If you will not believe me,” said Brébeuf, “go to our house; search everywhere; and if you are not sure which is the charm, take all our clothing and all our cloth, and throw them into the lake.”
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The Huron chiefs were summoned to a great council, to discuss the state of the nation. The crisis demanded all their wisdom; for, while the continued ravages of disease threatened them with annihilation, the Iroquois scalping-parties infested the outskirts of their towns, and murdered them in their fields and forests. The assembly met in August, 1637; and the Jesuits, knowing their deep stake in its deliberations, failed not to be present, with a liberal gift of wampum, to show their sympathy in the public calamities. In private, they sought to gain the good-will of the deputies, one by one; but though they were successful in some cases, the result on the whole was far from hopeful.
In the intervals of the council, Brébeuf discoursed to the crowd of chiefs on the wonders of the visible heavens, — the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. They were inclined to believe what he told them; for he had lately, to their great amazement, accurately predicted an eclipse. From the fires above he passed to the fires beneath, till the listeners stood aghast at his hideous pictures of the flames of perdition, — the only species of Christian instruction which produced any perceptible effect on this unpromising auditory.
The council opened on the evening of the fourth of August, with all the usual ceremonies; and the night was spent in discussing questions of treaties and alliances, with a deliberation and good sense which the Jesuits could not help admiring. [Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1638, 38.] A few days after, the assembly took up the more exciting question of the epidemic and its causes. Deputies from three of the four Huron nations were present, each deputation sitting apart. The Jesuits were seated with the Nation of the Bear, in whose towns their missions were established. Like all important councils, the session was held at night. It was a strange scene. The light of the fires flickered aloft into the smoky vault and among the soot-begrimed rafters of the great council- house,  and cast an uncertain gleam on the wild and dejected throng that filled the platforms and the floor. “I think I never saw anything more lugubrious,” writes Le Mercier: “they looked at each other like so many corpses, or like men who already feel the terror of death. When they spoke, it was only with sighs, each reckoning up the sick and dead of his own family. All this was to excite each other to vomit poison against us.”
[1 It must have been the house of a chief. The Hurons, unlike some other tribes, had no houses set apart for public occasions.]
A grisly old chief, named Ontitarac, withered with age and stone-blind, but renowned in past years for eloquence and counsel, opened the debate in a loud, though tremulous voice. First he saluted each of the three nations present, then each of the chiefs in turn, — congratulated them that all were there assembled to deliberate on a subject of the last importance to the public welfare, and exhorted them to give it a mature and calm consideration. Next rose the chief whose office it was to preside over the Feast of the Dead. He painted in dismal colors the woeful condition of the country, and ended with charging it all upon the sorceries of the Jesuits. Another old chief followed him. “My brothers,” he said, “you know well that I am a war-chief, and very rarely speak except in councils of war; but I am compelled to speak now, since nearly all the other chiefs are dead, and I must utter what is in my heart before I follow them to the grave. Only two of my family are left alive, and perhaps even these will not long escape the fury of the pest. I have seen other diseases ravaging the country, but nothing that could compare with this. In two or three moons we saw their end: but now we have suffered for a year and more, and yet the evil does not abate. And what is worst of all, we have not yet discovered its source.” Then, with words of studied moderation, alternating with bursts of angry invective, he proceeded to accuse the Jesuits of causing, by their sorceries, the unparalleled calamities that afflicted them; and in support of his charge he adduced a prodigious mass of evidence. When he had spent his eloquence, Brébeuf rose to reply, and in a few words exposed the absurdities of his statements; whereupon another accuser brought a new array of charges. A clamor soon arose from the whole assembly, and they called upon Brébeuf with one voice to give up a certain charmed cloth which was the cause of their miseries. In vain the missionary protested that he had no such cloth. The clamor increased.
“If you will not believe me,” said Brébeuf, “go to our house; search everywhere; and if you are not sure which is the charm, take all our clothing and all our cloth, and throw them into the lake.”
“Sorcerers always talk in that way,” was the reply.
“Then what will you have me say?” demanded Brébeuf.
“Tell us the cause of the pest.”
Brébeuf replied to the best of his power, mingling his explanations with instructions in Christian doctrine and exhortations to embrace the Faith. He was continually interrupted; and the old chief, Ontitarac, still called upon him to produce the charmed cloth. Thus the debate continued till after midnight, when several of the assembly, seeing no prospect of a termination, fell asleep, and others went away. One old chief, as he passed out said to Brébeuf, “If some young man should split your head, we should have nothing to say.” The priest still continued to harangue the diminished conclave on the necessity of obeying God and the danger of offending Him, when the chief of Ossossané called out impatiently, “What sort of men are these? They are always saying the same thing, and repeating the same words a hundred times. They are never done with telling us about their Oki, and what he demands and what he forbids, and Paradise and Hell.” [The above account of the council is drawn from Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1638, Chap. II. See also Bressani, Relation Abrégée, 163.]
