The Fall of York Ch. 58-62bynicecthulhu©
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.
Abigail reached out, grabbed her husband's hand and squeezed. Lawrence gave her an encouraging smile in return, as they listened to a tiresome couple exhort the barbarity of the Yankees. He had been to many similar functions in his life, but this was the first time his wife had been at a social event with such prestigious people. He knew when to simply smile pleasantly and await the end of a vapid conservation and Abigail wisely followed his lead.
At last the couple dominating the small group were distracted by someone's arrival and the Orrs slipped away unnoticed.
"You've endured this before?" asked Abigail, with a tiresome look on her face.
"Many times," he replied. "The trick is to find a group with similar interests to your own, if you can be so lucky, and keep up with the topics." He gently led her in the direction of the ballroom, from which they could hear some pleasant melodies emanating.
"Who's that with the Reverend?" asked Abigail, nodding to her left.
Lawrence turned and saw Strachan leading a well-dressed, middle-aged woman towards them. "I don't know, but he is trying to meet up with us. Shall we make an escape?"
"I think not, husband. After that last conversation a little depth would be welcome."
"Ah, Major Orr!" called out the minister. The couple waited and watched as Strachan and the woman skilfully weaved their way past the mingling people. "Ah, Major and Mrs. Orr. I am so very glad you came to the Powell house tonight. May I introduce your hostess, Mrs. Powell?"
They exchanged greetings politely. The older woman's eyes seemed to appraise Abigail and her smile indicated her approval.
"Thank you for your generous invitation to this fine affair, Mrs. Powell." Abigail squeezed her husband's hand tightly. "I am a little curious as to why we were invited, though."
Mrs. Powell turned to the Reverend. "You did not tell them why they were here, John?"
He shrugged in response and Mrs. Powell raised a disapproving eyebrow. She turned back to Abigail.
"Well, my dear. Why do you think you have been invited?"
All three turned attentively to Abigail to listen to her answer. She glanced at Lawrence and saw him nod ever so slightly. "Well, Mrs. Powell. I hope you will forgive my forthrightness, but I believe the good minister here has some plan to elevate my husband's standing in York. Perhaps he intended Lawrence to meet the 'right people' or perhaps he has everything arranged for someone of note to offer my husband some specific position."
"Very astute. And what of your husband?" The older woman gave Lawrence a casual glance. "Do you think he is up to whatever John has in mind for him?"
Abigail did not hesitate. "Most certainly."
Mrs. Powell smiled and put her arm out to Abigail. "You gentlemen may go on to whatever business you have with my husband, now."
Lawrence and the minister exchanged looks without speaking.
As their hostess led Abigail away, Lawrence heard her say, "Mrs. Orr, please call me Veronique. Let me introduce you to some ladies..."
"Why do I feel like a mouse in a den of cats, Reverend?" asked Lawrence.
The only reply was a wry smirk and the comment, "That's half my work done right there. Your wife has impressed a woman who is very hard to impress. Come with me, Major."
The minister led him briskly through the crowd. A few people tried to engage them in conversation, but Strachan bulled his way through. At last they reached a closed door. The Reverend knocked twice and then entered, ushering Lawrence in. He closed the door behind them.
It was a den, but a den that strongly suggested education, nobility and power. There was a large and ornate wooden desk in the centre of the room, and intriguing maps and beautiful paintings upon the walls. The room reminded Lawrence of his father's office. There were seven, well-dressed men in the room, of varying ages. Each looked confident and thoughtful, and intelligent. Everyone seemed to be waiting for Strachan and Lawrence. Chief Justice Powell sat behind the desk, looking almost kingly.
"Reverend, you may go," Mr. Powell said quietly.
Strachan's face fell, but he left without a word. Lawrence took a deep breath.
"Have a seat, Major Orr." The Chief Justice pointed to a comfortable chair beside the corner of the desk. Lawrence obediently sat.
A young man approached with a glass and decanter. "Would you like a drink to calm your nerves, sir?"
