1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 24
“But to Champlain. His first ventures into the New World were in the last century, and he visited New France for the first time more than thirty years ago. He has survived rivalries at court, changes in loyalties, conquest by the English, and even the enmity of the Queen Mother when she was regent. He even survived his own death.”
Stephane did not quite understand what Servien had meant by that, and it clearly showed on his face.
“As you are aware, Stephane,” Servien explained, “the up-timers have provided us with considerable information about the strange and wondrous world in which they lived before the Ring of Fire transported them into our midst. According to their great compendium, their Encyclopédie, Monsieur Champlain was to have suffered an apoplectic attack sometime in the autumn of 1635 and returned to dust on Christmas Day. But — miracle of miracles! He did not. Instead, he is alive and well, and his presence…his influence must be taken into account in any consideration of the New World to which His Majesty now lays claim.”
“I don’t understand. Is he a…hindrance? Could His Majesty not simply recall and replace him?”
“It is more complicated than that.”
“I daresay it is,” Stephane said. “Perhaps Monsieur could explain more clearly.”
“Champlain is a romantic fool,” Servien said. “He honors the traditions and the customs of the savage natives, and has always enjoyed their trust. He — personally — is held in awe by them. It is not an exaggeration: last fall, when rumors of his death circulated among the Five Nations, a war party made an attempt to take the settlement at Trois-Rivières. An informant passed this intelligence on to Champlain, who was there to thwart it. Thus, he enjoys the confidence of our king.”
“What does Cardinal Richelieu think of him, if I may be so bold as to ask?”
“He believes that Monsieur Champlain is an obstacle to the greater glory of an expanded New France. He believes that Champlain will do what he thinks best, and his actions may not be in harmony with the cardinal’s superior wisdom.
“And he believes, young Stephane, that it would have been better for all concerned if Champlain had simply suffered his attack and gone to God on Christmas Day last, as the up-timer histories assured that he would.”
* * *
Samuel de Champlain did not appear to Stephane to be any sort of fool, romantic or otherwise. He was of above-average height, with no stoop of old age. Stephane, remembering Monsieur Servien’s comment about Henri IV, had expected him to be ancient beyond understanding. But while it had gone gray and silver, he still had all his hair and, seemingly, most of his teeth. He presented an imposing figure, sitting at ease in his armchair while Stephane stood before him, knowing that he had achieved his goal by reaching him but now completely unsure what might happen next.
“Courtesy demands,” Champlain said after a long pause, “that I welcome you as a countryman and a servant of our king. Yet it also demands of you that you show me the respect that I am due. So tell me, young man. Why does Cardinal Richelieu choose to send me a spy?”
“I…do not think that he intended to send me to you, Monsieur Captain. I have simply arrived here, and I need, and request, your help.”
“You said that. A few moments ago it emerged as a demand. It pleases me that you have rephrased it as a request.”
“I did not know how I might be received.”
“Your illustrious master did not fully describe my character, my inclinations?” Champlain made a gesture in the air, expressive and yet dismissive. “He is disappointed that I am yet here.”
“In New France?”
“Aboveground,” Champlain said. He stood up slowly and walked to the window of his habitation, as it was called. From the window one could see the neat lanes and small houses of the settlement of Québec. He placed his hands on the sill and looked out, and without turning around said, “He promised me that there would be an entire continent open to settlement by France, yet there is still much to be done — in Virginia, and elsewhere. He wants other, younger men to do it.”
“I cannot speak of the cardinal’s intentions, Monsieur.”
“No, no.” Champlain turned. “Of course you cannot. None of us can. But we must all dance to his tune. So. Tell me what help you so urgently require, young man. What crisis threatens that has brought you so far?”
He returned to his seat and, for the first time, gestured Stephane to another chair.
“Surely Monsieur has heard of the Ring of Fire.”
“Yes, of course. The miracle which has brought men from the future to our world of today, a few years past.”
“I was given the task of reporting –“
“Ah, now we discuss the spying.”
“As you wish: spying on an expedition sent by the people of the future to the New World. I had not intended it, but I accompanied them on their ship as far as Thomasville, the Danish settlement at the mouth of the Saint-Laurent.”
“What sort of ship is this — some wonder from the future?”
“No, it is a sailing ship, though it has a number of improvements. It is steered with a wheel, and not a whipstaff, and they have devices that help them determine their position. Their ship is not a ship of war, but rather an explorer; they are seeking intelligence to bring back to their masters, just as I am hoping to send word back to my masters regarding what I have seen. They have not heard from me since we departed the Germanies, and I am desirous of composing a letter that can be taken back. Or, if circumstance allows it, to find passage back to France to report.”
“To the cardinal.”
“To Monsieur Servien, my employer.”
Champlain crossed his arms across his chest and frowned. “That one. Have a care, young man: he is a snake, and utterly loyal to Cardinal Richelieu. To him, everyone is no more than a chess piece, to be maneuvered and sacrificed. I hope he pays you well, and I pray that you have an opportunity to make something of your gains.”
As he spoke, Stephane felt a chill…though it might have been no more than a strong breeze through an open window.
This man truly is no fool, Stephane thought. Romantic or otherwise.
“I would not presume to understand what Monsieur Servien intends,” Stephane answered. “But even though it is only to further his own ends, he has provided me with opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. If I am inclined to be loyal to him because of that, then so be it.”
“Of course,” Champlain said. “I perform my duties out of loyalty as well — to the kingdom of France.”
“I am from Alsace,” Stephane answered. “I am employed by a servant of your king — but I am not His Majesty’s subject. I have no great love for any other sovereign, however, especially the foolish one who surrendered all of his claims to this continent for thirty pieces of silver. Our Comte owes his allegiance to the Hapsburg dynasty, but that is so far away from everyday life in our land that no one even takes notice.”
“Is your loyalty then for sale?”
“I suppose it is. But at the moment the proprietor is Monsieur Servien.”
Champlain thought for several seconds, then seemed to come to a conclusion.
“Very well, Monsieur,” he said. “I shall assist you. But first — tell me more about this ship.”