How Marc was Made Captain

by Francis Sterne Palmer


A Rescue from the “Lords of the Woods” in 1695

One evening in the winter of 1694-95 a dozen young men were lounging around the fire in the big room of the storehouse at St. Maxime, a small settlement on the St. Lawrence River. The door opened and two others entered, brushing the snow from their leggings and moccasins.

“What luck with your traps?” cried one of the loungers.

“An otter and eight beaver,” answered Noël Duroc, as he tossed a pack of pelts into the corner. He was a tall, straight young Frenchman, whose gay and careless nature looked out frankly through a pair of laughing black eyes. “But come, Madame Bouvier,” he cried to the store-keeper’s wife, “give us something to eat; hot, and plenty of it—eh, Philippe! If you want news, there’s more than news of traps—it’s of the Iroquois. ’Tis said they’re ready for a raid to the north—to make glad the hearts of their good friends the Algonquins and the French. So our old bear of a seigneur may do some hugging. But to-night he has other things to think of. Marc is home—came up along the river from Quebec to-day.”

“Is he as much of a monk as ’twas said he would be?” asked Jean Bourdo. “You know the old seigneur swears he will have no monk’s scholar around him—though he were twice his nephew.”

“We have just seen Marc, and, trust me, he is the same jolly lad he was two years ago. You can make no grave-faced monk of him! But the old seigneur thinks him surely spoiled. ’Twere better Marc had not seen the monastery—not that I lack as a churchman; what would we do at St. Maxime were it not for our good Father Auguste, who taught us when we were boys, and keeps us straight now that we are men?—for if he had stayed here he would doubtless be our captain—a post worth having, now that the Iroquois are like to visit us.”

“Who will be our captain?” asked Jean Bourdo.

“The seigneur has sent to Quebec for an officer—one that’s lately from France, and that’s been well trained in the King’s army. The old man knows how much we sympathize with Marc, and so, being surly as a bear, he will have none of us.”

“It may be a costly mistake, this putting of an Old-World soldier over us,” said Jean. “’Tis true we have small knowledge of the science of war as taught in old France; but we can fight in the woods, and know how to beat the Iroquois at their own game, and I’ll warrant that’s more than this fine soldier can do! ’Tis a pity that Marc—a lad brought up in the woods, whom we all like and would gladly follow—should be kept back just because madame his mother sent him to school to the monks. But the old seigneur will have his way, even when ’tis to his harm!”

 “So he will; and if Marc is to lead us, the seigneur must be made to think that it is his own doing. Come, Philippe,” continued Noël, turning to the man who had come in with him, “you are older than the rest, and have a wiser head; think of some way of bending the seigneur to our purpose.”

They talked till far into the night, and when they separated the young Frenchmen had the cheerful and impatient air of men (or boys, for so they would now be counted) who had planned an undertaking and were in a hurry to carry it out.


In the afternoon of the next day old Antoine de la Carre, seigneur of the score of log-houses and the vast tract of woodland belonging to the royal settlement of St. Maxime, marshalled his fighting force. In front of the storehouse was an open space, from which the snow was kept clear, and here the soldiers of St. Maxime were drawn up in line. There were about forty of them all told, half of their number being young men, voyageurs, and coureurs des bois; the others were older, heads of families who devoted themselves to the more peaceful occupations of fishing and farming.

“I have news,” said Antoine de la Carre, “that the Iroquois are moving, so it behooves us to make ready for them. You older men shall act as a reserve; the younger ones I will organize into a company always to be under arms and ready to repel attack. Noël Duroc, I appoint you lieutenant, to have charge till the officer who is to be your captain comes from Quebec. Be active in your duty, and see that you leave nothing undone that is for the good of the settlement.”

“We’ll do what we think is best for the settlement, and he’ll find us active enough—that’s certain!” whispered Jean Bourdo, nudging his neighbor.

In the ranks of the younger men was a tall, dark-haired lad who had the same bold features that belonged to the old seigneur. All observed him, for it was Marc Larocque’s first appearance after his two years’ stay in Quebec. He met his uncle’s sour looks with unflinching, smiling eyes, and the settlers whispered among themselves that the old seigneur would find it no easy matter to ignore his nephew—he had the De la Carre spirit, in spite of the monks and their book-learning.

That evening was a gloomy one in the house of Antoine de la Carre. The old man sat in silence, drinking deep draughts of red French wine; across the room was his sister, the widow Larocque, teaching their catechism to two little maids. He knew she thought him unfair to her son, who, by right of birth and his own qualities, had reason to expect a place of authority at St. Maxime, and this knowledge made the old seigneur more than usually irritable. When the children had finished reading their tasks and left the room he broke out:

“Ha, Madeleine, you look so solemn, doubtless, because of your dear Marc! Well, why did you send him to the monks to have a scholar made out of him? You know how I despise these long-faced readers of musty books, yet you must thwart me in this way. I’ll not forgive you nor him. I had no fault to find in the old days—then he was a good lad enough, and a true De la Carre. But I tell you now, as I told you two years ago when you talked of sending him to Quebec, that I’ll have no bookman for a nephew. So you’ve only yourself to blame if he be set aside. But you were always obstinate.”

