This Country of Ours - H. E. Marshall
Braddock's campaign was a complete disaster. The French had triumphed, and even those Indians who up till now had been willing to side with the British were anxious to make friends with the French. For were they not the stronger? Surely it seemed to them the White Father of the St. Lawrence was more powerful than the White Father of the Hudson.
"If the English will not suffer the branches of the Great Tree of Peace to hide us from the French," they said, "we will go farther off. We will lie down and warm ourselves by the war fires of the French. We love to hear the sound of the war whoop. We delight in the war yell. It flies from hill to hill, from heart to heart. It makes the old heart young, it makes the young heart dance. Our young braves run to battle with the swiftness of the fawn. If you will not fight, the French will drive us from our hunting grounds. The English King does not aid us, we must join the strong. Who is strong? Who is strong? The French! The English have become weak."
War was now really declared between France and Britain and fighting took place in Europe as well as in America. And in America things went ill for the British. Defeats and disasters followed each other, things were muddled and went wrong continually. For truth to tell the British had no great leader either in England or in America, while the French had the Marquess Montcalm, one of the best soldiers in the French army, as their commander-in-chief.
At length, however, a great man came to power in England. This was William Pitt, known as the Great Commoner. He was, it has been said, the first Englishman of his time, and he made England the first country in the world. He was a great judge of men, and he had a happy way of choosing the right man for the right place. So now instead of defeats came victories, not only in America, but all over the world. "We are forced to ask every morning," said a witty man of the time, "what victory there has been for fear of missing one."
In America Louisburg fell once more into the hands of the British. Fort Duquesne too was taken, and the misery of Braddock's disaster was wiped out. Then in honour of the great statesman the name of the fort was changed to Pittsburg. It is still called by that name and is now one of the world's greatest manufacturing cities; and where Braddock fought and fell stretches a network of streets.
But although the British had many successes the key of Canada defied all efforts to take it. Quebec still frowned upon her rock, invulnerable as in the days of old lion-hearted Frontenac.
Among the men Pitt had chosen to lead the armies in America was Major-General James Wolfe. He was a long-legged, red-haired Englishman. There was nothing of the hero about his appearance except his bright and flashing eyes. It was this man who was sent to capture Quebec. Many people were astonished at Pitt's choice. "He is mad," said one stupid old man.
"Mad is he?" said King George. "Then I wish he would bite some others of my generals."
Led by a daring old sea captain the British war ships passed safely up the St. Lawrence and anchored off the Isle of Orleans a little below Quebec.
Once more British guns thundered against the high rock fortress. The town was laid in ruins, the country round was but a barren waste. Yet the fortress of Quebec was no nearer being taken than before. Weeks and months went past, the fleet rocked idly at anchor, the troops lay almost as idle in their tents. Only the gunners had work to do. And although they shattered the walls of Quebec the Frenchmen were undaunted.
"You may ruin the town," they said, "but you will never get inside."
"I will have Quebec if I stay here till the end of November," replied Wolfe.
But Montcalm smiled grimly. Winter, he knew, would be his ally. For then the St. Lawrence would be frozen from bank to bank and before that the British must sail away or be caught fast in its icy jaws.
Wolfe, who was frail and sickly by nature, now broke down beneath the strain and the constant disappointments. Helpless and in agony he lay on his sickbed, his mind still busy with plans of how to take Quebec.
"Doctor," he said, "I know you can't cure me but patch me up till I see this business through."
Soon he was about again, and making plans for his last desperate attempt to take Quebec.
Seeking to find a means of reaching the fortress he had himself examined all the north shores of the St. Lawrence. And just a little above the town he had found one spot where a narrow pathway led up the steep cliffs. It was so steep and narrow that the French never dreamed of any one making an attack that way, and it was carelessly guarded. But dangerous though it was it seemed to Wolfe the only way, and he determined to attempt it.
Soon his preparations were made, and one dark moonless night in September a long procession of boats floated silently down the river. In one of the boats sat Wolfe, and as they drifted slowly along in the starlight in a low voice he repeated Gray's poem called an Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
"Gentlemen," said Wolfe when he finished, "I would rather have written those lines than take Quebec."
