CHAPTER VII. THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM September 13, 1759
Wolfe now watched every step the French line made. Nearer and nearer it came. A hundred paces! - seventy-five! - fifty! - forty!! - Fire!!! Crash! came the volley from the grenadiers. Five volleys more rang out in quick succession, all so perfectly delivered that they sounded more like six great guns than six battalions with hundreds of muskets in each. Under cover of the smoke Wolfe's men advanced their twenty paces and halted to fire the 'general.' The dense, six-deep lines of Frenchmen reeled, staggered, and seemed to melt away under this awful deluge of lead. In five minutes their right was shaken out of all formation. All that remained of it turned and fled, a wild, mad mob of panic-stricken fugitives. The centre followed at once. But the Royal Roussillon stood fast a little longer; and when it also turned it had only three unwounded officers left, and they were trying to rally it.
Montcalm, who had led the centre and had been wounded in the advance, galloped over to the Royal Roussillon as it was making this last stand. But even he could not stem the rush that followed and that carried him along with it. Over the crest and down to the valley of the St Charles his army fled, the Canadians and Indians scurrying away through the bushes as hard as they could run. While making one more effort to rally enough men to cover the retreat he was struck again, this time by a dozen grape-shot from York's gun. He reeled in the saddle. But two of his grenadiers caught him and held him up while he rode into Quebec. As he passed through St Louis Gate a terrified woman called out, 'Oh! look at the marquis, he's killed, he's killed!' But Montcalm, by a supreme effort, sat up straight for a moment and said: 'It is nothing at all, my kind friend; you must not be so much alarmed!' and, saying this, passed on to die, a hero to the very last.
In the thick of the short, fierce fire-fight the bagpipes began to skirl, the Highlanders dashed down their muskets, drew their claymores, and gave a yell that might have been heard across the river. In a moment every British bugle was sounding the 'Charge' and the whole red, living wall was rushing forward with a roaring cheer.
But it charged without Wolfe. He had been mortally wounded just after giving the signal for those famous volleys. Two officers sprang to his side. 'Hold me up!' he implored them, 'don't let my gallant fellows see me fall!' With the help of a couple of men he was carried back to the far side of a little knoll and seated on a grenadier's folded coat, while the grenadier who had taken it off ran over to a spring to get some water. Wolfe knew at once that he was dying. But he did not yet know how the battle had gone. His head had sunk on his breast, and his eyes were already glazing, when an officer on the knoll called out, 'They run! They run! 'Egad, they give way everywhere!' Rousing himself, as if from sleep, Wolfe asked, 'Who run?' - 'The French, sir!' - 'Then I die content!' - and, almost as he said it, he breathed his last.
He was not buried on the field he won, nor even in the country that he conquered. All that was mortal of him - his poor, sick, wounded body - was borne back across the sea, and carried in mourning triumph through his native land. And there, in the family vault at Greenwich, near the school he had left for his first war, half his short life ago, he was laid to rest on November 20 - at the very time when his own great victory before Quebec was being confirmed by Hawke's magnificently daring attack on the French fleet amid all the dangers of that wild night in Quiberon Bay.
Canada has none of his mortality. But could she have anything more sacred than the spot from which his soaring spirit took its flight into immortal fame? And could this sacred spot be marked by any words more winged than these: