The Fall of York Ch. 01-05bynicecthulhu©
Thank you to searchingforperfection and catbrown for their hard work in editing, and all of their suggestions. I appreciate all votes and comments, and I do read all the comments.
This story is a sequel to The Doctor's Daughter. Both are set during the War of 1812. Since the death of Major General Brock in the fall of 1812, neither side has scored a decisive victory. There have been minor accomplishments for both the Americans and the British, but the War Hawks in Washington are eager for more promising actions that will validate Jefferson's boasts that the conquest of Canada is "a mere matter of marching". In the spring of 1813 Major General Henry Dearborn is ordered to lead his forces in an attack on Kingston, Ontario. He considers those orders and then attacks the town of York (later known as Toronto), instead.
Not knowing exactly when the battle is to come is so frustrating, thought Lawrence as he stood on the beach and looked across the bay at the American warships. They were poised at the entrance to York's harbour, just as they had been since the previous evening, and the civilians and British military waited impatiently to see where the Americans would strike.
There were lanterns lit aboard the ships and he was positive that lookouts kept a careful watch for a surprise attack. He had suggested that course of action to the Major General a few hours earlier and been rebuffed. Lawrence had not expected the idea to be embraced. And dawn had broken so it was certainly too light to try such a rash action now.
Captain Lawrence Orr turned away from the small waves washing across the sand and pebbles and shook his head as he faced York. The town was lit, with every house having at least one torch, candle or lantern illuminating their locations. If the Americans chose to bombard York they would have an ample choice of targets. Such actions went against the rules of war, but many British officers half-expected the 'wild' Yankees to perform such atrocities.
He left the beach and walked along the dirt road, heading home. There was nothing left to do but wait until the Americans stirred.
As he neared his own house he realized that there was no revealing light. He smiled in acknowledgement of Abigail's foresight.
Opening the front door as quietly as he could, he heard movement in the parlour. There was a flicker of light and then the maid pulled her hand away from the candle she carried. The young woman concealed her fear well, but looked quite pale. Lawrence put a finger to his lips and then proceeded to the back of the house, where he expected to find Abigail in the kitchen.
As he entered the room he saw his wife busy with some chore and he crept up behind her. He didn't intend to scare her; he just wanted to surprise her.
"I thought you wouldn't be back until after the ships left," Abigail whispered, as she leaned back against her husband. Lawrence wrapped his arms around her. He'd never been able to determine how she always knew when he was near.
He nuzzled her cheek. "Well, Major General Sheaffe does not require his liaison to the York Militia at this time. At least not until the Americans decide exactly where they are going to attack, my dear. So I'm all yours for the next little while."
Abigail placed her arms over his. Since they had married a few months earlier, she had been pleasantly surprised to find Lawrence to be a very attentive husband. He had worried over her comfort and happiness during his transfer to York, which lay on the north side of Lake Ontario and far from her father's home on the Niagara peninsula. Although he had been quite busy with his new duties, Captain Orr had not neglected his wife.
"Sometimes...sometimes I wish we had not taken on Millie, my love."
"We could send her to bed," he suggested, raising his hands to the ties on the front of her blouse.
"Hmm." She let her head loll onto his shoulder as he nosed aside a strand of her blonde hair and then gently kissed her cheek and throat.
They stepped away from each other as they heard the maid's shoes click along the hall. The Captain glanced at his wife and smiled. "Once again we must postpone." He sighed. "I wanted you to take on a maid to help with the housework."
Abigail laughed in response. The house they had purchased was a little smaller than the home she had grown up in, but far smaller than the manor in which Lawrence had been raised. They had argued about whether Abigail would even need help tending the house and, as an obedient wife, she had acceded to her husband's wishes.
The dark-haired maid stepped into the room timidly, looking from one to the other. She curtsied and chewed her lip anxiously.
"Millie!" The girl stood at attention and stared at Abigail like a frightened rabbit. "What have I told you about biting your lip?"
"It's not lady-like, ma'am?"
"So, it would be best if you concentrated on stopping yourself from doing it, correct?"
The girl nodded. "Can I help you prepare breakfast, ma'am?"
Lawrence rolled his eyes for his wife and then took a seat at the dining table in the adjoining room. Millie was not a very good cook, as yet, and they all knew it. There were some papers scattered before him and he began to examine them carefully.
"Let's see what you've learned so far, Millie." The two women set to work and Lawrence could hear the occasional guiding whisper from his wife as she corrected and directed the inexperienced younger woman.
Shortly, a meal was set before Lawrence. He stood and waited until Abigail was seated and ready to eat her own breakfast before he sat and began his. Millie stood at the counter in the kitchen nibbling on her own food.
"I thought we had discussed the possibility of her eating with us, dear?" asked Lawrence in a whisper.
Abigail sighed. "She is a servant and mustn't get used to being too familiar with her employers, husband."
