A novel by Ron Pearse
© Ron Pearse 2016
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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: Vale Dictum
: Captive of the French
: Wolfe meets Stobo
: Stobo’s Story
: Stobo finds a Friend
: Stobo’s Escape
: Allied Generals Confer
: Wolfe and Stobo Confer
: Montcalm Faces Famine
: Cook takes Soundings
: The Anse au Foulon
: Montcalm’s Pride
: The Battle
: The French Give Up Canada
: Stobo’s ‘Vale Dictum’
The pages which follow describe the mishaps and exploits ie the misadventures of Captain Stobo and are drawn from his memoirs though the author has used his imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, Stobo’s language is somewhat deferential even obsequious which suited his purpose and his times.
Moreover he considered the Colonial Militia of Virginia and other militia of the other colonies as somewhat below par to the regular British Army as indeed was the case for many colonial officers including George Washington and Stobo’s ambitions reflect this view.
Yet he was a remarkable soldier and in resisting his captors’ ‘persuasive’ methods proved himself both loyal to his home state and towards the Mother Country, England. In the words of *Mark Antony: “This was a man!”
*Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act V, Scene V.
“Now, God be praised, I will die in peace.”
Such were the last words of Major-General James Wolfe as he lay back on an improvised couch made up of the greatcoats, another coat his pillow, of fellow soldiers on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec on the afternoon of September 13th, 1759.
For twenty decades thence his name evoked the place, and the place his name, as this exploit echoed down the centuries ranking among that of Clive, Hood, Marlborough, Rodney in the illustrious epoch of the 18th century. Yet, in modern day Canada there is another viewpoint regarding this famous victory.
Among tour guides in Quebec the talk is of treachery, and, it is true that the Canadian officer placed in charge of the cove where Wolfe made his break-through was serving punishment for a previous dereliction of duty. On the other hand, it was the very seclusion of this cove that appealed to Captain Robert Stobo, a captive of the French for years, who chose it for his tryst with the daughter of an important French official in Quebec.
Wolfe’s epic feat has been celebrated for two centuries and a half; yet, there is a part of the story deserving to be told which has never reached the general public – until now.
Captive of the French
Five Years Earlier:
Sometime in June, 1754, a military expedition had set out from Wills Creek in Virginia to survey a possible western route to the Ohio valley. The colonial governor had for some time been receiving reports of armed incursions by natives, but more often by Canadians and natives. Intelligence told him the source of these incursions was Fort Duquesne (the future Pittsburg). It was the British view that sooner or later this fort must be eliminated which was the purpose of this expedition to survey the territory through which it passed with a view to constructing a road to take military supplies including heavy cannon.
The expedition’s surveyor would be Captain Robert Stobo whose father, a retail entrepreneur and recent emigrant from Scotland, had been appointed to supply the military with provisions which included liquor. His son, the captain had won rather a reputation for his garrison parties and having been appointed to the expedition saw fit to provide himself with a covered wagon with all the necessary perquisites to make the expedition as less arduous as possible. Apart from wine he took along with him guns and ammunition for game which he foresaw as enriching the meagre diet provided by the army.
Unfortunately, the officer commanding the expedition had one objective to survey the route and return with plans for a route to lay before the governor. Anything which diverted from this purpose, or anybody, was likely to meet some disapproval. After three days out the expedition camped in open country later to be given the name of Great Meadows. After sundown with his work done, Captain Stobo relaxed in a way that reflected his life-style at home.
“How far to go to the fort, Captain?”
Lieutenant Eagleton drained his pewter mug as he put the question to the chief engineer who was sitting like himself on a collapsible chair around the dying embers of a fire shared with other members of the group whose faces reflected its glow. Around them the night had closed in. Getting no answer the lieutenant nudged his drinking companion who fell over on to his side.
There were titters of laughter and the lieutenant glanced up at one of the faces wreathed in broad grins. It was Serjeant James who told his neighbour, Corporal Fraser, being the nearest, to help him up; he leaned over to do just that then over-balanced himself tumbling atop of the captain. Loud laughter now broke out which galvanized the captain. Pushing aside his comrade he made an effort to rise and seeing the lieutenant’s mug looked round, declaring:
“Here, sir!” It was trooper Williams who placed an empty mug into his hands getting an earful:
“An empty mug, ish nay use mon. Fill it up!”
“If there had been, old chap, don’t you think I would have filled mine. Look!”
With that speech the lieutenant showed his upturned mug putting his original query to the captain:
“How far to the fort, sir?”
“Heard you the first time, mon. How many kegs left? I’ll tell you. I brought a dozen of the best madeira so how many are left?”
“Serjeant, how many?”
“Corporal, how many?”
“Trooper, how many? Trooper!”
Trooper Williams kicked the lifeless form of his comrade and turning to answer, said:
“He’s not used to strong drink, corp. He falls over after a draught of piss-water, the QM doles out as beer.”
Suddenly the sound of a bugle was heard.
Trooper Williams said matter-of-factly:
“Lights out; but he’s gawn already.” Indicating his comrade.
Stobo looked around to find an ensign standing, bugle in hand:
“What is it laddie?”
“Major Washington’s compliments, sir, would you join him in his tent.”
Stobo got up and stretched to his full six foot plus height straightening his dishevelled tunic. He shivered slightly in the cold night air and joined the ensign, with the words:
“Lead on Macduff!”
The ensign stopped and said in puzzlement:
“Ensign Macready, sir. You know me?”
“Go on with ye, mon.” Said a chaffing Stobo, adding, “at least you’re a Scot.”
The ensign turned to say:
By now the two had reached the major’s tent and the ensign pulled back the flap to address the occupant:
“Captain Stobo, sir.”
Thank you ensign, that will be all. You played lights out. Off to your bunk. Goodnight. Come in, Captain!”
Stobo entered a candlelit tent, the sole illumination resting on the table. It was spooky and gloomy, and just as well for in the major’s voice was a hint of barely controlled rage. His opening words betrayed it:
“Captain! For a member of the Royal Virginian Regiment you demonstrate a most unmilitary attitude. My ensign is no laddie, he’s not a Macduff; he is an ensign of his Britannic Majesties forces. Please remember that.”
“If that is your business with me, Major, I bid you goodnight.”
Stobo barely had time to move a muscle as the major leapt from his chair:
“No, it is not, sir. It has been reported to me that you have been drinking wine with your subordinates and common soldiers. I will not have it. Do you understand, Captain Stobo?”
“I do, sir. If, that is all?”
“Captain Stobo you will leave when I give you leave. I can tell you that had I not Governor Dunwiddie’s orders to follow and you, sir, not our only surveyor, you would be riding back to Wills Creek. Where are your survey reports?”
“In my saddlebag, Major. Did you want to see them?”
“Another time. At the start of this expedition, Captain, you allowed me to understand that you had but few kegs of wine. I was deceived. I am minded to destroy the remainder and shall do if your conduct does not improve. Well, sir?”
“You must do what you think fit, Major. But, if you do there will be a commensurate charge on the Commissariat.”
Washington stared barely seeing him in the flickering light. He sat down and looked at the papers before him still trying to control his undiminished anger. Eventually he said:
“The object of this investigation, sir, is to survey a route through to Fort Duquesne in order that a suitable road can transport heavy cannon across the Alleghenies. Anything which detracts from that Captain, I will not tolerate. Do you understand me?”
“Perfectly, Major Washington.”
Stobo had resigned himself to the dressing down wanting to get it over as quickly as possible, but the major was not through with him. Evidently things had been simmering for some time now and had come to a head. Washington still had something on his mind for he stared at the papers on the table. At last he said:
“Mr Van Braam’s purpose on this expedition is to guide us through the territory and find a suitable mountain pass. He was chosen owing to his knowledge of this country. Yet you choose to argue with him. Do you know better, sir?”
Stobo felt himself on surer ground ignoring prudence, explaining: “The Dutchman’s route is not necessarily the optimum route for a road, a load bearing road.”
“What do you mean, Captain?”
“Our present camp, sir, is on the Susquehanny flood plain. I would hope that the projected road would follow drier ground. I would not like to dig trenches here.”
“You are out of order, sir.”
“They would fill with water, Major. Do you not see that…?”
He was not allowed to continue as the major barked:
“Captain, you forget yourself. Your job is to survey. That is all. Write out your recommendations. It will be for the governor to decide. In future you are not to contradict Mr Van Braam unless you have first spoken to me. Is that clear, sir?”
Stobo seethed inwardly himself at this moment but held his tongue asking himself how engineers could find common ground with laymen. He nodded:
“You are dismissed, Captain.”
It was normal practice for the scout to ride ahead often several miles. He would return within an hour to report to the major. On the following day however, the scout Van Braam had returned around midday with the alarming news that he had sighted a large party of Canadians and Indians who were in number at least three times as large. He was unsure of the possibility that he had been spotted himself.
On receiving this news the major ordered an immediate halt calling on Captain Stobo to organize entrenching operations which filled the captain with dismay for it was soon evident his prediction the previous night was justified for the trenches soon filled with water. At daybreak however a messenger was seen approaching with a white flag; he delivered a message to the officer commanding the upshot being that Van Braam was called to see Major Washington who asked him to translate the message.
Then it was the turn of Captain Stobo who was called over to join the two men who were standing at some distance from the camp; the major said:
“It seems Major Vaudreuil has some idea of the sad state of our trenches plus the fact that we are surrounded, gentlemen. So, to avoid casualties, I have decided to accept the major’s terms which in essence means this expedition can return home with our weapons and supplies provided I offer up two hostages.”
The major paused and eyed both men in anticipation of a response. Stobo’s eyes fell on a document in the major’s hand; on the side nearest him was a seal in red; a large V stood out. He felt his sword belt nervously looking up to face the major whose eyes glinted in the sun. Finally the major spoke:
“You must take no weapons, Captain, I regret to say.”
‘You liar’, thought Stobo and he looked across at Van Braam whose face was set in a grim expression. At last, he blurted out:
“For how long, Major?”
Washington did not answer. He removed his headgear and wiped the perspiration from his brow as if to distract himself. At last, he said:
“I do not know, Mr Van Braam. But, rest assured I shall make representations on your behalf, rather the governor will, I’m sure, when I’ve placed the full facts before him.”
Van Braam nodded.
Washington said, “That would apply also to you, Captain. We will make every effort on your behalf.”
Stobo was still stunned, but alert as the major took him aside away from Van Braam to whisper: Captain Stobo! You are an engineer and able to notice things that a layman such as myself, for instance, would miss. That skill might prove invaluable.”
Stobo wanted to smile but could not; he just nodded. Washington held out his hand and shook both men’s warmly telling them to accompany the Canadian officer who approached at Washington’s signal; he said to Van Braam: “Tell him you two are the hostages, please.”
He gestured to the Canadian indicating Van Braam whom he heard confirm his previous statement, in French, which he did not speak.
Washington finally told them: “You must follow him on foot.”
Stobo took off his sword and belt and calling over Lieutenant Eagleton:
“Take good care of these, Tom!”
The Canadian lieutenant mounted his horse and spurred it proceeding at a walk as Washington told the hostages:
“Good luck, gentlemen!”
At some distance from their camp Stobo looked over to his companion:
“How is the major to find his way back home, without you, Van Braam?”
The Dutchman smiled knowingly before responding:
“He has your notes, Captain Stobo. He doesn’t need me, anymore.”
Stobo flushed at his own stupidity and changed his mind about Major George Washington, then and there.
Neither Captain Stobo nor Mr Van Braam could know that the major viewed their departure with foreboding for he had begun to suspect that Van Braam was a French spy for Major Vaudreuil in his note had stipulated the names of the hostages. How could he have known their names unless he was informed beforehand?
Washington suspected that Van Braam had notified Fort Duquesne even before their departure and that their encounter at Great Meadows was arranged beforehand. Even had he not given his undertaking to return, the major could not carry on as he had lost his scout and his surveyor. His mission was pointless.
Historical footnote: Major Vaudreuil’s stratagem would help his promotion prospects in the short term yet he would one day rue the day he had captured the man who would help spell the end of the French in Canada. His own day of destiny would be five years hence on September 9th, 1760, at Montreal.
The Great Meadows (in today’s Fayette County, Pennsylvania) encounter was just another incident experienced by Major Washington who had been in private life a land surveyor himself. He would soon return to the scene of the action to construct a store-house (Fort Necessity) to hold gunpowder, flour and other necessities so that a future survey party, needing to transport fewer supplies, would be that much more mobile.
Governor Dinwiddie authorised a new force of some 300 Colonial soldiers commanded once again by Major George Washington; unfortunately, many were in Washington’s own words, “loose and idle’.
Yet, what of the French! What was their motive in stirring up hostilities between the Indians and the Colonists to the south? It might shed some light by citing evidence from an entirely neutral observer.
The Swedish naturalist, Peter Kalm, visiting the St Lawrence valley region in 1749, a decade earlier, wrote:
“The countryside is quite beautiful everywhere and it’s a pleasure to see how prettily it is inhabited, so densely on both sides of the river; one could almost say that it forms a continuous village which begins at Montreal and extends as far as Quebec.”
He goes on in similar vein to praise the people “whether peasant or gentleman, farm wife or great lady”. That description relates to a nation called, La Nouvelle France, New France, brought to such a condition by the successful transplantation of the old world’s culture and values, and, moreover, into a land 3000 miles distant by the venturesome spirit, hard work and industry of French people both from high and low estates. They have much to lose.
So, there is their motive.
Yet, the question remains: how was it possible that such a flourishing colony should be brought to an end so completely by the British? Why could not two peoples, the English to the south in the so-called thirteen colonies, and the French settlers in Canada, live in peace?
Unfortunately it soon transpired that neither colony, French nor British, could live and prosper without involvement of the home country of either nation. French trappers sold their skins to importers in France using their capital receipts to purchase necessities such as knives, ploughs, kitchen utensils so as to make their life in New France more tolerable.
To demonstrate the value of the beaver pelt, there is the verbatim report of an Algonquin Indian who said, after meeting an English settler: “The English have no sense; they trade twenty knives for one beaver skin.” Yet, one can have too much of a good thing for the French market was soon flooded with beaver and the price fell leading to poverty in New France among the trapper community.
The English settlers, on the other hand, discovered that fresh capital to develop the land could be raised by exporting tobacco to London. Tobacco brought a handsome return encouraging more immigrants and soon Virginia became a byword for quality tobacco bringing a premium which, in turn, encouraged settlers to build finer houses. Unfortunately this expansion brought settlers into conflict with the native Indians who needed wide open spaces for hunting – and food.
The French as early as 1701 had made peace with the Iroquois who looked upon France as its ally and protector when they encountered difficulties with the English settlers. Friction was inevitable especially when they learned that the two nations were hostile to each other, even in times of peace. Yet it was not one-sided. In April 1710 four Iroquois leaders, representing the Five Nations Confederacy, travelled to England and were received by Queen Anne who listened to their petition in some surprise, and, admittedly, delight for they begged the Queen to support the British colonies, militarily.
The British, involved in the War of the Spanish succession, were fully stretched and could only provide funds to purchase warships and transports. It seems this was enough for on October 13th, 1710, fifteen hundred New Englanders mounted an assault upon the French privateer stronghold. After a siege it was captured and renamed Annapolis, after the Queen. Emboldened by this success the Queen funded an expedition to capture Quebec. The Tory Parliament, tired of a war which, to them, brought glory only to one man, the Duke of Marlborough, would not fund the expedition. It sailed without Parliamentary approval which is the reason the Queen instructed the commander not to raise the British ensign until clear of territorial waters. On August 22nd, 1710 the expedition’s fleet was largely destroyed by a storm off Sept-Iles in the St Lawrence Gulf. The French were safe for very nearly a half-century.
It is an odd anomaly that whereas emigrants from England were either Protestants escaping Catholic persecution, or vice-versa, once in the New World both lived together in harmony. It was, for a large part, either work or die, though another external enemy brought them together, one was the hostile native, the Indian, but the enemy with far greater resources was France whose ambitions seemed to reflect King Louis XIV’s ambitions in mainland Europe.
The French built a great number of forts at Niagara, Ticonderoga, Duquesne and others which were manned by some regular soldiers but also, because of their remoteness from civilization, by natives, in particular the Iroquois and the Huron, though not living together, for the two tribes were as hostile to the other as any two European nations. Another disquieting factor was that the French could not always control their native allies. Readers familiar with Fennimore Cooper’s tale of The Last of the Mohicans will recall that the French, having recaptured Ticonderoga from the British, could not hold the Huron to their word that the British could leave the fort unharmed for once clear of their ally the French commander, the Huron massacred the British men, women and children.
Another flashpoint was trade, for Britain, by the end of the Stuarts, was the greatest manufacturing and trading country in the world and had built the ships to match its ambitions which in turn needed protection by the Royal Navy. One aspect of this trade was cod caught off the Newfoundland Banks whereby English ports despatched fishing vessels which caught, processed and dried the fish supplying not only home ports such as Plymouth and Bristol, but also Portugal, Spain, Italy as well as the English colonies. It was a lucrative trade that needed protection.
A war between Prussia and a host of its neighbours including France, was not going too well when William Pitt became Prime-Minister. He reasoned that Britain could best help its ally in Europe, besides helping itself, by diverting military resources from France which, he reasoned, must be anxious to assist its threatened colonies in Canada. That was the theory for when the governor of Canada, the Marquis de Montcalm, appealed to King Louis in Paris, he got short shrift though that news did not filter through to Pitt.
Nevertheless in the pursuance of the war, Pitt demanded of Parliament the advance of millions which was readily forthcoming not least to keep Frederick of Prussia in the war as well as to resolve finally a thorn in the flesh to the English colonists that of attacks by the forces of New France. In brief, Pitt would support his ally in Europe by fighting a war in Canada. A recent disaster of an assault on Rochefort, France had brought a certain officer to the attention of Pitt, who, in consultation with King George III, invited the officer to meet him at his chambers in Whitehall, London. The upshot was that the newly breveted Major-General James Wolfe was invited to command an expedition to capture Louisburg, Montreal and Quebec, by which event Canada would no longer be a danger to the Colonists.
Louisburg fell to British forces in 1756 which news brought comfort to a certain officer formerly in the service of the governor of Virginia. That officer had been in an expedition mounted against a French fort by the name of Fort Duquesne in command of which was a Major George Washington. The officer referred to was Captain Robert Stobo, already mentioned, who was, at the time of Louisburg’s capture, a prisoner of French forces in Canada, in particular, in a fort in Quebec.
Wolfe Meets Stobo
Quebec was regarded by the governor of Canada, the Marquis de Montcalm, as impregnable. Following its loss to British forces he came under fire from Paris’s post-mortem for not carrying out a number of defensive plans which, on paper, he had deemed necessary to defend the colony against external attack. Particular omissions were seen as the failure to place batteries of cannon at certain strategic points, for instance, at Point Levis, at Cape Tourmente, and others.
