The race for rubber (18,100) By Kerryn Offord

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By Kerryn Offord

* * *

June 1631: Grantville, Thuringia.

Jacob first encountered rubber that first day when his family stumbled into the town of Grantville as refugees from the war that was rampaging through Germany. Both he and his father had noticed the peculiar footwear of the up-timers. Not only did everyone seem to have distinct left and right shoes and boots, but also, they walked with almost no sound. Used to the clip-clop of wooden clogs, or tanned leather soled boots, that lack of sound had been most pointed. Eventually they had asked to have a look at the boots. The soles were so flexible, and obviously gave good grip. ‘Rubber’ the man had said, pointing to the sole. Rubber. What was this wondrous substance rubber, and where could a man get some of it.
That had been the beginning. Soon after entering the refugee center Jacob, his parents, and younger brother and sister had been offered a place in the home of Mark and Mary Frances Calagna. The Bauers soon found out why they had been singled out for special attention. Normally new refugees were accommodated in the refugee camp until they could afford or were offered alternative accommodation. However, some up-time families had offered to take in refugees sight unseen under special conditions. Jacob and his father Hans were shoemakers. Jacob a skilled journeyman, while his father was a master shoemaker. Mark Calagna had been a retired shoemaker. He was looking for someone skilled in the craft to take help him in his business, as he could no longer cope with the demand.
It was Mark’s niece, Bitty Matowski, Jacob’s sister Anna’s Ballet teacher, who reinvigorated his interest in rubber. Early in 1632 she came asking about ‘pointe shoes’. Mark shook his head. He had tried back up-time, but without much success. Now, down-time, with little in the way of resources, he didn’t think he could do any better. “Maybe Hans or Jacob can help you?” he had suggested half-heartedly. When asked. Hans had backed off. The funny little dance slippers didn’t interest him. Jacob, however, had been interested. He had asked about the strange materials used in the slippers. Elastomers had been the reply. Under questioning Bitty had revealed she didn’t actually know what an elastomer was, just that it produced a superior pointe shoe. Maybe things would have died then had Anna not been listening. A couple of days later she dropped several pages of closely written notes in front of Jacob.
Rubber. Elastomers were rubber. Anna had done a fairly detailed investigation using the school’s encyclopaedias and had a sheaf of notes on rubber. Soon Jacob was devouring everything he could find on rubber. He was going door to door asking if anybody had containers of latex. In this way he had been able to buy some liquid latex, made up mainly of the final dregs of dozens of containers. Most of it was not real natural latex. However, he had struck lucky with the Freeman’s. They sometimes used natural latex as a molding compound for their ceramics. They had given him some of their old latex molds. The prize though had been the untouched quart can of liquid latex they had sold him. He also collected the scrapings and lumps of coagulated latex left too long in opened containers. Then he started to play with what he had. His early experiments had involved using a solvent on the coagulated latex to see if he could return it to liquid latex. From there he progressed to learning to vulcanize rubber.
Jacob had been researching rubber for a reason. The word around Grantville was that rubber was going to be important. Nearly everything needed rubber somewhere. However, the general verdict was that rubber had to come from South America, more specifically, the Amazon. There was talk of mounting expeditions, or getting some of the Dutch traders to import it, but not a lot was happening. None of the up-timers could really be spared for an expedition, at least not any of those that stood a chance of success. Therefore, Jacob planned to mount a small expedition made up of down-timers. His plan was to go to South America, trade with the natives for the rubber the encyclopaedia said they were already harvesting, and return to Granville with several tons of rubber. A short, sharp, one-year mission was the plan.
One of the first problems had seemed insurmountable. The Grantville Militia was very vocal about the risks of disease, even pointing out that more soldiers died from disease than died in battle. South America was the great unknown. Although Jacob and his friends from the militia, Jürgen Schwarzkopf and Peter Tyburn, had been able to talk to up-timers who had served in the jungle, none had served in the Amazon. The one thing everyone they had talked to had been sure of though was the risk of malaria. Up-time the usual treatment was a drug called quinine. Well, they could not get that. However, before modern quinine there was the bark of the Cinchona trees. That looked promising. Until it was found that the first mention in the encyclopedia was for about 1638, and that it was found in Peru, by the Spanish. Things did not look promising until the fourth member of their merry band, Dieter Rohrbacher, an apothecary who had come to Grantville to research up-time herbal medicine, discovered an entry in a Pharmacognosy that pointed towards another possible plant. With insecticide from pyrethrum daisies, insect repellent from lemon grass, and Sweet Wormwood as a source of artemisinin to treat malaria, they had almost everything they needed to set out. Except for money.
Things changed in January 1633. Bitty’s ballet company had received a windfall in the form of twenty thousand dollars for a single performance of a short ballet about the adventures of a ram called Brillo. Half of the money was paid out to the dancers and crew, but Bitty offered the rest to Jacob and his friends. Most of the dancers added their payments to the pool. Some individuals dug into their savings to further increase the pool. Then Helene Gundelfinger, a successful merchant active in Grantville, added to the mix. She had a couple of family members who had skills and connections that would be useful. They would contribute funds to the project in order to buy a place in the expedition. By the end of January the six men had gathered resources, weapons, and trade goods, and set out with a merchant convoy, destination Amsterdam, and then Recife in Dutch Brazil.
* * *

