THE NEW JESUIT RESIDENCE AT OSSOSANE was a curiosity. The Indians stared at the big red cross sunk in the ground before the entrance. They shook their heads in surprise at the unheard of closing off of a room within for a chapel, and gaped worriedly at the two life-sized paintings of Our Lord and Our Lady.
The strangeness of the ways of the missionaries made the natives of the village nervous. They regarded the images as evil spirits, put there to cause their deaths. A weather vane, which the Jesuits placed in a fir tree, and a clock fascinated them. But again, in their superstition, they believed these strange things to be evil demons which would bring death.
To add to their uneasiness, the rumors continued that all the places where the missionaries went soon became plagued with sickness.
The tension mounted higher in early July when the master magician swaggered into Ossosane to the Jesuit residence and triumphantly called for Father de Brébeuf.
"Echon!" he shouted. "Now I have further proof that the baptism you preach means only death!" "You are speaking falsely," De Brébeuf protested. The sorcerer smirked. "Then explain to the Ouendats why the family of the one in lhonatiria whom you call Pierre has been stricken with four deaths! His wife, his daughter, his brother-in-law, and his niece--all dead--because of the evil act of pouring water on the head of that man!"
The Indians of Ossosane began to fear and mistrust the Blackrobes even more after this. In one cabin where Echon was refused entrance, the fear was so strong that the squaws even refused to use kettles given them by the French.
As Father de Brébeuf suspected, the influenza epidemic followed its normal course and Ossosane was stricken. Naturally, the Blackrobes were blamed for the sickness. "We were not sick until Echon came," was the common remark with all its implications to superstitious people.
In spite of the feeling against the Blackrobes, Chi-watenwa still came for his instructions to the residence lovingly named La Conception. He was like a drink of clear water after a long thirst, reflected Father de Brébeuf.
There was nothing of the native in this fine-looking man of thirty-four. He had said to Echon that first day, "You have spoken the answers that I longed for. Now I know God and never will I turn away from Him and His commandments which are so reasonable."
"Are you willing to live with one wife alone and not take a different one as your desire tells you?"
Chiwatenwa had .answered, "Aonetta is the only wife I have ever had. We have not followed the custom of changing wives."
"Will you give up the wild feasts, and your belief in the dream?"
"I have never attended such feasts; I have never used tobacco. I will no longer believe in the dream. I will ridicule my dreams." To find such a man as Chiwatenwa among the Hurons of New France was more than Jean de Brébeuf had ever expected.
Echon baptized the sons of Chiwatenwa and the children of his brother Saoekbata, but he did not want to hurry the baptism of an adult male. For if Chiwatenwa later renounced his beliefs, much more harm would be done to the cause of the missionaries.
By August the influenza hit Chiwatenwa's cabin, and Chiwatenwa himself was the first to be sick. After several days of being ill, he staggered to the Jesuit residence, burning with fever and dizzy from the sickness.
"I came to pray in the chapel," he explained weakly.
Father de Brébeuf watched him as he fell to his knees and heard him pray simply, "My Father, I accept my sickness if it is Your holy desire."
Echon went over to him. He looked at Chiwatenwa's face and could see that he was very sick indeed.
"Chiwatenwa," he said quickly, "do you want me to baptize you?"
The eyes of the Indian brave glowed. "It is not for me to decide. I have often testified to you that I believed. I have asked you a hundred times for baptism.
And now during the time of my sickness you have never come to see me when I have not said to myself, 'Why do they not baptize me? It is for them to arrange that, for they know too well that I shall accept it gladly.' "
In the dusky light of the chapel, the clean-cut profile of the Indian, his eyes on the altar, was outlined between the two life-sized pictures of Jesus and Mary. Instantly, all of Father de Brébeuf's hesitation vanished.
"I shall baptize you now. You may take the name of a great saint, Joseph."
Two days after the baptism, the crisis in his illness was passed, and Joseph, the new Christian, announced, "Since God has restored me to health, I am resolved to be very faithful to Him all my life. I shall so act that the others will know it."
As was expected, soon many people in Joseph's cabin were ill, but the most seriously sick was his youngest son whom Echon had baptized Thomas. Teondechoren came to his brother. "We have demons in our cabin and you are causing them to stay. I will do a dance of fire and my nephew will recover." Joseph stood tall and faced his brother. "No, I refuse. We do not believe in the old customs. We shall put our trust in God."
Teondechoren's eyes became tiny sparks of fury in his dark face. "You are a disgrace to your nation," he said, his voice low and menacing. He turned away and left the cabin.
Sadly, Joseph took his place next to Aonetta at the side of their dying son.
