk Beaver came striding back, with his scabbard tucked under his armpit, to be clear of the undergrowth. At once the order was given to fix bayonets, and at a signal the columns were put in motion and marched out upon the edge of the clearing.
There, as he stepped forth, the flash of the noonday sun upon lines of steel held John's eyes dazzled. He heard the word given again to halt, and the command "Left, wheel into line!" He heard the calls that followed—"Eyes front!" "Steady," "Quick march," "Halt, dress "—and felt, rather than saw, the whole elaborate manoeuvre; the rear ranks locking up, the covering sergeants jigging about like dancers in a minuet—pace to the rear, side step to the right—the pivot men with stiff arms extended, the companies wheeling up and dressing; all happening precisely as on parade.
What, after all, was the difference? Well, to begin with, the clearing ahead in no way resembled a parade-ground, being strewn and criss-crossed with fallen trees and interset with stumps, some cleanly cut, others with jagged splinters from three to ten feet high. And beyond, with the fierce sunlight quivering above it, rose a mass of prostrate trees piled as if for the base of a tremendous bonfire. Not a Frenchman showed behind it. Was that what they had to carry?
"The battalion will advance!"
Yes, there lay the barrier; and their business was simply to rush it; to advance at the charge, holding their fire until within the breastwork.
The French, too, held their fire. The distance from the edge of the clearing to the abattis was, at the most, a long musket-shot, and for two-thirds of it the crescent-shaped line of British ran as in a paper-chase, John a Cleeve vaulting across tree-trunks, leaping over stumps, and hurrahing with the rest.
Then with a flame the breastwork opened before him, and with a shock as though the whole ridge lifted itself against the sky—a shock which hurled him backward, whirling away his shako. He saw the line to right and left wither under it and shrink like parchment held to a candle flame. For a moment the ensign-staff shook in his hands, as if whipped by a gale. He steadied it, and stood dazed, hearkening to the scream of the bullets, gulping at a lump in his throat. Then he knew himself unhurt, and, seeing that men on either hand were picking themselves up and running forward, he ducked his head and ran forward too.
He had gained the abattis. He went into it with a leap, a dozen men at his heels. A pointed bough met him in the ribs, piercing his tunic and forcing him to cry out with pain. He fell back from it and tugged at the interlacing boughs between him and the log-wall, fighting them with his left, pressing them aside, now attempting to leap them, now to burst through them with his weight. The wall jetted flame through its crevices, and the boughs held him fast within twenty yards of it. He could reach it easily (he told himself) but for the staff he carried, against which each separate twig hitched itself as though animated by special malice.
He swung himself round and forced his body backwards against the tangle; and a score of men, rallying to the colours, leapt in after him. As their weight pressed him down supine and the flag sank in his grasp, he saw their faces—Highlanders and redcoats mixed. They had long since disregarded the order to hold their fire; and were blazing away idly and reloading, cursing the boughs that impeded their ramrods. A corporal of the 46th had managed to reload and was lifting his piece when—a bramble catching in the lock—the charge exploded in his face, and he fell, a bloody weight, across John's legs. Half a dozen men, leaping over him, hurled themselves into the lane which John had opened.
Ten seconds later—but in such a struggle who can count seconds?— John had flung off the dead man and was on his feet again with his face to the rampart. The men who had hurried past him were there, all six of them; but stuck in strange attitudes and hung across the withering boughs like vermin on a gamekeeper's tree—corpses every one. The rest had vanished, and, turning, he found himself alone. Out in the clearing, under the drifted smoke, the shattered regiments were re-forming for a second charge. Gripping the colours he staggered out to join them, and as he went a bullet sang past him and his left wrist dropped nerveless at his side. He scarcely felt the wound. The brutal jar of the repulse had stunned every sense in him but that of thirst. The reek of gunpowder caked his throat, and his tongue crackled in his mouth like a withered leaf.
Someone was pointing back over the tree-tops toward Rattlesnake Mountain; and on the slopes there, as the smoke cleared, sure enough, figures were moving. Guns? A couple of guns planted there could have knocked this cursed rampart to flinders in twenty minutes, or plumped round shot at leisure among the French huddled within. Where was the General?
The General was down at the saw-mill in the valley, seated at his table, penning a dispatch. The men on Rattlesnake Mountain were Johnson's Indians—Mohawks, Oneidas, and others of the Six Nations— who, arriving late, had swarmed up by instinct to the key of the position and seated themselves there with impassive faces, asking each other when the guns would arrive. They had seen artillery, perhaps, once in their lives; and had learnt what it cost our Generals some seventy more years to learn—imperfectly.
Oh, it was cruel! By this time there was not a man in the army but could have taught the General the madness of it. But the General was down at the sawmill, two miles away; and the broken regiments reformed and faced the rampart again. The sun beat down on the clearing, heating men to madness. The wounded went down through the gloom of the woods and were carried past the saw-mill, by scores at first, then by hundreds. Within the saw-mill, in his cool chamber, the General sat and wrote. Someone (Gage it is likely) sent down, beseeching him to bring the guns into play. He answered that the guns were at the landing-stage, and could not be planted within six hours. A second messenger suggested that the assault on the ridge had already caused inordinate loss, and that by the simple process of marching around Ticonderoga and occupying the narrows of Lake Champlain Montcalm could be starved out in a week. The General showed him the door. Upon the ridge the fight went on.
John a Cleeve had by this time lost count of the charges. Some had been feeble; one or two superb; and once the Highlanders, with a gallantry only possible to men past caring for life, had actually heaved themselves over the parapets on the French right. They had gone into action a thousand strong; they were now six hundred. Charge after charge had flung forward a few to leap the rampart and fall on the French bayonets; but now the best part of a company poured over. For a moment sheer desperation carried the day; but the white-coats, springing back off their platforms, poured in a volley and settled the question. That night the Black Watch called its roll: there answered five hundred men less one.