“Here was the end of this miserable council,” writes Le Mercier; . . . “and if less evil came of it than was designed, we owe it, after God, to the Most Holy Virgin, to whom we had made a vow of nine masses in honor of her immaculate conception.”
The Fathers had escaped for the time; but they were still in deadly peril. They had taken pains to secure friends in private, and there were those who were attached to their interests; yet none dared openly take their part. The few converts they had lately made came to them in secret, and warned them that their death was determined upon. Their house was set on fire; in public, every face was averted from them; and a new council was called to pronounce the decree of death. They appeared before it with a front of such unflinching assurance, that their judges, Indian-like, postponed the sentence. Yet it seemed impossible that they should much longer escape. Brébeuf, therefore, wrote a letter of farewell to his Superior, Le Jeune, at Quebec, and confided it to some converts whom he could trust, to be carried by them to its destination.
“We are perhaps,” he says, “about to give our blood and our lives in the cause of our Master, Jesus Christ. It seems that His goodness will accept this sacrifice, as regards me, in expiation of my great and numberless sins, and that He will thus crown the past services and ardent desires of all our Fathers here. . . . Blessed be His name forever, that He has chosen us, among so many better than we, to aid him to bear His cross in this land! In all things, His holy will be done!” He then acquaints Le Jeune that he has directed the sacred vessels, and all else belonging to the service of the altar, to be placed, in case of his death, in the hands of Pierre, the convert whose baptism has been described, and that especial care will be taken to preserve the dictionary and other writings on the Huron language. The letter closes with a request for masses and prayers.
[The following is the conclusion of the letter (Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1638, 43.)
“En tout, sa sainte volonté soit faite; s’il veut que dés ceste heure nous mourions, ô la bonne heure pour nous! s’il veut nous reseruer ŕ d’autres trauaux, qu’il soit beny; si vous entendez que Dieu ait couronné nos petits trauaux, ou plustost nos desirs, benissez-le: car c’est pour luy que nous desirons viure et mourir, et c’est luy qui nous en donne la grace. Au reste si quelques-vns suruiuent, i’ay donné ordre de tout ce qu’ils doiuent faire. I’ay esté d’aduis que nos Peres et nos domestiques se retirent chez ceux qu’ils croyront estre leurs mei’leurs amis; i’ay donné charge qu’on porte chez Pierre nostre premier Chrestien tout ce qui est de la Sacristie, sur tout qu’on ait vn soin particulier de mettre en lieu d’asseurance le Dictionnaire et tout ce que nous auons de la langue. Pour moy, si Dieu me fait la grace d’aller au Ciel, ie prieray Dieu pour eux, pour les pauures Hurons, et n’oublieray pas Vostre Reuerence.
“Apres tout, nous supplions V. R. et tous nos Peres de ne nous oublier en leurs saincts Sacrifices et prieres, afin qu’en la vie et apres la mort, il nous fasse misericorde; nous sommes tous en la vie et ŕ l’Eternité,
“De vostre Reuerence tres-humbles et tres-affectionnez seruiteurs en Nostre Seigneur,
“IEAN DE BREBEVF
FRANÇOIS IOSEPH LE MERCIER.
“En la Residence de la Conception, ŕ Ossossané, ce 28 Octobre.
“I’ay laissé en la Residence de sainct Ioseph les Peres Pierre Pijart et Isaac Iogves, dans les mesmes sentimens.”]
The imperiled Jesuits now took a singular, but certainly a very wise step. They gave one of those farewell feasts — festins d’adieu — which Huron custom enjoined on those about to die, whether in the course of Nature or by public execution. Being interpreted, it was a declaration that the priests knew their danger, and did not shrink from it. It might have the effect of changing overawed friends into open advocates, and even of awakening a certain sympathy in the breasts of an assembly on whom a bold bearing could rarely fail of influence. The house was packed with feasters, and Brébeuf addressed them as usual on his unfailing themes of God, Paradise, and Hell. The throng listened in gloomy silence; and each, when he had emptied his bowl, rose and departed, leaving his entertainers in utter doubt as to his feelings and intentions. From this time forth, however, the clouds that overhung the Fathers became less dark and threatening. Voices were heard in their defence, and looks were less constantly averted. They ascribed the change to the intercession of St. Joseph, to whom they had vowed a nine days’ devotion. By whatever cause produced, the lapse of a week wrought a hopeful improvement in their prospects; and when they went out of doors in the morning, it was no longer with the expectation of having a hatchet struck into their brains as they crossed the threshold.
