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Council of Fire: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Saturday, September 28, 2019 15:57 EDT



This is all the world there is now

New France

    “I would prefer to wait until the marquis returns from upriver, Governor,” Lévis had said; but Vaudreuil had not seemed interested in that line of argument. Indeed, the chevalier was reasonably certain that the governor of New France was giving him the order precisely because Montcalm was not in Québec to countermand it.

    Instead, Vaudreuil had insisted: “There is no time for delay, Chevalier. You and a company of soldiers–of your choice” he said, as if he was according Lévis some great honor by giving him discretion–“will embark at once, and determine just what sort of foolishness caused His Majesty’s men to flee their duty at Fort Carillon.”

    “Shall I take some of those who did so?”

    “I daresay they would be the most unreliable. Of course, I am not a military man, so perhaps your judgment in this matter is better than my own.”

    Perhaps your judgment . . . Lévis had felt like striking the governor with his fist but had thought better of it.

    Instead he had given a salute and departed the Intendant’s Palace, to assemble his company and to locate couriers de bois who could transport them across Lac St. Sacrement to the fortress that had been abandoned a few weeks earlier.



    He took a dozen of the hardiest, most stalwart-looking soldiers who had come back to Québec to tell of the apparitions at Carillon. Only a portion of the garrison had even come to Québec–at least half of the men had scattered elsewhere–and Lévis’ choices weren’t from the best; but he wanted to have some people who had experienced what they were about to see.

    Spring in New France is a tug of war. Nature wants to display her riches and beauties everywhere, while the cold hand of winter wants to strike them down. In the best of circumstances it becomes an uneasy truce; cool, crisp sunny days and chilling, frost-filled nights taking their turn until well past the solstice time. Lévis’ company dressed for the cold: there was no particular need for crisp parade uniforms or ceremonial attire. Instead they dressed like their guides–homespun and buckskin, fur vests and stout boots. Anyone observing the group would likely not take them for soldiers in service to the king of France.

    It took ten days overland to reach the head of the lake, carrying their bateaux with them as they moved through the forest. Lévis was amazed at how the trackless wilderness yielded to the knowledge and experience of the couriers de bois, following trails and paths that he never would have been able to find. Still, when they emerged from the woods and put their boats in the water at the north end of Lac-Champlain, all of them breathed a sigh of relief.

    On the first night ashore, Lévis sat with his adjutant, a young officer named Olivier d’Egremont who had come to New France the previous year. His was a typical story–third son of a minor nobleman, with no land or title waiting for him in the home country, obtaining a commission and service in North America as a way to make his own fortune.

    “This is a beautiful country, Monsieur,” d’Egremont said, leaning back against the bole of a great old tree at the corner of their camp.

    “Isn’t it? A shame that we may have to give it over to the English.”


    “I didn’t think I needed to explain why. There are ten Englishmen for each Frenchman, d’Egremont. They have control of the seas, and are finally–finally!–ready to make the commitment to fight us here on land. The loss of Louisbourg was just the beginning–there is more ahead.”

    “Then what is this about?”

    Lévis smiled. “Which ‘this’?”

    “This expedition, Monsieur. If we are bound to lose, why bother to reoccupy Carillon? Especially given the stories . . .”

    “What have you heard?”

    “I . . .” D’Egremont smiled. “I have been listening to the men who left Carillon and came to Québec. They have some interesting stories.”

    “They haven’t spoken a word to me. They–they scarcely meet my eyes, to be honest.”

    “They are ashamed, Monsieur, and it is hard to blame them, since they abandoned their post. But it is also hard to blame them for having done so in the first place.”

    “There was talk of ghosts. What do you make of that?”

    “I am not a father, Monsieur, but I am an uncle, and I have watched my older brothers and their wives in dealing with their children. When there is a dispute among them, they ask each to tell their story in private–and then the adults compare what is said. I would believe that much of what our men say is a fabrication, except that each of them tells the same story: what they heard, what they saw.

