Pathfinders of the West eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 313 pages of information about Pathfinders of the West.

But the end of the repulsive scene was at hand.  By midnight the Indians had—­in the language of the white man—­“gone under the mahogany.”  They lay sprawled on the ground in sodden sleep.  Perhaps, too, something had been dropped in the fleshpots to make their sleep the sounder.  Radisson does not say no, neither does the priest, and they two were the only whites present who have written of the episode.[8] But the French would hardly have been human if they had not assured their own safety by drugging the feasters.  It was a common thing for the fur traders of a later period to prevent massacre and quell riot by administering a quietus to Indians with a few drops of laudanum.

The French now retired to the inner court.  The main gate was bolted and chained.  Through the loophole of this gate ran a rope attached to a bell that was used to summon the sentry.  To this rope the mischievous Radisson tied the only remaining pig, so that when the Indians would pull the rope for admission, the noise of the disturbed pig would give the impression of a sentry’s tramp-tramp on parade.  Stuffed effigies of soldiers were then stuck about the barracks.  If a spy climbed up to look over the palisades, he would see Frenchmen still in the fort.  While Radisson was busy with these precautions to delay pursuit, the soldiers and priests, led by Major Dupuis, had broken open the sally-port, forced the boats through sideways, and launched out on the river.  Speaking in whispers, they stowed the baggage in the flat-boats, then brought out skiffs—­dugouts to withstand the ice jam—­for the rest of the company.  The night was raw and cold.  A skim of ice had formed on the margins of the river.  Through the pitchy darkness fell a sleet of rain and snow that washed out the footsteps of the fugitives.  The current of mid-river ran a noisy mill-race of ice and log drift; and the voyageurs could not see one boat length ahead.

To men living in savagery come temptations that can neither be measured nor judged by civilization.  To the French at Onondaga came such a temptation now.  Their priests were busy launching the boats.  The departing soldiers seemed simultaneously to have become conscious of a very black suggestion.  Cooped up against the outer wall in the dead sleep of torpid gluttony lay the leading warriors of the Iroquois nation.  Were these not the assassins of countless Frenchmen, the murderers of women, the torturers of children?  Had Providence not placed the treacherous Iroquois in the hands of fifty Frenchmen?  If these warriors were slain, it would be an easy matter to march to the villages of the Confederacy, kill the old men, and take prisoners the women.  New France would be forever free of her most deadly enemy.  Like the Indians, the white men were trying to justify a wrong under pretence of good.  By chance, word of the conspiracy was carried to the Jesuits.  With all the authority of the church, the priests forbade the crime.  “Their answer was,” relates Radisson, “that they were sent to instruct in the faith of Jesus Christ and not to destroy, and that the cross must be their sword.”

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Pathfinders of the West from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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