1615, 1616. THE GREAT WAR PARTY.
Champlain was in the woods with the rest, when he saw a bird whose novel appearance excited his attention; and, gun in hand, he went in pursuit. The bird, flitting from tree to tree, lured him deeper and deeper into the forest; then took wing and vanished. The disappointed sportsman tried to retrace his steps. But the day was clouded, and he had left his pocket-compass at the camp. The forest closed around him, trees mingled with trees in endless confusion. Bewildered and lost, he wandered all day, and at night slept fasting at the foot of a tree. Awaking, he wandered on till afternoon, when he reached a pond slumbering in the shadow of the woods. There were water-fowl along its brink, some of which he shot, and for the first time found food to allay his hunger. He kindled a fire, cooked his game, and, exhausted, blanketless, drenched by a cold rain, made his prayer to Heaven, and again lay down to sleep. Another day of blind and weary wandering succeeded, and another night of exhaustion. He had found paths in the wilderness, but they were not made by human feet. Once more roused from his shivering repose, he journeyed on till he heard the tinkling of a little brook, and bethought him of following its guidance, in the hope that it might lead him to the river where the hunters were now encamped. With toilsome steps he followed the infant stream, now lost beneath the decaying masses of fallen trunks or the impervious intricacies of matted "windfalls," now stealing through swampy thickets or gurgling in the shade of rocks, till it entered at length, not into the river, but into a small lake. Circling around the brink, he found the point where the brook ran out and resumed its course. Listening in the dead stillness of the woods, a dull, hoarse sound rose upon his ear. He went forward, listened again, and could plainly hear the plunge of waters. There was light in the forest before him, and, thrusting himself through the entanglement of bushes, he stood on the edge of a meadow. Wild animals were here of various kinds; some skulking in the bordering thickets, some browsing on the dry and matted grass. On his right rolled the river, wide and turbulent, and along its bank he saw the portage path by which the Indians passed the neighboring rapids. He gazed about him. The rocky hills seemed familiar to his eye. A clew was found at last; and, kindling his evening fire, with grateful heart he broke a long fast on the game he had killed. With the break of day he descended at his ease along the bank, and soon descried the smoke of the Indian fires curling in the heavy morning air against the gray borders of the forest. The joy was great on both sides. The Indians had searched for him without ceasing; and from that day forth his host, Durantal, would never let him go into the forest alone.
They were thirty-eight days encamped on this nameless river, and killed in that time a hundred and twenty deer. Hard frosts were needful to give them passage over the land of lakes and marshes that lay between them and the Huron towns. Therefore they lay waiting till the fourth of December; when the frost came, bridged the lakes and streams, and made the oozy marsh as firm as granite. Snow followed, powdering the broad wastes with dreary white. Then they broke up their camp, packed their game on sledges or on their shoulders, tied on their snowshoes, and began their march. Champlain could scarcely endure his load, though some of the Indians carried a weight fivefold greater. At night, they heard the cleaving ice uttering its strange groans of torment, and on the morrow there came a thaw. For four days they waded through slush and water up to their knees; then came the shivering northwest wind, and all was hard again. In nineteen days they reached the town of Cahiague, and, lounging around their smoky lodge-fires, the hunters forgot the hardships of the past.
For Champlain there was no rest. A double motive urged him, - discovery, and the strengthening of his colony by widening its circle of trade. First, he repaired to Carhagouha; and here he found the friar, in his hermitage, still praying, preaching, making catechisms, and struggling with the manifold difficulties of the Huron tongue. After spending several weeks together, they began their journeyings, and in three days reached the chief village of the Nation of Tobacco, a powerful tribe akin to the Hurons, and soon to be incorporated with them. The travellers visited seven of their towns, and then passed westward to those of the people whom Champlain calls the Cheveax Releves, and whom he commends for neatness and ingenuity no less than he condemns them for the nullity of their summer attire. As the strangers passed from town to town, their arrival was everywhere the signal of festivity. Champlain exchanged pledges of amity with his hosts, and urged them to come down with the Hurons to the yearly trade at Montreal.