Early April 1633: Fort Ernestus, Antonio Vaz, Pernambuco, Brazil

Jacob gazed aimlessly at the Portuguese fortress just across the river from Fort Ernestus. That fortress, and the others surrounding the port of Recife, had come as an unwelcome surprise to the expedition. No one in Grantville had warned them that the Dutch holdings in Brazil would amount to little more than three piles of sand on which the Dutch West India Company had built significant fortifications. The expedition had stumbled at the first obstacle. They couldn’t buy passage to the Amazon. They were stuck on the island of Antonio Vaz just across the bay from Recife.
“Herr Jacob Bauer? Young Piotr here says you claim to know how to treat swamp fever. Is this correct?”
Startled, Jacob turned to face the officer who had spoken. Accompanying him were a number of soldiers, and the young Pole who had been one of Jürgen and Peter’s more lucrative poker students on the trip from Amsterdam. “Not all, sir. We believe the fever is passed on through the bite of flying insects that live in the still waters of the swamp. We have powders that can kill the insects, lotions that repel them, and a drug to help reduce the fever.” Jacob looked around searching for Dieter, the expedition’s medic. “Dieter is the man you want to speak to. He is a Thüringian apothecary of great skill. He has also learnt much from the up-timers. The Americans who appeared two years ago in Thüringia. If you wish, I can call for him.”
“No. One moment Herr Bauer.” Said van Ceulen before turning to the young Pole. “Piotr. Do you know this Dieter?”
“Yes Herr van Ceulan.”
“Good. Go and find him. Give him any assistance he needs, but get him to the infirmary as quickly as you can.”
As Piotr departed Mathias van Ceulen turned back to Jacob. “I apologize for the manner of my greeting, but I have a number of men deadly ill with swamp fever.” he said as he reached out to shake hands. “I am Mathias van Ceulen, a member of the Council of New Holland. Americans. Yes, I have heard much of these Americans, and doubt most of it. Can they really be from the future?”
“I cannot say Herr van Ceulan. However, they have many wondrous machines. They are so much farther advanced in what they call ‘technology’ than any other town I have seen. Even the Swedish King believes they are from the future.”
“There is talk, of wondrous horse-less carriages, the ‘APCs’, and firearms that can fire many times and hit a man at long distances. Do you know if this talk is true?”
“I have seen, and even traveled in one of the ‘APCs’ Councilor, and I have handled and fired some of those weapons, here,” Jacob carefully drew one of his revolvers from its holster and held it out so van Ceulan could see it, “is an example of their ingenuity. A revolver, a hand gun that can fire six times without reloading.”
Van Ceulan reached for the revolver. Seeing Jacob’s suppressed urge to jerk it away he smiled, and held out an open hand “Please, may I have a look?”
Carefully Jacob passed over his revolver. He watched as the man ran experienced eyes and hands over the metalwork. A couple of times van Ceulen aimed the revolver into the distance. “May I fire it?” he asked.
Jacob looked around. There were several soldiers who had accompanied their commander and they were watching proceedings avidly. “Is there somewhere safe we can shoot Councilor?
After a moments thought van Ceulan approached his bodyguard. Two of them hurried off as he returned to guide Jacob after them. It was a walk of only a few minutes, and when they arrived the soldiers were securing a plank of wood against a wall. “How close should I be Herr Bauer?”
“We normally practice with the revolver at about ten paces Sir.”
“Right, ten paces it is.” Van Ceulan counted off ten paces and turned to face the plank. Raising the revolver in his right hand, he took aim and was ready to squeeze the trigger when he dropped his arm and turned his head to look at Jacob. Smiling he asked, “And how does one make it work Herr Bauer.”
“Sorry Sir.” Moving up to van Ceulen Jacob pointed to the hammer. “You pull that back until it locks to cock the action, then aim, and squeeze the trigger.”
Carefully van Ceulen cocked the action, took aim, and fired. There was a loud retort and a hole appeared in the plank. He looked to Jacob who mimed cocking the action again. Obeying Jacob’s instruction he cocked and fired the revolver again, and again, and again, until his last shot resulted in just the click of metal on metal. The revolver empty, he approached the plank. There were six holes in it, all grouped fairly closely around a knot, which had been his aiming point. All six shots had penetrated the plank. Van Ceulan returned Jacob’s revolver before drawing his wheel-lock pistol. He walked back to his firing line and took aim, then lowered his arm to step closer. Then he fired. As he examined the holes, he turned to Jacob, about to say something about the various holes, but Jacob’s actions caught his attention. “What are you doing?”
Jacob looked up from his revolver, on which he had just changed cylinders. “Reloading Sir.” He held up the spent cylinder. “You fired every shot, so I was changing the cylinder so that it is no longer empty.”
“You can do that?” van Ceulan asked. “In but the blinking of an eye your ‘revolver’ is ready for another six shots? I want one. In fact, I want more than one. How many do you have?”
“Herr van Ceulen, we do have a few spare revolvers for sale. But please, don’t get too carried away. It might not take long to switch cylinders, but once they have been fired, it takes a while to reload them, and then there are the percussion caps. Without them, the weapon is useless.”
“Come Jacob. Look at what your revolver did. Compare it with my best pistol. For all your revolver’s faults, it is a truly wondrous weapon. On another matter, I wish for you and your colleagues to dine with me this evening. There are some questions my fellow Councilor and I wish to ask.”
* * *

