[Illustration: “The soldiers marched out from Mount Royal.”]
Something had occurred at Fort St. Charles without M. de la Verendrye’s knowledge. Hilarious with their new possessions of firearms, and perhaps, also, mad with the brandy of which Father Aulneau had complained, a few mischievous Crees had fired from the fort on wandering Sioux of the prairie.
“Who—fire—on—us?” demanded the outraged Sioux.
“The French,” laughed the Crees.
The Sioux at once went back to a band of one hundred and thirty warriors. “Tigers of the plains” the Sioux were called, and now the tigers’ blood was up. They set out to slay the first white man seen. By chance, he was one Bourassa, coasting by himself. Taking him captive, they had tied him to burn him, when a slave squaw rushed out, crying: “What would you do? This Frenchman is a friend of the Sioux! He saved my life! If you desire to be avenged, go farther on! You will find a camp of Frenchmen, among whom is the son of the white chief!”
The voyageur was at once unbound, and scouts scattered to find the white men. Night had passed before the scouts had carried news of Jean de la Verendrye’s men to the marauding warriors. The ghostly gray of dawn saw the voyageurs paddling swiftly through the morning mist from island to island of the Lake of the Woods. Cleaving the mist behind, following solely by the double foam wreaths rippling from the canoe prows, came the silent boats of the Sioux. When sunrise lifted the fog, the pursuers paused like stealthy cats. At sunrise Jean de la Verendrye landed his crews for breakfast. Camp-fires told the Indians where to follow.
A few days later bands of Sautaux came to the camping ground of the French. The heads of the white men lay on a beaver skin. All had been scalped. The missionary, Aulneau, was on his knees, as if in morning prayers. An arrow projected from his head. His left hand was on the earth, fallen forward, his right hand uplifted, invoking Divine aid. Young Verendrye lay face down, his back hacked to pieces, a spear sunk in his waist, the headless body mockingly decorated with porcupine quills. So died one of the bravest of the young nobility in New France.
The Sautaux erected a cairn of stones over the bodies of the dead. All that was known of the massacre was vague Indian gossip. The Sioux reported that they had not intended to murder the priest, but a crazy-brained fanatic had shot the fatal arrow and broken from restraint, weapon in hand. Rain-storms had washed out all marks of the fray.