Council Of Fire – Snippet 38
On terms favorable to the Crown of Great Britain
Colony of New York
Major Rogers and a half-dozen of his picked men led the way, following trails they knew better than anyone–or, at least, better than any white man. It was a hundred miles from Albany through the wild country north of the town, along the west side of Lake George, to the place where the French had planted their flag: four days’ easy ride, if there were no obstacles or mishaps.
The Rangers were used to traveling by foot or bateau, but the chosen men were all skilled riders; they set a brisk pace. Prince Edward, General Wolfe and the men of the 40th had no intention of being shown up as unprepared or soft, and made no complaint as the party picked its way into the wilderness.
They made cold camp as they went. At the first sign of grumbling from the soldiers, Wolfe spoke quietly and sternly to the subaltern in charge of the troop and the grumbling ceased. The prince refused to be treated differently than anyone else on the march–not only for the sake of morale, but because he realized–and Rogers assured him–that the group was surely being watched. No one passed this way without the knowledge of the tribes.
“General,” Prince Edward said, as they prepared to sleep on the second night of their trip, “You would not think it absurd if I told you I felt we were being closely watched?”
“The major has told us we should expect that, Your Highness. The Indians–”
“No. Not by the Indians.” Edward took Wolfe’s sleeve and pulled him close so he could say quietly, “By the trees.”
“Yes. I . . . don’t know quite how to describe it. I cannot be certain, but it feels as if our clearing has gotten smaller since we set up camp. It . . . may be just my imagination playing a trick on me. Or it could be some other manifestation that we do not understand. I cannot control it in either case.”
“Have you spoken to Major Rogers about this?”
“Of course not.”
“We are already undertaking an expedition to converse with shades of Scotsmen killed almost a year ago. Why would this . . . feeling . . . be any harder to accept? I can convey your respects myself, and–”
“No. Let it be.”
The next morning was overcast, with a hint of rain in the air; progress was slow, and the trail seemed almost invisible. The travelers had dismounted and were leading their horses through underbrush, with the tree canopy thick with early-spring leaves that obscured the sky.
If it had been up to him, the prince felt that he would have given up the course and declared himself insolubly lost. Rogers, however, seemed undaunted, and in the early afternoon they broke free of the woods and ascended a hill that overlooked the river valley. In the far distance, with the aid of a spyglass, they could make out the southernmost point of Lake George.
Laid out before them, the land was not hostile or threatening. It was beautiful and wild, largely untouched by plow or woodsman’s axe, stretching off into the west. Some distance away they could see smoke rising from an Indian village located on the opposite shore, but otherwise it was unsettled land, of the sort that scarcely could be found in England.
“This is the whole world, isn’t it?” Edward said to Wolfe as they stood together.
“I’m not sure I understand, Your Highness.”
“There is no England or Scotland anymore. We’re not going home–this is home now. Instead of the Midlands we have New York; instead of London, Boston.”
“That’s what we’ve been told,” Wolfe said, his angular face and pointed nose in profile. “At least for now we seem to be on our own and making the most of it.”
“When we’re finished at Carillon, General, I intend to travel to MontrÃ©al to treat with the French.”
“I don’t think Lord Amherst–”
“I am certain that he would counsel against it. I am certain that you are opposed to that course as well, and Major Rogers will resist my orders in this matter. But it is something we must do.”
“As much as I do not want to disagree with a royal prince–who might well soon be my sovereign–it is not something we must do, Your Highness.” Wolfe faced Prince Edward, his face solemn. “Not now, and certainly not without due consideration and preparation. I will go to MontrÃ©al, my prince, with an army. I do not desire to enter New France in any other way.”
“You’re not listening, General Wolfe. I want to–”
“I am listening very carefully, Your Highness. And as your general, and as your subject, I strongly advise you not to consider this course. Major Rogers would agree. If it comes to it, I suspect that he–like I–would be forced to prevent you.”
Wolfe held the prince’s eyes, wanting to look away but not doing so.
Prince Edward looked away, across the river. “It will have to be done, Wolfe. Eventually it will need to be done, because the French are not our enemies. Not anymore. We have discussed this.”
“If this is all the world,” Wolfe said, “and we must reach an accommodation with the French, then I suggest . . . I insist . . . that we do so on terms favorable to the crown of Great Britain.”
“At the head of an army.”
“If necessary. It might not be the only choice, but in my opinion, it is the best choice. Your Highness.”
Prince Edward did not answer. He turned away and walked down the hill to where Major Rogers and the others were waiting, leaving Wolfe alone.