It was in the next charge after this—half-heartedly taken up by the exhausted troops on the right—that John a Cleeve found himself actually climbing the log-wall toward which he had been straining all the afternoon. What carried him there—he afterwards affirmed—was the horrid vision of young Sagramore of the 27th impaled on a pointed branch and left to struggle in death-agony while the regiments rallied. The body was quivering yet as they came on again; and John, as he ran by, shouted to a sergeant to drag it off: for his own left hand hung powerless, and the colours encumbered his right. In front of him repeated charges had broken a sort of pathway through the abattis, swept indeed by an enfilading fire from two angles of the breastwork, slippery with blood and hampered with corpses; but the grape-shot which had accounted for most of these no longer whistled along it, the French having run off their guns to the right to meet the capital attack of the Highlanders. Through it he forced his way, the pressure of the men behind lifting and bearing him forward whenever the ensign-staff for a moment impeded him. He noted that the leaves, which at noon had been green and sappy, with only a slight crumpling of their edges, were now grey and curled into tight scrolls, crackling as he brushed them aside. How long had the day lasted, then? And would it ever end? The vision of young Sagramore followed him. He had known Sagramore at Halifax and invited him to mess one night with the 46th—as brainless and sweet-tempered a boy as ever muddled his drill.
John was at the foot of the rampart. While with his injured hand he fumbled vainly to climb it, someone stooped a shoulder and hoisted him. He flung a leg over the parapet and glanced down? moment at the man's face. It was the sergeant to whom he had shouted just now.
"Right, sir," the sergeant grunted; "we're after you!"
John hoisted the colours high and hurrahed.
"Forward! Forward, Forty-sixth!"
Then, as a dozen men heaved themselves on to the parapet, a fiery pang gripped him by the chest, and the night—so long held back—came suddenly, swooping on him from all corners of the sky at once. The grip of his knees relaxed. The sergeant, leaping, caught the standard in the nick of time, as the limp body slid and dropped within the rampart.
Fringue, fringue sur la riviere; Fringue, fringue sur l'aviron!
The man at the bow paddle set the chorus, which was taken up by boat after boat. John, stretched at the bottom of a canoe with two wounded Highlanders, wondered where he had heard the voice before. His wits were not very clear yet. The canoe's gunwale hid all the landscape but a mountain-ridge high over his right, feathered with forest and so far away that, swiftly as the strokes carried him forward, its serrated pines and notches of naked rock crept by him inch by inch. He stared at these and prayed for the moment when the sun should drop behind them. For hours it had been beating down on him. An Indian sat high in the stern, steering; paddling rhythmically and with no sign of effort except that his face ran with sweat beneath its grease and vermilion. But not a feature of it twitched in the glare across which, hour after hour, John had been watching him through scorched eyelashes.
Athwart the stern, and almost at the Indian's feet, reclined a brawn of a man with his knees drawn high—a French sergeant in a spick-and-span white tunic with the badge of the Bearnais regiment. A musket lay across his thighs, so pointed that John looked straight down its barrel. Doubtless it was loaded: but John had plenty to distract his thoughts from such a trifle—in the heat, the glare, the torment of his wounds, and, worst of all, the incessant coughing of the young Highlander beside him. The lad had been shot through the lungs, and the wound imperfectly bandaged. A horrible wind issued from it with every cough.
How many men might be seated or lying in the fore part of the canoe John could not tell, being unable to turn his head. Once or twice a guttural voice there growled a word of comfort to the dying lad, in Gaelic or in broken English. And always the bowman sang high and clear, setting the chorus for the attendant boats, and from the chorus passing without a break into the solo. "En roulant ma boule" followed "Fringue sur l'aviron "; and from that the voice slid into a little love-chant, tender and delicate:
"A la claire fontaine M'en allant promener, J'ai trouve l'eau si belle Que je m'y suis baigne. Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, Jamais je ne t'oublierai."
"II y a longtemps que je t'aime," broke in the chorus, the wide lake modulating the music as water only can. John remembered the abattis and all its slaughter, and marvelled what manner of men they were who, fresh from it, could put their hearts into such a song.
"Et patati, et patata!" rapped in the big sergeant. "For God's sake, Chameau, what kind of milk is this to turn a man's stomach?"
The chorus drowned his growls, and the bowman continued:
"Sur la plus haute branche Le rossignol chantait, Chante, rossignol, chante, Toi qui as le coeur gai . . . Chante, rossignol, chante, Toi qui as le coeur gai; Tu as le coeur a rire, Moi je l'ai—t a pleurer. . . ."
"Gr-r-r—" As the song ended, the sergeant spat contemptuously over the gunwale. "La-la-la, rossignol! et la-la-la, rosier!" he mimicked. "We are not rosieres, my friend."
"The song is true Canayan, m'sieur, and your comrades appear to like it."
"Par exemple! Listen, Monsieur Chameau, to something more in their line." He inflated his huge lungs and burst into a ditty of his own:
"C'est dans la ville de Bordeaux Qu'est arrive trois beaux vaissaux— Qu'est arrive trois beaux vaissaux: Les matelots qui sont dedans, Vrai Dieu, sont de jolis galants."
The man had a rich baritone voice, not comparable indeed with the bowman's tenor, yet not without quality; but he used it affectedly, and sang with a simper on his face. His face, brick red in hue, was handsome in its florid way; but John, watching the simper, found it detestable.
"C'est une dame de Bordeaux Qu'est amoureuse d'un matelot—"
Here he paused, and a few soldiers took up the refrain half-heartedly:
"—Va, ma servante, va moi chercher Un matelot pour m'amuser."
The song from this point became indecent, and set the men in the nearer boats laughing. At its close a few clapped their hands. But it was not a success, and the brick red darkened on the singer's face; darkened almost to purple when a voice in the distance took up the air and returned it mockingly, caricaturing a roulade to the life with the help of one or two ridiculous gracenotes: at which the soldiers laughed again.
"I think, m'sieur," suggested the bowman politely, "they do not know it very well, or they would doubtless have been heartier."
But the sergeant had heaved himself up with a curse and a lurch which sent the canoe rocking, and was scanning the boats for the fellow who had dared to insult him.
"How the devil can a man sing while that dog keeps barking!" he growled, and let out a kick at the limp legs of the young Highlander.
Another growl answered. It came from the wounded prisoner behind John—the man who had been muttering in Gaelic.
"It is a coward you are, big man. Go on singing your sculduddery, and let the lad die quiet!"
