Friday, February 11, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 4: Departures and Deductions

23 February 1699

It was some time before the Reverend Cotton Mather realized what Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville, meant by calling him Monsieur Arrateek. By then, the long Acadian winter night had finally given way to dawn, and he and the other prisoners were allowed to lie down and rest. D'Iberville had spent the whole time walking behind Mather, prodding him with the sword and calling out things like, "No rest for the wicked, eh Monsieur Arrateek?"

Lying on a patch of ground which fortune had left mercifully free of snow, Mather looked up at his captor in the ruddy light of dawn. He said, "I had rather be a heretic than live my life with my mind shackled by a mob of superstitious priests."

D'Iberville’s grin had vanished in an instant, and he had raised his sword as if to strike down the impertinent minister. Mather was not ordinarily a particularly brave man, but when it came to the relative merits of Protestantism and Catholicism, his faith and his reason made him fearless, and he did not flinch from the Frenchman's weapon.

D'Iberville did not follow through on his threat, though Mather was unsure whether it was due to the steadfastness he had shown or to his value as a prisoner. It had become clear to Mather that d'Iberville knew of him, was aware of his high standing in Boston society, and had specifically sought him out at the Prescotts' house for the purpose of seizing his person.

The Frenchman lowered his sword and growled, "You will answer to God soon enough for your heresies, monsieur. For now, we will rest here and wait out the day, and keep watch in case Capitaine Convers is foolish enough to seek us out."

The other members of d'Iberville’s raiding party were settling down for the day, scattered here and there across the narrow valley they currently occupied. Like d'Iberville himself, the others were dressed in buckskins, and armed with swords, hatchets, muskets, or some combination of the three. Out of perhaps a hundred men, fully eighty seemed to be Indians, members of the local Abenaki tribe. D'Iberville left Mather in order to confer with five other men, three of them whites, two Indians. Mather could hear them all, though their use of the heathen Abenaki tongue, of which he was ignorant, kept him from understanding their words.

In addition to the Frenchmen and Indians, there were also at least thirty English captives, including Mather himself. Although most were men, there were at least half a dozen women as well. The latter were being left alone for now, though Mather knew that their eventual fate would be to become the slaves and concubines of whichever Indians had managed to capture them.

The discussion among d'Iberville and the others was becoming more urgent, with d'Iberville's voice in particular becoming increasingly loud. By the time the two Indians turned and left, the discussion had clearly degenerated into mere argument and (on d'Iberville 's part at least) invective. D'Iberville came stalking back to Mather, muttering a steady stream of oaths in French, Latin, English, and several Indian languages. Over the course of his thirty-six years, Mather had heard many men swear, and it was clear to him that d'Iberville was a master of the art.

"What is it that vexes you so, monsieur d'Iberville?" Mather asked in carefully pronounced French.

D'Iberville glared at him, but did not answer. Mather was able to gain the answer for himself over the course of the next hour, as he observed various small groups of Indians gather up their possessions and captives and depart the valley. Clearly, d'Iberville's Indian allies were deserting him.

What was interesting was d'Iberville's reaction. It was perfectly normal for those taking part in such a raid to disperse afterwards. From d'Iberville's sour mood, Mather was able to deduce that he had expected more of them, from which it followed that the previous night's action was not intended as a mere raid, but as something of greater consequence. It was even possible that the attack had been intended to capture Port Royal from the English.

If so, then the attack had not accomplished its purpose. Captain Convers and his men must have succeeded in repulsing the attack. D'Iberville wished for his Indian allies to remain with him, in hopes of repeating the attack with a more successful outcome. The Indians were choosing to decline, however, satisfied with whatever loot and captives they had managed to acquire.

Satisfied with his chain of reasoning, Mather curled up on the ground, drew what warmth he could from the blanket d'Iberville had allowed him to bring, and drifted off to sleep.

(Proceed to part 5 - The Crow)

No comments: