A Sweet Bit

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER IV (8) start of chapter

Father Dollard was summoned on one occasion to visit an Indian who lay at the point of death far away in the forest—a distance of twenty-seven miles. It was midwinter, and the ground was everywhere covered with deep snow. Accompanied by his guide, armed with a stout staff, and his feet protected by snow shoes, the priest was soon on his way. Before starting he shared his breakfast with his companion, who, with commendable forethought, but much to the disgust of his reverend friend, coolly took from the table the remnant of the meat, rolled it in a rag of most uninviting appearance, and placed it in his pouch, which he hid away in his breast. When the travellers had accomplished ten miles of their arduous journey, they sat down on a fallen tree to rest. Here the Indian drew forth his treasure from its hiding-place, unrolled the unpleasant-looking rag with much solemnity, and, cutting off a portion of the meat, politely handed it to the missionary, saying, 'Father, you take bit of this?' The young priest shuddered at the proffered dainty, but quietly declined the courteous invitation, on the plea of not being hungry. 'Then me eat it, Father,' said the Indian, who devoured the morsel with every appearance of the most intense relish.

At the end of five miles more of weary trudging through the snow, the pair again rested, the priest feeling faint as well as tired. Again the Indian drew forth his treasure, which the priest now viewed with somewhat different feelings to what he had beheld it on previous occasions, and not with the same involuntary rising of the gorge. Cutting off a liberal portion, the Red Skin, with an insinuating manner, and in the softest voice, said, 'Father, maybe you take some now?' 'Yes, my child, I think I will,' replied the priest. 'And, my dear sir,' said the Bishop of Frederickton, 'I can assure you I never ate anything sweeter in all my life.'

While still among the Indians of Cape Breton, Father Dollard had to remain for the night in a strange wigwam, and there being no kind of bed in the miserable dwelling, a couch, formed of fresh green boughs, torn from a neighbouring tree, was constructed for his use. On this he lay down to rest, but he was awakened in the middle of the night by excruciating pains in his back and shoulders, and in the morning he was throwing up blood. Compelled to return to Montreal, where he could obtain medical assistance, he was for two years an invalid, half the time being spent in the hospital. Restored at length to health—so fervently prayed for by the zealous missionary—he was sent to Miramichi, in New Brunswick, this new field of his labours extending over an immense tract of uninhabited country, his flock consisting of tribes of Indians, and a few scattered French, Scotch, and Irish. When on sick or missionary duty, he travelled along the river and its tributaries in a canoe, always accompanied by an Indian; and many a time, when neither wigwam nor log-hut was within possible reach, the priest and his faithful guide had to pass the night on the bare ground, under the welcome shelter of their upturned canoe.

From Miramichi Father Dollard was transferred to Frederickton, the capital of New Brunswick. While here the smallpox, that awful scourge of the uncivilised races of man, made its dreaded appearance among the neighbouring Indians in whose camps it committed deplorable ravages. It was at such a moment that the Irish priest displayed the courage and self-devotion which formed so noble a feature in his character. When the timid savages fled in horror from the mysterious enemy that was hourly striking down their stoutest braves, and making desolate their wigwams, Father Dollard knelt by the rude couch of the sufferer, nursed him, and prayed with him, and consoled him; and when death released the soul of the poor Indian from its swollen and ghastly tenement of clay, the dauntless priest took that festering body in his arms or on his back, and with his own hands placed it in the grave which he had previously dug for its reception. Is it to be wondered at that the Church should have made the progress it has done, when such was the spirit of its early missionaries?

Father Dollard remained at Frederickton until 1842, when he was consecrated Bishop of New Brunswick. At the time he commenced his mission there were not more than four or five priests in the entire province.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

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