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father had reared a great white cross, and at its foot the superstitious
Indians often laid votive offerings of strongly incongruous character.
Here he had lived and taught for many years, succeeding in instructing
his little flock in the French tongue, and in at least an outward
semblance of the Catholic religion. Even the rude trappers, who came to
trade at regular intervals, revered him, and lived like good Christians
while at the mission, so as not to counteract his teaching by their
lawless example. Here Père Ignace was growing old, and even this
grasshopper of a spiritual charge was becoming a burden. His superior,
at Montreal, understood this, and sent him an assistant.

Very unlike Father Ignatius was Père François Xavier, a man with all the
fire and enthusiasm of youth in his blood - just the one for daring,
hazardous enterprises; just the one to undergo all the privation and
toil of planting a mission; to undertake plans requiring superhuman
efforts, and to carry them through successfully by main force of will. A
better assistant for Father Ignatius could not have been found. It was
force, will, and intellect in the service of love and meekness; only
there was a doubt if the servant might not usurp the place of the
master, and the sway of love be not materially advanced by its new ally.
Indeed, if the truth had been known, even the Bishop of Montreal had
felt that Father Francis Xavier was too ambitious a character to reside
safely in too close proximity to himself; and engrossing employment at a
distance for him, rather than the expressed solicitude for Father
Ignatius, prompted this appointment. The results of the following year
approved the arrangement. The mission received a new accession of life;
its interests were pushed forward energetically.

Father Francis Xavier devoted himself to an acquisition of the various
Indian dialects, and to excursions among the neighboring tribes.
Converts were made in astonishing numbers, and they brought liberal
gifts to the little church from their simple possessions. Father
Ignatius had never thought to barter with the trappers and traders, but
his colleague did; large church warehouses were erected, and the mission
soon had revenues of importance. Away in the interior Father Xavier had
discovered there was a silver mine; but this discovery, for the present,
he made no attempt at exploiting. He had secured it to the church by
title deed and treaty with the chief who claimed it; had visited it and
assured himself that it would some day be very valuable, and he
contented himself with this for the present, and even managed to forget
its acquisition in his yearly report sent to Montreal. Father Francis
Xavier was something of a geologist; his father was a Florentine
jeweller, and the son had studied as his apprentice, not having at first
been destined for the church. Even after taking holy orders, Father
Francis Xavier had labored over precious stones designed for
ecclesiastical decoration. His specialty had been that of a gem
engraver, and his long white fingers were remarkably skilful and
delicate. This northern region, with all its wealth of precious stones,
was a great jewel casket for him, and he became at once an enthusiastic
collector.

Before the coming of his assistant, Father Ignatius had managed his own
simple housekeeping in all its most humble details. Now they had the
services of an Indian maid of all work, who had been brought up under
the eyes of Father Ignatius, and whom the old man regarded rather as a
daughter than as a servant. Her moccasined feet fell as silently as
those of spirits as she glided about their lodge. She never sang at her
work, and rarely spoke, but she smiled often with a smile so childlike
as to be almost silly in expression. Father Ignatius loved the silent
smile, and a word from him was always sure to bring it; but it angered
Father Francis Xavier more than many a more repulsive thing would have
done. It seemed so utterly imbecile and babyish to him, he had got so
far away from innocence and smiles and childhood himself, that the
sight of them irritated him. The young Indian girl had a long and almost
unpronounceable name. Père Ignace had baptized her Marie, and the new
name had gradually taken the place of the old.

One day, as she was silently but dexterously putting to order the large
upper room, which served Père Francis Xavier as study and dormitory, she
paused before his collection of agates and minerals, and stroking the
stones, said in her soft French and Indian patois, "Pretty, pretty."
Father Xavier was seated at the great open window, looking over the top
of his book away across the breezy lake. He heard the words, and knew
that she was looking at him from the corner of her eye, but his only
reply was a deeper scowl and a lowering of his glance to the printed
page. The silly smile which he felt sure was upon her face faded out,
but the girl spoke again, and this time more resolutely, determined to
attract his attention. "Pretty stones. Marie's father many more, much
prettier - much."

