We’d not survive another winter there. Our dead buried, we upped and crossed the Baie Fendu to Port Royal, and cleared of virgin spruce a rise ideal for habitation. The smith poured oil on whipsaw blades our dogs got set to shove. The local savage came and watched our carpenters peg mortise to tenon, raise beams above the trading room we built to splay their furs. We had our negro speak to them for us in smidgens of Basque and Mi’qmaq tongue. In time, we learned to get along. Their sachem liked the looking glass, the iron knife, the copper kettle in which he wet a tea for us from needles of the arbor vitae tree.
One of the Captain’s men, each evening, wore around his neck the collar of the Order of Good Cheer. The savage called him Atoctegic, he who rules the banquet. The day before, he’d make tracks to hunt down prize meats, then stick sticks through orifices of gutted coons and geese, the great cage of a moose or caribou. These he took to the cook’s rotisseries. Before the feast he’d let his musket off, march in the food, speak, and serve all men. Afterwards, we played parts with words, men at sea, à l’encontre de Neptune, en route to the New World.
It came the negro’s turn to rule the banquet. By now he’d learned the savage tongue, and had their wherewithal with names for things and places only he would go with them. Bear River. Beaver Creek.
Seboo, he said and laughed, then six hibous, pointing to six owls crossing over.
For a long while after that we called first him, and then what the river became, the Sissiboo. He had learned from them to spice the beaver meat with chervil, clove and pepper. Many savage came that night and stood round. The women wove, the men passed pipes, all watching the manner of our service. We gave them bread as one would do the poor. They had no words for our affection.
The fog next morning held outside the gut. The basin swelled. A savage blew his horn. We did up the scraps of last night’s banquet to take with scythes upriver to the corn. There, we cropped until turn of tide, then loaded to return to Habitation. The scent of smoke smote us first, birch and spruce, the place burned to its saw-pits. The savage showed and spoke pidgin to our negro. The furs and fish, all taken, right down to our moccasins. White, we learned in French, but different tongue. And wild, the negro said. Sounds like English. We had to let the savage take us in. They sat round fires. They shucked the corn to song.