Council Of Fire – Snippet 25
Part III: Concentration
It is not so easy for a bellicose nation to turn its back upon war.
–Sir Charles Saunders, Memoirs, 1778
Every place will have its haunted past
George Baker wanted to pace. It was his quarterdeck, damn it, and it was one of the few places aboard Magnanime that he actually could walk any distance without exchanging salutes, ducking his head or running into something: rank had its privileges.
But it would not do to turn his back on a Prince of the Blood, even if he was of an inferior naval rank. That was especially true when he was asking permission for something that, truthfully, he could have chosen to do without Baker’s consent.
“You don’t need my permission, Your Highness.”
“I know that, Captain. But it seems inappropriate for an officer and gentleman to choose a course without at least consulting his senior.”
“My seniority is tenuous at best, especially now.”
“I actually would have thought the opposite.” The young man allowed himself a slight smile. “If England is now no longer part of the world we occupy, I don’t see why we should be treated any differently. Of course, what I want to do flies in the face of that pragmatism.”
“I don’t think General Amherst will have any hesitation in dealing with you as befits your rank, Your Highness. Whether England is a few weeks’ or a few years’ sail away, you are a prince of the realm–and that counts for a great deal.”
“He is more than twice my age, Captain Baker. He was a soldier with my grandfather when I was soiling my small-clothes. What’s more, his country needs him.”
“Your country needs you as well, Prince. In fact, it needs you very much–and I am very concerned that you might be exposed to unnecessary danger.”
“From General Amherst?”
“No, no–good God, not from the general. But these are the colonies. Untamed lands, unruly places. We were told what is going on in Massachusetts-Bay as a result of the event, but who knows what awaits us in New York?”
“Salem is a singular case–the witch-trial events linger on–”
“I beg your pardon, Your Highness, but every place will have its haunted past. New York had a revolt against His Majesty’s Government at about the same time as the witch trials: a man named Leisler led it. He was executed for treason. And less than twenty years ago, about the time Your Highness was learning to walk, New York suffered a violent slave revolt. What if the–what if the event has stirred up memories from those events? Who knows what awaits us in New York? I am hesitant that Your Highness’ person should be subjected to such risks.”
“So I am to be kept safely aboard Magnanime, away from all danger? How do you propose to carry that out, Captain? It is neither practical nor sensible.”
Baker did not answer. He resisted the temptation to turn and pace, but instead stared past Prince Edward out at sea, where the southern coast of Long Island lay against the horizon.
“I beg your pardon, Captain,” the prince said. “It is improper for me to speak thus to my commanding officer.”
Baker couldn’t decide what made him more uncomfortable, the junior officer’s tone or the prince’s apology.
“As an officer under my command, General Amherst has no reason to take your counsel–or, indeed, even to receive you. But as Prince Edward of England, he cannot fail to do so. As it is necessary for him to be impressed with the earnest of our situation, you are much more important in the latter role than in the former.
“I grant permission, of course,” he said. “And while I would prefer that you and General Wolfe meet with General Amherst aboard Magnanime for your own safety, I agree that since you are my junior officer, you could not represent the Crown properly without going ashore.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me for that, Highness. From what little I know of General Amherst, he will not take kindly to being summoned.”
If it had been up to him–as he had said at various times, in the appropriate company–Jeffery Amherst would rather have been holding a plough at his family’s estate at Riverhead than receive all the honors that had been given him in the New World.
By the limited standards of America, New York was fine enough. One of the great “cities,” along with Philadelphia, Boston and Charles Town, but a world away from London or even Bristol or York. It was scarcely more than a town, compared to Paris or Madrid or even Edinburgh. But it was his headquarters; he had spent the winter here, trying to pick up the shattered pieces of the 1758 campaign, which–other than their triumph in the Maritimes–had been an utter disaster. He had come to that conclusion after touring the battlefield near the French fort of Carillon the previous October; Abercromby had made a hash of what should have been a straightforward campaign–he had not only failed to take the key strongpoint, he had wasted good, capable men in doing it. Scots, admittedly, not the most reliable sons of the Empire, but hard, veteran soldiers all the same.
Amherst had reviewed the troops who remained at Halifax and then returned here to New York to prepare for the coming campaign, now confirmed as commander in chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. There had been nothing for it but to wait for reinforcement; though instead of good old Edward Boscawen, the Admiralty had informed him that the new expedition would be led by Admiral Saunders . . . and would include James Wolfe, who had sailed back to England in late summer in what Amherst could only describe as a huff.
And now . . . word had come from Halifax, and reports had arrived from sea, indicating that something had happened–some terrible storm, or irruption, or–a variety of other things that Amherst discounted as seamen’s imagination. There were apparently no reinforcements for his planned campaign up the Hudson River, and none to force their way up the Saint Lawrence toward QuÃ©bec. He was expecting to get an accurate report from Wolfe. What he was not expecting was a demand (disguised as a “request”) to present himself to a young prince who was part of the Halifax expedition.
There was no alternative but to appear in his best dress uniform and to offer his politest bow and sharpest salute. And then there would be a more detailed discussion.
Amherst and his staff were waiting as the carriage halted outside Fort George. A dress-uniformed lieutenant opened the door and held it as Prince Edward and General James Wolfe disembarked. Salutes were exchanged, and the two visitors turned toward the gate of the fort. Two staff officers stepped down to the cobbles on their own.
To Amherst, the prince looked composed and calm, showing considerable dignity for a young man his age. Wolfe’s angular face was tilted, his nose pointed upward as if he was sniffing the New York air. It seemed almost rude–about what he would have expected from the younger officer.
The visitors approached and the prince and general offered Amherst smart salutes.
“Your Royal Highness,” Amherst said. “You honor us with your visit.” And to Wolfe, he nodded and said, “General.”
Wolfe looked ready to respond, but wisely waited for the prince to speak.
“I wish we were here under more auspicious circumstances, General Amherst,” Prince Edward said. “General Wolfe and I are eager to apprise you of current events.” He paused and looked from Wolfe to Amherst. “But perhaps first . . . one of your subordinates could give me a brief tour of this excellent fort.”
Amherst took a moment to respond, then beckoned to the lieutenant who had received the carriage. “Show His Highness our disposition, if you please,” he ordered, which shortly left him alone with Wolfe.
“General,” Wolfe said.
“General,” Amherst answered. “I suppose I should congratulate you on your advancement.”
“Does it trouble you, sir?”
“Does it matter whether it troubles me or not? I confess to being surprised, Wolfe. I would have thought that your rather abrupt attitude regarding my strategic decisions would have kept you from being considered for any sort of advancement.”
“Apparently others disagree,” Wolfe sniffed. “But in any case, it hardly matters now. We had our chance to defeat the French last summer, General, and that was our last opportunity. The world is fundamentally changed now.”