1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 29

Chapter 19

“Looks like you passed the test,” Pete said as Gordon ascended Challenger’s gangplank. The troop of soldiers stood on the dock, watching his steps, then were dismissed other than two men who remained on guard, looking vigilant and suspicious.

“Yeah.” Gordon sat on a trunk next to the bundled dirigible. He took his ball cap off and wiped his brow; the day had turned warm — though he felt he was sweating more than just because of the weather. “They know they’re on their own — they’ve kissed and made up with Plymouth, but they’re not sure whether they’re screwed yet.”

“Are they?”

“I don’t know.” He put his cap back on. “The actions of King Charles have left them to go their own way, which they were more or less prepared to do in the first place. I get the impression that they’ve almost stopped arguing with each other. Almost.”

“You mean, these guys and the Pilgrim hat guys.”

“I wish it was that simple.”

Pete slumped into a seat next to him. “What do you mean? I assumed that every different group of Pilgrims — Puritans — whatever the hell they all are — ” Pete made a brushing-off gesture; one of the soldiers on the dock tensed, and he turned it into a friendly wave. “I thought they all went off and made their own colonies. Connecticut and Rhode Island and Vermont and all.”

“None of those places exist yet, little bro. Especially not Vermont — that didn’t exist until the American Revolution. There are basically two colonies here: Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth. Plymouth is older, smaller and more intense. Massachusetts Bay is all over the place, with a bunch of little settlements — here, up the coast, inland. Both of the colonies put down trading posts on the Connecticut River and up in Maine, and both have friends and enemies among the Indians.”

“Is Massachusetts friends or enemies with the casino guys? I can’t remember that tribe’s name.”

“The Pequots. I’m not sure. Governor Winthrop explained it to me, and as far as I can tell, they’re upset because some Englishmen were killed on the Connecticut a couple of years ago in some sort of reprisal for something the Dutch did.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“The natives claim that they can’t tell the English and Dutch apart.”

“‘They all look alike to us’?”

“That’s about the argument, yes. And until the Pequot chiefs give up the killers, Massachusetts is not interested in taking sides with them against another group of Indians — the Narragansetts.” Gordon held his hand up. “And before you start referring to them as the ‘beer guys,’ let me just tell you that there’s an ongoing rivalry between all the Indian tribes in this part of the world.

“They all get along, sort of; they’re linked by custom and marriage and old habits and old grudges, and the English and Dutch and the French have been mixing into it and messing everything up for half a century, regardless of the Ring of Fire. It comes down to land, and guns, and wealth — mostly furs, from what I understand.

“And it comes down to –” Gordon lowered his voice. “It comes down to religion too. The English colonists, mostly the Plymouth ones but these guys here as well, think that they’re here to make Christians of the heathens. What’s more, any land that isn’t being actively worked, such as these enormous forests full of animals with furs, is obviously being ignored — so they claim it for their own. They cut down the trees, plant crops, let their cows and pigs and whatever else roam around. The natives hate that.”

“I bet.”

“They also hate the idea that their land, which they’ve been occupying for hundreds of years, is being taken over by people who have a fundamentally different idea of what it’s for. And they hate the idea that their society, which works for them, screams ‘Satan’ to the good Christians of these two fine colonies. They keep coming out on the short end of every transaction.”

“You know,” Pete said, “based on what you say, this is a situation that is beyond us. This isn’t really about the French claims on English colonies at all. We should cut our losses and leave.”

“I wish it was that easy.”

“It is that easy, big bro. You wave to the nice little zealots on shore” — he waved again, making the same soldier scowl up, hand on his musket — “and you say sorry, we’ve got nothing, bye bye. Y’all come visit us if you’re ever in Magdeburg.”

“We might be condemning them to death.”

“We? History is condemning them to death, Gord, if they don’t change their attitudes. Not you. Not me. Them.”

* * *

Thomas James had been to Boston before, as a trader from Thomasville. He had more freedom of movement in the town, as he was not under immediate suspicion as an up-timer (and as a representative of whatever other category into which the Puritans had filed them). He returned from ashore just as the sun was at the horizon, and sought out Gordon on the aft deck.

