Now I have seen the savages. Ship’s mate Juet calls them that: savages, uncivilized people of the woods, fierce. In my journeys now I’ve seen icebears and walrus and maybe mermaids … although reports of these always follow extra grog rations for the crew. On the docks I’ve seen men like Pernomo—very gentle souls—from the warm Spice Indies. But now I’ve seen savages. Real ones . . . of the woodlands. Self-assured, fearless outlandish men in their own camps, sailing and paddling their own waters in vessels of their hands and design.
A few speak French. Francais! But that makes them no more French than they would be if they spoke English . . . or Dutch. I’m glad some speak French, for otherwise we’d have no idea what they want; no one of our crew speak their tongue.
What they want is clear–
—trade . . . their beaver pelts and info about gold, silver, and copper to trade for our beads, metal knives and hatchets, and red gowns. Of this latter, we carried none and had to use force to stop them from climbing our rigging to take our VOC flag. Juet says we must not trust them and keeps his knife always in his hand.
But Juet trusts no one and never has. In fact, I know he mistrusts me.
I watch these woodlands men eat from our table, drink our grog. I’ve shared finfish and shellfish with them and watched their group rules. I study how they watch us, study us. I suspect they have their own civilization and language—confound us that no one speaks it!. Of course, I write that here never to share with Juet, who even now is scheming treacherous business with the savages.
(Painting: retouched image of George Caleb Bingham’s The Storm, 1850)