At the southern point of Lake George, the party crossed the river and made its way along the west side of the lake. Rogers provided a narrative, describing how His Majesty’s forces had landed at the top of the lake and followed a road around the southern French outpost, making their attack from the west toward the fort.
As they made their approach, Wolfe noticed that Prince Edward became increasingly ill at ease, as if the descriptions by the colonial major were being depicted in his mind’s eye. Wolfe had studied the battle, which had been an utter disaster, badly managed and a desperate waste of manpower, particularly by the 42nd–the Scots Highlanders who died charging the abatis. But while he had no trouble imagining the movement of forces on the ground they were now traversing, it was merely an academic exercise.
For the prince, it seemed to be something else entirely.
As they reached the abandoned sawmill near the river, Edward sat upright on his mount, his eyes focused directly forward, his gloved hands tight on the reins.
“Listen,” he said.
“Listen,” he repeated. “Tell the men to be quiet.”
Wolfe raised his hand; the troopers and rangers fell quiet. For a moment there was nothing to be heard but the noises of birds and insects and the soft rushing of water in the nearby river; then Wolfe heard it: a distant, discordant skirling of bagpipes. He recognized it at once: “Scotland the Brave,” the piping the Highlanders played as they charged into battle.
Edward did not move. Rogers looked grim; he had been present and in command of troops on that fateful day, months ago, when the British forces had been repulsed here.
“They’re here,” Edward said quietly, and cantered his horse forward. Wolfe thought about reaching a hand to grasp the prince’s reins but discarded the idea and followed closely behind.
The day, which had been bright, now appeared foggy as they approached the former battle lines. They could make out figures. At first, they were dim shadows, but they gradually became more and more distinct. A small group, led by a man dressed in Highland regimentals, bearing a bullet-wound in his right temple and a limp right arm that ended at the elbow, stood directly in the path of Prince Edward’s horse, which snorted and tried to shy.
“I am Major Duncan Campbell. What is your business here?” he asked in clear English with a decided Scots burr.
“I am Edward Augustus, Prince of the House of Hanover, Commander in His Majesty’s Navy. If the barrier that separates us from the mother country is permanent, then . . . I shall claim the right to be called your sovereign.”
“You call yourself our king.”
Without hesitation, Edward answered, “Yes, I do.”
“We were told that Abercromby has left America,” the shade said. “Returned to England–and thus out of our reach. We wish to be avenged for our deaths. Will our sovereign help us with that?”
“You have a right to be angry–”
“We have a right,” the shade interrupted, “to be avenged for our deaths. We have a right to go to our rest, and not walk unquiet on the earth where our blood was spilled.”
“It was nearly a year past,” Edward said. “The dead–even the unquiet dead–rarely remain present, and in such numbers. Tell me, Major Campbell. How is it that you and your countrymen are still here?”
“I do not understand the question.”
“Your Highness,” Wolfe said, moving his mount forward.
“I do not understand the question,” Campbell repeated, frowning, jutting his chin out.
“There are a fair number of you here, Major Campbell, roaming about the battlefield–unquiet, as you say. In the many accounts and histories of our wars, when has that situation ever prevailed? Are there ghosts flitting about at Hastings, or Marston Moor, or–bless me–Prestonpans or Culloden? There are not. But still, you are here. Why is that?”
Campbell the Scotsman bore an expression that, in Wolfe’s view, constituted no less than malice. But after a moment, the shade replied, “I do not know.”
“I do.” Prince Edward reached down and patted his horse, which was once again upset by its surroundings. “It is the work of the event that separates us from the homeland. I don’t think we completely understand it yet, but it has made it possible for such things as unquiet dead to appear. I think it is a matter of belief; stolid, rational Englishmen–or Frenchmen–do not take readily to supernatural beliefs, while you Scotsmen proclaim blood oaths that prevail beyond the grave.”
“Aye,” Campbell said, with a tone that suggested that he understood exactly what the prince was saying.
“And the Indians–” Edward swept his hand across the wooded land to the west of the battlefield–“believe even more strongly in such things. The manifestation of their beliefs, Major Campbell, may be the greatest threat of all. Against that menace, I ask your help.”
“Unless you permit it, Major, I cannot command you to serve. You have given the last full measure of your loyal service in battle with His Majesty’s enemies. But in order to requite your passions, I offer you the opportunity to serve once more.”
“What reward awaits us?”
“Not revenge,” Edward said. “But perhaps . . . rest.”
Wolfe was not sure how the shade would react–nor did he know what, if anything, the figure could do.
But as he watched, more of the shades joined Major Campbell, arranging themselves in ranks beside and behind him.
“General,” the prince said, without looking away from Duncan Campbell. “There is your army.”