Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 3: The Cotton Thread

The Bay of Fundy
22 February 1699

The Reverend Cotton Mather hung over the aft rail of the Coaster and tried to spew. As he hadn't had anything to eat since boarding ship in Boston, the effort was futile, but his guts tried anyway. He felt better than he had in years.

Mortification of the flesh it was called, and God Above knew he needed some. Every night they stared down at him in his dreams, strange fruit hanging from the tree atop Gallows Hill. In his pride and folly he had thought to instruct his flock on the perils of witchcraft, and at the time it had seemed to him that the words that flew of themselves from his pen must surely come from the lips of God Himself. It was with agony now that he recalled the satisfaction he had felt when seeing the first copy of Memorable Providence Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions fresh from the printing press. It had taken him three years to learn that the voice whispering to him had not belonged to God.

With his eyes focused on the ship's wake, and his mind focused on the accusing eyes of his innocent victims, Mather failed to notice when the Coaster docked at Port Royal. Not until he heard his name called did he look up from his private Hell to see the ship's master standing beside him.

"We've docked, Mr. Mather," the man said. "You can go ashore now."

Mather nodded and thanked the man. As the man went about the business of running the ship, Mather's thoughts momentarily focused on him. Although a profane man, in more senses than one, he seemed at peace with himself. Had he ever caused the deaths of innocent men and women? If not, then despite his worldly ways he was innocent in a way that Mather himself was not, nor ever could be again for as long as this world lasted. Mather left the ship's rail and went to his cabin to collect his belongings. He had a self-imposed mission to undertake in this place, and it was time to begin it.

Mather strode down the dock, then stepped onto the frozen ground of Nova Scotia. There were half a dozen other ships tied up at the docks or sitting at anchor in the sound. The town itself was made up of perhaps a hundred buildings, mostly small one-story wooden houses. A palisaded fort stood near to shore, with armed pickets walking the parapets and the mouths of half a dozen cannon poking out from the walls. Mather made his way to the gate and gave his name to the two men standing guard there. The one on the right said, "Welcome to Port Royal, Mr. Mather. Would you like me to escort you to Captain Convers?"

"That would be most kind of you, sir," Mather replied.

During the walk across to Convers' room, the guard introduced himself as Philip Collins of Lexington. Collins had been to Boston several times, and had heard Mather preach at the Second Church. Mather gravely accepted Collins' praise of his orations, but did not pursue the conversation, and Collins had fallen silent by the time they reached the Captain's room.

Mather caught a glimpse of Convers through the room's unshuttered windows. He was a short, heavyset man with dark hair worn Puritan fashion with no wig to cover it. His blue militia coat and hat hung from pegs on the wall behind him, as did a belt with sword and pistol hanging from it. He was seated at a desk beside a fireplace, with a quill in his hand as he frowned down at a sheet of paper.

Then they passed the window, and Collins knocked upon the door. Convers bade them enter, and they did. Collins said, "Mr. Cotton Mather of Boston to see you, sir."

Convers rose from his desk and shook Mather's hand. "An honor to have you here, sir."

"Thank you, Captain."

"If I may make so bold as to ask, sir, what brings you to Port Royal?"

"I have come," said Mather, "to preach the word of God to the unfortunate Papists who inhabit this town. Although they still cling to their superstitious idolotry, yet they nonetheless may be saved."

Convers shook his head slowly. "Others have tried to make the Papists see the error of their ways, but they refuse to turn away from the Devil. I fear you will fare no better than they."

"Be that is it may, I must make the attempt," said Mather. "My soul would not be right if I knew that I could have tried, yet did not."

Convers took Mather's hand again. "We are fortunate to have men such as you among us, sir," he said earnestly. "The sight of you gladdens me, for I know that God can never forsake our colony when we have men of your piety to guide us."

Mather accepted the man's words, but in his heart he heard the jeering laughter of the martyrs of Salem.

Mather slept that night in the home of Daniel and Mary Prescott, two of his congregation from Boston who had moved here to Port Royal three years before. Their letters to him had helped convince him that the souls of the Acadians might yet be saved, and they had offered him their home when he wrote to tell them of his coming visit. They currently had two children, a third having died at seven months of age. It had taken all his powers of persuasion to convince them to retain their bed and let him sleep on the floor. He was lying there asleep when he was awakened by the sound of screams and gunfire from without.

Rising from the floor, he made his way to the room's window. Outside, he could see the flickering light of flames, and in their light human figures hurried past the house. As one was outlined against a burning torch, he realized with a shock that it was an Indian holding aloft a hatchet. Before he was able to understand the implications of the vision, a more immediate one presented itself, as a large white man in an elaborate French wig bearing a torch and a sword suddenly leered at him through the window.

Mather barely dodged back in time as the man in the wig sent the sword smashing through the window, then tossed in the torch. The minister froze for a moment before leaping to seize the torch and thrust it out through the window again. The man in the wig, still waiting without, burst out into laughter, then used his sword to clear the window of its remaining panes of glass before leaping in. Within moments he had Mather backed up against a wall with the sword against his neck. Still laughing, he announced in strongly accented English, "I am Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville, and you are my prisoner!"

(Proceed to part 4 - Departures and Deductions)

No comments: