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Pathfinders of the West eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 264 pages of information about Pathfinders of the West.

The path led between the white fret of Lachine Rapids and the dense forests that shrouded the base of Mount Royal.  Checkerboard squares of farm patches had been cleared in the woods.  La Salle’s old thatch-roofed seigniory lay not far back from the water.  St. Anne’s was the launching place for fleets of canoes that were to ascend the Ottawa.  Here, a last look was taken of splits and seams in the birch keels.  With invocations of St. Anne in one breath, and invocations of a personage not mentioned in the cure’s “petee cat-ee-cheesm” in the next breath, and imprecations that their “souls might be smashed on the end of a picket fence,”—­the voyageur’s common oath even to this day,—­the boatmen stored goods fore, aft, and athwart till each long canoe sank to the gunwale as it was gently pushed out on the water.  A last sign of the cross, and the lithe figures leap light as a mountain cat to their place in the canoes.  There are four benches of paddlers, two abreast, with bowman and steersman, to each canoe.  One can guess that the explorer and his sons and his nephew, Sieur de la Jemmeraie, who was to be second in command, all unhatted as they heard the long last farewell of the bells.  Every eye is fastened on the chief bowman’s steel-shod pole, held high—­there is silence but for the bells—­the bowman’s pole is lowered—­as with one stroke out sweep the paddles in a poetry of motion.  The chimes die away over the water, the chapel spire gleams—­it, too, is gone.  Some one strikes up a plaintive ditty,—­the voyageur’s song of the lost lady and the faded roses, or the dying farewell of Cadieux, the hunter, to his comrades,—­and the adventurers are launched for the Western Sea.

[Illustration:  Fight at the Foot-hills of the Rockies between Crows and Snakes.]

II

1731-1736

Every mile westward was consecrated by heroism.  There was the place where Cadieux, the white hunter, went ashore single-handed to hold the Iroquois at bay, while his comrades escaped by running the rapids; but Cadieux was assailed by a subtler foe than the Iroquois, la folie des bois,—­the folly of the woods,—­that sends the hunter wandering in endless circles till he dies from hunger; and when his companions returned, Cadieux lay in eternal sleep with a death chant scribbled on bark across his breast.  There were the Rapids of the Long Sault where Dollard and seventeen Frenchmen fought seven hundred Iroquois till every white man fell.  Not one of all De la Verendrye’s fifty followers but knew that perils as great awaited him.

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