The Fall of York Ch. 06-16bynicecthulhu©
Thank you to searchingforperfection and catbrown for their hard work in editing, and all of their suggestions. I appreciate all votes, feedback 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.
Lawrence watched the spectacle in shock for several seconds and then slowly stood. Everyone in the area was insensible, badly injured or had been killed by the catastrophic explosion of the magazine. The Christian man in him was wearied by the seemingly senseless loss of life on both sides, but the Captain in him forced himself to act.
He recovered his sword from one of his former assailants, but he did not see his pistol at hand so he recovered one that lay nearby. A glance at the Sergeant and the American General made it clear that the former had not survived the destruction of the magazine and the latter would soon expire.
Lawrence stole away, into the woods. A couple of times an American recognized his British uniform but seemed incapable of saying or doing anything to stop him from escaping. From the safety of the trees, the Englishman watched the camp and saw the Americans beginning to rise to their feet in confusion. The wounded cried out for help, or release.
Captain Orr shook his head and slipped away northwards and into deeper woods. He knew where he was in relation to York now and he meant to return to Abigail to help her escape to safety.
Lawrence trekked north about a mile and then headed due east, as best as he could determine. He moved as fast he could and maintained as straight a course as was possible. At any moment he might encounter either Americans or some British forces, and either would divert him from his objective.
He dropped down a steep bank and then jogged across a grassy meadow, realizing he was approaching one of the local rivers or streams. He stopped at its bank and looked for the best place to ford. A body dressed in an American uniform was half-lodged onto the muddy bank. A tree kept it from floating downstream, but Lawrence could see the water was slowly rising and the corpse would soon be floating down to the lake.
The body made a noise and Lawrence peered at it. One of the hands moved, weakly squeezing mud between its fingers.
Lawrence shrugged and then took another look at the dying American. He was a young man, perhaps about eighteen, and his legs were prisoned by the trunk of the tree. The tree itself had been freshly felled by a large rock, possibly thrown all this distance by the explosion, thought Lawrence.
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on getting to Abigail. This man was not his responsibility, he told himself silently, Abigail and Millie were. But this man was really a boy, just as young as Millie, he argued with himself.
He knew he couldn't leave this boy to slowly drown, enemy or not. Lawrence leapt into the water and splashed towards the young man. The sounds roused the American and he opened an eye and slowly focused upon the advancing British officer. His hand fumbled at the dagger at his belt.
"Easy there, my Yankee friend," soothed Lawrence. "I'm here to free you, not kill you."
The American's eye closed and he slumped as if unconscious.
Lawrence marvelled that he could not feel the chilling cold of the water he waded in and then realized that his senses and sensibilities were numbed from the explosion of the magazine. He reached into the water and grabbed the trunk. Taking a deep breath, he then lifted, straining his back and legs. He could feel something shift and then the trunk moved away from him.
He guessed it was stuck on a rock hidden beneath the surface. He reached under the water again, gripped the trunk with both hands and then lifted once more. His muscles ached as he strained, inch by inch, until the tree started floating away from him.
Lawrence glanced at the American, only to realize he was no longer there. Diving at the trunk, he felt underwater with his hands. One last desperate plunge brought the feel of the man's uniform to his fingers and he tugged the young man to the surface. Captain Orr staggered to the muddy bank and collapsed with his helpless enemy beside him.
"Well, my American friend, it looks like this may be your lucky day. Not only have I saved you from drowning, but I am also going to take you home, where my wife will make sure you are returned to health. I only hope that you return the favour to me one day."
The American lay unconscious in the mud, breathing slowly.
"Sir!" called out a young man's voice.
Lawrence froze and then made a show of shifting the weight of the American on his shoulder. He cast his gaze about, searching the trees for whoever had spoken to him. Six figures gradually revealed themselves. Lawrence recognized from their civilian clothing and weapons that they were members of the York Militia.
"I'm Captain Orr. What are you gentlemen doing out here?"