"Thomas, my dear child," he said low. "We are not the masters of your life. If God wishes you to go to heaven, we cannot keep you upon earth." But in his heart he begged, "My God, do not make a trial of my faith!"
Aonetta and Joseph kept their vigil through the night. Early in the morning, Echon came to the cabin. He arrived in time to bless the child before he died.
Joseph buried his head in his hands and Aonetta began to wail loudly for her youngest son.
"Echon," cried Joseph. "You taught me what I ought to say to God for his recovery. Tell me how I shall address Him now that my son is dead."
Father de Brébeuf felt his heart beat. How would Joseph react to his first trial--and such a great one? "Joseph, why should we question what God allows? He does not ask us to understand Him. He only asks us to love Him enough to trust and believe in Him.
He watched Joseph's face closely. The Indian put his head back and closing his eyes, he said strongly, "My God, I believe in You. My good God, I will honor You all my life and I will love You with all my heart."
Aonetta looked at her husband. "Chiwatenwa," she whispered, her voice dry and choked, "I believe, too-- Our son is happy in heaven-- Now I shall ask to be instructed for baptism."
On September I, the priests at Ossosane were filled with excitement and happiness. A new Jesuit had arrived at the village to live with them. He was Father Paul Ragueneau, not yet thirty, filled with a vigor and enthusiasm that was catching.
The four other Jesuits at Ossosane felt that Father Paul was just what they needed to make them forget their weariness. For weary they were. In spite of the fact that they spent all of their time tending the sick in the cabins, new stories kept cropping up against them all the time.
"The Blackrobes stabbed a child in the woods and this made other children die," said one.
"My dream told me that it is the Blackrobes who are bringing this misfortune," said another.
"A man returned to life from the Land of Souls and revealed that he met two women there who said that the Indians would have to burn the Blackrobes in order to cure the disease," said another.
Then the chiefs called a council and told the missionaries that they would have to come and defend themselves against the accusations.
Father de Brébeuf presented a cake of tobacco on a dish to them, as was the custom, and he and the other priests watched silently while the Captain and chiefs smoked their pipes. This, they said, was most necessary, for the tobacco gave them enlightenment as the smoke mounted to their brains.
"You are accused of being sorcerers who bring misfortune to us," began the Captain. "We are here because of love," De Brébeuf replied. A young brave interrupted. "We will burn you when you least expect it!"
Before Father de Brébeuf could begin his defense, another man ran into the midst of the council, proclaiming, "We are all invited to a feast, according to the dream of Ontironto."
Abruptly the council ended, as all of the Indians left to attend the feast.
Father de Brébeuf looked at Father Le Mercier. "There goes our chance to defend ourselves. They must attend their everlasting feasts!" he could not help from blurting out in frustration.
The Indian chiefs and the missionaries held a council
Just then an old chief passed by Echon and said loudly to the brave at his side as he stared straight ahead, "If a young brave becomes excited and splits their heads, we would have no control over that." He shrugged, glanced meaningly at the missionaries, and passed on.
A few days later, on October 3, a fire broke out in the Jesuit residence as the Indians had warned them would happen. The French workmen and the priests managed to put it out without much loss, but now they feared that the threats against their lives would be carried out at any moment. They had no one to turn to, for their Christian Joseph was away on a fishing trip.
By the third week of October, the danger was acute. They were denied entrance in the cabins; insults and threats met them everywhere they walked. Teondechoren came to Father de Brébeuf. "Echon--you must come to a council--now!" De Brébeuf went with him. The chiefs who sat around the fires smoking looked very solemn.
"The illness is spreading. All whom you baptize die--
"That is because we baptize only those who are already about to die."
"We believe you are evil sorcerers. We will vote on how to deal with you."
Joseph's elderly friend spoke out. "Chiwatenwa would not let you harm the Blackrobes." Saoekbata, Joseph's brother, grunted his agreement.
Teondechoren answered abruptly. "Chiwatenwa is not here."
The men bowed their heads, a sure sign that the missionaries were marked for death. The old man and Saoekbata alone dissented.
Jean de Brébeuf went back to his cabin quickly. He called the priests together.
"It may be that God is about to grant us the privilege of martyrdom. We must settle our affairs quickly. Father Charles--collect all of our altar vessels and vestments. Father Paul--take our dictionary and grammar notes of the Huron language. These must be kept safe to help those who will follow us. We will send these belongings to Pierre, our first Christian in lhonatiria. He will keep them safe, since our Joseph is away."
