Three days later, on the 6th of May, when the beleaguerment had lasted precisely five months, the sound of distant gunfire came faintly up the St Lawrence with the first breath of the dawn wind from the east. The sentries listened to make sure; then called the sergeants of the guards, who sent word to the officers on duty, who, in their turn, sent word to Carleton. By this time there could be no mistake. The breeze was freshening; the sound was gradually nearing Quebec; and there could hardly be room for doubting that it came from the vanguard of the British fleet. The drums beat to arms, the church bells rang, the news flew round to every household in Quebec; and before the tops of the Surprise frigate were seen over the Point of Levy every battery was fully manned, every battalion was standing ready on the Grand Parade, and every non-combatant man, woman, and child was lining the seaward wall. The regulation shot was fired across her bows as she neared the city; whereupon she fired three guns to leeward, hoisted the private signal, and showed the Union Jack. Then, at last, a cheer went up that told both friend and foe of British victory and American defeat. By a strange coincidence the parole for this triumphal day was St George, while the parole appointed for the victorious New Year’s Eve had been St Denis; so that the patron saints of France and England happen to be associated with the two great days on which the stronghold of Canada was saved by land and sea.
The same tide brought in two other men-of-war. Some soldiers of the 29th, who were on board the Surprise, were immediately landed, together with the marines from all three vessels. Carleton called for volunteers from the militia to attack the Americans at once; and nearly every man, both of the French- and of the English-speaking corps, stepped forward. There was joy in every heart that the day for striking back had come at last. The columns marched gaily through the gates and deployed into line at the double on the Heights outside. The Americans fired a few hurried shots and then ran for dear life, leaving their dinners cooking, and, in some cases, even their arms behind them. The Plains were covered with flying enemies and strewn with every sort of impediment to flight, from a cannon to a loaf of bread. Quebec had been saved by British sea-power; and, with it, the whole vast dominion of which it was the key.
The Continental Congress had always been anxious to have delegates from the Fourteenth Colony. But as these never came the Congress finally decided to send a special commission to examine the whole civil and military state of Canada and see what could be done. The news of Montgomery’s death and defeat was a very unwelcome surprise. But reinforcements were being sent; the Canadians could surely be persuaded; and a Congressional commission must be able to set