The Council Votes
From the cries of terror echoing among the trees, Joseph Chiwatenwa could tell that his own village of Ossosane had been struck with the smallpox plague even before he reached the palisade walls. Anxiety clutched at him as he thought of his family, and he ran the distance to his cabin, straining forward until his heart pounded and his chest hurt.
Everything was quiet around his longhouse--too quiet. Joseph walked through the entrance, gasping for breath from his strenuous run. His eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness inside after the brightness of the sunny afternoon.
He saw Father Le Mercier with Marie Aonetta, both bent over one of his sons who was lying on a mat. Joseph gasped in shock. There were two rows of sick ones lying on their mats, his sons, his brother Peter Saoekbata, relatives-- "Marie--Father--are they all sick?" His wife, thin and small in her loose modest dress which fell plainly to her knees, looked at Joseph. Her eyes were hollow from lack of sleep, and her tears began to flow when she saw her husband.
"Our cabin, and that of Rene were the first to have the sickness, and we have more sick ones in our cabins than any of the others."
Joseph went to her and knelt beside her. He searched her eyes earnestly. "And, my wife, are they saying that the Blackrobes have marked us for death with their baptism?"
Marie Aonetta bit her trembling lip for control and bent her head. Joseph took her hands in his own.
"We are in trouble, Joseph." Father Francois put his hand on Joseph's shoulder. "We have been told that our donne, Robert Le Coq, who was returning from Quebec, has died of smallpox. And now the Indians have spread the terrible rumor that before he died, this fine young man told them that we were indeed sorcerers who had come to this country to destroy the Indians. He is said to have told them that the demon we possess--which causes the disease--is a toad all covered with pits. We keep this toad concealed in the barrel of a harquebus which the workmen use in hunting!"
Joseph looked up at Father Francois. By now his eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the cabin, and he noticed for the first time that the priest's face was swollen, with purplish spots around his puffy eyes and chin.
"So you have been beaten, too! And Echon and Arioo are in great danger in the Cord capital."
A booming voice, calling his name, interrupted Joseph. "Chiwatenwa!"
"Could it be Teondechoren?" Joseph asked, frown-ing. He stood, releasing his wife's hands gently, and walked to the entrance.
"Now you know the truth, Chiwatenwa," Teondechoren taunted. "The Blackrobes kill whom they please. They themselves stay well, because they are masters of the disease!" "You still talk like a foolish child." Teondechoren laughed, throwing back his tufted head decorated with feathers. His body was bare in spite of the cold fall weather, and his skin was covered with splotches of red, black, and white paint. His eyes which were circled with white paint looked like two tiny black stones, and his hooked nose, painted in his usual red, gave him the appearance of a bird of prey.
"Your friend Rene has listened to me!" Again Teondechoren laughed, a jeering, triumphant sound.
Joseph rushed to his brother, then controlled himself. "I do not believe you," he hissed. "Rene is a good Christian. He would not be fooled by your madness." "See for yourself--believer!"
Marie Aonetta had come up behind her husband. "Go to Rene, Joseph. Maybe Teondechoren is right. Rene may be out of his mind with sadness. One of his sons died yesterday, and there are ten more sick in his cabin."
Joseph looked down at his wife worriedly, and left quickly for Rene's cabin. It was a sight of horror. Three of his children had died, and all he had left was his youngest, a daughter twenty years old.
The master magician was sprinkling water over her still form as he chanted. Teondechoren began a dance on the burning fire, his body crouched, his head back, showing a piece of burning wood held between his teeth, while all the time a chilling, moaning sound came from his throat.
Rene sat cross-legged, staring into the fire. His face was lined and drawn, the look of a man much older than his sixty years. His beaver-skin mantle accented his rounded shoulders.
"Rene," Joseph said sharply, "have you lost your mind in your sorrow?"
The old man did not take his eyes from the fire. "I spoke to God and said, 'I am but dust in your presence, and the sweepings of a cabin that is cleaned. All that I have, I offer You.' " "It has pleased God to take you at your word." "I had a dream. I was to make a dog feast. I did not obey the dream." His voice was a monotone. "My wife--Teondechoren--my relatives--have shown me that I was wrong to disobey my dream, for three of my children have died."
The sudden, hysterical crying of a woman rose above the superstitious chanting. "The sorcerer failed! Our daughter--our last child--is dead!"
Rene looked up from the fire. Tears streamed down his face. His body trembled, and he reached out his hand to brace himself against Joseph. He stood and walked out of the cabin, his bent body shaken with sobs. Joseph turned and faced Teondechoren. At that
Indians came by. They thought I would die any moment, so they stole all my belongings and left me.
"A miracle saved me. Last year I had found a poor native, sick and abandoned, and I took care of him till he was well. It was he who found me and returned my charity, and brought me here."
Joseph Chiwatenwa reported to the Fathers that the return of Robert Le Coq had caused a great commotion, and the news that he was alive was spreading like the wind through the villages.
"Thank God," said Father Ragueneau. "Now Robert is alive to deny the terrible stories which the Indians claim he told against us."
Joseph nodded, but in his heart, he wondered. He knew his people well. They were not quick to change their mind.
A few days later, Joseph knew what the answer was to the question of how the Indians would react to the reappearance of Robert Le Coq.
A great council was called of all the principal nations of the Hurons--the Bear nation to the north; the Cord nation to the south and east; the Rock nation to the center and south; and the lesser tribes, the Tobacco nation and another known as the Neutrals. "Now we know for sure that the Blackrobes are the most powerful sorcerers in the land," they said. "They have power over life and death. They gave the disease to one of their own, the Frenchman Le Coq. Our people reported that he was dead, but the Blackrobes brought him back to life. We must massacre them before they destroy all of us." The council voted.
The Bear nation, whose capital was Ossosane, decided, "We do not vote death."
The Cord nation defiantly said, "Death to the Blackrobes!" The Rock nation voted, "Death!" The Tobacco nation voted, "Death!" The Neutral nation voted, "Death. Death to the Blackrobes!"