Father Xavier laid down his book. He was all attention. "Where did your
father get them?" he asked.

"In the mountains climb, in the mines dig, in the lake dive, he seek
them all the time summer."

"What does he do with them?"

"Cuts them like _mon père_," and Marie imitated in pantomime the use of
the hammer and chisel. "Cut them all time winter, very many."

"What does he do that for?" asked the priest, surprised.

"All the same you," replied the girl - "make arrow-heads."

"Oh! he makes arrow-heads, does he? Mine are not arrow-heads, but I
should like to see what your father does. Does he live far from here?"

"Marie take you to-night in canoe."

"Very well, after supper."

She had often taken him out upon the lake before, for she managed their
birch-bark canoe with more skill than himself, and it was convenient to
have some one to paddle while he fished or read or dreamed. She rowed
him swiftly up the lake for several miles, then, fastening the canoe,
led the way through a trail in the forest. The sun was setting, and "the
whispering pines and the hemlocks" of the forest primeval formed a
tapestry of gloom around the paternal wigwam as they reached it. Black
Beaver, her father, reclined lazily in the door, watching the coals of
the little fire in front of his tent. He was always lazy. It was
difficult to believe that he ever climbed or dug or dived for agates as
Marie had said, so complete a picture he seemed of inaction. The girl
spoke a few words to him in their native dialect, and he grumblingly
rose, shuffled into the interior of the wigwam, and brought out two
baskets. One was a shallow tray filled with the finished heads in great
variety of material and color. There were white carnelian, delicately
striped with prophetic red, blood-stone deep colored and hard as ruby,
agates of every shade and marking, flinty jasper, emerald-banded
malachite, delicate rose color, and purple one made from shells, and
various crystals with whose names Father Francis Xavier was unfamiliar.
There was one shading from dark green through to red, only a drop of the
latter color on the very tip of the arrow where blood would first kiss
blood. Father Xavier looked at it in wondering admiration, and at last
asked Black Beaver what he called it.

"It is a devil-stone," replied the Indian. "More here," and he opened
the deeper basket in which were stored the unground and uncut stones,
and placed a superb gem in Father Xavier's hand. He had ground it
sufficiently to show that it was in two layers, white and green; in this
there was no touch of red, but in every other respect it was the
handsomer stone.

"Will you sell it to me?" asked the priest. "How much?"

The Indian smiled with an expression strangely like that of his
daughter, and put it back with alacrity in his basket, saying, "Me no
sell big devil-stone. No money buy."

"What do you mean to do with it?" asked Father Xavier.

"Make arrow-head - very hungry - no blood;" and he indicated the absence
of the red tint. "Very hungry - kill very much - never have enough!"

"Then you mean to keep it and use it yourself?"

"No," said the other. "Me no hunt game - hunt stones."

"What will you do with it?" asked the puzzled priest.

"Give it away," said Black Beaver - "give away to greatest - "

"Chief?" asked Father Xavier.

Black Beaver shook his head.

"Friend then?"

"No," grunted the arrow-head maker - "give away to big _enemy_!"

"What did he mean by that?" Father Xavier asked of Marie on their way
back to the mission. And the girl explained the superstition that
Indians of their own tribe never killed an enemy with ordinary weapons,
for fear that his soul would wait for theirs in the Happy Hunting
Grounds; but if he was shot with a devil-stone, the soul could not fly
upward, but would sink through all eternity, until it reached the
deepest spot of all the great lakes under the stony gaze of the Doom
Woman.

When he inquired further as to the whereabouts of the Doom Woman's
residence he ascertained that she was only a sharp cliff among "the
pictured rocks of sandstone" of the upper lake - a cliff that viewed from
either side maintained its resemblance to a female profile looking
sternly down at the water beneath it, which was here believed to be
unfathomable. The Doom Woman still exists. Strange to say, under its
sharp-cut features a steamer has since been wrecked and sunk, and its
expression of gloomy fate is now awfully appropriate. Marie had visited
"the great Sea Water" with her father. Nature's titanic and fanciful
frescoing and cameo-cutting had strongly wrought upon her impressionable
mind, and the old legends and superstitions of paganism had been by no
means effaced by the very slight veneer of Christianity which she had
received at the mission.