The sergeant scowled, not understanding. John, whose blood was up, obligingly translated the reproof into French. "He says—and I also—that you are a cowardly bully; and we implore you to sing in tune, another time. Par pitie, monsieur, ne scalpez-vous pas les demi-morts!"
The shaft bit, as he had intended, and the man's vanity positively foamed upon it. "Dog of a ros-bif, congratulate yourself that you are half dead, or I would whip you again as we whipped you yesterday, and as my regiment is even now again whipping your compatriots." He jerked a thumb towards the south where, far up the lake, a pale saffron glow spread itself upon the twilight.
"The English are burning your fort, maybe," John suggested amiably.
"They are burning the mill, more like—or their boats. But after such a defeat, who cares?"
"If our general had only used his artillery—"
"Eh, what is that you're singing? Oui-da, if your general had only used his artillery? My little friend, that's a fine battle—that battle of 'If.' It is always won, too—only it has the misfortune never to be fought. So, so: and a grand battle it is too, for reputations. 'If the guns had only arrived '; and 'if the brigadier Chose had brought up the reserves as ordered'; and 'if the right had extended itself, and that devil of a left had not straggled'—why then we should all be heroes, we ros-bifs. Whereas we came on four to one, and we were beaten; and we are being carried north to Montreal and our general is running south from an army one-third of his size and burning fireworks on his way. And at Albany the ladies will take your standards and stitch 'If' on them in gold letters a foot long. Eh, but it was a glorious fight—faith of Sergeant Barboux!"
And Sergeant Barboux, having set his vanity on its legs again, pulled out his pipe and skin of tobacco.
"Hola, M. le Chameau!" he called; "the gentleman desires better music than mine. Sing for him 'Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre'!"
M. le Chameau lifted his voice obediently; and thereupon John recognised the note and knew to whose singing he had lain awake in the woods so far behind and (it seemed) those ages ago.
He had been young then, and all possibilities of glory lay beyond the horizons to which he was voyaging. Darkness had closed down on them, but the beat of the paddles drove him forward. He stared up at the peering stars and tried to bethink him that they looked down on the same world that he had known—on Albany—Halifax—perhaps even on Cleeve Court in Devonshire. The bowman's voice, ahead in the darkness, kept time with the paddles:
"Il reviendra-z; a Paques— Mironton, mironton, mirontaine! Il reviendra-z a Paques, Ou—a la Trinite!"
Yes, the question was of returning, now; a day had made that difference. Yet why should he wish to return? Of what worth would his return be? For weeks, for months, he had been living in a life ahead, towards which these paddles were faithfully guiding him; and if the hope had died out of it, and all the colour, what better lay behind that he should seek back to it?—a mother, who had shown him little love; a brother, who coldly considered him a fool; nearer, but only a little nearer—for already the leagues between seemed endless—a few friends, a few messmates . . .
His ribs hurt him intolerably; and his wrist, too, was painful. Yet his wounds troubled him with no thought of death. On the contrary, he felt quite sure of recovering and living on, and on, on, on—in those unknown regions ahead . . .
"La Trinite se passe— Mironton, mironton, mirontaine! La Trinite se passe— Malbrouck ne revient pas."
What were they like, those regions ahead? For he was young—less than twenty—and a life almost as long as an ordinary man's might lie before him yonder. He remembered an old discussion with a seminary priest at Douai, on Nicodemus's visit by night and his question, "How can a man be born when he is old?" . . . and all his thoughts harked back to the Church he had left—that Church so Catholic, so far-reaching, so secure of herself in all climes and amid all nations of men. There were Jesuits, he knew, up yonder, beyond the rivers, beyond the forests. He would find that Church there, steadfast as these stars and, alone with them, bridging all this long gulf. In his momentary weakness the repose She offered came on him as a temptation. Had he but anchored himself upon her, all these leagues had been as nothing. But he had cut himself adrift; and now the world, too, had cut him off, and where was he with his doubts? . . . Or was She following now and whispering, "Poor fool, you thought yourself strong, and I granted you a short licence; but I have followed, as I can follow everywhere, unseen, knowing the hour when you must repent and want me; and lo! my lap is open. Come, let its folds wrap you, and at once there is no more trouble; for within them time and distance are not, and all this voyage shall be as a dream."
No; he put the temptation from him. For it was a sensual temptation after all, surprising him in anguish and exhaustion and bribing with promise of repose. He craved after it, but set his teeth. "Yes, you are right, so far. The future has gone from me, and I have no hopes. But it seems I have to live, and I am a man. My doubts are my doubts, and this is no fair moment to abandon them. What I must suffer, I will try to suffer. . . ."
The bowman had lit a lantern in the bows and passed back the resinous brand to an Indian seated forward, who in turn handed it back over John's head toward Sergeant Barboux, but, seeing that he dozed, crawled aft over the wounded men and set it to the wick of a second lantern rigged on a stick astern. As the wick took fire, the Indian, who had been steering hitherto hour after hour, grunted out a syllable or two and handed his comrade the paddle. The pair changed places, and the ex-steersman—who seemed the elder by many years— crept cautiously forward; the lantern-light, as he passed it, falling warm on his scarlet trowsers and drawing fiery twinkles from his belt and silver arm-ring.
With a guttural whisper he crouched over John, so low that his body blotted out the lantern, the stars, the whole dim arch of the heavens. Was this murder? John shut his teeth. If this were to be the end, let it come now and be done with; he would not cry out. The Highland lad had ceased his coughing and lay unconscious, panting out the last of his life more and more feebly. The elder Highlander moaned from time to time in his sleep, but had not stirred for some while. Forward the bowman's paddle still beat time like a clock, and away in the darkness other paddles answered it.
A hand was groping with the bandages about John's chest and loosening them gently until his wound felt the edge of the night wind. All his muscles stiffened to meet the coming stroke. . . .
The Indian grunted and withdrew his hand. A moment, and John felt it laid on the wound again, with a touch which charmed away pain and the wind's chill together—a touch of smooth ointment.
Do what he would, a sob shook the lad from head to foot.
