[Illustration: Three Rivers in 1757.]
These things were known to every inhabitant of Three Rivers. Farmers had flocked into the little fort and could venture back to their fields only when armed with a musket. Yet the three young hunters rashly left the shelter of the fort walls and took the very dangerous path that led between the forests and the water. One of the young men was barely in his seventeenth year. This was Pierre Esprit Radisson, from St. Malo, the town of the famous Cartier. Young Radisson had only come to New France the year before, and therefore could not realize the dangers of Indian warfare. Like boys the world over, the three went along, boasting how they would fight if the Indians came. One skirted the forest, on the watch for Iroquois, the others kept to the water, on the lookout for game. About a mile from Three Rivers they encountered a herdsman who warned them to keep out from the foot of the hills. Things that looked like a multitude of heads had risen out of the earth back there, he said, pointing to the forests. That set the young hunters loading their pistols and priming muskets. It must also have chilled their zest; for, shooting some ducks, one of the young men presently declared that he had had enough—he was going back. With that daring which was to prove both the lodestar and the curse of his life, young Radisson laughed to scorn the sudden change of mind. Thereupon the first hunter was joined by the second, and the two went off in high dudgeon. With a laugh, Pierre Radisson marched along alone, foreshadowing his after life,—a type of every pathfinder facing the dangers of the unknown with dauntless scorn, an immortal type of the world-hero.
Shooting at every pace and hilarious over his luck, Radisson had wandered some nine miles from the fort, when he came to a stream too deep to ford and realized that he already had more game than he could possibly carry. Hiding in hollow trees what he could not bring back, he began trudging toward Three Rivers with a string of geese, ducks, and odd teal over his shoulders, Wading swollen brooks and scrambling over windfalls, he retraced his way without pause till he caught sight of the town chapel glimmering in the sunlight against the darkening horizon above the river. He was almost back where his comrades had left him; so he sat down to rest. The cowherd had driven his cattle back to Three Rivers. The river came lapping through the rushes. There was a clacking of wild-fowl flocking down to their marsh nests; perhaps a crane flopped through the reeds; but Radisson, who had laughed the nervous fears of the others to scorn, suddenly gave a start at the lonely sounds of twilight. Then he noticed that his pistols were water-soaked. Emptying the charges, he at once reloaded, and with characteristic daring crept softly back to reconnoitre the woods. Dodging from tree to tree, he peered up and down the river. Great flocks of ducks