    “What I don’t understand is how this could possibly be happening. There are folk tales of ghosts–but this seems more than that, and more frightening than that. What do you make of this?”

    “Something has happened, d’Egremont. The marquis thinks that it might have to do with the comet, which has now disappeared from the sky; but that does not truly explain how there could be ghosts in the woods and monsters in the lakes. I confess that I am at a loss. I will be interested in hearing what the marquis has learned when he returns.”

    “And when we return.”

    “That depends on what we find.”

    “Do you have any idea what it might be?”

    “I hesitate to speculate. But I know that the governor would like us to find nothing, and that seems unlikely.”



    Approaching Fort Carillon and the town below it brought back memories for Lévis. The previous summer had been a great French victory in which he had taken part, commanding one flank against the British army that had come up to besiege the fort–but it was more a result of the needless slaughter of the enemy’s troops, hurled against the bastion without even the benefit of artillery. As a Frenchman, he could rightfully thank God for a stroke of fortune that halted the enemy’s threatened advance toward the heart of New France. But as a soldier, he decried the loss of life among the brave soldiers ordered to their deaths by an incompetent general.

    The fort was still there; the banner of His Most Christian Majesty still flew over it. But from his vantage, at the front of one of the lead bateaux, Lévis could see that the lower town was lifeless–indeed, it was shrouded in a low-hanging mist that was a stark contrast to the sunny vista and crisp air out on the surface of the lake.

    And in the mist, there were human figures moving to and fro, and even at a distance they could hear the occasional skirl of the Highland bagpipes, providing an additional eerie aspect to the scene.

    He had two of the Carillon veterans in his boat, and though they sat upright and rigid he could see the terror in their eyes. The scene troubled him as well, but Lévis knew that he could show none of it; he was the commander and, as such, could show no fear.



    Still, it was hard to keep a calm face as his bateau came close to the dock where three ghostly figures stood, awaiting the boat’s arrival. The figures were substantial, but not completely opaque: the town’s buildings could be seen behind and through them. All wore the distinctive Highland dress, and each bore the evidence of having sustained terrible wounds. One had a face with a gaping hole–probably a musket-ball discharged at close range; the other had a horrible chest wound, visible through his tunic; and the leader had a round bullet-hole directly above his left temple–the shot that had felled him.

    Before Lévis’ boat bumped up against the dock, the leader lifted his left hand; his right arm hung at his side, the sleeve empty below the elbow. A breeze kicked up at just that moment, blowing into the faces of the Frenchmen.

    “This is no longer your place,” the man said in English, of which Lévis had a good command, unlike most of the men who accompanied him. “Turn back, while you are still able.”

    “I have not come this far to turn back,” Lévis replied. “I am François de Gaston, Chevalier de Lévis, and I am here in the name of the governor and intendant of New France, and His Most Christian Majesty Louis, King of France.”

    “I know who you are,” the ghost replied. “My name is Major Duncan Campbell. Your men killed me and mine here, in this place, last summer. I saw you on the battlements, on the French right flank. You were a prominent target,” he added, touching the bullet-wound on his temple. “But your marksmen were more proficient than ours.”

    “I am unaccustomed to speaking to dead men,” Lévis answered. “Major Campbell, your time on this earth is done. You . . . died as a soldier, in service to king and country; as a fellow brother of the sword, I honor your sacrifice. But you must yield to the living.”

    “And why should I do that?”

    Lévis was unsure how to answer. “I ask in return,” he said at last, “why your spirit is unquiet.”

    “Abercromby,” Campbell said, and Lévis–and the others in the French boats–heard the name echoed, over and over, from out of the mists. “Abercromby. The general who ordered us to our deaths. We seek our revenge against him. Bring him to us, Chevalier, and we shall retire to the Beyond and give you back this cursed place, for all that it does you good.”


    “Aye. Tell the British commanders that if he does not come to us, we will come to him, and nothing shall stop us: not wall, nor musket, nor cannon.”

