Previous Page Next Page

Home Page Index Page

Council of Fire: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 05:31 EDT



The situation has changed

Montréal, New France

    On a large, flat table in the Arsenal, pitted and scarred from years of serving as a work-table and an idle carving surface for bored artillerymen, Lévis had carefully laid out the Bourbon banner he had recovered from Fort Carillon.

    Truly, Lévis had no idea what the marquis might say about his tale; it was no bold or brave account, but rather the evidence of surrender, as if it was one more defeat in the series of defeats that the patrie had suffered in the last year and a half. Nominally, losing Carillon meant that the English could put Montréal, and thus all of New France, in their sights–except that they had not lost Carillon to the English.

    “I am surprised that you accept my report, Monsieur,” Lévis said when he finished. He had provided a written letter with the details of his expedition; Montcalm had asked him to describe it in more detail.

    “Why would that be?”

    “It is . . . somewhat hard to believe.”

    Montcalm ran his finger along the edge of the banner without looking up. “You might be surprised what I would be prepared to believe. After what I have seen in the last few weeks, and what intelligence has recently come to me, I would be willing to accept it just as you describe.”

    “Ghost Highlanders, Monsieur? I was in no position to gainsay them when they told me I must depart. But a concerted force–”

    “No.” The Marquis de Montcalm looked up. “That is not an option. We will not undertake such an expedition against Carillon–it clearly is not in the hands of the English. It is in enemy hands, but not English hands.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Bring that map here,” Montcalm said. He carefully folded up the banner and set it on one corner of the table.

    Lévis picked up a rolled map and spread it out, weighing down each corner with a cartridge-box. Montcalm took out his jack-knife and pointed to Montréal.

    “Here we are, at the center of our pitiful domain of New France. Below us on the Saint-Laurent is Québec, our isolated but–for the moment–well-defended capital. The coast is lost to us, as of last summer. Beauséjour and Louisbourg, all of Acadia.” He gestured toward the east, and then along the Atlantic coast. “Here are the English, from Annapolis-Royal to Charleston, and beyond into the West Indies. We have New Orleans and the great river, forts in the interior, and footholds wherever our couriers de bois and bateaux can travel. We were heading toward a great confrontation this coming year, one which we most certainly would have lost.”

    “Monsieur!” Lévis said. “We–”

    “We are outnumbered ten to one in America,” Montcalm said, sighing. “As a patriotic Frenchman, and servant of his Most Christian Majesty, I would never venture such an opinion. But when the English king, damn his black heart, decided to take the matter seriously, our efforts seemed ultimately doomed to failure. It might have taken some time, but they would find their way to victory.”

    “I have never heard you speak thus.” Lévis seemed so genuinely shocked that he even forgot to end the sentence with an honorific.

    “I have refrained from doing so and would not do so now . . . except that the situation has changed.” He pointed to the Maritimes again. “From what I have learned, the expected armada that Britain was sending to invade New France was destroyed at sea. They will not be coming to reinforce our enemy. They say there is some manner of barrier out in the ocean–as hard as it is to believe, it is the truth.

    “But we have our own problems. Not too far downriver from here, some . . . thing has declared a limit to our hegemony. It is powerful in ways I do not understand–and while it has designated a boundary between their dominion and ours, I have no confidence that they will keep to that bargain.”

    “This is why you received my report with favor,” Lévis said. “This is why you were willing to accept what I told you.”

    “And it is why the situation is changed, my friend. We are isolated here–but so are they.”

    Lévis did not answer; he knew Montcalm was coming to a point.

    “For decades we have considered them the enemy–but I believe that our enemy is now the things that create barriers in the oceans, or assert their power to our west, or haunt fortresses to our south. This is the enemy of the British here as well. In order for either of us to survive, we must reach an accord.”

    “That is surely up to monarchs to decide.”

    “No,” Montcalm answered. “It is not. They are not here. They cannot be here. We cannot ask them. Have you not heard what I said? We are all isolated here, perhaps permanently, opposed by forces we scarcely understand. There are no kings to make those decisions.”

    Lévis looked from the marquis to the Bourbon banner, carefully folded on the corner of the table.

    “You have a plan, Monsieur.”

    “I do. And it begins with Monsieur Bigot.”