Montcalm had recognised, but not adequately defended, other key spots which could spell destruction to any attacking naval force namely, at Cape Gaspe, Newfoundland, on the island of the Ile de Coudres, both north and south; upon the Ile d’Orleans, and, of particular vulnerability, at the head of the so-called, Traverse, a channel between the Ile d’Orleans and the headland on which stood Quebec itself.
Yet these proposals required resources which Montcalm did not command even upon appeal to Paris. Moreover even had batteries of cannon become available there was still the powder, ammunition, and, not least the trained manpower to operate them night and day. One extravagant idea was to sink ships in The Traverse though nobody thought to suggest where surplus ships might be found.
Yet, Montcalm was negligent in one respect, for, notwithstanding the failure to procure the resources to fulfil his defensive ambitions he did not give consideration to a French failure to hold these vital points, at all costs, for should any of them fall into enemy hands, that same enemy could wreak as much damage to the French as Montcalm had forseen as damaging to the enemy. And, thus it turned out.
Yet, against all these considerations, Quebec was still regarded by the marquis, and his subordinates, as having a very strong defensive position by reason of the cliffs surrounding it soaring to a height of two hundred feet from the St Lawrence River. As concerns the cliff-tops above Quebec, Montcalm had written to Viceroy, the Marquis de Vaudreuil that: “…the deployment of one hundred men could oppose an army.” By men he included the possibility of deploying Iroquois or the Huron who had been conducting operations of this kind against their enemies long before the French had arrived in Canada.
Below Quebec it was a different matter for there is a stretch of river with an accessible foreshore which might more easily be assaulted. Beyond the beach the terrain rises inland without natural strong-points though nonetheless able to be strongly defended by cannon, breastworks and entrenchments. And, there still remained the St Charles River to be crossed before the suburbs of the city could be invaded. It was the approach favoured by Admiral Phips of Virginia in 1690 who, though he managed to get his troops ashore, his forces were driven back. Later he claimed the French had overwhelming firepower though the French admitted some deception on that score.
Since that engagement the French had sunk huge boulders along the foreshore to inhibit the beaching of flat-bottom landing craft such as the shallow draught coaling barges known as ‘cats’ favoured by the British. Both commanders, Montcalm and Vaudreuil, chose to build their headquarters here at Beauport, the name of the settlement beyond the St Charles and Montmorency rivers. From their vantage point they were best able to observe approaching ships or boats carrying troops for assault operations from any direction on the St Lawrence River.
In July 1759 Wolfe mounted such an operation having infiltrated some 800 American rangers, who claimed the terrain was similar to the territory of New England, below Quebec They were to work their way past the Montmorency Falls and wait for Wolfe’s infantry and grenadiers. Having succeeded in their first task the Rangers decided they could take on the defensive positions further inland alone charging up the steep slope atop which were entrenchments hidden from their view.
The Indians could not believe their luck and charging down the slope, tomahawks in hand, succeeded in scalping most of the Rangers; the disaster was watched by Wolfe who was too far away to intervene. Montcalm was heard to remark to his senior officers that Wolfe was welcome to make more such attacks when he would be happy to oblige the general. “It will suit us very well.”
Soon after that failed assault the general was laid up with fever and doctors ordered him to bed suggesting to his fellow generals that his life was in danger. The one man Wolfe persisted in seeing was Captain Stobo who had made the hazardous journey from Louisburg (after an abortive visit) to seek him; he had vital information. Wolfe was convalescing on the Ile d’Orleans in a house commandeered by the British after their assault upon the island. From their first encounter, it was the custom of the general to invite the captain to walk with him on his perambulations around the grounds of his temporary home.
The two men were of a similar age, 32 years, and, by virtue of the many meetings the two men had it was evident that Wolfe was charmed by Stobo. From Stobo’s diary it was evident Wolfe showed a keen interest because Stobo had inside knowledge of Quebec which Wolfe lacked. Indeed Stobo made contact with Wolfe just prior to the operation (mentioned above) whereby the captain was invited to join the general to point out possible entry points where the enemy was vulnerable.
The enemy fire proved too strong however exposing both Wolfe and Stobo and both had to withdraw. So, it was also fortunate that Stobo had arrived at a moment when the major-general felt at a low ebb for Stobo was optimism personified. At their next meeting, Wolfe began to quiz the captain closely:
“You mean to say that you were allowed to walk around the environs of the town unhindered.” (meaning Quebec)
“Well, you see sir,” responded Stobo, “it was a condition laid down by the French when Van Braam and I were surrendered to them that we should give our parole. From their viewpoint, therefore, my explorations of the countryside were undertaken when I was on a promise not to escape though my view was that I was on active service albeit a prisoner. Stobo could not help but notice the general’s demeanour at this admission and paused thinking he might want to pose a question. His host said:
“As I understand the matter, Captain, Major Washington had orders from Governor Dunwiddie to attack Fort Duquesne. Is that where the action took place?”
“Alas sir, our intelligence was faulty and it was fortunate that our scout, Mr Van Braam, going on ahead, reported a large force of the enemy in our path and some way distant allowing our party to make some preparation for a defence.”
“How far were you from the fort?” Asked Wolfe to which Stobo replied:
“At the time we had no idea which was the reason the scout was sent ahead. Later I discovered the party of Canadians was several miles distant.”
Stobo looked at his feet ruefully and confessed:
“It was my poor legs which discovered the distance, sir.”
Wolfe smiled as he spoke:
“Did you suffer any casualties?
Stobo reddened at the remembrance blurting out:
“None, sir; there was no fighting. Night was on us quickly but the work had to go on, digging trenches; our noise must have alerted the enemy for the next morning under a flag of truce a note was passed to the major.”
Wolfe looked keenly at Stobo, but did not seem surprised when Stobo admitted he did not know, but, from what Van Braam had told him later, the enemy had a fair idea of their trenches. Wolfe looked puzzled; Stobo explained:
“It seems the ground is waterlogged so that our trenches were half filled with water. Their commander, Bougainville, knew the terrain if we didn’t. Knowing our pitiful condition the major reasoned that Major Washington would be willing to return the way he and his party had come without hostilities only demanding two hostages as a condition of the major’s undertaking of no further hostile action. So, Van Braam and I were to be the hostages against the good behaviour of the rest of the party.”
For a moment Stobo paused because his companion had stopped in front of a wooden bench and it was clear he wanted to sit, but, out of courtesy to his guest asked if he would like to sit with him to which Stobo gladly assented. Both men being seated, Wolfe was silent as he looked around posing a question:
“How do you like the garden?”
“These surroundings, sir, would not look out of place in my native Renfrew without of course those yonder masts I see passing above the treetops. They must be on the Traverse. And you, sir; do you like gardens?”
“My mother loves to pull on rubber boots and gardening gloves,” began Wolfe, adding, “to continue the good work my father started, alas, before his premature departure from this world. It’s good to visit Westerham on my return from campaign though I confess that there has been more campaigning than gardening, just lately, more’s the pity.”
“And what campaigns,” said Stobo turning to look at the general in admiration, “Dettingen, Fontenoy, Minden and you were at Culloden, sir.”
Wolfe looked ahead steadfastly his lips set grimly. Stobo however wanted to speak thanks for an action he was told about; he said:
“I can tell you in all honesty, sir. My nation is proud of you. I mean your disobedience of the Duke of Cumberland in refusing to shoot a Scot, defeated rebel though he was.”
He might have said more but Wolfe rebuked him, though kindly:
“No more of that, sir; come, a question!”
“What were your feelings on becoming a hostage, Captain?”
Stobo reflected a moment before admitting:
“Do you ken, sir, it was Mr Van Braam who, I recall, articulated a sense of grievance. He told me it was typical of the English that they surrendered a Scotchman and a Dutchman to the French and…”
His flow was interrupted by Wolfe:
“Were those your sentiments too?”
“Definitely not, sir,” Stobo was vehement in his denial, “I told him sir that it was the French who dictated the terms. They demanded a captain and a civilian.”
Wolfe had a little difficulty in response such was his laughter:
“Not just a civilian, captain, a scout, the scout. The major probably believed the party would lose their way without him.”
Stobo stiffened apprehensive of Wolfe’s next remark:
“Do you know what happened to the party subsequently?”
“No, sir.” Replied Stobo.
“Major Washington was taken prisoner.”
Wolfe turned to look at Stobo; he said:
“The French major rightly predicted that Washington, without the scout, and yourself, do not forget that, would get lost and somehow stray into French territory; indeed, that’s what happened. The British had to exchange Washington for a captured French officer. They were none too pleased.”
Wolfe fell silent which emboldened Stobo:
“May I ask a question, sir?”
“What is it?”
“Is Major Washington here with the Rangers?” Said Stobo, “If so, I’d certainly like to meet up with him again, sir, if you are agreeable.”
The general did not answer and then tapped his nose, saying:
“Between ourselves, Captain, my soldiers must have some experience of musketry and cannon fire which the major eschewed on the occasion of your capture; you recall our recent debacle was fairly hot You did well and how chary of me to omit to ask after your wound. What did the surgeon make of it?”
“It was nothing, sir, just bruising and painful to walk for a while which is why I appreciated your asking me to sit. Apart from that I’m fighting fit. God be praised. But, I came out of it scot-free, to coin a phrase.”
Stobo’s diary records that Wolfe and Stobo were standing on the forecastle of a cat beached on the Beauport shore when a length of timber, from a cannonball smashing against a gunwale, hit Stobo across the thigh.
Wolfe mused a while muttering:
“I lost some brave fellows there. One a major; would that I could exchange him for someone who shall be nameless.”
Stobo made no answer and the general turning to eye him said:
“Your silence does you credit.”
For a while all that could be heard was the twittering of birds in the trees. It was a warm day and vapour still rose as the ascending sun dried out the dew from the lush vegetation. The sound of footsteps broke the silence and the two men looked at each other and then towards the house. On the footpath was a man in naval uniform with heavy epaulettes. Perched on his head was the distinguishing hat of an admiral of the blue. Whilst still within earshot Wolfe turned to Stobo:
“Here’s my favourite admiral come to tell me he has seen a second lump of ice. Have you brought it with you, my dear Saunders, eh?”
The man thus addressed stopped in front of the general making a slight bow in greeting his opposite number:
“How is the patient, today?”
“Well, Admiral, in truth all the better in seeing your cheerful countenance notwithstanding that piece of ice you are about to present me.”
He turned to Stobo who was already on his feet feeling a little humble in the presence of the two highest officers of the expedition whereas the admiral noticing his somewhat modest stance tried putting him at ease:
“My hearty thanks, dear sir, for enlarging my fleet and reducing that of our enemies. By thunder would you not care to exchange your particular blue for the best navy in the world blue, and, no doubt you’ll be doffing a hat like mine ere long.”
Stobo reddened at the admiral’s generous compliment but was spared an answer by Wolfe addressing Saunders thus:
“I myself have plans for the captain, my dear Admiral, so you’ll just have to bide your time.”
Turning to Stobo, he said:
“I look forward to seeing you on the morrow, Captain Stobo. You’ll forgive a pair of warriors their tête-a-tête, eh?”
So the captain took his leave slightly disappointed not to sit in and overhear the two commanders for Stobo had already pondered the possibility of personal recollections and such a meeting as this would certainly add spice to his narrative though the fact that he was there at all was something special.
Daily at dawn the bombardment began and continued intermittently to nightfall. Monsieur Lemay, the mayor was ever on the move throughout the city comforting people whose houses had been destroyed by the incoming cannonballs fired from a battery upon Point Orlean on the Ile d’Orlean.
The noise from the crashing shells was something the population of Quebec had lived with since July and it was small comfort to be told that it could not last much longer as it was early September with ice already forming on the St Lawrence river, if only below the banks, so the English fleet would be forced out unless they wanted to spend the winter in Canada locked in the ice.
On the way to his office on the Rue des Jardins not too far from the chateau where he was allotted quarters and where he lived with his family, Monsieur Lemay had first broken ice underfoot days before and it was a regular occurrence. Indeed he had been forced to walk on the grass beside the road to avoid slipping on the slippery dew frozen as the temperature plummeted.
To prevent further injuries and deaths and after consultation with the military he had begun to first persuade and then compel people to leave their property which the artillery men told him was under the flight path of incoming shells. Soon after the English stationed a battery upon captured terrain at Point Levis directly opposite Quebec on the southern bank and whereas the shells from Point d’Orleans were nearly spent at such a distance the projectiles from Point Levis possessed a velocity and impact that devastated whatever habitation was struck.
The mayor, no stranger to death, for, as a pioneer in New France, he had lost friends and relatives to disease and privation over the years, had recently witnessed death and injury at close hand when visiting houses destroyed by bursting shells. Only yesterday whilst clearing away the rubble from a victim to place her on a stretcher he was splashed by the liquids from smashed bottles. For some bizarre reason the names on the bottles buzzed around his head.
The liquids were vinegar; one bottle said, Eschalot, another, Ratalia and a third, Cidre. Such strange remembrances filled him with shame especially as he could not remember the victim’s name. He had got her to hospital which was more important even though her vinegars were no more.
At first he had been comforted, for the sake of his family, that shells from either source aimed at the chateau had made little impact on account of the trajectory of the missiles many just bouncing off. Yet the fact that his family was not under fire affected his relations with citizens some of whom had moved in to the chateau though in limited numbers as Monsieur Vaudreuil had reminded him that the chateau housing troops occupying the citadel must not have its military role undermined.
Yet, these problems confronting him as mayor paled beside his concerns for his family though not from death or injury from enemy action but from the heartache on the part of his daughter for an enemy of the state. Three months earlier a certain prisoner living in the family had escaped which event produced ripples not only affecting his daughter, who had formed such a regard for him, but also, by disappointing his superiors, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, and, which grieved him the most, the estimable Marquis de Montcalm.
He had pledged his word on behalf of his beloved daughter to Monsieur Vaudreuil, and the memory of it brought a deep flush to his cheeks. That event would cloud his period as mayor for ever and he debated with himself whether that joyful event, his nomination as mayor and subsequent election in the spring, might not have been such a happy promotion in the light of the events since.
Mayor Lemay learned to his incredulity that his prisoner, treated as one of the family, was regarded by his superiors as a highly dangerous man. Moreover he was even more astounded when he was ordered to issue proclamations and posters towards his apprehension promising the sum of six thousand livres to his captor(s), alive or dead, as the reward. The sum was unprecedented and the only previous incident in his knowledge was from his homeland as related to him by his grandfather that the sum of three thousand livres had been offered for the capture of Malbrouk, a nickname for the Duke of Marlborough and that was half a century before.
However though these considerations fretted the brows of the mayor yet neither the amount nor the obloquy in which the escapee was regarded was of any concern for his daughter, Marie. These facts might even have lent a golden lining to the reputation of the former captive who was invited to enter the Lemay household.
It was sometime in January, 1758, the year before, that Marie, visiting the hospital in the company of the Sisters from the nearby priory, St Denis, had beheld the features of a man who, the party was told, had been recaptured near the Montmorency Falls. He was emaciated having not eaten for days, could scarcely stand from exhaustion , indeed it was likely the reason for his speedy recapture, and, he appeared also to be suffering from a high fever and was not expected to live. His name was Captain Robert Stobo.
It would not be long before Marie knew his story feeling an injustice was taking place which she might alleviate if not rectify. She made it her mission to attend to the needs of the prisoner whom the hospital authorities were not over anxious to save having been advised that the patient’s possible demise might be conducive to state security.
For that same Robert Stobo, a twelvemonth before, had been under sentence of death by a military court in Canada, which would certainly have been carried out had King Louis ratified the sentence. It is thought likely that the king concluded having weighed up the evidence that the captain’s parole had been forced upon him as a condition of a truce on being taken prisoner.
Yet, the real reason for passing sentence of death at a court martial and likely withheld from the king was that the Canadian authorities, in particular, the future viceroy Vaudreuil, had been guilty of negligence. Stobo’s parole had terminated upon Major Washington’s party having returned to Virginia which, it was natural for Stobo to assume, must have happened within days. The negligence occurred when Stobo was allowed to wander around Fort Duquesne, whence he had been taken, and taking notes of their defences.
Stobo had drawn up a plan, being an engineer, signed it with his name, written a letter placing both in a package addressed to Wills Creek, the headquarters of the military in Virginia, and had bribed an Indian to convey it where it ended up in Philadelphia. The civil authority impressed with the documents had made copies passing one to the newly arrived General Braddock.
One can imagine the chagrin of Vaudreuil on opening his mail from Paris to be presented with the documents along with the question as to how such highly sensitive papers should be in English hands. It seems Braddock had been waylaid by an Indian war-party, killed and the documents taken from him and passed to someone who, perhaps joyfully to embarrass Vaudreuil, had sent them to Paris.
While awaiting sentence Stobo had been subject to some vile practices. He was taken regularly from his cell, which he describes in his memoirs as execrable in the extreme, his hands bound behind him, blindfolded while his guards talked about his approaching execution. He was left in the execution yard hearing groans from condemned men and the shots, which, he was meant to assume, had ended the life of some prisoner and being constantly reminded that it was his fate once the king had ratified his execution.
Once he was interviewed by a Frenchman speaking excellent English. He appeared to have some knowledge of both English and Scottish history. After some friendly preamble the interrogator asked him to reveal information on the grounds that he must hate the English for their having robbed Scotland of independence. When Stobo refused the interrogator told the captain that he must be an English stooge, a spy and must be dealt with accordingly. Stobo realised the Frenchman, not aware of the facts of his capture, had overplayed his hand. From that moment he made the decision to escape.
The French, in trying to punish the Scot, moved him to a large cell where, at first, he had a hard time. He mixed with the riff-raff of colonial society, common criminals in prison for stealing in all its guises: the pick-pocket, the burglar, the footpad and many more. Meals were brought in by guards in boxes and simply left there and Stobo, ignorant of prison routine, went hungry yet this harsh regime suited the Scot for he learnt the common lingo, low colloquial expressions common among the lower classes. He was a fast learner. His French was so fluent that he deliberately tried to conceal it so as to deceive his captors.
A year into his captivity Stobo began to learn the routine of the warders, the guards and soldiers though it was to no avail, for, when the prison governor failed to receive a plea from the Scot to be moved out, in other words, that the regime had failed to break his spirit, Stobo was once again moved to a cell, this time below ground where his only light was a square hole in an outside wall open to the weather but preventing escape by two thick iron bars from top to bottom embedded in the stonework.
