1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 34
“‘Comforter of the sick’? Not a minister or a priest or some such?”
“God forbid a priest,” James answered. “But no; a minister was too costly for the Negentien Heeren. They sent over a layman, a man named Michaëlius — but he was a devil when in his cups, so he was sent home. I hear that the new man is more sedate.”
“You’re pretty well informed about affairs here in New Amsterdam, Captain,” Pete said.
“While I was left to cool my heels in Thomasville, I gathered as much information as I could. The Dutch traders visited from time to time, especially in the last year or so.
“I don’t think much of the Dutch,” he added, lowering his voice somewhat. “I think this place is largely wasted on them. Still, there’s great potential here — a natural harbor, fertile soil, a decent climate. This place may not look like much, but in a few years — if the French or the Indians don’t destroy them — these Dutch burghers are going to get very, very rich.”
“You have no idea,” Gordon said.
* * *
After showing them the key sights and sounds of New Amsterdam, James excused himself.
“Doctor Skoglund wishes to perform some errands in the town,” he said.
“And,” James said, “she asked me to escort her.”
“Huh,” Pete said. “What prompted her to do that, I wonder?”
“I suspect that she wanted some mature company, Chehab,” James answered. “You have your own affairs; I am the logical choice.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“No,” James agreed. “No, you wouldn’t. But it is not your decision to make, now is it.” He touched his hand to the edge of his fashionable beaver hat, and walked away, back toward Challenger and Ingrid Skoglund.
“What do you think of that,” Pete said.
“I don’t know, little bro. But he’s right: Ingrid chooses her own companions.”
“Assuming she chose. Because if she didn’t, I’ll knock his teeth through the back of his head.”
“You think she didn’t choose? She’s a force of nature, Pete. I wouldn’t worry about that.”
* * *
Ingrid told herself that she was a realist: that she saw things for what they were, not for the way that she would wish them to be. New Amsterdam, that wished itself to be the great entrepôt of the New World, was a tiny, fairly dirty place, full of pretension and absent the patina of culture that would have made it the rival to the great cities of Europe.
She knew from reading the up-time books, and from what Gordon and Peter Chehab had told her, that New Amsterdam in their time line had become transformed into a city that was incomparable: huge and filled with people of every nation, every skin color, speaking every language. It sprawled from the end of this tiny island onto lands north and east, filling them like water filling a bowl. Millions of people — an inconceivable thought! — in one place, their buildings reaching to the sky, their vehicles clogging the streets, trains passing through deep tunnels and airships passing overhead.
It was a long, long, long way from this wretched place. Still, this place was greater than any place they had yet seen in the New World. Perhaps Jamestown would be greater, but there was no way to know yet.
Thomas James walked her along the Strand and into the Market Place, which was teeming with activity this afternoon. There was a remarkable selection: fruits and vegetables, packages of tobacco leaf, sacks of sugar, cakes of indigo — all set out for browsing and buying.
Ingrid was meticulous, but deliberate. She took a certain satisfaction in going slowly and carefully along each aisle, speaking to each tradesman, examining all of the goods that were displayed. Captain James showed extraordinary patience.
At last they were finished with the market. Instead of walking east, she turned her steps north along the Heerenweg, the so-called “Long Highway” that followed the edge of the settled area and passed the burying ground, still lightly populated, but with a number of stone markers for those whose lives had come to an end in the New World.
“There’s little past that orchard,” James said as they walked along. He was carrying her basket, which he’d insisted upon, and he swept it around. “You have seen all of New Amsterdam that there is to see.”
“It extends as far as the new wall, doesn’t it?”
“The wall — such as it is — is no more than a boundary line, Doctor,” he answered. “This isn’t a European city — it’s like a park with houses at the bottom end. Can you imagine any of this” — he gestured north; most of New Amsterdam was at their back; they could have been in a Dutch pasture, but for the smell and the sound — “in a proper European city?”
“No,” she said. “I suppose I couldn’t.” She walked a little further and then stopped, noticing an extensive garden plot just past the orchard, extending from the Heerenweg down to the marshy ground at the verge of the great river.
In the summer heat, she could see a number of dark-skinned men working, bent over pulling weeds or straightening the planted rows with long hoes.
“Is that a penance on such a hot day?”
“A punishment. Did they do something wrong?” She squinted. “Why, they have chains on their ankles.”
“That’s so they don’t run away, I would guess.”
“Then they are prisoners?”
“Slaves,” James said. He reached into a coat pocket and withdrew his pipe and a tobacco pouch. “They also do not wish to see them rebel.”
“I thought human chattel slavery was a feature of Virginia. We didn’t see them in Boston.”
“Oh, there are slaves in Boston, Doctor. Not very many: they don’t adapt well to the climate. But there have been slaves here in New Amsterdam for a dozen years. They’re…the more docile ones, not the great brutes that harvest the sugar down in the Carib. These are, dare I say, somewhat domesticated.”
“Yes. It’s a good business, really.”
“It’s a despicable business.”
“The Holy Bible is full of tales of slavery, Doctor. Don’t tell me that your up-timer friends have inculcated their values into you.”
“My –” She turned to him, hands on hips. “My up-timer friends, as you put it, have nothing to do with my views on the matter. Humans should not be property. If they were apprentices or indentures I could understand it — but I presume that these unfortunates are owned for life, without hope of redemption?”
“Compared to their earlier lives –“
“Spare me. They are here against their will.”
James packed and lit his pipe. “I should not seek to foment a rebellion, Doctor. I don’t think the schout would take too kindly to intimations of that sort. They are slaves, and they are here. And they were likely sold into bondage by others of their race eager to obtain what they could get. It is no less than disingenuous to fault men for making a profit in a way that so obviously presents itself.”
“And you absolve them of moral responsibility.”
“Yes.” He sucked in and blew out a smoke ring that drifted up a bit and then drifted away on the breeze. “Their morality is that of the marketplace, I’m afraid. Rather than pay for an expensive indenture, and then be required to equip a man at the end with land and tools, they simply buy the services.
“From what I have read of up-time history, it became quite a lucrative business. It looks…unlikely to change.”