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- The Trail of the Sword, Volume 4. - 3/7 -
reason to be ashamed of his men that day; they charged bravely, but their enemies were hid to deadly advantage behind trees and thickets, the best sharpshooters of the province.
Perrot had had his orders from Iberville: Iberville himself was, if possible, to engage Gering in a hand-to-hand fight; Perrot, on the other hand, was to cut Gering off from his men and bring him in a prisoner. More than once both had Gering within range of their muskets, but they held their hands, nor indeed did Gering himself, who once also had a chance of bringing Iberville down, act on his opportunity. Gering's men were badly exposed, and he sent them hard at the thickets, clearing the outposts at some heavy loss. His men were now scattered, and he shifted his position so as to bring him nearer the spot where Sainte-Helene and Longueil were pushing forward fresh outposts. He saw the activity of the two brothers, but did not recognise them, and sent a handful of men to dislodge them. Both Sainte-Helene and Longueil exposed themselves for a moment, as they made for an advantageous thicket. Gering saw his opportunity, took a musket from a soldier, and fired. Sainte-Helene fell mortally wounded. Longueil sprang forward with a cry of rage, but a spent ball struck him.
Iberville, at a distance, saw the affair. With a smothered oath he snatched a musket from Maurice Joval, took steady aim and fired. The distance was too great, the wind too strong; he only carried away an epaulet. But Perrot, who was not far from the fallen brothers, suddenly made a dash within easy range of the rifles of the British, and cut Gering and two of his companions off from the main body. It was done so suddenly that Gering found himself between two fires. His companions drew close to him, prepared to sell their lives dearly, but Perrot called to them to surrender. Gering saw the fruitlessness of resistance and, to save his companions' lives, yielded.
The siege of Quebec was over. The British contented themselves with holding their position till Walley returned bearing the admiral's orders to embark again for the fleet. And so in due time they did--in rain, cold, and gloom.
In a few days Sir William Phips, having patched up his shattered ships, sailed away, with the knowledge that the capture of Quebec was not so easy as finding a lost treasure. He had tried in vain to effect Gering's release.
When Gering surrendered, Perrot took his sword with a grim coolness and said: "Come, monsieur, and see what you think your stay with us may be like."
In a moment he was stopped beside the dead body of Sainte-Helene. "Your musket did this," said Perrot, pointing down. "Do you know him?"
Gering stooped over and looked. "My God-Sainte-Helene!" he cried.
Perrot crossed himself and mumbled a prayer. Then he took from his bosom a scarf and drew it over the face of the dead man. He turned to Longueil.
"And here, monsieur, is another brother of Monsieur Iberville," he said.
Longueil was insensible but not dangerously wounded. Perrot gave a signal and the two brothers were lifted and carried down towards the ford, followed by Perrot and Gering. On their way they met Iberville.
All the brother, the comrade, in Iberville spoke first. He felt Longueil's hand and touched his pulse, then turned, as though he had not seen Gering, to the dead body of Sainte-Helene. Motioning to the men to put it down, he stooped and took Perrot's scarf from the dead face. It was yet warm, and the handsome features wore a smile. Iberville looked for a moment with a strange, cold quietness. He laid his hand upon the brow, touched the cheek, gave a great sigh, and made the sacred gesture over the body; then taking his own handkerchief he spread it over the face. Presently he motioned for the bodies to be carried on.
Perrot whispered to him, and now he turned and look at Gering with a malignant steadiness.
"You have had the great honour, sir," he said, "to kill one of the bravest gentlemen of France. More than once to-day myself and my friend here"--pointing to Perrot "could have killed you. Why did we not? Think you, that you might kill my brother, whose shoe-latchet were too high for you? Monsieur, the sum mounts up." His voice was full of bitterness and hatred. "Why did we spare you?" he repeated, and paused.
Gering could understand Iberville's quiet, vicious anger. He would rather have lost a hand than have killed Sainte-Helene, who had, on board the Maid of Provence, treated him with great courtesy. He only shook his head now.
"Well, I will tell you," said Iberville. "We have spared you to try you for a spy. And after--after! His laugh was not pleasant to hear.
"A spy? It is false!" cried Gering.
"You will remember--monsieur, that once before you gave me the lie!"
Gering made a proud gesture of defiance, but answered nothing. That night he was lodged in the citadel.
