86 THE FALL OF QUEBEC
await the assault. The fire-ships, de Vaudreuil's pet scheme for destroying the British fleet, strained at their cables, and the night was moon-less. Had their object succeeded the loss must have been inestimable. At their anchorage in the channel lay the English vessels, their lines to be traced at intervals through the gloom. The hour was late and few lights visible. No sound could be heard, save the occasional creak of a spar or the slapping of the tide against the black hulls.
Suddenly from the near distance loomed indistinct masses slowly borne onward by the current, and as they came the bewildered sentries, in doubt and darkness, saw flickers of light shooting up from them that soon revealed their direful purpose. With rapidity the flames flew up the tarred rigging and along the yards, catching from one spar to another, while from below began a series of explosions accompanied by dense volumes of smoke. Tar-barrels and pitch supplied sheets of flame that flooded earth and sky, bathing the distant town and camp in a lurid glare, while quantities of gunpowder ignited and threw aloft rockets, loaded muskets, and cannon with which the decks were stored. For an instant these seemed to poise aloft before