Once more Stobo studied the routine of the warders and being left alone from a last meal in the evening to le petit dejeuner (breakfast) the next day, the lone prisoner, having contrived to ‘lose’ a small knife, set to work to scrape away the cement surrounding the iron bars. After a while he needed to insert something to make up for the missing sand and began to put bread aside for that purpose. First it had to be chewed then dried. After making good his night’s work one morning he was visited by the governor who leaned against the cell window while talking to Stobo who scarcely heard what he was saying by reason of his nerves: would the man notice his handiwork?
After one morning’s work when Stobo had managed to loosen the sandstone and cement bewteen both vertical bars he decided that night to make his break spending the day smearing mud over his uniform to obscure it as much as possible. Past midnight he removed all the crumbled stone between the bars, tied his silk kerchief around the bars applying pressure using his knife as a tourniquet. Fraction by fraction the two bars moved together until, being stripped to under-clothes and bare feet, Stobo dropped his bundle of clothes outside and proceeded to squeeze his head, his emaciated torso and legs through the gap while contriving to hang onto the bars.
He had needed to reduce weight to wrestle his way through the small gap; yet his emaciated condition would inhibit his stamina once having obtained his freedom. Yet again, although Stobo was in a poor condition his military training led him to observe the vulnerable places both in- and outside Quebec. The St Charles river proved no hindrance for he made his way across via the floating batteries which acted as a bridge and which were unmanned. Deciding his escape route was best using a boat he made his way down open country and forest towards and below the Montmorency Falls. It was here that a search party on horseback spotted him. He was soon recaptured after but a few days at liberty.
You might think that he would be taken to hospital but the authorities were brutally determined: their king might have spared him though he deserved to die which is the reason he spent weeks in another dungeon. When that failed to produce the desired outcome Stobo was prodded to his feet, his hands bound behind him in order to take him to a punishment cell beyond the milieu of other prisoners; it was to be his death dungeon or so his captors hoped.
But, it was not to be, for, in crossing the square accompanied by his guards, in order to reach Stobo’s final cell, he collapsed and was assisted by a party of nuns who insisted on looking after him. Stobo was placed in the bed where one day the visiting Marie Lemay would see him. She brought his condition to the attention of her father, the recently installed mayor, and when she insisted that the honour of La France was impugned by his condition and past treatment, her father made representations to his own superior, the newly appointed Viceroy, the Marquis de Vaudreuil.
In common with many bureaucratic administrations, a high profile subject, in this case, Stobo, though a dangerous person, slipped below the horizon of vital considerations. In the weeks and months following Mam’selles ministrations the captain was allowed to walk around the grounds of the hospital, and eventually, the mayor indulged his daughter by allowing him to walk upon the ramparts of the chateau provided he was at all times in view of the sentries. Climbing steps exhausted him and it is not hard to imagine that the proximity of her family’s quarters in the chateau persuaded her to allow him to rest, meet her mother, take tea and enjoy his conversation. As concerns the captain’s newly acquired facility with her language, it soon became her wish to smooth away its rough edges.
Around this time an American trading ship had lost its way striking rocks in the vicinity of the Belle Isle Straights. Unfortunately the survivors had barely reached land when they were attacked by Iroquois suspecting it was a spy ship (England and France were at war) and killing some survivors before Canadians appeared on the scene taking the rest of the passengers and crew into custody. One of the victims was a child of an English colonist and his wife, the Clarks; their other children, a lieutenant Stevenson of an American Rangers Regiment and others were taken prisoner. All the survivors were taken to Quebec and it was not long before they became acquainted with Captain Robert Stobo.
Stobo Finds a Friend
Mademoiselle Marie Lemay looked back to January of last year, 1758, with some nostalgia for it was then that she had first set eyes upon the handsome Scottish officer, Captain Robert Stobo. It was the first time she had met somebody from that country although her mother often sent her to sleep with the romantic tales surrounding a young princess of Scotland married to the dauphin of France who tragically had died compelling her to return to the land of her birth and becoming Queen. To Marie, her namesake, Mary Queen of Scots was the most romantic heroine of any history, French or Scottish.
Seeing the sick man in his bed and learning his one-sided story from the hospital authorities quickened her resolve to see that he recovered aiding it by supplementing his meagre diet with her own food. She was beside him as he made his first steps persuading her father also to help in his convalescence by welcoming him into their household. He was soon almost one of the family.
After a while the authorities seemed to forget about him and she would take long walks with him. One particular walk he favoured was along Abraham’s Way leading to a lonely part of the woods where they discovered a hidden cove. Talking of their discovery later with Babette, her maid, she learned the name of the cove, Anse au Foulon (Fulling Cove), for it was discovered that clay from the cove was more than useful in scouring the grease from clothes.
In her memory was the homespun tales of Robert growing up in his native Fife so that whenever something local was observed his mind inevitably returned to comparisons in his native land. She recalled his description of his antics learning to row on the river Clyde comparing them with his attempts to launch and paddle a canoe on the St Lawrence, chuckling to herself as in recall, he tipped over more than once, so that by the time he reached shore his uniform needed some fulling clay.
She was reminiscing in bed as was her custom nowadays for lately she had neglected her usual rounds with the nuns. Although the incoming shells did not disturb the family too much, their noise was ever present and many people even far beyond the trajectory of the missiles, were too low in spirits to venture out. Morale was low as confirmed by the numbers of people leaving the town moving further inland where the problem for the authorities in Quebec was housing and feeding them.
For Madame Lemay it was also difficult though her spirits were lower than usual on account of the misery being suffered by her daughter and she had given up trying to persuade her to resume her charitable work. She beseeched their maid, Babette, to beg her to persuade Mam’selle to rise and partake of some le petit dejeuner, some breakfast, listening hopefully to the maid’s knocking on the bedroom door, hearing a muffled response, and, forcing herself to smile in anticipation of success, she left Babette to her work and resumed her crochet.
“Bon jour, ma petite,” called Babette as she opened the door, “it’s such a beautiful day. Shall we go for a walk?”
Babette stopped herself realising that walks had become no longer possible during the bombardment being somewhat taken aback when her young mistress responsed positively.
“C’est une bonne idee!”
A good idea thought Babette: I must be out of my mind. She walked towards a wardrobe. Opening it she inspected the gowns. She would go along with the idea if only to raise mam’selle from her bed. She turned back to ask:
“Shall it be the turquoise, Mam’selle, then you might also wear your emeralds. It’s been such a long time since…”
To Babette’s astonishment her mistress confirmed her choice brightly commenting:
“Yes, whatever you say, my dear Babette. We must go through the motions. I daresay Madame has sent you to me, but no matter, I must do something, I know, to take my mind off things.”
She allowed herself to be stripped of her night attire submitting to her servant’s ministrations regarding her toilette, did as she was softly told to raise a leg, stick out an arm. So, Babette dressed her with camisole and corset before standing upright with eyes closed as Babette dropped the emerald gown over her. Babette smiled with radiance and her enthusiasm provoked a smile from Marie. The next words tripping off her tongue however made her servant sigh inwardly as she heard:
“It will be three months, one week, two days and nine and a half hours since he slipped out of my life. You see Babette, I haven’t got over him, but, as you see, I can, we can, go through the motions.”
Babette, the optimist, said:
“Mother Superior would be so pleased to see you again, Mam’selle Marie. She stopped me only last week to enquire of your health.”
“I should have worn the black dress,” retorted Marie, scolding her servant, “you’re not thinking straight, dear Babette, and, if so…”
She stopped whispering something conspiratorially into her servant’s ear and realising it was silly to whisper tailed off: “We could go his way to the rendezvous, just like the old days.”
For, in her reminiscing she had conveniently forgotten that Babette was always there in the background being not much older than herself and with the energy to match. Marie looked at her servant’s stern demeanour feeling let down and then lifted when Babette’s face creased into a smile as she spoke the magic words:
A thousand reasons assailed Babette’s mind but in the euphoria of creating enthusiasm in her young mistress, she demurred from raising practical matters except to add in tapping her nose like a plotter:
“Between ourselves, little miss, hmm?”
This last was an Americanism frowned on by the elder Lemays. Babette’s heart suddenly was pounding as she ushered her charge downstairs intoning ‘Hail Marys’ one after the other anxious over what she had been persuaded to do.
While Marie Lemay is pining for her dashing Scottish captain that officer himself might well also have dwelt on his petite Marie had not his mind been occupied elsewhere. As he sat in his lodgement assigned to him by Colonel March commanding the 51st Foot, billeted in accommodation hastily abandoned by the 110th Cuirassiers, one of the Marquis Montcalm’s regiments, Stobo fretted how he was going to live. His many adventures had brought its fair share of danger and excitement even fear which he had come to rely on almost as a drug. Yet it had brought him no release from financial worries.
His most vexing concern putting the remembrances of recent adventures out of his mind was: how was he to live? The port authority in Louisburg had been good to him selling the schooner taken from the French although the hope that it would buy him a new uniform was soon dashed Yet, to be fair to the tailors, he had been impatient to leave as soon as he heard that a courier with despatches for General Wolfe was about to depart by a fast yacht.
One problem with the money he had not spent was that it was negotiable only in Louisburg. Wolfe had brought currency of the realm with him to pay his soldiers and it was the lack of such that now was worrying Stobo. He reflected on his pay accruing in Wells Creek and had tried to raise a credit for his arrears in Louisburg without success. Now, his one hope was that the general might see his way to helping him. It was now his most earnest desire to join the British Army and he was prepared to forgo any reward or glory that might otherwise be his due.
He examined his uniform which owed more to expediency than smartness made as it was from yarn woven by French craftsmen from Nimes (denim) who not only brought their skill to America but could make it at a price favoured by the military. In Stobo’s view it was functional and he longed to exchange it for a long red coat with silver buttons and golden loops all the way down its front, for two wide turned over cuffs with lace around the top. He wanted to wear the black trousers with a white stripe down the outside. And, to complete the ensemble a smart looking belt with sword and black tricorn hat.
Had he duties to occupy him he might have less time to brood on his circumstances or his surroundings. The room he occupied was clearly intended for the lower ranks as it resembled such as he had seen in Quebec. It was sparsely furnished comprising bunks set close together with larges boxes in lieu of cupboards; above his head was a curtain-rail for isolating a woman, one of the wives of a soldier, one of the four who would occupy such a room.
Colonel March had explained to him that all the officers’ rooms were already taken though to Stobo there was a sub-text in that the officers’ quarters were designated for British, though not for colonial, officers. He had noticed this discrimination already, among even the lower ranks, for at breakfast they attended only to his wants after the British officers had been served. It galled him that a British ensign had more call on a servant than he, a captain.
The fact that he was in attendance on the major-general seemed to make no impression though Stobo smugly admitted to himself only he knew that for on leaving the barracks he made his way on foot for the best part of a league in order to reach the general’s house and returned for dinner the same way. So, apart from him, nobody at the barracks knew of his destination which Wolfe had urged him to keep to himself. Yet, he had the inner satisfaction that he was being of service to a higher cause and what higher could there be than to serve his country and his king. Though, truth, as the saying goes, will out. He contented himself with this motto.
Stobo took out his newly acquired fob watch again to check the time and computed there were twenty fewer minutes to wait before he might take his leave in order to start walking towards the general’s house for his next interview. Before closing the lid his eye caught an inscription: ‘To Mr Trelawny on the occasion of 25 years of loyal service given this day of 14th of June, 1726 by the directors of the St Just mine.’ He snapped the lid thinking longingly of Mistress Clark who had pressed it into his hand as a forget-me-not. Yet, even without the watch, he was never likely to forget Mistress Clark.
He recalled her words: “It was my father’s. Now, it’s yours.” She had gazed up at him tears brimming in passionate green eyes, “It could not be in better hands.” So she spoke bidding him farewell at the quayside of Louisburg just weeks before.It had been a mad dash to reach the port only to learn that the general had left just days before on his way to Quebec with the whole fleet having set sail from Spithead in March, earlier in the year.
Stobo lay back on his bunk and cast his mind back to the intimate occasion when he first realised he was in love. They had been rowing all morning against the tide on the St Lawrence River against driving snow and sleet and as their canoe buffeted the choppy waves water slopped over the side. It took all her energy to bail out the water with her bonnet. It was proving a hopeless task and he asked Lieutenant Stevenson to make for the shore. It was then that she gave him such a heartfelt look that his heart melted in the instant. Though cold and wet through, as they all were, her glance filled him with an inner warmth.
He dwelt on that experience. On shore their problems were not at an end for it was found that a lot of their gear and provisions had become wet, in particular, the flints and striking iron. They were icy and it proved impossible to produce a spark. Mistress Clark, although tired and exhausted herself, had a solution: taking them from his chilled hands she turned her back. It took him by surprise until she spoke softly to him:
“My bodice is still bone dry. You will have your flint and iron ere long. In the meantime, shall we look for drier tinder for this is wet from our dripping clothes?”
With fresh heart Stobo and his companions gathered fresher dry foliage from deeper into the wood away from the weather near the water’s edge. And, it worked for soon there was a fire crackling and they could disrobe and dry their outer garments. As he momentarily busied himself next to her, he whispered:
“I envied those flints, Mistress Clark.”
She looked away. He remembered her gazing fixedly into the fire for presently she murmured:
“As the tinder caught fire, so did my heart.”
Stobo sat suddenly on his bunk as another memory hit him like a cold douche. Someone had noticed their powder was also wet and once again she had a solution warming a towel into which she emptied the horns of powder. The towel absorbed the damp leaving the powder dry enough to discharge a musket. He had good reason to thank her, they all did, for hours later, having decided to rest up the whole day, they heard voices. At this moment Stevenson’s ranger skills enabled them to approach the source of the sounds without attracting attention.
Stobo called to them in Iroquois-speak learnt at Fort Duquesne. He was near enough to see their faces relax. He exchanged a glance with the lieutenant and both discharged their muskets simultaneously. The two Indians dropped to the ground. A dog with them dashed from their wigwam into the forest. Clark, taking their tomahawks, scalped them expertly saying with grim satisfaction:
“I’ll get forty dollars for these in Louisburg.”
Stobo told him to bury the corpses. In the meantime the little dog had returned and Clark killed it with one blow and covered it with leaves. It was not an easy task to dig a decent sized hole with tomahawks. For the tent also had to be buried. Stobo wanted no trace left. They covered the disturbed ground with foliage and bracken.
At last they retraced their steps to their camp to find Mistress Clark. Her two sons were sleeping peacefully. She had not been idle and had skinned two rabbits which Stevenson had skilfully pulled from a burrow earlier cutting up their bodies and throwing in various herbs growing in the woods which from experience were safe to eat. As they ate he had remarked on the Clarks’ two boys with praise for they did not whine or complain. Clark explained the brutal truth:
“The shipwreck was what did it. We were all there, sprawling, half drowned. Then this savage comes screaming from the trees. Before we know what’s happened, baby Johnny’s dead. It was horrible. They would’ve done us in an’ all. Except this guy screamed:
“No, Mono, no! It were the Canadian officer. Y’see that was it. From that time on, the other two, well, it took the wind from their sails. It explains it all, don’t it?”
Clark, paused in the effort to articulate his thoughts the message being to Stobo that the other children were still terrified by that trauma. But she disagreed:
“Our children just know when enough is enough, end of story.”
Of the two explanations Stobo preferred hers. A knock on the door alerted him to the outside world. There was a second knock and his door opened. A soldier spoke:
“There’s a carriage outside, sir; the driver’s asking for you. For Captain Stobo!”
There was a slight truculence in the tone of his address but Stobo thanked him saying he would be outside directly. Inside the carriage he tapped with his newly acquired stick to signal the driver he was ready to go. Looking at his watch and calculating the time he realised he would be somewhat early. He settled back to enjoy the ride. It was all over too quickly. At Wolfe’s house he was directed to the aide-de-camps office who greeted him cheerily:
“Good news, Captain. The 15th Foot is willing to accept you as a replacement for an officer lost at Beauport. What do you think of that?”
Stobo broke into a broad grin:
“I was already feeling as bright as a burn. It’s getting better and better. But, sir, I’m badly kitted out. You see the state of my tunic and my cap…”
“Have no fears on that score, captain. The general understands your circumstances.”
The mention of him brought Stobo up short remembering why he was there and said so at which the other man told him the general was tied up for the moment and would the captain give him the pleasure of his company.
“The thing is, captain.”
They were seated in his small office and the aide-de-camp leaned across the table saying:
“We have received a letter from Louisburg addressed to the provost. You probably don’t know he is also the padre. There are a number of such doublings as we call them. An expedition such as this needs soldiers, first and last. Where was I?”
“The letter, Major Knoxe,” reminded Stobo.
“It seems a Mr Clark has written that a certain officer has taken a watch that does not belong to him. Do you know anything of this?”
Stobo did know. It was evident that Clark was taking umbrage. He thought the best thing was to explain the whole thing and when he had finished the other man smiled and said:
“My dear chap. That is the perfect cover. Y’see we’d been racking our brain to come up with some story as to why you are seeing the general so often. Security you see. But, we now have the perfect cover, so, if anyone, say, Colonel March, puts an awkward question to you just hint at the watch, and leave it at that. Say, it’s sub-judice. There is one question that’s been bothering us. It’s the time you took to reach Louisburg. How long was it?”
“Thirty-eight days, sir. But, we only travelled nights at first, sir. By day, it was too dangerous.”
Stobo stopped for he could see Knoxe wanted to put another question:
“How many in the party? And, how did you all meet? Oh, before that Captain Stobo just how did you escape?”
“I was billeted in the quarters of a French family, sir. The escape day was agreed so having retired for the night, I put on seaman’s trousers over my breeches, slipped into a coarse brown jacket, silk kerchief round the throat plus a false wig, a cap and sandals. It was a matelot’s gear. Something to take me out of Quebec without being noticed. I climbed between the sheets to wait. After midnight when all were asleep, I slipped out down the backstairs, through the garden and over a low wall. It was a league’s walk to an old windmill on the Plain of Abraham where I had arranged to meet up with Lieutenant Stevenson, the Clarks and their two children. I led them to the Anse au Foulon, where at the cove, I knew there would be a canoe which everyone had forgotten about. I found out why; it let in water as we found out soon after launching. But, it was too late to turn back.”
Major Knoxe looked puzzled so Stobo stopped inviting a question:
“You sold a schooner in Louisburg which you stole near Gaspe, not that anybody is complaining. But did you get to Gaspe in a leaking canoe?”
There was disbelief in Knoxe voice and rightly so as Stobo explained:
“We had a stroke of luck. Waiting for daylight to launch the canoe Stevenson was on some higher ground in the woods on the lookout for traffic before we…”
“I thought you said you only travelled at night Captain!”
