"The streets are in chaos," Rebecca said, as soon as she came through the front door of the U.S. delegation's house in The Hague. "I never even made it to my interview with the prince."
Heinrich Schmidt came in after her, and closed the door. "It probably doesn't matter, anyway. According to most rumors, Frederik Henrik left The Hague yesterday. On his way north, according to some, trying to find out what happened. Others claim he went south—or east—in order to bolster the Dutch forces guarding the line of fortresses."
Rebecca sighed and rubbed her face. "Rumors, rumors—everywhere. Every corner is filled with knots of people arguing and exchanging rumors. Who knows what's really happening?"
Gretchen scowled. Jeff, sitting next to her on a couch, took a deep breath. "Well . . . if Frederik Henrik's really gone . . . there went our best chance to get a hearing from anybody who'd listen."
Rebecca went over to a nearby chair. "Yes, true enough." As she sat down, her hands slapped the arm rests in a gesture of exasperation. "Damn the Dutch and their obsessive sectarianism! Ever since we got here, the burghers and the regents have had us pigeon-holed as 'Arminians.' As if we care in the least about their stupid doctrinal disputes!"
Heinrich leaned back against the door and grinned coldly. "Calvinists, what do you expect? If you support freedom of conscience—as we do—you are no better than a spawn of Satan, Rebecca. Arminians—the devil's wolves already—dressed in sheep's clothing."
Wearily, Rebecca nodded her head. "Arminianism," in the parlance of the day, was what hardcore Calvinists called the moderate tendencies within Calvinism itself. The term was a vague one, measured by any objective intellectual standards, since it swept under one label such very different men and schools of thought as the Dutchman Grotius—now in exile—or the forces gathered around Bishop Laud in England.
But that very vagueness was an advantage to the hardcore Calvinists in the United Provinces. Under the official theology lurked hard-headed immediate material interests; and the real issues at stake were at least as much political and economic as they were religious. The bastions of hardcore Calvinism in Holland—the Counter-Remonstrants, as they were called—were in such towns as Haarlem and Leiden and Utrecht: manufacturing towns, basically, whose prosperity depended largely on the textile trade. A state of hostility with Spain worked to their advantage, since the Dutch blockade of the Flemish coast and their control over the outlets of the Rhine served to protect them against their Flemish and Brabantine competitors in the Spanish Netherlands. And thus they were hostile to any tendency within the United Provinces which, along theological lines, suggested the possibility of a compromise with Spain.
For its part, Arminianism in Holland had an equally material underpinning. The strongholds of the Arminians were the major port cities—Rotterdam and Amsterdam, along with the smaller towns of Dordrecht and Alkmaar and Delft. These cities depended for their prosperity on the carrying trade and fishing, and for them the continued state of hostilities since the end of the Twelve Years Truce in 1621 had been a major burden. Fine for the manufacturers of textiles—or the Zeeland merchants who depended on the inland trade—to wax hot and eloquent about the Anti-Christ and the devious ways of Popery. It wasn't their ships which were seized by the Spanish-backed privateers operating out of Dunkirk; nor was it their trade with Iberia and the Levant which had been destroyed; nor was it their herring fisheries which were suffering.
Complicating the mix was the long-standing political tug-of-war between the various levels of Dutch government, which was a complex entity: Holland versus the other six provinces; between the town councils and the States of Holland and the States General; the ongoing conflict between the merchant oligarchs who dominated the town councils of Holland and the nobility who were still the dominant class in the more agricultural areas.
Overriding everything else, perhaps, was the role of the House of Orange, the premier noble family of the United Provinces. In the summer of the year 1618, Mauritz of Nassau—the stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland provinces as well as the prince of Orange—had carried through, with the support of the hardcore Calvinists, what amounted to a coup d'état. The existing Arminian regime led by Oldenbarnevelt and Grotius had been overthrown. Oldenbarnevelt had been executed, and Grotius cast into prison.