A TRAP IS SET
Gering was tried before Governor Frontenac and the full council. It was certain that he, while a prisoner at Quebec, had sent to Boston plans of the town, the condition of the defences, the stores, the general armament and the approaches, for the letter was intercepted.
Gering's defence was straightforward. He held that he had sent the letter at a time when he was a prisoner simply, which was justifiable; not when a prisoner on parole, which was shameless. The temper of the court was against him. Most important was the enmity of the Jesuits, whose hatred of Puritanism cried out for sacrifice. They had seen the work of the saints in every turn of the late siege, and they believed that the Lord had delivered the man into their hands. In secret ways their influence was strong upon many of the council, particularly those who were not soldiers. A soldier can appreciate bravery, and Gering had been courageous. But he had killed one of the most beloved of Canadian officers, the gallant Sainte-Helene! Frontenac, who foresaw an end of which the council could not know, summed up, not unfairly, against Gering.
Gering's defence was able, proud, and sometimes passionate. Once or twice his words stung his judges like whips across their faces. He showed no fear; he asked no mercy. He held that he was a prisoner of war, and entitled to be treated as such. So strong, indeed, was his pleading, so well did his stout courage stand by him, that had Count Frontenac balanced in his favour he might have been quit of the charge of spying. But before the trial Iberville had had solitary talk with Frontenac, in which a request was repeated and a promise renewed.
Gering was condemned to die. It was perhaps the bravest moment of a brave life.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I have heard your sentence, but, careless of military honour as you are, you will not dare put me to death. Do not think because we have failed this once that we shall not succeed again. I tell you, that if, instead of raw Boston sailors, ploughmen and merchant captains, and fishing craft and trading vessels, I had three English war-ships and one thousand men, I would level your town from the citadel to the altar of St. Joseph's. I do not fear to die, nor that I shall die by your will. But, if so, 'twill be with English loathing of injustice."
His speech was little like to mollify his judges, and at his reference to St. Joseph's a red spot showed upon many cheeks, while to the charge against their military honour, Frontenac's eyes lighted ominously. But the governor merely said: "You have a raw temper, sir. We will chasten you with bread and water; and it were well for you, even by your strange religion, to qualify for passage from this world."
Gering was taken back to prison. As he travelled the streets he needed all his fortitude, for his fiery speech had gone abroad, distorted from its meaning, and the common folk railed at him. As chastening, it was good exercise; but when now and again the name of Sainte-Helene rang towards him, a cloud passed over his face; that touched him in a tender corner.
He had not met Iberville since his capture, but now, on entering the prison, he saw his enemy not a dozen paces from the door, pale and stern. Neither made a sign, but with a bitter sigh Gering entered. It was curious how their fortunes had see-sawed, the one against the other, for twelve years.
Left alone in his cell with his straw and bread and water, he looked round mechanically. It was yet after noon. All at once it came to him that this was not the cell which he had left that day. He got up and began to examine it. Like every healthy prisoner, he thought upon means and chances of escape.
It did not seem a regular cell for prisoners, for there was a second door. This was in one corner and very narrow, the walls not coming to a right angle, but having another little strip of wall between. He tried to settle its position by tracing in his mind the way he had come through the prison. Iberville or Perrot could have done so instinctively, but he was not woodsman enough. He thought, however, that the doorway led to a staircase, like most doors of the kind in old buildings. There was the window. It was small and high up from the floor, and even could he loosen the bars, it were not possible to squeeze through. Besides, there was the yard to cross and the outer wall to scale. And that achieved, with the town still full of armed men, he would have a perilous run. He tried the door: it was stoutly fastened; the bolts were on the other side; the key-hole was filled. Here was sufficient exasperation. He had secreted a small knife on his person, and he now sat down, turned it over in his hand, looked up at the window and the smooth wall below it, at the mocking door, then smiled at his own poor condition and gave himself to cheerless meditation.
He was concerned most for his wife. It was not in him to give up till the inevitable was on him and he could not yet believe that Count Frontenac would carry out the sentence. At the sudden thought of the rope--so ignominious, so hateful--he shuddered. But the shame of it was for his wife, who had dissipated a certain selfish and envious strain in him. Jessica had drawn from him the Puritanism which had made him self- conscious, envious, insular.
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