Gordon was settled in an out-of-the-way place out of the wind, with a book in his lap. The Englishman’s shadow lay across Gordon’s daylight, and he looked up.

“It’s you,” he said. “I thought it was Pete, come to give me a hard time.” He snapped the book shut; it was a history book, one of a small cache that had been lent to the expedition.

“Your brother is very determined in some matters,” James said, finding himself a seat. “It is always a problem with the young.”

“Hey, I’m young.”

“Yes, of course, but there is a world of difference between the two of you, Chehab. Your brother is impulsive, quick to anger, settled in his opinions — especially when he has just decided them. A valuable man in a fight, I don’t doubt. But you would do well to be selective in taking his counsel — or possibly avoid it altogether.”

“Is there something I can do for you, Captain James?”

“I was able to renew a few old acquaintances while ashore. The men of Boston are very worried — not just about the French, but about a number of other matters. This business with the Pequots divides them, and it is not at all clear where Governor Winthrop is likely to stand. Some of his advisors in the Court of Assistants are all for blood revenge against the Pequots for their attack on John Stone, while others — a minority, I should say — see no reason to risk life and limb by going to war over someone who they really didn’t like in the first place.”

“Tell me more,” Gordon said. Tell me something I understand, he thought. He knew that John Stone was the English ship’s captain whom the Pequots had killed in revenge for something the Dutch had done, but wasn’t sure of the political situation. James clearly had a good feel for it, and was either being intentionally vague, or simply didn’t know the extent of Gordon’s ignorance.

James cocked his head at Gordon, perhaps trying to figure that out.

“You understand the basis of the problem, I assume. Three years ago the Pequot sachems on the Connecticut River decided that they’d had enough of mistreatment, and massacred some poor sods from the Narragansetts who were on their way to Kievet’s Hook, the Dutch trading house upriver. The Dutch kidnapped the chief sachem of the Pequot, a savage named Tatobem, who was two years younger than God at the time.” James laughed at his own turn of phrase. “They demanded a hefty ransom, and when the Pequots paid it, they sent him back — as a corpse.”

“Does this say something about the Dutch? How was that possibly a good idea?”

“Chehab, you apparently come from a more enlightened age, or at least a gentler one. You express outrage at the way the Dutch treated an Indian dignitary — yet all Europeans do much the same. They think less of the Indians: they are either children in need of a firm parent, or lazy and indolent and in need of a whipping. They are a breed that has given up their right to the land because of vacuum domicilium — that any lands not actually being worked should belong to anyone, and why shouldn’t it be some European?

“The Dutch are more mercenary than most, and yes, the killing of Tatobem in particular was a vicious act. However, as you up-timers like to say, I do not think any of his murderers or any of the officials back in New Amsterdam are…’losing any sleep over it.'”

The sun was behind the trees now; Thomas James sat framed by the sunset, his face traced with shadow.

“I guess you aren’t either,” Gordon said at last.

“Are you?”

“Do you know where it leads, Captain? Do you know what happens in the up-time history” — he slapped the cover of the book he held with the palm of his other hand — “forty or so years from now? There’s a huge, nasty, bloody war. Practically every tribe in New England goes to war seeking to drive the English colonists into the sea. Towns are burned to the ground. There are massacres and atrocities and in the end whatever trust existed between natives and Europeans is destroyed forever.”

“I’m not surprised,” James said mildly. “It happened in Virginia in 1622; you know that, I assume? When the great chief of the Indians died, his younger brother plotted and carried out a massacre there and killed a third of the whites. There is no trust between the races in Virginia. Why New England should be any different escapes me, Chehab. If anything, I would think these people would be even more intractable.”

“Things have changed since 1622.”

“I daresay. There has been a great event — the Ring of Fire. You may have heard about it in your remote village.”

“Your sarcasm is comforting.”

James leaned forward, elbows on knees. He scratched his beard, then hawked and spat. “You will not change their hearts or their minds, Chehab.”