Copenhagen, The Mermaid and Tiger
After the staff dinner, all hands cleaned up the kitchen and serving areas. Reva showed Diego how to clean the equipment in the chocolate room. “This may not have been the way your father did things, Diego, but I want my kitchens and workrooms very clean every night. Just think of it as a whim of your employer.”
Diego finished wiping down the counter and put his rag with the others in the laundry sack. “Not my father, but at home, my mother was very demanding. And as the youngest, I helped her in the kitchens.”
Reva took off her apron and hung it on the customary hook. “Is your mother still living?”
Diego shook his head. “Sadly, no. She was a very kind woman. She died of the fever several years ago.”
Reva put her hand over her mouth. “Oh, I am sorry. I remember now that your cousin, Captain Gonzalez mentioned it.”
Diego looked at her strangely. “I have not met any others from Grantville. But I have never heard a great lady apologize to servants. Are all Americans like you?”
That made Reva smile. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe. Where I come from, we try to treat people like people. Some are better at it than others. I do my best. Now, to change the subject, do you have a place to sleep tonight?”
Diego started to puff out his chest and answer arrogantly, but he deflated and looked at his shoes. “No, I have not. Yesterday, I slept at the jail.”
Reva patted the young man’s arm. “Don’t you worry, now. You can come home with me tonight. We have a cot you can sleep in.”
Diego looked around the chocolate room. “Can’t I stay in here?”
Reva looked around as well. It was a good work room, but as living quarters, it lacked a cot to say the least. “Perhaps tomorrow, you can bring a cot here and make you a sleeping area. For tonight, you’re coming with me.”
Marlon and Reva walked in the cool evening light, hand in hand as if they were young lovers. Diego trailed after, not sure he wanted people to think he was with these odd people. After a couple of blocks, Marlon turned and called back, “Diego, come on. You’re holding up the train.”
Diego bit back the arrogant words that came so easily. These people had been nothing but kind to him and it wasn’t right to kick back at them. So he obediently quickened his steps. The three of them turned a corner and Marlon was greeting a servant at the open doorway of a townhouse. As Diego arrived, Reva said, “Gregers, this is our new chocolatero. Tonight, have him sleep in that spare room in the servant’s quarters.”
The young man, Gregers, smiled and bowed to Reva, then turned his attention on Diego. He felt a little uncomfortable in the way Gregers examined him. As Marlon and Reva went up the stairs to their rooms above, Gregers led Diego back towards the kitchen and said, “Are you really a trained chocolatero? That must be wonderful, working with Frau Pridmore every day.”
Diego nodded, but said nothing. Gregers opened a door and pointed in. “Here is your room. It’s not much, but at least it is clean. Frau Pridmore will not stand vermin such as fleas or roaches. If you are going to work for her, you will need to keep things unmistakably clean. The bathing room is in the back behind the kitchen and Herr Marlon said everyone must bathe at least once a week, no exceptions.”
Diego said, “Thank you. Good night.” He stepped into the room and closed the door on Gregers’ face. The servant seemed very talkative and Diego didn’t feel like chatting. It had been a long and difficult day and all he wanted was sleep. The room was not large, but contained a cot, a chair, and a small table. Diego stripped off his doublet and fell onto the cot.
Before dawn, Gregers was tapping on the door. “Diego, are you awake? Frau Pridmore wants you to come to breakfast before work.”
Diego said, “I’ll be there soon.” He got up and opened his door, but Gregers had already gone. So Diego got dressed and followed his nose towards the kitchens.
It was so odd for Diego to find both Marlon and Reva at the kitchen table. Both were dressed, enjoying breakfast. There was also Gregers and a woman Diego hadn’t met. Marlon saw the chocolatero and called, “There he is. Come in and sit down. Do you like eggs for breakfast?”
Diego sat in the chair pointed to by Señor Pridmore. Nobody was paying much attention to him. Reva handed him an empty mug. “Do you like coffee? Or would you rather have some of Marlon’s small beer?”
He didn’t know what to think. These Americans didn’t seem to understand the natural divide between rich and poor. Why were they even in the kitchen? But he got his mouth moving. “Beer, please. And where can I wash my face?”
