To one of many LOTM characters who have much to answer for
Raucous laughter and the sour stench of ale filled the night air behind the battered walls. They had taken the fort that morning in grave silence, but the drunken ribaldry he now observed from even his highest officers would throw that into doubt if he had not been there himself. He did not begrudge them their lapse of discipline tonight. After two months of sweltering in the trenches while Munro's cannons burnt the skin off their faces, they had earned the right to some merrymaking. He could not help but admire the efficiency of his men. Hardly a day had passed since they had crossed the threshold of William Henry, and already it was impossible to tell the fort had once belonged to the English.
The marquis de Montcalm climbed down from the ramparts on saddle-sore legs. He stumbled on one of the stairs and threw out his arm to lean against a wall that was not there. He righted himself just in time to keep from falling through a splintered gap in the reinforcements. Odd, to think that his own cannons had blasted them apart and now he had to fix them.
"Monsieur, the fort is yours." The colonel's words from this morning sounded almost like mockery in his head. For a moment the marquis abandoned his usual façade of charm and swore.
He took a minute to recompose himself at the bottom of the stairs. As he made for the colonel's quarters – no, his quarters now – he passed one of the sentries keeping watch at the fort's entrance. Or at least pretending to, though his slack posture and the tin mug in his hands suggested otherwise. He straightened guiltily when he caught sight of the marquis. Montcalm held up an arm indulgently.
"At ease, lieutenant. Tonight is for celebrating." The officer relaxed, and the marquis felt himself relax as well at the return of his usual grace.
"Thank you, sir. Good night, sir."
"Good night, lieutenant." It was a good night, he supposed as he walked away. The day had not been so bad either. There had been blood, but not on his hands. The crimson tide would not sully the lilies of France.
Yes, he would choose a useful ally over an honorable antagonist. The Huron would have scalps, and better they be scraped from the skulls of the English squatters than the servants of Louis. Facing Munro as he abandoned his fortress had not been as difficult as he had feared. Aside from the colonel's clipped acknowledgement of defeat, they had exchanged no words. Montcalm could sense that his opponent disdained his courtly mannerisms. But he was a Scotsman, after all. He would have had to prove himself many times over to gain the respect of his English comrades. He would always possess a secret envy for a rank inherited and not earned.
Montcalm paused at the threshold of the room where the old monarch of William Henry once held council. Heartless now, but the grey hair had always been heartless to the Huron.
He rubbed his finger across his brow as he leaned against the doorframe. He could have lived without witnessing that particular spectacle of American vengeance. He had known riding out to follow the unsuspecting English travelers would be a mistake, and he had been right. But the hour for regrets had passed.
Munro's elder daughter at least had the sense to leave the line before the scene escalated into complete chaos, although her catatonic sister had not been much help. The older girl had many chances to leave her to die and no one would have blamed her. Montcalm found he could not bear to think long on a character so vastly superior to his own. He let his thoughts wander to the golden-haired one whose body had collapsed on itself as though there were nothing left inside of her to break.
Why did you not stay in Albany, you foolish girl? He knew the answer better than she ever would. She had left because no one had told her it was not safe, no one had told her on this continent people died under clear summer skies in fields of violets, and he had stopped the one person who would have told her.
Both girls would have been feeding crows tonight if not for the raw anguish on another young man's face. Montcalm had spent so many years playing by the rules of deceit and intrigue he had forgotten what it looked like for a man to lay his heart so bare. He did not conceal his affection for Munro's dark-haired daughter. Again Montcalm found the memory difficult to dwell on. He thought instead of the scout's colder, darker companion, the one who tried so hard to hide his concern for the younger daughter.
He had left her lying on the ground while his father helped her to her feet. Montcalm was not deceived. Her eyes had followed the bloodbath; the Mohican's eyes had followed her. He wondered if she would ever wake up from her living nightmare long enough to see the boy who loved her. Then he doubted if either of them would have time to be anything except young fools. It would have been the stuff of operas in the old country, but the new world did not suffer fools.
The hour for regrets had passed. Montcalm crossed the threshold to a large wooden chest carelessly shoved into a corner and abandoned. Throwing it open, he sorted through the lace-trimmed shirts and pointless handkerchiefs until he found the object he sought. He smiled, letting his fingers caress the cold, unyielding curves. Two and a half years since he had come to the Americas, and two and a half years he had left the bottle unopened. He was not a stingy man, but this one demanded an occasion of special import. Something worth celebrating, he thought as he uncorked the bottle.
The ruby liquid glinted reproachfully through the crystal. The marquis thought of the five who had disappeared in the smoke. He wanted to drink to them, but he knew he would never see any of them again. So instead he raised his glass to the grey-haired colonel and his sunken-faced nemesis and drank to the day he would join them in hell.
I always wondered if Montcalm meant what he said when he asked Munro to "listen to the admonitions of humanity" before he made up his mind not to surrender. I think he did at the time, but when the moment of trial came he chose the route that was safer for him. The film had a way of bringing out the best or the worst in its characters, and sometimes both. I thought he deserved a tribute since the story would not have happened without his backstage manipulations.
The character of Edmund Munro does not get a very good evaluation in my book either. He might make a good subject for a Heart of Darkness-esque fiction. I've only seen two on this site that really zeroed in on his character, and they were both pulled, which makes me sad because they were good. He also has a great deal to answer for.
Disclaimer: Anything belonging to Cooper or Mann is not mine.