    “What about an ocean? We understand that General Abercromby was recalled to England. He is not here any longer, Major Campbell. It is not possible for you to exact your personal revenge here in the New World.”

    The expression on the face of the shade of Major Duncan Campbell did not change as he said, “Abercromby is gone.”

    “Back to England. Unless you are prepared to cross the ocean–”

    “That is not possible, Chevalier. That route is closed.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “This is all the world there is now, Frenchman. You should go back to your land and tell your governor and intendant that news.”

    “This land is our land as well.”

    “No, Chevalier. It is not. This land belongs to us. The unquiet spirits of those who died here, killed by the cruelty and incompetence of a Sassenach general who sent the Highlanders against your fortress. But it is your fortress no longer.”

    “My governor will not welcome this news.”

    “I have no dispute with you, Chevalier. But do not doubt that I–and my many, many countrymen–will fight you if you come ashore. We can hurt you . . . but we are beyond hurt.

    “But . . .” Campbell looked aside at his two companions, then back at the Frenchmen. “But you are a fellow soldier, and a man of honor. You ceased to be an enemy when I ceased to draw breath. Out of respect, we will permit you to go safely to the fortress above and take down your flag. You can take that back to your governor and explain to him how you came by it. But you may not reinvest Carillon–that the Indians call Ticonderoga–nor can the English, and neither can the natives. As long as we remain in this world, this place remains ours.”

    “You . . . will guarantee my safety.”

    “Yes. You only. Your soldiers remain on their boats.”

    “I would like to take my aide,” Lévis said, gesturing toward d’Egremont, who stood in a bateau just a few feet from the dock.

    Campbell hesitated for a moment and then said, “Agreed. But you will go up to the fort and return by nightfall; after that I cannot speak for the other Highlanders. Their pain and resentment run deep, and they may not forbear by night what is ordered by day.”



    Lévis and d’Egremont walked in silence through the deserted lower town; later Lévis would remember it as the strangest, most eerie experience of his life. Ghostly figures watched their progress, sometimes quiet, sometimes murmuring something inarticulate or indistinguishable. The bagpipe sounds faded in and out as they walked up to the open gate to the fortress proper.

    When they came into the place des armes, where no Highlander was in sight, Lévis turned to d’Egremont.

    “You have some command of English.”

    “I had a tutor,” the young man said. “He taught me dancing and English. Beastly language, but my father thought it might come in useful.”

    “And so it has. How much did you understand of my conversation?”

    “Enough to make my knees shake, Monsieur. But I am here.”

    “Good man.” Lévis squinted at the sky; the sun was visible from here, clear of the mists below, and it stood at midafternoon. He did not want to stay much longer than necessary, but there was at least time to take a look around.

    “Are you going to take the flag and return?”

    “I think that I am left with no other choice, d’Egremont. Even if I believed that there was anything that could damage or destroy ghosts, I don’t think most of the men would stand and fight.”

    “Why did you bring me along, Monsieur?”

    “I wanted at least one other person to see whatever I saw, to corroborate my story. It will be difficult enough for them to believe as it is. Come on, then. Let’s get the flag down and make our way back.”

    On the highest bastion of Fort Carillon, with all of Lake Champlain and the vista of the New York wilderness spread out before them, the two French officers slowly lowered the flag that had flown over the fortress since it had been erected a handful of years earlier. When it came into their hands, they carefully and respectfully folded it in the correct manner, so that it was a small blue triangular bundle with the Bourbon fleur-de-lys marching across it in gold.

    “We will be the last of His Majesty’s soldiers to take in this view, Monsieur,” d’Egremont said, leaning on the battlement in front of him.

    Lévis’ was not sure he could see that deeply into the future. Instead of answering his young aide, he merely took in the view, wondering about what Campbell had said.

    This is all the world there is now, Frenchman.

    Looking down at the bundle he held in his hands, he tried to imagine what that meant.

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