Councilor van Ceulan met them as they were shown into the house. “Gentlemen, thank you for coming. I have some guests who very much wish to speak to you. They have heard some strange tales of your Americans.”

Jacob exchanged blank looks with the others. None of them quite understood what van Ceulen meant. All though, was explained the moment they stepped into the drawing room. There, maybe not in pride of place, but definitely there, was Piotr Arciszewski. The young Pole had hung around the expedition members like a friendly puppy on the long voyage from Amsterdam. He had hung on to every word of the tall tales of war as fought by the up-timers with which Jürgen and Peter had entertained the soldiers and crew over hands of poker. The new card game they had learnt from the up-timers and introduced to their audience on the long voyage to Recife. It seemed that Piotr had repeated those tales to the good councilor and his guests. Looking at the other three men, one, a man of color, the other two, obviously Europeans, Jacob leant over to Michael Gundelfinger, “Who the hell are they? Do you know?” he muttered.
“Councilor Mathias van Ceulen is one of the Amsterdam directors of the Dutch West India Company. I don’t recognize any of the others” Was the whispered reply.
“Please, let me introduce my other guests.” Van Ceulen gestured to each in turn, as he introduced them. "You already know Piotr Arciszewski. He is here to see his cousin. Here we have my fellow director and councilor for New Holland, Johan Gijsseling. Hiding in the back are a couple of our most able military men, Domingos Fernandes Calabar and Colonel Sigismund von Schoppe. Herr Bauer, if you would introduce your friends.”
“I am Jacob Bauer. These are my friends and colleagues Jürgen Schwarzkopf, Peter Tyburn, Michael Gundelfinger, and Hans Aurenhammer. There is one other in our group, Dieter Rohrbacher. However, he is treating some of your soldiers and prefers to stay with his patients. We consider ourselves to be Americans. Down-time Americans if you wish to distinguish us from the up-time Americans who arrived with the Ring of Fire.” Jacob looked at the five pairs of eyes. Waiting for some indication of what was expected.
“How can you be Americans, you are Germans.” It was the European military man who spoke.
“In fact Colonel von Schoppe, Peter is English. However, American is a state of mind, not a place. We have all accepted the beliefs of the Americans. For this reason we consider ourselves to be American.” Jacob replied.
“Then Herr Bauer, I ask, why have you Americans come to Recife? It is a long way from Germany.” Asked Johan.
“Recife is just the jumping off point. We intend to continue on to the Amazon.” Was Jacob’s reply.
“Not going to happen.” Domingos Calabar spoke as he slowly shook his head. “To go that far north is to go beyond the point of no return.” At the slightly shocked looks he got from the Americans he smiled, “No not that. Just you cannot sail back south to Recife from the Amazon. It is quicker to sail to Europe and back to Recife than to go against the winds and currents trying to sail southward. Also, the Amazon is still Portuguese. We have no influence there, while they have a major settlement and fort at Belém. You have been here long enough to know that our hold on Pernambuco is poor. We have little hope of establishing a presence there any time soon. I am afraid you have traveled far on a fool’s errand.”
The Americans looked at each other. In obvious defeat and distress they slumped as they stood.
“Gentlemen, about why I have asked you here this evening. Piotr has related much of what was said on the voyage from Amsterdam. Especially your stories of a war in a country called Vietnam. It seems that you might have knowledge that could be useful to us in our struggle against the Portuguese.” Said Mathias van Ceulen.
“What knowledge?” asked Jürgen, still a little dejected. “The up-timers called it a guerrilla war. Peter and I have discussed that war and others with some of the up-timers. Many of them fought in their war in Vietnam. They did not have happy memories of that war.”
