CHAPTER VII. THE SECOND VOYAGE - WINTER AT STADACONA
On returning to his anchorage before Quebec, Cartier found that his companions whom he had left there had not been idle. The ships, it will be remembered, lay moored close to the shore at the mouth of the little river Lairet, a branch of the St Charles. On the bank of the river, during their leader's absence, the men had erected a solid fortification or rampart. Heavy sticks of lumber had been set up on end and joined firmly together, while at intervals cannon, taken from the ships, had been placed in such a way as to command the approach in all directions. The sequel showed that it was well, indeed, for the French that they placed so little reliance on the friendship of the savages.
Donnacona was not long in putting in an appearance. Whatever may have been his real feelings, the crafty old chief feigned a great delight at the safe return of Cartier. At his solicitation Cartier paid a ceremonial visit to the settlement of Stadacona, on October 13, ten days after his return. The gentlemen of the expedition, together with fifty sailors, all well armed and appointed, accompanied the leader. The meeting between the Indians and their white visitors was similar to those already described. Indian harangues and wild dancing and shouting were the order of the day, while Cartier, as usual, distributed knives and trinkets. The French were taken into the Indian lodges and shown the stores of food laid up against the coming winter. Other objects, too, of a new and peculiar interest were displayed: there were the 'scalp locks' of five men - 'the skin of five men's heads,' says Cartier, - which were spread out on a board like parchments. The Indians explained that these had been taken from the heads of five of their deadly enemies, the Toudamani, a fierce people living to the south, with whom the natives of Stadacona were perpetually at war.
A gruesome story was also told of a great massacre of a war party of Donnacona's people who had been on their way down to the Gaspe country. The party, so the story ran, had encamped upon an island near the Saguenay. They numbered in all two hundred people, women and children being also among the warriors, and were gathered within the shelter of a rude stockade. In the dead of night their enemies broke upon the sleeping Indians in wild assault; they fired the stockade, and those who did not perish in the flames fell beneath the tomahawk. Five only escaped to bring the story to Stadacona. The truth of the story was proved, long after the writing of Cartier's narrative, by the finding of a great pile of human bones in a cave on an island near Bic, not far from the mouth of the Saguenay. The place is called L'Isle au Massacre to-day.
The French now settled down into their winter quarters. They seem for some time to have mingled freely with the Indians of the Stadacona settlement, especially during the month which yet remained before the rigour of winter locked their ships in snow and ice. Cartier, being of an observing and accurate turn of mind, has left in his narrative some interesting notes upon the life and ideas of the savages. They had, he said, no belief in a true God. Their deity, Cudragny, was supposed to tell them the weather, and, if angry, to throw dust into their eyes. They thought that, when they died, they would go to the stars, and after that, little by little, sink with the stars to earth again, to where the happy hunting grounds lie on the far horizon of the world. To correct their ignorance, Cartier told them of the true God and of the verities of the Christian faith. In the end the savages begged that he would baptize them, and on at least one occasion a great flock of them came to him, hoping to be received into the faith. But Cartier, as he says, having nobody with him 'who could teach them our belief and religion,' and doubting, also, the sincerity of their sudden conversion, put them off with the promise that at his next coming he would bring priests and holy oil and cause them to be baptized.
The Stadacona Indians seem to have lived on terms of something like community of goods. Their stock of food - including great quantities of pumpkins, peas, and corn - was more or less in common. But, beyond this and their lodges, their earthly possessions were few. They dressed somewhat scantily in skins, and even in the depth of winter were so little protected from the cold as to excite the wonder of their observers. Women whose husbands died never remarried, but went about with their faces smeared thick with mingled grease and soot.
One peculiar custom of the natives especially attracted the attention of their visitors, and for the oddity of the thing may best be recorded in Cartier's manner. It is an early account of the use of tobacco. 'There groweth also,' he wrote, 'a certain kind of herb, whereof in summer they make a great provision for all the year, making great account of it, and only men use it, and first they cause it to be dried in the sun, then wear it about their necks, wrapped in a little beast's skin made like a little bag, with a hollow piece of wood or stone like a pipe. Then when they please they make powder of it, and then put it in one of the ends of the said cornet or pipe, and laying a coal of fire upon it, at the other end suck so long that they fill their bodies full of smoke till that it cometh out of their mouth and nostrils, even as out of the funnel of a chimney. They say that it doth keep them warm and in health: they never go without some of it about them. We ourselves have tried the same smoke, and, having put it in our mouths, it seemed almost as hot as pepper.'