Reva’s eyebrows went up. “Gregers, show Diego the washroom.”
When Diego returned, damp but clean, the other woman stood up, picked up a stoneware pitcher, filled his mug with beer. Diego enjoyed the yeasty smell that rolled out at him. He sat and drank a long swallow.
Reva pointed at the woman as she sat down. “This is Margrete Larsen, our cook and housekeeper. She is a widow with children, so she doesn’t sleep here. But she makes a very enjoyable breakfast.”
The woman nodded at him and continued to eat out of a wooden bowl. Marlon set down his coffee mug and stretched. “So, Diego, tell us about yourself. What do you usually have for breakfast?”
Diego frowned. He knew he hadn’t been drinking yesterday. But today his head felt large for his fragile neck and he couldn’t concentrate on answering in English for this man. He rubbed his temple. “I don’t know, usually bread and cheese?”
Gregers handed him a tray with bread and cheese. Marlon said, “Where were you born?”
Diego took a bite of bread, chewed for a moment, and swallowed. “I was born in New Spain, the capital city. My father was a servant to the Viceroy. We came back to Spain when I was four.”
Marlon finished his cup and stood up. “Well, I’m expected at the engine shop. The rest of you have a glorious day.”
Diego noticed that the others were almost finished, so he hurried to finish as well and stood when Gregers stood. Reva looked up from her tea cup. “Are you ready for the day?”
Diego nodded. “Yes, Señora.”
Reva stood up as well. “Before we go, there is something I want to show you. Gregers, could you send Diego’s cot down to the café today? I think Diego can be not only our chocolatero, but also our night watchman.”
Gregers said, “Yes, Frau Pridmore.”
Diego stared at the American woman. “You want me to be night watchman as well as chocolatero? You trust me?”
Reva stopped and looked at Diego. “Of course I do, Diego. I talked it over with Marlon last night and he agrees. You are formidable enough to discourage casual pilferage and Marlon likes you.”
Diego blinked and barely got, “Oh.” out of his mouth. For some reason, his throat was closing and he was fighting a sob. It was an unusual reaction, but the truth was, he hadn’t had anyone trust him for a long time.
Reva turned and put on her coat. “Do you have a cloak, or something warm? It gets much colder here than in Spain.”
Diego held out his hands side to side. “All you see is all I own.”
Reva nodded and opened a closet. There were several things hung on odd wire devices with hooks that went over a wooden bar. She pulled out a black something and turned to Diego. “Here, you can have this one. The black is not as rich as others Marlon has and I know he won’t miss it. He doesn’t particularly like cloaks as they seem to trip him while he’s doing something intricate. This will keep you warm. I will be sure to send bedding with Gregers when he brings your cot to the café.
Diego was completely speechless when he had a fine black cloak shoved into his arms. Reva turned and picked up her basket and headed for the front door. She paused before opening it, though, and looked back at Diego. “Go ahead, try it on. It is frosty out there this morning.”
Diego swung the cloak around him and appreciated the fine-spun wool. The cloak was one layer, but had a good tight weave that would keep out the cold. There was even a hood that lay on his back. “I am ready, Señora. Thank you.”
They were first to arrive at the café, but it was still very early. The cold fog near the docks shrouded everything in grey and if one had a vivid imagination, as Diego did, one could picture any number of frightening things just out of sight.
Reva unlocked the back door. She said, “This will be your job. Unlock the door at seven o’clock. There is a clock in the kitchen. And then make sure the tables, chairs, and benches are ready for customers. I usually arrive between seven and eight, and Inge, Anna, and Eric shortly after that. Claus and Else arrive before eight. And by then, we already have patrons asking for breakfast and chocolate. So after you check the dining room and someone else arrives, you go straight back to the chocolate room and get to work. We sell a lot of chocolate in the cold mornings.”
Diego removed his cloak and draped it over his arm. “I understand, Señora. I will go back there now.”
Reva smiled. “Good. I’ve got to get some biscuits in the oven and start the gravy, so I will be busy. If you have any questions, come and get me.”
The morning rush was like nothing Diego had ever experienced. It was like a riot, or a street fight, except nobody was attacking. But as soon as he got one thing done, someone was demanding he do something else. Nothing was finished to his complete satisfaction because there just wasn’t time.