"No, thank you."
Powell laughed gruffly. "Someone who faces cannon and musket balls for a living doesn't require a drink to calm his nerves during an interview. He'll need the drink when we finish this meeting, though. Pour it for him, if you please Stephen, and leave it near him on my desk."
"If I may be so bold, your honour, why am I here?" asked Lawrence. The atmosphere seemed restrained, but cordial.
"You are here, sir, because we sit on the edge of a sword. On one hand are law and order and the stability of the British Empire. On the other hand we have chaos and anarchy as demonstrated by our American neighbours. The people of Upper Canada may not know which is the correct choice, and leaders must be chosen to help the people make the correct choice."
Lawrence relaxed in the chair. "I recognize some of the faces in this room, even if I have not been formally introduced to the gentlemen. They are the leaders of York and Upper Canada. What can the likes of you want from a simple, retired Major?"
"Simply put, sir, we need you." Powell took a drink from his glass. "Isaac Brock was painted as something of a hero, even before his death, and I do not mean to belittle what deeds he did, sir." Lawrence settled back into the chair. "I think it is now clear to everyone that with his leadership the war would have been over this year. As it stands now, the war hawks in the American government are slavering over the conquest of our colonies, thinking it is just a matter of time before they gain full victory. Britain keeps its attention upon the tyrant in Europe, and rightly so. We, along with the eager aid of the good Reverend John Strachan, will do our best to ensure that the civilians in Upper Canada help in holding back the Americans." He paused and stared at Lawrence.
"You have said nothing that I disagree with, except that our American neighbours demonstrate chaos and anarchy." Lawrence looked about the room, wondering how many of these men were actually well-disposed to him. "I have found the Americans disorganized, while at other times they show fortitude, bravery and ingenuity. Like most aggressors, they bicker and argue over the best course of action while the defenders unify out of desperation."
Powell nodded. "We lack someone with a military mind. We have solicitors, members of the legislature, officers of the militia and a clergyman, but there is no trained army man among us. We need you."
"This talk concerns me, sir." Lawrence sat up straight, wondering if he had stumbled into a nest of traitors to the crown: men who would seek to usurp the King's representative once the Americans were beaten back. His eyes darted about the room.
Powell pointed a finger at him. "This is exactly what I'm talking about! Stephen! Philip! John! Did you see that? None of us took that meaning, but this Major assumed we might be a threat to the King and looked about to mark our faces."
One of the younger men stepped forward, opened his hands before him and spoke, "Major Orr, we are loyal to the King and his servants. We merely seek to protect our lands from American influence, whether it be through military or more subtle means." Lawrence examined his face and took him to be in earnest.
"You were there when Brock died," began Powell, ticking off points on his fingers. "You were sent to warn the militia that the magazine in the fort was to be blown."
"And failed," pointed out Lawrence.
"You did your best, which was better than most would have done. You were captured by the enemy. You managed to escape when the magazine exploded. You pitied one of the enemy, who was about to drown in a river, and rescued him. You befriended York militiamen and offered them the safety of your home. You killed a traitor and felt guilt over the act. Yet, you challenged a cad to a duel and, I think, you felt no guilt over that man's potential death."
Lawrence's jaw muscles clenched. "I do not like it that my actions have become the subject of gossip, sir."
"Even when it works to your benefit?" Powell scratched his whiskered chin. "You have the ability to kill a man when the need arises, yet mercy is present in your heart. You are born from nobility, yet you treat the common man with respect. You and your wife took in that girl...what was her name?" he asked the others.
"Millicent Grey," offered a voice.
"Yes. Major Orr, you are liked and respected by the people of York. The military has retired you and yet I think you are held in respect there, too. So, we have an offer to make you." Powell steepled his fingers. "Let me tell you exactly what we have in mind, sir."
Millie rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had never thought that reading could be painful, yet so enticing. The more she read, the more she learned. The more she learned, the more she wanted to read. She closed the book and sat back in the chair. The candles had burned down quite a bit, indicating at least three or four hours had gone by.
