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1636 The Atlantic Encounter: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Monday, July 27, 2020 21:08 EDT

 


 

New Amsterdam

New Netherlands

    Pete seemed more surprised by the first view of New Amsterdam than Gordon, and expressed it as they approached from Long Island Sound.

    “That’s it?” he said. “This is what’s going to become New York?”

    “It’s never going to be New York, little bro,” Gordon said, as the morning fog began to clear and the docks on what the modern times would have called the East River became more visible. “That only would happen if the English had decided to keep their claims in the New World.”

    “We could change its name.”

    “Yeah,” Gordon said. “We could. But I don’t see that happening.” He leaned on the rail, squinting across the sun-dappled bay at New Amsterdam, scarcely more than a little hamlet at the southern end of Manhattan Island — no tall buildings, no Statue of Liberty, no big steel bridges connecting it with Long Island or anywhere else.

    Of course, everything he knew of New York was from television, lost in a future that would never be. Sitcoms and police dramas — there were probably some episodes on VHS tapes back in Grantville, showing more fragments of a world that this world wasn’t going to become.

    “I expected something a little more grand.”

    “From what I’ve read, that’s in the near future — in the next ten years in our own time line, New Amsterdam was to have expanded by an order of magnitude. It’s really a great place for a city: natural harbor, wide river leading into the interior, nice flat land and good farmland above. No wonder the English wanted it and no doubt why they took it away from the Dutch.”

    “Didn’t the Dutch buy the whole island for, like, twenty-four dollars?”

    “More or less. Though that’s an exaggeration. It isn’t like Peter Minuit just handed some Indian chief a twenty and four ones and got a title deed, like he was buying St. James Place or something. It was a pile of trade goods and weapons and so forth, and the Indians didn’t have the same sense of the deal that the Dutch had –“

    “‘The land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land.'”

    “That’s the general idea. But Europeans take a whole different view of the entire thing. That’s why they’re building a wall across the north side of the settlement — because of the Indians who think they got a raw deal.”

    “You mean they don’t already have a wall?”

    “They would have, eventually — it was built in the 1650s in our time line, but events have moved up the timetable. I imagine they’d like to know what’s going on beyond it.”

    “Sounds like a job for the Duke.”

    Gordon smiled; he wanted to get up in the air again.

    “We’ll have to see what the lay of the land is before we put John Wayne in the air,” he said. “This is more complicated than the Puritans.”

    “Oh? Why?”

    “Because it’s complicated,” Gordon said. “There may not be too many of these New Netherlanders, but there’s no telling which side they’re on.”

    “Not on the French side, though.”

    “Maybe not down here in New Amsterdam. But upriver, it’s not as black and white. They trade with the French, they trade with the Indians that trade with the French. They’re looking for an angle — all of them.”

     


 

    In the port of New Amsterdam, Challenger was just another ship — with different rigging and an unusual flag, but otherwise not much different from other ships at the dock. Still, it seemed to attract attention, though they were not challenged or confronted as they had been in Thomasville or in Boston.

    The view from the dock wasn’t much more impressive than the view from the bay. New Amsterdam close up was a messy, disorderly place with muddy streets — no different, really, than any number of European towns. From the deck of Challenger, though, Gordon could hear a welter of speech in several languages. Some he recognized, like Dutch and heavily accented English, and others he didn’t.

    He asked Captain Maartens what he expected, and received a grunt in return.

    “I imagine the schout will be here any time to see what we’re about. We’re not carrying any cargo, so he’ll demand nothing but a bribe.”

    “This is a diplomatic mission, Captain,” Gordon said. “You shouldn’t have to –“

    “But we will. They expect it. I expect it. Go explore, Chehab. Go do your diplomatie, whatever you need to do. We’ll likely be here when you get back.”

    Captain Thomas James, who had been watching the exchange, walked up to join Gordon. “Come,” he said. “Let me show you theâ¦wondersâ¦of New Amsterdam.”

     


 

    Thomas James’ sarcasm was unconcealed; his disdain was similarly obvious. He didn’t think very much of New Amsterdam or of the Dutch, and he gave Gordon and Pete a history lesson as they walked along the Strand, the street that followed the docks on the east side of Manhattan Island.

    “The Dutch Estates General don’t know what to make of this place,” James said. “The settlement has been here almost fifteen years — and they consider it either the greatest investment of guilders they’ve ever seen, or the most impressive boondoggle.”

    “I thought they only paid twenty-four dollars for the whole thing,” Pete said.

    “Sixty guilders,” James said. “Initially. To get the Indians to pull up their tent stakes and leave. But it has cost a hell of a lot more than that to build the fort — which they haven’t even finished; to plant the bouweries — the farms — and to establish the beaver trade. Every time someone brings in a haul of beaver pelts the High Mightinesses have another bout of believing that the whole thing is going to turn into pure profit.”

    “Beaver pelts?”

    “All the fashion,” James said. He took off his own hat and held it up. “Beaver pelt. Smoothed down and brushed. The height of couture, as the French would say.” He looked Gordon up and down, and then Pete, who scowled at the attention. Pete had a forage cap he’d picked up somewhere; Gordon was wearing a ball cap from John Deere, which looked as if it had seen far better days.

    “What?” Pete said.

    “Nothing,” James said, putting his own hat back on his head and adjusting it minutely. “Beaver pelts. For hats, for cloaks, and coats. But there’s more to the beaver trade than that.”

    “Really?”

    “The learned doctors of Amsterdam — and elsewhere — believe that the beaver has great medicinal value as well. The oil from the skin can be taken medicinally for dizziness and dropsy, and the skins are made into slippers to be worn as a cure for gout.

    “And then there are the testicles.”

    “Wait.” Pete stopped in his tracks. “Beaver testicles? This I have got to hear.”

    “I understand,” James said, “that beaver testicles have medicinal value. An extract assists in⦔ he hitched up his breeches in a provocative way. Gordon doubled over, laughing.

    “It must work for the beavers,” Gordon said, when he could catch his breath.

    “I’ll stick to strippers and porn,” Pete said.

     


 

    The Strand dead-ended in a wide place flanked by a mostly built pentagonal fort. The foundations were of stone, as were the outer walls that faced the ocean; but the interior palisades were no more than strong oak beams with chinking in between. That was the pride of the settlement, according to Thomas James: Fort Amsterdam and the adjoining barracks that held the hundred or so soldiers deployed at the colony.

    A number of new-looking buildings also fronted the plaza: a bakery, a smithy, and a couple of large warehouse-style structures that could be just about anything. The only thing missing from the scene was a church.

    “They nearly have one of those built as well,” James said. “They just haven’t finished it. But they do have the church bells, so I understand: they brought them back when the Dutch took Puerto Rico a dozen or so years ago. They would have built their house of God long since if the Nineteen had sent over someone other than a drunkard comforter of the sick.”

 



 

    “‘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?”

    “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?”

    “Penance?”

    “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’reâ¦the more docile ones, not the great brutes that harvest the sugar down in the Carib. These are, dare I say, somewhat domesticated.”

    “Docile.”

    “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 looksâ¦unlikely to change.”


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