The Battle of the Long Sault, Ch. 24: A Short Rest on the River


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The morning of the twenty-ninth of April.

Dollard and his men traveled the next night uneventfully. They were between the Carillion and the Chute a Blondeau Rapids, a couple of days from their objective. Filled with expectation, they forgot their fatigue and covered the distance between the portages in one day.

When they reached the foot of the rapids, their energy carried them through part of the first portage. Then they made camp in a clearing on a bluff. On their left, front and rear was the water. To their right, the forest. Anyone coming would have to come that way. It was a high and defensible position. Dollard made the camp area take in a short path to the water to be used in case of an emergency,

The new Canadians made two fires out of ash. There was no smoke but the hard wood gave them warmth, and they had some rum from a keg. The talk became idle, as if a release from the physical toll of the work with the canoes and the mental tension that was building up regarding the Iroquois.

“I found a basswood tree over there,” said Nicholas Josselin, pointing to the woods. “The Indians make rope out of it. They tear off long strips of bark, boil them to get hemp and make ropes and bags from it. Sometimes they don’t boil it; sometimes they use it as it is for sewing robes…”

“All right, Nicholas, that’s very nice,” said Valets.

“…and other articles, or for fastening together birch bark dishes…”

“Fine, Nicholas.”

“… or bowls or for tying and holding the planks and poles of houses…”

“Nicholas. “

” … and for bandaging sores and wounds…”

“NICHOLAS!”

“What?”

“Thank you very much,” said Valets.

“Well, if you don’t learn about the country how do you expect to get along here?”

“I’ll get along,” said Valets, “and if I ever need to know about the basswood tree, I can always ask you, can’t I.”

“Hey, Lecompte,” said Forges, “what are you doing, writing a poem?”

Lecompte was sitting against a rock, knees up. He was writing on a piece of birchbark with a stick.

“Yeah, I’m writing a poem.”

“How?”

Forges moved over beside Lecompte.

“I’m writing on birch bark. I peel the bark, get a tan or white section and write on that with a stick. Then when I’m finished I roll the thing up into a nice little package and keep it.”

“What are you writing about?”

“The forest.”

“Read it,” said Forges.

“Read it, read it,” the others said.

“No, you’ll just laugh.”

“We need a good laugh,” said Doussin.

“We won’t laugh,” promised Hebert nudging Doussin.

“We won’t laugh,” said Doussin.

“All right,” said Lecompte. He began to read:

” ‘The forest is black and so is my heart, when I think of us so far apart.

The river is rushing so quickly by, I feel I’ll not see you before I die.

Why did I go? Why did I roam?

Why did I leave you alone at home?

There are no answers, no cause to say –

Just ancient laws that I must obey

So I go to the forest without delay.'”

The men sat listening, stupefied. Their mouths hung open, they were immobile. No one laughed. No one moved. No-one spoke. They sat transfixed, watching Lecompte watching them. Gradually the men moved slightly. A hand came down from a chin; a head dropped to a chest; a head shook. Somebody stifled a laugh.

Lecompte said nothing. Other men looked around slowly trying to pick out something that would plausibly have drawn their attention from the figure with the birch bark.

“I’m not finished yet,” Lecompte finally said.

Slowly, wordlessly, the men quietly turned their attention to other things until finally no one was watching Lecompte anymore.

Lecompte took the silence to mean either that his companions were moved or that they failed to understand the poem. He felt too that some might not have liked it. But they usually laughed when they didn’t like it. He returned to his poem.

Only Forges heard Robin’s muttered comment as Robin got up and passed him:

“It’s a crock of shit.”

Dollard selected Forges and Hebert for the next scouting mission. The territory was rough, the footing treacherous. Rapids undulated mimicking terraced rocks and the land. A moderately high ridge of ground gave way to a steep gully. This ridge might lead up through a steeper ravine that, in turn, gave way to a small hill and then another gully, perhaps with a stream.

Forges was happy to get out of the camp with Roland Hebert on a scouting mission. They shook their heads, laughing about the poem. They had been gone only a few minutes, however, before they sank into the snow in the forest.

“We need snowshoes,” said Forges and they went back to get them. Only a few pairs of snowshoes had been taken along, and it had proved a good decision as only the scouts ever found it necessary to use them.

The snowshoes, like the birch bark canoes, were an Algonquin invention and perfectly suitable for winter travel over all kinds of snow conditions. They were made of dried animal gut around which was rolled deer hide in the shape of a large flat spoon. Leather thongs kept the feet tied to the shoes and although they were unwieldy on the ground, over snow they gave tremendous advantage to the simple act of walking. The Neutral tribe near Lake Huron became so adept that they hunted deer wearing them,

Forges and Hebert wore the snowshoes over gullies and ravines where the snow was still deep. Climbing the steep embankments they took them off and slung them, with their muskets, over their shoulders, leaving their hands free for grabbing rocks, scrub bushes, and trees.

They spent two hours searching, found no recent trace of people and returned to camp. Three guards replaced them, and the took up positions one hundred yards from the camp and about sixty yards from each other.

“How far now?” said Nicholas Josselin.

“Two or three days,” said Jurie.

