Days of the Discoverers Part 17

If Norumbega really existed, the expedition of Jacques Cartier in 1535 seemed likely to find it. He had made a voyage the year before with two ships and a hundred and twenty men, of whom Maclou had been one. Not being prepared to remain through the winter, they had been obliged to turn back before they had done more than discover a magnificent bay which Cartier named the Bay of Chaleur on account of the July heat, and a squarish body of water west of Cape Breton which seemed to be marked out on their map as the Square Gulf. Now the veteran of Saint Malo had instructions to explore this gulf and see whether any strait existed beyond it which might lead to Cathay. On general principles he was to find out how great and of what nature the country was. The maps of the New World were fairly complete in their outline of the southern continent and islands discovered by Spain; it was hoped that this expedition might give an equally definite outline to the northern coast.

Cartier had on his previous voyage caught two young Indians who had come from far inland to fish, and brought them back to France. They had since learned enough Breton to make themselves understood, and from what they said it seemed to Cartier that there might be a far greater land west of the fisheries than the mapmakers had supposed. The King, on the other hand, was inclined to hope that the lands already found were islands, among which might be the coveted route to Cathay. Maclou bent his brows over the map and pondered. If Norumbega were found it would be the key to the situation, for the people of a great inland city would know, as the people of Mexico did, all about their country. Did it exist, or was it a fairy tale, born of mirage or a lying brain?

On Whitsunday the sixteenth of May, Carrier and his men went in solemn procession to the Cathedral Church of Saint Malo, confessed themselves, received the sacrament, and were blessed by the Bishop in his robes of state, standing in the choir of the ancient sanctuary. On the following Wednesday they set sail with three ships and one hundred and ten men.

Cartier had been careful to explain to the King that it would be of no use to send an expedition to those northern shores unless it could live through the winter on its own supplies. The summer was brief, the winter severe, and there was no possibility of living on the country while exploring it. As such voyages went, the three ships were well provisioned. Late in July they came through the Strait of Belle Isle, and on Saint Laurence's Day, August 10, found themselves in a small bay which Cartier named for that saint. Rounding the western point of a great island the little fleet came into a great salt water bay.

"I believe," said Cartier to Maclou as the flagship sailed gaily on over the sunlit sparkling waves, "that this must be the place from which all the whales in the world come." The great creatures were spouting and diving all around the fleet, frolicking like unwieldy puppies. Every one was alert for what might be discovered next. None were more lively and full of pleased expectation than the two Indian youths. Captives had been taken by the white men before, but none had ever returned. Their people were undoubtedly mourning them as dead, but would presently see them not only alive but fat and happy. They had crossed the great waters in the white men's canoe, and lived in the white men's villages, and learned their talk. They had been christened Pierre and Kadoc, French tongues finding it hard to pronounce their former names.

Cartier called them to him and began to ask questions. He learned that the northern coast of the gulf, along which they were sailing, was that of a land called Saghwenay, in which was found Caignetdaze, called by the white men copper. This gulf led to a great river called Hochelaga.

They had never heard of any one going all the way to the head of it, but the old men might remember. What the name of the country to the south of the gulf was, Cartier could not make out. It sounded something like Kanacdajikaouah. "Kaou-ah" meant great, or large, and Cartier finally set down the rest of the word as Canada, as nearly as the French alphabet could spell out the gutturals.

The youths in fact belonged to a tribe in the great confederacy of the Kanonghsionni, the People of the Long House--or rather the lengthened house, Kanonsa being the word for house, and "ionni" meaning lengthened or extended.[1] Five tribes, many generations ago, had united under the leadership of the great Ayonhwatha--"he who made the wampum belt."[2]

They had adopted weaker tribes when they conquered them, exactly as, upon the marriage of a daughter, the father built an addition to his house for the newly wedded couple. The captives had picked up the Breton patois rather easily, but there was nothing in France which was at all like an Iroquois bark house, and they had to use the Indian word for it.

Maclou, who had been studying the native language at odd times during the voyage, found that it had no b, f, m, or v, and on the other hand it had some noises which were not in any Breton, French or English words, though the Indian "n" was rather like the French "nque."