In answer to Knoxe’ sceptic tone Stobo quipped:
“I’d like you on my side, Captain, in any trial.” Knoxe gave a thin smile and Stobo resumed:
“We were well past Beauport so we thought it expedient to switch, travelling by day and sleeping at night. As I was about to say Stevenson called to me and pointed. Coming towards us was a pinnace with four men at the oars. We armed ourselves and rushed to the water’s edge where they seemed to be heading. As they beached the boat and jumped out, we approached and confronted them with our muskets cocked to fire. At the rudder was an older man who did not make a move to get out. On enquiry as to his business he pointed to sacks of grain both fore and aft which had been transferred from a barque further down river. He was on the way to his home on the Camaraski Isles, somewhat up river.”
“And why had he so conveniently landed! To pick up a party of escaped prisoners, no doubt.”
Stobo was puzzled. Either he was boring his fellow officer or he had another agenda. He tried to answer his question:
“He was an old man, this chevalier, Chevalier Durrant. He was tired. He wanted to stop for some refreshment and resume later. His time was his own.”
“Go on, captain!” Knoxe smiled amused at Stobo’s puzzled face as he took up the narrative again:
“We commandeered the boat dumping the grain onto the beach, and ate their breakfast before telling the men they were free but not to tell the authorities as we had Monsieur Durrant as hostage.”
“I definitely would like you on my side, my dear captain. Yours is an astonishing tale. True or false, I’m agog for the next instalment.”
Just then there was a knock at the door and Knoxe called to enter.
A soldier stood there and said:
“The serjeant’s compliments, sir. Shall he provide refreshment for your guest?”
Knoxe addressed Stobo:
“We are trying not to waste some of the excellent tea which our former hosts left behind. Would you care to join me in a cup? It must be a year old as it’s from Assam, in India. The Frenchies have a colony there, or did, when last I heard.”
As Stobo assented and the soldier withdrew, the major said:
“There’s another fight going on there. The French never seem to run out of Marquis. A certain Marquis Dupleix is locked in a tussle with our Robert Clive.”
“No contest, sir.” Affirmed Stobo: “When it comes to a fight, Britain has more than its fair share of street-fighters. A marquis lacks the polish of the Glasgow, Brisol or London streets.”
“I’m inclined to agree.” Returned Knoxe as he ordered the returned soldier to give Stobo his tea offering him a box of biscuits:
“Help yourself, Captain. They may be a bit stale, but even so they’re better than our baked tiles. Where were we?”
“In the pinnace, sir. We rigged a sail and I got Monsieur Durrant to take his turn at the oars. He protested but I told him it was ‘la fortune de la guerre’, the fortune of war. Besides, I needed to see where we were headed so I took the tiller. And, it was fortunate that I did for two leagues down river I spotted the barque where monsieur had loaded the grain.”
“Did he see you?” Asked the eager Knoxe.
“Not until we were almost on him. We passed him to windward both rowing and sailing. There was an officer watching us. He shouted as we passed astern of him waking up to the fact that we were not stopping. I watched as he ordered the swivel gun to fire. The shot fell wide. Perhaps that was meant as a warning for after the next command, “Tirez!” and a near miss the splash flew over us. My rowers needed no bidding to put their all into pulling away for the next went through our sail. There was a ripping sound. It was grapeshot.”
“Godstrewth, sir! Cried Knoxe excitedly. “What an adventure!”
Stobo sipped his tea cooler now after some speech and absent-mindedly dunked his biscuit noticing Knoxe glower:
“There’s a Yankee, for you.” He sighed, adding: “Our very own Yankee of the 15th Foot. The ignorant among us will put it down to bad breeding; be warned.”
“I noticed the social divide in Louisburg,” said Stobo, “but it had to do with the currency.”
The major pursed his lips utterring a brief “Hmm.” As Stobo continued:
“A twelvemonth ago it was livres, louis d’or, marks, francs and there was so much in circulation that the governor let it be although he had a problem when it came to issuing English currency as the pupulation preferred their own silver and gold to the English variety. The Americans would use neither except their own yankee dollars and cents which they tried to persuade the governor to introduce. They were quite aggressive about it.”
“The governor presumably wants Nova Scotia to be part of Canada not Massachusetts?”
“Aye,” affirmed Stobo, “the general would do well to notify him at the earliest opportunity should Quebec fall to the British.”
“Good point Captain! You were telling me you had escaped the French gunboat.” The major had the bit between his teeth so Stobo concurred:
“The old man was tiring, I mean the chevalier, so I offered to change places. It was me for the oars and he to take the tiller.”
“That was good of you, captain, you do have a heart after all.”
The major was jesting enjoying himself so Stobo played up to his mood:
“Good of me, it was damn lucky, sir. He had spotted a sloop that I might have well missed as my ken of boats is zero.”
The major was puzzled asking why the chevalier was concerned for Stobo and got the response that the boat had been shot up with him on board, adding:
“It was self-preservation, sir; even for a Frenchman, numero uno. The sloop was close inshore and we all gazed at its ensign in terror as we sailed past. Its guns, swivel or not, looked menacing. Someone on board shouted at us. I told Durrant to wave; we all waved. I thought the danger was past. He was astern. Then, ‘bang’ and a terrifying sound above us. Durrent tacked to change direction. Even so bits of iron fell on us, harmlessly. Grapeshot. Durrant tacked again. I shouted row, row for your lives! Again, we heard the crash of cannon. A whole swathe of water bubbled where we might have been.”
“It would have cut you in half. No more Stobo, oooohhh!” The major intoned with mock sympathy.
“The chevalier more likely. He was at the rudder. But I take your point.”
“So you escaped. You’re here to tell the tale. All’s well as they say.”
The major leaned back relaxing somewhat but sat bolt upright when Stobo declared:
“If that were only true, but the worst was yet to come.”
“Godstrewth, sir. You are a card.”
Stobo reflected on what the lieutenant had told him aboard the yacht which brought despatches to Wolfe from Louisburg, he said, tell your story to the major, Stobo, and when you hear his, Godstrewth, you’ve hooked him: draw him in slowly just like you’re on the Clyde reeling in a prize salmon.
“Shipwreck, major. Aye, we rowed so hard to escape as we were afraid he’d up sail and chase us. It was getting dark, and suddenly, crash; nobody had paid attention to the sail as we rounded a bend in the river. We should have tacked or something nautical like that. It was a reef close inshore which caught the boat and did for us.”
“What did you do?” Asked the major eagerly.
“What could we do but bale out? I mean, with the water coming in too fast to bale. It was us which had to save us, ourselves. Panic. Stevenson and me jumped in. It was waist high the water. We man-handled the boat towards the shallows as far as he could. Rather, we brought the stern around parallel to the shore. Then carried the boys and the lady, and the old man.”
“You were stranded!” Said the major as an anti-climax.
“Not quite; Stevenson, Clark and me pulled, lifted, pushed, and generally man-handled the boat to the beach. We had to do this before it settled.”
“What was the point, Captain?”
The major seemed dismissive whereas Stobo gently explained it was their only means of locomotion. It would have to be repaired. Otherwise they were stuck. Major Knoxe once again pursed his lips as if to say, he knew Stobo and the others did something like that or else. Another thought struck him:
“But the schooner—where did that come from?”
“All in good time, major. Between the wrecked pinnace and the schooner there was bargaining to be done. Subterfuge. Downright lies.”
The major nodded and said almost triumphantly:
“And, we can expect a fair share of that, eh Captain? After all, we are at war.”
“Sometimes in extremity one can forget the war. Forget the world. It’s a question of survival. Perhaps, as Clark suggested earlier about how his boys changed after they saw their brother killed in front of them: fear, it’s a great motive for staying alive. And, my years of captivity began to pay dividends.”
“Dividends, from being a prisoner?” Said the major dumbfounded.
“I learned to survive through learning the patois of the Indians, the low French of the criminal classes, metropolitan French from a Gallic drawing room. You saw in me dunking a biscuit, a Yankee. To survive I acted Indian, or, a Frenchie; the devil if it came to it.”
“Could you act like an aide-de-camp?” Asked the major mischievously.
“Is there a vacancy?”
There was another knock at the door and Knoxe called to come in. This time a man with an apron appeared; he said in French:
“Shall I lay an extra place, monsieur, for dinner?”
The major turned to his guest telling him that the French did very well for themselves and conveniently had not had time to remove their excellent dinner service in fine china and exquisite cutlery, and, very importantly, some of their civilians, such as this poor chap, and turning back to the chef told him to add the extra place at which the Frenchman, bowed saying: “Oui, monsieur.”
“The chap’s an excellent cook, no doubt, but you’ll find out yourself. So, you were going to repair your boat.”
Stobo nodded: “It was clinker built so very simple in construction. Yet, the problem was that chunks of wood where the rocks came through the bottom were missing. That’s where Mistress Clark proved so resourceful, suggesting to strip off the bark from the birch trees which came off in large enough pieces to make repairs. But, it was still not seaworthy so we boiled up resin in a pot to caulk the joins.”
“And launched the boat?” Asked the major impulsively.
“No, not quite. Because of the reef we looked for a gap and moved some way up and down river wading in at low tide. It took hours and just when we thought to have found such a place for launching the boat, we spotted a vessel heading downriver so we withdrew into the trees.”
“Your famous schooner.” Said the major.
It slowed and anchored somewhat far away and we waited to see what it would do. I left Stevenson and walked to the water’s edge. Recall, I had my French sailor’s gear still so as to lull suspicion. I waved to the boat. It was a three master which Stevenson recognised as a schooner.”
“Qu’est-ce qui?” The man shouted.
Stobo translating, ‘who are you?’
“I pointed to our boat further down river telling him of the shipwreck and our enforced recovery of pots, food, drinking water, brandy. I got no further. He asked if there was any brandy to spare at which I naturally concurred and a short while after saw a dinghy launched into which got this man and a boy. He rowed, the boy steered. I got my pistol ready concealed beneath Monsieur Durrant’s long coat.”
“Godstrewth, Stobo. You are a cool one, and no mistake.” The major beamed.
Stobo smiled appreciatively and continued matter of fact:
“He beached the boat and walked towards the trees where Mistress Clark was standing. I brought up the rear. As he passed by she held the boy and I drew my pistol cocking it. He heard the sound and guessed the situation, pronto. There was no sound as I put my left finger to my lips.”
“Godstrewth, captain. You tell a cracking tale. You should write a book. It will outsell Gulliver, I’m sure.”
The major would have said more but a knock signalled dinner confirmed when a soldier opened and cocked his thumb. Both men made for the door.
Allied Generals Confer
Earlier Major Knoxe explained that the major-general was in conference with someone so could not see Stobo at his appointed time. In fact his three brigadiers brought forward a conference by several days having learned that the British had less time than expected. The session was somewhat fraught, at least with one of them. Months ago, in London, Brigadier Towshend had been to see the king the interview being leaked (nothing changes). The king was told that Wolfe was mad whereupon the king retorted, so it was said:
“Mad he is! Then, I wish he would bite some of my generals.”
That was the leak which was printed. Unofficially (if a leak can be described as official), the king reminded his generals that he (Wolfe) wins battles which circumstance was not part of the other generals’ curriculum vitae. One man perceived, as particularly meant, Brigadier-General Townshend felt that rank in society should be first and last the criterion for promotion to the senior positions.
Wolfe opened the meeting:
“Well, gentlemen! You each were given a particular project to examine. No doubt you have come to let me know what option is preferable. Who would like to start.”
Townshend said coldly:
“If my suggestion had been adopted at the outset, we should not be sitting here, at all.”
Murray turned to his colleague:
“As you know, sir, proposals need to win majority approval. On that basis it was not proceeded with.”
Then turning to face his commanding officer said:
“Shall I begin, sir?”
Townshend scowled and was silent and Wolfe glanced at him before turning to Murray, raising his arm in assent. Murray began:
“You asked me to examine the feasibility of two batallions proceeding up-river to Cap Rouge. It would require vessels with a low draught as the upper reaches have not been surveyed, at least by our side. Night might be the optimum time, and, of course, dry weather on account of the men gaining purchase on the high banks which are not so high as Quebec and its immediate surroundings but still an obstacle. The distance from Quebec is about twelve miles over unknown country. The French have an encampment near Point Rouge, some miles inland, though have a small contingent on the river. Presumably runners could inform Colonel Bougainville the commander at the Point. That is a resume of the situation, sir.”
Wolfe was silent for a moment before turning to the other two generals. What is your opinion, Monckton?”
Of the three projects we have examined, sir, it appears the more viable. You asked me to look at an assault on the harbour below Quebec. The problem is that should we occupy the harbour, there is still the steep slope to tackle to reach the town. I sent a raiding party ashore with the cooperation of Admiral Saunders. Their report makes sobering reading. A few defenders could hold off an army. Two men did manage to gain the upper slopes.”
He was interrupted by Thomson who cried with triumph:
“If two men can do it, so can an army.”
It was Wolfe who spoke:
“What do you say to that, Monckton?”
“Just this, sir. The two men who gained the slope were not recognised by the citizenry. It was dark, the French took them as sentries. How do you hide a battalion, let alone an army?”
“What about another attack on Beauport, Brigadier Townshend.?”
The man addressed sighed and without answering his commanding officer’s question directly looked at the ceiling before commenting:
“The whole thing is a farce. We should all pack up and leave. There is no time left to plan a tea party let alone win Quebec. Perhaps next year, Lord North will give the commission to another more qualified officer. Then, we shall see.”
“In the meantime, we petty men will peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.”
It was Wolfe who spoke rather dejectedly but Townshend, spurred by his own self-importance, said:
“You are fond of quotations, general. What about this one?”
“Once more, once more into the breach dear friends or close the wall up with our English dead. But, all we have here is talk, talk, talk.”
“That same Harry speaks of gentleman now abed who’ll think themselves accursed they were not here. And gentlemen who might have been there were absent, it seems. However, I do recall arrows falling like snow at Agincourt shot by brave English peasants and the lower orders. What price a duke, a constable or even a king when bodkins braved the field?”
“Bah!” Thomson got up to leave. Wolfe spoke:
“Is our conference closed, sir?”
As Townshend sat down Wolfe added:
“Shall we vote on Monckton’s proposal? In favour?”
Both Murray and Monckton agreed that it should go ahead the actual date to be decided after a further meeting. Wolfe concurred so it was three to one in favour. Meantime Admiral Saunders should be consulted as to ships for transporting the men. Wolfe said formally that the meeting was now closed.
“Are you returning to Point Levis, mon?” Murray spoke in his Scots vernacular to Monckton who weeks earlier had stormed the town and fort of Levis and now occupied it. His batteries were shelling Quebec. He answered:
“ ‘Fraid so. My artillery men are likely taking a holiday. Got to keep them up to the mark.”
“You can spare an hour for a good dinner over at Hardy’s, surely.”
Townshend left without a word. His carriage was heard rattling its way towards Point d’Orleans harbour. He would dine on board with someone of rank like himself and speak about how the war should be managed. He was not alone.
Wolfe and Stobo Confer
While Major Knoxe led Captain Stobo towards the dining area, he explained:
“We have separate messing arrangements for the general as he has a special diet regime. Just look at this! The furnishings of this dining room, you’ll agree, I’m sure, are seen only if you move in elevated circles, back home.”
Knoxe preceded Stobo into a grand room and the captain was struck by the sheer quality of the wall and floor coverings, the magnificent table and ornate, elegant chairs. They both stood while Stobo admired the decorations, the carvings, the splendour and commented to Knoxe:
“My last experience of witnessing such style was in the chateau in Quebec. I took it for granted, but now it is all coming back to me.”
The major gestured to a servant and as both officers took their seats their places were set with soup and he watched the major taste a white wine and guessed the hors d’oeuvre, or, perhaps le plat du jour, might be fish. Yet he was not allowed to dwell on these incidentals for the major was determined, it seems, to suck him dry of his adventures, reminding him:
“You’ll recall threatening the captain of the schooner. Did he get to sample your brandy?”
“The chevalier’s brandy. Oh yes, he sampled it and wanted more but I needed a sober captain for what would be quite a harrowing time though I say so in retrospect for at the time I had no idea how things would turn out.”
“Your health, Captain!” Said Knoxe and both sipped their glass of white wine.
“We, I mean, I quizzed him about his mission and the number of his crew having to take his answers on trust. It seems the schooner was heading for Cape Gaspe to pick up hundreds of Indians. It pleased the lieutenant enormously that we might have been able to forestall this attempt at reinforcement of Quebec. It also showed us that Montcalm was becoming concerned at losing his allies.”
“How far were you from Gaspe?” Said Knoxe.
“He told me that Bic was about ten leagues up-river. It’s a small settlement on the southern bank of the river.”
The major nodded indicating Stobo should tuck into his cod, explaining:
“I’ll show you the French larder below ground. It really is an amazing place for preserving fish, oysters, choice cuts of meat; all on ice.”
Stobo separated a morsel of fish from his plate and sampled it allowing his taste buds time to sense its exquisite though mild flavour; he commented:
“Delicious! Do you think, sir, as pioneers in a strange land we should indulge ourselves in such luxury. Perhaps it reduced the French capacity to fight.”
“You may have a point, Captain” Replied Knoxe: “So, what was the plan?”
“Drastic, sir. We would have to tie up our prisoners who would be tied to a stout tree. The reason was that we considered only we three men and Mistress Clark and her two boys were trustworthy. The plan was that we three men would attack the boat and the lady would guard the prisoners.”
As they chatted the plates of the hors d’oeuvre were removed. Stobo watched as two servants carried in a tray of plates, covered dishes, boats of gravy and other paraphernalia of the dinner table. Soon plates were set before them and they were helping themselves to slices of meat, roast potatoes et al. Knoxe sipped a sample of red wine offered by the maître and nodded approvingly, saying:
“Knowing you, Captain, you had a role for the boys as well, no doubt.”
“It was Mistress Clark who pointed out the eldest Tom’s art of mimicry. He was to give out a particular bird song unknown at this time of year. The sound of a cuckoo would alert us to a crisis onshore as we, by then, would have taken possession of the schooner staying on board until morning.”
Stobo tucked into the meat with gusto praising its succulence while the major did likewise making brief comments about their recently acquired catering arrangements, as, for instance, telling his companion about the room in which they sat had a notice on the outside saying ‘officiers’, left in place as the lettering was so artistic which nobody wanted to deface. Stobo, finished with his cutlery, expressed his appreciation, wiped his mouth with napkin and resumed his narrative to appreciative looks on Knoxe’s face:
“After nightfall, Clarke rowed us out to the schooner. There were misgivings about the reef but were misplaced. Also, how could we be sure that the crew left behind by the captain were not watching us? Silently we clung to the gunwale of the schooner before I climbed up level with the deck. For a while I hung there, listening. All was quiet. Then, just as I lowered myself onto the deck there was an almighty clatter: my pistol had brushed against the starboard ratline and as I stepped onto the deck, the pistol was lifted clean from my waist dropping to the deck. Hastily I retrieved it, and fully cocked it just as a man appeared on deck. I fired at him and he fell down clutching his leg. There were more steps. I heard noises behind me and swung round to fire. But, it was the lieutenant climbing up behind me. He shouted”:
“Avast there. It sounded very nautical. Put your hands up. How many of you.”
