Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

George II.—The Story of How Canada Was Won

W HILE these things were happening in India, the French and British were fighting in America also.

The French colonies there were called Canada and Louisiana. Canada lay north of the British colonies, beyond the St. Lawrence river. Louisiana lay west of the British colonies, beyond the Mississippi river. If you look on the map, you will see that in this way the British colonies were quite shut in by the sea and by the French on all sides.

This did not please the British. They wanted to be able to enlarge their colonies and to stretch out to the west, to the great forests and unknown land beyond Louisiana. The French, on the other hand, hoped to drive the British away from America altogether, and they built forts along the rivers and lakes to keep them as far as possible from the west. There were many quarrels, which grew more and more bitter, till at last war broke out.

At first the British were not successful. But just as Walpole had been a great peace minister, so William Pitt, who was now in power, was a great war minister. He was quick to see what needed to be done, and just as quick in choosing the best men to do it. He did not ask whether a man was rich or powerful, or whether he had great relations. He asked, "Is this the best man I can find to do this piece of work?" So it came about that at this time the British all over the world were successful.

Among the men whom Pitt sent to fight in America was a young man called James Wolfe. Wolfe was sent from England with eight thousand soldiers, and was told that he must take Quebec, the capital of Canada. He reached Canada and sailed up the St. Lawrence, greatly to the surprise of the French, for it was a very difficult passage, full of rocks and banks of sand. Yet Wolfe took his great war-ships where the French would have feared to venture with their little trading vessels. He anchored opposite Quebec, and landed his soldiers on the island of Orleans.

Quebec was a very strong town. It was built upon rocks high above the river, and was defended by the great French general, Montcalm.

For a long time Wolfe tried in vain to take the town. Montcalm was too clever and watchful. Day by day passed, and Wolfe grew ill with care and weariness. Many of his soldiers were killed, and the fresh troops which he expected did not arrive. At last he decided upon a bold and daring plan.

There was one place which the French did not guard very strongly, because they thought it was quite impossible for the British to attack them there. This was a steep cliff. But Wolfe noticed that there was a narrow pathway up this cliff, and he decided to take his soldiers by that path. He felt so doubtful of success, however, that he wrote a sad letter home before he made the attempt. "I have done little for my country," he said, "I have little hope of doing anything, but I have done my best."

One dark night the British soldiers were rowed over the river. No one spoke, every one moved as quietly as possible. The oars even were muffled, so that the sound of rowing might not be heard by the French. Only Wolfe, as his boat went silently down the river, repeated a poem to his officers in a low voice. The poem was called "An Elegy in a Country Churchyard" and it had been written a few years before by an English poet called Gray.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

That is how the poem begins. It is a long poem, and very beautiful, and, when Wolfe had finished repeating it, he turned to his officers and said, "Now, gentlemen, I would rather be the author of that poem than take Quebec."

The boat reached the Quebec side of the river, and Wolfe was among the first to spring ashore. Silently, quickly, with beating hearts and held breath, the men followed. Then as silently and quickly the boats put off again, for there had been room in them only for half the soldiers, and they returned to bring the rest.

The climb up the narrow pathway began. It was so narrow in places that only one could go at a time. But every man was full of courage and hope. They struggled up as best they could, clinging on to bushes, rocks, roots of trees, anything that would give them the least grip for hand or rest for foot. A regiment of Highlanders were among the first to lead the way, for they were used to scrambling and climbing among the rocks of their homeland.

Nearer and nearer to the top they came, unseen and unheard by the French sentinels above. But at last the rustling among the bushes and leaves down the slope caught their ear. "What was that?" they asked, and fired at random down into the darkness. But it was too late, the first soldiers had reached the height, others followed after them and, terrified at the sudden appearance of men where they had thought no men could be, the French sentinels ran away.

As soon as the British reached the top, they fell into fighting order, and when day broke, the sun shone on their red coats as they stood drawn up in line upon the heights of Abraham, as the place was called.

At first the French leader, Montcalm, could hardly believe that he saw aright. Then he said quietly, "I see them where they ought not to be. We must fight them, and I am going to crush them."

A fierce battle followed. Wolfe was struck in the wrist, but he tied his handkerchief round it and went on fighting and giving orders, as if nothing had happened. A second time he was hit. Still he went on. A third shot struck him in the breast. Then he sank to the ground with a groan.

Wolfe was quickly carried out of the fight, but nothing could be done for him. He was dying. His officers stood sadly round him, when suddenly one of them cried, "See, they run, they run."

"Who run?" asked Wolfe, opening his eyes and trying to raise himself.

"The enemy, sir," replied the officer, "they are running everywhere."

"Thank God," said Wolfe, "I die happy." Then he fell back and never spoke again.

The brave French leader, Montcalm, was also killed in this battle. "So much the better," he said, when he was told that he was dying. "I shall not live to see Quebec surrender."

Quebec did surrender, and Canada was won, and ever since then it has belonged to Britain, and to-day it is one of the greatest of her colonies.

A few days after Wolfe's sad letter reached home, another both sad and joyful followed. It told of the taking of Quebec; it told, too, of the death of the brave young leader.

Not once or twice in our fair island story,

The path of duty was the way to glory:

He, that ever following her commands,

On with toil of heart and knees and hands,

Thro' the long gorge to the far light has won

His path upward, and prevail'd,

Shall find the toppling crags of Duty scaled

Are close upon the shining table-lands

To which our God Himself is moon and sun.

Such was he: his work is done.

But while the races of mankind endure,

Let his great example stand

Colossal, seen of every land,

And keep the soldier firm, the statesman pure:

Till in all lands and thro' all human story,

The path of duty be the way to glory.

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