From this evening Father Xavier's manner toward her changed. Her smile
no longer seemed to irritate him, and a close observer might have
noticed that she smiled less than formerly. He talked with her more,
paid closer attention to her studies, made her little presents from time
to time, and spoke to her always with studied gentleness that was quite
foreign to his nature. And Marie watched him at work over his stones,
spent her spare time in rambling in search of those which she had
learned he liked, and laid upon his table without remark each new
discovery of quartz, or crystal, or pebble. She had been in the habit of
making little boxes which she decorated with a rude mosaic of small
shells, and Father Xavier noticed that these gradually acquired more
taste and were arranged with some eye to the harmonies of color, while
the forms were copied with Chinese accuracy from patterns on the
bindings of his books or the borders of the religious pictures. Marie
was developing under an art education which, if carried far enough,
might effect great things. She even managed his graving tools with a
good deal of accuracy, copying designs which he set her, until he
wondered what his father would have thought of so apt an apprentice.

Suddenly, one morning in midsummer, Marie announced that she should
leave them. Her father was going on a long expedition for stones to the
head of Lake Superior, and she did not know when she might return. As
she imparted this information she watched Father Xavier from the corner
of her eye, and something of the old childish smile reappeared as he
showed that he was really annoyed.

The summer passed profitably for the Black Beaver, and he began to think
of returning to St. Ignace with his small store of valuable stones
before the fall gales should set in. He was just a few days too late.
When within sight of Michillimackinac a storm arose driving them out
upon the open lake, and playing with their canoe as though it were a
cockle-shell. When the storm abated a cloudy night had set in; no land
was visible in any direction; they had completely lost their direction,
and knew not toward which point to seek the shore. Paddling at hazard
might take them further out into the centre of the lake, and indeed they
were too worn with battling with the storm to do any more than keep the
tossed skiff from capsizing. Morning dawned wet and gray, after a
miserable night; they were drenched to the skin, and almost spent with
weariness and hunger, and now that a wan and ghostly daylight had come
they were no better for it, for an impenetrable fog shut them in on
every side. Marie and her mother began to pray. The Black Beaver sat
dogged and inert, with upturned face, regarding the sky.

The day wore by wearily; some of the time they paddled straight onward,
with sinking hearts, knowing not toward what they were going, and at
others rested with the inaction of despair. When the position of the
bright spot which meant the sun told that it lacked but an hour of
sunset, and the clouds seemed to be thickening rather than dispersing,
the Black Beaver gave a long and hideous howl. His wife and daughter
shuddered when they heard it, as would any one, for a more unearthly and
discordant cry was never uttered by man or beast; but they had double
reason to shudder; it was the death cry of their nation.

"We can never live through another night," said he, and he covered his
face with his arms.

"Father," said Marie, "try what power there is in the white man's God.
Say that you will give Him your devil-stone if He will save us now."

"The priest may have it," said the Black Beaver, and he uncovered his
face and sat up as though expecting a miracle. And the miracle came. The
sun was setting behind them, and in front, somewhat above the horizon,
the clouds parted, forming a circle about a white cross which hung
suspended in the air. They all saw it distinctly, but only for a few
moments; then the clouds closed and the vision vanished. With new hope
the little party rowed toward the spot where they had last seen it, and
through the fog they could dimly discern the outlines of the coast - they
were nearing land. A little further on, and a village was visible, which
gained a more and more familiar aspect as they approached. Night settled
down before they reached it, but ere their feet touched the land they
had recognized the mission of St. Ignace. The cross was not a vision.
The clouds had parted to show them the great white landmark and sign
which Father Ignatius had raised upon the little knoll.

The next day the Black Beaver unearthed his devil-stone, and fastening a
silver chain to it, was about to carry it away and attach it to the
cross, which was already loaded with the gifts of the little colony; but
Marie took it from his hand. "I will give it to the good priest myself,"
she said. "He may see fit to place it on the image of the Virgin in the
church."

