Dollard sat under a fir tree near the water. All along the river bank there were fir trees and each had its branches cut off about three and a half feet from the ground. They looked like ballet dancers in green costumes. It reflected how the deer fed in winter. Wandering on lakes and rivers, they simply walked up to the trees. The snow was high on the ground, so the branches were accessible. When the deer could not reach higher they moved to the next tree so when one looked you saw that all the trees were cropped evenly.
Sitting under one of these natural awnings, Dollard thought that finally he was getting his chance. His work as a soldier had won the governor’s confidence; he had made friends with some of the most influential people in Montreal. He was considered honorable, often asked to witness agreements in Montreal. He was ambitious for his career in Canada; the one in France had faltered after an incident.
Some people in Montreal wondered about his reason for coming to Canada. The usual reasons were land, money, opportunity, and war. Many of the French who went to Montreal were illiterate, but Dollard had been a commissioned officer. Some said he had made a wealthy man’s daughter pregnant, some said he had legal difficulties. Many wondered about him because he was not forthcoming. He just quoted the usual reasons.
One day while walking in Paris, a coach pulled up a few yards ahead of him. Before the coachman could alight, a lady’s foot reached for the pedal to step down. It missed, and she slipped, scraping her shin so that it bled through her stocking. Dollard ran to her assistance. Putting his right hand on her waist and the other on her arm, he helped her rise. Her leg came up between the step and the side of the coach. She gripped the handles on each side of the coach door and pulled herself up, and with Dollard’s help she backed down the step. The coachman was picking up her parcels when a man’s voice thundered down on them.
“Here! What are you doing?”
Then a huge, bearded man, dressed in an elegant gray coat appeared. His face was first ashen, then purple. He looked as though he was about to burst.
“What is going on here!
“It’s quite all right, Edgard,” said the lady soothingly. “This gentleman was just…”
“I can see what this ‘gentleman’ was doing!” he raged.
Dollard saw that the situation needed some explanation.
“Well, sir, the lady was descending from the carriage and…”
“And you decided to assist her by pawing her…. taking an opportunity … it’s reprehensible…
“I assure you, sir…
“You assure me of nothing. I will not speak of where you had your hand since my wife is present, but…
“Edgard,” pleaded his wife, “this man helped me from falling. If it were not for him…”
“If it were not for him and people like him…”
The man seemed to be propelled by repeating other people’s words. He interrupted at an apt moment and turned the remark to his advantage. Later, Dollard was to learn that the man was a lawyer.
“If people like this would mind their own business … but of course they think it is their business to touch a lady whenever the opportunity presents itself. These young soldiers are all the same.”
“Edgard, my leg is cut.”
He paid no attention.
“I saw what happened; you deliberately touched my wife in an unnecessary way in an unnecessary place.”
The situation was becoming absurd. The coachman tried to speak but was silenced by the lawyer. His wife was leaning against the coach weakly, blood staining her stocking. She had lifted her skirt slightly to examine the red blotch. The coachman took out his handkerchief, moved to the lady and then thought better of it. He looked perplexed and a little sad.
“Sir,” Dollard said, unnaturally emphasizing the word. “The lady was alighting from the carriage, her foot slipped, I caught her and helped her down. That’s all.”
“That’s all! That’s all!” the lawyer said, shaking with rage. “I saw you touch her, you whelp. I ought to teach you a lesson.” His hands suddenly thrust out, grabbed Dollard’s neck and began shaking it more from his convulsive movement than force. Dollard’s head shook just the same. Dollard drew back, gripped the man’s wrists and jerked down hard.
“This is ridiculous; you are a fool,” he said.
The man’s wife was crying now, not because of her leg.
“A fool?” choked the lawyer.
“Yes, and if you touch me again, I shall call a civil guard and prefer charges against you.”
This was too much for the lawyer.
“You will prefer charges against ME?”
The very idea seemed to unbalance him. He, after all, was the lawyer. He immediately took his glove and slapped Dollard’s face.
“When?” said Dollard.
“Bois de Boulogne,” said the lawyer.
“Pistols,” said Dollard.
He killed the lawyer in the morning.
Witnesses reported what happened and Dollard was in no way maligned. The incident was hushed up; the lawyer’s jealous rages were well-known. The publicity concerning the duel might have helped Dollard. He would have been invited to more parties and made a fuss of, but he preferred not to be a court soldier, not to rise in that manner. So when the opportunity arose to go to Montreal, he accepted quickly and without reservations or regret.
Dollard hadn’t thought of the incident often since coming to Montreal three years earlier.
