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Chapter 2

Enter a Red Man

I remember the day well. The day my adopted son entered my life. The Four Sisters had been surveying the coast from a safe distance, as per our agreement, when the storm struck. It was a quick squall, but very violent. Because of a sharp-eyed lookout, the captain had been able to turn directly into the monster wave that might otherwise have swamped the ship.

Suddenly a cry went up, "Man overboard!"

Even in the pouring rain, sailors ran to the port side and heaved a rope to the man in the water. That was enlightened self-interest. Next time, it might be themselves in the jaws of an angry sea. The waterlogged floater released the wreckage to which he'd been clinging and held weakly to the rope. Strong hands reached down to pull him aboard. Only then did a crewman exclaim, "Say, 'tis one of the natives!"

"I care not if 'tis St. George himself!" Captain Harman shouted from the quarterdeck. "Work this ship, you jumped-up landlubbers, or we're all on the rocks!" The sailors dropped the boy in a heap and raced back to lines and pumps. No one was left to move the half-drowned Indian into the shelter of a cabin . . . except me.

The Four Sisters incurred incidental damage, inevitable on such a voyage. The storm-surge wave and the storm itself had simply been the last straws. The flexed seams had begun to leak more, and the uppermost spar of the mizzenmast had snapped in half, hanging by its chains. Certainly, it could be repaired, but the repair would be a patch rather than a permanent fix.

Nevertheless, off the coast of Long island, I had another, more immediate problem. I gathered up the half drowned native, carried him down to my small cabin, and laid him on my cot. I stepped back and surveyed what I had before me. In my bed lay a feverish native man, not much more than a boy, with some flecks of face-paint still clinging around the corners of his eyes. I had no idea what to do with him. I had plenty of thinking time, because no wise man would be going on deck until the crew cleared the storm damage. The sailors were doing their jobs professionally; I'd have simply been in the way. I wasn't prone to sea-sickness, but the still violently swaying cabin was making even me queasy.

I tried several mental pictures of a possible future for the Indian lad. I immediately dismissed the idea of returning him to his people. The needs of the ship outweighed the needs of the boy. Perhaps he could be impressed into the ship's crew. That, however, was a brutish existence. Captain Harman, though not a cruel man, might simply sell the boy as a slave. He certainly didn't have the time to teach the lad English. He probably would be put on display somewhere like a caged beast. I made up my mind: I'd just acquired a ward. No matter what else happened, the boy would be forced to become English.

No one in all England had an American native as a companion since Pocahontas, though I'm not sure a wife is exactly a "companion." Without consulting him, I decided to make my new acquisition into an Englishman among Englishmen. I'd train him to be a companion and servant, but his features would immediately identify him as foreign-born. His exotic origin would open doors for me, and that was exactly what I wanted.

With salt-water, I washed the last of the paints from the young man's face and sponged down the feverish torso, admiring the musculature. Because of my work, I prided myself in being a prime specimen beneath my nobleman's coat. The youth put me to shame. I removed the breech-cloth and moccasins and a leather bag on a thong around his neck. I plucked a bedraggled half-feather from the native's topknot. I went on deck briefly, noting that the storm was diminishing, and I threw all the items overboard, except the moccasins.

It never occurred to me. The lad was a Pequod. I could have trained him to become an English translator and agent. I could have requested the captain to return to Boston. With him, we mght have outflanked the Dutch in the matter of the Connecticut River Valley. Still, no one was standing by with an offer of funds to undertake that type of venture. Instead, I forged ahead with my own plans.

I arranged with the purser for trousers and a shirt from the ship's slop-chest. The boy slept for two days, but the fever broke well before that. Exhaustion stretched out his sleep-time. The ship had caught a favorable wind on the backside of the storm and was on a course for Ireland. Landfall was still weeks away.

The young man would need a name, and his native name was sure to be unintelligible. I was struck with an inspiration. The youth's name would become Eliezer, after Abraham's steward: a man so faithful that Abraham had been considering him as a potential heir before either Ishmael or Isaac had been born. Eliezer might have been the loyal, dependable steward that Abraham had sent after Rebecca, who became Isaac's bride. His last name would someday become St. Clair, after his master's. I went to sleep with a good conscience, in a hammock swung between two beams in my quarters.