A few days later Marie placed the coveted stone in Father Xavier's hand;
but what was his bitter disappointment to find that she had marred the
exquisite thing by a rude attempt at a delineation upon it of the vision
of the cross. She had carefully chiselled away the milky white layer,
excepting on the crests of some very primitive representations of waves,
and within the awkwardly plain cross in the centre of the gem. All his
hopes of cutting a face upon this lovely jewel were crushed; it was
ruined by her unskilful work. Father Xavier was completely master of his
own emotions. He took the stone without remark, and hung it, as Marie
requested, about the neck of the Madonna. Each day as he said mass the
sight of the mutilated jewel roused within him resentful feelings
against poor, well-wishing little Marie. He had been very kind to her
since he had first seen the stone in the possession of her father, but
now it was worse than before. He avoided her markedly, for the smile
which so annoyed him still lighted her face whenever she saw him, and
there was in it a reproachful sadness which was even more aggravating
than its simple childishness had been.

One day Father Xavier, in turning over his papers, came across an old
etching of Venus rising from the sea. The figure, with its outstretched
arms, suggested a possibility to him. He made a careful tracing of it,
took it to the church, and laid it upon the stone. All of its outlines
came within the white cross; there was still hope for the cameo. All
that winter Father Xavier toiled upon it, exhausting his utmost skill,
but never exhausting his patience. His chief trial was in the extreme
hardness of the stone, which rapidly wore out his graving tools. At last
it was finished, and Father Xavier confessed to himself, in all
humility, that he had not only never executed so delicate a piece of
workmanship, but he had never seen its equal. Every curve of the
exquisite-hued waves was studied from the swell that sometimes swept
grandly in from the lake on the long reef of rocks a few miles above St.
Ignace. The form of the goddess was modelled from his remembrance of the
Greek antique. It was a gem worthy of an emperor. What should he do with
it?

As the spring ripened into summer, ambitious thoughts flowered in Père
Francis Xavier's soul. What a grand bishopric this whole western country
would make with its unexplored wealth of mines, and furs, and forest!
Why should he be obliged to make reports of the revenue which his own
financiering had secured to the mission, to the head at Montreal? Why
should not his reverence the Lord Bishop Francis Xavier dwell in an
episcopal palace built somewhere on these lakes, with unlimited
spiritual and temporal sway over all this country? To effect such a
scheme it would be necessary for him to see both the King of France and
the Pope. He was not sure that even if he could return to Europe
immediately, he had the influence necessary in either quarter, but the
cameo was a step in the right direction. Something of the same thought
occurred at the same time to the Bishop of Montreal. Father Xavier's
reports showed the mission to be in a flourishing condition. The first
struggles of the pioneer were over. Father Xavier must not be left in
too luxurious a position. The Chevalier La Salle was now fitting out his
little band designed to explore the lakes and follow the Mississippi
from its source to the Gulf. A most important expedition; it would be
well that the Jesuit fathers should share in the honors if it proved
successful, and if the little party perished in its hazardous enterprise
Père Francis Xavier could perhaps be spared as easily as any member of
his spiritual army.

And so, in the summer of 1679, the Chevalier sailed up the Lac du
Dauphin, as Lake Erie was then called, into the Lac d'Orleans, or Huron,
carrying letters in which Père Francis Xavier was ordered to leave his
charge for a time in order to render all the assistance in his power to
the explorers. The Bishop of Montreal could never have guessed with what
heartfelt joy his command was obeyed. Father Xavier was tired of this
peaceful life, tired of "the endless wash of melancholy waves," of the
short cool summers, and long white blank of winter; tired of inaction,
of the lack of stimulating surroundings, of the gentleness of Father
Ignatius and Marie's haunting smile. Here, too, might be the very
occasion he craved of making himself famous and deserving of reward as
an explorer. It was true that he started as a subordinate, but that was
no reason that he should return in the same capacity. Marie had served
the noble guests with pleasant alacrity, passing the rainbow-tinted
trout caught as well as broiled by her own hand, and the luscious
huckleberries in tasteful baskets of her own braiding, and Tontz Main de
Fer, the chivalric companion and friend of La Salle, was moved like
Geraint, served by Enid, "to stoop and kiss the dainty little thumb
that crossed the trencher." The salutation was received with unconscious
dignity by little Marie; once only was Père François Xavier annoyed by
the absence of a display of childish pleasure in an ever-ready smile.

