1 At the Face of the Cliff

Anse du Foulon, Quebec, 4 a.m. 13 September 1759

‘Twas the darkness that did the trick, black as tar, that and the silence, though how the men contriv’d to clamber their way up the cliff with their musket and seventy rounds on their backs, I’m sure I don’t know even though I saw it with my own eyes and did it myself before very long. We stood hushed on the muddy shore of the river, peering up at the volunteers. They looked like a pack of lizards unloosd on the rocks, though not so nimble, bellies hugging the cliff and their rumps wiggling with the effort. We couldn’t see much of ’em for they disappeared now and then into the clumps of witherd cedar and spruce that hung on the side of the hill. But we could feel the squirming, pulling labour of it all. And by God they were quiet alright. Now and then a man’s boot would find a foothold he thought secure and away would come a shower of soft dirt, near taking the fellow with him down the cliff. Curses come to a soldier as easy as breathing, but we heard none that night, not at the start of it all. Some scoundrel later put it about that the General himself had struck off the head of a man who curs’d too loud when he dropped his pack to still any who should think to do the same. But that was never the General’s way. Though he had the temper in him of a red-hair’d man he was an orderly commander who lik’d things done by the Regulations and it would go damnd hard on any poor infantryman who thought to help himself to the spoils of war, be it just a goat or a pig, when all the killing and running were done.

I suppose the silence told Wolfe the game was in earnest. For had bodies come tumbling down or firing started from the top he would have stopped it right there and then. For all his soldierly zeal he was rattled by the cliff when he had jumpd from the landing boat and come to its face, and could see the height of it, near enough two hundred feet and the sheerness of it. ‘I don’t think we can by any possible means get up here,’ we heard him say, ‘but we must use our best endeavour.’ And so it fell to the turn of the Twenty-Eighth and we started to haul ourselves over the black limestone, reaching for stumps and scrubby patches of choke-cherries and hawthorn that covered the nether part of the hill. By such cumbersome means we lugged ourselves up a bit at a time, skinning our hands, dirtying our breeches and praying the next bit of scrawny stick and leaf was deep enough rooted to hold us up. One thing was sure, our coats and leggings weren’t made for such work, for they flapped and pinchd as we dragged ourselves up; and I could swear the Rangers who were fitter dress’d for it sniggerd as they saw us struggling with our tackle. Indeed the whole business seemd perilous, vertical folly and nothing the King of Prussia would have commended. We all feard it might yet go badly as it had done in July at the Montmorency Falls where French had peppered us with grapeshot and the drenching rain had turned the hill into a filthy slide. Men had come tumbling down in a mess of blood and mud and fear and those that couldn’t run were left to face the Savages as best they could, poor beggars.

But our fortunes were fairer that night for when the sentries challengd our boats as we saild upriver Mr Fraser he answered them in French good enough to pass and even threw in an oath or two against the English bougres for good measure. And we were all glad of the Scotchmen this time, even the Highlanders, for of Delaune’s first men up the rocks they were all Macphersons and Macdougals and Camerons and the like. A good crew for a general who had fought on Culloden Field! And here too they did the king good service for I had no sooner got to the very top and was rejoicing and taking good care not to look down behind me when our men gathered together amidst the tamaracks and the spruce. Before us were a group of tents, white in the first thin light of the coming dawn and of a sudden a commotion and shouting broke forth. A Frenchy officer came flying out in his nightshirt as we loosd off our first rounds and sent them running across the open fields towards the town leaving a few of their company shot or stuck with our bayonets wearing that surprisd look on their face as they lay there amidst the pine needles and brown grass.

In Soweto