In dead silence now the boats drifted on. Then suddenly out of the darkness rang a sharp challenge.
"Who goes there?" was asked in French.
"France," replied a Highland officer who spoke good French.
"What regiment?" shouted the sentry.
"The Queen's," answered the officer glibly, for luckily he had learned from French prisoners that boats with provisions were expected by the enemy, and that very likely the Queen's regiment would convoy them.
The sentry was satisfied and let the boats pass. But they were not safe yet. A little further on they were challenged again.
The same officer replied.
"Speak louder!" cried the sentry.
"Hush!" replied the Highlander, "provision boats, I say. Do not make a noise; the British will hear us."
The sentry was quite deceived. He let the boats pass, and very soon the men were safely landed.
Then the climb began. Like wild mountain cats the men dashed at it. They swung themselves up by branches of trees, gripping projecting stones and roots with hand and knee. It was hot, breathless work, but soon they were near the top. But they had been heard. Once more the challenge rang out, "Who goes there?"
"France," panted a voice from below. But this time the sentry was not deceived. He could see nothing, but he fired at a venture down into the darkness.
It was too late. The first men had reached the top, and the guard was overpowered. So hour by hour up the steep cliff the red coats swarmed unhindered. When morning dawned four thousand British stood upon the plains of Abraham.
"This is a very serious business," said Montcalm, when he heard of it, "but it can only be a small party."
Soon, however, more news was brought to him. It was no small party.
"Then we must crush them," he said, and with pale set face he rode forth to battle.
It was ten o'clock when the fight began. The French attacked first. The British awaited them calmly as they dashed on over the plain. On they came nearer and nearer. Then suddenly the order was given, and, cheering wildly, the British charged.
A shot struck Wolfe in the wrist. Without pausing he tied a handkerchief about it. Again he was hit. Still he went on. Then a third shot struck his breast, and he fell. Hastily he was carried to the rear, and laid upon the ground.
THE DEATH OF WOLFE
"It is all over with me," he sighed. Then he lay still in a sort of stupor.
Suddenly one of the officers beside him cried out, "They run! They run!"
"Who run?" said Wolfe, rousing himself.
"The enemy, sir," answered the officer, "they give way everywhere."
"Now God be praised," murmured Wolfe. "I die happy." Then turning on his side he died.
Everywhere the French fled, and in their mad rush they carried along with them their gallant leader, Montcalm. He was sorely wounded, but still sat his horse as he rode within the gates of Quebec. Here an excited, eager crowd was gathered, waiting for news. And when they saw Montcalm's well-known figure on his black horse they were seized with dismay. For his face was white and drawn and blood flowed from his breast.
"Alas! Alas!" cried a woman in a piercing voice of despair, "the Marquess is killed!"
"It is nothing, it is nothing, good friends," he replied. "Do not trouble about me." So saying he fell from his horse into the arms of one of his officers.
That night he died.
He was glad to go. "It is better for me," he said, "for I shall not live to see Quebec surrender."
With him died the last hope of New France. The story of New France was done. The Story of Canada was about to begin as well as that of her mighty neighbour. For as a great English historian has said, "With the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States."
Meanwhile, however, the war still dragged on for another year. Then the following summer Montreal surrendered to the British, and French rule in America was completely at an end.
Fighting in America was over. But the war still went on in other parts of the world. Spain had also joined in the struggle, and from them the British took Cuba and the Philippine Islands. But at length in 1763 peace was made by the Treaty of Paris.
By this treaty Britain was confirmed in her claim to nearly the whole of French possessions in America. So that from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay was now declared British except the peninsula forming Florida. That the Spaniards claimed. So in exchange for it the British gave back Cuba and the Philippines. And to make up to Spain for the loss of Florida France gave them New Orleans and resigned to Spain all claims to the land which La Salle had called Louisiana.
Thus nothing remained to France of all her great possessions in America, and the vast continent was divided between Spain and Britain. Never in all known history had a single treaty transferred such enormous tracts of land from one nation to another.