The Demon Strikes!
The dread plague of smallpox crept into all of the Huron villages, striking the men, the women, the young and the old. Cries of pain and horror and fear cut into human hearts, and those who were well resorted to fantastic measures in the effort to scare away the demon which had caused this terrible disaster.
In the Cord capital, Jean de Brébeuf felt a hollowness within him. It was caused by the certain knowledge that much of his work--perhaps all of it-- would be destroyed. For even those who were sympathetic to Christianity were reverting to their wild superstitions, so crazed were they by fear.
And what about his converts? Would Matthias Aochiati and the thirty other Christians he and Joseph Chiwatenwa had instructed remain faithful to the One True God?
Echon walked among the cabins. The ground was dry with a powdery crust, sprinkled with scattered, brittle leaves and bits of twigs from the nearly bare trees which would soon be covered by a cloak of snow.
His robe brushed against the deerskin dress of a child, and she backed away from the Blackrobe, screaming, "The sorcerer touched me. Now I shall die!"
Echon followed her into the cabin. Those within jeered at him. In the past. Father de Brébeuf had been able to ignore the cabin stenches caused by the body odors, dried or moldy fish, and chimneyless fires. But this day he struggled to control his nausea as the foul-smelling odor of the hot, close, dark cabin surrounded him.
"Let me help you take care of your sick ones," he begged.
They turned their backs on him and would not answer. Echon saw a mother squatting on a mat next to her sore-covered son. She was feeding him from a bark bowl, using a little bark scoop. First she would give her son a mouthful of sagamite, and then she would eat, using the same utensils.
"You are causing the disease to spread," Father de Brébeuf said. "You must put your sick ones in a cabin apart. You must not use the same bowls--"
A scream interrupted him. A young brave, his eyes wild, ran toward Father de Brébeuf.
'"You are the sorcerer who has caused our sickness, and now you want us to abandon our sick ones!"
He grabbed his knife from the belt at his waist and lunged at the tall priest. De Brébeuf grabbed his arms, and clenching them with all his strength, forced the young man to calm down. He released his hold and stood there, facing the hatred in the eyes of the youth.
The young brave squinted until his eyes were slits. "We know now how you caused the illness." The cabin was quiet.
"That is not the truth. I have not caused the sickness," protested Father de Brébeuf. "I have no power. I am only an 'ox'"--he was referring to the meaning of his name, the French de Brébeuf--"and I am fit only to bear burdens."
The youth's bare chest heaved. "The Blackrobes go to the banks of the water. They unfold their books and sparks fly out. It is these sparks which cause the sickness!"
Suddenly the cabin was filled with shrieks and screams and threats, and Jean de Brébeuf knew it would be wise to leave.
He walked back to the miserable little cabin which he shared with Father Chastellain. The crucifix before the cabin had been knocked down and splintered in pieces by hatchets.
Father de Brébeuf's heart began to pound. Had Father Pierre been attacked? He rushed into the cabin. Father Chastellain was kneeling on the floor, sorting out their belongings which had been ripped, broken, mutilated, or destroyed. "Pierre--are you all right?"
Pierre Chastellain turned and faced his fellow Jesuit. His lean face was scratched, and his beard was matted with dried blood. His dark brown hair fell over his forehead in disarray, and his robe was slashed. For the first time. Father de Brébeuf noticed the purple half circles under the young priest's eyes, the marks of strained days and sleepless nights.
"Yes, Father, I am all right. They did not kill me. I think they only meant to scare me."
Jean de Brébeuf felt the sting of pain. "Pierre," he said. "It may be that we have merited martyrdom." He knelt down to help the young priest put the cabin in order, and his heart ached that Pierre, and not himself, had felt the fury of the bruises on his body.
Joseph Chiwatenwa had been anxious to get back to the Cord village. The rumors were widespread that it had already been struck--and badly--with the plague. He was worried about Echon and Arioo, the Indian name for Father Pierre Chastellain.
The Cord village was alive with many fires and the loud noises of people in panic when Joseph arrived. In the space between two longhouses, he saw a "dance of the masks" to chase away the demons.
The braves had designed and donned head masks which would be frightening enough to scare away evil spirits. One brave was engaged in a pounding dance, his face painted red and slashed with white stripes; he was wearing a headpiece of deer antlers from which arrow points stuck out like a grotesque crown. Another had his face painted black with a head mask made from the skeleton face bones of a bear. One brave squawked like a bird, flapping his arms. He had bird feathers covering his face and head and arms.
They are turning to the devil in their ignorance, thought Joseph, as he backed away from the horrible sight of men who had disguised their humanity.
Joseph went directly to the Blackrobes' cabin. From the distance he could see that the cross was missing, and his bare feet picked up speed, lightly moving over the dry ground. Father Pierre was working inside, still trying to put the cabin in order.
When Joseph saw the wounded priest, he was greatly concerned.
"Arioo--where is Echon? You are both in danger. You must leave!"
Father Pierre smiled. "Now is when we must stay, Joseph. Many are dying, and among them are those who are receiving the grace to consent to baptism before their death. We would not be worthy of our priesthood if we deserted these souls now."
Joseph nodded his smooth dark head. "I will look for Echon."
He went out of the cabin and began walking among the longhouses and the groups of Indians who were occupied with their superstitions. Suddenly he heard his name called. "Chiwatenwa!"
Joseph turned. It was the gray-haired old chief, Ondihorrea, who had spoken.
"The chiefs are having a meeting in my cabin. You may come and tell your Blackrobe sorcerer what we decide about his life." His voice was full of contempt.
Joseph did not answer. He looked down at Ondihorrea, forming his full mouth into a determined line and throwing back his head. His well-drawn profile commanded respect, and the chief turned quickly and entered his cabin. Joseph followed him and remained standing at the entrance, a figure of strength.