Some fifteen leagues from the salt gulf the water became so fresh that Cartier finally gave up the idea that the channel he had entered might be a strait. It was still very wide, and if it really was a river it was the biggest he had ever seen. Three islands now appeared, opposite the mouth of a swift and deep river which came from the northern territory called Saghwenay. Cartier sailed up this river for some distance, finding high steep hills on both sides, and then continued up the great river to find the chief city of the wilderness empire, if it was an empire.

No sign had been seen of Norumbega. Presently the keen expectant eye of Cartier caught sight of something which went far to shake his faith in that romantic citadel. It was a bold headland on the right, which would certainly have been chosen by any civilized king in Europe as a site for a fortress. Those mighty cliffs would almost make other defenses needless. Yet the heights were occupied by nothing more than a wooden village, which the interpreters called Stadacona, saying that their chief, Daghnacona, was its ruler. Shouts arose from the water's edge as some one among the excited Indians recognized on the deck of a great winged canoe their own lost countrymen. The interpreters answered with joyous whoops. A dozen canoes came paddling out, filled with young warriors, and a rapid interchange of guttural Indian talk went on between Pierre and Kadoc and their kinfolk. The enthusiasm rose to a still higher pitch when strings of beads of all colors were handed down to the Indians in the canoes, and presently Daghnacona himself appeared to welcome the white men to his country, with dignified Indian eloquence and an escort of twelve canoes. This was clearly a good place to stop and refit the ships. Cartier took his fleet into a little river not far away, and prepared to learn all he could of the country before going on.

The information he got from Daghnacona was not encouraging. This was not, it appeared, the chief town of the country. That was many miles up the river, and was called Hochelaga. It would not be safe for the white men to go there. Their ships might be caught between ice-floes, and the falling snow would blind and bewilder them. Cartier glanced at the blue autumn sky and smiled. No one is quicker than an Indian to read faces.

Daghnacona saw that the white chief intended to go, all the same.

Cartier decided to leave the larger ships where they were, and proceed up the great river to Hochelaga with a forty-ton pinnace, two boats, and about fifty men. Early in the morning, before he was quite ready to start, a canoe came down stream, in which were three weird figures resembling the devils in a medieval miracle-play. Their faces were jet black, they were clothed in hairy skins, and on their heads were great horns. As they passed the ships they kept up a monotonous and appalling chant, and as their canoe touched the beach all three fell upon their faces. Indians, rushing out of the woods, dragged them into a thicket, and a great hubbub followed, not a word of which was understood by the white men, for the Indian interpreters were there with the rest.

Presently the interpreters appeared on the beach yelling with fright.

"Pierre! Kadoc!" the annoyed commander called from his quarter-deck, "what is all this hullabaloo about?"

"News!" gasped Pierre. "News from Canghyenye! He says white men not come to Hochelaga!" And Kadoc chimed in eagerly, "Not go! Not go!"

"Coudouagny?" Cartier repeated to Maclou, completely mystified. "Who can that be?"

Further questioning drew out information which sounded as if Coudouagny, or Canyengye, were a tribal god. In reality this was the word for "elder brother." In that region it was applied to the Tekarihokens, the eldest of the five nations in the league of the Long House. They were afterward dubbed by their enemies the Mohawks or man-eaters, and the fear for the white men's safety which the interpreters expressed may very well have been quite genuine.

But the Breton captain had not come across the Atlantic to give up his plans for fear of an Indian god, if it was a god, and his reply to the warning was to the effect that Coudouagny must be a numskull. More seriously he explained to the interpreters that although he had not himself spoken with the God of his people his priests had, and he fully trusted in the power of his God to protect him. The party set forth at the appointed time.

In about two weeks they reached the greatest Indian town that any of them had ever seen. It was not the walled city of the Norumbega legend, but both Maclou and Cartier had ceased to expect anything of that kind.

The Indian guides had said that the town was near, and all were dressed in their best. A thousand Indians, men, women and children, were on the shore to receive them, and the commander at the head of his little troop marched into Hochelaga to pay their respects to the chief.

The Indian city was inhabited by several thousand people, living in wigwams about a hundred and fifty feet long by fifty wide, built of bark over a frame of wood, and arranged around a large open space. The whole was surrounded by a stockade of three rows of stakes twelve or fifteen feet high. The middle row was set straight, the other two rows five or six feet from it and inclining toward it like wigwam-poles. The three rows, meeting at the top, were lashed to a ridgepole. Half way down and again at the bottom cross-braces were fastened diagonally, making a strong wall. Around the inside, near the top, was a gallery reached by ladders, on which were piles of stones to be thrown at invaders. Instead of being square, or irregular with many angles and outstanding towers, like a French walled town, it was perfectly round.