He had told no one, explained nothing. People in Montreal suspected something in his past, but he was so well thought of that most considered it was an unhappy love affair. Some said he had been thrown out of France, but that was gossip provoked by malice or jealousy at his military reputation or his noble background, indicated by his name, Dollard, Sieur des Ormeaux. By good work and good soldiering he had earned the respect of the town. The Jesuits, in their “Relations, their letters to their superiors in Paris, said that he was a man of accomplishments and generalship. He was considered courageous and of good family, although this reputation came along with him like baggage, for no one knew his parents.
Dollard saw how Lambert Closse and Charles le Moyne, while soldiering and farming in Montreal, had begun to amass wealth through the beaver trade, and he was determined to do the same.
“Dollard … Dollard…Doll-ard!”
The third time Jurie called him, Dollard snapped out of his reverie. Jurie stood above him, a short man with soft brown eyes and a head that moved like a bird’s at the slightest sound. He always stood with his feet apart and flat, never on the balls of his feet. He was not a flight animal.
His feet were planted now. If you hit anybody else standing like that, he’d go down like a stone.
But your impression of Jurie was if you hit him he would merely blink, and your hand would bounce back — not from his physical strength– there were about a dozen men on this trip stronger– but from his sheer determination not to fall.
“What’s happening,” said Dollard.
“‘We’ve got three damaged canoes. Tiblement is supervising six men. I’ve put four on guard; four are sleeping, and there’s you and me.”
“Do you think Martin and Grenet learned their lesson about shouting,” said Dollard.
“I think Martin did. Grenet too, possibly, but he’s strange. I wonder why he didn’t show up at first. Did you ask him?”
“No, I thought I’d leave it alone. Maybe he got scared.”
“Mmm. I think he made a big move coming from France. Well, we all did, but he broods about it, you know?” said Jurie.
“Hmm…he’s a little erratic. Keep Valets on him in case he does something stupid,” said Dollard.
“All right. Louis Martin’ll be fine, though.”
“Oh yes. He just wasn’t thinking. Besides, he wants to show us he’s a soldier. He’s a good shot.”
“Do you want to stay here tonight?” asked Jurie.
“The canoes would be in better shape,” said Dollard. “We have the lake tomorrow night.
That will be easy, but there are more rapids after that. And the last few days were rough.”
“It’ll be better coming down-river on the way home. I hope we find some Iroquois. It’d be just like those bastards to stay up there another month.”
“What, do you mean just to torment us?” he laughed. “I think we timed it right. A little early. We might have to wait for them a couple of weeks. Is all the shot dry?”
“Yes. I’ve put some in every canoe, and four have nothing else. We’ve got muskets — one each and ten extras — and ten musketoons besides forty pistols and swords and knives. It’s like the ordinance storehouse.
“Great.” Dollard looked around the campsite. It was on the north side of the river protected by fir trees from the wind off the Lake of Two Mountains a hundred yards away. “It’s warm today…for April.”
The ground in the clearing was bare. The rocks were dry and after putting down a skin you could lie on a rock in the sun out of the wind. It was pleasant and those who didn’t have to work spent some of the afternoon that way.
The sun set reluctantly and they prepared to leave. The Lake of Two Mountains was the easiest part of the journey, and they crossed it before daylight. The paddlers used long, even strokes in the calm water, staying about two hundred feet from the shore at the beginning and then continuing on a straight line out across the lake leaving the shore to veer to the left and wander in coves and small bays. The expert canoeists were beginning to feel at home again on the water, the less experienced were taking pride in their new-found prowess, and even Pilote and Christophe Augier, who was delighted to find that he hadn’t already drowned, were getting used to their crafts. The canoes were only a few yards apart, a tiny flotilla.
“I like this part,” said Augier relaxing in the center of the canoe. He was propped up like a doll between Simon Grenet and Robert Jurie.
“It’s like Roman days with Emperors and barges … a little to the left, my good man,” he said to Jurie, who smiled.
“Yes sir, I like this part,” he said to Pilote, who sat happily between Jean Brassier and Robin in the other canoe. “What time do they serve dinner on these things?”
“The service on this ship is terrible,” replied Pilote. “They never serve meals in transit and confidentially, the meals they do serve are not what you’d get in France.”
“I sympathize,” said Augier. “These brute oarsmen have no couth.”
“A lack of couth. And have you heard their language?” said Pilote, whose own language was the worst of all in New France. “It is not to be endured. They curse and blaspheme at the slightest thing and keep it up until you think your ears might fall off in embarrassment.”
“Dreadful,” agreed Augier. “Still, they do ply these waters well.”
“Ah, you must give them their due; sturdy men all. I’m thinking of instituting an award — the award of the golden paddle.”
“You know where you can stick your golden paddle,” said Robin, whose own language was not above reproach.
The laughter was cut back, but it still echoed a little across the Lake of Two Mountains as the canoes cut through the water and the night.