"Thanks, brother!" he whispered in French. The Indian did not answer, but replaced and drew close the bandage with rapid hands, and so with another grunt crawled forward, moving like a shadow, scarcely touching the wounded men as he went.
For a while John lay awake, gazing up into the stars. His pain had gone, and he felt infinitely restful. The vast heavens were a protection now, a shield flung over his helplessness. He had found a friend.
That he could not tell. But he had found a friend, and could sleep.
In his dreams he heard a splash. The young Highlander had died in the night, and Sergeant Barboux and the Indian lifted and dropped the body overboard.
But John a Cleeve slept on; and still northward through the night, down the long reaches of the lake, the canoe held her way.
CONTAINS THE APOLOGUE OF MANABOZHO'S TOE.
They had threaded their course through the many islets at the foot of the lake, and were speeding down the headwaters of the Richelieu. The forests had closed in upon them, shutting out the mountains. The convoy—officered for the most part by Canadian militiamen with but a sprinkling of regulars such as Sergeant Barboux—soon began to straggle. The prisoners were to be delivered at Montreal. Montcalm had dispatched them thither, on short rations, for the simple reason that Fort Carillon held scarcely food enough to support his own army; but he could detach very few of his efficients for escort, and, for the rest, it did not certainly appear who was in command. Barboux, for example, was frankly insubordinate, and declared a dozen times a day that it did not become gentlemen of the Bearn and Royal Roussillon to take their orders from any coureur de bois who might choose to call himself Major.
Consequently the convoy soon straggled at will, the boatmen labouring if the fancy took them, or resting their paddles across their thighs and letting their canoes drift on the current. Now and again they met a train of bateaux labouring up with reinforcements, that had heard of the victory from the leading boats and hurrahed as they passed, or shouted questions which Barboux answered as a conscious hero of the fight and with no false modesty. But for hour after hour John lived alone with his own boat's company and the interminable procession of the woods.
They descended to the river, these woods, and overhung it—each bank a mute monotonous screen of foliage, unbroken by glade or clearing; pine and spruce and hemlock, maple and alder; piled plumes of green, motionless, brooding, through which no sunrays broke, though here and there a silver birch drew a shaft of light upon their sombre background. Here were no English woodlands, no stretches of pale green turf, no vistas opening beneath flattened boughs, with blue distant hills and perhaps a group of antlers topping the bracken. The wild life of these forests crawled among thickets or lurked in sinister shadows. No bird poured out its heart in them; no lark soared out of them, breasting heaven. At rare intervals a note fell on the ear—the scream of hawk or eagle, the bitter cackling laugh of blue jay or woodpecker, the loon's ghostly cry—solitary notes, and unhappy, as though wrung by pain out of the choking silence; or away on the hillside a grouse began drumming, or a duck went whirring down the long waterway until the sound sank and was overtaken again by the river's slow murmur.
When night had hushed down these noises, the forest would be silent for an hour or two, and then awake more horribly with the howling of wolves. John slept little of nights; not on account of the wolves, but because the mosquitoes allowed him no peace. (They were torture to a wounded man; but he declared afterwards that they cured his wounded arm willynilly, for they forced him to keep it active under pain of being eaten alive.) By day he dozed, lulled by the eternal woods, the eternal dazzle on the water, the eternal mutter of the flood, the paddle-strokes, M. le Chameau's singing.
They were now six in the canoe—the sergeant, le Chameau, the two Indians, John a Cleeve and the elder Highlander, Corporal Hugh McQuarters.
By this time—that is to say, having seen him—John understood the meaning of M. le Chameau's queer name. He was a hunchback, but a gay little man nevertheless; reputedly a genius in the art of shooting rapids. He was also a demon to work, when allowed; but the sergeant would not allow him.
It suited the sergeant's humour to lag behind the other boats by way of asserting his dignity and proving that he, Barboux, held himself at no trumpery colonial's beck and call. Also he had begun to nurse a scheme; as will appear by and by.
At present it amused him to order the canoe to shore for an hour or two in the heat of the day, lend his bayonet to the Indians, and watch, smoking, while they searched the banks and dug out musquashes. These they cooked and ate; which Barboux asserted to be good economy, since provisions were running short. It occurred to John that this might be a still better reason for hurrying forward, but he was grateful for the siesta under the boughs while the Indians worked. They were Ojibways both, the elder by name Menehwehna and the younger (a handsome fellow with a wonderful gift of silence) Muskingon.
Since that one stealthy act of kindness Menehwehna had given no sign of cordiality. John had tried a score of times to catch his eye, and had caught it once or twice, but only to find the man inscrutable. Yet he was by no means taciturn; but seemed, as his warpaint of soot and vermilion wore thinner, to thaw into what (for an Indian) might pass for geniality. After a successful rat-hunt he would even grow loquacious, seating himself on the bank and jabbering while he skinned his spoils, using for the most part a jargon of broken French (in which he was fluent) and native words of which Barboux understood very few and John none at all. When he fell back on Ojibway pure and simple, it was to address Muskingon, who answered in monosyllables, and was sparing of these. Muskingon and McQuarters were the silent men of the party—the latter by force as well as choice, since he knew no French and in English could only converse with John. He and Muskingon had this further in common—they both detested the sergeant.
John, for his part, had patched up a peace with the man, after this fashion: On the second day Barboux had called upon le Chameau for a song; and, the little hunchback having given "En roulant ma boule," demanded another.
"But it is monsieur's turn, who has a charming voice," suggested le Chameau politely.
"It has the misfortune to grate on the ears of our English milord," Barboux answered with an angry flush, stealing a malevolent glance at John. "And I do not sing to please myself."
John doubted this; but being by nature quick to forgive and repent a quarrel, he answered with some grace: "I was annoyed, Sergeant Barboux, and said what I thought would hurt rather than what was just. You possess, indeed, a charming voice, and I regret to have insulted it."
"You mean it?" asked Barboux, still red in the face, but patently delighted.
"So entirely that I shall not pardon myself until you have done us the favour to sing."
The sergeant held out his hand. "And that's very handsomely said! Given or taken, an apology never goes astray between brave fellows. And, after all," he added, "I had, if I remember, something the better of that argument! You really wish me to sing, then?"
"To be sure I do," Jack assured him, smiling.