She placed the book back on the shelf and examined the spines of some of her employer's books. Mrs. Orr had described some of them and Millie was impatient for permission to look into several. The maid had little interest in Mrs. Orr's astronomy book, but the book on anatomy held a forbidden appeal with its images of the human body and the organs within. Mr. Orr's books on military tactics held absolutely no interest for her.
Millie reached out her hand and placed her finger on the Bible. That was one book that she was eager to read and the books of fiction had her very curious. She sighed, realizing the time would eventually come when the Orrs would allow her the freedom to look at any book she wished. All she had to do was be patient.
A sudden noise outside caught her attention. It was a scratching or snuffling sound, near the window by which she stood. Millie dashed to the window and stared out into blackness. There was a clatter near the rear of the house as some animal knocked over the gardening implements that she had left leaning against the wall.
Shaking her head, the maid made her way through the darkened house to the kitchen. She grabbed the broom from its familiar corner and then went to the front door. She had chased pests such as rabbits, skunks and raccoons out of the garden on previous evenings and knew that often all that was required was a show of force and a clear route of escape for the beast.
She threw open the front door and peered into the darkness. The stars were out and her eyes adjusted quickly. There looked to be nothing moving amongst the vegetables in the garden.
She walked around the side of the house, but saw nothing there, either.
"Well, I'd better give you a scare to make sure you don't wander back later," she said to the darkness.
Marching to the rear of the house, she found she could hear no animal. She tapped the side of the house with the broom and heard an answering rustle in the bushes beyond the yard. Millie marched with determination to the line of trees and bushes that lay about ten yards behind the house.
There were a few minor noises as she approached, but no sure sounds of a frightened animal rushing off into the pitch black of the woods. She struck a tree with the broom, trying to frighten off whatever pest was present.
A growl sounded a few yards in front of her. What was that, she wondered as her heartbeat quickened? Then a breeze parted some branches in the canopy and moonlight shone across a furred and arched back that was level with her eyes.
Millie froze. The branches shifted back to their normal positions and she lost sight of the animal. Her eyes opened wide as she tried to spot it in the darkness. She swallowed and sniffed the air, hoping that she would smell a horse or deer. She fervently hoped that it was some benign creature more frightened than she was, but she was sure that the animal just ahead of her was too large to be anything but a bear.
She tightened her grip on the broom and wondered if a well swung broom would do anything more than anger the beast. She listened as if her life depended upon it. Everything was silent, except for the sound of something moving across the lawn behind her.
The young woman whirled about and raised the broom over her head.
"What's the matter, Millie?" asked Jacob from the darkness. She could make out his silhouette a short distance away.
"There's a bear!" she whispered. "I heard a noise outside and thought it might be a rabbit, but when I followed it into the woods I saw a bear!"
Jacob put a comforting hand on her shoulder and then took the broom from her. "Go back into the house. I'll deal with the bear." He gave her a gentle shove and then cautiously shuffled into the woods.
Millie blinked twice and then ran for the Orr home. Reaching it quickly, she grabbed a hoe, turned about and ran to where she could see Jacob.
"I told you to go into the house, Millie."
"You're neither my master nor my husband." She stood a little behind him, with her hoe held out in front of her. "Where is it?"
"I don't know. I've heard growling, but it doesn't sound quite like a bear to me." He put an arm across her chest, needlessly trying to keep her behind him. She wrapped an arm about his and hugged it to her tightly
"It was right ahead of me, not more than a few yards. The branches parted and the moonlight shone across its fur. It's as big as I am," she said, looking up at Jacob's face.
He took a step deeper into the woods and heard a growl again. "It sounds much smaller than a bear and it sounds like it's over there," he said swinging the broom to point out the animal's position.
There was a loud thunk and then the sound of some animal scrambling away through the underbrush.
Jacob chuckled and then pulled Millie forward. "You saw it right here?" he asked her.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"That's a tree, Millie."
