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Days of the Discoverers Part 26

Lescarbot, who was to command at Port Royal in their absence, had already laid out his kitchen-garden and set about spading and planting it. The kitchen, the smithy and the bakery were on the south side of the quadrangle around which the wooden buildings stood; east of them was the arched gateway, protected by a sort of bastion of log-work, from which a path led to the water a few paces away; and west of them another bastion matched it, mounting the four cannon. The storehouses for ammunition and provisions were on the eastern side; on the west were the men's quarters, and on the north, a dining-hall and lodgings for the chief men of the company, who now numbered fifteen. Lescarbot set some of the men to burning over the meadows that they might sow wheat and barley; others broke up new soil for the herbs, roots and cuttings he had brought, and he himself, hoe in hand, was busiest of all.

"Do not overtask yourself," warned Poutrincourt, pausing beside the thin, pale-faced man who knelt in the long shadows of the rainy dawn among his neatly-arranged plots. "If you are too zealous you may never see France again." Lescarbot laughed and dug a little grave in his plantation. "What in heaven's name are those?"

"Potatoes," answered the lawyer-gardener. "The Peruvian root they are planting in Ireland."

"But you do not expect to get a crop this year--and in this climate?"

"I don't expect anything at all. I am making the experiment. If they come up, good; if they do not, I have seed enough for next year."

The potatoes came up. It was an unusually hot summer, and the situation was favorable. If Lescarbot had known the habits of the vegetable he might not have thought of putting them into the ground on the last day of July, but they grew and flourished, and their odd ivory-and-gold blossoms were charming. Lescarbot worked all day in the bracing sunlit air, and now and then he hoed and transplanted by moonlight. In the evening he read, wrote, or planned out the next day's program.

September came, with cool bright days and a hint of frost at night; the lawyer marshalled his forces and harvested the crops. The storehouses, already stocked with Pontgrave's abundant provision, were filled to overflowing, and they had to dig a makeshift cellar or root-pit under a rough shelter for the last of their produce. The potatoes were carefully bestowed in huge hampers provided by Membertou's people, who were greatly interested in all that the white men did. Old Jacqueline had said that they needed "room to breathe," and Lescarbot was taking no chances on this unknown American product.

October came; the Indians showed the white men how to grind corn, and the carpenters planned a water-mill to be constructed in the spring, to take the place of the tedious hand-mill worked by two men. Wild geese flew overhead, recalling to the Frenchmen the legends of Saint Gabriel's hounds. The forests robed themselves in hues like those of a priceless Kashmir shawl, and the squirrels, martens, beavers, otters, weasels, which the hunters brought in were in their winter coats. But the exploring party had not returned. Lescarbot, who had occupied spare moments in preparing a surprise for them when they did return, and carefully drilled the men in their parts, began to be secretly anxious.

But on the morning of November 14, old Membertou, who had appointed himself an informal sentinel to patrol the waters near the fort, appeared with the news that the chiefs were coming back.

All was excitement in a moment, although Lescarbot privately had to admit that he could not even see a sail, to say nothing of recognizing the boat or its occupants. But the long-sighted old sagamore was right.

The party of adventurers, their craft considerably the worse for the journey, steering with a pair of oars in place of a rudder, reached the landing-place and battered, weary and dilapidated, came up to the fort.

They were surprised and disappointed to see no one about except a few curious Indians peeping from the woods.

As they neared the wooden gateway it was suddenly flung open, and out marched a procession of masquers, headed by Neptune in full costume of shell-fringed robe, diadem, trident, and garlands of kelp and sea-moss, attended by tritons grotesquely attired, and fauns, reinforced by a growing audience of Indians, squaws and papooses. This merry company greeted the wanderers with music, song and some excellent French verse written by Lescarbot for the occasion. Refreshed with laughter and the relief of finding all so well conducted, Champlain, Poutrincourt and their men went in to have something to eat and drink. Then they spent the rest of the day hearing and telling the story of the last three months.

It is written down, adorned with drawings, in the journals of Champlain, and it was all told over as the men sat around their blazing fires and talked, all together, while a light November snow flurried in the air outside.

"So you see we lost our rudder in a storm off Mount Desert--" "And the autumn gales drove us back before we had fairly passed Port Fortune--"

"It came near being Port Malheur for us, and it was for Pierre and Jacques le Malouin, poor fellows. They and three others stayed ashore for the night and hundreds of Indians attacked them,--oh, but hundreds.

