Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

A Knight of New France

"Where a northern river charges

By a wild and moonlit glade,

From the murky forest marges,

Round a broken palisade,

I can see the red man leaping,

See the sword of Daulac sweeping,

And the ghostly forms of heroes

Fall and fade."

A. Lampman.

The Red Terror grew and spread. There seemed no hope of taming the savage, no safety for the white man but within stone walls. At last the Iroquois began to gather in force, swearing to sweep through Canada and utterly crush their enemies.

Then it was that a little band of seventeen brave men went out to fight the savages. They were headed by a young French noble of twenty-five, named Adam Daulac.

In olden days, when knights rode forth against fell giants and awful beasts, they spent the night in some quiet church, kneeling in prayer. So now these brave men who knew that they were going to certain death, knelt for the last time in the little wooden church of Montreal, confessed their sins and received the holy sacrament. Then, after a solemn farewell, with the prayers and blessings of the people ringing in their ears, they rowed slowly up the river and passed from sight. They were knights, as true and fearless as ever laid lance in rest.

Up the stream they rowed, beneath the bending branches of dark and ancient trees, through wild and almost unknown regions, until they came to a ruined and deserted Indian fort. Here they resolved to await the foe, and here they were joined by some thirty friendly Indians.

They had not long to wait. Soon a whole fleet of war canoes, filled with two hundred yelling savages, came leaping down the rapids. The Frenchmen had not expected the enemy so soon. They were taken by surprise, and were outside the fort, cooking their dinner by some fires which they had just lit. So suddenly had the savages come upon them that they had no time even to seize their pots and kettles, but were obliged to leave them behind and run for the fort.

The Indians expected an easy victory, but from behind their ruinous fort the Frenchmen met them with such a steady fire, that the savages fell back in confusion.

The Indians then began to build a fort opposite the French camp. While they were busy with this, the Frenchmen strengthened and repaired their own fort. They heightened the wooden palings and strengthened them with earth and stones, leaving loopholes all round through which to fire upon the enemy. But before the work was finished the Indians were upon them again.

Calmly the Frenchmen awaited the attack. At the word of command their guns rang out. Every shot told, many a savage warrior fell dead, and, seized with a nameless terror, the others fled. But again and again they rallied, again and again they returned to the attack, answering the cannonade of the Frenchmen with a hail of bullets. Then seeing that in spite of all their efforts they could not take the fort by storm, they made up their minds to burn it. With yells of savage glee they seized upon the Frenchmen's boats, smashing them to pieces before their eyes. Of the splintered fragments they made torches, and each man carrying a flaring, smoking light, they rushed to the wooden walls of the fort. But the fire of the Frenchmen was so sharp, their aim so true and deadly, that not a savage got near enough the fort to set it on fire.

The fight went on. At length the savage chief was shot. Then fury of revenge and desire of blood maddened the Iroquois. Night and day they howled and yelled around the little fort. Night and day the Frenchmen fought and prayed by turns. Worn by want of sleep, tortured by hunger and thirst, shivering with cold they still fought on. They had nothing to eat but a coarse kind of meal made from Indian corn. They had nothing at all to drink. With blackened tongues and dry, parched throats it became impossible to swallow the meal. Frantic with thirst, a few made a rush for the river. For two hundred yards they ran through the spattering fire of the enemy. They risked death for a few drops of water. For their big kettles and pans had all fallen into the hands of the savages, and they had only cups in which to carry the water, and what they brought back was scarcely enough to wet the lips of the gasping garrison.

For seven days the terrible fight lasted. The Frenchmen's supply of shot was growing smaller and smaller. They knew that they could not hold out much longer. The friendly Indians grew weary of the struggle, and they leapt over the wall and fled to join the enemy. So the seventeen Frenchmen were left with only five Indians to help them against hundreds.

On the seventh day of the siege the air rang with cries more loud and savage than before, and the earth, and river, and sky, seemed to tremble with the echo and re-echo of gun shots. Five hundred more savages had arrived and their war-cries mingled with the shouts of welcome from their friends.

Armed with new courage, the whole force of nearly seven hundred savages rushed to the attack. But every loophole of the fort belched forth fire, and many a Redskin fell. Half dead though they were with want and weariness, the Frenchmen still fought fiercely. Three more days passed; days of prayer and agony within the fort, while without, thrown back again and again by the steady fire, the dark savages surged and yelled.

At last the Indians made a yet more determined assault. Protected by huge wooden shields, which covered them from head to heel, they rushed upon the fort with axe and firebrand. In spite of the Frenchmen's fire, the savages were able now to reach the walls. There they hacked and burned trying to make an entrance.

The case of the defenders was now desperate. Daulac then made a bomb by setting a slow match to a small barrel of gunpowder. This he tried to throw over the wall, hoping that it would explode among the Indians. But the Frenchmen were weak with famine and weariness. They could not throw the barrel high enough. It caught upon the top of the wall, and rolling back, burst within the fort, wounding many and blinding others, so that for a few minutes they could not see to fight.

In the confusion which followed, more Indians crowded to the walls, and they gained possession of the loopholes. One moment showed their savage, triumphant faces in the openings, the next the shining barrels of their guns gleamed there, and a hot rain of bullets showered upon the Frenchmen. Shut within the encircling walls, there was little for them but to die.

A moment later the men, who had been hacking at the walls, succeeded in making a breach. Indians poured through it, others scrambled over. On all sides the Frenchmen were surrounded. Dearly they sold their lives. Muskets were thrown aside, with sword in one hand and knife in the other they fought the yelling fiends, till the dead lay thick about them. At length the ghastly fight was over, and the last white man fell dead upon the heaps of slain. Thus fighting against fearful odds, died valiant Daulac and his brave followers. Nor did these gallant Frenchmen die in vain. It was a splendid defeat, far more glorious than many a victory. It saved their fellow-countrymen in Canada. "If seventeen white men behind a wooden fence can hold seven hundred warriors at bay, what will they not do behind stone walls?" the Indians asked. And so, cowed for the time, they turned homewards to mourn their dead and await a day of revenge.

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