Saturday, February 12, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 5: The Crow

5 March 1699

From his youth, Cotton Mather had had a gift for languages, and this gift stood him in good stead during the time of his captivity in the Acadian hinterland. As the days passed after the raid on Port Royal, he was able to listen to Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville communicate with his few remaining Indian allies in a mix of French and Abenaki. From this, and from listening to the Indians speak among themselves, Mather was able to gain a sufficient command of the tongue to understand what was being said around him. He was in this way able to confirm his earlier deduction about the nature of d'Iberville's raid. The Frenchman and his party (which, it turned out, included three of his brothers) had intended to take the fort occupied by Captain Convers and his milita. Their attack had been repulsed, and d'Iberville's force had had to content themselves with ransacking some of the houses before retreating into the hinterland.

"And you chose to take me captive," Mather stated to d'Iberville during one of their nocturnal marches through Acadia.

D'Iberville had calmed down somewhat since the morning after the raid. He answered, with a trace of his former boisterous humor, "You are the most famous man of the Bostonnais. Your tongue and your pen are never still, filling the air and the presses, respectively, with your heretical rantings. Your fellow Bostonnais will pay handsomely to see you returned to them safely, not so?"

"And if I may ask, how did you come to learn of my whereabouts in Port Royal?"

"You made yourself very conspicuous upon your arrival," said d'Iberville, "attempting to seduce several of the town's leading men into following your diabolical heresy. Every Acadian in Port Royal knew where you could be found, and all were most pleased by the prospect of my taking you away with me."

Mather sighed to himself. Truly the Papists were caught deeply within the Devil's web, so deeply that they clung to it all the more tightly when it seemed they might be freed from its deadly embrace.

So accustomed was Mather growing to the sound of the Abenaki tongue that a few days later, when one of the savages asked another if he had seen his small knife anywhere about, Mather spoke up without thinking to tell him he had left it stuck in the ground by his firepit.

The savage with the missing knife seemed amused by the sound of Mather speaking his tongue. He said, "How do you come to know our speech, Flapping Crow?" Flapping Crow was the nickname the savages had given him, and Mather was willing to concede that he made an odd figure walking along the snowy wastes of Acadia with his blanket fluttering in the wind.

"By listening to you and the others," Mather answered him.

The savage was clearly skeptical. "It has been but two hands of days since the raid. Will you tell me that you have learned to speak like a human in so short a time, by only listening to others speak?"

"I already speak many languages," Mather replied serenely. "Learning yours was no great feat to a man who knows already the speech of the old Romans and Greeks and Israelites, and also the speech of the French and Spaniards and Italians. I learned the speech of the Spaniards in less than a day, though that task was made easier for me because I already knew the speech of the Romans and the French, which have much in common with Spanish. Your speech is unlike any of the others, so it took me longer to learn it."

Impressed, the savage said, "The Gray Wolf --" for so d'Iberville was known among the Abenaki "-- has said that you do nothing but speak nonsense. He has said that you seek always to lead men away from the true path of the Great Spirit. He did not say that you could learn to speak a new tongue by listening to others speak it."

Annoyed, Mather said, "The Gray Wolf knows less about me than he thinks he knows." The savage found this amusing. Mather continued, "He took me from Port Royal for fear that I would convince the Frenchmen there to become Bostonnais."

"Then you do seek to sway men from the true path of the Great Spirit, as the Gray Wolf says."

"And is the Gray Wolf a personal friend of the Great Spirit, that he knows what the Great Spirit thinks?"

"It is not just the Gray Wolf who says this. The shamans in black say that the Bostonnais have turned aside from the Great Spirit."

Mather fumed. "The Popish priests, the shamans in black, fear us, and so they should, for they know that we Bostonnais have no shamans. Among us, men are their own shamans, and have no need of a shaman in black to tell them whether or not the Great Spirit smiles upon them."

"Monsieur Arrateek, up to your old tricks?" came the bellowing voice of Pierre Le Moyne, returning from yet another conference with his brothers. "I must insist that you refrain from trying to corrupt my allies."

Mather answered him in Abenaki rather than French. "Why do you tell me not to speak to the Abenaki? Do you fear that they will hear the truth in my words?"

D'Iberville switched to Abenaki, though he was clearly not pleased to do so. "Your words hold no truth, you seek only to bring discord and lies to the Abenaki."

"Are the Abenaki children who cannot tell truth from lies?" said Mather. "Or are they men who will know the truth when they hear it? If there is no truth in my words, the Abenaki will know that I speak falsely. I am not afraid to speak to them. Are you afraid to let them hear me?"

D'Iberville was apparently disinclined to trade barbs with Mather. He raised his hand, preparing to strike the minister.

The Abenaki with whom Mather had been speaking moved with considerable speed, and succeeded in arresting d'Iberville's action before it could be completed. He said, "Do you fear the Crow's words, Gray Wolf?"

The Frenchman glared at the Indian for some time before relaxing and stepping back. "Be careful, Madockawando. Flapping Crow speaks with the tongue of the Enemy of Men. He can make a man think that black is white. He seeks to turn you away from the Great Spirit."

Madockawando said, "I am a warrior and sachem of the Abenaki. I am not one to be fooled by the lies of a snake, as were the first man and first woman. If the Crow speaks falsely, I will hear it." With an answering glare at d'Iberville, he added, "And if the Crow speaks truly, I will hear that too."

(Proceed to part 6 - The Devil You Know)

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