BATTLE OF THE LONG SAULT.
Awaiting the decision at attack at Prud’homme’s Tavern, Montreal. Later that night. .
Dollard left the interrogation meeting quickly and let out a yelp that was heard inside the governor’s house. He began to run, but slipped on the ice, slammed into the side of a building, fell to the ground and began laughing.
He was about to get up immediately but he stopped, deciding to savor the moment before seeing his friends at the tavern. He rose, and leaned against the building, his feet in the snow, his head back against a large log house. He thought at last he would have a chance to prove himself. He would return an accomplished commander and, he hoped, with enough furs to start him on his fortune. He could think of nothing better than to be a wealthy soldier, to be like Closse and le Moyne.
He put off heading for the tavern. Instead, he thought of his friends, recruited last autumn, and others approached later, such as Roland Hebert and some of them were on duty.
He walked to the watchtower. He had been there last November and first beheld the rigid back of Roland Hebert. Hebert took life too seriously. His tone was black and his comic remarks often failed to make others laugh because they were snide. He spent a great deal of time mumbling to himself about things. Cognac said he was deranged.
“Roland,” Dollard had said, “how are you?”
“I’m on duty.” The remark was a reproof.
“You can stay on your watch,” said Dollard, who outranked Hebert.
“What else would you have me do?”
He looked down from his height of six feet at Dollard some four inches shorter. Sometimes his attitude affronted people; after a time they decided that was his way and let it go. But they didn’t seek out his company.
When Dollard told him his idea, Hebert changed completely and said,
“Where do I put my mark?”
All traces of condescension had disappeared from his voice. He was like a boy, enthusiastic, willing and eager to begin. He was always this way at the prospect of an adventure, especially a military one. It was as if he consciously contained himself, was barely civil, while doing the routine chores of a settler and only became himself when asked to fight. Dollard understood the feeling but he still wondered at the abrupt change in attitude.
He had climbed down the ladder then from the parapet and walked over to the forge where Jean Tavernier was making the bellows shoot the flames toward an iron grate. Tavernier had been banging a piece of metal without enthusiasm.
“How is it going, Dollard?”
“Good. Got a minute?”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He said it as if he meant his life.
Jean Tavernier, “Forges,” because of his occupation, usually looked sure and self-confident as he hammered. He always looked so at the forge or at games, but when he just stood and talked, his posture sagged, almost as if he were embarrassed at his great height.
“Like to kill some Iroquois and get some beaver?” said Dollard.
“You say it like it was a choice of desserts.”
“Almost. If I get the right people, I think I can get the authority.”
Forges stopped hammering, wiped his wrist on his forehead and his hands on his leather apron.
“Are you sure?”
He always asked this question. He wasn’t sure of himself so he had to be sure of other people. Forges, who was so strong, had eyes that rarely remained still and this gave a constant appearance of nervousness that was out of joint with his heroically cast physique. His eyes darted from Dollard’s right eye to his left as if to detect uncertainty in his friend. He saw none.
“Nothing’s sure, here, but I’m confident.”
“That’s the difference between you and me.” said Forges, getting up and retrieving his metal piece, “You’ve got confidence.”
“I have confidence in you.”
Forges snorted. His face had an appearance of uncertainty despite a strong jaw, a high, flat forehead and narrow cheekbones. By themselves, motionless, his face and physique would hardly fail to give off an aura of strength and determination. However, determination was what Forges lacked, and that was nothing more than a lack of confidence. Now his brow furrowed. No one could understand the dichotomy between the face and figure of Forges.
“When do you want to go?”
“In April. It’s only November. We have all winter to got ready.”
“I can do a lot with this over the winter,” he said, hitting the forge with the newly soldered piece of metal.”
During an evening of relaxation at Prud’homme’s Tavern in December, five months ago, Dollard had found other willing young men: Alonie Delestre, at thirty-one, the eldest; Christophe Augier, an indolent, practically slothful individual, whose reedy body was often seen persuading a shovel to hold him semi-erect; Robert Jurie, a business-like, courteous youth who would later administer the expedition; Francois Crusson, volatile, known as ‘Pilote,’ who had a tracking nose like an Algonquin hunter; and Nicholas Josselin, a hypochondriac, and a fanatic about insignificant data and detail. He could be boring in a tavern, but he might know something that could save your life in the forest. He had signed them all.
After Mass at Christmas, Dollard had also spoken to Simon Grenet, a cautious but likeable surgeon’s assistant of twenty-two.
“Ahh, Dollard. I’d like to go but….” Grenet’s voice dropped.
“It’s just that my duties in the hospital…”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re not the surgeon, you’re the assistant. The surgeon will make sure nobody dies while you’re away.”
“But he probably won’t let me go,” said Grenet.
“He won’t have anything to say about it, I promise you. If we don’t go, it won’t be because the surgeon vetoed the plan. All right?”
“Good. I’ll see you later,” said Dollard and he had walked away thinking of Grenet’s habit of trying to consider all sides of a question.
Normally that was a virtue in a man but somehow Grenet used it as a method of putting obstacles in the way of actually doing something he thought he should do.
The same day. the sound of musket fire had drawn Dollard to an area behind the munitions store-house. There was a hill of earth near a wall that the men used for target practice. When he rounded the corner he saw Jacques Brassier looking down the barrel of a musket.
“Boom.” said Dollard quietly. “You are working Christmas Day.”
“Everybody else is too, replied Brassier.“Hello, Dollard. This one has a warped barrel” said Brassier holding a musket. “It shoots up to the left.”
“Aim for the trees.” Suggested Dollard laughing.
“Good idea. I’ll just ask the Iroquois to climb up and pose. ‘A little to the left, please. Thank you.’ Bang!”