Stobo laughed saying:
“In his excitement he forgot they would not know what he had said so I repeated his words except for the Avast. They got the message. Hands went up. I strode to the foc’sle and shouted: “Out, all of you. Or, your mates will get it.”
“Would you have shot them?” Asked a smiling Knoxe.
“Would the general have exploded the captured fire ships next to the prison ship?” Retorted Stobo with a smile challenging his superior officer. Knoxe put down his glass, smacked his lips and declared:
“The general would have done what was necessary.”
“When the crew were all on deck I got Clark to search them. We needed rope, lots of it. Clark was a ship’s carpenter so knew likely places. He tied each man’s hands and feet. By now it was getting dark. We agreed a rota of watches. It was a long night. I worried about Mistress Clark.”
Knoxe said nothing but it was clear he appreciated Stobo’s worries. He said:
“I know how it feels. But, women can be quite remarkable at times.”
He laughed to himself and ruminated:
“I was reading the memoirs of a duchess who is long dead. But, without her, I doubt whether posterity would know of the great love of her life. We know him as the first Duke of Marlborough.”
The victor of Blenheim?” Stobo said.
“That victory saved Vienna from a French attack and the Austrian Emperor in gratitude to the Duke awarded him the title of Prince of Mandelheim. At the dinner to celebrate Blenheim, the duchess, being now also a princess, sat nearer the queen than the Duchess of Norfolk. She was not best pleased regarding the duchess, a commoner, as little better than a strumpet.”
He paused in thought then said:
“Back to you on board ship. The dawn came. What then?”
“We released one man at a time from his feet bonds and rowed them, one at a time, to shore. Mistress Clark was exhausted but glad to see us. When the crew were on land I put them a proposition discussed with my friends beforehand. It was for us to take the schooner while they would wait one day before sailing in our old pinnace upstream.”
“How could you possibly be sure of that?” Said an incredulous Knoxe.
“I”, Stobo started but stopped at the enormity of his next utterance, adding, “I was for shooting, at least wounding them, and then escaping with the schooner, but, Lieutenant Stevenson would not accept that. In his view word of honour would be enough to secure our safety.”
“Do you know if it was enough?” Asked a doubtful Knoxe.
:Who knows? I gave the chevalier a written message addressed to the Marquis de Montcalm. Perhaps one day I’ll discover if he read it. Then I’ll know.”
“Strange goings-on. Is that all?” Knoxe sounded disappointed.
Stobo thought to himself that perhaps his companion might have preferred to hear he had shot the prisoners out of hand. He said:
“Not quite all. The captain asked to speak to me. He wanted to go with us to Louisburg.”
Knoxe played with a spoon and said:
“Presumably there was nothing for him in Quebec. He had lost his schooner. There would be no immediate reinforcements. The French would not be too pleased with him let alone the rest of the crew.”
Stobo added another comment:
“Besides which he knew the shortest route to Louisburg and likely he would have saved us from another shipwreck.”
A soldier appeared at the table and addressed the major:
“The general’s compliments, sir. The general would be pleased to see Captain Stobo at two o’clock. It’s now just after one thirty, sir. Will that be all?”
Knoxe gestured and the soldier left and Knoxe said:
“We had better wrap this up.”
“There little more to tell, sir. It took several trips to all get aboard the schooner. But, when I was satisfied the captain and his son turned the capstan for anchor up, set the sails and soon we were en route towards the gulf and Nova Scotia, Watches were a problem still as I was still uneasy about the captain. No finer sight emerged through the mist than the Isle of St John though I had a big disappointment awaiting me at Louisburg to find the fleet had already sailed days before.”
Stobo stopped speaking as the sound of bells reached their ears.
“Changing of watches aboard ship. A sign of rain. It comes from the Basin.”
He rose from his chair checking his watch and Stobo also got up. Knoxe strode purposefully towards the room marked ‘salon’ quietly knocking and waiting for the call to enter. Stobo saw the general seated at a large table poring over a large chart. Opposite him was a man in dressed in navy blue who looked up as Wolfe did, and at once the general, addressing Stobo said:
“Allow me to introduce you to Master James Cook, Captain.”
Cook rose to his full height and Stobo looked into the interested gaze of the man at the table; Cook held out his hand:
“Your servant, sir. Delighted to make your acquaintance.”
Stobo took the outstretched hand firmly, saying:
“The delight is entirely mine, I assure you, Mister Cook.”
Wolfe thanked his aide-de-camp who left and the general said:
“As you see Captain Stobo we are looking at a piece of the world you are very familiar with.”
“Too familiar with, if that is possible, sir.” Retorted Stobo to which Wolfe smilingly indicating the other man declared:
“I warrant that had you Mister Cook along your passage might have been somewhat easier. When we entered the river for the first time months ago. The enemy had removed all navigation buoys and only through subterfuge were we able to anchor the fleet safely. All has changed and it’s largely Master Cook’s doing. Why, he even found a traverse which the French knew nothing of. It’s now a safe anchorage for some of our vessels.”
Cook smiled weakly: “You do me too much honour, sir. Your surveyor deserves half the credit.”
“And modest too, by gad. Still, Cook, I’ve detained you too long.”
As Cook rose the general turned to Stobo:
“You will be seeing Master Cook again, Captain. You and he will meet aboard the Sutherland where Captain Colville will acquaint you with your common task.”
Cook bowed to the general and to Stobo and turning on his heel, left. The general invited Stobo to take his place drawing his attention to a channel:
“That is the new traverse, Captain. Then he pointed with his index finger to another stretch above Quebec explaining:
“It’s here Cook will be making his soundings, Captain. You will know the stretch to the cove that must be sounded. We must leave nothing to chance.”
Stobo followed where the general indicated then his eye caught a spot familiar to him, saying:
“May I point to the place where I believe the invisible cove is situated, sir?”
“Please do!” Invited Wolfe and eyeing the area, stroked his chin, thoughtfully, before saying:
“You may know the area very well, Captain, from the land side. Our problem, as you might agree, is to pinpoint the precise location so that on a dark, moonless night, on the river, with troops to land, there will be no mistake. Do you follow?”
“You’ve put it so clearly, sir, that I see what Master Cook and I have to do. May I put a question, sir?”
“Please do Captain.” Replied Wolfe.
“I’m not familiar with ranks of naval men. You addressed Mr Cook as master, sir What is a Master?”
“Not to be confused with the cabin boy who also is so addressed along with other names which shall be sotto voce. James Cook has taken the first step towards commissioned rank aboard one of his majesty’s men-o-war. As Master he is responsible for navigation. That is the sum of my knowledge, Captain.”
He spread out both hands before adding:
“By the bye, congratulations. I understand you will be in command of a Company, ere long.”
“Indeed, sir, I’m to join the 15th Foot regiment.”
“And now, captain…” He stopped and thought, and said:
“My adjutant has told me something of your arrears of pay as captain in a Virginia Regiment. While we do not take responsibility for the colonial military we do not want our officers to be short of funds through no fault of their own.”
He eyed Stobo directly adding:
“And, especially as regards an officer performing such a splendid service to the British army. Fix it up with Major Knoxe to the amount you need. Have you any notion of the sum?”
“At least four hundred dollars, sir.”
“Ah! How many pounds sterling, captain?”
And as Stobo shook his head in puzzlement, Wolfe added:
“I’m sure the adjutant will know. Tomorrow Captain you will report to Major Knoxe who will arrange an escort to HMS Sutherland where you will wait on Captain Colville, Lord John Colville. Good luck!”
“Thank you, sir. I won’t fail you, on my life.”
“Of course you won’t. Instead you will aid us in bringing our project to a successful conclusion, eh!”
Wolfe held out his hand and the privileged Stobo grasped it firmly then without more ado, withdrew to the exit and left.
Montcalm Faces Famine
A horse and rider trotted along the Avenue d’Abraham outside Quebec careful to negotiate the icy surface of the pathway it being somewhat early of a September morning for the sun’s heat to have thawed the early morning hoar-frosted patches of moisture. The rider was a messenger on his way to a camp inland of Cap Rouge where Colonel Bougainville was stationed with a thousand soldiers.
He mused to himself as to the contents of his knapsack and guessed it held, beside correspondence, a requisition to the colonel to send flour, or rather, to pass a message onto Montreal to that effect. His musings were interrupted by a boom, a rushing noise as another missile tore through the air to crash somewhere behind him. It was such a missile that had crashed through the roof of a grain storage depot ruining sacks of grain and ready-milled, flour for bread making.
When another ball helped ruin their stores before the sacks could be removed elsewhere most members of the ruling council agreed that a spy was at work in the city. He recalled the mayor’s words to the effect that fodder being in such short supply we must reduce the number of beasts. At least nobody is reluctant to eat horsemeat, when hunger is the alternative.
Another boom told Georges Toussant, the rider, of the troubles being left behind. When would it all end? he thought. He had overheard someone say that ice in the St Lawrence would spell adieu to the English, at least for another year. He worried about his wife, Francoise, left behind; for indeed, they were having their worst time since arriving in Quebec years before.
He recalled his home town, Caen, in Normandy a thousand leagues distant. He recalled, as though it were yesterday, the words of the prefect calling for volunteers for New France in Canada. There was a need for carpenters, wig-makers, cloth cutters, millers not to mention farm workers and he had talked it over with his wife of barely a year, at the time. The prospect of their own farm after seven years working for a seigneur seemed to offer far more than their life at that time. It would be an adventure too. They had been young and willing to work for a better life. And their life had improved especially after the first seven indentured years.
But now the English wanted to take it all away. After a cross-channel raid on Caen, his ancient grandfather had warned him:
“Get away from the danger of English raids. They haven’t forgiven us Normans for invading them, centuries before.”
He had long since gone but his warnings came back to his mind. Talk in the bistro also troubled him. He had reasoned that fifty thousand souls was a huge number of people in a new country, such as New France, but he had overheard someone tell of many times that number in the English colonies to the south. Mayhap it was not enough to plough, sow, weed, and harvest their peas, wheat and maize and other produce for themselves with some put aside for winter and for seed.
He had heard the English did all these things but also had a massive trade with the home country bringing much revenue even riches for a few settlers. A trapper had told him the English had developed a process for making beads by the thousand which they exchanged for slaves in Africa. He learned how the slaves were sold in the colonies and with the money bought sugar and tobacco which brought high prices in London and Bristol. Little wonder the English settlers numbered nigh on a million.
Georges felt hungry feeling in his pocket for the package Francoise had given him prior to taking his leave. His movement seemed to unsettle the beast who, by her frequent moves to browse the lush grass, showed her desire for a feed. As the plain would soon give way to forest, he brought the beast to a halt and allowed it to munch where it found choice grass. Relieved he took Francoise’ packet out and looked at the fare she had prepared for him sighing it was not up to previous occasions. Yet the bread and saucisson did satisfy him and he hoped he had not left her short.
He was pleased there was a slight breeze. In the sky clouds piled high looked like heavenly mountains. That often spelled rain though he hoped not before nightfall. Having finished his repast he nudged the beast speaking kindly but firmly. She whinnied. Soon they were in the forest. He shivered as the temperature dropped so urged the beast into a trot. He patted her neck affectionately. She understood for her ears flickered. Months ago he might have dreamt up a name but so many of the beasts had been taken by the miltary or for other purposes that he forbore.
He peered ahead standing in the stirrups to gain a better view. An hour ago they had passed a signpost, Chemin du Roi, so he thought the river Jacques Cartier should not be far. Hopefully the bridge had been repaired as he did not fancy another soaking, after which Cap Sante would not be too far ahead. He glanced at the sun calculating it must be just past midday. About to descend at a steep hill Georges got down from the saddle. It was good to walk for a while.
Holding the bridle he tried to keep his feet on the rock-strewn surface, thinking that if this be the king’s way, spare us the peasants’ path. He lost his footing just then letting the bridle go as he tried to halt his progress landing on his bottom. His beast more sure-footed than he ambled to the bottom where it stood patiently waiting for him. You’re brighter than me, Ma Cherie, so despite his earlier misgivings, he had christened her.
Ahead of them gleamed the river, although they must make a detour to reach the bridge as it had been erected over the narrowest part of the river a mile upstream.
Georges looked up and the beast’s ears flickered at the sound. It came again:
On the other side of the bridge standing in his stirrups waving at him was a mounted figure. Georges yelled in return his spirits lifted by the sight and sound of another man in this God-forsaken country, as it had been until that moment. Soon his mare was clattering on the rough wooden boards of the bridge and he looked forward to meeting his compatriot. It was a soldier who held out his hand as Georges reached him, saying:
“Marcel Sagan, a votre service, mon ami.”
It was a warm greeting by a stranger and he tried to emulate it.”
“Georges Toussant, mon ami. Am I pleased to see you! It’s been a long and lonely road.”
“We heard you were on your way, Monsieur Georges, so here I am.”
Georges was puzzled at this and said:
“Are you a mind reader, or, perhaps a little dicky bird told you?”
“Correct, Monsieur, one of the dicky birds belonging to Father Pierre: One of his pigeons, my friend. It came into the coop last evening.”
“So why am I here, Monsieur, if a pigeon can do my job just as well?”
“Blame those beastly English, my friend. Their sparrowhawks have all but wiped our pigeons out. Besides pigeons cannot take mail; you have some, I’m sure.”
Georges looked over at Marcel riding the road beside him. They both laughed delighted to have company for a while. Marcel placed his hands before his eyes to shield them from the glare of the afternoon sun and expressed the conviction that they would soon be at camp:
“We shall soon be there. The colonel will be pleased to see you.”
On arrival at the gates of the camp he and his guide were waved through. Georges was invited to dismount in front of an imposing brick and wooden building guarded by two sentries who came to attention as he and his companion passed them to enter. Sagan knocked on a door inside and a voice called, ‘entrez’.
“Lieutenant Sagan, what have you for me?”
“I beg to introduce a messenger just arrived from Quebec, mon Colonel.”
“Monsieur, avancez!” said a man at his desk and, standing up, added: “What have you for us?”
Georges handed over the contents of his knapsack to the desk and wondered whether he ought to leave at once and made a move to go at which the recipient held up his hand to detain him. Breaking the seal on an envelope, he began to mutter under his breath; Georges blushed listening to the sentiments so openly expressed:
“Just like the marquis to ask and not command. He wants the stuff but will blame me if it comes to grief.” He addressed the messenger:
Monsieur, what is your name?”
“Georges Toussant, Monsieur le Colonel. At your service.”
“Thank you Monsieur for bringing your messages. I know the way is arduous and tiring. My name is Bouganville, colonel of this camp. Tell me, what are conditions like in Quebec? Is the bombardment affecting morale there?”
“Yes, Colonel Bougainville. People are leaving. There is a steady stream of people vacating their houses. There is also a shortage of bread. It was not the shell which ruined our grain but the water used to put it out.”
“Thank you, Monsieur. I am indebted to you.”
He sat down and started writing, and handed a sheet of paper to Toussant:
“Take this to the refectory. We are short of food ourselves but you will not find us too inhospitable.”
“If I may be so bold, sir. My horse, is there oats for the beast?”
“Your anxiety for your mount does you credit, Monsieur.” He turned to the lieutenant. “Monsieur, show him the stables and then take him to the refectory.” Reverting to Toussant, he said: “You will be our guest tonight Monsieur and I look forward to seeing you in my office tomorrow morning before breakfast. Any questions?”
Georges smiled his response negative leaving the room followed by the lieutenant. Outside he turned to his companion:
“Beg pardon, Lieutenant. I had not realised you were an officer. Uniforms were never my strong point.”
“But, you are the soldier, Monsieur: under bombardment you are on the front line. Here nothing seems to happen. Come, we shall do something worthwhile. First, to the stables and afterwards, the refectory. Life is more interesting already.”
After walking their horses to the stables, Toussant followed Sagan who walked to the far end of a square at the far corner of which was a flagpole with its ensign hanging limply. Toussant said:
“This square look very much like the parade square in front of the citadel in Quebec.”
The lieutenant was dismissive:
“Quebec, Cap Santé, Louisburg, Fort Duquesne, everywhere the French ensign flutters you will see a fort built after Vauban from the last century. It never changes. When one is posted it should make one feel at home. If one can regard a fortress as home.”
Toussant said nothing reflecting upon his companion’s cynicism hoping his comments were for his ears and not for the soldiers in his Company. He had heard that morale among the military was low and desertions were the talk of the taverns. Yet that could not be entirely down to the arrival of the English for a deserter months before had spoken of the army on half-pay owing to a financial disaster in France.
It had not helped dispirited soldiers to learn that Canadian produce must not be diverted to military use whose supplies must be obtained through the Commissariat. The policy was intended to persuade Canadian farmers that their produce could not be commandeered by the military.
Toussant gave his note in to the Refectory chef and was rewarded with a sumptuous table and was soon tucking in to roasted maize cobs, a mixed vegetable and chicken stew followed by plum compote. He called for another glass so that Sagan and he could toast each other with the splendid vin rouge. He would sleep well.
Though a piercingly shrill bugle call sounded the reveille the following day it was the rough shaking that forced Toussant’s eyelids apart. For a full minute he tried to remember where he was. He started to piece together the jigsaw of memory fragments. The barracks, the refectory, the low bed and blankets, boots, trousers, shirt, tunic, but in what order. He closed his eyes again, reopened them. Was that someone by his bed? It was.
“By the sainted heavens, he’s awake. Excuse my rough shaking, old fellow. We made quite an evening of it.”
Next door he heard the raucous banter of soldiers also woken by reveille and made an effort to rise calling to his companion:
“Where exactly am I?”
“The corporal’s bedroom. He was on night duty. So, you had better show a leg else he’ll not be best pleased when he comes to kip and…”
Toussant hurriedly dressed feeling his unshaven chin. Sagan asked him:
“By the bye, what happened to the usual messenger, Monsieur Antoine?”
“I’ve no idea, Lieutenant. Does it matter?”
“I heard he did a bunk; that he went over to the English.” Toussant asked himself if the lieutenant was making chatter or pumping him. He said:
“I need a shave. But, I have no kit, Lieutenant?”
Sagan thought awhile, then told Toussant to follow him. Leaving the barracks the lieutenant exchanged a salute with a soldier before turning left along the edge of the square reaching a sturdy brick building with a large clock fronting it. Sagan went through a side door and immediately Toussant perceived the difference between what was evidently the officers’ quarters and that of the common soldiers.
