thunder of cannon fire sent Catana and Louis darting through the fort’s wooden doors along with a flood of civilians
from the small village.Splintering walls shattered behind them in clouds of
dust and flying debris.
She held her hand over her mouth coughing and darted through the soldier’s dinning room where cracked
beams supported the ceiling.Bits of wood rained down.Motioning for Louis to hurry she called back to him. “Follow me to the drill field before the ceiling
be targets for cannon fire out there.”
Catana tugged on his arm.The
walls will stop any artillery fire before it goes that far.”
The drill field was centered in the middle of the fort and surrounded
by thick wooden walls lined by rooms.Catana and Louis joined the small group
of women and children huddled in the center.
Catana’s Aunt Jacinta grasped her by the shoulder. The wisps of hair that escaped the bun at the back
of her head stuck out like chicken feathers. Her gaunt frame stood on tip-toe to look her seventeen year old niece in the
eye. “Where is Inez?”
Brushing a lock of sable hair from her cheek she looked around but
saw no sign of her younger cousin.“I thought she was with you.”
“She told me she was spending the night at your house,”
her aunt replied.Jacinta turned her attention to Louis hovering behind her niece.
“What is that Frenchman doing here?Do you realize it is the French who
“Sí, Tia Jacinta.But
Louis has nothing to do with the assault.”
Her aunt returned her gaze to Catana.“No matter.Inez is missing and I hold you responsible.You do not look after her properly when she is with you.”
Catana clamped her teeth together to keep from saying something she
might regret.Her aunt blamed her every time Inez went astray.Since Jacinta was unable to control the daughter’s actions, she needed someone to accuse and Catana
was her target.Now French ships were pounding the fort, Inez was missing, and
Jacinta looked at Catana as if she was the cause.
“I will look for her,” Catana said and turned to leave.
Louis caught her sleeve.“Let
me go with you.It is the least I can do to help.”
Nodding, she darted for the wall.With Louis close behind, she
climbed the steps to the upper level where Spanish soldiers returned cannon fire.She
approached two men busy reloading their cannon for another shot.
“Have you seen Inez?”
The two soldiers shook their heads and continued with their work.
Approaching each group of men, she asked the same question and received the same answer.The two friends left the fort, dogged stray fire, and ran toward the village of Santa Maria de Galve.Catana slowed her pace, and her eyes darted from building to building in search of a blue dress.No use rushing with the possibility of missing her.They found
no sign of Inez.
A few streets from the water the sound of cannon fire that rolled
from the bay grew louder. Reaching the beach that ran along the length of the village, Catana paused and studied the silver
sand dunes fringed by oat grass, but to no avail.She slid down into a valley
between two high dunes and sat in silence.Louis followed and sank down next
“Don’t blame yourself because Inez is missing,” he said trying to comfort her.“She is wise and probably hiding in a safe place.You
know her better then her mother.Think.Where would she have gone?”
Catana shrugged.“I have no clue.”
Another cannon ball arched through the air over their heads toward the village. Crawling to the crest of the
dune to her back Catana scanned the settlement.A column of fire rose above the
rooftops and smoke drifted to the sky.Suddenly a blast of sand erupted near
them with a deafening roar.The concussion knocked them to the foot of the dune.Flying grains of sand stung the back of Catana’s neck and arms when they struck
her with force.When she looked around she saw Louis flat on his back moaning
softly. Catana staggered to her feet on weak legs, grabbed his hand, and pulled him to a sitting position.
“Are you all right?” she asked looking into his wide blue eyes.His face and dark brown hair were caked with a chalk white covering.
“Oui, just frightened out of my wits.We were lucky the blast came from behind otherwise the flying sand would have blinded us.”Louis stood and brushed loose sand from his shirt sleeves “Do you notice anything different?”
Catana shook her head, thought for a moment, then smiled. “The sound of cannon fire has stopped.”
The two friends crawled to the top of the dune nearest the beach and looked over the edge.There were thirteen French ships spaced out of range on the wide expanse of the bay.One stood engulfed in flames from stem to stern.
“Look there is a small boat leaving the fort under a flag of truce,” Catana pointed out.“We are surrendering to the French.”
She turned and slid down the dune.When Louis
followed her to the bottom she heaved a deep sigh.“I do not understand.Why has France come here to attack us?I know neither of
our nations has been friendly toward one another, but it has never come to this.If
it had not been for French merchants, like your father, the people of Santa Maria Galve would have starved in years past.”