“You mean nights — five or six nights,” retorted Josselin. “Look, I have good eyes, but I can’t see in the dark. My eyes are starting to hurt. Can’t we travel by day for the rest of the way?”

“No,” said Jurie. “It might’ve been possible to do that the first couple of days but certainly not now. We’re too close to the Long Sault. Besides, it’s toughened you up,” laughed Jurie.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Josselin hollowly as he threw down a heavy keg of shot. “All right, we’re tough, bring on the Iroquois.”

“They’ll come soon enough. Unless you have a lucky ass, you’ll get all you can handle.”

“We haven’t seen one yet. Well except for those two that Pilote and Hebert killed.”

“They don’t count? What do you think they’re going to do, parade in a single file for you?” asked Jurie.

“Well, there are supposed to be thousands of them; where are they?” asked Louis Martin.

“Coming downriver, we hope. In small bands, we hope. Out of ammunition, we hope,” said Jurie.

“Wouldn’t it be safer for them to come en masse?”

“Naw,” said Dollard. “They come in small bands because they have to eat the game they can kill en route. If they all came together they’d starve. Besides, they know they’re safe in the woods. Except for small bands of Huron and Algonquin who’s going to hurt them? Not us certainly. We’ve stayed closeted inside the fort so long it’s like admitting the Iroquois own the forest.

“They do,” said Jurie.

“And the Algonquin and Huron don’t?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Besides, they don’t own it anymore. France owns it,” said Dollard. “Although they don’t really give a damn about it. From what I’ve heard, every governor of Quebec has asked for more settlers, more troops, more money to open up this country to explore it. They just don’t care in France. ‘What are they talking about’, they say. ‘Just a lot of ice and snow and beavers.’ Oh yes, they want the beaver. Immediate profits. Other than that, we’re on our own.”

“France can’t own this place without fighting for it. The Iroquois aren’t going to make them a present of it. And we sure aren’t going to get it staying in the fort,” said Jurie.

“‘What the hell do you think this is all about?” asked Dollard,

“I know, I know. I’m only saying that you don’t get territory by planting a flag. The Dutch and the English are working harder than we are. We have the best chance, we were here first. We have the best explorers, but they are always called back. ‘Don’t go too far; King Louis wants to keep what he has.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” said Dollard. “Militarily we have to develop our own leaders. If we fought here like they do in Europe we would be dead in one day.

“Can you imagine lining up in bright blue and red uniforms with drums and flags and asking the Iroquois if they wouldn’t mind starting the war tomorrow, please, because the sun is in our eyes right now?…like they do back there? Hah!”

“But isn’t Maisonneuve doing what he can?” asked Louis Martin.

“Yes,” replied Dollard. “He’s astute. He makes Montreal go with very little. He offers land to soldiers who’ve signed on for three years –at the end of three years, you get some land. He gave me some land last year.”

“Hell, it’s a good deal,” interrupted Jurie. “The peasants in France should be so lucky. The farmers have lots of land here and they can prosper. They’ve got to work, of course. It’s really no place for you, Christophe.”

Christophe Augier leaned against a rock and nodded his head like a cork on a line.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m waiting for you guys to get the beaver then I’m going to open up a house of prostitution and get rich.”

Howls of glee and applause met his remark.

“Where’ll you get the girls?”

“Oh, in Quebec and Three Rivers. From France. Imports. Very good quality. Half the girls sent over here — Les Filles du Roi –are street girls. I’ll also use Indians for exotic tastes and for aberrant cases, I’ll employ ex-nuns from disrobed convents.”

“They aren’t street girls, they’re orphans.”

“Same thing.”

“Fantastic. When do you plan to start this estaablishment?”

“When we get some beaver, and I get some capital. I could hardly borrow the money from Dauversiere, now could I?”

Hardly. Dauversiere, who was one of the chief guiding lights of Montreal’s founding, would have choked at the suggestion. Montreal was different. Quebec and Three Rivers were established and supported, if such a word can be employed to describe the neglect, by the King of France. Montreal, on the other hand, was begun by Dauversiere and Fancamp with Maisonneuve as their governor and spiritual and practical agent.

Jesuit sources and those of Jeanne Mance and Marguerite Bourgeoys lent influence that persuaded the king to absolve Montreal from many embarrassments from Quebec.

Naturally, when Montreal was being founded in 1640, the governor of Quebec, De Montmagny, opposed the plan for several reasons. It would divide resources; it was most exposed to Iroquois attacks; it would, by having its own governor, usurp some of his authority. He called it the ‘absurd enterprise” so that posterity might know that this well intentioned religious undertaking ‘was madness and in the hands of God.

Indeed, it was, for neither Quebec nor France gave it much help. At least God cared for it, or so said the citizens of the town.

It was in a dangerous military position, but it was also in a most favorable one for trade, for farming and for the main purpose for which it was founded: the conversion of the Indians.

The men debated the policies of France toward their town. They debated the military strategy or lack of it. They talked about the beaver and what they would do with the profits.

At noon, Robert Jurie reminded them that at sunset they were leaving and so they covered themselves in their cloaks beside a low fire and went to sleep.

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