Father de Brébeuf walked to the corner of the cabin where he kept a small wooden chest. He opened the lid and took out a quill pen, paper and ink. He knelt on the floor, and using the bench along the side of the cabin as a table, wrote a letter to his superior:
Each of the priests signed the letter: Jean de Brébeuf, Francois Joseph Le Mercier, Pierre Chastellain, Charles Gamier, and Paul Ragueneau. Isaac Jogues and Pierre Pijart were still in the northern village, and Antoine Daniel had gone back to Quebec.
Jean de Brébeuf reflected upon their perilous situation. They were at the point of death. He recalled that an Indian nearing death arranged a feast--his Atsataion, his farewell feast.
On a sudden decision. Father de Brébeuf went out of the cabin and walked through the village, loudly declaring that all were invited to his farewell feast. It was the rule that only the one facing death could speak at his own feast, and Father de Brébeuf's strategy was that if he were indeed to be killed, he would at least give one uninterrupted instruction to the villagers of Ossosane.
The Indians marveled at the courage of the man. They came to the feast full of curiosity and listened to the instructions Echon gave and enjoyed the chanting of the priests as they sang their prayers in Huron. It was all so unusual and renewed such respect for Echon, that, like a dark cloud fading away, the danger passed. The Indians relaxed, and began to speak kindly of the Blackrobes.
Once again the villagers let the missionaries visit their sick with their meager treats--a bit of lemon peel, a few raisins soaked in warm water with a bit of sugar, or a little dried fruit. The Indians loved these French foods so much that when the store of dried fruits was gone, the Jesuits squeezed the paper wrappers in a little water to capture any flavor that might be left to satisfy the poor invalids.
Another crisis passed and over with, thought Jean de Brébeuf. What would be next, dear Lord?
Joseph Chiwatenwa came back from his fishing trip and Aonetta told him of the danger to the Jesuits which had just passed. He ran directly to De Brébeuf. "Echon, if I had been here--" Father de Brébeuf smiled and changed the subject. "We shall now prepare for the solemn baptism of your wife. She has understood our instructions well. And Joseph--how would you like to be united to your wife in a Christian marriage?"
For an answer, Joseph rushed to the chapel to thank and praise God.
On the eve of Aonetta's baptism, Joseph prepared a feast for his relatives and friends who were the most prominent people in the village.
"My brothers," he said, "I am pleased to have you know that my wife is entirely resolved to believe in God and to serve Him. From now on she abandons all the superstitions of the country forever in order to be baptized. As for myself, my sons and the children of my brother Saoekbata, we were baptized during our sickness. Echon will only finish certain things that remain to be done."
He ended his speech with a loud thanksgiving, wholly Christian in its thought.
Teondechoren sulked in the background, but Joseph noticed that his wife stayed close to Aonetta.
The solemn baptism of Aonetta attracted the whole village, and the Indians watched silently and curiously as the ceremonies began.
Suddenly, Teondechoren's wife broke through the crowd. Her eyes were defiant as she glanced back at her husband.
"Echon," she cried, "I, too, desire baptism!" Aonetta spoke out. "She has listened to all the instructions. She believes as I do."
Father de Brébeuf spoke with her quietly for a few moments, then he nodded his head. The sisters-in-law were both baptized. Aonetta was now Marie, and Teondechoren's wife was Anne. Father de Brébeuf then proceeded with the Christian wedding ceremony for Joseph and Marie, ending with a sermon to all on the beauty and logic of one woman united to one man in faithfulness till death.
"And now," concluded Father de Brébeuf, "I have a surprise for all of you."
At a signal from the giant Echon, the French workmen brought out a large supply of dried fish, and with delighted cries the Indians began the second phase of their feast.
The day had been so fruitful and so happy that Jean de Brébeuf was totally startled when he was awakened in the middle of the night by Joseph, who told him, greatly agitated, "Echon, come quickly! Our new Christian Anne is burning with fever!"
They rushed to her side. Teondechoren was loudly calling upon his charm to chase away the demon. Anne stopped him.
"Be quiet, so that Echon may speak to me of God and heaven," she groaned.
Teondechoren backed away, his eyes burning with hate.
Within forty-eight hours, Anne was dead. Teondechoren stood over her, staring, and then, throwing his arms in the air, he shrieked loudly. He was suddenly quiet and faced Joseph. Slowly, he pointed his finger at his brother.
"You, Chiwatenwa -- You have done this! You have plotted with the Blackrobes to destroy our nation." His voice grew loud. "Now I know beyond a doubt that Echon destroys whom he will with his evil baptism. I shall shout the news to all the Hurons. And no longer shall I live under the same roof with you who are a traitor to your people!"
Teondechoren turned his head abruptly away from his brother and stamped out of the cabin.
Jean de Brébeuf looked at Joseph. His face wore the deep pressed marks of suffering. In his heart Echon knew that for Joseph, the believer, this was only the beginning of many trials.