Barboux cleared his throat, wagged his head once or twice impassively and trolled out:
"Belle meuniere, en passant par ici, Ne suis-je-t'y pas eloigne d'ltalie. . . ."
From this graceful opening the song declined into the grossest filth; and it was easy to see, watching his face, why McQuarters, without understanding a word of French, had accused him of singing "sculduddery." John, though disgusted, could not help being amused by a performance which set him in mind now of a satyr and now of a mincing schoolgirl—vert galant avec un sourire de cantatrice— lasciviousness blowing affected kisses in the intervals of licking its chops. At the conclusion he complimented the singer, with a grave face.
Barboux bowed. "It has, to say true, a little more marrow in it than le Chameau's rossignols and rosiers. Hola, Chameau; the Englishman here agrees that you sing well, but that your matter is watery stuff. You must let me teach you one or two of my songlets—"
"Pardon, m'sieur, mais ca sera un peu trop—trop vif; c'est-a-dire pour moi," stammered the little hunchback.
Barboux guffawed. The idea of le Chameau as a ladies' man tickled him hugely, and he tormented the patient fellow with allusions to it, and to his deformity, twenty times a day.
And yet the sergeant was not ill-natured—until you happened to cross him, when his temper became damnable—but merely a big, vain, boisterous lout. John, having taken his measure, found it easy to study him philosophically and even to be passably amused by him. But he made himself, it must be owned, an affliction; and an affliction against which, since the boats had parted company, there was no redress. He was conceited, selfish, tyrannical, and inordinately lazy. He never took a hand with the paddle, but would compel the others to work, or to idle, as the freak took him. He docked the crew's allowance but fed himself complacently on more than full rations, proving this to be his due by discourse on the innate superiority of Frenchmen over Canadians, Englishmen or Indians. He would sit by the hour bragging of his skill with the gun, his victories in love, his feats of strength—baring his chest, arms, legs, and inviting the company to admire his muscles. He jested from sunrise until sundown, and never made a jest that did not hurt. Worst of all was it when he schooled le Chameau to sing his obscenities after him, line for line.
"No, no, I beg you, monsieur," the little fellow would protest, "c'est—c'est sale!"—and would blush like a girl.
"Sale, you dog? I'll teach you—" A blow would follow. M. Barboux was getting liberal with his blows. Once he struck Muskingon. Menehwehna growled ominously, and the growl seemed to warn not only Barboux but Muskingon, who for the moment had looked murderous.
John guessed that some tie, if not of blood-relationship, at least of strong affection, bound the two Indians together.
For himself, as soon as his wound allowed him to sit upright, which it did on the second day—the bullet having glanced across his ribs and left but its ugly track in the thin flesh covering them—the monotony of the woods and the ceaseless glint of the water were a drug which he could summon at will and so withdraw himself within a stupor untroubled by Barboux or his boastings. He suffered the man, but saw no necessity for heeding him.
He had observed two or three hanks of fishing-line dangling from the thin strips of cedar which sheathed the canoe within, a little below the gunwale. They had hooks attached, and from the shape of these hooks he judged them to belong to the Indians. He unhitched one of the lines, and more for the sake of killing time than for any set purpose, began to construct a gaudy salmon-fly with a few frayed threads of cloth from his tunic. After a minute or two he was aware of Muskingon watching him with interest, and by signs begged for a feather from the young Indian's top-knot. Muskingon drew one forth and, under instructions, plucked off a piece of fluff from the root of the feather, a small quill or two, and handed them over. With a length of red silk drawn from his sash John, within half an hour, was bending a very pretty fly on the hook. It did not in the least resemble any winged creature upon earth; but it had a meretricious air about it, and even a "killing" one when he finished up by binding its body tight with an inch of gilt thread from his collar. Meanwhile, his ambition growing with success, he had cast his eyes about, to alight on a long jointed cane which the canoe carried as part of its appanage, to be lifted on cross-legs and serve as the ridge of an awning on wet nights. It was cumbrous, but flexible in some small degree. Muskingon dragged it within reach, and sat watching while John whipped a loop to its end and ran the line through it.
He had begun in pure idleness, but now the production of the rod had drawn everyone's eyes. Barboux was watching him superciliously, and Menehwehna with grave attention, resting his paddle on his knees while the canoe drifted. Fish had been leaping throughout the afternoon—salmon by the look of them. John knew something of salmon; he had played and landed many a fish out of the Dart above Totnes, and in his own river below Cleeve Court. The sun had dropped behind the woods, the water was not too clear, and in short it looked a likely hour for feeding. He lifted his clumsy rod in his right hand, steadied it with his injured left, and put all his skill into the cast.
As he cast, the weight of his rod almost overbalanced him: a dart of pain came from his closing wound and he knew that he had been a fool and overtaxed his strength. But to his amazement a fish rose at once and gulped the fly down. He tossed the rod across to Muskingon, calling to him to draw it inboard and sit quite still; and catching the line, tautened it and slackened it out slowly, feeling up to the loop in which (as was to be expected) it had kinked and was sticking fast.
He had the line in both hands now, with Muskingon paying out the slack behind him; and if the hook held—the line had no gut—he felt confident of his fish. By the feel of him he was a salmon—or a black bass. John had heard of black bass and the sport they gave. A beauty, at any rate!
Yes, he was a salmon. Giving on the line but never slackening it, though it cut his forefinger cruelly (his left being all but useless to check the friction), John worked him to the top of the water and so, by little and little, to the side of the canoe. But his own strength was giving out, faster now than the salmon's. His wound had parted; and as he clenched his teeth he felt the line fraying. The fish would have been lost had not Muskingon, almost without shaking the canoe, dropped overboard, dived under and clenched both hands upon his struggles.
It was Menehwehna who dragged the salmon across the gunwale; for John had fainted. And when he recovered, Menehwehna was coolly gutting the monster—if a fish of eighteen pounds can be called a monster; as surely he can when taken in such fashion.
After this, John being out of action, Sergeant Barboux must take a turn with the rod. He did not (he protested) count on landing a fish; but the hooking of one had been so ridiculously prompt and easy that it was hard to see how he could fail.