Well, we heard the uproar--naturally it waked us in a hurry--and up we jumped and snatched any weapon that was handy, and piled into the boat in our shirts. Two of the shore party were killed and we saw the other three running for their boat for dear life, all stuck over with arrows like hedgehogs, my faith! So then we landed and charged the Indians, who must have thought we were ghosts, for they left off whooping and ran for the woods. Our provisions were so far spent that we thought it best to return after that, and in any case--it would be as bad, would it not, to die of Indians as to die of scurvy?"

"But tell me, my dear fellow," said Champlain when the happy hubbub had a little subsided, "how have your gardens prospered? Truly I need not ask, in view of the abundance of the dinner you gave us."

Lescarbot smiled. "I think that the saints must have whispered to the little plants," he said whimsically, "or else they knew that they must grow their best for the honor of France. But perhaps it is not strange.

I had the seeds and roots from the garden of Helene."

"And who is Helene?" asked Champlain with interest. Lescarbot explained.

"It was really wonderful," he said in conclusion, "to see how careful she was to remember every herb and plant which might be useful, and to ask Jacqueline for some especial recipes for cordials and tisanes for the sick. And by the way, Jacqueline told me that the sea-captains regard potatoes as especially good to prevent or cure scurvy."

In any case the potato was popular among the exiled Frenchmen. They ate it boiled, they ate it parboiled, sliced and fried in deep kettles of fat, they ate it in stews, and they ate it--and liked it best of all--roasted in the ashes. Jacqueline had said that the water in which the root was boiled must always be thrown away, which showed that there was something uncanny about it, but whether it was due to the potatoes or the general variety of the bill of fare, there was not a case of scurvy in the camp all winter.

Soon after his return Champlain broached a plan which he had been perfecting during the voyage. The fifteen men of rank formed a society, to be called "L'Ordre de Bon-Temps." Each man became Grand-Master in turn, for a single day. On that day he was responsible for the dinner,--the cooking, catering, buying and serving. When not in office he usually spent some days in hunting, fishing and trading with the Indians for supplies. He had full authority over the kitchen during his reign, and it was a point of honor with each Grand Master to surpass, if possible, the abundance, variety and gastronomic excellence of the meals of the day before. There was no market to draw upon, but the caterer could have steaks and roasts and pies of moose, bear, venison and caribou; beavers, otters, hares, trapped for their fur, also helped to feed the hunters. Ducks, geese, grouse and plover were to be had for the shooting. Sturgeon, trout and other fish might be caught in the bay, or speared through the ice of the river. The supplies brought from France, with the addition of all this wilderness fare, held out well, and Lescarbot expressed the opinion, with which nobody disagreed, that no epicure in Paris could dine better in the Rue de l'Ours than the pioneers of Port Royal dined that winter.

Ceremony was not neglected, either. At the dinner hour, twelve o'clock, the Grand Master of the day entered the dining-hall, a napkin on his shoulder, his staff of office in his hand, and the collar of the Order, worth about four crowns, about his neck. After him came the Brotherhood in procession, each carrying a dish. Indian chiefs were often guests at the board; old Membertou was always made welcome.

Biscuit, bread and many other kinds of food served there were new and alluring luxuries to the Indians, and warriors, squaws and children who had not seats at table squatted on the floor gravely awaiting their portions.

[Illustration: "THE GRAND MASTER OF THE DAY ENTERED THE DINING HALL."--_Page_ 266]

The evening meal was less formal. When all were gathered about the fire, the Grand Master presented the collar and staff of office to his successor, and drank his health in a cup of wine.

The winter was unusually mild; until January they needed nothing warmer than their doublets. On the fourteenth, a Sunday, they went boating on the river, and came home singing the gay songs of France. A little later they went to visit the wheat fields two leagues from the fort, and dined merrily out of doors. When the snow melted they saw the little bright blades of the autumn sowing already coming up from the rich black soil.

