The Incredible Escape. The Adventures of Radisson 3

Martin Fournier

THE ADVENTURES OD RADISSON 3

THE INCREDIBLE ESCAPE

Translated by Peter McCambridge

Montréal

By the Same Author

The Adventures of Radisson 1, Hell Never Burns

The Adventures of Radisson 2, Back to the New World

Originally published as
Les aventures de Radisson – 2 Sauver les français
© 2013 Les Éditions du Septentrion, Sillery, Québec (3
e
partie)
Translation copyright © Baraka Books
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN 978-1-77186-025-3 pbk; 978-1-77186-061-1 epub; 978-1-77186-062-8 pdf; 978-1-77186-063-5 mobi/pocket
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Cover Illustration by Vincent Partel
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PREVIOUSLY IN THE ADVENTURES OF RADISSON…

I
n the spring of 1651
, Pierre-Esprit Radisson, a fifteen-year-old from Paris, lands in Trois-Rivières. Within weeks, he is captured by the Iroquois and later adopted as a brother, forging a new life for himself before eventually making his escape.

In Volume 2 of these adventures, Radisson returns to Europe. He signs up with the Jesuits, eager to return to the New World. But doubt begins to set in just as the French prepare to cement their new mission in the heart of Iroquois territory—until recently home to New France's mortal enemy. Can the Iroquois be trusted? Or are their advances nothing more than an elaborate trap?

And now, in Volume 3… well, read on to find out what happens next…

Chapter 1

A RUDE AWAKENING


T
hey're coming!” Radisson cried. He was watching around a hundred barechested Iroquois beach their canoes opposite Montréal. They were wearing neither headdress nor war colours. Father Ragueneau ran to meet him.

“My God! Why so many of them?” he wondered out loud, waving his arms to attract their attention.

The Hurons at the camp, a dozen men and some eighty women and children, looked on anxiously.

“Over here!” Father Ragueneau cried. “I'm the one you're meeting!”

Minutes later, a handful of ill-tempered Iroquois were talking with them. They had just crossed the Lachine rapids in their canoes and one had capsized. Five Iroquois had drowned.

Ragueneau tried to find out why they were so late to the meeting but got no answer. Radisson saw no sign of Andoura or any of the other chiefs who had come to negotiate in Trois-Rivières the previous winter. Strange. One of the Iroquois handed Ragueneau a letter from Father Le Moyne that confirmed the French fort was almost completed. The expedition could begin as planned.

But the Iroquois had other ideas. They held a meeting among themselves, demanding that all outsiders keep their distance. Ragueneau started to protest, unhappy at not knowing what they might be plotting, but since some of their men had been killed, he agreed with their request, to avoid offending them.

The meeting went on for a while. Once it was over, they said nothing about what had been discussed.

When talks on organizing the voyage began the following day, the Montrealers kept a watchful eye on the proceedings from a distance, fascinated by the huge gathering of Iroquois, as their spokesman informed Father Ragueneau of the decision made the previous day. He explained that they had put back their departure for a long time. They had travelled very quickly, without stopping to hunt or fish, eating only corn flour to make up for lost time. That's why they had gone through the Lachine rapids instead of portaging their way around them. They were therefore blaming the Frenchmen and the Hurons for the deaths of five of their own and were expecting compensation, which was to be negotiated before they left. Radisson, who was interpreting, passed on the request to Ragueneau, who had already gotten the gist. He replied curtly, in French:

“They have a nerve! Tell him we are prepared to discuss the matter if they agree to transport some of our bags. Our canoes will be fairly weighed down. We need to find a solution.”

The Jesuit preferred to hide the fact that his grasp on the Iroquois language was improving, deeming the secret to be to his advantage.

“Be very clear,” he added. “We can in no way be held responsible for their blunder, nor for their imprudence, and especially not for their tardiness! They're going too far! We will discuss the matter only to calm them down. And ask them again why they waited so long!”

“I already have, Father. They won't say.”

Negotiations were also stuck on how the Hurons were to travel by canoe. The Iroquois wanted to divide the Hurons among them, while Ragueneau demanded the Hurons all travel together in their own canoes, along with the eleven Frenchmen.

On a number of occasions over the course of three long days the exchanges dragged on. Radisson toned down the harsh words used by Ragueneau and his superior Jean de Quen, and he did the same when translating the speech of some of the equally aggressive Iroquois chiefs. There appeared to be two clans. A few chiefs were clearly reluctant to bring the French back with them. Others were making an obvious effort to be pleasant and welcoming to the French. Radisson had trouble making sense of it all.