They entered a small room where a man was busy brushing a wig but leapt to attention on seeing the lieutenant who explained that his servant was tidying his uniform and headdress for a parade on the morrow, and, turning to the servant, told him to take Monsieur to the washroom and give him a shave.
As Toussant allowed himself to be shaved, pomaded and sprayed with fragrant toilette water, his thoughts turned to the disparity between the soldiers’ and the officers’ accomodation and wondered whether it was equitable. After all both face the same danger and the same enemy, but, he reminded himself of a similar disparity in his own life between the gentilhommes, the chevaliers et al and the ordinary citizen. There seemed something wrong in the society itself.
Feeling a new man he accompanied the lieutenant who reminded him that the colonel wanted to see him before breakfast; the colonel wanted him to be present too and he duly appeared at the colonel’s door. Knocking and being invited to enter Sagan ushered in his companion who was amazed at the scene greeting him. The table, he had seen last evening, was covered with a white cloth and items associated with breakfast distributed. The colonel invited them both to sit at table calling:
“Take your seats Messieurs. Lieutenant you sit here and Monsieur, you take this chair. Shall we ask our Holy Father for his munificent gifts?”
So saying the colonel spoke a short prayer afterwards inviting them to take coffee or tea, at their discretion. He apologised for some shortcomings of the bakery but promised things would get better. Toussant wasted little time helping himself to slices of bread, cheese, cooked meats and a choice of something called marmalade made in various fruits.
The lieutenant did likewise but both men noticed the colonel drank only coffee looking on benignly as though he had invited two boys to share a meal. When both Toussant and Sagan had stopped eating, the colonel addressed the Lieutenant explaining to him that he, Colonel Bougainville had prepared a letter to His Excellency, the Marquis de Montcalm, to the effect that he had sent a requisition to the governor of Montreal for the supplies requested.
It is two days by mounted courier but Montreal will already have it having been sent by carrier pigeon. However the actual supplies would have to come by boat which would be here in a shorter time than by packhorse but was riskier by the presence of enemy boats on the river. One difficulty was a suitable landing place plus the absence of the day’s password.
This leads me to send a separate message to the marquis that he must weigh the needs of his people with the necessity for absolute security. Owing to the danger of pigeon post falling into enemy hands, it is the courier, Monsieur Toussant, who will take this letter. Do you understand, Lieutenant Sagan?” And you, courier?”
Both men confirmed their comprehension of the colonel’s words.
“You are to proceed to the stables for mounts. Monsieur Toussant will ride as fast as possible back to Quebec. You Lieutenant will accompany him to the place where you met him yesterday. And, one more thing, Lieutenant.”
“Colonel!” returned Sagan.
“What you have just heard is a military secret. May I remind you of your oath to the king? And you, Monsieur, the secrecy of the despatch is paramount. Failure to observe it must bring instant dismissal, if not worse. Understood?”
Both men stated their complete understanding.
The colonel rose and the others followed suit; he declared:
“Gentleman, to your duty. You are dismissed. Au revoir!”
Cook Takes Soundings
Stobo watched intensely as the Master, James Cook, plunged his sounding rod vertically into the waters of the St Lawrence which eddied around his dinghy. When satisfied the end had reached the bottom, he placed his hand palm downward where the surface of the water reached the rod pulling it from the water; he called out a reading. Stobo observing the procedure from the vantage point of his guard boat watching as a midshipman aft of Cook wrote something upon a large pad balanced on his knees.
Aside from a third longboat behind him their boats were the only ones on that stretch of the St Lawrence River though Cook’s was the only active boat. Stobo’s brief was to ensure that the Master was able to carry out his soundings without interference. Cook’s earlier navigational forays had been exceptionally hazardous affairs.
He had narrowly escaped capture in one instance when an Indian was seen swimming from the shore and Cook had to order his rowers for an extra effort to reach the safety of their frigate before the native caught up. He clambered aboard the boat at the rear while Cook escaped from the front. His assistant was too slow and was caught though oddly not killed. He was captured being returned when the French realised the captive was not Cook whose fame seemed to extend beyond the English lines.
Stobo judged the river, where he was, at about a mile and a half in width. Down river HMS Sutherland, their mother ship, was out of sight so that all were on their mettle to watch out for any activity that might threaten them. Earlier he had the opportunity of chatting with Cook and was astonished at the complexity of navigational data; his mind reeled as Cook talked of currents, tides, time of day, vectors, depths, and many other factors and he was pleased his own engineering apprenticeship had to do with buildings where the variables seemed fewer.
Looking back on his recent voyage by schooner to Louisburg he was pleased in retrospect that the captain handled these variables else under his steerage the ship would surely have run aground. He heard a low whistle prearranged as a signal to confer. Within earshot he heard Cook’s soft reassuring Yorkshire burr:
“My plan, captain, is to return on a parallel course halfway towards the shore parallel to the northern bank. He watched as Cook put an instrument to his eyes, then ordered the oarsman to proceed and repeated the exercise. After some time he called over to Stobo to reconcile their respective watches and carried on with soundings. There were odd looking bits of leather attached to the rod and Stobo figured they must represent particular depths.
For some time he had noticed the water retreating from the bank and realised it was the tide receding on its six hour cycle between high and low tide. As the task proceeded he found himself trying to establish where the indentation in the cliffs was situated to form a cove. They were now on a downstream course towards HMS Sutherland and he scanned the bank looking for the tell-tale signs of the cove.
To his astonishment at the point where he identified the cove he saw the lower half of two gowned figures at the water’s edge and ordered the sailor to row towards the shore. Before it had reached a shelf of hard rock he told the oarsman to rest his oars slowing their motion. Where he could see the water was inches deep he sprang out and splashed towards the two figures whom he knew as Marie Lemay and her servant, Babette.
Marie greeted him in loving terms almost sobbing with joy to see him. He persuaded her and her maid to get in the boat realising at once that were the women to return and report his presence the forthcoming assault at the cove would be jeopardised. At once he notified Cook that they must return to their ship at which Cook readily concurred.
“Permission to come aboard, sir.”
At Stobo’s shout the duty officer leaned over the side of HMS Sutherland noting with interest at the distaff complement of the boat bumping against the vessel.. He doffed his hat and replied:
“My, my Captain it’s been remarked you’re a fast worker. Are your guests friends or foes?
“All will be revealed in due course, Lieutenant.” Answered Stobo, “If you will be so good as to assist these ladies aboard, I shall be much obliged.”
He called over to Cook in the other boat:
“Your forbearance, sir, while I go aboard with the ladies.”
Cook was affability itself telling his colleague:
“We shall shift for ourselves sir, pray do not trouble yourself on my account.”
Meanwhile on board the frigate, Stobo’s air of self-assurance carried the day and without more ado the mate opened the part of the ship’s side which served as a gate. Stobo helped the ladies on deck, then excusing himself to Marie, drew the mate aside with the words:
“Would it be possible to pass my compliments to Captain Colville, sir, and beg his leave for me to have conference with him regarding the two ladies? Being new to the ship I don’t trust myself to find my way.”
The first officer smiled:
“It will be a pleasure if only not to keep the ladies waiting.”
The duty officer left on his errand and Stobo observed how Cook and the midshipman made their way towards what he had learned was the fo’c’sle and had a few words to Marie to put her at ease. She was looking upwards at the chateau and Stobo guessed she might be thinking of her family. His eyes caught those of a sailor in the crow’s nest who looked away sheepishly. Seamen began to saunter by with furtive glances at the two ladies.
The sound of measured steps alerted him to the approach of the duty officer and to his relief he observed the distinguished looking tricorn of the captain who observed first him then his two companions and approaching removed his hat at which gesture Stobo introduced him in English for the benefit of his lordship:
“Madame Lemay may I introduce his lordship, Captain Colville.”
He translated quickly into French to the two ladies before addressing the captain:
“May I present Mademoiselle Lemay to your lordship, Captain? Sadly she may not return your greeting for though English is taught, she might be reluctant to air it.”
Colville understood perfectly; turning to face her directly, he murmured:
“Je suis heureux a faire votre connaissance, Mam’selle.”
Marie smiled broadly and curtsied, as did her maid. Stobo made his excuses to Marie and asked the captain for a two minute private conference, and Colville, gesturing his excuses to the ladies, listened to Stobo who explained the circumstances. Colville nodded telling Stobo he appeared to have had little choice. They could stay overnight and in the morning he would arrange for them to be housed on the Ile d’Orlean. Stobo would give up his cabin to the ladies, moving in with the midshipmen, and a separate cot would be found for Babette.
Stobo heaved a great sigh of relief.
But, his relief was momentary for almost at once his mind turned to her family who, at that moment, were likely worried as to the non-return of their daughter coupling it with her state of mind in the previous months since their guest/prisoner had escaped. These thoughts came to Stobo’s mind but they were guesswork. It diverted his attention, he knew, from his own appalling behaviour because however much he justified his desertion on the grounds of duty, the fact stuck in his mind that he had betrayed Marie and her family.
His latest decision, forced upon him, to take her and her maid into custody though justified by his own reasoning compounded his ill treatment of the Lemay family and in particular the young woman herself. Recently he had been congratulating himself on his good fortune to have become the confidante of the commander of the Quebec expedition. Now, loyalty to that cause had forced him to betray a woman who clearly loved him.
Captain Stobo speculating upon the agony the Lemay household was suffering was not far from the mark. In the chateau itself the mayor had returned from his duties in the town to be assailed by his fraught wife that both her daughter and the servant had failed to appear for afternoon tea, and it was already dinner time and getting dark. Monsieur Lemay could not do less than proceed to the stables for his horse.
At the same time he engaged the services of a stable-hand to help him, both returning to the house at the mayor’s instigation to find out from his wife their daughter’s likely visiting places. Within the hour he had established that the ladies had not been to the hospital, nor the Convent of St Joseph, nor to the mairee, the town hall, his place of work. Less likely places were the citizens’ forum, the public gardens, the perimeter walks though these had been ruled out of bounds on account of the daytime shelling.
Sometimes it was difficult for their horses to walk where houses, under the flight path of missiles, had been destroyed and the rubble not cleared away. Craters had been gouged out of avenues and the craters enlarged by more missiles crashing at the same spot. In some cases such were surrounded by a temporary fence though at night people walked around at their peril.
He returned to the town hall dispirited and sent the stableboy back thanking him for his help. He went straightway to his office hoping that not all the couriers had gone home. He was in luck though the man himself had just returned from Cap Santé and was looking quite exhausted. Yet it was his daughter’s welfare that was at stake so he pretended not to notice treating him as any employee at his beck and call.
He told him to stand by for a letter to be delivered to the viceroy whom he knew to be at the St Charles camp, the nearest to Quebec whereas Governor Montcalm was some distance away at Beauport. It was a short missive he penned copying it out for the governor the next day. Sealing it he handed it to the courier to be delivered that night and made sure he was on his way before returning to the chateau and his family.
Though he told his wife that everything would be done to find out what had happened to their daughter, he thought inwardly that with the problems both Montcalm and Vaudreuil were having it was hardly likely that either man could spare the time for a private matter. He went to his bed with a heavy heart.
In the early hours of the morning there was a loud and continued knocking on the outside door which the concierge, none too happy to be so disturbed at that time in the morning, opened to find no less a person than the Viceroy, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, whom he had no great pleasure in seeing for the viceroy had told him off for neglecting his duty months before and allowing a certain person to get away without the concierge, himself, even noticing he had gone.
“Monsieur le Marquis,” he mumbled, “you have caught the man?” Wrongly jumping to the conclusion the viceroy would tell him if he had though perhaps it was his guilty conscience talking but the viceroy wanted to allow him through to Monsieur Lemay’s quarters. Soon the mayor was notified of his visitor; the concierge waited silently, respectfully to hear the mayor, still in dressing gown mumble:
“Your Excellency! You do me a great honour.”
But the viceroy had no time for pleasantries. He got down to business straight away after being shown inside telling the mayor he wanted a conference with him, and him alone. His first question:
“Is there someone you can trust we can reach?”
The mayor might have told his benefactor that the seigneurs, the chevaliers, in other words the people with the means had all left soon after the bombardment started. Most had places in the country to sojourn in so titled people were significant for their absence, but these inner thoughts found no expression. Instead he mumbled:
“At this time and quickly, let me think. The courier, did he return?”
“Yes, with me. Why do you ask?”
“He is trustworthy, discreet and, what is important, available. What do you think of him, Your Excellency?”
“Is there nobody with rank we can send to the enemy? It would be more expeditiously performed by a chevalier. The English respect rank.”
An idea springs into Lemay’s mind:
“Could we not make him a temporary chevalier? I’m quite sure that Monsieur Toussant could play the part.”
“I like it.” Responded the quick thinking Vaudreuil, adding thoughtfully, “the young man bears himself very well. Yes, he will do very well. Now, he should keep his eyes peeled for any information useful to us. You shall coach him in the time available. He should leave before midday. Ah, do you know his home address? Oh, one more thing, did he ever meet, Captain Stobo?”
“I do not know, sire, to tell you the honest truth. Will you write the note? To whom will you address it?”
“Leave the protocol to me. If you will post haste to our chevalier’s house, I will be composing the letter. Do you have a desk here?”
The mayor hurried into town deciding the early hours was no time for shelling so used a shortcut through out of bounds thoroughfares reaching Toussant’s place a half-hour later. The poor chap had already retired and the mayor sympathised for he had had a busy few days returning from Cap Santé yesterday, then a gallop to the St Charles camp, and now, in a few hours to the English camp. On the pleading of his wife the mayor let him sleep leaving a message with her to wake him by seven o’clock and ask him to report to the chateau, half an hour afterwards.
On his return he was surprised to find Vaudreuil gone. It seemed he was impatint to return to his camp. Cynically the mayor believed Vaudreuil had returned for a more wholesome breakfast not available at his house. Yet, though he knew little his wife taxed him and he wondered how much she had guessed.. Vaudreuil had left the packet with his seal.. It was addressed in English to a lord. Trust Vaudreuil to know the important people on the enemy side, he thought.
He looked at the lord’s name, Colville, but it meant nothing to him. He would have addressed it to an admiral or a general or a commanding officer. Yet his Excellency must know his business. There was also a letter for the harbour master of lower Quebec. It seems in their brief conversation the viceroy had asked her the questions which she now asked her husband. Answers to questions which might have come from Babette the servant. She, it was thought, held the answer to the mystery, but, being a servant Madame had had little to do with her.
Vaudreuil, it seemed to him, had funked lowering himself to talk to Toussant and to persuade him to act the part expected of him. When it came to it, Toussant did refuse but an appeal to serve his country, to better himself which surely was every Frenchman’s ambition, and, finally, the clincher, to earn, undoubtedly, the gratitude of the Lemay family and in particular, the young woman herself, alone, as she found herself, in such barbaric surroundings. The mayor considered loaning his sword but thought better of it as it might well impede him in getting in and out of boats without the skill honed over years to manage such dexterity.
With his knapsack holding the embassies to the enemy, the courier walked down the steep hill which led to the harbour though was somewhat put out by the grizzled old seaman who spat on his introductory letter with a ‘Bah!” being none too pleased with providing a dinghy with white flag attached to the mast and a seaman to row the courier for this it seemed was a regular occurrence. Yet, Georges was pleasantly surprised when, the harbour master having told the seaman in disgust what he had to do handing him the note to read the message and hearing that it was for Chevalier Georges Toussant, the old man could not do enough for him. George hoped it might make a similar impression where he was going.
His oarsman told him of the perils of previous embassies. When, upon leaving the comparative safety of the boom protecting the harbour from surges from the river, he had come under fire and had to retreat. Nowadays a procedure had been set up whereby he would row to a special buoy and wait for the signal from the English to proceed which he would be following on this occasion.
Having arrived at the buoy Georges waited and waited. A half-hour passed with no reaction. The only sound he could hear were small ripples from passing vessels which slapped against their dinghy. He was unnerved by their loneliness not being comforted by the seaman’s dismissive, ‘Pas extraordinaire, monsieur le chevalier’. Then, from a long way off, came a voice using a loud hailer. In his mind he rehearsed the phrases told him by the mayor and recognised:
“Ahoy, there! Who are you?”
Feeling foolish, He shouted:
“Toussant avec une embassy pour son excellence, Lord Colville.”
His French seaman rebuked him:
“Chevalier Toussant, monsieur. Or, we’ll be here all day.”
He did as he was told getting the loud hailed response both had been waiting for: “Approach Chevalier to be identified.”
The seaman needed no bidding from Toussant but set to with energy and their boat was soon approaching the man with the loud hailer. He shouted:
Looking back later Toussant could hardly recall the order in which things happened. His own seaman was dismissed returning the way he had come, as Toussant transferred to a platform thence to another boat rowed by an English sailor. He had handed over his credentials to an officer who handed them back with instructions to the seaman who skilfully weaved to port and starboard in order to reach a particular frigate. On landing onto a platform he was instructed to keep his head forward and having gained the deck he was blindfolded being led to a cabin, asked to be seated. He heard a door closed and an order:
“Guard the rope-room. Let no-one enter or leave.”
Then he was alone.
He was comforted by the fact that his embassy had been taken from him and he hoped its contents would lead to his release reflecting on Vaudreuil’s strictures about looking for useful information. It seems the English were taking no chances. Yet he might or might not be comforted that within minutes of his being confined his embassy was being discussed. Captain Colville had called Stobo to his state-room. In his hands he had the embassy and had some pertinent questions to put to Stobo. One in particular worried the captain:
“This embassy has been carried by a certain Chevalier Toussant. Have you ever met him anywhere in Quebec?”
Stobo emphatically could declare that he had not though once he had been appraised of the message from the Marquis de Vaudreul, it awakened in Stobo’s mind all the recriminations which had been bothering him ever since the previous day. And, his pessimistic thoughts all had to do with Mam’selle Marie Lemay. Colville, on the other hand, had other matters on his mind. He said to Stobo:
“This might be a good opportunity to find out about morale among the populace in Quebec. Now that the object of the man’s embassy is safely removed to the Isle of Orleans I would like you to tell him that the welfare of Mademoiselle Lemay is of great concern to us. You may tell him that the ladies will be returned to the family the day before the English fleet sails. Assure him of that. Have you anything to add Captain Stobo?”
“I’m concerned on reflection your lordship of his having seen me as a prisoner. I wonder if I should for the purpose of this meeting assume temporarily the identity of an officer in your crew. What say you?”
Colville agreed thinking that the first officer might be similar in build to Stobo. So it was that Stobo donned the dress uniform of first officer Fellowes and thus attired returned to Colville’s cabin who, while complimenting him by saying he might mistake him for one of his crew, added:
“You might release him from the rope-room and invite him to join us for tea in the state-room. That way he will learn very little of our complement yet know that even in the exigency of war we can be civilized towards our enemies.”