“When my father allowed me to remain here until his return
there was no sign of trouble.Whatever happened, it was sudden.”
Catana crawled up the dune again to observe what was happening.The
small boat had come alongside the French flagship.Scanning the bay, her eyes
rested on the burning vessel in the distance.It had listed to one side and was
slowly slipping beneath the waves.
“Four of those ships are large man-of-wars.The others
are smaller feluccas,” Louis remarked.
“The French must realize we only have one ship for protection and it is a small pirogue at Saint Joseph’s harbor. She stood atop the dune and brushed powered grit from her skirt. “Now
that there is a lull in the fighting I am anxious to find Inez.I pray she is
Catana and Louis entered the settlement.They trudged up and down
streets and ducked into buildings, calling for Inez with no success.Taking in
the scene before her she shook her head. The damage could have been worse.The
French’s main target had been the fort.Catana
headed for the church and entered to pray.In the silence of the dark interior
she heard hushed voices.When her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, she saw
two figures sitting on a bench near the altar.Approaching them, Catana recognized
that one was Father Ortega and with him Inez.Rushing to her cousin she embraced
the younger girl and thanked the Lord.Catana stood back, hands on Inez’s
shoulders, and looked into her sepia eyes.
“We all have been worried.Where did you disappear to last
night, and why did you tell your mother you were with me?”
“If I tell you, do you promise not to tell mother?She would
Catana looked at Inez then the priest.“Do you want me to
lie to your mother?”
“No, just keep the truth to yourself.”
Father Ortega stood, looked at Catana then Louis.“If you
will excuse me, I better see if I am needed at the fort.Thank the Lord the French
“But Father,” Catana said.“The French are sitting
in the bay.We have sent a boat with a surrender flag.”
“What! That cannot be.I am not going to have those atheistic
Huguenots invading my church.I must see the governor right away and learn what
is happening.”The priest stormed out of the church mumbling some unholy
words about the French.
Catana cleared her throat.“Now, Inez, explain yourself.”
Her cousin eyed Louis.“What is he doing here?”
“Louis is not the blame for what has happened.He knows no
more then we do.”Catana took Louis by the hand.“It’s better that you make yourself scarce until we learn what is going on.Some Spanish soldiers may not feel too friendly toward you right now.”
“But where shall I go?Although Governor Matamoros and my
father are close friends, I will no longer be welcome in his home.”
“Go to my house.It will be safe there. When I learn more
I will come to you.”
After Louis slipped out the door Catana turned back to her cousin.“Well?”
“Do you remember when I told you about Juan?”
“One of the soldiers at the fort?”
“Sí, that one.We love each other and want to marry.Mother does not approve of him.I was
with him last night.At daybreak we heard the first cannon fire.Juan ran to the fort while I came here to hide.”
“What does Father Ortega think of all of this?”
“The good father does not realize I spent the night with Juan.He
was here to say daily mass.When I refused to leave and join the others at the
fort he stayed with me.”
“Why remain here?Wouldn’t you prefer to be near Juan
during all the chaos?”
“No.If he was in danger I was afraid I would give my feelings
away and mother would know.Please don’t tell her.She has a lot of influence with the Governor, and she would have Juan sent away.”
“Spending the night with a man is something I cannot condone.If
I promise to keep your secret you must promise it will not happen again.”
“But nothing happened.We only talked and enjoyed one another’s
“Maybe this time, but next time you may not be able to use self control.”
Anger flashed in Inez’s eyes. “You should practice what you say.There has been more then one time you and Louis were together all night.”
“That’s different.We’re only friends.He is like a brother to me and has been since we were children.In
your case you and Juan are in love and sooner or later you both will want to consummate that love, be it with or without marriage.”
“Then Juan and I will run away and marry in secret.”
“Please don’t do anything foolish.Give me time to
reason with your mother.Maybe she will accept that you love Juan and sanction
Inez let out a deep sigh.“Since father’s death she
has been over protective and is smothering me.”
“Do as I ask for now.We have greater worries.If the Governor does surrender to the French we will find many changes in our lives.”
Late that day Catana received a message from the governor to come to his office.Since she was apt in reading and writing both Spanish and French she was invited to the council meeting held by Governor
Matamoros to discuss their next line of action.Catana was often asked to the
governor’s office to record meetings he conducted.Politics normally bored
her, but she was curious as to what would take place at this gathering.
