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1636–37.1 THE JESUIT ON HIS ROUNDS. 177 heard the wail of sick and dying children; and on or under the platforms at the sides of the house crouched squalid men and women, in all the stages of the distemper. The Father approached, made inquiries, spoke words of kindness, administered his harmless remedies, or offered a bowl of broth made from game brought in by the Frenchman who hunted for the mission. The body cared for, he next addressed himself to the soul. “This life is short, and very miserable. It matters little whether we live or die.” The patient remained silent, or grumbled his dissent. The Jesuit, after enlarging for a time, in broken Huron, on the brevity and nothingness of mortal weal or woe, passed next to the joys of Heaven and the pains of Hell, which he set forth with his best rhetoric. His pictures of infernal fires and torturing devils were readily comprehended, if the listener had consciousness enough to comprehend anything; but with respect to the advantages of the French Paradise, he was slow of conviction. “I wish to go where my relations ard ancestors have gone,” was a common reply. “ Heaven is a good place for Frenchmen,” said another; “but I wish to be among Indians, for the French will give me nothing to eat when I get there.”2 Often the patient was stolidly
1 Game was so scarce in the Huron country that it was greatly prized as a luxury. Le Mercier speaks of an Indian, sixty years of age, who walked twelve miles to taste the wild-fowl killed by the French hunter. The ordinary food was corn, beans, pumpkins, and fish. 2 It was scarcely possible to convince the Indians that there was but one God for themselves and the whites. The proposition was met by such arguments as this : “if we had been of one Father, we should know how to make knives and coats as well as you." - Le Mercier, Relation des Ilurons, 1637, 147.
silent; sometimes he was hopelessly perverse and contradictory. Again, Nature triumphed over Grace. “Which will you choose," demanded the priest of a dying woman, “Heaven or Hell?” “Hell, if my children are there, as you say,” returned the mother. “Do they hunt in Heaven, or make war, or go to feasts ?” asked an anxious inquirer. “Oh, no!” replied the Father. “Then,” returned the querist, “I will not go. It is not good to be lazy.” But above all other obstacles was the dread of starvation in the regions of the blest. Nor, when the dying Indian had been induced at last to express a desire for Paradise, was it an easy matter to bring him to a due contrition for his sins; for he would deny with indignation that he had ever committed any. When at length, as sometimes happened, all these difficulties gave way, and the patient had been brought to what seemed to his instructor a fitting frame for baptism, the priest, with contentment at his heart, brought water in a cup or in the hollow of his hand, touched his forehead with the mystic drop, and snatched him from an eternity of woe. But the convert, even after his baptism, did not always manifest a satisfactory spiritual condition. “Why did you baptize that Iroquois?” asked one of the dying neophytes, speaking of the prisoner recently tortured:
PRIESTS AND SORCERERS.
"he will get to Heaven before us, and, when he sees us coming, he will drive us out."1
Thus did these worthy priests, too conscientious to let these unfortunates die in peace, follow them with benevolent persecutions to the hour of their death.
It was clear to the Fathers that their ministrations were valued solely because their religion was supposed by many to be a “medicine,” or charm, efficacious against famine, disease, and death. They themselves, indeed, firmly believed that saints and angels were always at hand with temporal succors for the faithful. At their intercession, St. Joseph had interposed to procure a happy delivery to a squaw in protracted pains of childbirth; and they never doubted that, in the hour of need, the celestial powers would confound the unbeliever with intervention direct and manifest. At the town of Wenrio, the people, after trying in vain all the feasts, dances, and preposterous ceremonies by which their medicinemen sought to stop the pest, resolved to essay the “medicine” of the French, and, to that end, called the priests to a council. “What must we do, that your God may take pity on us?” Brébeuf's answer was uncompromising:
“Believe in Him; keep His commandments; abjure your faith in dreams; take but one wife, and be true to her; give up your superstitious feasts; renounce your assemblies of debauchery; eat no human flesh; never give feasts to demons; and make a vow, that, if God will deliver you from this pest, you will build a chapel to offer Him thanksgiving and praise.” 1
· Most of the above traits are drawn from Le Mercier's report of 1637. The rest are from Brébeuf.
2 Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 89. Another woman was delivered on touching a relic of St. Ignatius. Ibid., 90.
The terms were too hard. They would fain bargain to be let off with building the chapel alone; but Brébeuf would bate them nothing, and the council broke up in despair.
At Ossossané, a few miles distant, the people, in a frenzy of terror, accepted the conditions, and promised to renounce their superstitions and reform their manners. It was a labor of Hercules, a cleansing of Augean stables; but the scared savages were ready to make any promise that might stay the pestilence. One of their principal sorcerers proclaimed in a loud voice through the streets of the town that the God of the French was their master, and that thenceforth all must live according to His will. “What consolation,” exclaims Le Mercier, “to see God glorified by the lips of an imp of Satan!”?
Their joy was short. The proclamation was on the twelfth of December. On the twenty-first, a noted sorcerer came to Ossossané. He was of a dwarfish, hump-backed figure, — mostrare among this symmetrical people, — with a vicious face, and a dress consisting of a torn and shabby robe of beaver-skin.
· Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 114, 116 (Cramoisy). ? Ibid., 127. 128 (Cramoisy).
THE MAGICIAN'S PRESCRIPTION.
Scarcely had he arrived, when, with ten or twelve other savages, he ensconced himself in a kennel of bark made for the occasion. In the midst were placed several stones, heated red-hot. On these the sorcerer threw tobacco, producing a stifling fumigation; in the midst of which, for a full half-hour, he sang, at the top of his throat, those boastful, yet meaningless, rhapsodies of which Indian magical songs are composed. Then came a grand “medicinefeast;" and the disappointed Jesuits saw plainly that the objects of their spiritual care, unwilling to throw away any chance of cure, were bent on invoking aid from God and the Devil at once.
The hump-backed sorcerer became a thorn in the side of the Fathers, who more than half believed his own account of his origin. He was, he said, not a man, but an oki, — a spirit, or, as the priests rendered it, a demon, — and had dwelt with other okies under the earth, when the whim seized him to become a man. Therefore he ascended to the upper world, in company with a female spirit. They hid beside a path, and, when they saw a woman passing, they entered her womb. After a time they were born, but not until the male oki had quarrelled with and strangled his female companion, who came dead into the world. The character of the sorcerer seems to have comported reasonably well with this story of his origin. He pretended to have an absolute control
1 Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 72 (Cramoisy). This “petit sorcier" is often mentioned elsewhere.