“Have you noticed they don't all agree?” Radisson asked the Jesuit when they took stock of the situation together.

“It's as though some of them are dragging their feet, while others are trying to win our trust. Can you think why?”

“I can't, Father. It beats me.”

“We'll have to keep a close eye on the chiefs who don't like us and do our utmost to keep the others happy.”

They came to an agreement on the fourth day. The Frenchmen and the Hurons—who had now joined the negotiations—agreed to give the Iroquois gifts to compensate for the deaths of the five since the accident had happened while coming to fetch them. In return, the Iroquois agreed to transport some of the excess baggage and to allow the Hurons and the French to travel together.

The following day, the last Sunday of July, a great commotion preceded the departure of the two hundred or so people from the shoreline. At the last minute, a dozen carts had to be found to carry the heavier goods above the Lachine rapids, while the French, the Hurons, and the Iroquois trailed their twenty-nine half-filled canoes from the shore. The next day, the flotilla finally set off from the western tip of the island of Montréal.

***

Like a bear leaving its den in the spring, Radisson's senses came back to life on the trip. At last the real adventure was underway, a big, exciting adventure into unknown territory he couldn't wait to discover.

He sat up at the front of his canoe. Two strapping men with plenty of pluck had recently arrived from France and sat in the middle, while Atahonra, a vastly experienced Huron chief, steered the canoe from the rear. They drove hard to follow the rhythm imposed by the Iroquois who, with seven or eight of them to a canoe, were carrying fewer bags. They had easily taken their place at the head of the expedition. All the canoes behind them were laden with goods and had fewer paddlers, some of them women. It was shaping up to be an arduous journey.

Father Ragueneau had been clear: he wanted Radisson to stick close to the Iroquois to see how they were behaving, and to gauge their mood. In so doing, he hoped to be able to avoid the danger he could sense, rightly or wrongly, beneath the surface.

Even the two Jesuit priests were paddling to keep up the rhythm. They kept to the middle of the canoes, where the going was easier. Robert Racine, one of the old brigade, had lost none of his stamina and steered the canoe Ragueneau was sitting in.

It took them close to two days to cross Lac Saint-Louis and continue upriver where the first big portage waited. Radisson had realized that too many bags would endanger his canoe in choppy water. Once they were all on dry land, he was therefore disconcerted to hear the Iroquois declare they would be carrying their share of the bags no further. Ragueneau was outraged at the turnaround. He demanded they respect the conditions set at the start, but the Iroquois replied it was impossible to continue the journey in such conditions without great risk. The Jesuit ordered the French to block off the portage trail to the Iroquois. They were at an impasse. It was time to renegotiate.

This time, Ragueneau took part in the discussions directly, gabbling a word or two in Iroquois, still trying to mask his real ease with the language. Radisson translated the rest of his speech. The Iroquois' position was clear: the situation was too dangerous; other accidents were inevitable and they intended to avoid them. Ragueneau stressed just how much the French needed all the goods—some of which would later be traded to the Iroquois—but in their eyes nothing justified risking human lives for the sake of the merchandise.

Without saying so openly, Radisson agreed with them. Many articles had been added during the long wait in Montréal, past the limits of common sense. Radisson himself had secretly bought some goods. The Huron chief Atahonra supported the Iroquois: it was not wise to continue in such heavily laden canoes.

Night fell. The French, the Hurons, and the Iroquois lit their fires a short distance from each other. But each stuck to his own group. Only the mosquitoes and the difficult questions hanging over them perturbed the magnificent summer evening.

“It's very serious indeed!” Ragueneau complained, having taken Radisson and Father Jean de Quen aside.

“You're right, Paul,” de Quen confirmed. “These goods cost us a fortune. Leaving them here is quite out of the question. Anyone could walk off with them and then we'd be facing a huge loss. I'll bring them back to Montréal myself, if that's what it takes!”

“I'm growing more and more suspicious of these headstrong Iroquois,” Ragueneau added. “They're doing everything they can to be a thorn in our side. I wonder if we're going to be able to get along with them after all.”

Radisson could see the resignation on the faces of his superiors, who fell silent for a long time. Only the distant murmurs of the
voyageurs
and the crackling of the fire could be heard. He decided the time had come to chip in with his own opinion.

