Drake’s Cook

Oak of the Miwok near Bodega

Published here

Eagle must have made the Golden Hind, with its massive wings stretched across bones of wood, its hold full of strange smells, clothes and implements. The white men, that sailed it in from the sunset, must have come straight from Coyote. Odd, agreed the old Miwok men in the sweathouse of the village nearest the beach, and surprising, that the passengers in Eagle’s basket with wings seemed to have forgotten so much about life, unacquainted with the simplest things, like atole, black eggs and pinole.

The seamen brought gifts, but demanded food and supplies of water in great volume in a rude way. They impatiently sucked their teeth or rattled beads or copper pieces, as if to say: “Right now!” Their speech reminded the People of duck quack and squirrel chatter and many shouted in a loud, coarse way. The strangers that were sick and losing teeth, hair and body fluids were nurtured in the village.

One day, the People noticed that these visitors weren’t mingling or courting the single women. They weren’t staying! During a daylong sweathouse meeting, it was decided to hold a feast and offer a dance directly to the aloof Admiral Drake, as though to Coyote and Eagle. This might evoke pity for the People’s loneliness. Single women could do a flirtatious dance and entice at least some visitors to stay.

Young men set up the fire, with heaps of extra firewood. Boys and girls spread mats over the rocky path all the way from the village to the feast area between the boulders. The women cooked for hours and used many of the village’s reserves to make this feast spectacular.

The late afternoon waves lapped against the shore during a long silence that followed the food. The murmuring of each group reached the other as an increasingly repulsive sound.

An elder, who had encouraged the feast, stood and sang an age-old welcoming song of reunion and reconciliation whose melody was quick and light and warm and whose words were full of respect and a reminder of mutual loves and history together.

The mood shifted. A popular seaman stood in place and sang a bouncing song about chasing French and Spanish ships at sea and women on the shore. Sensing a positive shift, the elder signaled the women’s dance leader to begin.

Six lovely young women had been chosen. They had practiced their dance for several hours each day for several days. The girls had fasted to purify themselves and passed through the smoke of an herb fire.

They danced somewhat inwardly, with small gestures, gradually collecting life, then with more outward expression and broader gestures celebrating life. Then they enticed, suggested, offered to share life.

They danced beyond themselves, rhythmic and undulating, sweat drenched but shivering occasionally, chilled by the wind off the water. The spirits that guided the girls held them at a pulse that reached out to these sailors. The dance invited them to forget what they knew of hard ship life and home.

Up jumped a seaman. To the rhythm, he began to pump his hips toward the girls. Another got up and copied the other. They faced each other and advanced, thrusting. They bumped each other forward and then reversed and bumped buttocks, then one reversed and thrust at the other’s bum. Attention was now divided.

The warm spirit turned cold. A girl picked up two large smooth rocks from near the fire pit and clacked them together with the rhythm. The dancing seamen slowed and turned toward the sound. “Sit down!” she commanded them, continuing to clack the rocks. They sat, though not understanding her words. The girl clacked the rocks and twirled. Another picked up two sticks from the beach; others grabbed single sticks and large shells. The pace increased; their movements swift. They no longer made eye contact. The music had no words, only open mouth sounds, which increased in intensity. A girl began to alternately hit her thigh with a stick and then strike her two sticks together. Then she hit her face and the side of her head. Others followed, alternately clacking and striking themselves, rocks to both temples, sticks to the cheeks and nose, shells to the forehead, sticks against breasts, throwing their bodies down into brambles and onto jagged outcroppings. The beat maintained somehow. Scratched and bleeding, the girls tore their faces with their fingernails. Both groups of onlookers sat silent as the trees. The sounds became a wail, not of pain, but of reproach and shame and mourning.

The shaman of the village was terrified. This dance of pain was new, but instantly, unmistakably, now part of their tradition and he had been chosen to witness its creation. Trembling, the old man stepped from the group of men and began the dance of Mountain Lion, his most powerful ally; slowly, undulating, his shoulders rolling, at first humming, then chanting low barely audible tones, then words, then suddenly, with a scream of a lion denied its prey, he shook the beach, startled the guests, dropped the villagers to their knees and snapped the girls from their trance.

Impatient during the dance, and using ivory buttons for bait, ship’s cook Hedricks had enticed a young village woman with tattooed chin ribbons to go with him along the beach. They passed a downed tree that harpooned into the water. As soon as they were out of sight of the crew and natives, his hand was under her skirt of rabbit skins like an ecstatic fox. She got the buttons and the giggles.

He had learned about the value of his buttons from a pock-faced tar on board and had brought the buttons ashore with him, hoping to work out a trade of this kind.

Side by side, face-by-face in the starlight, each was scared of the other, but even more excited. Speech had been useless. He found her plump, round and ready. When she laughed at the tickle of his beard, it took him back to Connaugh Street at home and he could’ve been with Meg or Sara or Bonnie. With a hand on each shoulder, he pushed her back to the sand and put his leg between her knees ready to mount her. With a twist, she rolled away with her back to him.

“Be strong,” she murmured, and backed toward him, now more than ready to receive him.

“Teasing, are we?” he said, chuckling, and pulled her with both hands to face him. His hands moved to her thighs.

“Right now!” she laughed and rolled over to make her mood clear. No more hands and beards, she wanted all of him all at once.

“Here now!” he said, exasperated. As he forced her over, he tried to penetrate her, her legs tight together in reaction.

“Ow!” she said. “Other side. Other side!” and rolled, her buttocks up, even backing toward him to make her mood clear, tired of his pushing games.

Hedricks pulled her head up and hit her hard now with a scarred right fist, mad. She complied with the alien skunk.

He gave her seed with which to start a family and a share in the disease he had picked up in the Sandwiches.

While the shaman was yet dancing, with the eerie scream still clinging to the hairs on the back of their necks, two seamen jumped to their feet and began to prance and jump and beat time on their thighs, with open palms. A fife began to play and they went into a hornpipe and another pair joined them. With a word, an old man rose and led the villagers up the hill to their shelters.

Two days after the feast, it was clear that the sails had been repaired with fiber and gut, not feathers. The hulls and masts were bolstered with wood, not bone. The canvas that filled with wind appeared dirty; the ship puny and weak. When the shaman watched the ship sail south, he knew that whatever stayed from the ship was not from Eagle or Coyote, but from the People’s own terrible pale kinsmen.
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Hedricks’ button girl was cremated at the ocean beach, twenty-three months after the feast. Her mother and sisters blackened their faces with blood and charcoal mixed, cut their arms with shells and smeared pitch in their hair. They shrieked their grief. The whole tribe prayed her to the West, to the island beyond, the land of Eagle and Coyote. Her body was entrusted to the sun-like fire, which consumed, last of all, her necklace of precious ivory buttons. Her husband and two children followed shortly thereafter.

Eighteen months later, Drakes’ cook, Hedricks, drowned during the sinking of a different boat on the Thames, just miles from London, his body lost. His shipmates clinked their glasses and muttered his name for the last time.

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