The interpreters afterward explained that each of the houses was occupied by several families, as the head of each house shared his shelter with his kinfolk. When a daughter was married she brought her husband home, as a rule, and her father added an apartment to his house by the simple device of taking out the end wall of bark and building on another section. Each household had its own stone hearth, the smoke escaping through openings in the roof. A common passage-way led through the middle of the house. On the sides were rows of bunks covered with furs. Weapons hung on the walls, and meat broth or messes of corn and beans simmered fragrantly in their kettles. Some of these long houses held fifty or sixty people each, and there were over fifty of them in all. In that climate, with warlike neighbors, the advantage of such an organized community over scattered single wigwams was very great. All around were cleared fields dotted with great yellow pumpkins, where corn and beans had grown during the past summer.

To the sons of Norman and Breton peasants it was evident that these fields had not been cultivated for centuries, like those of France, any more than the wall around Hochelaga was the work of stone-masons toiling under generations of feudal lords. If this were the chief city of these people, they had no Norumbega. But it was very picturesque in its sylvan barbaric way, among the limitless forests of scarlet and gold and crimson and deep green, which stretched away over the mountains. Upon the rude cots in the wigwams as they passed, Cartier's men saw rich and glossy furs of the silver fox, the beaver, the mink and the marten, which princesses might be proud to wear. Curious bead-work there was also on the quivers, pouches, moccasins and belts of these wild people, done in white and purple shell beads made and polished by hand and not more than a quarter of an inch long and an eighth of an inch thick.

These were sewn in patterns of animals, birds, fishes and other things not unlike the emblems of old families in France. Belts of these beads were worn by those who seemed to be the chief men of Hochelaga.

Porcupine quills were also used in embroidery and head-bands.

The people thronged into the open central space, which was about a stone's throw across, some carrying their sick, some their children, that the strangers might touch them for healing or for good fortune. The old chief, who was called Agouhana, was brought in, helpless from paralysis, upon a deerskin litter. When Cartier understood that his touch was supposed to have some mysterious magic he rubbed the old man's helpless limbs with his own hands, read from his service-book the first chapter of the Gospel of Saint John and other passages, and prayed that the people who listened might come to know the true faith. Then, after beads, rings, brooches and other little gifts had been distributed, the trumpets blew, and the white men took their leave. Before they returned to their boats the Indians guided them to the top of the hill which rose behind the town, from which the surrounding country could be seen.

Cartier named it Montreal--the Royal Mountain.

[Illustration: "CARTIER READ FROM HIS SERVICE-BOOK."--_Page_ 176]

It was now the first week in October, and the rapids in the river above Hochelaga blocked further exploration with a sailing vessel. As for going on foot, that was out of the question with winter so near. The party returned to Stadacona and went into winter quarters. While they had been gone their comrades had built a palisaded fort beside the little river where the ships lay moored. They were hardly settled in this rude shelter before snow began to fall, and seemed as if it would go on forever, softly blanketing the earth with layer on layer of cold whiteness. It was waist-deep on the level; the river was frozen solid; the drifts were above the sides of the ships, and the ice was four inches thick on the bulwarks. The glittering armor of the ice incased masts, spars, ropes, and fringed every line of cordage with icicles of dazzling brightness. Never was such cold known in France. Maclou thought, whimsically, while his teeth chattered beside the fire, of a tale he had once told Marguerite of the palace of the Frost King. That fierce monarch, and not the guileless Indian chief, was the foe they would have to fight for this kingdom.

Their provisions were those of any ship sent on a voyage into unknown lands in those days--dried and salted meat and fish, flour and meal to be made into cakes or porridge, dried pease, dried beans. For a time the Indians visited them, in the bitterest weather, but in December even this source of a game supply was cut off, for they came no more. The dreaded scurvy broke out, and before long there were hardly a dozen of the whole company able to care for the sick. Besides the general misery they were tormented by the fear that if the savages knew how feeble they were the camp might be attacked and destroyed. Cartier told those who had the strength, to beat with sticks on the sides of their bunks, so that prowling Indians might believe that the white men were busy at work.

