Tuesday, May 18, 2021



The brothers were letting the canoe drift to nearly a stop, it was tiring paddling against the current and they needed a breather. Alain was in the back of the craft, normally paddling and steering, at the moment his head was down, he was exhausted.

He had let his brother, Jacques, rest for longer than he should have, but he had seen how tired his brother was and, as his father did too, he tended to baby Jacques. But that had led to Alain doing more work than he should have, he was close to nodding off. Then his brother spoke.

"Alain, Indians ahead, on that sandbank."

Alain jerked his head up quickly. Sure enough, there, not 50 toises¹ away, was a party of natives, six of them. His initial reaction was fear, then he realized that the men weren't wearing paint, so he doubted that it was a war party. The men were also relaxed. One had a hand raised, palm forward and empty, signifying peaceful intent.

Or so Alain hoped.

"Alain, what do we do?" Jacques, to Alain's surprise, didn't sound scared.

Alain surveyed the river ahead, the sandbank reached out far enough into the river that there was no way of avoiding the men. Taking a deep breath he raised his right hand as the man on the bank was doing.

"There's no avoiding them Jacques, head to the bank."

Tall Elk had made the decision to make contact with les français after speaking with the sachem of the tribe to the north of his peoples' lands. That man was reluctant to let strangers pass through, though they dressed like the Wyandot, so did many of the anglais.

"I have no problem with les français, but unless I know they are français, I will not trust them." said the sachem, a man of forty-two winters who was known to be very cautious and, according to Tall Elk's own sachem, "not all that wise." So Tall Elk had consented to bringing a man, Small Bear, from that tribe when he attempted to make contact with the two men on the river.

As he watched the canoe glide towards the shore, Tall Elk realized that the men looked a lot alike, he surmised that the two were brothers. He thought it odd, and perhaps an omen, that he and his brother were about to greet two brothers from les français.

As the two men pulled their canoe onto the sand, Tall Elk stepped forward and raised a hand in greeting, then spoke in Abenaki. He hoped the men knew some Wyandot, the language wasn't all that different, the two languages had words that were very close in meaning.

Alain was surprised that the man spoke to him, he recognized the word for 'hello,' though he pronounced it differently than the Wyandot did, it was very close.² Alain smiled and answered with the Wyandot word.

Tall Elk allowed himself a small grin, he took an almost immediate liking to these two français. They were nervous, as he would be had he traveled to the land of les français. He thought it might be wise to use that word, what they called themselves, so he pointed at the two men and said, "Français?"

Before Alain could answer, Jacques began babbling away in French, from the looks on the Indians faces, it was obvious they only knew the one word in French. But the antics of his younger brother, his joy in living and his interest in nearly everything proved infectious. Soon the Indians were beckoning the brothers to join them for a meal at a nearby village. Alain was wary but Jacques went along without a qualm.

Oh well, Alain thought to himself, if these men wanted to harm them, they probably would have done so already.

Alain and Jacques were pleasantly surprised to find a man at the village who spoke fairly good French. The man, who introduced himself as Running Bear, had traveled to Montréal in his youth and had spent many years trapping with the coureur de bois. It surprised the brothers further to learn that they had mutual acquaintances in the north.

Tall Elk watched Running Bear in his conversation with the two men, who he learned were indeed brothers and whose names were Alain and Jacques. The conversation was animated and there was much laughter. After a while, Tall Elk asked the Running Bear to translate for him.

"Alain and Jacques, I know that les français have two names, one like ours, which is given, and one which comes from your family. Is this true?"

Alain answered through Running Bear, "Yes, Tall Elk, our names 'Alain' and 'Jacques' were given to us by our father, our family name is Gaudry. Most people have two names, sometimes three. For instance, my father's full name is Étienne-Alphonse Gaudry. He is named for his two grandfathers, do you do the same here?"

