THE CARILLON RAPIDS: FACING FEAR. Days six to eight of the expedition.
On April twenty-sixth, Dollard and his men were swearing their way through the Carillion Rapids. The rapids got their name from the lovely sound the water made in mid-summer like the euphonious jingling of bells. In April, the name didn’t apply.
Part of the rapids were deep in a gorge surrounded by high rock walls, and when the turbulence flashed through the gorge, it sounded like an avalanche. But that section lasted only a hundred feet and actually could be avoided if you took a wider route into the river.
Coming down-river the water opened like a huge fork. The banks of the river were the outside prongs of the fork, and there was only one other prong, near the north shore. It was a long, high and fairly wide prong of rock, and this is where the water sounded the worst.
But Dollard and his men were going up-river. Still, they had to pull into land early to avoid the eruption of water and shallow (or hidden) rocks at the bottom of the rapid.
The men portaged on the north bank, and the roar was deafening. They heard the pounding of the rushing river below them, and they saw the white water being lifted, flung up, and disappear as it dissipated in the air. They saw only that white water because the sky had clouded over, and the moon had gone; they could hardly see the man in front of them. The lack of moonlight had made them lose another night’s travel; they had spent two nights climbing the Carillion Rapids. Towards dawn, they approached the wide river where they could take to the canoes again.
You could go almost anywhere in this country on the water, you could travel for two thousand miles. Except for the portages. In the summer, the canoeists would do anything to avoid a portage. If it was too shallow to paddle they poled– took eight foot or even 14-foot poles, which they had lashed to their canoes, and pushed their way up-river. If they couldn’t pole, they lined walking along the shore pulling the canoes on ropes. If they couldn’t line, they dragged — got out of the canoes and half carried the canoes up the current in the water.
They would do anything to eliminate a portage, or at least shorten it.
The river was far too cold to drag in April. It was even too cold to launch the canoes properly — from the water — and so the French launched them by shoving away from the land, which meant they damaged their canoes often.
The Indians, however, took off their winter moccasins, stowed them in the canoe or tied them to the gunwales, launched their canoes from the water. They dried their feet in the canoe and put their moccasins back on. But in the dark, on uncertain ground, with the rush of the current and the short temper of these canoeists, that kind of sacrifice was not easily made. Dollard and his men launched from rocks and took their chances.
Repairing the canoes seemed to be time lost only from rest but in April the days, though lengthening, are still short and the nights, their traveling time, were long. The time stolen from rest took its toll. When then frustrations of the journey– stubbed toes, whacked shins, missteps into the water–befell tired men the language got worse, and the portages did too. Moving time was lost. Dollard and Robert Jurie agreed that they still had time to get to the Long Sault, but they didn’t want to waste any. Secretly they dreaded an advance Iroquois party that would ambush them.
It was the eighth day of the expedition. The men were in excellent spirits even though they constantly complained on the portages. Weary after the Carillion Rapids portage and nursing bumped heads and shins, they made camp. Some went to get firewood easy to find in April. The winter wind knocked all the dead branches from the trees, so it was merely a matter of picking them up. In the Huron villages, the women gathered all the firewood for the year in a few days.
The men usually ate and went to sleep quickly, exhausted from the portage or paddling. After a sound rest they did the repair jobs on the canoes and ate a more leisurely dinner.
Louis Martin, at twenty-one, the youngest member of the small force, sat on a rock in the warm April sun. “Why beaver? There are hundreds of animals here — bear and fox and deer and martin and wolves and raccoons and lynx — why is beaver so important?”
“The vanity of the Frenchman,” said Dollard. “They like the felt it makes…it is all the rage to have felt hats. They are paying ten livres for them now in France I hear so who am I to argue? I prefer this lynx,” he said, lifting the side of the tawny-gold, brown and white fur of his coat.
“Well, I’m not going to argue,” said Louis. “How do they catch them?”
“Well, you’ve seen that the beaver makes his house of branches and mud in the water. Piles everything up in the autumn. Dams a creek. In the winter, they stay there under the ice. The Huron closes up all the exits to the house then makes a hole in the ice with a stick. He puts his arm down the hole in the water and waits for the beaver to come up.”
“Why do the beaver come up?”
“An Indian walks on the ice and bangs it with a stick. The beaver get frightened. They come up. The men until the beaver comes up and then reach in the water and grab him behind the neck like a cat.”
“And dangerous. Beavers bite!”
“Do the Indians get bitten?”
“They’re experts. Mostly they don’t get bitten.”
“You’d think if he was scared the beaver’d stay down there.”
“Yeah, except all the exits are blocked. Hell, what am I talking about? I don’t know! I’m not a beaver!
“How much money from the beaver?” asked Louis. “After we kill the Iroquois, I mean?”
“If we meet hunters maybe a lot. If we meet warriors, none, but we have to arrange a detail to cover the Iroquois canoes. If we meet hunters and shoot them, their canoes will tip. The canoes won’t sink; the current will carry them far downstream quickly unless we deploy some men to gather them. Anyway, I’d better talk to Jurie about it.”
Another thing to worry about. He got up to find Robert Jurie.
Simon Grenet was lying on his stomach on a large, flat rock. Above him using a long root for a fishing line was Alonie Delestre. Delestre waited a while then asked, as casually as he could:
“What happened the day we left Montreal?”
“I slept late,” said Grenet.
“I couldn’t get to sleep the night before with all the excitement,” said Grenet. “I just didn’t wake up in time.”
“That’s it? That’s all there was to it?”
“0h,” said Delestre simply.
They said nothing for a minute. Simon Grenet was lying with his chin on his arms that were folded on the rock in front of him.
“It’s also true that I got scared,” said Grenet finally.
Alonie Delestre watched his line and said nothing.
“I couldn’t go to sleep because I wondered whether I had made the right decision,” said Grenet.
“To come up the river?”
“Why? It’ll be like target practice. They won’t suspect a thing.”
“I liked the idea…I just didn’t know whether I should go. But then, I didn’t know whether I should go to Montreal in the first place…”
“What bothered you?”
“I just didn’t want to leave my friends. But gradually all my friends left my town, so it was going to be just myself who remained. I left in self-defense. “On this trip all my friends were going. I wanted to go with them. Still…”
“What did surgeon Chartier say about it?
“He said there wasn’t that much to do. Summer is the busy time. He could easily handle the surgery. Besides he wanted revenge for what happened to him…you know they captured him years ago…but he’s too old now, so…”
“So it’s like you’re taking his place, acting for him.”
“Yes. I have to have more confidence if I am taking his place. It’s dangerous out here.”