For the next seven years, until his death in 1625, Mauritz had wielded greater personal authority in the United Provinces than any man since his father William the Silent had been assassinated in 1584. He had used that power to entrench the forces of hardcore Calvinism throughout the country. By the time of his death, however, the rigidities of the Counter-Remonstrants had produced a great deal of unrest, and under his successor Frederik Hendrik the balance had begun swinging the other way. Mauritz's half brother, if he lacked some of the martial glamour of other members of the illustrious House of Orange, possessed in full measure the political adroitness and skill of their great father William the Silent. So, steadily but surely, he had worked toward a more even balance of power between the various factions of Dutch society.
And, just as steadily, toward achieving a long-lasting settlement with Spain. Frederik Hendrik had used the prestige of his victorious siege of 's-Hertogenbosch in 1629—which had caused a sensation; the first really major defeat for Spanish arms in Europe since the Great Armada of 1588—to launch an effort to reach out and achieve an acceptable compromise with the Spanish Habsburgs.
As she reviewed this history in her mind, Rebecca had to control her own anger. There were times, she thought, when the history of Europe in her era could be summed up with a phrase from her father's beloved Shakespeare: sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Nothing beyond death and destruction, that is, tearing a continent apart and leaving millions slaughtered in its wake. And for no reason beyond the narrow and petty interests of the various factions in European society which ruled the lands—just as petty, on the part of Holland's merchants, as any princeling of Germany.
For months now, since December of 1632, Dutch and Spanish representatives had been negotiating a new peace. By the spring of 1633, it had appeared that a settlement was in the making—and a very good one, all things considered, from the long-term interests of both the independent and Spanish portions of the Low Countries. If anything, even more favorable to the United Provinces than to the Habsburg provinces in the south.
But the Counter-Remonstrants dug in their heels, and by the time Rebecca and the U.S. delegation arrived in Holland the talks had already collapsed. The hardcore Calvinists had been certain that, backed by France, the Dutch had no need to make any settlement with the Spanish, and so Spain had withdrawn from the talks and turned to its fleet and Don Antonio de Oquendo. And still the hardcore had been confident, for Richelieu's France, as always, had stood ready to support them against its traditional Habsburg enemies.
Now, it seemed, their little world was being turned upside down. The Mantuan War between France and Spain had ended two years earlier, freeing up the still-great strength of the Spanish empire to be brought to bear once again on the Low Countries. And if the rumors sweeping The Hague were true, and the French had set aside their long quarrel with Spain and turned against their Dutch allies . . .
Jeff said it for her: "Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, huh?"
"Yes," she said, almost biting the word off. "Damnation! Just when I'd finally managed to cut my way through all the obstacles to get my first meeting with the prince of Orange himself!"
Exasperation drove her to her feet. "Enough. What is done is done. Until the situation settles down, there will be no way for us to meet with Frederik Hendrik. Nor do I see the point in any further 'discussions' "—the word was almost sneered—"with bigoted officials whose fine theological phrases are no more than a cover for greed. So—what should we do next?"
For a moment, there was silence. Then Heinrich, pushing himself away from the door, said forcefully: "Get out of The Hague, for a beginning. I do not share your confidence that there will be any 'settling down' of the situation, Rebecca. If the French have really switched allegiance and the English are in it also—which makes sense, given the message we just got from Melissa last night—then I think the Dutch are facing disaster."
"They've held out for over fifty years," protested Jeff.
But it was something of a feeble protest. Not even his wife agreed with him. "Don't be foolish, Jeff," said Gretchen. "Without France to back them up, the Dutch survival depends on their fleet alone."
"Best fleet in—"
"Not that much better," she growled. "And if the fleet is defeated, the Spanish will be able to get behind the line of fortifications at the frontier."
"And don't think for a minute," Heinrich added, "that the Spanish army isn't still the best in Europe. Their infantry, at least. For fifty years, everything has favored the Dutch—the political terrain even more than the physical. Change the French factor in the equation . . ."
For a moment, Rebecca was distracted by the expression. She could remember a time—not so long ago, really—when Heinrich Schmidt would not have used the language of mathematics in his metaphors. That, too, was one of the multitude of little ways that a few thousand Americans had begun a transformation in central Europe.
