Council Of Fire – Snippet 31
I saw nothing but mist and darkness
Fort Johnson, Colony of New York
Joseph Brant had been dozing in a window-seat on the second floor of Sir William Johnson’s handsome stone house. The sun streaming in through the glass panes had pulled him into quiet dreams–but he could not quite remember them, as the pain in his hands returned to his notice while the dream-threads slipped away.
He sat up to see Sir William Johnson standing before him, a roll of parchment in his hands, obviously intent on showing him something. He was leaning over in order to do so, and Joseph could see his sister Molly behind Johnson looking over his shoulder. She had a concerned look on her face, although that wouldn’t have been evident to people who didn’t know her as well as her brother did.
Joseph sat up, shaking off sleep.
“You did not hear me call, I see. Well, no matter. Sleep is no doubt good for you.” Johnson looked at Joseph’s bandaged hands, then back at his face. “How are you feeling?”
“It hurts less than it did.”
“I told the Tadodaho you would receive better care here in my house than beside the Council Fire, and so you have. You will be using that bow of yours in no time.”
“You are very generous, Elder Brother,” Joseph said. “You said . . . you were calling me?”
“Yes. I wanted to ask you a few questions about your vision.”
Joseph knew very well which vision: it was the one he had had just after the Konearaunehneh had appeared and he had tugged away the cord that held it to the earth. Unlike most dreams before or since, that had not left him . . . the world, a great oval, spread out before him as clearly as a view from a high mountain peak.
Johnson beckoned to him and he rose and followed to a great table in the hall, a single slab of wood cut from some mighty tree, smoothed and polished so that it shone with reflected light from the windows. His sister followed behind them. Johnson unrolled the parchment to show a large and highly detailed map of the continents, stretching from the sketched-in lands of the far north to the unknown places of the south, marked with dozens of annotations in Johnson’s own hand. He weighted the parchment down at the corners with Molly’s help and then stood upright, looking over the document.
“Where did the land end, Joseph?”
“There was a range of high mountains at the edge of the sea,” Joseph said, pointing to the Atlantic Ocean. He clumsily drew a line with a finger while trying not to rub his bandaged hand across the map. He started east of the lands of the Abenaki (where the map showed schools of fish) and passed southward as far as the great bulge on the east side of the southern continent. “And another on the other side.”
He was more vague about that, as he knew nothing of the actual geography on the west side of the continent. No one did, so far as Joseph knew, among either the Haudenosaunee or any their neighboring tribes. But he moved his finger from north to south out in the ocean, as he remembered what he saw there in his vision.
Johnson peered closely at the map as Joseph pointed. “Are you sure about this, Joseph? It’s very important.”
“I am not totally sure, Sir William. It was a dream and it was . . .”
“Yes. Of course. It appears as if Acadia is on this side of these mountains, and so is Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands . . . this chain of islands, Joseph: did you see them in your dream?”
“I think so. The mountains were further out to sea. But I can’t be sure.”
Johnson continued to stare at the map, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“Sir William, why is that important? One little group of islands–”
“Because, young brave,” Johnson said, straightening up and arranging his vest, “that little group of islands–Jamaica, and even more especially Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Barbados–are the richest pieces of land in the world because they are covered with sugar plantations. That is the backbone of the economy of the French, as well as the British, Empire. Who holds them holds the purse-strings of the world.”
“So is it better that they are in the part of the world we can see, or worse because your land-across-the-water can no longer reach them?”
“That,” Johnson answered, “is a very interesting question. Which is more important, that we have sugar for our tea, or that London does not?”
“If there even is a London anymore,” said Molly, sounding skeptical.
Her husband frowned at her. “If there is . . . what do you mean? Beyond the mountains–”
“Beyond the mountains, Sir William,” interjected Joseph, “I saw nothing but mist and darkness. I saw no London, I saw no Africa where the black slaves come from–or Cathay on the other side, for that matter. All I saw was what lay between the mountains. The entire world.”
“It was a dream only,” Johnson managed by way of reply.
“Of course,” Joseph said. “But if it was no more than a dream, why does it trouble you so much, Sir William? Why is it so important that I am sure what I saw–if it was just a dream?”
A decade and a half before, Sir William Johnson had built his great house on the land that King Hendrick had given him–and, to hear the Iroquois tell it, the story of how it came to him proved that Johnson put great store in dreams–and also why they held him in such high esteem.
Hendrick Theyanoguin, the old Mohawk chief and diplomat, had visited Johnson at his much more modest home in Warrenburgh years ago; and while there, he had seen a beautiful scarlet coat that he very much admired. In the morning, he told Johnson that he had dreamed that he possessed the coat and did not hesitate to tell his host of the fact.
“Ah,” Johnson was said to have replied. “Do not dreams come from the Great Spirit?” Hendrick readily agreed, and received the gift of the coat, which made him very happy, and it was much admired by his people.
Sometime later, Johnson visited the old sagamore in Caughnawaga, the richest part of the Mohawk lands. In the morning, after he had slept in Hendrick’s home, he told the Mohawk chief that he had had a dream in which he possessed nearly all of that land. Hendrick was surprised by this declaration, but Johnson retorted: “Do not dreams come from the Great Spirit?”
It was said that Hendrick pondered for some time, looking for a way to escape the snare that his avarice had set for him–but in the end he had to admit that Johnson was right, and was no simple white man to be gullied. At last he said, “Yes, brother, the land is yours–but you must have no more such dreams!”
The one dream had been enough, and Johnson had built his great stone house high on a hill, with a sawmill and other outbuildings nearby. When the war began a few years earlier, he had built a palisade around it, giving it more the appearance that the title suggested–Fort Johnson. It had come to be the gathering place for war councils for those natives who supported the British crown.