CHAPTER 9. April 20th, 1660. Second departure
At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 20th of April 1660, the canoes prepared to leave Montreal again. This time the faces of the men were fixed and determined. This time, too, Simon Grenet showed up and took his assigned place. All welcomed him with the same jeering, sarcastic banter they tossed at one another all the time. There were comments about people being late for their own funerals.
Father Chaumonot stood at the shore with Pierre de Belestre. The priest was talkative, excited:
"What of the land those men have under cultivation?"
"What of it?" replied de Belestre."
"There are many profit-minded citizens who might take advantage of their absence, said the priest.
"Well, I shall be vigilant, "said de Belestre. "I will watch over their land and possessions and the duties each man had were given to others until the group returns."
"Of course, of course. Still, it is dangerous out there. Do you think they mean to return?"
"I wonder," said the priest. "It may be that they seek the kingdom of heaven. It may be that they will be martyrs for Christ. That they offer their souls to heaven for God's work."
"They all intend to return," said de Belestre, irritably shaking his head. "They are far more concerned with their lives than their deaths."
"I hope so. But how can you be so sure, commander de Belestre?"
"Because I know them. I know Dollard." He paused, looking out over the canoes. "There are seventeen in those canoes. At home In France, we all make wills whenever we leave our province, yes? If we fear we will not return, that we might die?"
"It reflects the French fear of leaving home I suppose. And the dangers of travel."
"True. Do you know how many of the seventeen made wills?"
"No," said the priest.
"Two." He turned away. The priest shrugged. Although the men were Catholic, and some were modestly religious, they were soldiers at heart and soldiers of fortune. They were young and not given to thinking of death except insofar as they might mete it out to someone else.
de Belestre watched the men on the water as they waved a somber goodbye to the fort and its people on the shore.
This morning, the wind was hard, the water rough, and the temperature so low their fingers nearly froze on the paddles. It would take an hour before their hands warmed from friction.
The travelers tried to act as a unit, but most were inexperienced. They knew what they had to do, but good technique wasn't always at their command.
They kept in pairs of canoes, Cognac-Valets-Tavernier in the lead with Delestre-Dollard-Tiblement so that the new water could be sighted and met with something approaching confidence and Dollard could keep his eyes open. The number three and four canoes, the Jurie-Augier-Grenet, and the Hebert-Martin stayed forty meters back. The other two canoes were about sixty meters behind them, watching so that in case of trouble ahead they could better react.
The men fell silent and apprehensive as they passed Nun's Island. They looked hard at the shoreline and saw nothing, but continued to look until long after they had passed the drowning site near the island.
They passed small marshes and islands in water that would have been smooth and enjoyable in summer. With the spring break-up, the river was bloated and surging, running over rock mounds it would later swirl around placidly. Still, the paddling wasn't too difficult here. It was made awkward more by the lack of sleep of last night. It was also the first canoe work of the year even for the experienced canoeists and after only a few hours their backs, knees, legs, and arms were aching.
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