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Fort Amity - Epilogue Post by :jhaines Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Thomas Quiller-couch Date :May 2012 Read :1353

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Fort Amity - Epilogue

I.


HUDSON RIVER.


"Il reviendra-z a Paques,
Ou--a la Trinite!"


On a summer's afternoon of the year 1818, in the deep veranda of a house terraced high above the Hudson, a small company stood expectant. Schuylers and Livingstones were there, with others of the great patroon families; one or two in complete black, and all wearing some badge of mourning. Some were young, others well advanced in middle life; but amidst them, and a little apart, reclined a lady to whose story the oldest had listened in his childhood.

She lay back in an invalid chair, with her face set toward the noble river sweeping into view around the base of a wooded bluff, and toward the line of its course beyond, where its hidden waters furrowed the forests to the northward and divided hill from hill. Yet to her eyes the landscape was but a blur, and she saw it only in memory.

For forty-three years she had worn black and a widow's goffered cap. The hair beneath it was thin now, and her body frail and very far on its decline to the grave. On the table at her elbow lay a letter beside a small field-glass, towards which, once and again, she stretched out a hand.

"It is heavy for you, aunt," said her favourite grand-niece, who stood at the back of her chair--a beautiful girl in a white frock, high-waisted and tied with a broad, black sash. "We will tell you when they come in sight."

"I know, my dear; I know. It was only to make sure."

"But you tried yesterday, and with the glass your sight was as good as mine, almost."

"Even so short a while makes a difference, now. You cannot understand that, Janet; you will, some day."

"We will tell you," the girl repeated, "as soon as ever they come in sight; perhaps before. We may see the smoke first between the trees, you know."

"Ay," the old lady answered, and added, "There was no such thing in those days." Her hand went out toward the field-glass again, and rested, trembling a little, on the edge of the table. "I thought-- yesterday--that the trees had grown a good deal. They have closed in, and the river is narrower; or perhaps it looks narrower, through a glass."

The men at the far end of the veranda, who had been talking apart while they scanned the upper bends of the river, lowered their voices suddenly. They had heard a throbbing sound to the northward; either the beat of a drum or the panting stroke of a steamboat's paddles.

All waited, with their eyes on the distant woods. By and by a film of dark smoke floated up as through a crevice in the massed tree-tops, lengthened, and spread itself in the sunlight. The throbbing grew louder--the beat of a drum, slow and funereal, with the clank of paddle-wheels filling its pauses. And now--hark!-- a band playing the Dead March!

The girl knelt and lifted the glass, ready focused. The failing woman leaned forward, and with fingers that trembled on the tube, directed it where the river swept broadly around the headland.

What did she see? At first an ugly steamboat nosing into view and belching smoke from its long funnel; then a double line of soldiers crowding the deck, and between their lines what seemed at first to be a black mound with a scarlet bar across it. But the mound was the plumed hearse of her husband, and the scarlet bar the striped flag of the country for which he had died--his adopted country, long since invited to her seat among the nations.

The men in the veranda had bared their heads. They heard a bell ring on board the steamboat. Her paddles ceased to rotate, and after a moment began to churn the river with reversed motion, holding the boat against its current. The troops on her deck, standing with reversed arms; the muffled drums; the half-masted flag; all saluted a hero and the widow of a hero.

So, after forty-three years, Richard Montgomery returned to the wife he had left with a promise that, come what might, she should be proud of him.

Proud she was; she, a worn old woman sitting in the shadow of death, proud of a dry skeleton and a handful of dust under a crape pall. And they had parted in the hey-day of youth, young and ardent, with arms passionately loth to untwine.

What did her eyes seek beneath the pall, the plumes, the flag? Be sure she saw him laid there at his manly length, inert, with cheeks only a little paler than they had been as he stood looking down into her eyes a moment before he strode away. In truth, the searchers, opening his grave in Quebec, had found a few bones, and a skull from which, as they lifted it, a musket-ball dropped back into the rotted coffin; these, and a lock of hair, tied with a leathern thong.

