The Huron; or, Pupil of Nature/Chapter I
THE HURON ARRIVES IN FRANCE.
One day St. Dunstan, an Irishman by birth, and a saint by trade, left Ireland on a small mountain, which took its route toward the coast of France, and set his saintship down in the bay of St. Malo. When he had dismounted he gave his blessing to the mountain, which, after some profound bows, took its leave, and returned to its former place.
Here St. Dunstan laid the foundation of a small priory, and gave it the name of the Priory Mountain, which it still keeps, as everybody knows.
On July 15, 1689, in the evening, the Abbot Kerkabon, prior of our Lady of the Mountain, happened to take the air along the shore with Miss Kerkabon, his sister. The prior, who was becoming aged, was a very good clergyman, beloved by his neighbors. What added most to the respect that was paid him was that, among all his clerical neighbors, he was the only one that could walk to his bed after supper. He was tolerably read in theology, and when he was tired of reading St. Augustine he refreshed himself with Rabelais. All the world spoke well of him.
Miss Kerkabon, who had never been married, notwithstanding her hearty wishes so to be, had preserved a freshness of complexion in her forty-fifth year. Her character was that of a good and sensible woman. She was fond of pleasure, and was a devotee.
As they were walking, the prior, looking on the sea, said to his sister:
"It was here, alas! that our poor brother embarked with our dear sister-in-law, Madam Kerkabon, his wife, on board the frigate Swallow, in 1669, to serve the king in Canada. Had he not been killed, probably he would have written to us."
"Do you believe," said Miss Kerkabon, "that our sister-in-law has been eaten by the Cherokees, as we have been told?"
"Certain it is, had she not been killed, she would have come back. I shall weep for her all my lifetime. She was a charming woman, and our brother, who had a great deal of wit, would no doubt have made a fortune."
Thus they were going on with mutual tenderness, when they beheld a small vessel enter the bay of Rence with the tide. It was from England, and came to sell provisions. The crew leaped on shore without looking at the prior or Miss, his sister, who were shocked at the little attention shown them.
That was not the behavior of a well-made youth, who, darting himself over the heads of his companions, suddenly stood before Miss Kerkabon. Being unaccustomed to bowing, he made her a sign with his head. His figure and his dress attracted the notice of brother and sister. His head was uncovered, and his legs bare; instead of shoes, he wore a kind of sandals. From his head his long hair flowed in tresses, while a small, close doublet displayed the beauty of his shape. He had a sweet and martial air. In one hand he held a small bottle of Barbadoes water, and in the other a bag, in which he had a goblet, and some sea biscuit. He spoke French very intelligibly. He offered some of his Barbadoes to Miss Kerkabon and her brother. He drank with them; he made them drink a second time, and all this with an air of such native simplicity that quite charmed brother and sister. They offered him their service, and asked him who he was, and whither going? The young man answered that he knew not where he should go, that he had some curiosity, that he had a desire to see the coast of France, that he had seen it, and should return.
The prior, judging by his accent that he was not an Englishman, took the liberty of asking of what country he was.
"I am a Huron," answered the youth.
Miss Kerkabon, amazed and enchanted to see a Huron who had behaved so politely to her, begged the young man's company to supper. He complied immediately, and all three went together to the priory of our Lady of the Mountain. This short and round Miss devoured him with her little eyes, and said from time to time to her brother:
"This tall lad has a complexion of lilies and roses. What a fine skin he has for a Huron!"
"Very true, sister," said the prior.
She put a hundred questions, one after another, and the traveller answered always pertinently.
The report was soon spread that there was a Huron at the priory. All the genteel company of the country came to supper. The abbot of St. Yves came with his sister, a fine, handsome, well educated girl. The bailiff, the tax-gatherer, and their wives, came all together. The foreigner was seated between Miss Kerkabon and Miss St. Yves. The company eyed him with admiration. They all questioned him together. This did not confound the Huron. He seemed to have taken Lord Bolingbroke's motto, Nil admirari. But at last, tired out with so much noise, he told them in a sweet but serious tone:
"Gentlemen, in my country one talks after another. How can I answer you if you will not allow me to hear you?"
Reasoning always brings people to a momentary reflection. They were all silent.
Mr. Bailiff, who always made a property of a foreigner wherever he found him, and who was the first man for asking questions in the province, opening a mouth of large size, began:
"Sir, what is your name?"
"I have always been called the Ingénu," answered the Huron; "and the English have confirmed that name, because I always speak as I think and act as I like."
"But, being born a Huron, how could you come to England?"
"I have been carried thither. I was made prisoner by the English after some resistance, and the English, who love brave people, because they are as brave and honest as we, proposed to me, either to return to my family, or go with them to England. I accepted the latter, having naturally a relish for travelling."
"But, sir," said the bailiff, with his usual gravity, "how could you think of abandoning father and mother?"
