Underneath The Broken Sky
(Frieda Watt, Nov. 15, 2019)
A fascinating slice of the Canadian history of the fall of French Quebec to British forces told through the fictional lives of Marie and Pierre Thibault, two star-crossed lovers. Excerpt from the Book:PROLOGUEDEATH WAS COMING. Those in the cramped room could feel the reaper creeping forward as the young soldier’s rattling gasps for air painfully subsided. The Reverend straightened up, pulling the dirty sheet over the cadet’s pocked marked face. He turned to the youth hunched in the corner. The boy had been sitting in the corner of the crumbling hospital since the day before, when he delivered his friend, who now lay dead on the table.“I’m sorry.” The Reverend cleared his throat before moving to the next patient, also not long for this world. “Best tell the General.”The boy’s round face blanched in surprise. As a lowly infantryman, he had never faced the famed commander. He opened his mouth to argue, but one of the officers nearby nudged him with the butt of his musket. “Yes, Sir,” he swallowed.The lad ran through the desolate streets, dodging discarded possessions and crumbling architecture left over from the last British siege of Louisbourg in 1758. Charred, skeletal frames were all that remained of the once proud fortress, the crown jewel of the French Empire in North America. Nothing had survived intact from the six weeks of British bombardment. The French were gone, their lives reduced to ash. The young man gasped as he rounded a corner. The fierce wind raging off the North Atlantic caught in his chest. It was only October, but snow was already sticking to the ground on fallen leaves and patches of thin ice. A knot of men appeared through the collapsing rock of what had once been the city’s walls. They huddled together near the newly dug graves of the previous week. The boy approached through what remained of the city gate feeling cautious. He had never met anyone of importance in his short life. He coughed. The men turned, the merciless wind whipping at their red coattails.A number of the officers looked scandalized to see such a ragged soldier in their midst, and one even opened his mouth to chastise him, but General James Murray stopped him with a piercing gaze.The young cadet took a step closer, stumbling over the uneven ground. General Murray looked at the pathetic figure with resignation. He had been waiting for this message for hours. “Th-there’s been a-a-another four th-this afternoon,” the boy stuttered, staring at the freshly turned earth only a few feet away. He was too terrified to meet the General’s now stern gaze. “That’s two more from yesterday, but not as bad as the day before that. Sir.” He wiped his brow. Despite the freezing temperatures and flecks of snow in the air, he felt warm.Murray nodded and turned back to face the turbulent ocean, ignoring his subordinates, who began to mutter and worry about this new development. For six weeks, he had watched Louisbourg crumble under the barrage of artillery lobbed into the walls and streets of the fortress by the British, including his own battalion. There was nothing left now but broken roads and dilapidated buildings. His troops were slowly freezing to death, and there was no relief in sight. Six months. Six months they were condemned to remain in this collapsing, decaying hell of a ruined city. Governor Delacour had been a fool not to have surrendered earlier. Murray glared at the ocean spray that darkened the new graves. The last time Britain had occupied Louisbourg, over one thousand troops had died during the first winter. History was in danger of repeating itself. Half the garrison already had a cough; the rest were terrified they would be next.The burials were finished, at least for a few hours. “There’s nothing more to be done, Sir,” one of the lieutenant's grunted. The band of men left slowly to deal with the living.