History tells how trial and privation of every kind waited on this
little band of heroic men; how hunger, and cold, and fever dogged their
steps; how the Indians proved treacherous and hostile; how, having
reached central Illinois, after incredible exertion, they found
themselves in the dead of winter unable to proceed further, and
surrounded by tribes incited against them by some unknown enemy. A
fatality seemed to hang over them; suspicious occurrences indicated that
they had a traitor among their number, but he was never discovered. La
Salle did not despair or abandon the enterprise; but when six of his
most trusted men mutinied and deserted, he lost hope, and became seized
with a presentiment that he would never return from his expedition.
Father Xavier was his confidant as well as confessor, but he seems not
to have been able to disperse the gloom which settled over the leader's
mind. Perhaps he did not endeavor to do so. Hopeless but still true to
his trust, La Salle constructed near Peoria a fort which he named
Crèvecoeur, in token of his despondency and disappointment. Leaving
Tontz Main de Fer in command here with the greater part of his men, he
set out with five for Frontenac, on the 2d of March, 1680, intending to
return with supplies to take command again of his party, and to proceed
southward. It was at this point that the most inexplicable event of the
entire enterprise occurred. Before the party divided _some one_
attempted to poison the Chevalier La Salle. The poison was a subtle and
slow one, similar in its effects to those used by the Borgia family; the
secret of its manufacture was thought to be unknown out of Italy.
Fortunately he had taken an under or overdose of it, and the effects
manifested themselves only in a long illness. He was too far on his
journey from Fort Heartbreak when stricken down to return to it, and was
mercifully received and nursed back to health by the friendly
Pottawottamies.

While the leader was lying sick in an Indian lodge, the knightly Tontz,
ignorant of the fate of his friend, was having his troubles at the
little fort of Heartbreak. Père François Xavier had remained with him,
and aided him with counsels and personal exertions; he had made himself
so indispensable that he was now lieutenant; if anything should happen
to Tontz, he would be commander. He was secretary of the expedition,
drew careful maps, and made voluminous daily entries in a journal, which
was afterward found to be a marvel of painstaking both in the facts and
fictions which it contained. Scanty mention was there of La Salle and
Tontz Main de Fer, and much of Père François Xavier, but it was clear,
explicit, depicting the advantages of an acquisition of this territory
to the crown of France in glowing terms, and strongly advising that the
man who had most distinguished himself in the difficulties of its
discovery should be appointed as governor, or baron, under the royal
authority.

While Father Xavier was compiling this remarkable piece of authorship,
the Iroquois descended in warlike array upon the somewhat friendly
disposed Illinois Indians, in whose midst Fort Crèvecoeur had been
built. The suspicious Indian mind immediately connected the advent of
their enemies with the building of the fort, and regarded the little
garrison with distrust. Tontz, at the instance of Father Xavier,
presented himself to their chief, and offered to do anything in his
power to prove his friendly intentions. The chief accepted his services,
and sent him as ambassador to inquire into the cause of the coming of
the Iroquois. This mission had nearly been his last, for Tontz was
received with stabs, and hardly allowed to give the message of the
chief. His ill-treatment at the hands of their enemies did not reassure
the suspicious Illinois, who ordered Tontz to immediately evacuate the
fort and return with his forces to the country whence he had come. In
his wounded condition such a journey was extremely hazardous, and it
must have been with grave doubts as to his surviving it that Father
Xavier took temporary command of the returning expedition.

It was in the spring of 1681. Father Xavier had been absent nearly two
years. Father Ignatius missed him sadly - all the life and fire seemed
have gone out of the mission. Even Marie moved about her work in a
listless, languid way, which contrasted markedly with her once lithe and
rapid movements. They had not once heard from the explorers, and Father
Ignatius shook his head sadly, and feared that he would never see his
energetic colleague again. The Black Beaver had slept through the last


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Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 6 → online text (page 6 of 9)