She took courage from the thought, and remembered her husband's oft-repeated little mantra: Buying time, Becky, that's what we're doing. Buying time, until all the little changes we're making start merging into a river that can't be stopped.
"I do not disagree, Heinrich," she said firmly. "So—yes. There is no point remaining here. If the war goes badly for the Dutch, The Hague will be too exposed. Amsterdam is where they will fall back. Best we get there quickly, before the roads become flooded with refugees. But relay Melissa's message to Julie and Alex in Scotland first. Hopefully, it will get through to them. They should be in Edinburgh by now."
Heinrich nodded, glanced at two of his soldiers standing against the far wall, and nodded again. Immediately, understanding the gesture, they headed for the door. Those were the two members of their party who spoke fluent Dutch, and the ones they'd come to rely upon to make whatever practical arrangements were needed. They would see to the task of hiring the necessary carriages for the journey to Amsterdam.
"We should leave someone behind," said Gretchen. "Two of us, with a radio—not Jimmy, we'll need him to set up the big radio again in Amsterdam—so we can keep informed of what's happening."
"Me," said Jeff immediately. "And either Franz or Jakob."
Gretchen froze for a minute, staring at her husband. Her face seemed to pale a bit.
Jeff shrugged. "With only two of us here, one of us has to speak the language well enough. I can't speak it hardly at all. And I've got to stay because, like you said, Jimmy has to go with the rest of you to Amsterdam. That leaves me. The only—" He broke off, for an instant. Then, harshly: "That leaves me."
Rebecca understood the meaning of that hard, clipped statement. Jeff was skirting around an issue which ran deep beneath the surface in the new society emerging in what was called the United States. Would the "old Americans"—the real Americans, as some thought of it—share in the risks and dangers of what they were forging? Or would they simply guide others in the doing? Rear echelon motherfuckers, in their own crude phrase, whose skills and knowledge were too valuable to risk on the front lines.
It was an old and long-running argument, both of whose sides Rebecca could understand. The fact was that almost any of the people who had been transplanted from the West Virginia of the future—any of them, at least, who were in their late teens—had a level of knowledge and skill which made them almost invaluable. Even with no more than a high school education, someone like Jeff Higgins understood more about science and technology than any European of the day. He could debate Galileo on astronomy—and win; Harvey on medicine—and win. Absurd to place such knowledge at the risk of being destroyed by a stray bullet or the diseases of a war zone.
And yet . . .
Perhaps—in the winning itself—lose everything. Saddle the world coming into being with an aristocracy of the robe which was no better, in the end, than any aristocracy of the sword. Create a world where, insidiously, American blood came to count for as much as the precious limpieza of the haughty Spanish hidalgos.
She hesitated, torn. As much as anything, because she had come to feel a deep love for the young American who had once saved her life—just as he had saved the lives of his German wife and her family.
The wife herself settled the issue. "Yes, you must," said Gretchen softly. Her hand slid into Jeff's and gave it a tight squeeze. Her eyes were moist. "You must."
* * *
The U.S. delegation set off for Amsterdam very early the next morning. Gretchen was the last to board, hugging Jeff fiercely until the last moment. Then, with a final kiss, climbed into the second one.
Jimmy leaned out of the window. "You sure you don't want the incendiaries too?"
Jeff shrugged. "What for? They're anti-shipping." His head jerked a little, indicating the surroundings. "The Hague's an inland town, in case you hadn't noticed. Besides . . ."
He bestowed on Jimmy a grin which he hoped had an aura of bravado about it. Instead of reflecting the fear which seemed to be coiling in his belly. "Besides, who's to say you won't be the ones catching all the grief? Hell, Jimmy, before too long you might find yourself on the docks of Amsterdam firing those incendiary grenades at the Spanish fleet. You'll be glad you have them, then."
His friend grinned back. Like Jeff's own, the expression was one of pure bravado. Jeff suspected Jimmy was probably as nervous as he was himself. But, dammit, he'd keep up the front.
"So long, buddy," Jeff said softly, as the carriage lurched into motion. "See you soon. I hope."