But the wild folk were both shrewder and more friendly than the French believed. Their medicine-men told Cartier one day that they cured scurvy by means of a drink made from the leaves and bark of an evergreen.

Squaws presently came with a birch-bark kettle of this brew and it proved to have such virtues that the sick were cured of scurvy, and in some cases of other diseases which they had had for years. Cartier afterward wrote in his report that they boiled and drank within a week all the foliage of a tree, which the Indians called aneda or tree of life, as large as a full-grown oak.[3] Many had died before the remedy was learned, and when the weather allowed the fleet to sail for home, there were only men enough for two of the ships. The Indians had told of other lands where gold and rubies were found, of a nation somewhere in the interior, white like the French, of people with but one leg apiece.

But as it was, the country was a great country, and well worth the attention of the King of France. Leaving the cross and the fleur-de-lis to mark the place of their discovery, the expedition sailed for France, and on July 16, 1536, anchored once more in the port of Saint Malo.

"And there is no Norumbega really?" asked little Margot rather dolefully, when the story of the adventure had been told. "And your hair is all gray, here, on the side."

"None the less I have gifts for thee, little queen, and such as no Queen of France hath in her treasury." Maclou's smile, though a trifle grave, had a singular charm as he opened his wallet. Margot nestled closer, her eyes bright with excitement.

The first gift was a little pair of shoes of deer-skin dyed green and embroidered with pearly white beads on a ground of black and red French brocade. They had no heels and no heavy leather soles, and were lined with soft white fur; and they fitted the little maid's foot exactly.

The second gift was a girdle of the same beads, purple and white, in a pattern of queer stiff sprays. "That," said Alain Maclou, "is the Tree of Life that cured us all of the sickness."

The third was a cluster of long slender crystals set in a fragment of rock the color of a blush rose.[4]

"'Tis a magic stone, sweetheart. Keep it in the sunshine on thy window-ledge, and when summer is over 't will be white as snow. Leave it in a snowbank, or in a cellar under wet moss, and 't will turn again to rose-color. This I have seen. In the winter nights the Frost King hangs his ice-diamonds on every twig and rope and eave, and when they shine in the red sunrise they look like these crystals. And I have seen all the sky from the zenith to the horizon at midnight full of leaping rose-red flames above such a world of ice. 'Tis very beautiful there, Reine Margot, and fit kingdom for a fairy queen."

Marguerite turned the strange quartz rock about in her small hands with something like awe.

"And the shoes are shoes of silence, for an Indian can go and come in them so softly that even a rabbit does not hear. They were made by a kind old squaw who would take no pay, and a young warrior gave me the wampum belt, and I found the stone one day while I was hunting in the forest, so that all three of thy gifts are really gifts from Norumbega."

"I think--I'm rather glad it is not a real city," said Margot with a long breath. "It is more like fairyland, just as it is,--and the Frost King and the terrible sickness are the two ogres, and the good medicine man is a white wizard. It is a very beautiful kingdom, Alain, and I think you are the Prince in disguise!"


[1] Kanonghsionni was the name which the Iroquois gave themselves. It appears that at this time they occupied the country along the St.

Lawrence held some centuries before by the Ojibways and later, in the time of Champlain, by the Hurons.

[2] Hiawatha is generally said to have founded the league of the Five Nations. Although these nations were united against any attack from outside they were not always free from interior enmities and dissensions, and the Mohawks in particular were objects of the fear and dislike of their neighbors, as the significance of their sobriquet clearly shows.

[3] Aneda is said to be the Iroquois word for spruce. When Champlain's men were attacked by scurvy in the same neighborhood half a century later, the Iroquois no longer lived there, and this remedy was not suggested.

[4] Rose quartz has this property.


Bred to the Game of the World as the Kings and the Emperors played it, Fate and our masters hurled us over the terrible sea.

When the sails of the carracks were furled the Game was the Game that we made it,-- We that were horses in Spain were gods in a realm to be!

Swift at the word we sped, we fought in the front of the battle,-- Ah, but the wild men fled when they heard us neigh from afar!

The field was littered with dead, cut down like slaughtered cattle --Ah, but the earth is red where the Conquistadores are!

Chapter end

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