Marshall's Creek, Suriname River Long Dry Season, 1634 (July-November 1634)
Maria Vorst sniffed the wound, and grimaced. "It's infected." Her patient shrugged stoically.
"How did it happen?"
Captain Marshall answered for her charge. "Not sure, but probably just a cut from razorgrass, or a spiny vine."
Maria shook her head. "The men have got to get into the habit of inspecting themselves from head to toe, every day. We're in a rainforest, for heaven's sake; any break in the skin is bad news. If it doesn't get infected, then maybe some fly decides it's a dandy place to lay eggs."
"I'll need to clean the wound, and put some antiseptic on it," continued Maria.
"Yes, from the Latin, 'against rottenness.' You remember my lecture don't you? The one on the Germ Theory?"
"Indeed. I had bad dreams several nights in a row. Little armored critters with sharp fangs and claws, hunting us in great packs."
"Back in Grantville, Lolly showed me what they look like under a microscope. Pretty dull actually. Little balls or rods, mostly." Maria, an artist whose family ran the Leiden botanical gardens, had received botanical and medical training in Grantville.
"Well, in my nightmare, they had fangs and claws."
Maria had come upriver on the yacht Eikhoorn to visit Captain Marshall and his little tobacco growing colony of English Puritans. And the nearby Indian tribe, who were tapping rubber for Maria's people.
Despite earlier tensions, the colonists at Marshall's Creek had welcomed the latest visit by the crew of the Eikhoorn. Especially by Maria. Not just because she was the first white woman most of them had seen since leaving England, but also because of her medical training in Grantville. She had made the rounds, treating the illnesses and injuries of Marshall's people.
"All right, you're going to need to hold still now," she told her patient. She cleaned the wound with a warm decoction of bark. She took out a little rubber pouch—it was easy to come by, now that the Indians near Marshall's Creek were tapping the local rubber trees—and squeezed out an ointment. It was the thickened sap of another tree. Maria had learned about both the bark and the sap from Indians down river, near the new Swedish colony of Gustavus.
Of course, the Marshall Creek Indians had their own remedies. As the Gustavan's "Science Officer," Maria spent quite a bit of time learning native medicine, everywhere she traveled.
Maria wrapped cotton around the man's leg, to protect the wound while still allowing it to breathe. Even though the local cotton was gray, it still stood out against the black of his skin.
For the first time, she had met Marshall's other people . . . his African "servants." There weren't many of them, but their existence had been concealed from her and Heyndrick de Liefde on their previous visits. She wasn't surprised. Even if Marshall had not been told, when friendly relations were first established, that slavery was illegal in the Gustavus colony, he might have feared that the interlopers might try to incite the slaves as a cheap means of wiping out their upriver rivals.
Heyndrick, the cousin and agent of the founder of the Gustavus colony, had told Marshall that the Gustavus colony would not, for the moment, insist that Marshall free his slaves, and wouldn't encourage the slaves to flee, but he also warned Marshall that it would not return any fugitive slaves who made it downriver.
But that didn't mean that Maria couldn't attack the institution in subtler ways. "I have tended to this man's physical needs, but what have you done for his spiritual ones? Has he been instructed in the Christian faith?"
Marshall shook his head. "Of course not. He is only an ignorant savage."
"His ignorance can hardly be surprising, if you refuse to instruct him." Maria knew that this was a sensitive point with English slave owners. Since one of the justifications they gave for enslaving the Africans was that they weren't Christian, they feared that if they converted their slaves, they might be forced to free them.
Marshall temporized. "We don't have a minister of our own."
"I understand. I wish I could do something about that. But, I know that as a captain, you have read aloud from a prayer book. Surely your African servants can be allowed to listen and to learn what they can."
"And have you tried to teach any of them to read and write?"
Marshall laughed. "Mevrouw Vorst, few of my Englishmen have their letters."
"That is most unfortunate. In this new world, illuminated by the books of Grantville, being literate is going to be of great importance. Is that not true?"
Marshall nodded slowly.
"Well, I will see what primers we can spare, and all I ask in return is that at least one be dedicated to the edification of the Africans among you."
Based on the reading she had done in Grantville, Maria was fairly confident that there would be trouble over slavery, sooner or later. But for the moment, the colonists in Gustavus had more immediate issues to worry about. Like survival. And she agreed with Heyndrick that it would be better if the confrontation came after Gustavus was bigger and stronger.
The music faltered. The dozen or so Surinamese Indians, resplendent in body paint and not much else, stirred uneasily. Until then, they had been an excellent audience.
"Don't stop!" Maria whispered sharply to her assistant, and made a circular motion with her hands.
The English settler who had been given the honor of turning the crank on her mechanical phonograph nodded sheepishly, and brought the player back up to speed.
The violins, viola and cello played by the musicians of another universe went back to work, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik once again overrode the clicking and chirping of the insects of the rainforest.
Later that night, Maria tried putting on a Louis Armstrong record. Louis Armstrong had given the world such titles as "Alligator Crawl," "Trees," and "Rain, Rain." Despite this evidence of affinity, the Indians of Marshall's Creek were unimpressed, indeed, a little agitated. It appeared that the rainforest was not yet ready for jazz.
Maria salvaged the situation by hurriedly putting on Mozart's piano sonata no. 11 in A, Rondo Alla Turca. Tempers were appropriately soothed.
Ceremoniously, the chief's wife handed Maria a cup of piwari. Maria took a carefully metered sip, and bowed her head in acknowledgment, hoping she had drunk enough to satisfy propriety. Piwari was a brew made with fermented cassava bread. Which wouldn't sound so bad, except the old biddies of the tribe chewed the bread and then spat it into the pot to ferment.