The answer was a mystery to Lawrence. At times he could not fathom this woman that he had married a mere five months earlier. She had picked Millie, a penniless near-waif, with no skills and no family, and hired her to be a maid, despite the availability of more experienced women. Millie knew nothing of cooking nor was she knowledgeable about how to keep a house clean. Lawrence had surmised that with her long dark hair and dark eyes Millie had the means to keep herself from starving, however disreputable those means might be. Abigail had talked briefly with the young woman after church one day and then had been adamant that Millie would work for them.
In response to her husband's questioning look Abigail put down her fork. "Lawrence, I'm teaching her how to make a good living."
He nodded thoughtfully and then turned his head at the sound of church bells ringing.
Millie ran from the room and the Orrs heard the door of their home slam open. Abigail gave her husband an anxious glance and then the two set about efficiently and thoroughly finishing their breakfast. Soon enough, Millie was back in the dining room, shifting from foot to foot nervously.
"Yes, Millie?" asked Lawrence.
"Sir, the American fleet is moving! They're attacking!" the girl shouted in fear and excitement.
"Captain Orr will need some food thrown into a bag. I don't know when he will next eat a good meal, Millie." When the maid didn't immediately go to the kitchen Abigail gave her a meaningful stare.
A look of shock appeared on the maid's face. Then she curtsied and went into the kitchen.
"She's a smart girl, but so ignorant," sighed Abigail.
Lawrence placed his hands over his wife's. "Are you ready to flee if things go bad, Abigail?"
"Yes," she whispered. "Just make sure you come back in one piece, husband. And if the Americans capture you, then send a letter to me and I'll move heaven and Earth to get you safely paroled." In such an eventuality, Lawrence felt sorry for any British officer who dared put his wife off.
They both stood and Abigail gripped her chair tightly. "Sometimes...I fear that I was destined to find you and lose you in a very short time," she said as she went to her husband and hugged him tightly. "This war brought you to me and I'm afraid it's also going to take you away from me."
He ran his finger along her jaw. "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
"It's only sweet if I have your assurance that you will take no foolish risks nor make of me a widow," she countered.
"Any time we've had together is better than never having been together. But, I do have to go now and see what orders or requests the Major General has for the Militia. I'll be back as soon as I am able. And I'll be careful."
Abigail lifted her face to his and they shared a tender kiss, ignoring their maid who was properly embarrassed over such a public display of affection.
Lawrence had been misdirected to his commanding officer three times before he eventually found the man. Major General Sheaffe and his staff were packing up, which brought a brief look of contempt to the Captain's face.
"Captain! Good to see you made it to the fight, after all."
Lawrence saluted smartly. "I am sorry, sir. No one I met seemed to know your exact location."
"Ah, yes," the Major General replied apologetically. "We've had to shift around a bit in anticipation of where the Americans might land their invasion force. Damn rude of them to park their fleet just outside the harbour last night and then just sit there until after daybreak."
"Maybe they were concerned about the weather, sir? The locals claim that storms can start up quite dramatically, even into May."
"Hm," answered Sheaffe, reviewing some papers. "Well, the Americans have decided to land west of York, by the old French fort. The western batteries are as prepared as they can be, but it doesn't look good according to initial reports. I want you to get the militia to..."
The Major General was handed a paper by an urgent aide. He scanned it and his frown grew.
"It's worse than we thought. The Americans have successfully landed over a thousand men already. Our own forces became lost while driving for the beachhead. Damn that Militia!" Sheaffe scanned the room angrily and picked out a waiting officer. "You there! I want the magazine destroyed and the ship in the harbour burned. Leave nothing of use to the Yankees."
The officer saluted and ran off, while Lawrence wondered what he would do if Sheaffe ordered him to abandon York, and Abigail, to the enemy. Then his attention was drawn to the whirlwind of activity in the room. Papers and belongings were being collected and thrown into satchels.
Sheaffe had not finished giving him orders and so Captain Orr stood silently, while he waited and watched. A soldier ran in suddenly and looked at Lawrence, who nodded toward the Major General. The soldier stood at attention and saluted.
"Captain!" called out Sheaffe. "We're headed to Kingston to preserve our forces for a counter-attack. You'll be coming with me." Lawrence's heart sunk. How could he choose between his duty and his heart? He was well aware that if he refused to follow orders he could easily end up in front of a court martial and sentenced to death.
Sheaffe appeared to see the soldier for the first time. "Yes? What is it?" he asked gruffly.
"Sir," said the soldier in a loud voice, while looking about at the activities of the assembled officers, "the York Militia has been emplaced at various positions in preparation to harass the enemy as they advance towards the village."
"What? Very well. You're dismissed."
The soldier flashed a relieved smile and then hurriedly left the room. Lawrence's mind raced. "Major General, sir?"
"What is it, Captain? I am busy," answered Sheaffe in a huff.
"Has the Militia been emplaced near the magazine?" asked Lawrence.
"Why I suppose so. What of it?"
"The magazine that you just ordered to be blown a minute ago, sir?"
A sudden realization spread across the older man's face. "I can spare no one else to warn the Militia, Captain, except you. Afterwards, get to Kingston as best as you can." He gave Lawrence a salute and then returned to organizing the packing of papers and equipment.