"Well, Sir-Captain, we've been on the run since the Americans blew up Fort York," said the oldest among them. He had a beard and Lawrence thought he recognized him as a local baker.
"They didn't destroy the fort, we did. Major General Sheaffe ordered the magazine blown and it was a good thing he did as the Americans were just about to walk in and take all our supplies. Were you men on duty there?" Lawrence prayed that one of them would tell him the Militia escaped for the explosion.
The men looked at each other and one of the younger men, a large, sturdy youth, nodded to the older man to keep talking.
"Well, when we saw how many Americans were advancing off the beach we decided that it was suicide to stay at the gun emplacement. We left and were going to reposition ourselves closer to town where we'd have a better chance of fighting back, Captain." The man was clearly embarrassed and understood that Lawrence would guess at the truth behind their story.
"You thought it was a lost cause and fled." Lawrence looked each one of them in the eye and one by one, their eyes dropped in shame. "Don't feel bad, men. The Major General decided to reposition himself all the way to Kingston. The enemy outnumbers us by at least one thousand men. I believe that York is lost."
There was silence at that admission. Each looked for some sign of bravado or encouragement in the others' faces, but saw none.
"So the Yankees have won? And soon they'll take all of Upper Canada?" asked one of the younger men. Lawrence stared at the speaker who stood quivering with fear. The Captain guessed the young man to be fifteen at most and easily the youngest in this group.
"Well, I don't think they've taken all of Upper Canada, men. They've certainly managed to cut our supply lines from Kingston and Montreal, but we have some strong forces on the Niagara peninsula and an army already in Kingston. The Americans have made a bold move in attacking York, but they would have been better off taking Kingston. They've finally won a victory, but the war isn't decided by one victory otherwise they would have surrendered after Queenston Heights."
The youth and the others looked a little heartened by Lawrence's speech. It warmed him that he had been able to provide some cheer to these men, who were his neighbours in York.
"So, Captain, where are you headed with your prisoner?" asked the oldest man, shouldering his musket.
Lawrence glanced at the young man over his shoulder and smirked. "I've fought in wars before, in Europe. I saw this youth trapped in a river with the water rising and it occurred to me I just couldn't leave him to die like that. So, fool that I am, I'm taking him home so my wife can tend his wounds." He smiled uneasily at the militiamen.
"John and Pierre," said the older man nodding at two of the militiamen, "are also injured. Can your wife look at them as well, Captain?"
"If you can help me find my way back home, I don't think that will pose a problem."
"Say, that wouldn't be Miss Alice you're talking about? The woman that took in Millie?" asked the brawny youth.
"Abigail is my wife's name, soldier," replied Lawrence, with a little annoyance. Abigail was social and well-liked among the residents of York.
"Oh, sorry Sir. Then you'd be Captain Orr? The liaison between Sheaffe and the York Militia?"
"Yes. We're wasting time. Do you know how to return me to my home from wherever we are right now?"
A big smile appeared on the stocky youth's unshaven face. "Yes, I do, Sir. We'll get you there safe and sound."
Night was rapidly washing over York, and Lawrence watched the neighbouring houses nervously as he and his companions approached his home. He knew of two men who harboured republican sentiments and neither was shy about it. With the Americans victorious in York they might easily turn traitor.
Reaching the door, he pushed it open and ushered everyone in as quickly as he could. To his surprise, he could hear Abigail and Millie on the floor above, making their way to the stairs.
Lawrence cursed under his breath; the two women were supposed to have fled as soon as it became clear the enemy had won the day. He hadn't expected his wife to leave, but he had hoped she would have. He set his burden down as gently as he could and with some help from the oldest of the militiamen.
"Oh, thank God!" called out Abigail from the top of the stairs.
Lawrence turned towards her intending to chastise her for her disobedience, but all his anger disappeared once he spied his wife and the look of concern on her face.
