Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 33
“There are inns on this island,” Hop said. “And barns we could sneak into if we wanted to save a little money. But I want to stop here. That’s my cousin’s house, or it used to be. He’s a preacher, so he knows a lot about what’s happening in New Amsterdam and in the Empire, and hopefully he can give us information.”
“About my sister?”
“Ja, maybe. Or about what is happening with the Pacification or the Electoral Assembly. Or if there is unusual Imperial activity here in the Republic.”
“Why are we standing out here in the snow, then?” Nathaniel stamped his feet in turn, trying to drive blood into them. “Let’s speak to your cousin.”
“Ja, that’s a good idea. We should do that.” But Hop stood in place, staring at a sober brown-stone house with a row of winter-bare maple trees in front of it.
Nathaniel put the acorn away. “Will your cousin welcome us?”
“He doesn’t hate me,” Hop said. “He’s not angry with me, as far as I know.”
“Then why are you hesitating?”
“He knows me as a deaf-mute,” Hop said. “And the explanations I can give him for why I can now hear and speak . . . will not please him.”
Nathaniel caressed the skin of his drum-horse and felt comforted. “I’ll distract him with my display of high Philadelphia fashion. He’ll be so stunned by my elegantly backward hat, he won’t even notice that you’re talking.”
That joke kicked the Dutchman into motion. Hop skipped up the boardwalk and then stone steps to the front of the house. The street was hazardous with mud and melting ice, but the boards and the steps were swept meticulously clean and dry.
Nathaniel heard singing within. He didn’t understand the language, but he enjoyed the steady moving bassline sung by male voices and a rapid melody above it, sung by women and children. And the whole harmonized very well with the faint background music Nathaniel heard all the time, the innate music of the world.
When Hop knocked a second time, the singing stopped. Moments later, the door opened and a bigger, broader-shouldered, redder-cheeked version of Hop bounced into view.
“Goedenavond,” the Dutchman said. “Wat kan ik voor jullie doen?” And then his eyes opened wide. “Jacob!”
He turned and yelled a stream of rapid Dutch into the house.
“Ambroos,” Jacob Hop said. “Stop. Wait. I know you’re surprised.”
Ambroos fell silent and stared at Hop, his mouth open.
“I was hoping we could stay the night here,” Hop said.
Ambroos spoke slowly, with the slight stiffness that suggested he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the language. “I don’t know what’s most astonishing, and there are so many possibilities. To see you at all. To see you with this . . . stranger. To hear you speaking. And to hear you speaking English.”
“Let us in, Ambroos,” Jacob Hop said, “and I’ll tell you things that are more astonishing still.
“Who lives in a house such as this?” Kinta Jane Embry stared at the grounds about her. The tall white house was built of wood, with a gambrel roof, flaring eaves, and three chimneys. It stood only a few steps from tall limestone cliffs that dropped hundreds of feet into the Hudson River. Landward, the house was fenced in by thick screens of trees. If there was road on the other side of all those gray trunks, Kinta Jane couldn’t see it.
Kinta Jane and Isaiah Wilkes had sailed up the Hudson and approached the house from the other side. Their path up the cliff had been completely invisible from five steps away, and very nearly invisible even as they were climbing up it. They now emerged through a notch between two gray boulders, faintly silvered by the quarter moon.
“Adriaan Stuyvesant, Chairman of the Dutch Ohio Company as well as one of its significant shareholders. Also an investor in a dozen other well-known commercial ventures in the empire, and one of the Hudson River Republic’s seven Electors.”
Kinta Jane couldn’t help herself. She broke into song:
Seven Electors Knickerbock
Seven votes on the Tappan Zee
Three Electors by joint stock
Heads of three big companies
The States-General choose another three
The Stadtholder makes seven, see
“Which one is he?” she asked. “One of the Joint-Stock Electors?”
“I believe you got that song exactly right,” a man’s voice said. “Now raise your hands over your head slowly. In this poor light, I’d hate to mistake your intentions and accidentally put a musket ball through your brains.”
The speaker stepped forward, not entirely emerging from the shadow cast by two closely-grown tree trunks. In the darkness, Kinta Jane could tell he was of middling height, but his head seemed enormous and misshapen.
“I’m here to see Adriaan Stuyvesant.” Wilkes spoke slowly and distinctly. “On a matter relating to his three brothers.”
There was a silence.
Then the man in shadow spoke. “I have two brothers. We each came from a different mother and father.”
The hair on the back of Kinta Jane’s neck stood up.