Lawrence stumbled through the forest. He was hopelessly lost in the maze of tree trunks and hills and he knew time was running out. Men would die needlessly if he couldn't warn the York Militia away from the magazine.
He had not encountered anyone since leaving Sheaffe's camp and he had thought the run through the forest to the western battery and the magazine would be fairly straightforward. Thickly treed woods and cool spring weather had conspired to make every foot of forest appear like every other foot of forest. Streams and hills had Lawrence slipping and climbing, until he just had no idea in which direction he was headed.
He heard the sound of muskets and altered his course towards the noise, gripping his pistol tightly.
Several minutes later he heard the report of a musket and a piece of bark exploded form a tree just a yard away from him. He threw himself to the ground and searched with his eyes. Spying movement, he looked through the tree trunks as best he could, trying to determine if friend or foe had fired at him.
He spied the blue of an American uniform and raised his pistol to take aim.
"Now, you don't want to be shooting at my friend over there," said a voice behind Lawrence. He heard some movement off to his left, as well, and realized he had walked into an ambush.
"I have the feeling that I'm outnumbered and that you are looking for a prisoner, my American friend." Lawrence remained perfectly still, not wanting to give the American any reason to be uneasy about him.
"That's about the long and the short of it. That's a fancy uniform."
"I'm a Captain."
"Whoo! You'll have lots of information to give to Zebulon. Boys, I think we're getting medals!"
Lawrence dropped his head. He would rather have been captured by an officer, but at least these soldiers weren't inclined to just kill him.
"Wait a minute there, Johnny. If he's a Captain he's going to have a sword and lots of money and stuff. We should take what we can from him and then bring him back to the General. We'll get medals and be rich!" said a second man.
"I don't know if that's such good idea, boys," said a third.
"Then you keep your musket on him, Tom," answered the first, greedily.
Lawrence raised his head. "Now I'm not about to..."
Two of the men fell upon him. They pummelled him with their fists until Lawrence was rendered insensible.
Lawrence was being dragged through the forest and he could hear men talking all around him. He looked up and realized his assailants had brought him into the American camp. A glance to the east showed him they were close to Fort York, where the magazine was.
A man of about his own age was seated on a stump and questioning a British Sergeant. The man wore the uniform of an American Brigadier General and had a look of supreme confidence upon his moustached face. The Sergeant looked heartened at the presence of a superior officer, even in Lawrence's present state.
Lawrence was dropped into the mud and the General paused to look over at him.
Suddenly, a thunderous roar filled everyone's ears and the ground shook violently. Lawrence was actually tossed off the earth and then buffeted by a brief, but fierce, wind. Next, there were screams and Lawrence looked up to see massive tree trunks, beams of wood and square blocks of stone flying and falling through the air all about him. As debris rained into the soft earth, crushing trees and men, he thought it looked as though God were remaking the world.
Abigail had Millie busy upstairs putting necessities in pillowcases. She wondered about firing the house to prevent the American soldiers from plundering her home, but shook her head at the idea.
Suddenly the house shook and a tremendous roar sounded all around. Mrs. Orr thought her heart stopped as a premonition of her husband's death flashed before her eyes. Millie's feet thumped on the stairs as she hurried to her mistress.
"What was that noise, ma'am? Was it the trumpet of doomsday? Has the end of the world come?"
Abigail frowned at her maid. She hurried for the front door and then stepped outside, to find her neighbours pointing at the sky to the west. She turned her gaze to find a pillar of smoke and fire that billowed out at some unthinkable elevation. She knew in her heart that Lawrence was somewhere close to that explosion.
"Ma'am?" asked Millie, with tears in her eyes.
Abigail stared around her at all the shocked faces. "Everyone!" she called out. Many in the street turned to her, but their eyes kept drifting back to the evidence of the cataclysm to the west of York. "There will be wounded coming through soon. There has been a large explosion, possibly somewhere near the fort. Perhaps the Americans have blown it up. They will be coming soon! Flee if you must!"
Abigail grabbed Millie by the arm and dragged the maid back into the house. Shutting the door, she watched the young woman's face. Fear appeared in those dark eyes, but the girl's focus was on her mistress.
Mrs. Orr gave a silent thanks to God for Millie being so level-headed. "Millie, we're not leaving. That is, I'm not leaving. But you are free to go if you wish. I have to stay to find out what happened to Lawrence. I can give you some money."
Millie looked shocked. "Ma'am! I won't abandon you!"
"Bless you, girl." Abigail gave the maid a tight hug and then held her firmly by her shoulders. "We must put everything back where it goes and then hide some of the valuables, like Roman women did before the barbarians sacked their city. Then we must ready ourselves to care for the wounded."
"Yes, ma'am," Millie responded dutifully, wiping tears from her eyes.
Abigail shooed her back upstairs and then began searching the house for valuables. Her mind conjured up many horrible possibilities as to the fate of her beloved husband.
The entire story is completed and a portion will be posted every couple of days.