"When we are young, our father gives us a name which he thinks suits our personalities, my name as a child was Running Nose, I caught cold easily it seems. When I became a man, the men of my tribe called me Tall Elk, it was a joke really. My first kill was a yearling elk which was not much bigger than a small deer. But over the years I like to think I grew into the name."

At that Little Wolf laughed and spoke, "I have always been called Little Wolf. My father said I howled so often for my mother's milk that he was afraid a she wolf would come take me and feed me herself. That name has stayed with me."

Tall Elk chuckled and said, "He still likes to howl!"

At that Little Wolf threw his head back and did a very creditable imitation of a wolf's call. So good in fact that deep in the forest, a wolf answered him. Soon the men grew quiet as they listened to the wolves calling each other in the slowly waning light. Night was upon them.

When the brothers were offered a place to sleep for the night, Alain was nervous, but Jacques convinced him that these people would not harm them. So Alain, somewhat reluctantly assented.

In the morning the brothers shared a meal with the people they had learned called themselves the Missiquoi, and they were part of the Wabanaki Confederation, commonly referred to collectively as the Abenaki. They also gained a new traveling companion, the man called Little Wolf. He was keen to see the north.

Tall Elk had his concerns about his young brother leaving with les français, but he knew that his brother's heart was set on it. He gave his blessing, even though he did so reluctantly, the joy in his brother's face made his own heart happy.

"Go my brother, try not to be too much of a burden on les frères." They had learned the word for 'brothers' from Alain and Jacques and when referring to both of them used that rather than the more impersonal 'les français.'

"You worry like a grandmother, Tall Elk." Little Wolf grinned to indicate he meant no insult. Tall Elk, knowing his brother very well, laughed and agreed that he was probably right.

"Watch out for the Mohican, I think war is coming. Les anglais covet our lands, they are already building a settlement a day's walk from the Great Falls, near a tributary flowing into the Great River. Do not go close to the river's edge there. It is a small village, there are maybe twenty of the awanoch³ there. Avoid them."

"I will brother, I want to see this royal mountain that Jacques and Alain speak of."

"What royal mountain is this?"

"Ah, it is what Montréal means, it is named for a mountain which les français call 'Mount Royal.' A royal mountain, yes?" Little Wolf cocked his head to one side, just as a curious wolf pup would.

"Very well, go see this mountain. But return to us alive."

"Yes brother, I am not ready to go to the spirit world just yet."

As Alain paddled and guided the canoe north, he watched the back of their new Indian companion. In truth, the man smiled a lot and seemed to enjoy life as much as his brother Jacques did. The two of them got along rather well. Alain supposed that Jacques would be fluent in Abenaki by the time they reached home and Little Wolf would be fluent in French. Their joy in each other's company gave Alain more time to observe and to think.

Another benefit of the extra companion was that there was another man to paddle, giving them all more time to rest and they were able to cover more ground. Also, Little Wolf was familiar with the area, he had already warned them of Mohican scouts on the western side of the river a ways back.

Alain knew that things weren't as peaceful as they seemed on the Cannitticutt. The three men needed to stay alert, something which Little Wolf understood, but Jacques had yet to learn. It was a long way home.

He had no desire to die here in the wilderness.

¹ A toise is an older French unit of measurement roughly equivalent to a fathom. (A toise is 6.394 English feet.)
² 'The Wyandot word for 'hello' is 'kweh,' the same word in Abenaki is 'kwai.''
³ The Abenaki word for "white man" is a combination of the words awani meaning "who" and uji meaning "from". Thus, the word for "white man" literally translates to "Who is this man and where does he come from?"

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. No longer in the twentieth century, nicely done Sarge.

  2. It's been a real pleasure to read your fiction! I would take slight issue with "it was tiring rowing against the current", though. I'm no voyageur, but I've run a few canoe trips in Minnesota and Canada. Rowboats are rowed. Canoes are paddled.