    It took two days for Soleil to travel downriver to the capital. Québec was even more crowded with refugees from the western villages; normally, the arrival of someone as consequential as the Marquis de Montcalm would have been met with reverence and deference–but under the circumstances, it was no more than an inconvenience.

    Montcalm, with Lévis and the young Lieutenant D’Egremont in tow, made his way to the intendant’s palace in the low town. Despite the crowding in the city, the street outside the palace was clear; two soldiers in Bigot’s service were standing on the steps. The three men walked past without stopping, and past the obsequious servant waiting to take their hats and cloaks. Montcalm led his companions up the stairs and into the audience hall, which they found disturbingly empty, a stark contrast to the crowded streets of the town.

    A great table was burdened with books and papers, the records of the colony and the intendant’s office. Montcalm pointed to the table. “Do not let a single document be taken away,” he said, just as Bigot came through an arched doorway, speaking over his shoulder.

    “Domitien,” he was saying, “be sure you set aside the–”

    He stopped abruptly when he saw the three men in the room. His disdainful expression disappeared, and even his posture changed.

    “My lord Marquis,” he said, offering a slight bow. “I did not know you had returned.”

    Montcalm could smell the ozène from where he stood; as always, it made him dislike the man all the more. “Just a short while ago, Monsieur Intendant. It is time we had a discussion.”

    “Oh? On what subject?”

    Montcalm picked up one of the record-books from the table. Bigot took a single step forward, then froze as he saw the expression on Montcalm’s face.

    “I have been looking into your . . . activities over the past few years,” Montcalm said. “The colony receives considerable supplies from the mother country, and yet we always seem short of something, this or that, which you are miraculously able to procure . . . at considerable cost to the colonial authority.”

    “Governor Vaudreuil considers it to be the greatest of my talents, Monsieur. He has complete confidence in me.” He reached into the sleeve of his coat and drew out a lavender-scented handkerchief and dabbed his nose.

    “He has had little choice.”

    “His Most Christian Majesty has full confidence in me as well,” he added with what Montcalm could only describe as a smirk.

    “That opinion is no longer of any consequence.”

    “I cannot divine your meaning, Monsieur.”



    “We are no longer in contact with the mother country, Bigot. We will be receiving no further supplies from France. We are on our own, which means that the considerable wealth of goods you have stolen from the people of New France will have to be made available for our continued survival.”

    The smirk vanished. Bigot lowered his hands to his sides, though he continued to clutch the handkerchief.

    “I object to being characterized as a thief,” he said. “We will see what the governor has to say about this.”

    “He will say nothing about it,” Montcalm said. “Except after the fact. D’Egremont, take hold of the Intendant, if you please. We’re going to go for a little walk.”

    The young lieutenant crossed the room and took hold of Bigot by the arm; the intendant sought to shake him off, but the young man’s grasp was firm.

    “Unhand me,” he said, looking from D’Egremont to Montcalm. “This is an outrage! I will–”

    Montcalm folded his arms in front of him. “Yes, Monsieur Intendant? What will you do? Particularly when the details of your activities become public knowledge. I don’t think there will be anyone who will leap to your defense.”

    “The king–”

    “Is not here,” Montcalm interrupted. He gestured toward the door. D’Egremont pulled Bigot along.



    Against his will and with considerable protest–which his guards seemed to studiously ignore–Montcalm and his companions took Bigot through the crowded streets of Québec to the Upper Town. Montcalm’s presence had been largely met by indifference, but Bigot, apparently unused to walking through the streets of Québec, seemed to be roundly disliked. When the intendant demanded to know where they were going, Montcalm ignored him.

    D’Egremont never let go of Bigot’s arm; if anything, he held it more tightly. As they went up into the Upper Town, Bigot appeared to give up struggling, though he did mutter about reporting this to Governor Vaudreuil and writing an angry letter to the king.

    Montcalm said nothing, leading the group to the parapets at the Sailors’ Battery, which overlooked the swift-flowing river below.

    “I assume you have some explanation for this unseemly behavior, Montcalm.”

    “I am not accustomed to having a base commoner address me by my name only, Bigot. You should show some respect, given your circumstances.”

    “And what exactly are my circumstances, Monsieur?”

    “Régarde,” Montcalm said, gesturing at the parapet. “With the smallest gesture, I could command the young lieutenant beside you to hurl you over the edge into the river. It would rid me of your onerous presence once and for all.”

