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La Salle's imagination took fire. His resolution was soon formed; and he descended the St. Lawrence to Quebec, to gain the countenance of the governor for his intended exploration. Few men were more skilled than he in the art of clear and plausible statement. Both the governor Courcelle and the intendant Talon were readily won over to his plan; for which, however, they seem to have given him no more substantial aid than that of the governor's letters patent authorizing the enterprise. The cost was to be his own; and he had no money, having spent it all on his seigniory. He therefore proposed that the Seminary, [Pg 16] which had given it to him, should buy it back again, with such improvements as he had made. Queylus, the Superior, being favorably disposed towards him, consented, and bought of him the greater part; while La Salle sold the remainder, including the clearings, to one Jean Milot, an iron-monger, for twenty-eight hundred livres. With this he bought four canoes, with the necessary supplies, and hired fourteen men.I havent any; Ive never had money.
There was a beastly superstition prevalent among the Hurons, the Iroquois, and other tribes. It consisted of a medicine or mystic feast, in which it was essential that the guests should devour every thing set before them, however inordinate in quantity, unless absolved from duty by the person in whose behalf the solemnity was ordained; he, on his part, taking no share in the banquet. So grave was the obligation, and so strenuously did the guests fulfil it, that even their ostrich digestion was sometimes ruined past redemption by the excess of this benevolent gluttony. These festins manger tout had been frequently denounced as diabolical by the Jesuits, during their mission among the Hurons; but now, with a pliancy of conscience as excusable in this case as in any other, they resolved to set aside their scruples, although, judged from their point of view, they were exceedingly well founded.What shall we say of these adventurers of Montreal,of 207 these who bestowed their wealth, and, far more, of these who sacrificed their peace and risked their lives, on an enterprise at once so romantic and so devout? Surrounded as they were with illusions, false lights, and false shadows,breathing an atmosphere of miracle,compassed about with angels and devils,urged with stimulants most powerful, though unreal,their minds drugged, as it were, to preternatural excitement,it is very difficult to judge of them. High merit, without doubt, there was in some of their number; but one may beg to be spared the attempt to measure or define it. To estimate a virtue involved in conditions so anomalous demands, perhaps, a judgment more than human.
The old man gave free course to his tears.
Soon after leaving the Cenis villages, both La Salle and his nephew Moranget were attacked by fever. This caused a delay of more than two months, during which the party seem to have remained encamped on the Neches, or possibly the Sabine. When at length the invalids had recovered sufficient strength to travel, the stock of ammunition was nearly spent, some of the men had deserted, and the condition of the travellers was such that there seemed no alternative but to return to Fort St. Louis. This they accordingly did, greatly aided in their march by the horses bought from the Cenis, and suffering no very serious accident by the way,excepting the loss of La Salle's servant, Dumesnil, who was seized by an alligator while attempting to cross the Colorado.The remarkable forbearance observed by Eastern and Northern tribes towards female captives was probably the result of a superstition. Notwithstanding the prevailing license, the Iroquois and other tribes had among themselves certain conventional rules which excited the admiration of the Jesuit celibates. Some of these had a superstitious origin; others were in accordance with the iron requirements of their savage etiquette. To make the Indian a hero of romance is mere nonsense.
After reaching the Mississippi, the whole party encamped together opposite to the mouth of Rum River, pitching their tents of skin, or building their bark-huts, on the slope of a hill by the side of the water. It was a wild scene, this camp of savages [Pg 266] among whom as yet no traders had come and no handiwork of civilization had found its way,the tall warriors, some nearly naked, some wrapped in buffalo-robes, and some in shirts of dressed deer-skin fringed with hair and embroidered with dyed porcupine quills, war-clubs of stone in their hands, and quivers at their backs filled with stone-headed arrows; the squaws, cutting smoke-dried meat with knives of flint, and boiling it in rude earthen pots of their own making, driving away, meanwhile, with shrill cries, the troops of lean dogs, which disputed the meal with a crew of hungry children. The whole camp, indeed, was threatened with starvation. The three white men could get no food but unripe berries,from the effects of which Hennepin thinks they might all have died, but for timely doses of his orvietan.Instead, with an agony of fondness, she glided to him. Distress held him as fast and mute as at the flag presentation. But when she would have knelt he caught her elbows and held her up by force.