When the boy woke, I had my hands full. I knew not so much as a single phrase of his language, and mine was certain to be strange to him. I tried to speak gently and soothingly to him, but he was obviously dangerously frightened. His eyes were rolling like a horse ready to bolt. Before he could try to smash his way out of my cabin-prison, I opened the door for him. Then, he did bolt.

When I followed him on deck, I found him high in the Four Sisters' rigging, staring in all directions with dismay. I let his fear burn out for a few minutes before sending the bosun up to try to fetch him. I'd primed the crew about the situation. Having saved the boy, they felt slightly proprietary toward him. The bosun was gentle about it, which was almost unnatural to his usual behavior.

The naked boy finally crawled back down from the mast at a snail's pace. I brought the clothing I'd bought and saw to it that he was dressed. It took four sailors to hold him down while they got the shirt and trousers on him. After that tussle, he didn't resist as I led him down to my cabin. There was no better time for language lessons to begin.

I gave him his new name, which he accepted more readily than I'd expected, and we began with English names for everything. I simply ignored any words he might utter in his own, heathen language. Over the next weeks, with access only to English, his skills improved daily. In Eliezer, I had a project that fully occupied my time until Ireland's south coast appeared on the horizon. He continued to be my primary occupation as we turned toward our destination in Falmouth.

The need for Captain Harman's services ended there. He'd make a tidy profit from the furs and rare lumber he'd traded for in Plymouth and the bribes he'd accumulated. Some of the stiff-necked Puritan commanders had fierce ideas about any of the colonists abandoning the new settlements. At least one of the "crew" had bribed his way aboard and worked his passage home. My bribes had added to his haul. The Four Sisters' company unloaded my few trunks.

Just after we set foot on the dock, I thought I'd die laughing. Eliezer had never seen a horse, and he was terrified by the one that arrived with our transport! I don't think he ever quite got over that.

We set out along the Fal, with a young man driving the horse and carriage. Eliezer still feared the horse was going to eat him, but eventually he subsided into a quiet watchfulness. I watched the English countryside roll past. It was a beautiful late summer day. I love Cornwall, and I was in a good mood. I'd been abroad for some time, and the driver seemed an intelligent lad. Foolishly, I asked the wrong questions. The answers the driver gave me chilled my mood. The fact that I'd returned to the England of Charles I came rushing back. Things had gotten much worse in the time I'd been away. I was in a black funk until the last bit of drive to Leaning Oaks came under our wheels.

From the time of his coronation, I'd criticized Charles for being flighty, but I myself had been flitting here and there like a butterfly, sometimes for months. I realized that I was about to have to do the same thing again. The Virginia Company and the Merchants Adventurers would want their report — in London. It was up to them to decide what that report meant. The Massachusetts Bay colonies were a going concern, growing stronger each day. Anglican Bishop Laud's pronouncements were acting as a push for the Puritans to migrate to North America. I hardly wished to remain in England myself, with Charles I on the throne, and he was less a friend of the Puritans than he was my friend.

The year 1629 had seen Parliament dissolved, and no one knew how long that situation would last. It had also seen the Massachusetts Bay colonies given a royal charter. I think that the Puritans were genuinely glad about that. They shouldn't have been. Where a royal charter goes, royal taxes can follow, along with a powerful royal governor. Once a royal charter exists, its maker can send it somewhere else. For the right money, perhaps Charles' royal charter might end up becoming, say, a Dutch or French royal charter.

I'd never be able to calculate which way the political winds were blowing while living in Cornwall, no matter how comfortable or lovely my surroundings. It was obvious that I had to return to London. In my haste, I almost forgot Eliezer. He wasn't ready for London. Since I was about to turn many of my lands' judgmental duties over to the St. Clair vicar, I decided to turn Eliezer's development over to that same man. Eliezer was no longer my primary project; I promptly forgot him.

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