  3. Hook, set! Thanks

  4. Yep, I am in on this one. Excellent writing as usual. I can "see" the goings on like I am a spectator.

  5. You weave an excellent background with few words. Well done.

    And, yes, paddling. A rather deceptively easy thing, full of tricks in order to get the most power out of the stroke while still steering. A light canoe is a fun thing to paddle. A heavily burdened one can be a bit more difficult.

    Reminds me of the time Mrs. Andrew and I canoed up one of the local 'rivers' to a natural spring. Going against the flow was not bad, but going with the flow and just paddling enough to avoid snags, trees and maintain heading was such a joy.

    1. Depends on how friendly the current is I suppose.

    2. Well, there's no rushing cataracts that lead to falls or bad rapids, sooo...

      As long as you're not canoeing the river in Oleno State Park, as the river pops up, flows rapidly and then goes back underground. The surface part is cool, the underground part is what's the killer part, literally.

    3. A canoe is not a very effective submersible, I wouldn't think...

    4. Many's the time I went on long canoe trips with the boy scouts. Also did some guiding, in years past, all along the Wisconsin River, the Baraboo River, and Lake Wisconsin. On the wider Wisconsin, and especially on the Lake, a well loaded canoe was often a blessing. The wind and waves can play hell with a lightly loaded canoe, and you end up spending all your effort just trying to keep it going in the right direction. On the muddy, often shallow Baraboo though, you want as shallow a draw as you can get!

    5. I remember the effect wind and waves have on a canoe, though it has been more years than I can count since I last paddled one. Much to my regret.

  6. Hello Sarge, Thanks for this, one of my favorite periods of American history. Wish we lived a little closer, I have a couple of later colonial period novels that you might enjoy. Also, Ashes in the Wilderness, a historical fiction of King Phillips war era. I'm going to enjoy your seque. Mark S

  7. Thanks for a great start to something different for a us to contemplate. I am thinking life may have been simpler back then, but man’s thoughts were, as now, complicated.

  8. Sarge, believe you've got another winner started! Thanks for sharing your gift.
    Cletus...Fredericksburg, Texas

  9. I am transported through time...and it lasts well beyond just when I'm reading the story! So many old adventures put me in the mindset of what it was like when the rivers were the major routes of travel, and commerce. It's been too long now since I've been out in either of my canoes. Got a light little fiberglass runner that's finished to look like birch bark, and a great big Old Towne with two sets of oar locks! Old Towne's got a squared stern that you can put up to a 5 horse motor on, but I never went that route. Canoes are s'posed to be quiet, peaceful craft!

    Anyhow, the spirits of the ancient navigators of the inland waterways hadn't been even whispering to me in recent years, and had certainly not been singing the old French paddling songs! Suddenly now they're back, thanks to you, Sarge! Funny thing, I hadn't even realized I'd been missing them until now, and that's a damned shame.

    Alouette, gentille alouette,
    Alouette, je te plumerai.

    I used to love singing that while paddling. Folks either smile and wave, or look at ya like yer retarded or sumpin'.

    Thank you Sarge, from the bottom of my heart, for the resurrection of those ancient spirits!

    1. I am quite pleased to have sparked some pleasant memories for you. Parts of this story are taking me back to a time I'd forgotten as well, and missed very much.

  10. It is often odd how people of different cultures and languages can form a bond over a common interest. Well done, Sarge.

  11. Looking like another good story, Sarge!
    A couple of corrections needed - one in the third section, another in the fourth:

    "though he pronounced it differently then the Wyandot did, it was very close." "then" should be "than"

    "Tall Elk allowed himself a small grin, he took an almost immediately liking to these two français". "immediately" should be "immediate"

    1. Ah, to think faster than I can type... Then to miss an obvious error...

      It also pays to look at the entire sentence after restructuring it, which I do often, gotta remember to need change ALL of the words, not most of 'em. (That's where the immediacy of what I was doing tripped me up. 🙄)


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.