"La Salle must be losing his mind," Aigron said.
Beaujeu nodded and took another puff. At this very instant, La Salle was bedridden with the fevers, so it was hard to argue with Aigron on that point.
"Then we need to make plans to ensure the safety of our ships and our sailors," Beaujeu said.
"Understood," Aigron agreed.
Then he reached for a flask of brandy to toast their treasonous alliance.
AS LA SALLE lay in his sickbed, the fact that his expedition was already fractured was the least of his worries. Surely, the lies he had told his king must have topped the list.
Specifically, to receive the funding necessary to the venture, La Salle had told Louis XIV three lies.
The first lie was that the savages in the new land sought conversion to Christianity. The truth was far from that--other than a few scattered pockets where the Jesuits had made inroads, the Indians had resisted any attempts at salvation. Second, La Salle had boldly claimed he could raise an army of 15,000 savages to stave off any attacks from the Spanish, who currently claimed the area. That was simply not true. The Indian tribes in America were scattered and warring among themselves. The third, and probably the most important, was his representation that the return to the mouth of the great river was a foregone conclusion. The truth was that his knowledge of the river came only from land--finding it from sea was an entirely different matter altogether. He clung to the hope that he could locate the muddy brown stain where the river mixed with the salty water of the gulf. And that would prove as easy as finding a pin in a hayfield the size of Belgium.
The date was December 1684, two months after their arrival in Hispaniola.
"I FEEL stronger now," La Salle said to Tonty, who sat in a chair near his bed.
Tonty was the son of a Neapolitan financier who was La Salle's closest friend and adviser. A French soldier until the loss of his hand to a grenade, he was now fitted with a crude iron device where his hand had been.
La Salle was still far from healthy. He was worried that, if the expedition did not sail soon, it might never make it off the island. Spanish buccaneers had already captured St. Francois, the expedition's thirty-ton ketch assigned to carry fresh meat and vegetables for the colony. In addition, the French sailors had spent most of the last two months in Haiti, drunk and disorderly. To compound the troubles, the settlers, who were tasked with forging a colony in the New World, were at odds with the sailors. Of the more than three hundred that had left La Rochelle, sickness and desertion had taken a third. And then there was the festering revolt by the captains. Word had leaked back to La Salle about the frequent meetings between them, and he feared the worst. The situation for the expedition was grim--and growing more deplorable by the hour.
"We must sail in the morning," La Salle murmured weakly. "We cannot wait another day."
"My friend," Tonty said, "if that is your desire, I will alert Captain Beaujeu."
Leaving the house in Port-de-Paix, Tonty descended the hill to the port. A stiff wind was blowing from the north, and the temperature, which usually hovered near ninety degrees, had dropped into the low sixties. Rounding a curve in the cobblestone street, Tonty stared at the three remaining ships anchored in the bay. The thirty-six-gun ship of the expedition, Joly, was farthest to sea. The Belle, a small frigate mounting six guns, was closer to shore. The 300-ton store ship for the expedition, L'Aimable, lay just off the docks at anchor. As the sun slipped behind the clouds, the water in the bay turned a midnight black. Tonty continued to the dock. Once there, he boarded one of L'Aimable's launches for the short ride out to the vessel.
Captain Aigron had been alerted by the lookout that Tonty was on his way out. Defiantly, instead of leaving his cabin to stand on deck as a show of respect, he remained below until Tonty was led down.
Reprinted from The Sea Hunters II by Clive Cussler and Craig Durgo by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Clive Cussler and Craig Durgo. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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