She lowered the hoe and glared at the American. "I did not mistake a tree for a bear," she said crossly. "And what was that beast that ran off?"
"Perhaps a raccoon. I can feel a low branch here. I'm guessing it was on the branch when the moon shone on its fur, making it look to be the same size as you."
"Are you sure?"
"That wasn't a bear that just ran off and a bear would have scared off the other critter long before."
"You must think me terribly foolish," she pointed out and she turned and stormed away to the Orr home.
As she reached the side of the house Jacob grabbed her arm and held her still. "Millie, you made an honest mistake. If you'd gone deeper into the woods you would have found out it was no bear, not that I want you to go chasing bears."
"I suppose I'd best invite you in. It would be impolite for me to say a simple goodbye to my rescuer."
"You sound angry, Millie," Jacob pointed out.
"I am! You laughed at me!"
"I'm sorry. I was laughing at you fending off the raccoon, while you thought you were trailing a bear. You were very brave to come back with the hoe to save me from the raccoon, Millie."
She chuckled, despite herself and then swatted at a biting bug. "Come inside, Jacob, just for a few moments. I'll get you something to drink and a bite to eat."
He followed her around to the front of the house and then the two went inside. Jacob waited in the parlour while Millie fetched a cup of water and some bread. She returned to the candle-lit room and handed the goods to the American soldier. He carefully set them down on a table and her brow furrowed.
"I...I had hoped to talk with you privately at some point, Millie," he began.
Her heart shrivelled as she feared he was probably going to say goodbye to her. She held back her tears and concentrated on listening to every word he said.
"You do understand why I duelled John, don't you?"
She nodded her head. "Because you're an honourable man and he wronged me."
"No, he wronged you but I could not believe you ever capable of such behaviour, Millie. And I really don't care what anyone in York thinks about me or about you, well, aside from the Orrs and the Croydens."
"Do you think I owe you something..." she asked nervously.
"No! No. You owe me nothing, Millie." He reached out for her hands. She let him take hers and hold them between his. "I fought John because I love you, Millie."
"Oh!" She pulled her hands away, quickly, and began to fidget. She turned her back to him, then heard his sigh. Biting her lip, she turned back to face him. "You wanted to tell me this before you went back to the United States?"
Now it was his turn to fidget. He shuffled his feet and looked at the floor. "Well, Miss Millie Grey, I was wondering exactly how you felt about me. I think you have some feelings for me and if you do, then I am determined not to leave unless I take you home as my wife."
"Do you think you could love me, Millie?"
"I...I do love you, Jacob. But...to get married? And leave Upper Canada? To become one of the enemy?"
"It's not like that Millie..."
"But it is exactly like that!" She stepped away from him. "To go back to America with you and then raise sons to send off and conquer my homeland? How can you expect me to do that? Why can't you settle down here?"
"I'm a Yankee, Millie. And I expect my wife to be one, too. And all of my family is in New York State." He rushed forward and grabbed her arms. "Look, it's not like you think it is. Some of the states were opposed to attacking the colonies. A lot of people where I lived thought I was a damn fool for joining up. And a lot of us that did join up were lied to. I wouldn't send any son of mine to attack any country that didn't attack us first."
"But...to leave everything here?"
"To be honest, Millie, what have you got here? You have no family. The Orrs treat you very well, but are you going to be a maid all your life? You said you love me and I'm giving you a chance to start a new life. It might take a couple of years, but the men in my family will help me clear some land and build a house, and that will be our farm and our house."
"I am tempted, Jacob. I do love you. I thought I'd die when I saw John shoot you."
"I'm not asking for you to accept a promise, Millie. My term is up at the end of July. I can return home and not be concerned about being brought back to fight. And I'll have my pay from one year's service as a soldier. It's not much, but I can borrow the money from Major Orr to buy you a wedding gown and then pay him back once I'm paid. Will you marry me, Millie?"
"I...I...if Major Orr gives his consent, then I'll marry you, Jacob."