1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 26
Maartens took his time sailing Challenger south from Newfoundland. Gordon would have liked to see the pace pick up, but the Dutch sailing master insisted that there were all sorts of dangers — shoals and rocks and other things — along the coast.
They had some of the soundings maps for the Maine shore, but not enough of them to satisfy Maartens. Instead, he relied on John Smith’s map from 1614 which, in Gordon’s eyes, was more a work of art than a navigational tool. The weather was about what could be expected: brisk in the daytime, chilly at night, the strong breeze blowing off Georges Bank. When it rained, it rained in sheets; their oilskins could hardly keep up with it. When it was sunny it seemed as if the sun was a remote thing, far away in the sky, not really imparting warmth to go with the daylight.
For all that, it was better than some of the weather they’d seen crossing the Atlantic. There had been times when Gordon wondered if, for all of his up-time knowledge, and the importance of the mission, he would wind up at the bottom of the sea like relics from the Titanic never to be seen on national television. The storm that had destroyed the radio hadn’t even been the worst of it, but it was the one he remembered the most. He knew he would remember that one the rest of his life. Losing the radio was a heavy enough burden, but what really weighed on Gordon was the death of Jaeschke. The young radio operator would still be alive if Gordon had thought more quickly, or if the door hadn’t been stuck, or if…
If, if, if. It made him want to be alone, even if the weather was rotten. Ingrid, and even Pete, seemed to realize that, and kept their distance while he stood at the rail and looked out over the ocean as it pitched and rolled beneath Challenger’s hull.
* * *
There were only a few settlements to be seen. After they cleared the land that Gordon’s map showed as Nova Scotia, Challenger made sail westward toward the Maine coast. The day after, during a drenching rain, Gordon thought he could make out a fleur-de-lys on a banner hanging limply from a stockade…and wondered if the French invasion had already begun.
Three days from Thomasville the ship anchored in a rocky cove at the mouth of Penobscot Bay. It was out of the wind, at least. Maartens made some vague comment about scraping the hull, or straightening the sails or something. It permitted crew and passengers to go ashore.
“We should unload the dirigible,” Pete said, looking out across the water.
“So we can get it aloft.” He stood up and balanced on the rock he’d been sitting on, his feet rocking back and forth. “That’s why we have it, right?”
“It’s here for exploration.” Gordon pulled his jacket a little tighter. “Not much to explore around here: rocks and trees, maybe a few Indians…”
“I wasn’t thinking about what’s here. I was thinking about Boston.”
“That’s a few hundred miles away.”
“That far? We’re in Maine, aren’t we? The states are little out here, Gord. Little tiny states. They’re close together.”
“It’s a couple of hundred miles, Pete. We’re not going to unload the dirigible here, or launch it from here.”
“And you’re not going to fly it over Boston,” Thomas James said, walking from the woods toward the rocks. He had Ingrid Skoglund on his arm; Sofia trailed a few steps behind, looking around her with an expression that was a mix of wonder and fright.
Pete turned to face him. “Oh, yeah? Why not?”
“Because,” James said, disengaging himself from the doctor and stepping up to face the brothers, “you do not wish to anger those people.”
“I’d be more afraid of flying it over Thomasville,” Pete said. “Those dudes are serious.”
“I am not sure what you mean by that,” James said. “But those…the Danes are a very rational people. If you flew your dirigible in the Newfoundland sky, I am sure that Sir Thomas would think carefully before he took any action.” James frowned. “I am not sure how vulnerable it would be — is it fragile?”
“Somewhat,” Gordon said.
“But if he was not sure, he would assume nothing. As for the Puritans…what did you have in mind?”
“Yes, Pete,” Gordon said. “What did you have in mind?”
“I’d think it would impress the hell out of them,” Pete said. “Imagine, there you are plowing the fields in your Pilgrim hat and you look up and see a lighter-than-air ship cruising above you.”
“It’ll scare the hell out of them. And they’re not Pilgrims, they’re Puritans.”
“No, not the same diff. Pilgrims are in Plymouth, and even if they’re allies, they’re different cultures. These people, the ones in Massachusetts Bay, are Puritans — they’re not trying to get away from England, they’re trying to reform its worship.”
“So no Pilgrim hats.”
“No,” James said. “But they are not people you want to frighten, Chehab. They will draw the wrong conclusions.”
“That we’re the enemy?” Gordon asked.
“They have plenty of enemies, some of their own making, and they seem to have no trouble gathering more of them. If you approached them with hostility then they might or might not ultimately become your friends. But if you take on attributes that would make them believe that you emerged from Satan’s realm…they will never be your friends.”
“I don’t get it.”
“My brother is slow,” Gordon said. “Wouldn’t you say, Ingrid?”
“He is slow in some matters,” she said, “and quick in others.”
“I’m not sure I like hearing that,” Pete said, frowning.
“That is why you are not in charge of this expedition,” Ingrid said. “I think that I am inclined to agree with Captain James. I know very little of this group, these New Englanders: but I know a great deal about zealots. They know no bounds to their passion, and admit no reason into their counsels unless it agrees with their doctrines.”
“So…” Pete shrugged. “So we’ve got to tiptoe around them.”
“I think we have no other choice,” Gordon agreed. “We want to gather intelligence in the New World, Pete. We’re not here to show off.”
* * *
Gordon’s expectations regarding Massachusetts Bay Colony were colored, as always, by what he’d been taught at school. In this case it wasn’t much. He assumed that there was one little settlement, ten to fifteen years old, full of religious dissenters who came to the New World to get away from authority.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. There hadn’t been much to see along the Maine coast — a few little fishing settlements, a few Indian encampments (the natives were wary; their canoes stayed well clear of Challenger) — but as they came in sight of Cape Ann it was obvious that there were several little towns along the coast.
“What do you know about the colony?” he asked James, as they watched the sun set over the dense inland woods.
“Some of what the good doctor said is true: the men of Massachusetts have chosen to separate themselves from the mother country because they cannot tolerate the Church of England,” the English captain said. “They are not as extreme as their cousins to the south. Some of the Massachusetts settlers returned home in 1633 when the English King disposed of his claims; but most have stayed. As for the men of Plymouth…they remain, having no desire to return — or no alternative. But the many Massachusetts towns outnumber them.”
“Are either of them friendly?”
“As if any of them are friendly with any of the others.” James snorted. “From what I have heard, and read, the first Massachusetts expedition separated into two settlements almost upon arrival, with Governor Winthrop establishing Boston on the peninsula, and his deputy, Dudley, locating upriver at Newtown. But there were already Englishmen where he purposed to settle: right here” — he gestured toward the promontory of Cape Ann, dwindling in the distance — “but those Puritans would not unite with those of a different covenant.”
“They wouldn’t let him land?”
“They turned him away. And when he arrived at Shawmut — what the natives called it — there were already the Dorchester settlers at Mattapan and some others scattered all around. I daresay they had to be more accepting than the Salem men had been.”