She couldn't help but remember a story Lolly had told her, about a practical joke played on a British diplomat. At some sort of exotic reception, a covered plate was put before him. When he lifted the lid, all that he saw was a spider. He stared at it, as his so-called friends watched him out of the corners of their eyes. A moment later, he grabbed it by the leg, announced, 'For the Queen,' and dropped it into his mouth.
So it could be worse.
After the meal, presents were exchanged. "And this is for you," Maria said, and handed the chief a strange ornament.
"It is like a piece of the rainbow," marveled the chief.
During her sojourn in Grantville, Maria had listened to CDs on her friend Lolly's player. She had also been introduced to the curious concept of the "coaster", a CD which was no longer functional, and hence suitable for nothing better than protecting the table from water marks. Maria asked if she could have a few of these specimens, and Lolly said, "Sure, why not."
Maria had them cut into quarters, and hole-punched. Maria gave one only to a chief, or his favored wife. They could be hung from the neck, so all tribesmen and visitors could envy how well, in one light, they acted as mirrors, and in another, they iridesced.
Though tensions had been reduced, there was still a certain amount of casual one-upmanship between the English and the Gustavans, as they both sought to win over the Indians of the Suriname River.
Maria was confident that the Gustavans had won this round. There was no way that Captain Marshall was going to be able to compete with the "rainbow."
Henrique Pereira da Costa, formerly of the Portuguese-Brazilian frontier town of Belem do Para, watched as a small cayman emerged from the Essequibo River and rubbed its belly on the river bank. It didn't have much time left to enjoy the afternoon sun.
"Henrique, would you believe that they only have six books, besides the bible, in the whole fort?" said his servant Mauricio. Mauricio had been trained by Henrique's father as a scribe and linguist.
"That many?" Henrique asked rhetorically. "I am surprised." Not that Henrique was much of a reader himself. He was more woodsman than scholar. He looked off to the west, toward the setting sun. Any moment now, he thought to himself.
"Five of them," Mauricio continued, "owned by the Commander."
The sun at last disappeared below the horizon. The skies darkened rapidly, that was typical of the tropics.
"As for the sixth—"
"Enough, Mauricio." Henrique took a deep breath, kneeled, and closed his eyes. "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." Henrique was a marrano, a secret Jew, who had, when exposed as a "Judaizer," escaped into the Amazon with his servant and childhood companion, Mauricio.
Mauricio watched silently as Henrique prayed. Henrique had picked a location some distance from the fort, and out of its direct sight, so as not to give offense to their Calvinist hosts.
At last, Henrique completed the evening shema. He rose and looked at Mauricio. "There are some serious matters we need to discuss. Like what we do next."
"They don't seem to like us here much, do they?"
"Well, they're Dutch. Mostly Calvinists, too. They hate Catholics and they aren't too keen about Jews, either."
"Or free Africans, of any religion." Mauricio patted his pocket. "I keep my letter of manumission with me wherever I go, even in the jungle." Henrique's father, in his will, had instructed Henrique to make Mauricio a curtado, a slave who had the right to earn his freedom by paying a set price. Henrique instead freed Mauricio outright. But it was not until the two had made their way to Dutch-held Kykoveral that Henrique had acknowledged that they had the same father, and called him "brother."
"So, let me review our options." Henrique held up a finger. "First, we can make our home somewhere in the back country."
"Well, Kasiri and Coqui will be happy enough with that idea." In the course of their escape, Henrique and Mauricio had met the lovely Kasiri, and her brother Coqui. Kasiri and Coqui were Manao indians, from the distant Amazon.
Against all odds, they found their way to Fort Kykoveral, on the Essequibo river, and were welcomed by the Dutch commander. Only the welcome which Henrique received as a great explorer, had gotten a bit tattered once the Dutch realized he was Jewish. The Dutch were the least prejudiced of all the Christian peoples, but "least" wasn't the same as "not." And anyway, the Dutch didn't know quite what to make of Mauricio, Kasiri and Coqui.
"But I confess that while I am comfortable in the wilderness, I don't want to cut myself from civilization indefinitely." Henrique held up a second finger. "So the second possibility is that I can return to Europe."
"Right," agreed Mauricio, "we need to find you a nice Jewish girl."
Henrique gave him a quelling look. It had no discernible effect on Mauricio's smirk.
At that, Mauricio lost his smile. Henrique, logically, should board the next Dutch ship, and return to Europe. His family had longstanding plans to help them make a quick getaway if they had to, and Amsterdam was the preferred rendezvous point. And it was uncertain that the Dutch in Kykoveral would tolerate the permanent presence of a Portuguese Jew.
But that would mean Mauricio would have to decide between crossing the Atlantic with Henrique or remaining on the Wild Coast with Kasiri.
Kasiri frowned. "What's troubling you, Mauricio?"
"Right. My darling Mauricio barely speaks. He answers every question with a single word. It as commonplace as dolphins climbing trees."
Kasiri and Mauricio, of course, didn't talk to each other precisely like that. They communicated in a weird mixture of Manau, Portuguese and sign language, with many circumlocutions.
"Henrique doesn't think he can make his home here. He wants to cross the Great Sea to join his family."
Kasiri had never seen the ocean. To her the Great Sea was some sort of extension of the Amazon. And her people, the Manao, were traders, who made their home near the confluence of the Upper Amazon and the Rio Negro, but who traveled a great deal. So she just shrugged. A young man of her tribe, like Coqui, might travel hundreds of miles to visit, and perhaps take a bride home from, another tribe.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff