The Battle of the Long Sault, Ch. 7: Departure’s Eve. Leaving Montreal to engage the Iroquois

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MONTREAL, April 19, 1660. DEPARTURE’S EVE

To Robert Jurie fell the task of administering the venture. He had been working as a store-keeper with Charles le Moyne and was businesslike, politely badgering members of the expedition to report to him on the acquisition of this or that object.

Jurie was even-tempered, solicitous of people’s likes and dislikes, aware of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. He would explain that so and so was being given a task because ‘it suits him’ or ‘he works well at that job’ or ‘he enjoys that task’. In this way, they all developed respect for each other, and the tasks took on an egalitarian quality. Jurie said that packing the canoe was every bit as important as guiding it through the rapids, for the navigator depended on a well-balanced canoe, and the packer depended on the canoeist to get him through danger safely. In this way the enterprise, which was already fastened by the common purpose, became stronger, and each man took pride in the work of others.

He acted as treasurer and chief purchasing agent. He accounted for the provisions, kettles, ammunition, rifles, hatchets, daggers, knives, flints, basic foodstuffs. He covered everything, in fact, that did not personally belong to each person and which was deemed necessary for the expedition.

There was not much variety because it was no pleasure trip; Jurie pared non-essentials. Guns and ammunition took most of the room and weight in the canoes.

***

Maisonneuve had given his consent to Dollard partly because it was a decade since Montreal had experienced a truly remarkable victory. The question of Montreal’s future weighed on Maisonneuve’s mind in April 1660. On the night before the venture, he walked on the palisade wall, looking at the river and thinking of the fort’s beginning.

He had been sought out in Paris in 1640 by a two religious laymen in France who were inspired by The Jesuit Relations, which were letters sent from the new world to France. The missionaries sent these reports to raise money from hoped-for benefactors at home. These ‘relations’ provoked the pious men to search for a governor who had to be a soldier, a leader, an administrator and to have the same spirit of religious dedication that the benefactors shared. Maisonneuve was the man.

He had mixed emotions as he reflected on this chilly night. The winters here were like no other on earth in their severity. The summer heat brought mosquitoes and black flies that were the equal of anything north of the fetid swamps of the tropics, and the Iroquois made life a perpetual hell. Yet these French hung on tenaciously, praising God, building a new land. But Maisonneuve was also often saddened by the slow growth of the settlement and he was bitterly disappointed and disillusioned at the lack of assistance from France.

This tactical change instituted by young Dollard des Ormeaux might work brilliantly he thought. “I hope so,” he muttered into the wind, “because I’m running out of money, ideas and time.”

***

Dollard had called a final meeting at eight p.m. on April nineteenth, the night before the expedition was to embark. The men had gathered at the large warehouse owned by Charles le Moyne where Jurie had worked up until a week ago when he had turned his attention full time to the operation.

“Quiet!” Then, with only the briefest pause, Robert Jurie continued. “Now we have only a few things to discuss. We are leaving in the morning. It would be good if we all got to bed early, so I’d like to check these points quickly.”

Jurie used this trick often. He had seen Moliere use it in Paris in his plays. If he hadn’t succeeded in getting attention Jurie would raise his voice but always in a fashion that bespoke necessity. He rarely expressed irritation but rather went on with his statement as if he had their attention from the beginning.

He began his speech with a phrase which, if first missed by the talkers, would be caught when he repeated it. This practice had the virtue of never causing resentment, and it gradually sent the youths into silence. In the theater, Jurie had seen the technique used by actors in comedies. After saying a line that the audience might have missed through laughter, the actor simply paused while people laughed, then repeated the line or gave the essence of it before going on. It had a curious salutary effect on the listeners because it gave the impression that he had been interrupted, and a wave of slight guilt and courteous feeling swept the group.

They never thought to retaliate against Jurie, and he never lost his authority when he required it.

His handling of the youths was more astute than some others’, and it affected the group’s discipline. At these meetings, the men talked when it was a subject in their province and listened when it was not. So it was that an exemplary combination of respect, discipline and camaraderie that had begun in the freedom of different imaginations during the winter planning turned out in practice to be strengthened.

Jurie discussed the preparations assuring himself that each soldier was properly prepared. Then he asked Jean Valets to see him after the meeting to arrange for the packing of the canoes. The silence Jurie had won stayed in the group when Dollard spoke.

“My friends, we are almost ready to leave. For once, the Iroquois will be surprised to see us, and we’ll make sure it is an unpleasant surprise. We’ll return in a few weeks with the river open, many Mohawks dead and, I hope, with enough Iroquois pelts to make all of us financially … ahh…healthy.”

There was a loud cheer at the mention of the pelts.

“Now we will make our oath of allegiance and fidelity together. I pledge to support and defend the members of this voyage with all my strength and heart and will for the glory of Jesus Christ, for the sake of New France and the safety of the group. “I pledge an oath of allegiance of honor to every member of the expedition and promise not to abandon, betray or in any way forswear my companions, so help me, God. “I further pledge to accept no quarter in battle and to give none. Do you all so pledge and swear?” asked Dollard.

“We do,” said the sixteen.”

“Goodnight, my friends. Until morning.”

The meeting broke up with a cheer that alarmed the sentries on the walls.

Several of the young men just walked through the town for an hour after that, rehearsing the run on the river. Finally, all said goodnight and Dollard returned to the officers’ barracks. All the other young men were trying to sleep except the three who had girls in the colony.

One of these was Robert Jurie, who, between the late walk, the time with Claudette Mayer, his personal pack to prepare and the early call he had arranged for the canoe packers, did not sleep more than one hour.

Etienne Robin saw Celine Duprey after the meeting, but he could find little to say to her. Robin was a doer and except for expletives, exclamations and jokes he found little to say to anybody. The time with Celine Duprey was spent gently but rather desultorily. She asked if the voyage would be dangerous and asked when would he return. He replied that it was certainly dangerous for the Iroquois but hardly for himself, and that he would return when he appeared. He added that he would most likely have enough pelts to permit marriage and did she think that was a good idea?

Celine Duprey lost no time in describing her feelings about the latter subject and after an expression of love, Celine returned to dream of a wedding night and Etienne Robin stepped out into the cold and was struck with the thought of the fabulous day ahead.

Jean Lecompte’s girl was a maid at the Hotel Dieu hospital on night duty, so they spent only a few moments together. She cried, and he reassured her and vowed he would certainly not be a patient in her hospital. Then he recited a particularly ghastly poem that she thought sweet. They kissed, a bell rang, and she quickly embraced him and raced to the sound of a sick man’s call.

The men who had no girls did not miss them that night. If they thought of them at all, it was to wish they had one to celebrate their return on the shore in a few weeks’ time. But then, they reasoned, their return would certainly be a propitious time to impress the young ladies of Montreal. With their canoes full of furs, they could have their pick of the ladies.

Undressing in his quarters and satisfied at last that the trip was in his grasp Dollard permitted exhaustion to submerge him, and he slept.

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