Wilkes answered: “Such brothers would be a marvel to remember until the end of days.”
Then the Franklin stepped forward and offered his hand to the shadow. Kinta Jane knew when the men clasped hands they were exchanging recognition grips; Wilkes would offer one, and then the other man would counter and so on, until they had established not only shared belonging to the Conventicle, but respective rank.
Isaiah Wilkes certainly had the superior rank. Who was the other man?
“Dockery,” he said, stepping further out of the shadow of the trees and revealing that what appeared to be a swollen and deformed head was a badger-skin cap. Together with his fringed leather jacket and the pouch at his hip, decorated with a row of deer’s dewclaws, it gave him the appearance of a trapper or a scout. He spat a stream of tobacco juice to one side.
“I’m Kinta Jane Embry. This must be a back way into Stuyvesant’s house,” Kinta Jane said. “Expressly for the use of brothers.”
“Oh?” Dockery turned and led them toward the big house at a steady saunter. As he pivoted, Kinta Jane caught a glimpse of a powder horn strapped to the side of his pouch; the horn was ornately carved with a floral pattern. Wilkes invited Kinta Jane to go second, and then brought up the rear.
“Otherwise, it’s a ridiculous coincidence that we climbed up this goat path and ran into you.”
Wilkes turned a half-smile on her and beamed.
“I got nothing to say to that,” Dockery grunted. “Except I ain’t sure I trust someone who feels compelled to say out loud everything she thinks.”
“Kinta Jane only recently acquired a tongue,” Wilkes said. “She is carried away by the novelty.”
“Having a tongue is about the least special thing there is,” Dockery said. “Knowing how to keep your tongue in your head is considerably less common, and worth a lot more.”
“I went seven years without saying a word,” Kinta Jane shot back.
“Hot damn, but weren’t those the days?” Dockery said.
“Is Adriaan here?” Wilkes asked.
“I’m taking you to him. He might be expecting you–he’s been saying for a few weeks how we need to extra careful watching the river path.”
“Dark things are afoot in the west,” Wilkes said.
“Franklin’s vision?” Dockery asked.
Thinking of the strange coin the Dutchman had given her aboard the Incroyable, Kinta Jane blurted out: “yes!”
“And here I was, wondering whether my new best friend had seen Franklin’s vision, and of course she’s kind enough to show me. Kinta Jane. That make you Choctaw, I guess?”
“Now look who’s showing off what he knows. And what about you? You talk something like a Cracker, only without the twang.”
“I got Appalachee in me. A little German, too, and about half English, from two generations back or so. I’m a regular Creole, only all of it’s pale-skinned. I came up in Pennsland, within musket-shot of Pittsburgh. My kin are what they sometimes call Mountain Alchemists in those parts.”
“Moonshiners?” The phrase was new to Kinta Jane.
“Radical Christians,” Wilkes said. “And counterfeiters.”
Dockery nodded. “In parts where coin in scarce, the local clipper is sometimes the only person who brings ready money to the local economy. As a boy, I got kidnapped by Algonks and ended up learning their ways and tongue for a couple of years until my uncle bought my freedom. With counterfeit money, naturally. That give you enough biography, Woman With Tongue?”
Dockery looked up at an illuminated window on the second floor and fell quiet.
Suddenly, Kinta Jane found she was not especially eager to share her own life’s story. “That’ll do for now.”
“Good. You got to realize that Adriaan Stuyvesant keeps a couple of men close to him who belong to the Conventicle, but his family and most of his folk just have no damned idea. Safest that way, and best you not upset the arrangement.”
Kinta Jane nodded. “Understood.”
“Excellent.” Dockery stepped up onto a low porch at the back of the house. He struck a match, held it up to his face to illuminate it, and knocked gently on the glass of a window. “We’re here.”
Shutters on the inside opened a crack, revealing only darkness.
A few moments passed, and then a door several steps farther along the porch swung open. A turkey-necked servant with iron gray hair hanging in long loops around his ears brought them inside into the orange light of a kitchen with an open stove door and a six-armed candelabra. Handing Kinta Jane the candlestick, he pointed up a staircase, the passage barely as wide as Kinta Jane’s shoulders and each step as high as the distance between her elbow and the tip of her finger.
Dockery stayed in the kitchen.
The staircase emerged through the floor into a high-ceilinged attic. Dark drapes hung where Kinta Jane assumed windows would be. In the center of the room sat half a dozen wooden slat-backed chairs in a loose circle. In one of the chairs sat the man who must be Adriaan Stuyvesant.