Attack in the Woods
In the morning, Joseph woke early and knelt in his cabin to dedicate himself to God as was his daily custom. Marie Aonetta joined him in prayer, clenching her hands tightly when she heard him say,
"I thank You for the hardships we suffer. One clings less to life when one is in affliction. At last now, I no longer fear death. I shall rejoice when I am at the point of death."
Joseph stood, towering over his wife. He patted her head and whispered, "I shall start walking toward Sainte Marie to meet Echon."
Halfway between Ossosane and Sainte Marie, Joseph Chiwatenwa saw the huge black-robed form of Echon. He ran to his friend joyfully, and as he stood under the warmth and love which flowed from Echon's clear blue eyes, Joseph felt as if he were a child who had just been led from the blackness of a cave to the sharp brightness of a cliff overlooking the waters.
"The years of your work are showing in your body, Echon. Your face is becoming lined and your head is almost bare on top, like the trees in late October." Joseph's voice held a trace of sadness.
Echon's blue eyes crinkled and the woods resounded with his laugh.
"I'm getting older, Joseph. I was born ten years before you!" Joseph took most of Echon's packages, and they began to walk toward Ossosane. "But now that I am well rested and my wounds are healed, I feel vigorous and strong--more like twenty-seven years old than forty-seven!" Again he laughed. "And how is everything in Ossosane?"
Joseph spoke of his family, and the bear hunt, and then ended with the latest news.
"We are preparing to move the village about two miles southeast. It will still be called Ossosane. The land is poor now. But because Marie Aonetta is so wise we shall have a good crop from our field, for she advised the women of our cabin to plant our corn and squash and pumpkin in a field never used before near the location of the new village. I have nearly completed the frame of our new longhouse, and-- Echon, I have a favor to ask." Joseph paused and turned his face to look up at Jean de Brébeuf. "It would make Marie Aonetta and myself very happy if part of my new cabin could be used for the chapel. The Blackrobes would stay at my cabin when they visited Ossosane."
"I think it is a fine idea," Echon said, nodding his head slowly. Then he became very serious. "Joseph, there has been much bad news lately. The nations of the Iroquois are forming war parties. Have the rumors reached Ossosane?"
Joseph nodded. "When our canoes came back from the trade at Quebec, our braves reported that the Iroquois had attacked many of the Algonquins."
"Do you know what might happen to the Hurons if the Iroquois keep on fighting?" "It will mean war."
"It will mean extinction, Joseph. The Iroquois will destroy the Hurons because the Blackrobes have lived in your villages. The Iroquois have leagued themselves with the Dutch who give them supplies and firearms in return for their friendship. They find their friendship with the Dutch, and so the French become their enemies, with the Blackrobes doubly hated." Echon's voice softened. "I have one more cross to place on your shoulders, Joseph. I have heard you pray constantly for your nation. Yet, if your nation is destroyed by the Iroquois, it will be blamed mainly on the Christian Hurons--like yourself. You have kept us alive and tolerated by the nonbelievers, and the Iroquois will kill you because they hate us."
Joseph was silent as he thought of his people and then he said softly. "They could be killed because of the Faith? Then perhaps God would first give them the grace to be truly His martyrs."
But as a vivid picture of the Indian massacre and burning of a village crossed his mind, Joseph felt stunned. He was uneasy and trembled within as a premonition of the fate of his people shook his thoughts. In the next few days, as Joseph watched his people dismantle the village, an idea of his at first vague became real and insistent. He interrupted his work of salvaging the bark of his longhouse, and, excusing himself, he left the work in the hands of his brother Peter and the other three men of his cabin. Then he walked away in the direction of Teondechoren's long-house.
Joseph found his brother sitting cross-legged before the partially dismantled longhouse which he shared with five other families. Teondechoren was smoking from a highly polished new clay pipe, the bowl of which he had carved into the shape of a bear's head. He gave a slight nod when he saw his brother. Joseph sat across from him.
"Teondechoren," Joseph pronounced his name gently, "it is not right that my own brother does not share my cabin. We are moving our village. My long-house will be big and strong. There will be room for your fire. Will you come back and live with your own family, Teondechoren?"
Joseph's older brother took the pipe from his mouth and held it in his hands, staring at it. After a long pause of silence, Teondechoren raised his small dark eyes and looked into Joseph's face.
"You should hate me, Chiwatenwa. I have defied you, scorned you, laughed at you, and even cursed you. Why do you not hate me?" "Because I am a Christian, and I have learned that hate is the tool which the devil uses to help men destroy each others' souls. It is only love, my brother, which repairs the damage done by the devil."
Teondechoren put the pipe back into his mouth. He reached to his hip for his tobacco pouch, and as he began mechanically to refill his pipe, he said to Joseph, "I shall give you my answer as the sun goes down tomorrow."
The next day was the second day of August, 1640. Joseph left Teondechoren and went to the Jesuit residence where Jean de Brébeuf was sadly packing their belongings and dismantling the chapel.
"It was in this holy place where my wife was baptized," Joseph murmured, and many happy memories of this chapel rushed back to his mind.
"We shall need supplies from Quebec to rebuild our chapel in your new cabin, Joseph."
Joseph answered quickly. "I shall go to Quebec gladly. In two days the village will be completely moved and my cabin will be finished. I shall leave in three days for Quebec." "It may be dangerous."
"I am not afraid. I shall begin tomorrow to make a fine and sturdy canoe. But now, Echon, hear my confession and bless me."
