1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 15
* * *
Dockside, Gordon expected to hear mostly Danish, but there was quite a mix of languages: English, German, even some French. The town, which was called Thomasville, had been here less than two years; the buildings were all new, with none of the weather-beaten look of every harbor in Europe.
Feels like a movie set, he thought.
Captain Johanssen and his men escorted Gordon and Peter along the dock, directing them toward a building with a clock tower, set back from the wharf.
“Sir Thomas should be at the Rådhus,” Johanssen told them. “He will be less patient with you if you are not forthcoming with answers.”
Pete leaned close to Gordon. “So, how’s your Danish?”
“I know enough to get slapped,” Gordon answered quietly. “But Roe is an Englishman. I’ll try to let him do the talking. From what I understand, a couple of Dutch frigates got away from the battle that destroyed the fleet, and a couple of years ago they were raiding all along the coast.”
“Is that still happening?”
“I don’t know. Or, rather, neither did Estuban Miro nor Leopold Cavriani, my contacts in the President’s office. Even if they’re gone, I’d be just as happy if Roe didn’t find out we have a Dutch sailing master. Admiral van Tromp has supposedly gathered all of the Dutch fleet he could find in Caribbean waters. if these two ships’ captains have any sense, they’d have obeyed the order to join him. But ships’ captains don’t always show sense.”
Gordon said the last sentence just loud enough for Captain Johanssen to give him another angry scowl. It made Gordon smile.
* * *
At the Rådhus, there was plenty of bustle. Cavriani’s intel on Thomasville was that it had originally been intended as merely a stopover point for an expedition to Hudson’s Bay — the Danes had been primarily interested in mining and extraction. But it seemed to Gordon as he stood at the top step and looked out across the town that the people there were intending to stay — and prosper.
The idea of a mining town was nothing new for a West Virginia boy, but the notion that it might be prosperous was a little unusual. But these down-timers had something that the West Virginians never had: advance knowledge of what to look for, and where to look for it. And it would be theirs to keep — unless the French came and took it all away.
* * *
In a spartan receiving room inside the Rådhus, they were at last presented to Captain Thomas Roe. After Johanssen had escorted them into the room, he departed, leaving the two Americans with Roe. He directed them to seats, taking the most comfortable one for himself.
“Lars tells me you weren’t very eager to talk to him,” Roe said. “He’s a good man, but takes offense easily — you must be very sure of yourselves.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Gordon said.
“Aye, of course you don’t. So tell me — what brings Americans to Newfoundland? You’re not here for the fishing, I assume. Are you looking for work?”
“No,” Gordon said. “We have steady work. We’re here to get the lay of the land.”
“Knowledge is power, Sir Thomas,” Gordon said. “Our employer wants to know how things stand for the various settlements in the New World. We’re on a…trading expedition.”
“Trading, is it. And what have you learned so far?”
“This is our first landfall. We knew you were here — but you’ve progressed quite a bit.”
“Thank you, I suppose. The miners and the smelters are kept busy. May I ask — who is your employer?”
Gordon looked at Pete for a moment, then back at Roe. “It’s a trading expedition, sir. We work for ourselves.”
“A fine answer, but it falls short of the truth.”
“I don’t think we like being called liars,” Pete said quietly.
“I’m sure you don’t. I would not consider doing so. But you should be aware that some of the costs of undertaking the Danish Hudson’s Bay Company have been underwritten by Saul and Ruben Abrabanel.”
“I am aware of that,” said Gordon.
“They are relatives of…the USE’s gray eminence, Don Francisco Nasi. I’m sure they’d not want their gentle cousin to interfere in a legitimate business venture.”
“He is in retirement.”
“That surprises me.”
“We are a republic, sir,” Gordon said. “Governments come and go. Mike Stearns is no longer Prime Minister, and Don Francisco is no longer — “
“Do not insult me by suggesting that he no longer has influence. But I take your meaning: this expedition…has no official sanction by the USE, then.”
“We are a trading expedition for the State of Thuringia-Franconia. We have no intention of interfering with your business or other ventures here. In fact, there’s only one group whose possible interference should be of concern.”
“Sure enough. This settlement would be an attractive target for France, I should think. It’s a good thing that we’re not at war with them. And neither are you.”
“That’s true…for the moment. But they claim all of North America because of the transaction between their king and your king.”
Roe frowned when Gordon said your king, but didn’t say anything. It was clear that he knew that Gordon was talking about Charles of England, not Christian of Denmark.
“They haven’t troubled themselves with it thus far.”
“Their eyes have been elsewhere, Sir Thomas. But sooner or later that will change and Thomasville will become a target.”
“We can defend ourselves,” Roe said. “Let them try.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Pete said.
Roe looked from Gordon to his brother. “Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re vulnerable,” Pete said. “Even if you think you aren’t. This isn’t the easiest place to take, but it can be taken — or destroyed. You’re isolated and you don’t have many friends.”
“Are you threatening me? Or this settlement?”
“No,” Gordon said. “Certainly not.” He looked at Pete, who was looking at Roe as if he was sighting down the barrel of a rifle. “We’re not threatening you. The king of France is threatening you.”
Roe leaned back in his chair, as if considering the matter for a moment, then stood up and walked to a heavy escritoire at the side of the room. He reached into his vest and withdrew a key, with which he unlocked the drawer; opening it, he took out a packet and brought it back to where he had been sitting.
“I received this letter from Saul Abrabanel two months ago, Mr. Chehab. He informed me…” Roe sat in his chair once more, holding the envelope in his hands. “He informed me that he had heard from his cousin that an expedition was being equipped to…trade…in the New World, and it would likely make an appearance here at Thomasville. I have delayed my departure for Hudson’s Bay so that I might be present when you arrived.”
“I repeat,” Gordon said, “we are not your enemy.”
“I do not think you are. I merely wanted to see for myself what sort of men would be involved in this venture. You apparently have drawn the interest of the cardinal.”
“Richelieu?” Pete asked.
Roe gave Pete a look that seemed to mean, do you know any other Cardinal worth mentioning?
Gordon said, “I was not aware that Monsieur le Cardinal knew anything of our project.”
“Of course he does,” Roe said, slapping the packet against his thigh. “If there is one rule you should always observe, min Herrer, it is that Monsieur le Cardinal knows a great deal about everything. He does not presently have the resources to intercept and sink your fine ship, but he might place obstacles in your way. Where are you bound next?”
Gordon looked at Pete, then back at the captain. “Massachusetts Bay.”
“I wish you good luck with them. They are an unpleasant sort, easily taking offense. But they hate the French, particularly because of their view of the Catholic faith.”
“And you, Captain. Do you hate the French as well?”
“I don’t hate anybody. But I do pick my battles. What about you?”
“We’re new here,” Pete interjected. “Ask us in a few years.”
* * *
Outside in the hall, Lars Johanssen, who had been doing his best to listen without being noticed, wondered quizzically what all the laughter was about.