Finally, about ten o’clock, the flood of hungry customers reduced to a trickle and the crew was able to relax a little. Diego made a pitcher of hot chocolate and they all sat down at the kitchen table to eat together.
Reva sipped her chocolate and smiled. “Well, Diego, how do you feel? Did you survive?”
The rest of the crew laughed and looked his way. Diego leaned back and scrubbed his face with his hands. “Well, I think so. But my feet feel like they’ve been smashed with rocks.”
Claus leaned back next to Diego. “I feel the same, every day.”
Diego looked around and laughed. “I guess it’s not just me. Does it get any better?”
Reva stood up and stretched. “I don’t know about better, but you get used to it. Come on, everyone. Let’s get cleaned up for lunch. They’ll be here soon.
Later, in the chocolate room, Reva watched Diego at the metate. When he had the chocolate paste to the right consistency, he took it to the molds and filled them. These were wooden, shaped like wheels, with eight sections in each circle. After the chocolate was set, the molds were turned out and the wheels were stored in a box. Each wheel was about three inches across and an inch and a half thick.
Reva went to her coat, and pulled something from the pocket. “Diego, I am so glad you came to work here. You will be a great asset to this company. And I think you are ready to learn more. I brought this book for you to read. Be careful with it because it’s the only one in this world. I want you to keep it here in the chocolate room and read it. If you have problems with the English, ask me and I will help.”
Diego wiped his hands on a towel and looked at the book in Reva’s hands. “If it is so rare, why do you entrust it to me, Señora?”
Reva frowned and handed the book to her chocolatero. “Because I want you to help me invent the rest of the machinery. Don’t worry, I already have a factor looking into getting it printed again. But until then, you need to study this information.”
Diego gently took the book in his hands. He had not often held a book. He could read because his father insisted. But that was usually in a patron’s library, with the book laying on a table. This book was different. Instead of a leather cover, it felt like shiny paper, with colorful drawings. He took a moment to admire the cover, front and back, then delicately opened the pages.
“Diego, this may not be the best time to read, I can hear customers coming for lunch. Read it tonight after everyone else goes home. There is a lamp over here, full of oil. Use it as much as you like. Just remember that you need to be awake and unlock the door in the morning at seven. So don’t stay up too late reading.” Reva was smoothing her apron and settling her cap, preparing to go out and greet guests.
Diego set the book on a shelf near the lamp. “I will start tonight, Señora. And I will guard this book with my life.”
Reva smiled, then felt her apron pocket. “Oh, I almost forgot. This is important. I don’t have many of these left. I want you to try this and tell me what you think.” She held a small silver object out to him. It was shiny and beautiful.
Diego said, “What is it?”
Reva put the small thing in his hand. “We call it a chocolate kiss. It is covered with a thin foil. Open it.”
Diego examined it closely. He could see a thin strip of paper at the top, so he pulled it and was surprised to see the silvery foil open. Inside, Diego could smell chocolate before he saw it. And yet, there was something different about this chocolate. He admired the glossy surface of the small triangular chocolate. “It looks so different. Is this American chocolate?”
Reva nodded. “It is from my storeroom. It isn’t as fresh as I would like, as it’s been almost five years since I got it. Taste it.”
Diego frowned. “You want me to put it in a cup? Do you use milk or water?”
Reva laughed. “Neither. Bite it.”
Still frowning, he nibbled the small top of the piece. His eyes opened wide. It was neither as hard, or as grainy as he had expected. When he was a child, he had stolen one of the wheel chunks of chocolate from his father’s workroom and hidden in a closet to eat it. But that chocolate was a great disappointment because it was hard as a rock and felt like sand in his mouth. He never took a piece again.
This was very different. When he got it in his mouth, he could feel it melt on his tongue and become a velvety smooth sauce in his mouth. He almost didn’t want to swallow.
Reva said, “Go ahead, eat it. I want you to know what we are working toward. I want to build the equipment that will get me that quality of chocolate.”
Diego put the rest of it in his mouth. When he chewed, he could feel a gentle resistance, but it was pleasant and then the fragments started to melt. He closed his eyes for a moment to enjoy the sensation.