So it happened that Toussant learned how an English lord’s state-room was furnished though very little about normal conditions aboard a Royal Navy frigate. Later on being quizzed by Vaudreuil the latter would gain a somewhat distorted view of life aboard an English frigate. One question had bothered Vaudreuil who was pleased that Toussant had asked Stobo, thus:
“It was puzzling Monsieur to her family as to how the ladies were able to leave Quebec and end up across the English lines.”
Stobo, alias First-Officer Fellowes, was all smiles in response:
“That is easily explained Monsieur le Chevalier. You see, two marines from one of our raiding parties at the harbour were able to climb the hill towards the town and accosted two ladies who, by misfortune, were taken into custody.”
Captain Colville pretending anger said:
“Monsieur, I think you have given enough information. Please assure Le Chevalier that we shall detain the ladies no longer than is necessary. In the meantime if he would like to write something for their comfort, my writing desk is at his disposal.”
Colville also begged Fellowes to apologise for the poor fare served at table being entirely due to their enforced stay and the running short of supplies. The meal in fact to the bogus chevalier was richer than his normal fare so he was not in a position to make comparisons. After more such pleasantries, the meal came to an end as Colville was called to his captain’s duties.
The chevalier had one more compliment however to pay as Stobo/Fellowes accompanied him back to the rollup deck where he would start his return journey. To Stobo’s consternation, Toussant said:
“Monsieur, allow me to pay you the compliment for your delightful French accent; it sounds very much like that of a Quebecois.”
It was the Achilles heel of Stobo’s masquerade and he was stumped mumbling that it might be due to his having mixed with French seamen from Quebec in the happier days of peace. He might have retorted that in taking tea it was customary for a chevalier to stick out his little finger in sipping the beverage. So, in all justice was done for one actor had entertained another.
The Anse au Foulon
Time was on the side of the French. September had already advanced ten days and sizable ice-floes had been spotted in the St Lawrence. Yet, both Montcalm, governor of Canada, and Vaudreul, its viceroy, felt that the English would launch one more assault before their departure and that assault was likely to take place in the region around Beauport. It was vulnerable and although an earlier English attack had been repulsed with heavy casualties, Montcalm’s logic told him that Wolfe had learned from earlier mistakes, as he had in Louisburg, the previous year.
Montcalm had instructed Vaudreuil to reinforce the parapets which would take the initial impact of attacking forces once they had come ashore. Wolfe had used flat-bottomed ‘cats’ in the earlier assault which had absorbed much of the withering cannon fire including balls and canister allowing the soldiers disembarking from long boats to storm ashore. Montcalm had observed with fascination the progress of the highly disciplined grenadiers hurling their missiles at the defenders. He had to admit that had the American Rangers co-ordinated their assault with the grenadiers the French defences might well have been breached.
Moreover Wolfe had not employed the massive cannon power of his fleet to soften up his defences. Their 80 gun broadsides deployed against the parapets and French artillery positions might well eliminate their cannons’ effectiveness. Through his telescope on the 13th of September he observed several men-o-war moving into position waiting for the tide to reach high-water so they could move in closer. At low-water the shoals helped the defenders as large ships must keep their distance.
Although Vaudreuil could also observe the enemy build-up, Montcalm kept runners busy with messages passing between the left and right flanks of the Beauport defensive position. Their troops, both Canadian and Indian, were on tenterhooks for everyone realised the crunch-point was approaching. Everybody in fact was on high alert. Little did anyone in the enemy suspect that although their fears of impending attack were correct it would come from a direction that would take them all, commanders and soldiers, completely by surprise, but that is the essence of a successful campaign as Wolfe would have learned from a master of surprise, the former captain-general of allied forces, John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough.
The hostilities directed against the Beauport positions were a distraction, an effective diversion, as it enabled Wolfe to proceed to mount his assault that had been weeks in preparation. In the aft coach of HMS Sutherland the general held a final meeting in the company of all three of his brigadiers: Robert Monckton, his second-in-command, James Murray and George Townshend. Present also were Admiral Saunders, fleet commander, as well as senior battalion officers.
“Gentleman!” opened Wolfe, “Let us reconcile our timepieces. The first boat will leave here from 2 am and from what Captain Stobo has learned on his practice runs the first boats will reach the cove in half an hour. The 15th Foot will be in the van and he will be the first man to land. From intelligence we have learned the cove is manned only by a small force. Captain Stobo, speaking the same vernacular, will put him at his ease until sufficient men are ashore to overwhelm any defenders and prevent an alarm being raised.”
Although the officers were attentive what they were hearing was a summary of orders already discussed. The situation however was still charged and the general sensing this called on Stobo:
“Captain Stobo, I shall be much obliged if you will read a small portion of a poem we discussed once in my house on the Isle of Orleans.”
Stobo took a booklet from his pocket and began to read aloud:
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’re gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
Wolfe, eyes closed, smiled at Stobo, murmuring:
“Thank you, Captain.”Then turning to Monckton added a trifle immodestly: “You know, I would rather have written that verse than take Quebec.”
“I dinna ken,” said Murray, the Scot, “I’d as lief do both. What say you, Monckton?”
There was silence in the coach. All that could be heard was a scratching as the amateur caricaturist, Townshend, drew his pencil over a pad which he kept in a large side pocket. Silence! Broken by a voice not heard earlier:
“Permission to speak General Wolfe.”
“Who is that?”
Said Wolfe with his eyes closed still musing over the words of Grays’s Elegy.
“Ponsonby-Jones, Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, sir.”
“What is it, Lieutenant?” Replied Wolfe in a voice that verged on ennui.
“I claim the honour, General, of leading the first boat at the cove.”
“By what do you claim this honour, sir?”
“By rank, sir. My father….” He was interrupted by the general irritably:
“Never mind your father, sir. Do you speak French fluently?”
“No, sir,” answered the lieutenant, confused as to Wolfe’s drift. There was more as Wolfe, looking to his fellow officers with a smile asked:
“But, you know the French password for today?”
“No, sir.” Ponsonby-Jones was looking more puzzled.
“Perhaps you have scouted the area,” said the general, “and you have intimate knowledge of the terrain?”
“But, by virtue of your rank in society you wish me to appoint you to lead the assault. Is that it, sir?”
“Yes, sir,” returned a surer sounding Ponsonby-Jones.
Wolfe was amused and turned towards Townshend so wrapped up in sketching he was oblivious to the talk or appeared to be, but now looked up as Wolfe resumed:
“Perhaps Lieutenant your rank qualifies you to lead my army?”
“I would not presume, general,” said the lieutenant of serious mien.
Wolfe was suddenly bored with the exchange saying:
“Your élan does you credit, sir, and if you will keep Captain Stobo in view you may learn something of the art of war. Return to your company!”
Stobo looked across at the general and their eyes met in the briefest of exchanges as silence once more descended upon those present. In another part of the ship a bell jangled the end of another watch and a voice from the gloomy interior of the coach called over:
“It’s time, sir!” The voice came from Major Knoxe, Wolfe’s aide-de-camp, and the general arose to address the company:
“You know your places, gentlemen. Good luck!”
Stobo saluted the general and left the coach making his way smartly to the Orlop deck where below his pinnace awaited him. Aboard already were forty soldiers from his own 15th Foot. Each carried an uncocked musket. Stobo took the prow and gve the duty officer a signal. Ropes holding the boat were cast off, two seamen pushed the pinnace away from the vessel’s side and the oarsmen opened their shoulders. Soon the pinnace was followed by a second pinnace as more were released from adjacent transports to follow Stobo’s lead boat rowing towards Stobo’s cove, the Anse au Foulon.
Stobo was now with the aid of his watch doing the actual stretch he had rehearsed. His course was to be diagonal from the Sutherland and would cover almost two miles. Long before their target was reached he had identified the place and directed the oarsmen accordingly. Just a few boat lengths away, his eyes pin-pointed the precise location towards which to aim the prow, and ordered the crew to up oars. The pinnace glided smoothly to shore. Behind him he could sense the second boat a couple of minutes behind him before he jumped out and waded onto the shelf leading into the cove. His men also were quietly getting out to follow Stobo not far behind.
As he pushed aside the overhanging trees, he drew and cocked his pistol. He reached dry land. It was pitch black as he made his way to the zig-zag. Above him he saw a fackel of flame and made towards it. A voice called:
“Qui va la? Est-ce que vous etes de Montreal?”
Stobo quick as lightning reacted:
“Oui! Are you here to help?”
An officer came down the zig-zag and was paces away from Stobo when he saw Stobo’s men; it was their uniforms which alerted him. He turned to run back. Stobo fired. The man went down holding his foot, screaming, but Stobo was quickly at his side. He picked up the torch and showed the pistol, abruptly stifling the noise. He called:
“Serjeant Preston! See up there the tents. Take a troop and silence them. Kill this man if he opens his mouth again.”
Stobo raced down the zig-zag to the other men. He directed them to follow him. He climbed up on to the cliff and grasped a bush. He pulled himself up calling to his men:
“This is the way up the cliff, men. Once on top, help your mates up. Jump to it!” He left to supervise the next boats being pulled up the beach directing the crews to return to the transports for more men. He urged silence. Looking back towards the cliff-face he was delighted to see the whole area covered with red coats in various stages of climbing the near 100 foot cliffs. Even the overhang at the summit proved to be of little hindrance as men stood helping others. He heard shouted whispers as officers, both commissioned and otherwise, began forming their men up.
After half an hour he estimated that about five hundred men had landed. He was accosted by Serjeant Preston:
“What do you want me to do with the six troopers and one officer, sir?”
“Lead me to them, Serjeant.” Said Stobo racing to keep up with him up the zig-zag. On top there was a square tent. Inside bound to a chair was his wounded officer. Sitting down were six disarmed troopers, gagged. He told the serjeant to bind their feet and hands behind them. The officer called out to Stobo:
“Je suis le Capitaine Duchambon de Vergor. I demand to see your general.”
“Guard these prisoners with your life, Serjeant. You will be relieved after I’ve seen the general. I must return to the cove.”
It was as well for barely had Stobo reached the bottom then a familiar voice called over to him:
“The assault is going well, I see, Captain. Just show me how to get up.”
“This is the quickest way up, sir.” Said Stobo pointing to the zig-zag, but the men prefer to climb as you see pointing to the cliff covered in redcoats. Wolfe reacted by grasping a bush now shorn of foliage and pulled himself up, calling out:
“Seems like the best idea. Here goes.”
But, before he proceeded further he turned and taking a letter from his tunic pocket handed it to Stobo with the words:
“Your work is done, Major.”
Stobo was stunned even as Wolfe added:
“The privilege of a general, sir, is to make promotions on the field; congratulations, Major. One day the people of England will honour you. In the meantime you have my heartfelt thanks. Report back to Captain Colville with whom I have left orders for you. Goodbye, sir and Godspeed.”
He resumed climbing and sadly Stobo sought an empty pinnace to return to his ship giving one final look back to see Wolfe show another soldier how to ascend and realised it was the same officer who had claimed Stobo’s part in the van of the assault. It was Lieutenant Ponsonby-Jones. He heard Wolfe:
“Here you are Lieutenant. Come, grasp a branch. Never mind your uniform getting dirty. Don’t allow yourself to be beaten by an old ‘un, such as me.”
Ponsonby–Jones was struggling, gasping for breath, talking to himself about the prickly branches, clutching his collar as the sweat trickled down despite the cool of the night. He watched almost in despair at common soldiers tackling the same cliff with gusto and enthusiasm. The general had left him long since behind. When he did finally reach the top with the helping hand of a burly Scotsman in a kilt, he lay there panting. As he recovered his breath another officer whispered:
“Where’s your rank now, Lieutenant?”
It was Major Knoxe but Ponsonby-Jones apart from scowling could not afford a reply as he heard the serjeant from his Company quietly yelling his men to get them into some sort of order. As the throng of soldiers, now numbering over a thousand plus hundreds still climbing, started to proceed through the trees, Ponsonby-Jones overheard Wolfe conferring with his erstwhile friend, Brigadier-General Townshend:
“We shall soon be joined by Monckton’s three Companies who are being ferried from Point Levis.”
“Did you also order Holmes’ men from their camp at Cap Rouge?”
“Indeed, I did, sir, but even with his men we shall still be inferior in numbers to Montcalm who can muster over ten thousand. But, at last we have a battle.”
Townshend listened to Wolfe’s exposition keenly commenting:
“Do you recall what Louis the XIV told his marshals? When you face an allied army again, put twice as many against the English.”
“I do, sir, and take your point. With British discipline we shall overcome.”
Seeing Ponsonby Jones behind him, Wolfe told him:
“There is a hillock, sir, to the left as we emerge from the woods. Climb it and report to me what you see.”
The mass of soldiers stumbled on falling over roots to muffled curses but Wolfe was assured by officers in the van that their noise was being absorbed by the undergrowth so were unlikely to face any opposition until daylight when their movements would be observed by sentries at the citadel, if not by Indians whose settlements could be discerned some way in the distance.
What could be heard were discharges from cannon though as no missiles appeared around them, most concluded it must be their own ships firing their cannon towards the Beauport shore. Montcalm was going to get a shock when he learned that Wolfe and his army were assembling upon the Plains of Abraham.
Wolfe himself reflected upon his paucity of cannon for although he had ordered that four pieces be manhandled up the cliffs, they were six pounders and though easily manoeuvrable they were puny against the mighty howitzers that the French could bring to bear. The towering edifice of the chateau now appeared darkening the sky in the middle distance, below it the citadel almost huddled against its mighty neighbour. Yet, on its battlements Wolfe could see the snouts of heavy calibre cannon, as yet unmanned.
“Ah, there you are Murray!”
A kilted figure approached. Wolfe said:
“Any sign of your detail, sir?”
“From Sillery! Not as yet, General, but as soon as Captain Blunt returns, you shall know.”
Wolfe thanked him and called to another officer:
“Colonel Burton! Welcome to Abraham’s bosom. For a Plain it’s decidedly lumpy. How are your men faring?”
“One battalion already on the Heights, sir. Another learning how mountain goats do it. How many is your estimate, sir, if I may be so bold?”
“Not far short of five thousand, Colonel, and five thousand of the stoutest hearts you’ll see in Christendom. What is your estimate?”
“My two battalions plus Brigadier Murray’s four, Townshend’s two, sir, give us four thousand eight hundred, and, I haven’t counted the grenadiers, and the royal Americans plus some sharp-shooters.”
It was Ponsonby-Jones.
“Ah, Lieutenant, what is to report?”
“I could see a river, General, and a platform with two cannon. It’s below the town. It was unmanned.”
“That’s the River Charles, lieutenant, and what was behind you. Towards the south-west.”
The lieutenant thought for a few seconds then blurted out:
“An encampment, sir, with buildings, a square and what looked like a stockade. Oh, and outside the camp some wigwams.”
Wolfe: “Any signs of life?”
P-J: “I saw two soldiers walking to and fro; sentries!”
Wolfe: “Anyone spot you?”
P-J: Not that I could see, sir.”
Wolfe looked at Colonel Burton and smiled mischievously turning back to Ponsonby-Jones to comment:
“I like the addition to your tricorn hat, sir. You might start a new fashion.”
The colonel was more direct:
“You saw nobody, but that arrow in your hat, Lieutenant, suggests you weren’t looking too hard.”
Ponsonby-Jones’ eyes swivelled upwards but then changing his mind, said:
“By your leave, general.” And, removed it looking ruefully at the arrow clean through the sides.”
Wolfe shouted to both men and officers:
“We’ve been sighted, gentlemen. Towards the citadel, hurry.”
Dawn was upon them as they made their way across the Plain, easier for some as there were well-worn ways, paths and bridleways for horses. The artillerymen were given preference for they had cannon on their carriages to tow. As they march stolidly towards the citadel the general scanned the panorama doubtless feeling excitement as the hour approached which the past few months had been merely preparation. He was ever a proud man. At this moment, his pride was to be conveyed to his army. He called to an artilleryman to help him get atop a gun carriage. It took him a few moments to achieve balance. His men gathered around him:
“Soon enough all hell will be let loose. I want to address you all.”
He scanned the upturned faces of his soldiers, and began:
“Officers and men! In a short while you will face the enemy. Do not fear him. You are worth twice his number, nay thrice. Be attentive to your officers! Be resolute in your duty! Your country expects no less, but, you have always, always given more.”
He paused to gain control of deep emotions, to shout:
“God be with you!”
He had barely got down when an overhead rushing sound was heard, then a second. It was the river Charles battery but it was too high an elevation to do damage and momentarily pausing to observe its flight, Wolfe called to his brigadiers:
“Gentleman! Know that Brigadier Monckton is my second-in-command.”
Then to Monckton himself:
“Monckton, I want two lines of infantry across the plain. Load muskets with two charges of shot. Murray, you see yourself that the enemy must be stronger on our left. You are to be in overall charge on the left, but, I want Brigadier Townshend to prevent the enemy outflanking our position. To your duties. General Townshend, please, a word before you join General Murray.”
As his senior officers went about their duty, he turned to look for yet another officer, listening to Monckton’s orders:
“Captain Blunt, see that the men disperse themselves in two ranks across the width of the Plain. Sharpshooters and grenadiers to be divided between our right and left flanks. Artillery to the front.
Wolfe saw the officer he sought:
“General!” Came the barked response and directly Wolfe ordered:
“You will command Webb’s regiment in the rear as reserve, and, to plug the line. Thank you, sir.”
“Now, General Townshend.”
“Sir!” The word was spat through gritted teeth. Wolfe said:
“Take my glass!”
He pointed to the north-east. Even with the naked eye movement could be seen. Wolfe asked:
“What do you see?”
“White uniforms, coloured facings.”
“Yes, I spotted them minutes ago afar off. They are the Guiennes, a cracking troop. My compliments to General Murray. Let him spare you what he may to oppose them. I do not want our position outflanked. Understood!”
“Understood, General. Depend upon it.” Responded Townshend.
“Dismiss, General. Good luck!”
The Commander-in-Chief of British forces could be satisfied that, apart from minor changes in deployment, his army was in place; but where were the French?
Had the Marquis de Montcalm kept his own council resisting demands from subordinates for battle and remained in the chateau the question to ask is what could Wolfe have done? In answer one might speculate that the pride of a French high aristocrat was also at stake.
Both French commanders had been deceived into believing the British attack would come at Beauport; it was a classic feint set in motion by Wolfe to disguise his activities elsewhere. Yet he had been almost too successful for he had been allowed to deploy his battalions at night and in the early morning without interference by the enemy. Compare Wolfe’s deployment with John Churchill’s, at Blindheim (Blenheim) in 1705, where the French were able to inflict considerable casualties while Churchill was deploying who even waited for nearly an hour for his ally Prince Eugene to get into place before ordering Lord Orkney to begin his attack of Blindheim. On the Plains of Abraham, in contrast, Wolfe suffered fewer casualties in deployment.