[“Tant y a que depuis le 6. de Nouembre que nous acheuasmes nos Messes votiues son honneur, nous auons iouy d’vn repos incroyable, nons nous en emerueillons nous-mesmes de iour en iour, quand nous considerons en quel estat estoient nos affaires il n’y a que huict iours.” — Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1638, 44.]
The persecution of the Jesuits as sorcerers continued, in an intermittent form, for years; and several of them escaped very narrowly. In a house at Ossossané, a young Indian rushed suddenly upon François Du Peron, and lifted his tomahawk to brain him, when a squaw caught his hand. Paul Ragueneau wore a crucifix, from which hung the image of a skull. An Indian, thinking it a charm, snatched it from him. The priest tried to recover it, when the savage, his eyes glittering with murder, brandished his hatchet to strike. Ragueneau stood motionless, waiting the blow. His assailant forbore, and withdrew, muttering. Pierre Chaumonot was emerging from a house at the Huron town called by the Jesuits St. Michel, where he had just baptized a dying girl, when her brother, standing hidden in the doorway, struck him on the head with a stone. Chaumonot, severely wounded, staggered without falling, when the Indian sprang upon him with his tomahawk. The bystanders arrested the blow. François Le Mercier, in the midst of a crowd of Indians in a house at the town called St. Louis, was assailed by a noted chief, who rushed in, raving like a madman, and, in a torrent of words, charged upon him all the miseries of the nation. Then, snatching a brand from the fire, he shook it in the Jesuit’s face, and told him that he should be burned alive. Le Mercier met him with looks as determined as his own, till, abashed at his undaunted front and bold denunciations, the Indian stood confounded.
[The above incidents are from Le Mercier, Lalemant, Bressani, the autobiography of Chaumonot, the unpublished writings of Garnier, and the ancient manuscript volume of memoirs of the early Canadian missionaries, at St. Mary’s College, Montreal.]
The belief that their persecutions were owing to the fury of the Devil, driven to desperation by the home-thrusts he had received at their hands, was an unfailing consolation to the priests. “Truly,” writes Le Mercier, “it is an unspeakable happiness for us, in the midst of this barbarism, to hear the roaring of the demons, and to see Earth and Hell raging against a handful of men who will not even defend themselves.”  In all the copious records of this dark period, not a line gives occasion to suspect that one of this loyal band flinched or hesitated. The iron Brébeuf, the gentle Garnier, the all-enduring Jogues, the enthusiastic Chaumonot, Lalemant, Le Mercier, Chatelain, Daniel, Pijart, Ragueneau, Du Peron, Poncet, Le Moyne, — one and all bore themselves with a tranquil boldness, which amazed the Indians and enforced their respect.
[1 “C’est veritablement un bonheur indicible pour nous, au milieu de cette barbarie, d’entendre les rugissemens des demons, & de voir tout l’Enfer & quasi tous les hommes animez & remplis de fureur contre une petite poignée de gens qui ne voudroient pas se defendre.” — Relation des Hurons, 1640, 31 (Cramoisy).]
Father Jerome Lalemant, in his journal of 1639, is disposed to draw an evil augury for the mission from the fact that as yet no priest had been put to death, inasmuch as it is a received maxim that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.  He consoles himself with the hope that the daily life of the missionaries may be accepted as a living martyrdom; since abuse and threats without end, the smoke, fleas, filth, and dogs of the Indian lodges, — which are, he says, little images of Hell, — cold, hunger, and ceaseless anxiety, and all these continued for years, are a portion to which many might prefer the stroke of a tomahawk. Reasonable as the Father’s hope may be, its expression proved needless in the sequel; for the Huron church was not destined to suffer from a lack of martyrdom in any form.
[1 “Nous auons quelque fois douté, sçauoir si on pouuoit esperer la conuersion de ce paďs sans qu’il y eust effusion de sang: le principe reçeu ce semble dans l’Eglise de Dieu, que le sang des Martyrs est la semence des Chrestiens, me faisoit conclure pour lors, que cela n’estoit pas ŕ esperer, voire mesme qu’il n’étoit pas ŕ souhaiter, consideré la gloire qui reuient ŕ Dieu de la constance des Martyrs, du sang desquels tout le reste de la terre ayant tantost esté abreuué, ce seroit vne espece de malediction, que ce quartier du monde ne participast point au bonheur d’auoir contribué ŕ l’esclat de ceste gloire.” — Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1639, 56, 57.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 10 by Francis Parkman
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.