Winter was over, and work began in good heart. Poutrincourt was not above gathering turpentine from the pines and making tar, after a process invented by himself. Then late in spring a ship came into harbor with news which ended everything. The fur-traders of Normandy, Brittany and the Vizcayan ports had succeeded in having the privilege of De Monts withdrawn. Hardly more than a year after his arrival Lescarbot left his beloved gardens, and in October all the colonists were once more in France. Membertou and his Indians bewailed their departure, and held them in long remembrance. Wilderness houses soon go back to their beginnings, and it was not long before all that was left of the brave and gay French colony was a little clearing where the herb of immortality, the tansy of Saint Athanase, lifted its golden buttons and thick dark green foliage above the remnant of the garden of Helene.

Yet the experience of that year was not lost. It was the first instance of a company of settlers in that northern climate passing the winter without illness, discord or trouble with the Indians. Later, in the little new settlements of Quebec and Montreal, some of the colonists met again under the wise and kindly rule of Champlain. Little Helene lived to bring her own roses to a garden in New France, and teach Indian girls the secrets which old Jacqueline taught her. And it is recorded in the history of the voyageurs, priests and adventurers of France in the New World that wherever they went they were apt to take with them seeds and plants of wholesome garden produce, which they planted along their route in the hope that they might thus be of service to those who came after them.

THE WOODEN SHOE

Amsterdam's the cradle where the race was rocked-- All the ships of all the world to her harbor flocked.

Rosy with the sea-wind, solid, stubborn, sweet, Played the children by canals, up and down the street.

Neltje, Piet and Hendrik, Dirck and Myntje too,-- Little Nick of Leyden sailed his wooden shoe.

"Quarter-deck and cabin--rig her fore-and-aft,"-- Thus he murmured wisely as he launched his craft.

"Cutlass, pike and musquetoun, howitzer and shot-- But our knives and mirrors and beads are worth the lot."

Room enough for cargo to last a year or two, In the round amidships of a wooden shoe!

Bobbing on the waters of the Nieuwe Vlei See the bantam galleot, short and broad and high.

Laden for the Indies, trading all the way, Frank and shrewd and cautious, fiery in a fray,-- Sagamore and mandarin are all the same to you, Little Nick of Leyden with your wooden shoe!

XVIII

THE FIRES THAT TALKED

All along the coast of Britain, from John o' Groat's to Beachey Head, from Saint Michael's Mount to Cape Wrath, twinkled the bonfires on the headlands. Henry Hudson, returning from a voyage among icebergs, guessed at once what this chain of lights meant. The son of Mary Queen of Scots had been crowned in London.[1]

Hudson's keen eyes were unusually grave and thoughtful as the _Muscovy Duck_ sailed up to London Pool on the incoming tide. The sailors looked even more sober, for most of them were English Protestants, with a few Flemings, and John Williams the pilot was an Anabaptist. It was he who asked the question of which all were thinking.

"Master Hudson, d'ye think the new King will light them other fires--the ones at Smithfield?"

Hudson shook his head. "That's a thing no man can say for certain, John.

But there's the Low Countries and the Americas to run to. 'T is not as it was in Queen Mary's day."

"Aye, but Spain has got all of America, pretty near, and the French are nabbing the rest," said the pilot doubtfully.

"Nay, that's a bigger place than you guess, over yonder. Ever see the map that Doctor Dee made for Queen Bess near thirty years ago? I remember him showing it to my grandsire with the ink scarce dry on it.

The country Ralegh's people saw has got room for the whole of France and England, and plenty timber and corn-land. Sir Walter he knew that."

There was plague in London when they landed, and all sought their families in fear and trembling, not knowing what might have come and gone in their absence. Hudson's house was at Mortlake on the Thames above London, and there he was rejoiced to find all well. Young John Hudson was brimful of Mr. Brereton's new Relacion of the Voyage of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold and Captain Bartholomew Gilbert to the North part of Virginia by permission of the honorable Knight Sir Walter Ralegh. Strawberries bigger than those of England, and cherries in clusters like grapes, blackbirds with carnation-colored wings, Indians who painted their eyebrows white and made faces over mustard, were mixed higgledy-piggledy in his bubbling talk. Hudson, turning the pages of the new book, saw at once that on this voyage around Cape Cod the little ship _Concord_ had sailed seas unknown to him.

"Why won't the Company send you to the Americas, Dad?" the boy asked eagerly. "When will I be old enough to go to sea?"

"Wait till ye're fourteen at least, Jack," his father answered. "There's much to learn before ye're a master mariner."

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