But he did. He flogged the water till nightfall, confidently at first though clumsily, at length with the air of a Xerxes casting chains into the flood; but never a bite rewarded him. He gave over the rod in a huff, but began again at dawn, to lay it down after an hour and swear viciously. As he retired Muskingon took the pole; he had watched John's one and only cast and began to imitate it patiently, while the sergeant jeered and the canoe drifted. Towards noon he felt a bite, struck, and missed; but half an hour later he struck again and Menehwehna shouted and pointed as John's fly was sucked under in a noble swirl of water. Muskingon dragged back his rod and stretched out a hand for the line; but Barboux had already run forward and clutched it, at the same moment roughly thrusting him down on his seat; and then in a moment the mischief was done. The line parted, and the sergeant floundered back with a lurch that sent the canoe down to her gunwale.
McQuarters laughed aloud and grimly. Menehwehna's dark eyes shone. Even John, though the lurch obliged him to fling out both hands to balance the boat, and the sudden movement sent a dart of pain through his wound, could not hold back a smile. Barboux was furious.
"Eh? So you are pleased to laugh at me, master Englishman! Wait then, and we'll see who laughs last. And you, dog of an Indian, at what are you rubbing your hands?"
"Your exploit, O illustrious warrior," answered Menehwehna with gravity, "set me in mind of Manabozho; and when one thinks upon Manabozho it is permitted and even customary to rub the hands."
"Who the devil was Manabozho?"
"He was a very Great One—even another such Great One as yourself. It was he who made the earth once on a time, by accident. And another time he went fishing."
"Have a care, Menehwehna. I bid you beware if you are poking fun at me."
"I am telling of Manabozho. He went fishing in the lake and let down a line. 'King Fish,' said he, 'take hold of my bait,' and he kept saying this until the King Fish felt annoyed and said, 'This Manabozho is a nuisance. Here, trout, take hold of his line.' The trout obeyed, and Manabozho shouted, 'Wa-i-he! Wa-i-he! I have him!' while the canoe rocked to and fro. But when he saw the trout he called, 'Esa, esa! Shame upon you, trout; I fish for your betters.' So the trout let go; and again Manabozho sank his line, saying, 'O King Fish, take hold of my bait.' 'I shall lose my temper soon with this fellow,' said the King Fish; 'here, sunfish, take hold of his line.' The sunfish did so, and Manabozho's canoe spun round and round; but when he saw what he had caught, he cried out, 'Esa, esa! Shame upon you, sunfish; I am come for your betters.' So the sunfish let go, and again Manabozho—"
"Joli amphigouri!" yawned the sergeant. "Pardon, M. Menehwehna, but this story of yours seems likely to last."
"Not so, O chief; for this time the King Fish took the bait and swallowed Manabozho, canoe and all."
John laughed aloud; but enough sense remained in Barboux to cover his irritation. "Well, that was the last of him, and the Lord be praised!"
"There is much more of the story," said Menehwehna, "and all full of instruction."
"We will postpone it, anyhow. Take up your paddle, if you have not forgotten how to work."
So Menehwehna and the hunchback paddled anew, while the great Barboux sat and sulked—a sufficiently childish figure. Night fell, the canoe was brought to shore, and the Indians as usual lifted out the wounded men and laid them on beds of moss strewn with pine-boughs and cedar. While Menehwehna lit the camp-fire, Muskingon prepared John's salmon for supper, and began to grill it deftly as soon as the smoke died down on a pile of clear embers.
John sleepily watched these preparations, and was fairly dozing when he heard Barboux announce with an oath that for his impudence the dog of an Englishman should go without his share of the fish. The announcement scarcely awoke him—the revenge was so petty. Barboux in certain moods could be such a baby that John had ceased to regard him except as an object of silent mirth. So he smiled and answered sweetly that Sergeant Barboux was entirely welcome; for himself a scrap of biscuit would suffice. And with that he closed his eyes again.
But it seemed that, for some reason, the two Indians were angry, not to say outraged. By denying him his share Barboux had—no doubt ignorantly—broken some sacred law in the etiquette of hunting. Muskingon growled; the firelight showed his lips drawn back, like a dog's, from his white teeth. Menehwehna remonstrated. Even le Chameau seemed to be perturbed.
Barboux, however, did not understand; and as nobody would share in John's portion, ate it himself with relish amid an angry silence, which at length impressed him.
"Eh? What the devil's wrong with you all?" he demanded, looking about him.
Menehwehna broke into a queer growl, and began to rub his hands. "Manabozho—" he began.
"Fichtre! It appears we have not heard the end of him, then?"
"It is usual," Menehwehna explained, "to rub one's hands at the mention of Manabozho. In my tribe it is even necessary."
"Farceur de Manabozho! the habit has not extended to mine," growled Barboux. "Is this the same story?"
"O slayer of heads, it is an entirely different one." The sergeant winced, and John cast himself back on his leafy bed to smile up at the branches. Tueur de tetes may be a high compliment from an Indian warrior, but a vocalist may be excused for looking twice at it.
"This Manabozho," Menehwehna continued tranquilly, "was so big and strong that he began to think himself everybody's master. One day he walked in the forest, cuffing the ears of the pine-trees for sport, and knocking them flat if they took it ill; and at length he came on a clearing. In the clearing was a lodge, and in the lodge was no one but a small child, curled up asleep with its toe in its mouth. Manabozho gazed at the child for a long while, and said he, 'I have never seen anyone before who could lie with his toe in his mouth. But I can do it, to be sure.' Whereupon he lay down in much the same posture as the child, and took his right foot in his hand. But it would not reach by a long way. 'How stupid I am,' cried Manabozho, 'when it was the left foot all the time!' So he tried the left foot, but this also would not reach. He rolled on his back, and twisted and bent himself, and strained and struggled until the tears ran down his face. Then he sat up in despair; and behold! he had awakened the child, and the child was laughing at him. 'Oh, oh!' cried Manabozho in a passion, 'am I then to be mocked by a babe!' And with that he drew a great breath and blew the child away over the mountains, and afterwards walked across and across the lodge, trampling it down until not a trace of it remained. 'After all,' said Manabozho, 'I can do something. And I see nobody hereabouts to deny that I can put my toe in my mouth!'"