When it was gone, he opened his eyes and grinned. “Señora, I will do whatever it takes to get this again. That was wonderful.”
The lunch rush was, if anything, harder than breakfast. People seemed to be in a hurry and much more willing to complain. Diego realized that running this kind of establishment was more difficult than he had ever realized and he felt guilty for all the furniture he ever broke, wine he ever spilled, or food he ever stole from a tavern keeper. Only now did he empathize with the slow server.
It was after two o’clock when the crowd thinned. Diego went out to help clean the dining area. He was sweeping in a corner when a voice interrupted him. “You must be new here.”
Diego straightened up. “Yes, I am the chocolatero.”
The man speaking was sitting at a table alone. He was dressed in rough clothes, like a common workman and he was sipping chocolate. “So it is you I thank for this?”
Diego leaned his broom on the wall and bowed. “Humbly, yes. I ground the beans for your cup today.”
The man stood up as well. “My name is Bertel Kierulf. I come to this shop every week to remind myself where my life changed. I owe a lot to this shop. Sit with me a while and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Diego looked guiltily towards the kitchens, but nobody there seemed concerned with his dereliction, so he sat.
Docks of Copenhagen
The heat was stifling today and the sun beat down like the Baker’s oven. Bertel Kierulf
made clicking sounds at his horses. Their ears flickered towards him and they leaned into the yoke. With the reins, he guided the horses to settle the bucket into the strait. The bucket settled and they dug in and began to pull the cable. The heavy rope straightened out and began to emerge from the harbor. Water dripped from it as the slack drew out of the assembly. Bertel said, “Steady now, pull. That’s good.”
Then Bertel whistled and the horses immediately eased off and backed up a little bit. They didn’t look like a matched pair, one chestnut and one grey. But Daisy and Buttercup knew each other and liked working together. They were well-trained, perhaps the best pair of horses Bertel had ever worked with. Bertel took his hat off and shook it hard. The sweat drops flew everywhere. Daisy turned around and snorted.
He watched his crew at the shore’s edge as they dumped the dredge. When it was empty, the two helpers on the breakwater turned the dredge and set it for the next pass. That was the signal for Bertel to start another round.
He clucked to the team. “Okay girls, it’s time for the next pass.”
The horse team, well trained as always, moved back to the shore. Almost without direction from Bertel, they took a position just to the side of a heap of stones. As Bertel watched, his helpers waved their hats enthusiastically in the air. Bertel took up the slack on his rope clucked to the team and the horses and began the process over again.
The occasional bystander noticed the dredging team, but didn’t pay a lot of attention. It was a common operation. Bertel had fairly steady employment all year around, unless the ice was too thick. He had to make sure that the various channels and entrances to the harbor were deep enough.
He enjoyed this job and was glad for the money. There was, however, one channel, a long passage out into the bay, that was his constant headache. It needed to be dredged, but there wasn’t enough horse power available to drag the dredge up the channel. It was true, he could load up on horses, but there really wasn’t room on the land nearby for three or four yokes and besides, with the war, horses were harder to find. Moreover since it was the entrance channel, the only way to position the dredge was by rowboat, and by the time the dredge was positioned, the ropes were soaked with water and too heavy for a two horse team to pull. Frankly he just didn’t have enough horse flesh.
As the sun went down that evening, Bertel thought about his problem again, guiding the horses across the road and between the warehouses. That was another problem. The warehouses were starting to get so close together, that there was no place for him to guide the horses anymore. Then there were rumors that more buildings were soon to come, now that the conflict with Sweden was over. The Union of Kalmar had been established, business was picking up and more business meant a need for a deep harbor and clean channels, but more business also meant more buildings crowding the waterfront. Soon Bertel would have to put up posts, or bollards on the sides of the roads and run the rope around a block pulley so the horses could pull down the length of the shore. At that, it was not good answer, as it would put more wear and tear on the equipment and necessitate the purchase of brand-new pulleys as a frequent expense.