“We are carrying too much, Father. Atahonra and the Iroquois are right. What will we gain by losing part of the load and sacrificing lives along the way?”

Ragueneau did not reply.

“I fear I must return to Montréal,” de Quen sighed. “You are better prepared than I to serve in Iroquois lands. Go on ahead, Paul. I don't see any other way out of this mess. I'll bring back some of the goods along with two or three Frenchmen. Keep the most experienced men. Unless you have another solution?”

Ragueneau would have preferred not to go along with such a disappointing proposal. But he could not see any other way out either. Montréal was still close and four men would quite easily be able to navigate their way to Lachine with two large canoes filled to the limit. If they chose less important goods and inexperienced men, it would barely have an impact on the expedition.

“Very well,” Ragueneau concluded. “Let's go back and negotiate this compromise with the Iroquois. But in return we'll ask them to keep their side of the bargain and carry some of the load. Be as convincing as you can, Radisson. We have no more ground to give.”

***

Early the next day, Radisson supervised as the bags were sorted, making sure to keep the trading goods with him. Non-essentials were loaded onto two big canoes belonging to the French. Those continuing on the voyage bade farewell to Father de Quen and his crew of three. Spirits were low once they left. But it wasn't the time to let heads go down. They pulled themselves together and portaged all the material beyond the rapids, where another disappointment lay in store.

The Iroquois agreed to carry the goods provided the French travelled with them. Ragueneau had to face facts: he had lost control. Tension rose another notch when five of the seven remaining Frenchmen found themselves in five separate canoes. Only Father Ragueneau was allowed to stay with Robert Racine, along with a Huron man and two Huron women.

At least the expedition was moving forward.

For the first time in years, Radisson found himself alone with a group of five Iroquois. It didn't take him long to settle in. The going was easy. Radisson had been put in the middle of the canoe and his sole responsibility was to paddle regularly, without overly exerting himself. He conserved his energy and concentrated on the task Ragueneau had set him: keeping an eye on the Iroquois. With their bulging muscles and proud demeanour, his well-built companions paddled as one and spoke little. From time to time, one of them pointed out an obstacle to avoid, a fish jumping out of the water, or an animal that appeared on the shore.

His companions were aware that Radisson had mastered the Iroquois language, but they did not know where he had learned it. They did not suspect he had been adopted by a family from the Bear clan and had spent two years in a Mohawk village. They had no inkling that he had fought at their side. Radisson was proud of the experience—he could still hear Orinha, his Iroquois name, ringing in his ears—even though he had turned his back on this episode in his life. He felt safe in the knowledge that he could tell them at any moment about his adoptive parents and the war expedition he had taken part in. Since he was a skilled and strong paddler with plenty of stamina, he was treated with respect.

At the camp that night, as on previous days, the French, the Hurons, and the Iroquois split into separate groups. Only Radisson felt comfortable. The situation was very different for the Hurons and the other Frenchmen, who could feel how far the Iroquois were able to impose their laws. Suspicion was in the air more than ever. Father Ragueneau turned to Radisson for advice.

“Do you think we can trust them?”

“Perhaps. They've already had us make a lot of concessions. They seem satisfied now. It's an encouraging sign. We'll see what tomorrow brings.”

“I don't like being under their control. Or having to obey their every whim. The least they could do is keep their word. Otherwise why waste all this time negotiating?”

“The next time,” Radisson suggested, “go about things the right way. Exchange gifts with them, as you do when concluding an important agreement. That might help.”

After a moment's thought, Ragueneau added:

“Did you notice their emissaries didn't give me a gift this winter when they came to Trois-Rivières?”

“Worst of all, none of them came to fetch us.”

“Bizarre.”

“It's not normal…”

Radisson promised himself to be even more vigilant. Something wasn't right, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

The next day, everything went well. Everyone took their place in the same canoe as the previous day. The Iroquois had no new requests and nothing to complain about. Navigating their way along this part of the river was easy. There were no obstacles and the region they were passing through was beautiful. The day brought with it a certain comfort. Two Iroquois who had forged ahead killed a deer along the way. When night fell, they shared the meat with the French and the Hurons.

“I have never been to this region before,” Ragueneau admitted as he enjoyed his share of the meat. “I always took the rivière des Outaouais to get to the Hurons. Here was enemy territory. I would never have dared venture here.”

“Our guides say there is a lot of game in the surrounding area. Many are going to spend the day hunting tomorrow. It seems there is very good fishing to be had, too, a little further on.”

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