As Menehwehna concluded, John waited for an explosion of wrath. None came. He raised his head after a minute and looked about him. Barboux sat smoking and staring into the camp-fire. The Indian had laid himself down to slumber, with his blanket drawn up to his ears.
Next morning Barboux and Menehwehna held a long colloquy aft, but in tones so low that John could not catch a word. By and by Muskingon was called into council, and lastly le Chameau.
The two Indians were arguing against some proposal of the sergeant's, which by the way they pointed and traced imaginary maps with their fingers, spreading their palms apart to indicate distances, plainly turned on a point of geography. Le Chameau's opinion seemed to settle the dispute in the sergeant's favour. Coming that afternoon to the mouth of a tributary stream on the left bank he headed the canoe for it without a word, and at once the paddles were busy, forcing her against the rapid current.
Then followed days during which, though reason might prove that in the river he held an infallible clue, John's senses lost themselves in the forest maze. It overlapped and closed upon him, folding him deeper and illimitably deeper. On the Richelieu he had played with thoughts of escape, noting how the canoe lagged behind its convoy, and speculating on the Indians' goodwill—faint speculations, since (without reckoning his own raw wound) McQuarters was almost too weak to stir as yet, and to abandon him would be a scurvy trick. So he had put aside his unformed plans, which at the best had been little better than hopes; and now the wilderness oppressed and smothered and buried them out of recollection.
The voyageurs made tedious progress; for almost at once they came to a chain of rapids around which the canoe had to be ported. The Indians toiled steadily, and le Chameau too, stripped to the waist and sweating; and by the end of the day each man carried a dark red weal on one shoulder, sunk in the flesh by the canoe's weight. John could walk, but was powerless to help, and McQuarters had to be lifted and carried with the baggage. Barboux confined himself to swearing and jeering at le Chameau's naked back—diable de torse, as he proclaimed it. The man was getting past endurance.
On the second day he called a halt, left le Chameau in charge of the camp and the prisoners, and went off with the Indians in search of a moose, whose lowing call had twice echoed through the woods during the night and been answered by Menehwehna on his birch-horn. The forest swallowed them, and a blessed relief fell on the camp—no more oaths and gibes for a while, but rest and green shade and the murmur of the rapids below.
After the noon-day meal the hunchback stretched himself luxuriously and began to converse. He was explaining the situation with the help of three twigs, which he laid in the form of a triangle—two long sides and a short base.
"Voyons, this long one will be the Richelieu and that other the St. Lawrence; and here"—he put his finger near the base—"here is Montreal. The sergeant knows what he is about. Those other boats, look you, will go around so—" He traced their course around the apex very slowly. "Whereas we—!" A quick stroke of the finger across the base filled up the sentence, and the little man smiled triumphantly.
"I see," said John, picking up the short twig and bending it into an arch, "we are now climbing up this side of the slope, eh? And on the other there will likewise be a river?"
The boatman nodded. "A hard way to find, m'sieur. But have no fear. I have travelled it."
"Assuredly I have no fear with you, M.—"
"Guyon, m'sieur—Jean Bateese Guyon. This M. Barboux is a merry fellow—il ne peut pas se passer de ses enjouements. But I was not born like this." And here he touched his shoulder very simply and gravely.
"It was an accident then, M. Guyon?"
"An accident—oh, yes, be assured it was an accident." A flush showed on the little man's cheek, and his speech on a sudden became very rapid. "But as we were saying, I know the trail across yonder; and my brother Dominique he knows it even better. I wish we may see Dominique, m'sieur; there is no such voyageur from Quebec up to Michilimackinac, aye or beyond! He has been down the Cascades by night, himself only; it was when I had my—my accident, and he must go to fetch a surgeon. All along the river it is talked of yet. But it is nothing to boast of, for the hand of God must have been upon him. And as good as he is brave!"
"And where is your brother Dominique just now?"
"He will be at home, m'sieur. Soon they will be carrying the harvest at Boisveyrac, and he is now the seigneur's farmer. He will be worrying himself over the harvest, for Dominique takes things to heart, both of this world and the next; whereas—I am a good Catholic, I hope—but these things do not trouble me. It seems there is no time to be troubled." Bateese looked up shyly, with a blush like a girl's. "M'sieur may be able to tell me—or, maybe, he will think it foolish. This love of women, now?"
"Proceed, M. Guyon."
"Ah, you believe in it! When the sergeant begins his talk—c'est bien sale, is it not? But that is not the sort I mean. Well, Dominique is in love, and it brings him no happiness. He can never have what he wants, nor would it be right, and he knows it; but nevertheless he goes on craving for it and takes no pleasure in life for the want of it. I look at him, wondering. Then I say to myself, 'Bateese, when le bon Dieu broke you in pieces He was not unkind. Your heart is cracked and cannot hold love, like your brother's; but what of that, while God is pouring love into it all day long and never ceases? You are ugly, and no maid will ever want you for a husband; therefore you are lucky who cannot store away desire for this or that one, like poor Dominique, who goes about aching and fit to burst. You go singing a la claire fontaine, which is full of unhappiness and longing, but all the while you are happy enough.' Indeed, that is the truth, monsieur. I study this love of Dominique's, which makes him miserable; but I cannot judge it. I see that it brings pain to men."
"But delight also, my friend."
"And delight also—that is understood. M'sieur is, perhaps, in love? Or has been?"
"No, Bateese; not yet."
"But you will; with that face it is certain. Now shall I tell you?— to my guessing this love of women is like an untried rapid. Something smiles ahead for you, and you push for it and voyez! in a moment down you go, fifteen miles an hour and the world spinning; and at the bottom of the fall, if the woman be good, sweet is the journey and you wonder, looking back from smooth water, down what shelves you were swept to her. That, I say, is what I suppose this love to be; but for myself I shall never try it. Since le bon Dieu broke the pitcher its pieces are scattered all over me, within; they hold nothing, but there they lie shining in their useless fashion."
"Not useless, perhaps, Bateese."