“I hope you’ll have it fixed by the spring,” laughed Dollard.
“I’ll have it fixed today or I’ll take it to Forges,” he said, ramming the rod down the barrel.”Why, what’s happening in the spring?”
Dollard told him.
“God, I can’t wait to shoot some of those brutes. It gives me satisfaction.”
“What a way for a man to talk who almost became a priest,” said Dollard in mock astonishment.
“I think I would’ve been a priest, you know, except that I like shooting these savages more than saving their souls. It’s a flaw in my character… Say Dollard… Have you spoken to Rejean Tiblement? He’d be angry if he thought you were planning something like this without including him.”
“I have no intention of forgetting him,” laughed Dollard. “See you.”
The fifteenth youth, Rejean Tiblement, a locksmith, gunsmith and engineer who could fix anything from a ruptured canoe to a hole in a moccasin, from a leaky copper pot to the imported, gilded armoire in Maisonneuve’s large house. He was skeptical, resourceful, tireless. Dollard enlisted him when they were patrolling near a farm where an Iroquois had been sighted.
The sixteenth approached Dollard one day in January.
“I have heard you are to fight the Iroquois,” said Louis Martin.
“Perhaps,” said Dollard.
When the youth saw that Dollard was waiting, he continued.
“I overheard some plans when I was cleaning a barn last night.”
Dollard thought about that carelessness and wondered who was overheard.
“Who was talking?”
“Simon Grenet and another, I don’t know who.”
Dollard resolved to speak to Grenet.
“Can I go too? I can fight.”
Dollard laughed. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-one … you are only twenty-five and when you were twenty-one you were a soldier in France.”
“And you are twenty-one and a cow-herd in Montreal,” said Dollard.
“And I mean to change my station,” said the youth bitterly. “If not with you, then on my own. You must be thirty before they trust you here.”
Dollard snorted. “Can you shoot?”
“’Very well. I have been practicing with ammunition I …ahh…found.”
“From the munitions?”
The youth shrugged.
“Show me,” said Dollard.
“Over on that fence I have three stones. I’ll shoot them off,” Martin said.
Dollard looked and saw the three stones about thirty yards away. The largest would not be difficult to hit — in fact, if Martin missed it on the first shot Dollard instantly decided he would not let him come –but the middle stone was harder and the smallest one was a difficult shot.
Martin raised his musket and fired. The largest stone sprang from the fence. Dollard said nothing while Martin reloaded. He shot again and the middle stone jumped off the fence.
Dollard said out loud,
“This is the test.”
Martin fired and missed.
“Wait, that was a mistake. Let me shoot again”
“Miss again and you’re out.”
Martin reloaded, raised the musket to his shoulder, aimed, fired, and the small stone zipped off into the snow.
“A mistake like that could mean your death instead of a Mohawk’s. He looked at Martin evenly. You can join us.”
The youth had let out a yelp of joy and, calling back his gratitude, raced off.
Most of these men who had pledged to go on the venture now waited anxiously at Prud’homme’s Tavern to hear from him.
At the tavern, the men had begun drinking beer provided by the ample-bellied and amply-stored brewer and tavern keeper, Louis Prud’homme.
“Hey Louis, more beer, here!” said Pilote.
“I don’t know if you can make it…you’re fat and fifty at least!”
Pilote was only half-kidding. He was exuberant but he could be mean. His remark might have passed, given that the drinkers were under thirty, but Prud’homme didn’t let it.
“Listen,” said Prud’homme, putting the drinks on the table. He grabbed Pilote’s shoulder and squeezed hard.
“I may be older than you but I’m stronger and smarter. I’ve killed more savages too. I’ve been here since the beginning and I still outrank you.”
“All right, Louis, you’re right,” said Pilote, rubbing his shoulder.
The older man was strong.
“If we go, you can come with us!”
Hebert, sitting with Pilote said,
“What are our chances?”
“Not good, I guess,” said Pilote turning around to see if anyone saw Prud’homme grab his shoulder.
He was still massaging it.
“But Dollard can be persuasive. What do you think?”
“I don’t know him well. They say he came here because he killed somebody in France. Maybe he’s running away from the authorities,” said Hebert.
“That’s ridiculous. Maisonneuve would not tolerate that.”
“It’s just what I heard.” said Hebert.
“Not possible. Lambert Closse made him godfather of his child and he’s always asked to witness oaths!” Said Pilote.
“I don’t know him, as I say, but he’s a soldier right? So why isn’t he at the Court in France? You know, Pilote, most people come here to better themselves but some come for darker reasons.”
“Darker reasons! Jeez, Hebert, you’re full of it! There are soldiers in France and soldiers here.” said Pilote scornfully downing his drink.
Eleven were at the tavern drinking, the others having taken the late shift on the palisade. At ten in the evening, when they had gathered, they had been voluble, but now, at midnight, they were subdued. Some were getting morose, worried that the plan would be rejected. Others argued it was only the details of the plan that was delaying their friend and not some discovered weakness that would scuttle the trip. But privately they feared things were going badly.
Dollard appeared in the doorway. He composed himself then he pushed open the tavern door with a heavy hand and a heavier expression of regretful resignation. Eleven heads turned together and just as uniformly stopped when they saw him.
But he could contain his enthusiasm no longer than an instant, and seeing the disappointment that flew over their faces reflected from his, his cheeks cracked, a smile began and before he could stand back and laugh eleven pairs of hands were on him, sending him crashing to the floor where he was immediately doused with beer and called the worst actor in New France.
Louis Prud’homme’s tavern sold more beer and cognac in the next four hours to twelve men than had been consumed by the whole town for the previous week. That night was also the first time in Montreal the ‘no drinking on duty’ ban was broken as Dollard himself slipped out and took a cup of brandy to his friends on the wall.
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