He watched until the carriage rounded the corner and vanished from sight. Then, with a little shrug, turned to face the other U.S. soldier who had volunteered to stay behind.
"I guess we might as well spend the rest of the day cruising the town, Jakob. Hell, who knows? We might even hear a piece of actual news mixed in with all the rumors."
"Not likely," grunted Jakob. "But we have nothing else to do, so why not? I need to buy us some more food, anyway. We may be on short rations, soon."
Julie burst into the room where Alex's father lay in his bed, recuperating from his injuries. Her face was flushed with anger. "I don't believe this sh—"
She broke off abruptly, remembering that she had just met her father-in-law a few days before. The trip to Scotland had been a long one, and while Alex's family had welcomed her readily enough, she was not exactly on comfortable Appalachian-cussing terms with them.
Not yet, at least. She had hopes for her father-in-law, if not the solemn woman he had married after his youthful escapades. (One of which, of course, had produced Alex himself.) Robert Mackay, even tortured by constant pain as he was, seemed like a rather cheerful soul.
"Must be the English, eh?" said Robert Mackay slyly, glancing at Alex. He winced as his son helped him rise up a bit from the pillows. "Nothing else, in my experience, produces quite such a sudden rush of fury. If I mistake me not, your lovely wife was about to utter a most indelicate term."
Julie flushed. Her father-in-law chuckled, glancing now at the corner where his bedpan was kept discreetly tucked away in a small cabinet. "Especially indelicate for a man in my position, given the miserable contortions I must go through just to take a simple shit."
Julie tried to keep from laughing. And . . . couldn't. Her father-in-law's grin at her raucous glee was good-natured. Amazingly so, really, for a man who was now paralyzed from the waist down and whose chances of survival for more than a few months were dim. Horsefalls could be as devastating as car accidents, Julie had learned over the past two years—but without 21st-century medical care to repair the damage on those who survived.
Alex was smiling broadly. Not so much at the little exchange between Julie and her father itself, she knew, but simply because he was glad to see the developing warmth between two of the three people he cared most about in the world. She knew he'd been worried about that, though he'd never spoken of it to her.
17th-century Scot Calvinist nobleman esteemed father—meet my, ah, not-Calvinist, not-noble, ah, not-entirely-respectful, ah, sometimes-downright-impudent, ah, new wife. Did I mention she's from the future and thinks we have the toilet habits of wild animals? And thinks Edinburgh is probably the asshole of the universe?
She kept laughing. Now that she'd come to know her father-in-law a bit, she suspected that Robert Mackay might well have agreed. With the last, anyway. Edinburgh did have the reputation, even among the people of the time, for being the foulest and least sanitary town in Europe. And whatever aristocratic notions Robert possessed—plenty, of course—he did seem able to look reality in the face.
Perhaps awakened by the levity in the nearby room, the third of Alex's most beloved people began making her presence known. Loudly and insistently, as was her habit.
Julie began to turn around. "Oh, leave it be, lass!" exclaimed Robert. "T'won't hurt the girl to learn the world is a cold and callous place. I swear, you coddle Alexi."
Julie danced back and forth, torn between her new mother's reflexes and her desire not to quarrel with her father-in-law.
"What's the news, Julie?" asked Alex.
"Oh." Julie scowled. "I just got a message from Becky. Would you believe—?"
By the time she finished summarizing the developments for her husband and father-in-law, Robert was scowling as fiercely as she was.
"So it begins," he growled. "I knew it. I knew those sweet words from the king's new man were a disguise for tyranny."
Alexi's yowls grew louder. Julie, with the tender skin of a first-time mother, could no longer resist. Mumbling apologies, she hurried from the room.
After she was gone, Alex turned to his father. "Explain. Please."
Robert shrugged. The little motion caused him to wince. "Don't ever smash your spine, son," he muttered. "T'isn't worth the thrill of the hunt, I assure you."