“Ah, almost as obstinate as you, Antoine. But I’ll not trouble about Marc; if you’ll not help him, there are others that will. In these stirring times a boy like him is not forgotten.”

After a pause he burst out again: “What folly it was! Has a lad here, in our rugged New France, any need of court manners and monk’s learning? If you had sent him to learn war it would have been different. But to a monastery! When a boy in old France, I was made to read Latin and dig into musty manuscripts till they nearly made a philosopher of me. But I had the good sense to turn soldier, and since then I’ve had no liking for monks and their learning. Madeleine, you knew all this, and remember now—”

He was interrupted by a crash. The door was burst open and half a dozen Indians sprang into the room. Before Antoine could draw his dagger they had leaped upon him, seized his arms, and smothered his shouts. Madame Larocque was quickly and securely bound hand and foot and gagged.

The Iroquois—for by their paint and dress the old man thought his captors to belong to the dreaded tribes of the Five Nations—worked noiselessly and swiftly; in less than five minutes from the bursting in of the door they led out Antoine de la Carre, his hands tied behind his back, and a piece of leather so fastened over his mouth that he could make no sound. The guards that should have been watching were nowhere to be seen, and the Indians, with their prisoner, quickly scaled the stockade, crept across a cleared space to the woods, hurried to the river, and were soon on the smooth, wind-swept ice and moving rapidly westward. “Where were those young rascals of my company when I needed them?—drinking in the storehouse or dancing in one of the cabins, most like!” growled old Antoine to himself.

 He was as strong as an old bear, but his joints were stiffened with age, and he had difficulty in keeping up with the rapid pace of the Indians. “What sinews these Iroquois have!” he thought, as he struggled on. “No Algonquin could hold his own with them; they run as well as our own young coureurs des bois!”

When it became evident that he could go no farther, they stopped their journey along the ice and, turning into the forest, went about a quarter of a mile from the river’s bank. Here they found a dense evergreen thicket and prepared to make their camp. A fire was built, and some strips of dried meat they carried were heated and eaten; then they stretched themselves on evergreen boughs which had been piled on the snow near the fire. A tall young Indian, who seemed to be the leader of the little band, now turned to Antoine de la Carre and, much to his surprise, spoke to him in French.

“Old man, eat and warm yourself. We have far to go, and you are not yet to die.”

Antoine obeyed, and after he had managed to swallow some of the tough meat he felt better. “How do you, that are of the Iroquois, who trade with the English and Dutch, come to speak French?” he asked of the young Indian.

“A French girl was brought a captive to our tribe; my father, who was a great warrior, took her for his squaw, and she was my mother. She taught me the language of the French, and taught me also to listen to the words of the black-robed Jesuits who used to come south to teach the Iroquois. My mother loved my father, and bade me fight the enemies of his people, and so I am here. But I wish the Jesuit teachers would come among the Iroquois as they used to do. I liked to hear them talk in that strange tongue they called the Latin.”

“Did you?” said Antoine, glad to make friends with the young Iroquois. “When young I was taught by the monks, and know some Latin.”

“That is well,” returned the Indian, with much satisfaction. “I too was a pupil of the monks, and always listened to them gladly. Stand up and repeat to us some of the Latin you learned. When the good Jesuit would talk in that tongue to my mother and to me, the words came like music, and then he would tell us the meaning—it told of adventures and battles and great warriors. Repeat to us this musical tongue.”

Antoine de la Carre would rather have fought a bull moose single-handed; but here was no choice, and he stood up and did his best. That was not very well; for his voice was as hoarse as a swamp-raven’s, and it was many years since he had looked in a book.

The Iroquois lying around on the evergreen boughs were greatly amused at his efforts, laughing at his hoarse voice and at his stammering over the Latin words.

“You do not do it as well as did the Jesuit,” exclaimed the half-breed. “Be careful, Frenchman! Remember, I am no dull log of a Montagnais—I am an Iroquois, a lord of the woods, and will have no trifling!”

Antoine stammered on, getting more angry each moment; for to a proud old soldier like him nothing was worse than appearing ridiculous. But this was a matter of life and death, and he suppressed his feelings. “’Tis well my young scamps of coureurs des bois cannot see me now,” he thought. “They’d never stop laughing!”