Once the council was seated around the table the governor spoke.“When we sent our soldiers out to learn the
reason for the attack, the French leader Bienville informed them that France has declared war on Spain.”
“But why?” a council member asked.
“Our king has revoked the pledge he made twenty years ago that he would relinquish claim to the throne
of Louis XIV.This is why the French have orders to make an immediate attack
on our presidio.”
The governor turned his attention on the commanding officer of the fort, Captain Martinez.“What took so long to receive word of the French’s arrival this morning?”
The commanding officer called for the sentry that had been on duty.The
frightened man entered the room and shifted from foot to foot until he was ordered to sit.Catana took notes as the governor questioned him.
The sentry took a deep breath before he answered. “I saw the first small French boat as it appeared off Point Seguenza after daybreak.I thought it was our pirogue returning from Saint Joseph’s Bay.When the other boats appeared, I and the other guards
became suspicious.That is when Corporal Armagosa fireda warning shot.”
“Then what happened?” the governor asked.
“The French circled our position”
The governor slammed his fist down on the wooden table.“I
asked Governor Salinas to leave at least one ship here for protection.He declined
because it violated his orders.Instead he set sail with his ships to map out
a new settlement at Saint Joseph’s Bay. The only defense we have is our pirogue
and even that is not here.”
Catana looked over to Captain Martinez when he spoke, and she continued to write.“I received word that the French have captured our Fort at Point Seguenza after swarming ashore on
Santa Rosa Island.They overpowered our small unit at the fort there and pounded spikes
into the fire holes, rendering the cannons useless.We will have no help from
Governor Matamoros shook his head thoughtfully.“I managed
to dispatch a messenger to Governor Salinas in Saint
Joseph’s Bay but I do not know if he and his
men will arrive here in time.The French leader has sent a demand for surrender
and will allow us until tomorrow morning to respond.We have only
one hundred sixty defenders.The French outnumber us five to one.”
Everyone started to talk at once and Catana gave up trying to write.Finally the governor held up his hand for silence.“As you know,
an engineer from Spain was sent here to examine this fort.He recommended
that we abandon it and move the whole company to Point Seguenza on the island.He
said that FortSan Carlos could not be defended long.Its construction
is weak.If the French send troops ashore here, they could attack from the higher
ground to the rear.I was unable to comply with his suggestions because it would
exceed my orders. Although we have made improvements to this fort it has not been enough. Now Point Seguenza has been taken.”
They discussed and argued their situation through the night.When
it was put to a vote the Spanish council chose to surrender to the French.
Once the decision was made, the Spanish prepared the terms of surrender. It included the safe conduct for all
personnel to an appropriate settlement and amnesty for the Indian allies who remained loyal to the Spanish.
“Please include protection for our Church and priest,”
“Your job is to write and keep your opinions to yourself,”
a heavyset counsel member grumbled.
Catana glared at the stern looking man with resentment.
“She is right,” a counsel member, who reminded Catana of a nervous cat, said in her defense.“Many French are Huguenots and do not respect our Catholic Church.”
A warm flush of satisfaction filled Catana when the governor agreed
and added it to the list.
The heavy set counsel man spoke again.“She should know. She is always seen with that Frenchman, Louis whatever his name is.”
“His name is Louis LeClaire and he is a Catholic,” Catana
replied.“There are a number of Catholic’s among the French, but
we do not know if those we surrender to are of our faith or Huguenots.”
The governor raised his hand to silence Catana.“That is enough.Let us continue with our business.We will also ask for an inventory of supplies captured.”
The governor met with the French leader later that morning and both
sides agreed to the twelve terms.After the surrender of the Spanish was signed,
Catana watched with pain in her heart as the Spanish soldiers laid down their arms and marched from the fort.From a distance she gazed at the Spanish garrison as they were herded aboard the French frigates Conde de Tulusa and Mariscol de Vilalars.They would be taken to Havana.The few women and children of the settlement
would be relocated in Saint Joseph’s Bay only a few leagues from Santa Maria de Galve.Catana wondered why Governor Salinas at Saint
Joseph’s Bay had never responded to Governor
Matamoros’ plea for help.
She must get Louis out of Santa Maria before the French realized
he was here.If they found him, he would be arrested for treason.