Abigail flew down the stairs and threw herself into his arms, nearly knocking him to the floor. "Oh, thank God!" She kissed him on the cheeks and forehead and then grabbed his face with both hands and just stared at him.
"You were supposed to have fled if the Americans were victorious, Abigail," he reminded her.
"I know! I know! But when we heard that explosion I thought my world had ended and that you were lost to me." She brushed away tears and glanced at the other men standing in the hallway. "We have guests?"
Lawrence hugged his wife tightly and gave her a warm kiss. Her body melted against him and then they both remembered again that there were other people standing there.
"Two of these militiamen are injured, although I think not too badly. And this American soldier may be dead by now, but I feel some responsibility towards him, my dear."
Abigail raised an eyebrow at him and then glanced at the militiamen. "I'll see what I can do for the American first as none of you appears to be at death's door. She pointed at the two largest men. "You two, carry him upstairs for me. Millie will show you where the guest room is."
The maid stared at the largest of the men and blushed. Then she nodded to her mistress and led the small group upstairs.
Abigail turned to the remaining four strangers in her home. "And what of you? Do you need a place to hide? A good meal? A bed for the night?"
The four looked at each other sheepishly and then stared at Lawrence, who was in command. He cleared his throat. "Men, you're welcome to anything my wife has just offered, but I think it would be best if you were to return to your homes. I believe the Americans will be searching the town in the next couple of days and if you're somewhere you're not supposed to be, then they might think you are spies and hang you. Your militia commanders will know where your live, and they can keep you informed of the situation. I think the fighting is over."
The eldest of the men looked thoughtful and then picked up his musket. "And what of you, Captain Orr? Won't they think you're a spy because you stayed behind? Maybe we should stay here and man the windows..."
"No, the fighting is over. There's no point in any other poor souls dying. York is lost." He smiled at the militiamen. "And don't volunteer my position to the Americans. We'll try to get out of York before the Yankees start going door to door."
The men gave casual salutes and then hurried off into the night. Lawrence slumped down into a chair, as all his energy seemed to leave him.
Abigail eyed her man with concern. "You don't look good, husband. Are you sure you're fit?"
He put his hands over his face. "I don't know. I was very close to that explosion. I've had a terrible headache since then and every muscle and bone aches. I feel stretched out and pushed back together. I'd love to carry you up to our room, but that is just not going to happen, my love."
As she kneeled in front of him, Abigail gently placed her palm over his forehead and peered into his eyes. "You've been through more than a man should. I'll send Millie down to help you up to our room. Meanwhile," she said, rising, "I'll check on our guests and see what I can do for them. Get some sleep, Lawrence, you'll need it."
"Put him on the bed," instructed Millie.
John and Pierre dropped the unconscious American onto the sheets and stood back. Millie took a step toward the bed, thinking to check if the man was still alive when a fist closed around her upper arm.
"John?" asked the smaller man in a French accent.
"It's been a long time since I've seen you, Millie. So this is where you hidden yourself away?" said the larger and stockier man.
"You're hurting me!"
John loosened his grip but kept his fingers wrapped around her arm. He smiled down at her, waiting for her to turn her head and face him.
"It seems you've a good thing going for you here. The last time I saw you, you were one missed meal away from selling your body."
Millie looked past John's arm at the smaller man, her eyes imploring.
"John, you can say bonjour to the girl later. She works for Captain Orr and he'll have you skinned alive if you..."
"Shut up, Pierre! The Yanks have won. The British don't rule here anymore and Captain Orr's rank is nothing, now."
Millie watched the Frenchman's face flash through contempt, anger, disgust and then resignation. She let her shoulders droop.
"John, I have a new life here and the Captain will be furious if you hurt me."
"Just remember that I offered you a meal before. I was the only one who did, Millie."
She glared at him. "The meal had a price I would not pay!"
"Well, Millie, conditions have changed. Before you weren't worth thinking about courting. Now you have an occupation and a placement, even if it is temporary. I make a good living and one day I'll take over the smithy from my father. You might want to consider that I'd make a very good husband for someone who might lose everything if or when the Yanks figure out a British Captain is still in York."
