As they drove through the Kansas City streets to the Country Club Plaza, she began to wonder if Julien even understood the concept of speed limits. Classical music blasted from the speakers, which was very incompatible with the hum of the sports car’s engine. Although she found the contrast amusing but fitting, she chose not to say it out loud.
As she stepped from the car at their destination, she felt people turn to look at her. It was disconcerting to be drawing so much attention. When they stepped into the restaurant, Julien pulled her close, and she found that his touch both calmed and frightened her.
The hostess ushered them to a table, and Julien was quick to order them a bottle of wine. As she stared at the menu, he leaned in. “Order whatever you wish, My Dear. And plenty of it. I will just pretend to enjoy.”
“Everything looks so wonderful. I only wish you could truly share it all with me. It doesn’t seem fair.”
“Tonight is not about me.” He smiled.
The hostess arrived with their wine, uncorked it, and offered a sip to Julien. To Ruth’s surprise, he sipped it, gave an approving nod and watched as their glasses were filled. After the hostess was out of earshot, Ruth whispered. “You can drink?”
“Strange, I know. But for some reason alcohol is tolerable. Even enjoyable.” He took another sip, and she did the same.
“What happens if you try anything else?”
“Violent expulsion almost immediately.” His lip curled. “It is very unpleasant.”
“I can imagine.” She leaned across the table. “Can you get drunk?”
“Yes. Although it is not as I remember it before...” He broke eye contact and looked around the restaurant before staring into his wine glass.
Leaning back into her chair, she watched him wondering why a priest knew about drunkenness before interrupting his thoughts. “How did you become like this?”
His mouth twisted in displeasure, but he did not look up at her.
“I have to know your story.” She leaned in closer to him. “Please?”
He glanced around again and back down into his glass. “Are you quite sure? It is an ugly story, especially considering the occasion.” He looked up into her eyes causing her breath to catch in her throat.
“Yes.” She held his gaze and gave a small nod. “Please?”
He took another slow drink of wine and refilled his glass. “I sailed from my home in France to Sainte-Marie-au-pays-des-Hurons, a Mission in New France, which is now Ontario, Canada. It was 1640. My mission was simple; build a relationship with the Natives and reveal God to them.”
He glanced at her and back to his wine. “It was all very exciting at first, especially after years in study and contemplation and then the monotonous and grueling journey to get there.”
He paused, and Ruth struggled to contain her urge to rush him on. She could tell by the look in his eyes that he was lost in memory.
“We were well received in the beginning. We tried to learn their ways, their words, and their myths. We lived in their lodges, shared their work, spoke their tongue, and ate their food. Once we could understand how they thought, we could use that knowledge to adapt the Gospel to something they could understand. At least that was the plan.”
“The Hurons, among whom we lived, were a fascinating, if savage, people. And our mission seemed to be moving forward as predicted...” He looked away as his jaw tightened.
“Then what happened?” She urged.
“There was constant conflict between the Hurons, and the Iroquois, a warring neighboring nation. Then there were diseases and crop failures. Eventually, the Huron started to blame our presence for their misfortunes. Other Jesuits had already fallen victim to unspeakable tragedies in the years before my arrival. I ….”
They were interrupted by the arrival of the waitress. “Have you two decided what you would like?”
Ruth glanced over at him, and he gave her a nod. “I think so. We’d like to start with your appetizer sampler. Then I would like tonight’s special, with the soup. Thank you.”
“And you, Sir?”
“I will take the same.” He smiled politely.
“Of course. We will have those out as soon as possible. Please let me know if there is anything else you need.”
“Of course,” he said.
As soon as the waitress stepped out of earshot, Ruth leaned back over the table. “So the Hurons were blaming you for war and disease...”
“Yes. Which made our mission much more difficult. That and the fact that the Iroquois were seeking full control of the French fur trade. Then there were strange whispers about the arrival of the Devil in the woods. ”
“Okay, so then what happened?” She asked.
“One day like any other day, in 1642, while I was assisting in gathering materials for one of the shelters, I was taken captive by a group of Iroquois warriors.” Again, he paused, using his wine glass as an excuse to stop the story.
“And?” She knew her eyes were wide with anticipation.
“And...It is an experience I have tried a long time to forget.” He trailed off.
“Oh, forgive me. I don’t mean to be insensitive.” Feeling her face start to flush, she took a drink of her wine and stared into the glass in silence.
Their waitress approached again, and placed the large plate of appetizers on the table. “Can I get you more wine?”
“Please..” Julien said.
“My pleasure.” She smiled and left.
Meanwhile, Ruth picked at the food as she sneaked a glance across the table.
“It was the first time in my life up until that point I had ever questioned my Faith...”
Looking up, she found him staring directly into her eyes causing the breath to catch in her throat. “You don’t have to continue.”
“The tortures went on for hours. Beatings and whippings and burns... threats with arrows through my heart and scalping. When I asked why, they told me, ‘because the Devil made them do it!’” He laughed.
She cringed at the sound. “I don’t understand.”
“After they had pulled out my fingernails and driven stakes through my feet..”
“Oh how terrible!” She gasped. “I’m so sorry...I didn’t mean to...”
“They said ‘We hope Your God can save you from Our Devil.’ Then suddenly I was alone in the woods, staked to the ground by my feet.”
The waitress interrupted with another bottle of wine. “Thank you.” They replied in unison and she left the open bottle on the table after refilling both their glasses.
“That’s when She found me.”