Chapter 11: Water Babies

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Battle of the Long Sault

CHAPTER ELEVEN: DAY TWO: Water Babies. Dangerous Ignorance

Mid-April in New France brought either snowstorms, cold, hard rain, or sunny, warm days. April twenty-first, 1660, was warm.

The river was wrenching off its ice coat, but at night the temperature fell, and the ice-drifts, although hazardous, were not as capriciously ripped from the shore. Most of the drifts dodged were not more than a foot or two in width, but even these could damage a bark canoe if they struck at the right angle.

The larger drifts were dangerous. Occasionally a huge piece of ice would break free from some rocks near the shore and be carried into the river on the current. It could tip a canoe in a fraction of a second if they caught the canoeists off guard.

The general precaution was for the bowman to use his paddle to deflect small pieces of ice around the side of the canoe. The centerman would then use his paddle to push the drifting ice piece away from the middle of the craft. He caught the ice with the flat of the paddle, lowered the paddle to the side of the canoe and, using the gunwale as a fulcrum, pressed down on the paddle handle and shoved the ice away. For larger pieces of drift ice, the bowman called a warning and tried to get his paddle on the ice at arm's length while the sternsman braked and countered the craft away from the ice. The centerman assisted in the movement pushing the canoe away from the ice and watched in case drifts, once pushed away from the bow of the canoe, should suddenly appear threateningly on the side. All of this in the dark while fighting the current going upstream meant a man didn't stay a novice canoeist long in this country.

The portage was a fiasco. Had the Iroquois seen this band struggling through the forest carrying canoes and equipment they would have laughed and sent their women to fight them.

After the exhausting portage, they reached a navigable section of the river. Jurie approached Dollard.

"We have to stop now, Dollard," he said, "the men are drained."

"I'm tired too. All right."

"Camp," Jurie said to Christophe Augier.

"Thank God," groaned Augier. "Camp!" he called to the others. The men dropped to the ground groaning.

"Hey Cognac, have you any brandy?" asked Robin.

"Didn't you bring any?"

"It's at the bottom of my bag. I figured you would pack yours near the top, close to the mouth, so to speak."

"I marvel at you fellows giving me all that grief. You're the first to ask for it."

"All right, I apologize. Just give me a drink before I collapse."

Cognac leaned across his pack and handed a bottle to Robin, and they sat on a cleared log and drank swift slugs.

"Ohhhh ... that's beautiful," said Robin. The liquor rolled down his face and fell on his leather belt.

"Warms your gut, eh? I took plenty. Prud'homme doesn't serve this far out," said Cognac.

They drank, and the liquor flowed through their bodies, pushing a little of the tiredness away. They were there only a minute before Robert Jurie came by and said:

"All right, get off your rear end and let's set up camp. It's nearly dawn. We'll have a good meal and get some sleep."

Wearily, the men rose and began their chores; wood, tents, food, water. Jurie stationed four on watch with a promise of food. He moved the guards further away so that the noise of the camp would not interfere with listening for the enemy.