Chapter 25. Chute a Blondeau, Long Sault, and a Scare
Dollard was not thinking of the Iroquois. He was trying to walk on a high ridge overlooking a section of the Chute a Blondeau rapids without falling into the icy water or on the rocks below.
In the dark.
"Jesus, portaging at night is a punishment from God," said Pilote.
"If that's true, your language is not likely to cause Him to repeal it," said Forges.
Pilote told Forges to "Go to the other place."
Gamely, they completed the two-day portage near morning on Saturday, April 30th. Just as they were making camp, it began to rain. Pilot's uncharitable remarks were drowned out by thunder, and the men sank under whatever shelter the trees afforded to wait the rain out before trying to make a fire for a meal.
Even Robert Jurie was exasperated.
"Why the hell didn't we take at least one Indian guide?" he said to Dollard.
"We have Pilote and other good trackers and scouts."
"I don't mean for that. I mean for the goddamn trails and the night portages. The Indians could have saved us days on this trip."
"You're right,' said Dollard. "Well, we're practically there. We have only one more day's paddling. There's just one day between this rapid and the Long Sault."
"I hope it's paddling. These portages are crazy. It's the heavy ammunition that slows us down.
"You won't have to carry it back," laughed Dollard.
"I wouldn't. I wouldn't even go downriver with it. I'd rather go right down to the Iroquois villages and throw it at them after this. I'd do that before I took it home." said Jurie and he stomped off to arrange guards.
It rained all day.
They finally set up their canvas sails but they got wet doing it, and they sat huddled under trees cursing. At the end of the day, it stopped raining but the sky was still overcast. On the western horizon, the sun slipped through some clouds briefly just before it sank into them, leaving a wash of vermilion and orange.
"It'll be sunny tomorrow," observed Jurie.
"We should dry these clothes," said Pilote.
"Just dry your boots and gloves. Your coats will dry on the gunwales, and your pants will just have to dry as we go," said Jurie.
"To hell with that! What's the rush? If it's cold again tonight my ass will fall off," said Pilote." Let's build a fire and we'll back into it and get properly dry."
Jurie flashed a glance at Dollard, who nodded.
"All right," replied Dollard. "It wouldn't hurt to get a hot meal either."
He looked at Pilote standing there dripping. And then he adopted a motherly tone and said, "Are your pants wet? Would you like me to change you, Pilote dear?"
"When I get my ass dry you can kiss it," said Pilote, leaving for the woods to find some dry wood that had been protected by evergreen boughs.
After a meal, and their clothes now dry, they embarked. The night's paddling was good. The sky remained overcast, but it wasn't very cold, and there was little wind; the seventeen made good time.
Dollard and his canoe partners, Rejean Tiblement and Alonie Delestre, began two hours earlier than the others. They went upriver to check for Iroquois. If any were sighted they were to lure the Iroquois after them and give a pre-arranged warning to their friends, who would pull into shore and prepare an ambush. It was not the ambush that they had dreamed of all winter, but it was better than being caught by an Iroquois patrol.
By two in the morning, Dollard's canoe had reached the foot of the Long Sault. They heard it long before they saw it--a wild throbbing sound of swirling water. They disembarked at the foot of the rapids.
The rapids looked small from this position, but that was because they ended in a narrow gorge, sluicing tons of water through and over rocks in a fury. The rapids rose up thirty yards then disappeared to the left behind a monstrous rock formation. Dollard had been here before which is why he chose this place. Above the rock, Dollard remembered, the waterway was wider, but below it, for two hundred yards and ending at the point where Dollard stood, there was room for only one canoe to shoot the rapids in safety. All the attention must be given to controlling the canoe at this point. It was the perfect place for the ambush.
Elated, Dollard left Rejean Tiblement on guard at the base of the rapid. If Iroquois shot the rapid and disembarked at that point, Tiblement was to remain hidden until he heard his comrades coming. At the right moment, he would begin shooting and yelling at the Iroquois. The French would begin shooting too, and the Iroquois would then think they were in the midst of a war. This plan would do nothing but save the lives of some Frenchmen. They would lose the advantage of surprise and might just as well go home.
Dollard and Delestre pushed off and, using the formidable current, guided the canoe swiftly downstream to meet the others.
By the time they returned to the foot of the Long Sault to the contingent, it was nearly dawn. They pulled their canoes out of the water on the north shore and would have shouted with joy except Jurie cautioned them to make no noise.
It was Sunday, May 1.
Pilote and Cognac climbed the rocks along the rapids of the north shore. They looked above the cataract, saw nothing and had turned to signal when in the distance their astonished eyes saw an armada of canoes back down the river, coming toward them. It was Annahotaha and Mituvemeg, but Pilote and Cognac didn't know that. The Indians had covered in five days what the French did in eleven.
Pilote and Cognac exchanged glances. They were looking for Iroquois above the rapids; they hadn't expected anybody to come from behind them. Pilote almost yelled out a warning to the camp, but Cognac motioned him against it, took an arrow from his quiver, fitted it to his bow and drew back his right arm.
"They'll never hear us yell over the water's roar, and if we use the guns Indians will hear us," he said.
He released the shaft. The arrow sliced into the ground three feet from Dollard, who was kneeling on the beach. He jumped and looked up. High on the rocks, he saw Pilote and Cognac.
Cognac held both hands up above his head, palms toward Dollard, signaling him to wait for a message. Then he dropped his left arm and made a paddling motion and pointed past Dollard downriver. Dollard turned and looked but could see nothing. He looked back at the scouts. Cognac, knowing that Dollard couldn't see the flotilla yet because of his position, held both hands out palms up, and moved them in and out from his body. Cognac then pretended to aim a rifle and motioned toward the oncoming (but unseen) canoes downstream.
Have patience and prepare yourself.
Dollard, turned downstream, still seeing nothing but he got the message.
He said something to the men Dollard said something and Cognac and Pilote could see their comrades drop what they were doing and gather their guns.
Now the canoes came into the view of the men at the camp. Robin knelt to fire, but Dollard stopped him.
"Hold your fire. They're Huron. I know the canoes, and I recognize the chief."
To himself, he muttered, "What the hell are they doing here?"
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