Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE LABORERS. “There are just men whose conscience is so tranquil, that one cannot approach them without partaking of the peace which is brcathed out, as one may say, from their heart and from their conversation. Just in proportion as the solitary man continued speaking, I felt the passions assuaging in my breast, and even the storm of heaven seemed to pass away at his voice. The clouds were soon scattered so that we could leave our retreat. We issued from the forest, and we began to clamber up the ridge of a high mountain. The dog marched before us, carrying the extinguished lantern on the end of a stick. I held the hand of Atala, and we followed the Missionary. He turned around often to notice us, contemplating with pity (ur misfortunes and our youth. A book was banging to bis neck; he was leaning on a white staff. His form was tall; his face pale and thin, his expression plain and sincere. He had not the dull heavy features of a man born without passions; one could see that he had passed through evil days, and the wrinkles on his brow evinced the admirable scars of passions cured by virtue, and by the love of God and of men. When he spoke to us standing and immovable, his long beard, his eyes looking modestly down, the affectionate tone of his voice, every peculiarity about him was distinguished by repose and sublimity. Whoever has seen, as I, Father Aubry walking alone with his staff, and his breviary in the desert, has a genuine idea of the Christian voyageur on the earth.

•After a dangerous march of half an hour along the by-ways of the mountain, we arrived at the cave of the Missionary. We entered it through the ivys and the damp giraumonts, which the rain bad beaten down from the rocks. There was in this place only a ug of the leaves of the papaya, a gourd to draw up the water, some wooden buckets, a spade, a familiar serpent; and, on a rock which served for a table, a crucifix and the book of the Christians.

The man of ancient days hastened to kindle a fire with the dry vines; he cracked some corn between two rocks, and having made a cake, put it in the ashes to bake. When the cake was taken out of the fire, with a fine golden color, he served it for us all burning hot, with the cream of walnuts on a plate of maple. Serenity being restored to the evening, the servant of the Great Spirit proposed to us to go and take a seat at the entrance of the cave. We followed him to the spot which commanded an extensive view. The remains of the storm were thrown in disorder towards

the East. The flames of the conflagration kindled in the forests by the lighting still sparkled in the distance; at the foot of the mountain, a pine grove blown down laid embedded in the mud, and the river flowing pell mell carried along the soft white clay, the trunks of trees, the bodies of animals and dead fish, whose silvery belly one might see floating on the surface of the waters.

•Amid this scene it was that Atala told our story to the old Genius of the mountain. His heart seemed touched, and the tears fell on his beard. “My child,' said he to Atala, “it is necessary to offer your sacrifices to God, for the glory with which you have already escaped so many perils ; He will restore you repose. See how these forests smoke, the torrents cease, the clouds scatter: believe you, that He who can calm such a tempest, will be unable to appease the agitations of the human heart? If you have no better place of refuge, my dear daughter, I will offer you one amid the flock which I have had the happiness to call to Jesus Christ. I will instruct Chactas, and I will marry him to you, when he may be worthy to be your husband.'

‘At these words, I fell on the knees of the solitary man, shedding tears of joy; but Atala grew pale as death. The old man raised me benignly, and I saw that both his hands were maimed. At the instant Atala comprehended his misfortunes. The Barbarians!' she exclaimed.

My daughter,' replied the Father with a gentle smile, what is that, in comparison with what my divine Master has endured ? If the idolatrous Indians have tortured me, they are poor blind beings whom God will one day enlighten. I love them even more in proportion to the afflictions they have made me suffer. I was unable to remain in my country, where I returned, and where an illustrious Queen has done me the honor to wish to look on these slight signs of my apostleship. And what recompense could I receive for my labors more glorious, than to have obtained from the head of our religion the permission to celebrate divine sacrifice with these mutilated hands ? Nothing more remained for me after such an honor, but to endeavor to render myself worthy of it. I returned to the new world, to spend the remainder of my life in the Bervice of my God. Nearly thirty years have I been living in this solitude, and to morrow it will have been twenty-two, since I took possession of this rock. When I arrived in this country, I found here only wandering tribes whose manners were ferocious and whose life was extremely miserable. I have taught them to understand the word of peace, and their manners are gradually subdued. Now they live at the foot of that mountain. I have endeavored, while teaching them the way of salvation, to learn them the first arts of life, but without carrying them too far, and constantly retaining these honest people in that simplicity which constitutes their happiness. As for myself, apprehending that I would constrain them by my presence, I have retired under this cave, where they come to consult me. It is here that, far from men, I admire God in the grandeur of these solitudes, and that I prepare myself for death, which my old days tell me is near.'

“While ending these words, the solitary man bowed down upon his knees, and we followed his example. With a loud voice he began to pray, and Atala responded to his prayer. Silent rays still flashed on the skies in the East, and on the clouds of the West three suns shone together. Some foxes scattered by the storm, stretched out their black heads on the bank of the precipices, and one could hear the sensitive action of the plants which, drying in the breeze of the evening, raised again all around their downbeaten blades.

