1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 66

Chapter 24

USE army’s siege lines, just outside of PoznaÅ„

“Some wine, Doctor?” asked George, the duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, holding up the bottle from which he’d just poured himself a glass.

James Nichols shook his head. One of the things about the seventeenth century that he’d never gotten accustomed to was the astonishing alcohol consumption. Abstractly, he knew that the practice of drinking alcohol from the morning on was common in pre-industrial societies. Melissa had told him that Americans in the early nineteenth century consumed an average of six times as much in the way of alcoholic beverages as Americans did in the late twentieth century — and they were mostly drinking whiskey, too, not beer or wine.

From a medical standpoint, it even made a certain amount of sense, in an insane sort of way. You couldn’t assume the local water was potable — it very likely wasn’t, in fact — and alcoholic beverages were much safer to drink in that respect.

Never mind that they also had a lot of unhealthy side effects. The thing that really drove James Nichols crazy was that one of the standard practices for drinking in the daytime was to cut the wine with water — as Duke George was doing this very moment. He’d only poured himself half a glass of wine. The rest, he was filling up from a carafe of water.

Drink wine in order to avoid microbes from infected water. Then cut it with water full of microbes. Go figure.

Something of his thoughts must have showed in his expression, because the duke smiled widely. “I assure you, doctor!” He waved the bottle at General Torstensson, who was sitting in a comfortable chair just a few feet away — with a glass of wine cut with water in his own hand. “Lennart always insists that his orderlies have to boil the water we use for our beverages.”

Torstensson chuckled and said: “And now the good doctor is wondering why we simply don’t drink the water.” He shrugged. “It has no taste, I’m afraid. Or tastes bad, often enough.”

He used the glass to gesture at a chair positioned not far away in the chamber of his headquarters he was using for informal meetings. It was one of the rooms on the second floor of a tavern he’d seized in one of the villages not far from PoznaÅ„.

“I can have some tea made, if you’d like. I’m afraid I have no coffee.”

The duke plopped his portly figure into another chair. “Tea! But it’s still at least two hours short of noon!”

“That’s it, make fun of the abstemious up-timer,” grumbled Nichols, as he took his chair. “Thank you, General, I would appreciate a cup of tea.”

He didn’t ask for cream or sugar. Cream, because he wasn’t willing to drink un-pasteurized dairy products; sugar, because it was rarely available and he didn’t much care for honey. So, he’d just learned to drink tea plain. By now, he’d even developed a taste for it.

At that, he was enjoying a luxury. Tea was even more expensive than coffee, and coffee was extremely expensive. The standard hot beverage for people at the time if they weren’t drinking alcohol was a thin broth of some sort.

Torstensson wiggled a finger at the orderlies standing by the doorway and one of them left to get the tea. The other two remained in place.

And that was another seventeenth century custom Nichols had never really gotten used to — the ubiquity of servants. By now, most Americans had adapted because they’d found they could afford servants themselves. But Melissa strongly disapproved of the practice — she was not entirely rational on the subject, in James’ opinion, but it wasn’t something worth arguing about — so they had no servants in their own household. Instead, they had a seemingly endless procession of cleaning ladies and cooks who didn’t live on the premises and were thus not technically “servants” but who did exactly the same thing and cost about twice as much.

Go figure. It wasn’t as if everything about the twentieth century had been logically coherent either.

Duke George seemed to be something of a telepath today. “And how is your estimable wife these days?”

The third general in the room was Dodo Freiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen. He shook his head lugubriously. “You forget the lewd American customs, George! ‘Shaking up,’ I believe they call it. Amazing, really, that the Lord didn’t smite the lot of them for sinfulness.”

“The term is actually ‘shacking up,’ ” Nichols said mildly, taking another sip of tea, “although the genteel way to depict Melissa is as my ‘Significant Other.’ I’m more amazed the Lord didn’t smite the lot of us for mangling the language, myself. As for Melissa, she’s fine. Feeling a bit ragged these days, from traveling so much. She says she’s feeling her age, although she’s been saying that as long as I’ve known her. Melissa is one of those people who feels betrayed by the march of time, as if she and the universe had an understanding that she’d always stay about twenty and the universe is welching on the deal.”

George smiled. “I will not inquire as to the nature and purpose of the travel. Such a firebrand! Who would guess, beneath such a proper appearance? I swear to you, James, the first time I met her I thought she was a duchess herself.”

A lot of down-timers had that reaction to Melissa Mailey, when they first met her, especially people who were members of the nobility. Nichols had always found that amusing — and been even more amused by the appalled reaction so many of them had once they discovered Melissa’s radical political history and her still-radical political views.

In the case of the duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, however, the reaction had been curiosity and interest. In the two years or so that had passed since he first encountered Melissa and James at one of Mary Simpson’s soirees in Magdeburg, he and Melissa never missed a chance to discuss politics whenever they found themselves in the same city. At considerable length, too. Oddly enough, one of the highest-placed members of the Hochadel — George was Prince of Calenberg in addition to being the ruling duke of a province and the commander of an army division — had wound up becoming quite a good friend of hers.