    “You would not dare.”

    “Do not trifle with me regarding what I might or might not dare, Bigot. For as long as I have been on this post in New France, I have witnessed your venality and your base behavior. I wonder if even Governor Vaudreuil would shed a tear for your loss.”



    “He would . . . miss my counsel.”

    “I very much doubt it.”

    Bigot looked from face to face. Lévis looked mildly surprised at the turn of events; D’Egremont was eager to please his superior officer. Montcalm, for his part, was adamant and stern.

    “If it was your intent to kill me,” Bigot said at last, sniffing, “you would surely have done so by now. There is something you want, Monsieur.” He shrugged his arm loose from the grasp of the young lieutenant. “Tell me what it is, and I shall see if I can oblige.”

    Montcalm waited long enough to answer that Bigot took his lavender-scented handkerchief and dabbed at his nose. The intendant was clearly uncomfortable with the silence.

    “All of the goods that you have stolen–”


    “Ah, now you choose politeness? Non, Monsieur Intendant. Stolen. All that you have stolen from His Highness’ supplies must be stored somewhere. You will apprise me of that information.”

    “Or–or what? You will toss me off the parapets into the river?”

    “Perhaps,” Montcalm said. “You’re right. I would have to conduct a most tiresome search if you do not tell me what I want. So instead of doing so, I might permit one of our Indian friends to test your bravery. I am sure that the spectacle will be most amusing.”

    “You wouldn’t dare,” Bigot repeated, dabbing again at his ozène, but this time he seemed far less sure of Montcalm’s intentions. The marquis did not answer.

    “What guarantee,” Bigot said at last, “for my safety, if I tell you what you want to know?”


    “Not even your word as a gentleman?”

    “I do no owe you any such assurance, Bigot, and you are presumptuous for even suggesting such a thing. But we are in uncharted territory here: and there may be a time when even someone such as you are useful. So you have my word–as a gentleman–that your person is safe if you tell me what I want to know.”



    “I have nothing to fear from His Majesty,” Vaudreuil said. “Bigot may tell him what he likes. I daresay after your actions, Monsieur, he will have more to say about you than about me.” Vaudreuil poured wine into two glasses and offered one to Montcalm with a little bow.

    “Bigot will not be saying anything to anyone,” Montcalm said. “Or, more specifically, there is no one to hear him. We may never speak with the home country again, if what I have heard is true.”

    “How would you know?”

    “You read the reports of Fort Carillon, and our visit upriver, and what seems to be happening in the New England colonies. We are facing an unknown threat, Governor, and we are on our own. Except . . .”


    “For the English.”

    Vaudreuil frowned, as if the wine he had just drank had gone sour. “What about the English?”

    “They are on their own as well, and face the same enemy. We have more in common with them than we have with these . . . forces, and our chances of survival are greater if we make common cause.”

    “Survival?” Vaudreuil made the same face. “When did this become a discussion of survival? And let me remind you, Monsieur, that we are at war with the English and have been so for some time.”

    “Ask Father Récher if he thinks this is a struggle for survival, Monsieur Governor. He saw what I saw–and when combined with the knowledge, the sure knowledge that we are cut off from our homeland–perhaps forever–suggests that we are not at war with the English any longer.

    “I don’t know what we are fighting, Governor. But only a fool goes to battle with an enemy at his rear.”

    “This is based on an entire cavalcade of assumptions, suspicions and fears, Monsieur. To go against the Crown–to end the war–based on that, seems irresponsible.” He set his glass down at the edge of a table and looked at it for a moment, as if it might not obey his wishes and remain there. “You truly have no idea if we are cut off from the mother country.”

    “I am not certain, no. I am not certain about anything–except that this in unknown ground. The situation has changed forever.”

    “Enough so that you’re willing to threaten Bigot’s life.”

    “You object?”

    “He has powerful friends at Court. That is consequential, unless, as you suggest, that is no longer of consequence. Past that, you can send him to a knacker for all that I care.”

    “A tempting suggestion.”

    Vaudreuil picked up his wineglass and raised it, catching the candlelight and breaking it into a thousand colored fragments.

    “Remind me not to anger you,” the governor said at last.

    Any further, Montcalm thought. He raised his glass and drank appreciatively. I will keep that in mind.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image