“Did they win their war in Vietnam?” asked von Schoppe.
“Some say no, others say they could have, but that their leaders lacked the will to do what was necessary. However, one of the up-timers I befriended was able to talk of how such a war could be won.”
Colonel von Schoppe’s eyes lit up as he lent forward “Can we use the same methods here?” he asked.
“I cannot say. Carl, my up-timer friend, talked of a two pronged effort. You need highly skilled and well-armed soldiers. Rather than staying locked up in a fortress, they take the battle to the enemy with aggressive patrolling. The second prong Carl called ‘hearts and minds’. You attempt to gain the loyalty of the natives by providing services and security. Carl spoke of specially trained teams of up to a dozen soldiers with skills in engineering and treating sickness. They help the natives build services such as clean water, housing and bridges, and provide the natives with security by arming and training them to defend themselves. The idea is that the soldiers gain the trust and loyalty of the natives so that they will not supply the guerrillas, and feel safe enough to give information against them. The end result is the enemy has difficulty obtaining food and supplies, and you are kept aware of their movements, making it easier for your aggressive patrols to make contact. However, as I said, this takes highly skilled soldiers capable of living amongst the natives.”
“That is interesting Herr Schwarzkopf. Perhaps a little difficult for us to achieve just at the moment, but interesting none the less. I believe we can gain the support of most of the natives. The Portuguese made many enemies with their treatment of the local Amerindians. As for men, there is Domingos here, he is a native of this country and has many followers. He has already taught our men how to fight in the Várzea and the jungle. You say you have heard how to fight this guerrilla war?” At Jürgen’s nod he continued. “We would like you to form and lead a company of men using these techniques and the new weapons you sold our agent in Amsterdam”
“Why would we want to do that Sir? We didn’t come to Brazil to be mercenaries.”
“Herr Schwarzkopf. I don’t know what you want from the Amazon. However, you have expended considerable effort to get there. So far, for nothing. Unless something can be done about the Portuguese guerrilla fighters there will soon be no Dutch colony of Recife.” Van Ceulen grinned. It was a wide, almost evil grin. “You are of course aware that the export of munitions to Brazil is reserved for the Company. In fact, I believe you sold a number of weapons to our agent in Amsterdam.” He paused as the Americans nodded that yes, they did know of this regulation. Then looking straight into Jürgen’s eyes he continued “We have noticed that we can not attain the rate of fire our agent claimed to have observed in Amsterdam. Perhaps you would care to explain the difference?” He paused to let the question settle. “Also, we have examined the declarations you made on landing. It appears that your have taken a certain liberty with the exemption for personal munitions.” Van Ceulen looked at each of the Americans in turn before returning to Jürgen. “It is the considered belief of the Council of New Holland that a fraud has been perpetrated. The rifles do not fire as claimed, and the volume of munitions you have claimed under the personal use dispensation is excessive. For these reasons, all munitions beyond a rifle and two pistols per man are forfeit, and penalties will be levied unless the accuracy and rate of fire of the rifles improves to the levels demonstrated in Amsterdam.”
The Americans surged to their feet, their faces paling and eyes open in horror, “But. . .” Started Jürgen as he attempted to protest.