The next day, Joseph felt gay and light, almost as if he could soar into the air like the birds which glided above the treetops. He joked with his wife and played with his sons and his nieces and nephews, glad that the joyful sounds of love caressed his cabin.
At noontime, after a light meal, he said to Marie Aonetta, "I am going to the woods to cut down cedar branches for a frame for the canoe I must build."
"Take our nieces as far as the fields so that they can bring home some squash for our evening meal," suggested Marie Aonetta, and then called, "Therese, Agatha, Cecelia."
Joseph looked at his wife. "All my sadness has gone. I see new dangers ahead, but they do not take away my joy. God is so good--" His voice faded, and as he smiled at Marie Aonetta, he shook his head and murmured, "Taouskeheati--it is a strange thing."
As Joseph and the three girls walked gaily to the fields, he asked Therese, "Have you thought any more about going to live with the good Mothers in Quebec?"
Therese nodded excitedly, her black eyes shining, "Yes, and it is my wish--my only wish." "Then I promise to take you to the Ursulines." As they walked the distance to the fields, Joseph talked to the girls about the goodness of God. When they reached the garden and saw how rich the yield was, Joseph said, "Let us kneel and thank God for these good things which He gives us. It is the very least that we can do since He continues His blessings upon us without end."
After they prayed, Joseph helped the girls pick some squashes, and then he said, "Go straight home to our cabin. I shall be back long before the sun fades."
Joseph walked away from the fields and went into the forest nearby. He became absorbed in his work of selecting the right cedar branches to make a light but sturdy frame for the canoe.
He had made many canoes, and it always gave him satisfaction to lash the pieces of bark together over the frame and to seal the seams with resin and flame. For now one had made a vessel of freedom and power. A canoe could take him far out on the lake where the big fish could not escape the barbed harpoon. A canoe could carry him over the rough waters to Quebec for the trade and a look at another world.
Joseph's left-hand fingers clenched the curved cedar branches, while those of his right hand grasped a long knife. He began to hack at the branches to weaken them before he bore down with his weight to break them from the log of the tree.
He had nearly enough branches when he heard a rustling sound nearby. Instinctively his body tensed, but before he could turn, a screeching war cry pierced his ears and an Indian attacked him from behind, his heavy arms circling Joseph's neck, trying to cut off his breath.
There was another war cry and Joseph saw a second Indian coming toward him menacingly with a hatchet held high.
Joseph, still clenching his knife, brought his arm down and cut his attacker in the leg. The vise around his neck loosened and Joseph was free in an instant. Now the second Indian ran to him, and Joseph began to fight for his life.
The Indian he had wounded backed away from the two struggling men. He took a long spear from the quiver over his shoulder, and limped toward the fighters who were on the ground.
Joseph was cut and perspiring, but he managed to pin his enemy down to the earth with the weight of his body. Joseph raised his right arm. His knife blade flashed.
Joseph raised his arm and his knife blade flashed
At that instant, the Indian who was behind him aimed his spear between Joseph's shoulder blades and threw it with all his strength. The weapon plunged deeply into Joseph's body.
As Joseph fell, the Indian on the ground raised himself, and twice struck Joseph's head with his hatchet. Joseph died instantly.
Before they left, his two attackers cut a circle around Joseph's head, and pulling his hair, ripped their trophy from his bones. A Christian scalp was a special prize.
Late in the day, near sundown, Teondechoren came to Joseph's nearly dismantled cabin.
"Aonetta," he said, his voice gruff, but shaved of his usual cynicism, "Where is my brother Chiwa-tenwa?"
Marie Aonetta's brow was wrinkled in a frown. Her voice was trembling.
"Teondechoren, I am so worried about him. He left early in the day for the woods to break cedar branches for a canoe. He should have been back a long time ago."
Peter Saoekbata came up behind Marie Aonetta. "Will you come with me, Teondechoren? We shall search for our brother. My daughters were with him earlier. They have told me where to look."
The two brothers followed the path to the fields and then went on to the bordering forest. Since there had been no reason for Joseph to conceal his position, the brothers could easily follow his trail.
Teondechoren began to feel strange. His arms and back tingled as if the blood were only creeping in his veins, such was his premonition of danger. When he saw his brother Joseph, covered with congealed blood and lying face down with a spear in his back, he felt paralyzed, as if momentarily his own life had left him.
Peter knelt beside Joseph and tenderly touched him as he raised his voice,
"God--our Master--he lived for You, and he often said he would welcome death. We shall mourn for our brother Joseph but we are happy because we know that now he is in paradise with You."
Teondechoren bent on one knee. He was examining the trampled marks on the dry earth.
"There were two attackers," he said, pointing to several prints with his right hand. "Chiwatenwa fought hard." He clenched the spear and gently pulled it out of Joseph's body.
Then Teondechoren and Peter took two of the long branches which Joseph had cut and, lashing a long, rectangular piece of bark to these, made a stretcher. They picked up Joseph's body and laid it on the stretcher. Now they began the walk home with their burden and story of tragedy.
And all the while he walked, staring at the lifeless body of his brother before him, Teondechoren could hear Joseph's voice, talking, preaching, instructing, every word proclaiming his belief in and love for the God of the Blackrobes.
But mostly he could hear the words which Chiwatenwa had spoken to him a year before as they sat in front of his cabin--
". . . I want to tell you to rejoice when you hear the news of my death. On earth I can only pray imperfectly for you. But in heaven I shall be able to do much more. . . . Then I will use greater urgency with God, that you accept Him."
Was Chiwatenwa with that God now? Could it be possible that Chiwatenwa was, at this moment, praying for him? Teondechoren wondered.