Vaudreuil was the first of the three commanders of French forces to be alerted by a runner sent by the captain of the guard at the citadel. At 0645 on the morning of September 13th, the viceroy despatched a message to Colonel Bougainville at Cap Rouge to the effect that the enemy had attempted (sic) a landing adding that Montcalm had been also informed; that he was uncertain as to what was happening and would notify him. In the act of writing the message, Vaudreuil received more information so added a postscript that enemy forces seemed considerable.
Yet Vaudreuil did not do much else apart from informing the governor whose headquarters was to his left, that is, further away from Quebec. Montcalm, the man of action, wasted no time and began to issue instructions. He ordered Lt. Colonel Guillaume de Senezergues to marshal four out of five of his infantry battalions and march them to Quebec. His next command went to Captain Jean-Baptiste Duprat, a veteran of wars in Italy, Bavaria and the Rhine, to inform Clement Boucher de la Perriere, his commander, to mobilize three out of his five battalions of grenadiers.
Finally Montcalm sent a runner to his artillery commander, Francois de Montbeillard, for an urgent meeting. In the meantime he repaired to the stables to get his horse ready. Montbeillard had anticipated his commanders’ needs and met up with him. Both men rode towards Quebec passing a vantage point called the Butte a Neveu. Was it possible for Montbeillard to get cannon atop the hill? But, the artillery commander told Montcalm that given time this could be done, and, in the short term, he would see about it directly. And so, he left Montcalm to proceed to Quebec alone. In the event Wolfe had already foreseen this possibility and would order Townshend to guard its approaches and prevent any artillery being sited.
There were also upwards of five thousand Acadian militia commanded by Charles Deschamps de Boishebert who, alerted to the British landing, quickly dressed and assembled for battle orders. Confident that his forces were being assembled and would quickly follow in his wake Montcalm collected and mounted his favourite black bay and galloped towards the walls of Quebec.
In the meantime Bougainville did not wait for any further communication but issued orders for immediate assembly of his entire force to begin the march towards Quebec. It had taken the messenger, Georges Toussant, a greater part of a day to make the journey from Quebec to Cap Rouge; he was on horseback. So, it was unlikely that Bougainville would arrive on the scene of battle before early afternoon. It so happened that Georges Toussant had left Cap Rouge at daybreak with the mission to notify Captain Vergor that the shipment of provisions from Montreal had been cancelled. On such chances are the fate of nations dependent.
Had Toussant arrived the previous day Vergor might have, hearing the sound of boats landing at the Anse au Foulon, put up some resistance, or, even more likely, sent for reinforcements to Quebec and so alerted the town to its danger hours earlier. Yet, this should not detract from Stobo’s contribution for he was a resourceful officer and doubtless would have allayed Vergor’s suspicions for he had rehearsed his answers to a likely challenge for a password; it was:
“La morte aux Anglais. Un bon Anglais est l’un mort.”
And his: ‘Death to the English,” and: “A good Englishman is a dead one,” might well have seen him through. For recall his disgraceful treatment in the earlier days of his captivity and his sworn promise for revenge. He achieved it, and earned it that day. The Anse au Foulon was much later rechristened Wolfe’s Cove; should it not be: Stobo’s Cove?
From the citadel there came a spurt of flame and a whoosh as grapeshot whizzed by above their heads. He heard Fraser, the artillery officer, bark a command. In a minute his six pounders began to fire, but the citadel claimed its first victims. There were screams from the front rank as the grape found its target. Wolfe shouted:
“All men lie down, except officers!”
At that moment Wolfe himself was hit in the wrist by a spent musket-ball and uttered an involuntary cry. He removed his neck kerchief binding it around the wound. Skywards a whoosh announced another missile pass over their heads harmlessly to land far beyond Wolfe’s men. Although the Charles battery could see them it could not lower its elevation for fear of hitting its own men. On the other hand, Wolfe knew there was nothing he could do against it. His attention was suddenly diverted to a commotion around a particular gate of the Quebec wall. A dark bay horse emerged. Its rider brandished a sword. In front of him, behind him and flanked by soldiers the horseman rode proudly to the front of the citadel. Wolfe knew who it was: the governor, the Marquis de Montcalm, himself.
He watched mesmerised as his opponent rode across the field while his multi-colour clad soldiers walked and ran beside his horse. Occasionally one soldier would aim his musket at the British line and fire it; a flash of flame and puff of smoke would erupt while the soldier would drop back to reload. This sort of one-man activity increased as Montcalm’s army spread out in front of the British a half mile distant. Such indiscipline could only delay the French build-up.
While the French infantry were marching to take up their position, Brigadier Townshend’s infantry faced incoming fire from tiralleurs who, with their long-barrelled muskets were firing from the shelter of trees, bushes, houses but mostly from a field with un-scythed corn. The brigadier spoke to a serjeant who went among the infantry looking for volunteers; once assembled the serjeant ordered the men to fix bayonets. His next command was drowned by cannon fire but its effect was not in doubt for the dozen soldiers charged into the cornfield each having selected a spot where the depressed corn betrayed the presence of a sniper.
Only ten men returned their retreat hastened by a mob of ululating Indians racing to the cornfield but easily picked off by Townshend’s own marksmen.
On the British right their infantry especially officers and serjeants were the target of more snipers from trees growing at the side of the cliff. Monckton sent for Colonel Ottway whose 35th Foot was directly in the line of fire. He ordered additional sharpshooters from his ranks to deal with the snipers; it slowed the attrition but did not entirely end it as reloading, a slow process, gave time for the enemy to fill his dead comrade’s place with another.
Meanwhile Montcalm’s deployment proceeded and it was evident that the marquis would command the French centre which would march first. Wolfe estimated the centre as nearly four thousand strong but assembled in depth so that Montcalm’s front of one hundred men, each heading a column, was intended as a battering ram to charge through Wolfe’s two thin red lines while both his right and left flanking forces would wheel inwards enveloping the enemy. It looked entirely credible. Yet he lacked artillery to soften up his opponents. Two of the citadel’s cannon had been silenced by Lieutenant Knox’s two six pounders while sharpshooters made reloading hazardous for they kept up a ceaseless sniper fire at the citadel men attempting to reload.
Yet, Wolfe was confident. Often he had seen his disciplined redcoats in action though more often in three ranks. In the heat of battle the substitution of vocal orders by signal worked extremely well. In action, after the kneeling front rank fired, it was left to the rear as the second rank stepped, as one man, to the front. While it kneeled and fired its volley, as one, the third rank, would fire its volley, while the original first rank, having reloaded, was ready for its second volley. And so, volleys would proceed getting more ragged though, by their attrition, still devastating.
At Dettingen, Wolfe was himself in charge of one such precision movement. He had witnessed the destruction of such a bastion of men now forming in front of the British line. Wolfe had ample faith that he would witness another such massacre even though his thin red lines were two, not three. As the French front moved he passed instructions to the officers:
“Get the men on their feet.”
He heard additional orders for the front rank.
The sun shone down from a blue sky. It was just after ten o’clock.
Drummers began to beat time as Montcalm’s men advanced and Wolfe noticed for the first time they were marching downhill. He heard the serjeant nearest to him shout:
“Twenty yards, men. You’ll hold your fire till they’re two zero yards away. If any man fires before that, I’ll shoot him on the spot.”
Above the din of the drummers, the occasional cannon, the sporadic musket fire, the ambient noise he heard a shout. Was it English? No, it was French, and by Montcalm himself who rode before his front rank shouting:
“Vive le roi! Vive le roi! Vive le roi!”
Wolfe watched amazed as the French proudly marching suddenly stopped at forty paces from his redcoats. The French began to fire their pieces in a succession of sporadic bursts of fire. Occasionally redcoats slumped to the ground as balls smashed through tunic, flesh and bone.
The ragged firing from the French green clad militia was ineffectual and uncoordinated. Some musketeers left the line to reload and gaps appeared hastily replenished by a second man stepping forward to the front. Some Frenchmen threw themselves to the ground to reload.
The French front was now forty paces away, but stationary.
Wolfe showed the officers his cane. Along the line, serjeants watched for his signal. He was with the reserve but visible to all. Officers and serjeants watched him and bellowed their commands:
“Front rank, aim. But, hold your fire.”
Now, the French had resumed their march and their distance was diminishing rapidly. Colonel Burton’s men, in reserve, stopped dragging fallen soldiers away.
Now, the redcoats could clearly see the distinguishing features of the French front ranks trying to march steadily to the drum beat. Yet, still Wolfe could hear raucous orders from his officers of “hold your fire, hold your fire”. Now, Wolfe saw how his officers and serjeants drew their swords and lifted them above their heads where they quivered. Wolfe began to count backwards when a musket ball hit him in the leg. He winced but stayed still.
He maintained his count:
“Seven, six, five, four, three, two…”
His stick went to earth and simultaneously officers bellowed the command:
Swords slashed to earth, instantly and as spark ignited powder, there was a single flash, a ragged eruption of sound as the power of one thousand times two balls smashed into the French. A moment later, Wolfe heard it again:
The same flame and sound erupted. After the third, smoke from gunpowder completely enveloped the field in a billowing cloud.
To his right, something singular was happening. He heard Colonel Fletcher shout:
“Soldiers of the 35th! Wheel! Stop! Ready! Aim! Fire!”
A sound like a thunderclap erupted with its attendant flash and smoke. There was momentary silence. When it cleared no French centre or right or left flank could be discerned. All order of the former serried ranks had disappeared. In their place were piles of bodies. Men extricated themselves and retreated towards Quebec.
Wolfe heard the command:
A wall of red erupted towards the French line. Wolfe heard an echo of Culloden:
“Bonny Prince Charlie.”
At that moment he was hit for a third time. This time in the chest. He collapsed. Brigadier Murray who had seen Wolfe fall raced towards the spot. He took off his greatcoat and placed it under his commander’s head. Wolfe still conscious asked Murray how the battle was progressing. Murray shouted excitedly:
“The enemy are in full retreat, sir”
Monckton, though wounded, also arrived:
“Montcalm is riding away, General.”
Both statements were exactly as stated. Montcalm rode towards the St Louis gate. As he passed inside bystanders heard a woman shout:
“Mon Dieu! Il est tue.”
Wolfe muttered to Murray:
“It is all over with me.”
Hearing a shout for a surgeon he wearily lifted his hand to negate the call. He turned to Monckton:
“Tell Colonel Burton to use the reserve to cut off their flight to the river Charles.”
As Murray gestured to someone, Wolfe looked up at both him and Monckton who each bent closer to hear his words fainter now through loss of blood:
“Now God be praised. I will die in peace.”
He stared ahead. At once both Murray and Monckton realised it was a death stare for Wolfe had ceased to breathe.
The victor of Quebec was dead.
The French Give Up Canada
The death of Wolfe after being told the enemy were in flight which included his opposite number, the French leader, the Marquis de Montcalm, is normally taken as the end of the battle. To the British forces it was far from the case because marching out of the woods behind the British lines on the Plain were Colonel Bougainville’s forces having left the base at Cap Rouge in answer to Vaudreuil’s message. Had they arrived minutes before instead of minutes later they might well have changed the course of the battle. As it was Bougainville saw the French in full flight concluding there was nothing further to be done and retreated.
That flight consisted of soldiers careering through the streets of Quebec pursued by, notably the flying tartans of red plaid Highlanders. However their colourful and distinctive uniform was a gift to the sharpshooters and tirailleurs manning the ramparts of the citadel. The Scots were mostly from Frasers 78th Highlanders who armed with broadsword and shillelagh raced after the retreating Canadians and Arcadian militia.
Occasionally a Scot would be felled by a sharpshooter and falling on his face, either dead or wounded, lay revealing an expanse of flesh where his kilt had flown up over his head and being slashed at by fugitives as they passed. But, the pursuers were also the victims of cannonfire as they emerged from the streets of Quebec hitting the open country of Beauport. Grapeshot soon began to take its toll of the Scots and it was here that Captain Thomas Ross of the 78th fell. The Scots lost more men at Beauport than on the Plains of Abraham.
Even so total British losses amounted to fifty eight dead and rather less than six hundred wounded whereas the latter figure related to French deaths which also included the loss of Montcalm. The salient question facing Brigadier Murray in the absence of Monckton, who was badly wounded, was: Would Vaudreuil carry on the fight on the morrow, the 14th September.
But, the surviving marquis was no action man; he would be known to French posterity by his discoveries in the south seas of the Pacific Ocean rather than success or failure on any battlefield. Nonetheless it fell to Murray to besiege the citadel and chateau of Quebec by cutting off any possible means to supply the garrison with provisions or ammunition. He was successful because both fortifications surrendered on the 18th of September. It is possible the French believed that the attrition of disease and starvation in the forthcoming winter would yield them a return of Quebec without further hostilities.
Vaudreuil retired to join General Levis in Montreal along with what remained of his forces which were considerable. By now the British fleet had returned to England. Wolfe’s second in command, General Monckton, appointed Murray as governor of Quebec promising to deliver a request for reinforcements, provisions and ammunition to the British government in London.
In April 1760, General Levis marched an army to Sillery, outside Quebec, from Montreal and laid siege to the chateau and citadel. Murray now, himself unable to obtain provisions, marched out of the citadel to offer battle. This was known as the Battle of Foy, after a small settlement outside the town, and, although Murray was able to retire back into the chateau it was following a decisive defeat.
Now, having lost three and a half thousand of his original garrison of seven thousand and running short of ammunition and provisions, and dangerously low on water supplies, his hopes rested on sighting the union flag on the masts of British ships entering the St Lawrence river. General Levis, for his part, firmly believed that ships flying the fleur de lys would finally seal the French recapture of Quebec.
It was not to be. Three ships named Diana, Lowestoft and Vanguard finally ended the hopes of the French who would also be removed from Montreal later that same year by Major-General Amherst, on September 8th, 1760. It fell to Vaudreuil to sign the articles of capitulation.
Stobo’s ‘Vale Dictum’
After leaving Wolfe at the Anse au Foulon Major Stobo re-joined his ship where the captain handed him a letter already drafted by Wolfe addressed to General Amherst. Despite the strong British presence on the St Lawrence River French privateers still lurked waiting for rich prizes oblivious to the fact that Quebec, their base, was in mortal danger.
It is Stobo’s misfortune that having cleared the many hundreds of yards of the river, and the captain having set course for Boston, in the State of Massachusetts, one of the thirteen colonies, Stobo and his fellow passengers had the misfortune to encounter such a privateer and Stobo realised at once that he must get rid of the incriminating documents he is carrying.
Another potential danger is his recently engaged personal valet whom he is duty-bound to shoot dead but the fellow swears his loyalty and is spared although when captured his valet is assumed to be a French deserter and is separated from Stobo who is nonetheless fortunate that the French privateer, having more prisoners than it can cope with, releases Stobo along with other passengers and is honour-bound to remit his ransom of £250 (i.e. its value) to Quebec.
Considerably delayed Stobo reaches Halifax and makes his way by land to General Amherst who allows Stobo to return to Virginia, his home state. Having listened in awe to his story the burgesses of the Virginia Assembly not only order that his arrears of army pay be reimbursed, but also vote through an additional payment of a thousand pounds in gratitude for his endeavours.
He is also given leave to visit England being given letters to the generals and other notables regarding the Quebec military expedition. But Stobo’s agony is unabated for his packet has barely reached the Western Approaches when the crew and passengers become bargaining chips of another French privateer who, realising they have insufficient provisions, come to terms. Stobo is again not recognised and his share of a general ransom is assessed at £125 and loses his gold pocket watch.
He lands at Falmouth minus his letters which he wisely jettisoned over the side before being boarded. Passengers are reunited with their luggage in haphazard disarray owing to the depredations of the French privateers and Stobo discovers a mislaid overcoat and a letter concealed in a secret flap. It’s his open sesame to William Pitt, the prime-minister, later known as the Elder, to whom it is addressed.
Stobo fails however to win a King’s Commission into the British Army so perforce must return to Virginia where he still has a thriving wine and spirits business which can provide him with an income after leaving the army. He sails for America on the same packet which brought him and arrives home without suffering any further misadventures from French privateers.
It is their depredations which spurred Pitt to organize the Quebec venture for months prior a British fleet of thirteen vessels were captured in peacetime by the French. The fleet carried the result of a winter’s fishing and processing of cod which, in its preserved state, was sold to Portugal, Spain and France. Such loss of income was unsustainable to British fishermen who duly made representations to their government. From 1760 hence, the Atlantic would be cleansed of privateers.
Our hero writes his memoirs though they fail to have the impact hoped for and as the years pass other events crowd out his exploits such as the so-called American Revolutionary War of 1776 to 1783. His erstwhile commander, Colonel George Washington, has learned from his mistakes and is largely responsible for the defeat of British armies.
Yet, Major Stobo may justly claim that, had it not been for his intelligence and Wolfe’s acceptance, the conquest of Canada might have been delayed, if not postponed indefinitely.
In Stobo’s ‘Vale Dictum’ the author has brought to the public’s attention some of the reasons for mounting Expedition Quebec namely the ruination of lawful trade of English merchants and fishermen and certainly French privateering across the Atlantic ceased in the year after the capture and relief of Quebec, of the year 1760.
Yet, it has not escaped perhaps some readers’ thoughts that officialdom and the Establishment have paid little attention to Stobo’s claims, and, apart from the thanks from his home state of Virginia, Stobo received little or no recognition from government or royal officers.
Even James Cook received no official recognition; without his skills in his role of Master of Navigation Stobo’s cove, the Anse au Foulon, might not have been discovered in time; it was late September and many ice-floes had already been spotted. Yet the Admiralty quietly promoted him to lieutenant giving him command and, over the years, have been amending charts to reflect their true authorship. Also the idea of Empire more recently denigrates even the innocent explorer especially coming from a working-class background. An example is the BBC’s History Magazine who omitted Cook from its Historical Antarctic Survey.
I don’t anticipate my efforts will improve Stobo’s standing in the official record, although that’s not a reason not to try.
The misadventures of Captain Stobo describe the mishaps and exploits of a British soldier, drawn from his memoirs, who fought in the Battle of Quebec in 1775. Stobo’s language is somewhat deferential and even obsequious, which suited his purpose and his times. Moreover, he considered the Colonial Militia of Virginia and other militia of the other colonies as somewhat below par to the regular British Army, as indeed was the case for many colonial officers including George Washington, and Stobo’s ambitions reflect this view. Yet he was a remarkable soldier and in resisting his captors’ ‘persuasive’ methods proved himself both loyal to his home state and his Mother Country, England. In the words of Mark Antony: “This was a man!"