"Because I never knew either father or mother," said the foreigner.
This moved the company; they all repeated:
"Neither father nor mother!"
"We will be in their stead," said the mistress of the house to her brother, the prior. "How interesting this Huron gentleman is!"
The Ingénu thanked her with a noble and proud cordiality, and gave her to understand that he wanted the assistance of nobody.
"I perceive, Mr. Huron," said the huge bailiff, "that you talk better French than can be expected from an Indian."
"A Frenchman," answered he, "whom they had made prisoner when I was a boy, and with whom I contracted a great friendship, taught it me. I rapidly learn what I like to learn. When I came to Plymouth I met with one of your French refugees, whom you, I know not why, call Huguenots. He improved my knowledge of your language, and as soon as I could express myself intelligibly I came to see your country, because I like the French well enough, if they do not put too many questions."
Notwithstanding this candid remark, the abbé of St. Yves asked him which of the three languages pleased him best, the Huron, English, or French?
"The Huron, to be sure," answered the Ingénu.
"Is it possible?" cried Miss Kerkabon. "I always thought the French was the first of all languages, after that of Low Brittany."
Then all were eager to know how, in Huron, they asked for snuff? He replied:
"What signifies to eat?"
Miss Kerkabon was impatient to know how they expressed to make love.
He informed her, Trovander, and insisted, not without reason, that these words were well worth their synonyms in French and English. Trovander, especially, seemed very pretty to all the company. The prior, who had in his library a Huron grammar, which had been given him by the Rev. Father Sagar Theodat, a Recollet and famous missionary, rose from the table to consult it. He returned quite panting with tenderness and joy. He acknowledged the foreigner for a true Huron. The company speculated a little on the multiplicity of languages, and all agreed that, had it not been for the unfortunate affair of the Tower of Babel, all the world would have spoken French.
The inquisitive bailiff, who till then had some suspicions of the foreigner, conceived the deepest respect for him. He spoke to him with more civility than before, and the Huron took no notice of it.
Miss St. Yves was very curious to know how people made love among the Hurons.
"In performing great actions to please such as resemble you."
All the company admired and applauded. Miss St. Yves blushed, and was extremely well pleased. Miss Kerkabon blushed likewise, but was not so well pleased. She was a little piqued that this gallantry was not addressed to her; but she was so good-natured that her affection for the Huron was not diminished at all. She asked him, with great complacency, how many mistresses he had at home.
"Only one," answered the foreigner; "Miss Abacaba, the good friend of my dear nurse. The reed is not straighter, nor is ermine whiter, no lamb meeker, no eagle fiercer, nor a stag swifter, than was my Abacaba. One day she pursued a hare not above fifty leagues from my habitation. A base Algonquin, who dwells an hundred leagues farther, took her hare from her. I was told of it; I ran thither, and with one stroke of my club levelled him with the ground. I brought him to the feet of my mistress, bound hand and foot. Abacaba's parents were for burning him, but I always had a dislike for such scenes. I set him at liberty, and thus made him my friend. Abacaba was so pleased with my conduct that she preferred me to all her lovers; and she would have continued to love me had she not been devoured by a bear. I slew the bear, and wore his skin a long while, but that has not comforted me."
Miss St. Yves felt a secret pleasure at hearing that Abacaba had been his only mistress, and that she was no more; yet she understood not the cause of her own pleasure. All eyes were riveted on the Huron, and he was much applauded for delivering an Algonquin from the cruelty of his countrymen.
The merciless bailiff had now grown so furious that he even asked the Huron what religion he was of; whether he had chosen the English, the French, or that of the Huguenots?
"I am of my own religion," said he, "just as you are of yours."
"Lord!" cried Miss Kerkabon, "I see already that those wretched English have not once thought of baptizing him!"
"Good heavens!" said Miss St. Yves, "how is it possible? How is it possible the Hurons should not be Roman Catholics? Have not those reverend fathers, the Jesuits, converted all the world?"
The Huron assured her that no true American had ever changed his opinion, and that there was not in their language a word to express inconstancy.
These last words extremely pleased Miss St. Yves.
"Oh! we'll baptize him, we'll baptize him," said Miss Kerkabon to the prior. "You shall have that honor, my dear brother, and I will be his godmother. The Abbot St. Yves shall present him to the font. It will make a fine appearance; it will be talked of all over Brittany, and do us the greatest honor."
The company were all of the same mind with" the mistress of the house; they all cried:
"We'll baptize him."
The Huron interrupted them by saying that in England every one was allowed to live as he pleased. He rather showed some aversion to the proposal which was made, and could not help telling them that the laws of the Hurons were to the full as good as those of Low Brittany. He finished with saying that he should return the next day. The bottles grew empty, and the company went to bed.
After the Huron had been conducted to his room, they saw that he spread the blankets on the floor, and laid himself down upon them in the finest attitude in the world.