"In their useless fashion," he persisted. "They will smile and be gay at the sight of a pretty girl, or at the wild creatures in the woods yonder, or at the thoughts in a song, or for no better reason than that the day is bright and the air warm. But they can store nothing. It is the same with religion, monsieur, and with affairs of State; neither troubles my head. Dominique is devout, for example; and Father Launoy comes to talk with him, which makes him gloomy. The reverend Father just hears my sins and lets me go; he knows well enough that Bateese does not count. And then he and Dominique sit and talk politics by the hour. The Father declares that all the English are devils, and that anyone who fights for the Holy Church and is killed by them will rise again the third day."
John laughed aloud this time.
"I too think the reverend Father must be making some mistake," said Bateese gravely. "No doubt he has been misinformed."
"No doubt. For suppose now that I were a devil?"
"Oh, m'sieur," Bateese expostulated. "Ca serait bien dommage! But I hope, in any case, God would pardon me for talking with you, seeing that to contain anything, even hatred, is beyond me."
"Shall I tell you what I think, Bateese? I think we are all pitchers and perhaps made to be broken. Ten days ago I was brimful of ambitions; someone—le bon Dieu, or General Abercromby—has toppled me over and spilt them all; and here I lie on my side, not broken, but full of emptiness."
"Heh, heh—'full of emptiness'!" chuckled Bateese, to whom the phrase was new.
"It may be that in time someone will set me up again and pour into me wine of another sort. I hope for this, because it is painful to lie upset and empty; and I do not wish to be broken, for that must be even more painful—at the time, eh?"
Bateese glanced up, with a twitch of remembered pain.
"Indeed, m'sieur, it hurt—at the time."
"But afterwards—when the pieces have no more trouble, being released from pride—the pride of being a pitcher! Is it useless they are as they lie upturned, reflecting—what? My friend, if we only knew this we might discover that now, when it can no longer store up wine for itself, the pitcher is at last serving an end it was made for."
The little hunchback glanced up again quickly. "You are talking for my sake, monsieur, not for yourself! At your age I too could be melancholy for amusement. Ah, pardon," for John had blushed hotly. "Do I not know why you said it? Am I not grateful?"
He held out his hand. His eyes were shining.
THE WATCHER IN THE PASS.
Thenceforward, as the forest folded them deeper, John found a wonderful solace in Bateese's company, although the two seldom exchanged a word unless alone together, and after a day or two Barboux took a whim to carry off the little boatman on his expeditions and leave Muskingon in charge of the camp. He pretended that John, as he mended of his wound, needed a stalwart fellow for sentry; but the real reason was malice. For some reason he hated Muskingon; and knowing Muskingon's delight in every form of the chase, carefully thwarted it. On the other hand, it was fun to drag off Bateese, who loved to sit by his boat and hated the killing of animals.
"If I give him my parole," suggested John, "he will have no excuse, and Muskingon can go in your place."
But to this Bateese would not listen. So the wounded were left, on hunting days, in Muskingon's charge; and with him, too, John contrived to make friends. The young Indian had a marvellous gift of silence, and would sit brooding for hours. Perhaps he nursed his hatred of Barboux; perhaps he distrusted the journey—for he and Menehwehna, Ojibways both, were hundreds of miles from their own country, which lay at the back of Lake Huron. Now and again, however, he would unbend and teach John a few words of the Ojibway language; or would allow him, as a fellow-sportsman, to sit by the water's edge and study the Indian tricks of fishing.
There was one in particular which fairly amazed John. He had crawled after Muskingon on his belly—though not understanding the need of this caution—to the edge of a rock overhanging a deep pool. The Indian peered over, unloosed his waist-belt, and drew off his scarlet breeches as if for a bathe. But no, he did not intend this— at least, not just yet. He wound the breeches about his right arm and dipped it cautiously, bending over the ledge until his whole body from the waist overhung the water, and it was a wonder how his thighs kept their grip. Then, in a moment, up flew his heels and over he soused. John, peering down as the swirl cleared, saw only a red-brown back heaving below; and as the seconds dragged by, and the back appeared to heave more and more faintly, was plucking off his own clothes to dive and rescue Muskingon from the rocks, when a pair of hands shot up, holding aloft an enormous, bleeding cat-fish, and hitched him deftly on the gaff which John hurried to lower. But the fish had scarcely a kick left in him, Muskingon having smashed his head against the crevices of the rock.
Indeed Barboux had this excuse for leaving Muskingon in camp by the river—that there was always a string of fish ready before nightfall when he and Menehwehna returned. John, stupefied through the daylight hours, always seemed to awake with the lighting of the camp-fire. This at any rate was the one scene he afterwards saw most clearly, in health and in the delirium of fever—the fire; the ring of faces; beyond the faces a sapling strung with fish like short broad-swords reflecting the flames' glint; a stouter sapling laid across two forked boughs, and from it a dead deer suspended, with white filmed eyes, and the firelight warm on its dun flank; behind, the black deep of the forest, sounded, if at all, by the cry of a lonely wolf. These sights he recalled, with the scent of green fir burning and the smart of it on his lashes.
But by day he went with senses lulled, having forgotten all desire of escape or return. These five companions were all his world. Was he a prisoner? Was Barboux his enemy? The words had no meaning. They were all in the same boat, and "France" and "England" had become idle names. If he considered Barboux's gun, it was as a provider of game, or a protector against any possible foe from the woods. But the woods kept their sinister silence.
Once, indeed, at the head of a portage, they came upon a still reach of water with a strip of clearing on its farther bank—bois brule Bateese called it; but the fire, due to lightning no doubt, must have happened many years before, for spruces of fair growth rose behind the alders on the swampy shore, and tall wickup plants and tussocks of the blueberry choked the interspaces. A cool breeze blew down the waterway, as through a funnel, from the uplands ahead, and the falls below sang deafeningly in the voyageurs' ears as they launched their boat.
Suddenly Menehwehna touched Barboux by the elbow. His ear had caught the crackling of a twig amid the uproar. John, glancing up as the sergeant lifted his piece, spied the antlers of a bull-moose spreading above an alder-clump across the stream. The tall brute had come down through the bois brule to drink, or to browse on the young spruce-buds, which there grew tenderer than in the thick forest; and for a moment moose and men gazed full at each other in equal astonishment.