Just like any other day, they were working on the channel. Bertel had the team pulling and there was a lot of resistance. Daisy and Buttercup dug in with their hooves and Bertel could hear the ropes squealing. He urged them on. Then something sounded like a musket shot. Bertel knew what it was instantly. The steel cable broke lose and was slicing through the air. It would cut through the side of a building, or a person as cleanly as a sharp knife through a loaf of bread..
The team leaped forward and stumbled because of the release of the cable. Bertel raced for the flailing end. Part of his mind coldly analyzed the heavy steel cable and realized that if it had broken closer to him, he could have lost a leg, if not anything worse.
The cable slowed down and Bertel ran to reach the end, to keep it from falling into the harbor. He finally got it at the waters edge. But there was still enough energy in the cable that when he grabbed it and held it to his chest, it flipped him off of his feet and into the deep water.
By the time he had climbed out, the crew had collected the team and gathered up the ropes and broken cable. The idle bystanders were laughing as he stood dripping on the dock. He could see the team, watching him. Bertel swore that Daisy and Buttercup were laughing at him too.
He picked up his hat and went towards them. Daisy nudged his arm, asking for a treat, while Buttercup snuffled in his ear to see if he was all right. Bertel pulled a couple of chunks of apple out of his dripping pocket and rewarded his girls. Then, faithfully, they turned and started to walk towards the harbor.
Bertel saw his two assistants, across the water, on the breakwater that protected the channel. They were rolling on the stony ground, laughing fit to be tied. Bertel waved his hat at them and said to his horses, “I guess if I want to work at the harbor I should expect to get wet now and again.” Buttercup nodded wisely. Buttercup understood better than anyone.
Bertel inspected the harness where it had torn loose from the cable. It would take extensive repairs. So he raised his hat and bellowed across the channel. “Come on back, boys. No more work until we fix the harness setup. And since it’s almost sunset, I guess we will just call it a day and start fresh tomorrow!”
The next morning a messenger arrived at Bertel’s place with a document, covered in seals and ribbons. He gave the messenger a coin and opened the packet. As he suspected, it
was an update on his contract with the city. He sat down at the kitchen table and worked his way through the legal language as best he could.
One part was upsetting. “New standards have been set and we now require the work be done by listed dates for each channel. It is imperative that the main channel also be dredged with utmost haste. Questions should be addressed to the harbor master. Regards, the Port Authority.”
Bertel scowled. This, on top of the broken pulley assembly was hard to bear. It was nothing new, they were always putting conditions on his work.
He was certain that Harbormaster Arne Nielsen didn’t like him. Bertel remembered the last time they had spoken. Nielsen had been angry and critical, making demands that Bertel replace his operation with something more modern. He consider Bertel’s work old-fashioned, and he wanted to give the dredging contract to his nephew. Bertel was not looking forward to his meeting this afternoon.
So he dressed himself in his best doublet. It was only dark brown, but it was the best wool he could afford. After checking with his liveryman on the progress of repairs, Bertel headed for the office of the Harbormaster. He wanted to make a good impression on Nielsen.
By luck, he arrived before the harbormaster. He stood near the door, watching all the activity of the harbor. It wasn’t a long wait. But nothing seemed to have changed. He said, “Good morning Herr Nielsen.”
The harbormaster didn’t respond, but opened the door to his office and started shouting. It took a moment, but Bertel realized that the harbormaster wasn’t shouting at him. He asked, “Herr Nielsen, what’s the problem?”
The harbormaster stumped up and down the floor, waving his arms. “Those three Erics, and their contraption. They’re still at it! The boat shows promise but almost can’t get out of its own way. I don’t know why their investor thinks it’ll work.”
Bertel smiled. He had watched some of the antics of the three Erics and their two rowboat, paddle-wheel thing. It was true the contraption didn’t get out of its own way, but it was very shallow draft and the size of the paddle wheels promised that if they could make it go, that it would work very well indeed. He said, “I don’t know, it looks like it should work, it would be nice to be able to pull things around without oars, beating the other ships in the harbor, or breaking and tossing Thorvald in the water again.”
The harbormaster’s face broke from a scowl and he laughed. He sat down and regarded Bertel for a moment. “Bertel, I may have misjudged you. Sit down.”
This was the first time the harbormaster had been anything but grumpy. Bertel sat carefully on the other chair in the office and held his hat in his hand.
