1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 14
The grinding waters and the gasping wind
Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West”
Gordon wasn’t sure what he expected to see when Challenger came in sight of land. He had a notion that the New World would look like an untamed wilderness, with settlements clinging to the coasts — the slightest breeze capable of dropping them into the sea, palisades facing inland against attacks from hostile Indians. Movie stuff, or what boys read in their adventure books.
But the sight that greeted him from the foredeck of Challenger was nothing like that. The hills were bare, stripped of trees and vegetation; inland of a fortified settlement, he could see smokestacks. It was a scene from Dickens — the Industrial Revolution come to roost on Newfoundland.
Pete came up to stand beside him. “Wow. Doesn’t look like 1636 to me.”
“It’s 1636, all right. According to what I’ve been told, they started with a map of mineral deposits. They’re taking coal and iron ore out of the ground and making pig iron. It looks like Cavriani’s cousins made a smart investment.”
“Why haven’t the French grabbed this place?”
“They tried, last year. But the Danes drove them off. Rumor is the Danes used a submarine to do it.”
“Submarine?” Pete shook his head. “That sounds like bullshit got loose from the pen.”
Gorgon shrugged. “I’m not vouching for it. I’m just telling you what I heard. But whether the submarine part is accurate or not, what does seem clearly established is that the French found this place a tough nut to crack. Which means they’ll probably be probing somewhere else next.”
Pete gestured toward the harbor, now coming into view. There were two ships anchored there — one of which was clearly well armed.
“I’d guess that’s true. But those ships can’t just rot in the harbor. Sooner or later they’ll be somewhere else, and…”
“And they’re going to need friends. And that, bro, is why we’re here.”
“Oh, is it?”
The two brothers turned to face Ingrid, who had come up to stand beside them.
“I understood that our purpose in the New World was to gather intelligence, Gordon,” she said. She looked across the bay at the settlement and frowned. “And we have the first of it, don’t we? What sort of place is this, in the New World?”
“It’s a colony,” Pete said. He gestured toward the hills and smokestacks. “It’s freakin’ Pittsburgh.” When Ingrid frowned, he continued, “It’s amazing, really, how much they’ve built in just a few years. It took them decades to screw up the Alleghenies, but they’re well on their way to do it to Newfoundland already.”
“I would have thought that you would find this a pleasing sight,” she said. “This is what the future looks like, doesn’t it?”
“Not all of it.” Pete looked at her. “Do you think we like industrial wasteland? We left that behind. West Virginia was full of stuff like this — coal mines that stripped the tops off mountains and poisoned rivers.”
“And here we go again,” Gordon said, “except it’s in Newfoundland.”
“I wonder who it is that is apparently so fond of your sort of technology. I’m sure they revel in this display — of modernity.” She turned on her heel and walked away.
* * *
Maartens snapped his spyglass shut and turned from the taffrail to where Gordon and Paul stood. He looked aloft. “What flag does she fly?”
“Danish Hudson Company’s house flag,” came the answer.
Maartens said, “How’s your Danish, Chehab?”
“Not great. But since Ingrid — Doctor Skoglund — is Swedish, she could probably translate. Well enough, anyway.”
Maartens looked at the sky as if he were imploring Heaven — the idea of consulting a female doctor to speak for his ship had clearly never even crossed his mind.
“Perfect. Could not be better: may be a hostile ship, and no one speaks the cursed language.” He opened the glass again. “She’s got the wind at her back — she’s reaching on us.”
“So — is she hostile?”
Maartens grunted. “She hasn’t fired on us yet, if that’s any indication. She’s a cattle ship, so she won’t have many guns anyway. But given the wind, she’s got to have come out of the port there. Our courses will cross within a half hour unless I change our point of sail.”
“Maybe we should see what she wants.”
Challenger’s sailing master let the rudder drift so that the ship made no headway. The Danish ship continued to approach, hailed Challenger and came alongside.
An officer and three soldiers climbed over the rail of the Danish vessel and Challenger’s rail and onto her main deck. They looked as all soldiers do: self-important and fearless, anxious to exert their authority.
“Captain,” the officer said in good German, touching the rim of his helmet. “What ship is this, and why are you in our waters?”
Maartens shrugged. “I’m the sailing master, not the captain. You have boarded the USS Challenger. We are on a trading mission for the State of Thuringia-Franconia. I had not realized that I was in anyone’s waters.” He looked up at the mainmast of the Danish ship. “What is more, I hadn’t realized that Denmark had any claims here: doesn’t all of the New World belong to the French?”
The officer scowled. “Not all. That is Thomasville,” he said, waving toward the distant shore. “It is granted to the Danish Hudson’s Bay Company.”
“Ah. I see.”
“USS. That stands for –?”
“United States Ship.”
“Ah. From the United States of Europe. You are, then…Swedes?”
“Americans,” Gordon volunteered, stepping forward. Maartens looked annoyed at the interruption, but shrugged.
“Amerikaner?” the officer said. He turned slightly and shouted something toward the Danish ship. “Our captain will want to talk to you, I think.”
“Who is your captain?”
“Lars Johanssen,” the man said. “This is the ship Kristina, a vessel of the Danish Hudson’s Bay Company.”
“Never heard of him,” Maartens said.
The officer was clearly unhappy with the comment, but shrugged. “You will come with me, American.”
Gordon glanced at Maartens, then at Pete. “Let’s go, bro.”
“Just you,” the officer said, putting his hand out as Pete took a step forward.
“A custom of my country,” Gordon said. “We use the buddy system. Wherever I go, he goes.”
“I don’t –“
“Your Captain Johanssen wants to talk to me, does he? Well, we make it a habit of only boarding foreign vessels in pairs.”
The officer looked from Maartens to Gordon and back — then he nodded. “All right. Come with me.”
* * *
Kristina was a smaller vessel than Challenger, ninety or a hundred tons compared to a hundred and fifty. It looked like cramped quarters and smelled faintly of cattle. The captain of Kristina met them on the quarterdeck, where he stood surveying his ship and his new guests.
“Captain Johanssen,” Gordon said.
“Yes. And you are?”
“Gordon Chehab,” Gordon said.
“Brothers, eh? Yes,” Johanssen continued. “You look like it. Well. What brings you to Thomasville?”
“That takes some explaining,” Gordon said. “And I don’t want to tell the story more than once. Do you…speak for your settlement?”
Johanssen seemed surprised by the question. He tensed and looked as if he were framing an angry reply. He looked from Gordon to Pete, who appeared relaxed and ready, like a boxer looking for the right opening.
“I am asking the questions here.”
Gordon didn’t respond at once, which made Johanssen seem even more angry.
“I could simply impound your ship for violation of our coastal waters.”
“You’re welcome to try,” Gordon said.
Johanssen swept his gaze across Challenger. To most observers — up-time or down-time — it looked pretty much like any other ship of the era; but an experienced sailor would see the subtle changes that were evidence of up-time modification.
A superstitious — or cautious — down-timer wouldn’t want to be caught by any up-time surprises.
“I’ll take you ashore to talk with Sir Thomas Roe. Your timing is very good, Amerikaner. A few weeks from now he’d have cleared out for Hudson’s Bay.”