He released her arm with a push and she turned away from him. John walked to the doorway and led Pierre out. Millie glanced at the Frenchman and saw a brief look of regret cross his face before the two men left her alone with the unconscious American.
"There's not much more we can do for him, Millie."
The maid looked at the soldier's face, which she mistakenly thought was so much younger than her own. "Will he die?"
"We all die eventually. God only knows when. We'll let him rest and hopefully he'll be awake in a day or two." Abigail shooed her maid from the room and then partially closed the door behind her. They spent a few minutes examining John and Pierre and Abigail noted that their injuries were minor and needed no treatment. Abigail offered the two men the use of a room, which they politely refused while claiming they felt it was their duty to watch over the prisoner.
Abigail shrugged, wished them good night and saw Millie to her room. She noted that the maid seemed uncharacteristically nervous, but there was no surprise in that considering everything that had happened in the town on this unhappy day.
Abigail slipped into her bedroom and listened to her husband's even breathing for a minute. Removing her cap, she briefly brushed her blonde hair. She sat at her table and stared at Lawrence as he slept.
Biting her lip, she went over to the door and placed her chair in front of it. Then she undid her blouse and slipped her dress to the floor. Her undergarments followed and then she removed her shoes. Standing naked in the bedroom, she considered how the battle of York had turned out. She had contemplated a celebratory intimacy with her husband after the Americans had been turned away.
Now the Americans held York and her husband lay in her bed, injured. She reminded herself that he could easily have not come home at all and then momentarily wondered how much longer he would stay in the military.
Abigail tiptoed to the bed and then eased herself under the covers. She slowly inched her way to her husband's side and then carefully draped an arm and leg over him. He seemed to stir at her touch.
"Abigail?" He turned and gave her a gentle kiss. "I'm afraid that's about the limit of fulfilling my husbandly obligations right now, my love."
"Sh. Go back to sleep. I'm only here to comfort you."
Lawrence rolled to his side, facing her. "Roll over."
Abigail smiled in the darkness, then rolled over and inched her back towards her husband until she could feel his nightshirt. He had one arm under her neck and bent so that his hand cupped one of her breasts. The other hand rested on her hip.
"I feel much better with you beside me, Abigail."
"As do I, Lawrence. Now get some rest. Once you are healed I'll expect your usual attentions."
Abigail and Millie woke up early the next day to prepare breakfast for the master of the house and their guests. Lawrence was covered in bruises and stiff with pain when he finally awoke. He checked in on his prisoner, and the two militiamen who lay sleeping in the hall outside the prisoner's room. Then he went downstairs and waited at the dining table.
"Millie, sit with us," commanded Lawrence as Abigail sat down at the table.
The maid looked from one to the other and then quietly sat at the far end of the table. Her employers began to eat as if everything in the world were as it should be. The young woman's hands picked up her spoon, but she didn't seem to know what to do with it.
"What are we to do Lawrence?" asked Abigail, with no tremor in her voice.
After yesterday's events the question struck him as overly simple. "We should flee before the Americans start sending patrols into the town. I hope there will be no looting and vandalism, but..." he looked around the room helplessly. Abigail's eyes wandered around the room as her mind wondered how rapacious the Americans would be after their first real victory in this war.
"The larder is full. Millie and I can have sheets, blankets and many other household provisions packed and ready in short order. Do we head to Kingston, following your commanding officer, or do we try to skirt around the American forces and return to my father's home?"
"I think the journey back to Queenston Heights will be too much for the three of us, especially if the attack here signals that the Americans have the energy for a bold new offensive. The Niagara region might soon fall. It is to Kingston we must go. As well, I have been ordered to report there."
Abigail turned to the maid, who had taken to staring at her cereal while she listened to her employers make their plans. "Millie? How well do you know the two men upstairs?"