"Are you ready to decide how to deal with the Blackrobes?" Another chief, colorfully outfitted in a feather headdress, had spoken.
Ondihorrea sat, picking up his pipe of tobacco. "The younger braves want to kill them." "No!"
The emphatic, loud dissent came from a pompous, heavy-set, middle-aged chief. "Echon and the Black-robes have brought us this trouble. Echon kills those whom he pleases to kill. So he is most powerful." He paused and took a puff on his pipe. "If we kill him and Arioo now, they will return even more powerfully from the dead and cause us greater harm." The sound of general agreement filled the cabin. Joseph clamped his mouth in anger for a moment, and then he spoke. "Lies--all lies! Do you think that they have left their native land, their loved ones and all they hold dear--just to come here and kill us? What would they profit from this?"
The chiefs looked at him defiantly, but Joseph went on. "God is angry with you because you have been instructed, and yet still you refuse to believe and obey Him. Look there for the cause of your troubles! Echon is not to blame."
From across the circle on the other side of the fire, a noble-looking chief answered.
"This man has spoken the truth. Wherever the Blackrobes have gone, disaster has followed, since few will abandon what God forbids." He squinted his eyes in thought. "My opinion would be that all the cabins should be closed to them. Or, if we allow them to enter, stop one's ears so as not to hear what they say. Then we will be less guilty, and God will not punish us so cruelly." "The great war chief of the Cord nation is too easy on the Blackrobes," Ondihorrea said. "We do not agree that we ourselves are the cause of the trouble. Echon is the sorcerer."
The chief who had first spoken now offered his solution. "We must not split the heads of Echon and Arioo. We must frighten them away as we do the demons. When they have been frightened enough, they will leave our village and the sickness will be over."
This suggestion was approved unanimously, though Joseph noticed that the war chief remained silent. He was the last to leave, and Joseph waited for him.
"Do you know where Echon is?" The war chief pointed to a cabin in the distance. Joseph went directly to the cabin to warn Echon that the Indians would begin a reign of terror against him and Arioo. He found Echon kneeling next to a man who was covered with festering sores and lying on his mat. The giant priest had a bowlful of water and appeared to be about to baptize the dying man.
Suddenly, a little girl of about seven years sprang up, grabbed the bowl of water from Echon, and deliberately spilled it.
"You will not baptize him! I will not let you kill him!" She stamped and screamed and scratched at Echon.
Joseph ran over to her and held her. Echon looked down at the sick man. "I will get some more water." "No! I will suffer the flames of hell. My mind is changed. I do not want your baptism. I have prepared myself from my early youth to be cruelly burned. I will show my courage in hell!"
There was nothing Echon could do. He looked up at Joseph, his welcome tempered by the sadness of the moment.
Joseph Chiwatenwa and Echon walked out of the cabin. Before they could speak, they were bom-barded with heavy stones that rained down painfully all over their bodies. They looked at one another with silent understanding, walked slowly ahead, refusing to show any pain or weakness.
Then, as if from nowhere, a yelling, jeering, menacing crowd formed around them. Some shouted deaf-eningly in their ears; others made threatening gestures with their hatchets and knives.
Echon and Joseph still walked on, keeping their eyes straight ahead, ignoring their tormentors.
A yelling, menacing crowd formed around Joseph and Echon.
"We will go to Matthias Aochiati. They will not dare to attack us there," Echon whispered.
They approached the cabin where their few Christians lived, but before they came very close they heard shouts and noises which gripped their hearts.
"Oh, God--please--no," Father de Brébeuf whispered.
"Could it be, Echon? It sounds like the 'dance of the madmen.' "
They had their answer a few minutes later. The men of the cabin were stripped of their clothing, and their bodies were painted in bizarre designs. Each man acted as if he had completely lost his mind, for the more foolish the actions, the more effective the cure was believed to be.
Matthias was on the ground on all fours, barking and growling, pretending he was a dog.
"It is the 'dance of the madmen,' Echon. We have lost our Christians!"
At that moment, Matthias saw them. Howling, he bounded over to them. "We are marked for death because you have baptized us. But we shall call upon our demons and please them, and we will not become sick. I have publicly renounced all the Christian beliefs, and I shall fight against the God of the Black-robes!"
Joseph looked at Echon. The face of the priest was colorless, and his eyes were dull. His lips moved in prayer.
"It is my fault, Echon. I urged you to baptize them." Joseph clenched his fist and struck his chest which was bruised from the rocks which had hit him.
"The blame is not ours, Joseph," Father de Brébeuf answered softly. "Each man can accept God or refuse Him. But the choice is his alone."
They went away from Matthias, back to the Black-robes' cabin. When they were only a few feet away from the entrance, a wild brave rushed from a hiding place behind some bushes, his hatchet held high and menacingly in the air. "Echon!" shouted Joseph.
The wild youth stopped short and brought the hatchet down sharply, just inches away from Father de Brébeuf's head. Then he began to laugh, and still laughing, he walked away.
"It is not safe here, Echon. They are planning to frighten you away--but a wild one like this could kill you."
Jean de Brébeuf looked down at Joseph, and his blue eyes crinkled. "As you have said, Joseph, 'He is the Master of it.' " Joseph smiled and nodded.
"But you, Joseph, I order you to go back to Osso-sane--now! Stay with Marie Aonetta. She may need you."
Joseph Chiwatenwa walked away obediently, and Jean de Brébeuf entered his cabin.
Joseph had no way of knowing that a band of painted braves was waiting inside for Echon. They pounced on him, scratched his face, pulled at his beard, and punched at his eyes. When they managed to throw his great body to the earth floor, the Indians beat him with clubs and the blunt edge of the hatchets.
When Echon could no longer move from the pain in his body, they left him.