He paused, waiting for the worst of the pain to subside. Then, speaking in short, clipped sentences:
"Wentworth. You may remember him. Was Lord President of the North when you left to take Swedish colors. Strafford, now. The king made him an earl. He gave the presbyters all they wanted. No interference with service. No English prayer book. Do as we will. But don't meddle in England."
Alex frowned. "What bothers you about that? I'd think—"
His father, visibly, restrained himself from making a violent gesture that might flood his ruptured body with pain again. "Don't be as stupid as the presbyters. Sorry damn churchmen. Sure and certain, Wentworth will leave us be. For now. Why not? Leave Scots to their own—do I need to explain this to you, whom I've never been able to legitimize because of it?—and within a year they'll be ripping at each other again. Damn all clans and sects and factions anyway."
He stared bleakly at his son. "We've always been pawns in their hands, Alex. Only the Irish are worse. At least they have the excuse of being sorry superstitious priest-ridden papists." Another pause, fighting down pain. Then: "Five years from now, ten at the latest . . . after Wentworth has his French state, he'll be leading his troops to the north. Promises be damned, then. England's promises are as worthless as Scotland's leaders."
Jeff and Jakob got back to their quarters by early afternoon, not having learned much of anything. The rumors were still flying all over, but they were hopelessly contradictory. Jakob disappeared thereafter, saying he had business to attend to. By the time he returned, shortly after sundown, it had all became a moot point. Jeff had just received a radio message from Rebecca. Traveling by coach, on the good road to Amsterdam, she and her party had been able to make the trip in one day.
The message was short and to the point:
ARRIVED IN AMSTERDAM. RUMORS CONFIRMED. GET OUT NOW. DO NOT WAIT. START TONIGHT IF POSSIBLE. DAWN TOMORROW LATEST. LOOK FOR US AT—
The rest was convoluted directions to find a tavern in Amsterdam where someone would meet them. Jeff didn't even try to memorize it.
"For Pete's sake," he muttered, glancing helplessly at Jakob. "Start tonight?As badly as I ride a horse in the daytime? And where are we going to get horses that fast anyway?"
Jakob smiled. "Relax. I thought of everything. While you were lounging about, I bought us some horses with the money Becky left us. Unlike you silly optimistic up-timers, I know the world stinks and news is always bad." He motioned toward the door with his thumb. "Get packed. The horses are in a nearby stable. We can be out of town in an hour. The weather is as good as possible and there's enough of a moon. Ride all night and we'll be in Amsterdam sometime in the afternoon tomorrow, even as badly as you ride. We'll be exhausted, sure, especially you. But exhaustion can be fixed. Dead is forever."
"I'll fall off," Jeff whined. "Horses don't like me."
"I bought 'mounts,' I should have said. I told you I thought of everything. For you, I bought a mule. Looks like a very nice and gentle beast." Jakob's chest swelled. "For me, of course, a proper charger! Well, of sorts."
* * *
The mule did seem like a reasonable creature, Jeff decided, after riding on it for a bit. Fortunately, Jakob was not trying to drive the animals any faster than a walk, visibility was not terrible, and the Dutch road was in fine shape.
Eventually, Jeff concluded he would survive the experience. That left him enough energy to dwell on his other grievance.
He glowered up at Jakob. Jeff was a large man, riding a small mule. Jakob, a small man riding a full-size horse. The German-born soldier seemed to loom over him.
"This is ridiculous," Jeff complained. "How did you get to play Don Quixote and I'm stuck being Sancho Panza?" After a moment: "Well, maybe it's not such a bad deal. At least you get to fight the windmills."
He could barely see Jakob's frown of puzzlement in the moonlight. "Never heard of them. And why would anyone fight a windmill?"
"They're characters in a book."
"Oh." Jakob's serene smile returned. "Another problem with you up-timers. You wrote too many books. All of them with those silly happy endings."
"It's already written," grumbled Jeff. "Thirty years ago, now. Something like that. By a Spaniard named Cervantes."
"Ah! Then why bother reading it at all? Written by a Spaniard—in the here and now? The story will end in death and destruction and horror and misery. The Spaniards are no fools, except the one who wasted his time writing it. Who needs a book to figure that out?"