“We re-entered the cave, where the hermit spread out a bed of the moss of cypress for Atala. An oppressive weariness was visible in the eyes and in the motions of that virgin; she looked at Father Aubry as though she wished to tell him a secret ; but something seemed to hold her back, it may be my presence, it may be a certain modesty, it may be the inutility of the confession. I heard her get up at midnight. She searched for the solitary; but, as he had given her his couch, he went out to contemplate the beauty of heaven, and to pray to God on the summit of the mountain. He told me the next day, that it was sometimes his custom, even during the winter; loving to see the forests waving their leafless tops, the clouds flying along the sky, and to hear the winds and the torrents rumbling in the solitude. My sister was then obliged to return to her couch where she fell asleep. Alas! full of hope, I saw in the exhaustion of Atala only transient signs of lassitude.

The next day, I was awakened by the songs of the cardinals and of the mocking-birds, around their nests on the acacias and the laurels which enviroped the cave. I went out to cull a rose of the magnolia, and I put it, all moistened with the tears of the morning, on the head of Atala still sleeping. I hoped, according to the religion of my country, that the soul of some infant at the breast having passed from earth, would descend on that flower in a drop of dew, and that a happy dream would attract it in the bosom of my future wife. I went out again to look for my host, I found him with his robe wrapped up in his two pockets, a chaplet in his hand, and awaiting me seated on the trunk of a pine, fallen with old age.

He proposed to me to go with him to the Mission, while Atala continued sleeping; I accepted his offer, and we instantly took the route.

“While descending the mountain, I noticed the oaks where the Genii seemed to have drawn strange characters. The hermit told me that he had traced them himself; that they were verses of an ancient poet called Homer, and some sentences of an other poet still more ancient, named Solomon. There was I know not what mysterious harmony which linked that wisdom of the times, those verses eaten with moss, that old solitary man who etched them, and those old oaks which served him for books.

“His name, his age, the date of bis mission, were also marked on a reed of the Savanna at the foot of these trees. I was astonished at the frailty of the last monument : 'It will last some time when I am gone,' the Father answered me, “and will be always of more value than the little good I have done.'

From thence we arrived at the entrance of a little valley, where I saw a wonderful work: it was a natural bridge, like that of Virginia, of which thou hast perhaps heard people speak. Men, my son, especially those of thy country, often imitate nature, and their copies are always delicate : it is not thus with natnre when she seems to imitate the works of men, offering them models in reality. It is then that she casts bridges from the top of one mountain to the top of another mountain, hangs the ways in the clouds, spreads rivers for canals, sculptures hills for columns, and for basins digs out the seas.

"We passed under the only arch of this bridge, and we found ourselves before another object of astonishment; it was the cenetery of the Indians of the Mission or the Grove of the dead.") Father Aubry had permitted his new converts to bury their dead after their own custom, and to retain the Indian name of their burial place; he had consecrated the spot only by a cross. The soil was divided among them, as the common field of harvests, in as many lots as there were families. Each lot was a wood in itself, which varied according to the taste of those who had planted it. A stream noiselessly ineandered amid these groves; they called it the stream of peace. This charming refuge of souls was bordered on the East by the bridge under which we had passed; two hilis bounded it on the North and on the South; it was opened only on the West, where an immense wood of fir-trees uplifted themselves. The trunks of these trees, red, marble veined with green, mounting without branches almost to their tops, resembled lofty columns, and formed the peristyle of this temple of the dead; a religious tone reigned there, like the deep low moan of an organ under the arches of a church; but when we penetrated the depths of the sanctuary, we heard only the hymns of the birds, who celebrated an eternal festival to the memory of the dead.

27) Father Aubry had pursued the same policy with the Jesuits in China, who allowed the Chinese to bury their parents in their gardens, according to their ancient custom.

“While passing out of this wood, we discovered the village of the Mission, located on the bank of a lake, amid a Savanna blooming with flowers. We arrived there passing along an avenue of mag. nolias and holm-oaks, which lined one of the anxient routes, found among the mountains that divide Kentucky and the Floridas. So soon as the Indians perceived their Pastor in the plain, they abandoned their labors, and ran to meet him. Some kissed his robe, others aided his steps; the mothers raised their little children in their arms, that they might see the man of Jesus Christ, who wept. He learned while marching what had been going on in the village; he gave counsel to this, and reprimanded that one mildly; he spoke about gathering in the harvests, instructing the children, consoling the aflicted; and God was blended in all his conversations.

Thus escorted, we arrived at the foot of a large cross which was erected on the way-side. There it was that the servant of God was accustomed to celebrate the mysteries of his religion : My dear young converts,' said he while turning around to the crowd, 'a brother and a sister has arrived among you; and, to increase happiness, I see that d.vine Providence has yesterday spared your barvests; here are two extraordinary reasons for thanksgiving. Let us, therefore, offer the holy sacrifice, and may each one bring to it a profound nieditation, a lively faith, unlimited gratitude, and an kumble heart.'

"The divine priest then put on a white tunic of the bark of the

« PreviousContinue »