Here Carleton met Captain Napier, who took him aboard the armed ship Fell, in which he continued his journey to Quebec. He was practically safe aboard the Fell; for Arnold had neither an army strong enough to take Quebec nor any craft big enough to fight a ship. But the flotilla above Sorel was doomed. After throwing all its powder into the St Lawrence it surrendered on the 19th, the very day Carleton reached Quebec. The astonished Americans were furious when they found that Carleton had slipped through their fingers after all. They got Prescott, whom they hated; and they released Walker, whom Carleton was taking as a prisoner to Quebec. But no friends and foes like Walker and Prescott could make up for the loss of Carleton, who was the heart as well as the head of Canada at bay.
The exultation of the British more than matched the disappointment of the Americans. Thomas Ainslie, collector of customs and captain of militia at Quebec, only expressed the feelings of all his fellow-loyalists when he made the following entry in the extremely accurate diary he kept throughout those troublous times:
’On the 19th (a Happy Day for Quebec!), to the unspeakable joy of the friends of the Government, and to the utter Dismay of the abettors of Sedition and Rebellion, General Carleton arrived in the Fell, arm’d ship, accompanied by an arm’d schooner. We saw our Salvation in his Presence.’
When Carleton finally turned at bay within the walls of Quebec the British flag waved over less than a single one out of the more than a million square miles that had so recently been included within the boundaries of Canada. The landward walls cut off the last half-mile of the tilted promontory which rises three hundred feet above the St Lawrence but only one hundred above the valley of the St Charles. This promontory is just a thousand yards wide where the landward walls run across it, and not much wider across the world-famous Heights and Plains of Abraham, which then covered the first two miles beyond. The whole position makes one of Nature’s strongholds when the enemy can be kept at arm’s length. But Carleton had no men to spare for more than the actual walls and the narrow little strip of the Lower Town between the base of the cliff and the St Lawrence. So the enemy closed in along the Heights’ and among the suburbs, besides occupying any point of vantage they chose across the St Lawrence or St Charles.
The walls were by no means fit to stand a siege, a fact which Carleton had frequently reported. But, as the Americans had neither the men nor the material for a regular siege, they were obliged to confine themselves to a mere beleaguerment, with the chance of taking Quebec by assault. One of Carleton’s first acts was to proclaim that every able-bodied man refusing to bear arms was to leave the town within four days. But, though this had the desired effect of clearing out nearly all the dangerous rebels, the Americans still believed they had enough sympathizers inside to turn the scale of victory if they could only manage to take the Lower Town, with all its commercial property and shipping, or gain a footing anywhere within the walls.