He lay upon a couch beneath the shade of a drooping lime tree, where flickering lights and shadows played upon his tall, slight figure and pale, quaint face. There was nothing martial in the aspect of this young man, invalided home from active service on the Continent, where the war was fiercely raging between the European powers. He had a very white skin, and his hair was fair, with a distinct shade of red in it. It was cut short in front, and lightly powdered when the young man was in full dress, and behind it was tied in the queue so universally worn.
He was quite young still, barely thirty years old; yet he had seen years of active service in the army, and had achieved no small distinction for intrepidity and cool daring. He had won the notice already of the man now at the helm of state, whose eyes were anxiously fixed upon any rising soldier of promise, ready to avail himself of the services of such to sustain England’s honour and prestige both on land and sea.
James Wolfe was the son of a soldier, and had been brought up to the profession of arms almost as a matter of course. Yet he seemed a man little cut out for the life of the camp; for he suffered from almost chronic ill-health, and was often in sore pain of body even though the indomitable spirit was never quenched within him. His face bore the look of resolution and self mastery which is often to be seen in those who have been through keen physical suffering. There were lines there which told of weary days and nights of pain; but there was an unquenchable light in the eyes that invariably struck those who came into contact with the young officer. He had already learned the secret of imparting to his men the enthusiasm which was kindled in his own breast; and there was not a man in his company but would gladly have laid down his life in his service, if he had been called upon to do so.
Today, however, there was nothing of the soldier and leader of forlorn hope in his aspect. He lay back upon his couch with a dreamy abstraction in his gaze. The gambols of his canine favourites passed unnoticed by him. He had been reading news that stirred him deeply, and he had fallen into a meditation.
The news sheet contained a brief and hasty account of the loss of Fort William Henry, with a hint respecting the massacre which had followed. No particulars were as yet forthcoming. This was but the voice of rumour. But the paragraph, vague as it was, had been sufficient to arouse strange feelings within the young officer. He had let the paper fall now, and was turning things over in his own mind.
One of the articles had said how needful it was becoming for England to awake from her lethargy, and send substantial aid to her colonies, unless she desired to see them annihilated by the aggressions of France. National feeling against that proud foe was beginning to rise high. The Continental war had quickened it, and Wolfe, who had served against the armies of France in many a closely-contested battle, felt his pulses tingling at the recital of her successes against England’s infant colonies.