The Spotted Beast: Chapter 2, Kébec, July, 1633

Michael H. Varhola


Governor Champlain was in a foul mood.

Father Jean de Brébeuf couldn’t blame him. If anything, Brébeuf was even more upset. Everything he had come to New France to do was in jeopardy, but his Jesuit training and his disciplined nature militated against such outbursts.

The Jesuit’s gaze shifted from the governor to the open window or the residence.  The sight of burned timbers brought home to him again the harsh reality of the English occupation. The English!  They were gone now, Dieu Merci, but they were the root of it.  They had had shown the savages that the French were not all powerful.  They would never have dared kill a Frenchman otherwise.

The English had been gone a year, but that greasy, rancid odor peculiar to rain-soaked burnt dwellings still hung in the air.  They had fired the town and destroyed the crops as they withdrew.  They were worse than the savages. Their ignorance was willful; their perfidy intentional.

“I can’t let a savage get away with killing a Frenchman,” Champlain stated.  Brébeuf nodded solemnly. He understood the governor’s quandary. An Algonquin of the Petite Nation happened on a French workman washing his clothes by the river. For reasons that only a savage could understand (or so thought the governor), the Indian set upon him and killed him with one blow of his tomahawk. Champlain had captured the culprit and imprisoned him.  Now he planned to execute him.

“Is there any way through this maze? The Algonquins don’t want a war with us. They’ve offered gifts for their man’s release,” Brébeuf said.

The Jesuit knew that if Champlain executed the Indian who had killed the workman, as he felt bound to do, then every young Algonquin warrior along the Ottawa River would also feel honor-bound to kill a Frenchman in reprisal. If the French responded in kind, as they surely would, warfare would erupt all along the river. The possibility of that happening would destroy Brébeuf’s carefully laid plans.

“They’re worse than Corsicans, with their egos and their blood feuds and their reprisals,” Champlain complained.

“Their sagamores would put a stop to it if they could, but no one can really control those young ones. But if we accept their gifts, we might still be able to leave with the Hurons.”

“We can’t.” The governor was adamant. “We must set an example. If they can kill just one of us with impunity, then there is great danger for all of us. Once they cross that line . . .”

“But what I don’t understand is why that should affect how the Hurons treat us.” A hitherto silent Jesuit interjected. Father Antoine Daniel had been sitting quietly at the far end of the table, valiantly trying to absorb the interchange. “They’ve had nothing do with this either way – neither the workman’s murder nor the Governor’s decision.”

Brébeuf shifted his gaze to Father Daniel with his red-rimmed eyes and even redder nose. Unlike the others, who had served in New France prior to the English occupation, Father Daniel was new to the missions; he had arrived in Kébec only two weeks prior. He was struggling to grasp the issues involved. He was also struggling with a bad cold – a product, Brébeuf surmised, of close quarters aboard the ship.

“In a word, Tesawaadj. That one-eyed scoundrel from the Island is behind this, Antoine,” Brébeuf explained. “He is afraid of any direct dealings between us and the Hurons. He thinks our purpose is to cut him out of the fur trade. It must really have galled him to see this convoy of 140 Huron canoes, all piled up with furs, paddling past his island on its way to Kébec. He cannot stop them with force – so he uses trickery.

“How so?”

“He told the Hurons that the governor was angry at them. They had also killed a Frenchman - that traitor Brûlé who had gone over to the English last year. He warned them to turn back or face his wrath.  But there were some among the Hurons who still trusted us, and they convinced the others to continue on to Kébec.

“Now,” Brébeuf continued, “Tesawaadj is telling the Hurons that there are some Algonquins who intend to ambush them on their return home if there are any Frenchmen with them.”

“I don’t understand. The Hurons are powerful, even more powerful than the Iroquois.  What do they have to fear from the Algonquins?” Father Daniel frowned in puzzlement.

“It’s all about trade,” Champlain explained. “Huron power is built on trade. Warfare will disrupt that. That’s what the Hurons fear – a disruption of trade and the relationships on which trade is built. The young warriors don’t understand this. They cling to the old ways.”

“What if we offered to refer the decision to the King?  That would delay any execution by months. In the meantime, maybe we could leave as planned,” Brébeuf said.

“It’s worth a try. You may propose it to the savages, if you wish – but I doubt that it will satisfy them,” Champlain replied. “The influenza has put them in a foul mood. It has hit them hard, and they blame us for it.”

“Then it will be as God wills it. If we fail this year,” Brébeuf replied, “there is always the next. God’s plans are hidden from us. Even this delay may be a piece of a larger design.

“We have done all we could to send laborers to this field, and we are hoping for a great harvest — but it may be that the Master thereof doesn’t wish the sickle to be yet used upon it. If this is His will, we thank Him for it. If that is how it is manifested, then we will make good use of the time given us. We will study every day, morning and evening, the language of the Hurons.”

Brébeuf clasped his hands in front him and raised his eyes toward Heaven, making a prayer of the motto of the Jesuit Order, “Ad majorem Dei gloriam.”

“For the greater glory of God,” Daniel echoed.