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1636 The Atlantic Encounter: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Saturday, July 11, 2020 17:49 EDT

 


 

Atlantic Coast

North America

    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 ifâ¦

    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 stockadeâ¦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.

    “Why?”

    “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 thoseâ¦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 Puritansâ¦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.”

    “Same diff.”

    “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 realmâ¦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 Plymouthâ¦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.”

 



 

    “I thought it was all empty.”

    “Is that what your up-timer book told you?”

    “It didn’t tell me near enough,” Gordon said. “All I know is that there should be a good-sized town at Boston, and the governor is some guy named Vane.”

    “I believe that is in error,” James said. “Winthrop is still governor — or was in the spring, when we last had intelligence of the place up in Newfoundland.”

     


 

    As they crossed the bay toward Boston they could see the smoke from chimneys, and through a spyglass Gordon picked out a few more substantial buildings, including what looked to be some sort of factory.

    “That’s an ironworks,” Maartens said, reclaiming his instrument and squinting through it. “And hard at work, too.”

    “Where’d they get iron?” Gordon asked. “I didn’t know there was any in this area.”

    “It’s bog iron,” Maartens answered. “They pull bog ore out of yon swamps and smelt it. I didn’t know they’d started doing it.”

    “It’s got to be poor quality.”

    “If that’s all they’ve got, for now,” the Dutchman said, “but they’ll make do. It’s probably too much work to bring it from inland — and there aren’t real mountains to speak of until you’re practically in New France. But I imagine they’ve got enough to give them something to make plowshares out of.”

    “And are they planning on beating them into swords?” Gordon said.

    “That depends a lot on what happens in the coming year, I’d guess,” Maartens said.

     


 

    Pete couldn’t resist trying again. As Challenger drew close to Boston, he found Gordon on deck inspecting the stowed dirigible, and poked him in the ribs.

    “Don’t you have something better to do?”

    “That’s a pretty damn stupid question. You know I don’t have anything to do until we make landfall. I’ve been thinking about the dirigible again.”

    “What about it?”

    “I still think we should go aloft.”

    Gordon stood up straight. He and Pete were about the same height, but he was stocky where Pete was wiry — the virtues of army life for his younger brother made the difference.

    “I think we’ve already had this conversation.”

    “No, you let Ingrid tell you what to do.”

    “She has a pretty sensible approach, and she’s right — they are zealots, and there’s really no sense in scaring the crap out of people we’re trying to befriend.” Gordon leaned against the bundled dirigible, which was taller than he was. “I don’t want to see the French wipe these guys out. Neither the Puritans nor the Pilgrims can go home because England doesn’t want any of them back. And King Charles won’t lift a finger to save them.”

    “So we’re going to protect them against the French?”

    “I don’t know. Maybe. But I think we’ve got some time, because Virginia’s probably at the top of their list. They’ll get to New England eventually, though.” Gordon sighed and cracked his knuckles; one, two, three.

     


 

    Pete lost the argument again — or, rather, he didn’t put a dent in Gordon’s approach. Rather than anchor out at the tip of Cape Cod and deploy the dirigible — which they’d dubbed John Wayne — Challenger sailed through the beautiful sun-dappled afternoon and made for Boston’s island-studded outer harbor.

    Boston was the biggest settlement they had seen in the New World. Neither Gordon nor Pete had ever been to up-time Boston, and in any case the town was even a completely different shape than it had become by the year 2000, at least according to the maps that Gordon had in hand. There were two prominent hills to either side of the town and an imposing, taller hill behind; the town itself was perched on a peninsula, what James had referred to by the native name “Shawmut.” The modern map made Boston out to be fairly flat, so there’d been some serious landscaping in the intervening few centuries.

    They had a copy of the Bonner map from 1722 that showed the town’s general layout; but even that was misleading, as it looked as if the Mill Dam hadn’t been built yet — though there was a sort of causeway where it would be. The hill to port was crowned by a fort and the one to starboard by a windmill, steadily creaking in the breeze. The hill behind, which was composed of three peaks, had a tall pole on the top.

    The arrival of an unknown ship in Boston Harbor clearly attracted attention. Through his spyglass, Gordon could see that from the tower on top of the hill with the flag someone was watching them approach.

    By the time Challenger had laid alongside the wharf that jutted furthest out into the harbor, a small crowd of people had assembled. They were modestly dressed — no “Pilgrim hats,” as Gordon had said, but their clothes seemed muted, their faces expectant and somewhat solemn.

    “Some welcoming committee,” Pete said, looking over the taffrail as Challenger tied up.

    “They don’t look happy to see us,” James said. “Dudley should be among them — he’s the military leader — but I don’t see him.”

    “Dudley?”

    “The deputy governor.” James frowned. “There’s someone else giving orders, though⦔

    Gordon looked into the crowd and noticed a small group making its way toward the front. They were armed with pikes or muskets, great long things a few years out of date, four feet long and more, and they wore metal corselets and helmets, which reflected the early-summer sunlight.

    “Pete,” he said quietly, “make sure you’re primed and your powder is dry.”

    “Expecting trouble?”

    “Don’t know. But it doesn’t hurt to take precautions.”

    Gordon walked down the gangplank to a murmur of voices. With his up-time-styled clothing and neatly trimmed hair and beard, he must’ve looked a sight to these Puritans. Gordon resisted the urge to chuckle as he thought of the great scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of his favorite movies growing up.

    All trace of humor disappeared when two of the armed men reached the front of the crowd. They held their muskets in their hands and each had a slow match in a holster at his side.

    Another man, obviously a captain of some sort, stepped out to stand between them.

    “Who are you, stranger?” he said. “Your flag is not one I know.”

    He didn’t look interested in chitchat.

    “My name is Gordon Chehab,” Gordon said. “I am leading a trade mission from the State of Thuringia-Franconia, a part of the United States of Europe. Is this how you greet all your visitors?”

    “Questions are mine to ask,” the man snapped back. “These are dangerous times. ‘United States of Europe’â¦then you are a Swede.”

    “Not exactly. I’m an American.”

    “‘American’?”

    “I’m from Grantville. You know, Ring of Fire. Just arrived a few years ago.”

    The mention of the words “Ring of Fire” caused murmurs throughout the crowd, until the captain turned and cast an unfriendly glare, bringing the people to silence once more.

    “‘Tis said,” the captain said, “that you come from the time to come. We find this strains our belief. God is mighty and His works are wonders, but we wonder if this Ring of Fire is not a work of the Devil.”

    “It’s not.”

    “Indeed.”

    “I am not the Devil’s servant,” Gordon said. “No horns, no tail.” He smiled, but there were no smiles in return.

    Gordon’s mouth suddenly tasted of shoe leather. If it was possible for him to kick himself, he would have done so.

    “The Devil’s servants sometimes wear fair guises,” the captain said. “But it is not up to me to decide. What is your business here in Boston?”

    “I had hoped to speak with your governor about what is happening and what is to come. But I come in peace.”

    The man seemed to size him up in great detail, as if determining if his ball cap concealed horns and his trousers hid a tail.

    “I will bring you to Governor Winthrop,” he said. “A guard will be posted at your ship until your fate is decided. You will come with me.” He turned, as if expecting to be instantly obeyed.

    “Do you mind if I ask your name?”

    “No,” the man said, turning back. “I am John Endecott.”

    That was a name that Gordon knew very well. In a few months, if the up-time history was still any guide, John Endecott was going to start a bloody war with the Pequots.


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