They did not bring him ashore to her. Even after forty years his return must be for a moment only; his country still claimed him. The letter beside her was from Governor Clinton, written in courtliest words, telling her of the grave in New York prepared for him beneath the cenotaph set up by Congress many years before.

Again a bell rang sharply, the paddles ceased backing and ploughed forward again. To the sound of muffled drums he passed down the river, and out of her sight for ever.

II.


THE PHANTOM GUARD.


Just a hundred years have passed since the assault on Pres-de-Ville. It is the last day of 1875, and in the Citadel above the cliff the Commandant and his lady are holding a ball. Outside the warm rooms winter binds Quebec. The St. Lawrence is frozen over, and the copings and escarpments of the old fortress sparkle white under a flying moon.

The Commandant's lady had decreed fancy dress for her dancers, and further, that their costumes shall be those of 1775. The Commandant himself wears the antique uniform of the Royal Artillery, and some of his guests salute him in the very coats, and carry the very swords, their ancestors wore this night a hundred years ago. They pass up the grand staircase hung with standards--golden leopards of England, golden irises of France, the Dominion ensign, the Stars and Stripes-- and come face to face with a trophy, on the design of which Captain Larne of the B Battery has spent some pious hours. Here, above stacks of muskets piled over drums and trumpets, is draped the red and black "rebel" pennant so that its folds fall over the escutcheon of the United States; and against this hangs a sword, heavily craped, with the letters R.I.P. beneath it.

It is the same thin blade of steel which dropped on the snow, its hilt warm from Richard Montgomery's hand, as he turned to wave forward his men. His enemies salute it to-night.

They pass into the upper ballroom. They are met to dance a new year in, and the garrison band is playing a waltz of Strauss's--"Die guten alten Zeiten." So dance follows dance, and the hours fly by to midnight--outside, the moon in chase past the clouds and over fields and wastes of snow--inside, the feet of dancers warming to their work under the clustered lights.

But on the stroke of midnight a waltz ceases suddenly. From the lower ballroom the high, clear note of a trumpet rings out, silencing the music of the bandsmen. A panel has flown open there and a trumpeter steps forth blowing a call which, as it dies away, is answered by a skirl of pipes and tapping of drums from a remote corner of the barracks. The guests fall back as the sound swells on the night, drawing nearer. Pipes are shrieking now; the rattle of drums shakes the windows. Two folding doors fall wide, and through them stalks a ghostly guard headed by the ghost of Sergeant Hugh McQuarters, in kilt and tartan and cross-belt yet spotted with the blood of a brave Highlander who died in 1775, defending Quebec. The guard looks neither to right nor to left; it passes on through hall and passage and ballroom, halts beneath Montgomery's sword, salutes it in silence, and vanishes.

Some of the ladies are the least bit scared. But the men are pronouncing it a brilliant _coup de theatre_, and presently crowd about the trophy, discussing Montgomery and what manner of man he was.

Down in St. Louis Street the windows have been illuminated in the old house in which his body lay. Up in the Citadel the boom of guns salutes his memory.

So the world commemorates its heroes, the brave hearts and high minds that never doubted but pressed straight to their happy or unhappy goals. But some of us hear the guns saluting those who doubted and were lost, or seemed to achieve little; whose high hopes perished by the way; whom fate bound or frustrated; whom conscience or divided counsel drove athwart into paths belying their promise; whom, wrapping both in one rest, earth covers at length indifferently with its heroes.

So let these guns, a hundred years late, salute the meeting of two lovers who, before they met and were reconciled, suffered much. The flying moon crosses the fields over which they passed forth together, and a hundred winters have smoothed their tracks on the snow. There is a tradition that they sought Boisveyrac; that children were born to them there; and that they lived and died as ordinary people do. But a thriving town hides the site of the Seigniory, and their graves are not to be found.

And north of Lake Michigan there long lingered another tradition--but it has died now--of an Englishman and his wife who came at rare intervals and would live among the Ojibways for a while, accepted by them and accepting their customs; that none could predict the time of their coming or of their departure; but that the man had, in his time, been a famous killer of bears.


(THE END)
Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's Novel: Fort Amity

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