1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 08

“Well.” The Dutch sailing master’s face brightened, as if he might now have an opportunity to affect the direction Challenger would be going. “The best way is to follow the trade winds, the northeast winds, and make for the Caribbean.”

“The Caribbean? I don’t want us to –“

“It’s not necessary to follow them all the way, Chehab,” he said. “It depends on just where the edge of the trade-wind zone lies. Somewhere south of Gibraltar we could cut west, perhaps bear for Bermuda or Virginia. We’d have to navigate around the Sargasso; the winds are unpredictable and we might become becalmed, but…”

“And if we made directly for Newfoundland? What then?”

“I…if we crossed out of the trade winds and bore north, we would be in the variables. The wind could come from any quarter, though we would benefit from the fore-and-aft rigging, if we weren’t swamped by the waves.”

“Sailing with our own coffin. I remember.”

“Ja,” Maartens said. “It might be a longer trip, but if we could raise the east coast of Newfoundland –” He jabbed a thumb at the chart, then carefully traced the rough coast of Labrador with his index finger. “The charts say that the current is favorable along the lee of this coast…but it’s a bad wager, Chehab. I’d rather head for Virginia or the Bahama Islands and beat our way up the coast.”

“But if we made for the Maritimes — for Newfoundland — we could make it.”

“Tacking all the way,” Maartens said.

“You know how to do that,” Gordon said, and got the scowl he expected.

“I’d like us to take the southern route.”

“It’s not as important as going north.”

“We can still go south first.”

Gordon took several moments before replying. He saw some glimmer of hope in Maartens’ face; the Dutchman had clearly wanted to convince him of the folly of sailing the northern route across the Atlantic.

“We’ll do the tacking thing,” Gordon said at last. “We go north.”

* * *

Ingrid Skoglund and her maidservant, Sofia, had settled into a regular routine aboard ship. Maartens had faced down the most recalcitrant of his crew — he’d even let go a couple of them back in Hamburg: older men who couldn’t get used to women aboard; but he treated the Swedish doctor and her companion in the same way he treated the radio and its operator — as installed equipment that he didn’t understand and didn’t care to learn.

They took their meals with the sailing master or, when weather permitted, on the quarterdeck away from most of the crew; Maartens allowed this violation of his privacy merely (as he said) for convenience — but whenever they were with him, and whenever he encountered them as they walked around the ship…which, to Gordon, seemed remarkably frequent…he was scrupulously courteous. Sofia rarely spoke; Ingrid was particular in her formality, meeting Maartens’ eye but restricting their conversations to as few words as possible. Maartens seemed more gruff with his crew after such encounters, as if he had postponed his normal peevishness to take it out on others.

On a sunny but brisk afternoon, Gordon finally decided that it was time to get to know the doctor. He’d kept his distance for the first few weeks, and Pete seemed to have no real interest in following up; he’d snorted with laughter when Gordon had told him of her insistence that she owed him no favors…he’d wanted to throw his kid brother into the harbor, but had decided to ignore it instead.

The two women had found a seat on some securely lashed crates amidships, where they were mostly out of the wind. As Gordon approached, the servant girl said something to Ingrid that he didn’t catch, rose and with a slight bow to Gordon walked aft toward the pilot house, out of earshot but not out of sight.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Gordon said. “May I join you?”

“If you wish.”

Gordon settled himself on the crates, but at a respectful distance. For what it was worth, Ingrid seemed standoffish, but not upset or threatened.

“I’d like to know a little more about you,” he said. “Since we are going to be working together.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Where you’re from, how you came to be a doctor, that sort of thing. I was not expecting that we would have a…”

“A Swede?”

Gordon smiled, and to his surprise Ingrid did as well. “No. I didn’t expect a Swede. Though I don’t have, well, any problem with Swedes. I just assumed that…someone other than a Swede would have an easier time on a ship full of…non-Swedes.”

Ingrid smiled again; the sun peeked from behind a cloud and lit up her face. The breeze blew a few strands of hair from under her hat; she reached up and tucked them back into place. “I told our patron that I might not be best suited for this expedition, but he insisted. To be honest, I was hoping he would agree; certainly Sofia would rather be on dry land. We shall both have to make the best of it.”

“As will we. I don’t know what to expect; the New World — well, it’s where I’m from, sort of, though it’s a time I’ve only read about and as far as I can tell most of that is exaggeration.”

“You shall have to use your own eyes — and your own judgment.”

“I was expecting to do that in any case.”

They sat a few moments in silence, then Gordon added, “Doctor — Ingrid — you are too clever by half.”

“Why do you say that?”

“When I sat down a few minutes ago I told you I wanted to know more about you, and you have succeeded in completely diverting the conversation. This is part of your bedside manner, I suppose.”

He saw anger in her eyes for a moment, then they softened. He thought about what he had just said and realized that it could have been misinterpreted — damn American idiom, she thinks you’re coming on to her, Gordon thought. Damn, damn, damn.

“You mean…the way I attend patients.”

“Yes,” he said quickly. “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. I’m sorry, your English is excellent, and I used an idiomatic expression. When I was learning French I had no end of trouble with them.”

“Language is elusive,” Ingrid said. “Speaking a foreign tongue is sometimes like riding a wild horse. It can toss you over and knock you senseless. Or worse.”

“Or worse,” Gordon repeated. He placed his hands on his thighs and looked at them, then up at Inge. “Now. Tell me about yourself.”

“On a single condition.”

“Which is?”

“You tell me about yourself.”

“Agreed. So — who is Ingrid Skoglund?”

“A good question,” she said. “The answer is simple: I am a doctor, trained in your hospital in Grantville. I was born and grew up in Jansköping, where I learned the skills of a midwife.” She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them, as if they belonged to someone else. “I think…I think that I might have been content to remain there and bring new lives into the world. My father was a doctor; he had no son, so he taught me much of what he knew.”

“So what changed?”

“What has not?” She laughed. “You have changed everything. You up-timers have turned the world on its head. New knowledge. New ways of killing people.” Her face became solemn. “We knew of the war, and our king’s desire to change the balance between the powers. But when the Ring of Fire altered things, my father decided to travel to your wondrous home city to see what he could learn. He chose to take me with him.”

She looked away from Gordon then, letting the stiff breeze blow more stray curls into her face. It was clear that this was something emotional for her, though he wasn’t sure why.