Councilor van Ceulen held up his hands to signal silence. “Please, return to your seats.” He ordered. As the Americans returned to their seats he smiled at them before continuing. “Due to unforeseen circumstances the Company in New Holland finds itself in possession of a quantity of new weapons and munitions. The Council of New Holland, as representatives of the Company, are willing to award these weapons, plus a number of weapons purchased in Amsterdam, to anybody who can raise and train a company of soldiers capable of fighting this ‘guerrilla war’.” He looked each of the Americans in the eye one by one. “We believe that you men have knowledge that may be useful, and offer you the opportunity to make the attempt. We are willing to provide funds for the recruitment, training, and wages of this company, and to provide any weapons and ammunition you request within our ability to supply, for a period of three months. If after three months your company is unable to fight the guerrillas,” He paused, letting the threat sink in, “You will be relieved of command, and any weapons will again be the property of the Dutch West India Company.”
“What’s the carrot” Mumbled Jacob.
“Carrot? I am sorry. What do you mean, what is the carrot?” asked Johan Gijsseling.
“It is an expression. When you wish a donkey to move, there are two possible ways. You ether beat it with a stick, or you bribe it with a carrot. You have waved the stick. Is there a carrot?”
“Ahhh, I understand. The carrot is what we offer to all leaders of companies of soldiers. Pay, bonuses, and at the end of a term of good service, grants of land suitable for raising sugar.” Johan smiled at the Americans as he continued, “Why, you could all come out of this rich men.”
“When do we get paid and how much? Peter and I have served as mercenaries before. Pay is always late, bonuses never appear, and how long a term of service before we get a grant of land?” Asked a cynical Jürgen.
Johan gently shook his head side to side as if disappointed at how little the American trusted the Company. “As officers in your company, you will be paid one hundred guilders a month. You will also be provided with funds of fifteen guilders a month for each soldier under your command. With these funds you will be required to pay, shelter, and support yourselves and your soldiers. An additional allowance will be made for ammunition and other expendables. Unlike the Spanish, we do not expect a man to pay for every shot he fires.” Johan paused after his little joke. Seeing it had fallen flat, he continued. “Bonuses will be paid for special missions or outstanding successes. We are not the villains you think us to be. We are very reasonable when you get to know us.”
The Americans huddled together for a few moments to discuss the offer before nodding their acceptance. “If we could please have the agreement is writing? And a statement of what constitutes special missions and outstanding success?” Asked Michael Gundelfinger, his mercantile background insisting that everything be in writing.
“With a clear statement of how bonuses will be calculated.” Chimed in Peter Tyburn, his past experience in the mercenary armies in Europe making him very aware of how the troops often missed out on a just share of any booty.
“But of course gentlemen. Everything will be put in writing. Let us settle down and discuss your requirements and our expectations.” Replied Mathias van Ceulen.
* * *

Early May 1633: Somewhere in the Várzea south of the Arraial do Bom Jesus.

There was the subtle scent of Lemon Grass being carried by the gentle breeze as Jürgen scanned the empty track once again. Rolling to his right, he backed up against a clump of reeds. He paused a moment to look at Mateus, who lay on his belly beside him observing the track through the binoculars. Reaching into his webbing, he grabbed his water bottle and took a drink. Relishing the lukewarm liquid as it poured down his throat. Acting on advice from the up-timers back in Grantville, they had been adding salt and sugar to their drinking water. The salt was supposed to alleviate the impact of the heat and high humidity that even as the sun rose, had already drenched his cotton shirt. The sugar was for energy, and to make the water palatable.
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