“Look more cheerful, Frenchman!” said the tall half-breed, getting to his feet. “What if you are to die to-morrow; surely death has no terrors for so great a scholar and philosopher! And come, when you are talking to warriors of the Iroquois take off your cap!” Antoine wore his black velvet house-cap, and as the Iroquois spoke he stepped forward and plucked it from the old man’s head.

Antoine had been able to keep down his anger at their laughing, but this was too much for his small stock of patience, which already was sorely tried. He was desperate and reckless, for death was fairly certain under any circumstances, and it might as well come to-night as later.

“Insolent—take that!” he exclaimed, and he struck out savagely.

 The tall half-breed, hit squarely between the eyes, went down as if before the blow of a sledge-hammer.

Several of the Indians sprang to their feet and seized the old man. The half-breed got up slowly, half stunned. Antoine waited for his tomahawk to strike the death-blow, but the half-breed did not raise his arm to strike. “Old man,” he said, “if I were like these other braves you would even now be dead; but, as I told you, I am a convert, and the Jesuit teaches that one must not be too quick in anger—especially with the old and foolish. You shall live, at least till to-morrow; give thanks that I, like yourself, am a monk-taught man!”

Soon afterwards the Iroquois arranged themselves to sleep, one of their number being left as a sentinel and guard over their prisoner. Antoine’s hands and ankles were bound, and by the half-breed’s orders he was laid on the boughs near the fire. One by one the Indians, save the guard, fell asleep; but the old Frenchman was too nervous and excited. Finally his attention was arrested by an object that was slowly and noiselessly stealing out from the evergreen thicket. It crept straight towards the Indian sentinel, who lay gazing up at the stars that shone through the tree-tops. Of a sudden there was a quick, stealthy movement and the gleam of a knife: the sentinel’s head sank back, and he lay stretched out, still and motionless.

“A skilful thrust!” thought Antoine. “I never saw a man die so easily.”

The man with the knife crept towards him, and in a moment Antoine felt that the thongs about his ankles and wrists were cut. The man beckoned and stole away; Antoine followed, and then they silently made their way into the thicket—leaving the Indians sleeping in the white starlight, the sentinel looking most peaceful of all.

THE THONGS WERE CUT

“Do you know me, my uncle?” whispered Marc Larocque. “I tracked you through the snow. Follow me swiftly and quietly.”

Back they hurried to the river, and then began the journey over the ice down to St. Maxime.

 “I thought the Iroquois strong and fleet, Marc, but I see that none of them is a match for you! You are a brave fellow, in spite of the monks, and never shall I forget what you have done this night. But I wish you had thrust your knife into the heart of the leader of the Iroquois, an insolent fellow who pulled my cap from my head and laughed at me. However, I gave him a good buffet between the eyes!”

Soon the old man began to lag behind, and Marc had to grasp his arm to help him; so they ran on through the white winter’s night. With ghostly wings the great snowy owl flapped across their path, and the wolf pack halted for a moment to watch them pass, and then turned away to hunt again for some stray deer or wounded moose.

It was almost dawn when they reached the stockade at St. Maxime. Old Antoine was exhausted, and had hardly strength enough to say to Marc: “Send a messenger to Quebec to tell the French officer he need not come. I have found a captain here.”

Marc took him to the seigneury, and he fell into a heavy sleep, from which he did not wake till afternoon. The soldiers were then at their daily drill, and after he had eaten, the old man went out where they were. Tall Lieutenant Noël Duroc was drilling them. Antoine de la Carre gave them all a severe scolding for their carelessness the night before.

“If it were not for my brave nephew,” he said, “I would surely have been murdered by the Iroquois. Marc, step out from the ranks. I make you captain!”

A shout went up from all the men, but old Antoine silenced it with a gesture. He was looking at Noël Duroc. “Lieutenant, your face is black and blue; how were you hurt? You were not so yesterday!”

“Last night, seigneur, an old bear gave me a buffet—and a good round blow it was!”

Antoine looked at him hard. “Lieutenant, you had best let old bears alone!” Then he turned quickly to his nephew. “Marc, has that messenger yet started for Quebec who was to stop the French officer?”

 “He left soon after daybreak this morning.”

“Ah! you were not slow in sending him.” The old man paused, and Noël, who was watching him closely, thought he saw his mouth twitch under the gray beard. “But never mind; it may be for the best. You shall be captain, my nephew, and you, Noël Duroc, shall be lieutenant, though I think you both rascals. However, no bookman could run as Marc did this morning; and so I know he is not wholly spoiled by the monks.”

“Bravo!” cried Noël Duroc, throwing up his cap. “Bravo! Here is a right good seigneur who knows what is best for his people; and a kind uncle; and—I’ll pledge my word—a great scholar and philosopher too!”