1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 06

Next to them stood two women: one was younger, from her stance and attire a servant of some sort, and the other, a woman nearer their age, was looking up defiantly at the main deck of Challenger, arms crossed over her chest, her face full of anger.

“Someone you know?” Pete asked.

“Not yet,” Gordon said. “But I have the feeling I’m about to.” He walked toward the argument, wondering what it was about.

Maartens had an unfolded sheet in his hand and he shook it at the two men — big, burly Dutchmen who clearly hadn’t finished having their say.

“– you can load it on the deck, you blighted klootog,” Maartens was saying to one of them, “or you can go serve on another ship.”

“She won’t let us,” the man answered. “Not until she comes aboard.”

“Then let her come aboard.”

“A woman on a sailing ship?” he said. “That’s courting disaster and you know it.”

“Superstition,” Maartens said, glancing at Gordon as he approached, Pete trailing. “Nonsense.”

“What seems to be the problem?” Gordon asked, though he suspected he already knew the answer.

“Ach, nothing that matters, Chehab,” Maartens said. “These two oafs don’t want to let them aboard.” He gestured vaguely toward the dock. The men stalked away, pushing past Gordon and Pete; Maartens scowled at their backs with a look that said, this is not over.

“Because they don’t want a woman on the deck.”

“Something like that.”

“I assume that you have no problem with the presence of a woman aboard.”

“Coming aboard? No, of course not.”

Gordon sensed that there was more — something Maartens was not saying. The sailing master glanced at the paper in his hand; Gordon looked at it too. After a few moments he shrugged and handed it over.

Gordon looked at the paper — a letter from their original patron — then at Maartens, then at the two women on the dock.

“You understand,” Maartens said, “that I take a more reasonable line on such matters than my crew; they are not as enlightened about modern attitudes. As for the others…” he spread his hands, as if he was powerless to change minds.

Enlightened was not an adjective that Gordon associated with the sailing master, but it was a mildly clever way of sidestepping the issue.

“You don’t like the idea that our patron has added this…” Gordon looked at the letter again. “Ingrid Skoglund to this mission — to Challenger’s passenger list.” He read through the rest of the letter: this was to be their doctor — not quite the person Gordon had expected, but he wouldn’t turn her away.

Maartens didn’t answer.

“I realize you’re not thrilled with me,” Gordon said quietly. “But based on what’s written here, she’s as valuable to the expedition as I am. I’m a medic; she’s a doctor, trained in Grantville. I can patch up someone who gets a cut; maybe put in a few stitches. If we’re in Virginia and someone breaks a leg, she can take care of it. Without her, that man’s a cripple, or worse. She’s –“

“A woman,” Maartens said.

“Sure looks that way,” Pete said.

Gordon glanced over his shoulder, then looked back at Maartens. “She’s a trained professional. And a woman, yes. And you don’t like that.”

“I don’t think I have much choice. But it’s not sitting at all well with the crew. As for me…”

“You’re enlightened,” Gordon said.

“Ja. I have enough other things to get used to…I can get used to a woman doctor. But the others…”

“This is your crew,” Gordon said. “If there’s something they need to get used to, you’d better get them used to it.”

“Or else?”

“Or else I go find another sailing master.”

Anger flared in Maartens’ eyes, as if to say, you wouldn’t dare. But it was clear that he believed — that he knew for certain — that even if Gordon wasn’t ready to supplant him, their patron would not hesitate.

“But I don’t want to even consider it,” Gordon continued. “I want to meet this doctor, and get her gear aboard Challenger. The crew is going to have to deal with it.”

* * *

A few minutes and some angry conversation in Dutch later, the cargo and effects on the docks were being hauled aboard, and Ingrid Skoglund and the other woman had come up the gangplank to stand facing the sailing master and the two up-timers. After making sure they were safely aboard and their trunks and boxes were safely stowed, Maartens made an excuse and walked aft, leaving Gordon and Pete with the new arrivals.

“I’m Gordon Chehab,” Gordon said. “This is my brother Pete. You must be Ingrid Skoglund.”

“Yes,” she said. “You are up-timers, I can see.”

“How can you tell?” Pete asked.

“It’s obvious, to someone who has spent time around you.” She shrugged slightly. “But it is difficult to explain in precise terms.”

They were speaking in English: the letter, and a very slight accent, identified her as Swedish, but she was completely fluent. She was also what Grandpa Charlie would have called handsome: not quite pretty, but strong and healthy, height a little above average, with blue eyes and an oval face framed by curls tucked into her modest bonnet.

Gordon smiled. “I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about it.”

Skoglund stepped forward and took him by the elbow, leading him a few feet away, away from the servant woman and Pete. “I think I may owe you thanks for helping with a difficult situation,” she said. “Clearly not everyone is happy with my presence.”

“I did what I thought was right.”

“Yes. Of course. But I want to make one thing clear,” she said. “In your time women are considered equal to men — I have read a great deal about the future time — yet there are some things about it that I do not like.”

“No doubt.”

She frowned at Gordon, but again looked him directly in the eye. “My appreciation is limited to these words. I do not feel myself obliged to offer you any favors in return for your good will — and that goes for Sofia as well.” She nodded toward the servant woman, who was standing nervously next to Pete.

Gordon couldn’t answer at first, and then had to force himself not to laugh. “You think I…you expected me to –“

“I have neither brother nor father here to protect me. I just wanted to be clear.”

“Yeah,” Gordon said. “Clear. It never even crossed my mind, Doctor. And Pete is married and it probably never crossed his mind either. You have my word.”

She nodded, and let her stern face relax into a smile. “Ingrid,” she said.

“Ingrid,” Gordon said. He extended his hand; she took it, though she did not remove her glove.

The beginning of a wonderful relationship, he thought.

Chapter 4

Work continued on Challenger, almost exclusively by people who weren’t named Chehab. Gordon was what Maartens charitably called “not handy” — he didn’t have a good feel for the ship at the outset, whether it was barely avoiding being clocked by a swinging boom, or losing his balance on the gangways between decks, or tripping over the rigging. His most useful preoccupation was learning to read the down-time charts and to tie the knots that every able seaman knew. Pete, by comparison, turned out to have learned carpentry from somewhere, and soon was in thick with the laborers working on the decks. Ingrid and her assistant, Sofia, kept to themselves: clearly Maartens had spoken with the crew and warned what might happen if they succumbed to either superstition or their natural inclinations, while the two women had no interest in ship-fitting once their berths were arranged and their cargo was brought aboard.