The harbormaster leaned back in his chair and ran his hand through his thinning grey hair. “Bertel, they appointed a new man up at the Palace, Heinrich Hansen. He’s in charge of the harbor. He only has complaints. Everything is too slow or old fashioned, not good enough. It’s an old game, he’s trying to look important and gain attention to himself, but he’s doing at our expense. We have to do something, or we’ll end up as scapegoats.”
Bertel nodded. “It may be difficult for those in the Palace to understand . . .”
Harbormaster Arne went on as if Bertel hadn’t spoken. “Hansen has threatened to cut some of the money for dredging, or cancel the contract altogether saying that the harbor really doesn’t need dredged. It’s just something that can be skipped because it’s not important. That will last, until some ship is stuck and then it still will be our fault. Bertel we’ve got to figure a way around this man.”
Bertel said, “I agree. Before the war, I had three teams of horses. Soldiers came and confiscated two teams for the artillery and I never got them back. I never got paid for them either. But they expect the same amount of work from me. Something has to be done. I need a new system, especially for the long channel. The problem is that they keep building and I have less space to dredge the way I have been. Very soon now, I’ll have to install bollards all along the roadways to use the block and tackle. There is no other way. And the merchants and shore workers have complained about the two sets of bollards I already have.”
Nielsen rubbed his jaw, thinking. “I have heard complaints about the bollards. You say that to clean the long channel, you will have to put in more bollards? They won’t like that.”
Bertel sighed. “I know that using bollards like that is very inefficient. It will make the job more complicated and increase the chance of a passerby getting tangled in the cables.”
The Harbor Master said, “I agree that if they get tangled it’s their fault, but I don’t think the magistrate will see it the same way.”
Bertel said, “I really don’t want to hurt anybody. And I don’t want any lawsuits. That would ruin my business.”
The harbormaster leaned forward, elbows on his desk. “Well we have to do something. I know that after your cable snapped yesterday, you won’t be able to work until next week. And that will just increase the complaining from merchants and shipmasters.”
Bertel looked down at his lap. “I will try and take that time off to come up with another solution, but to tell you the truth, I’m out of ideas. I’ve already tried everything my father taught me. I have no other ideas.”
Nielsen stood up. “It’s late and I’m hungry. Why don’t you come with me to The Mermaid and Tiger, down on the docks. We could see what Mrs. Pridmore has prepared this time. Have you been there yet? It is always surprising. Sometimes the food is extraordinary and the drink is strange. Sometimes it is too strange to even taste. But it’s never dull.”
Bertel said, “I haven’t been there yet, but I heard about it. Wasn’t there a murder there a while back? They say there was a fight between Englishman and a Spaniard, both of them ranting on about ransom and pirates and Letters of Mark. Then somebody was killed in the back corner of the of the shop. I’ve been itching to see what it’s like.”
As the two men approached the tavern, it buzzed with activity. People approached from all directions. And inside, the sounds of good fellowship and a rough humor poured out the open windows. Also emanating from the kitchen in the back, came the most wondrous smell of pork and something else, a smell kind of sweet and sour that promised interesting eating.
Bertel said, “I don’t know about a cure for our problems, but something smells good in there. Let’s get some before it’s all gone.”
The common room was full to bursting. Everywhere, conversations were loud, gestures were wide, and everybody seemed to be having a good time. Bertel pointed to a part of a table with two empty benches, so they walked over and sat down. Arne waved his hand and the girl hurried over. “Good afternoon. And what would the Harbor Master have today? Frau Pridmore has a new version of chocolate, it has the hot spices from the New World. She says it can melt the hair right out of your ears, if you want.”
Bertel watched the Harbor Master with barely concealed delight. It was common gossip on the waterfront about the last time Herr Nielsen tried a hot chocolate drink. Not only had the chocolate been very hot, but the spices in it had forced the harbormaster to drink milk in public. Everybody thought the joke was uproarious.
The harbormaster gathered his dignity. “None of that young lady. No more tricks. I want one of those sandwich things, the one with roasted pork and the spicy sauce, I think they called it barbecue. I want it on a large bread roll and that chocolate, the one Frau Pridmore calls a Thomas Jefferson. And bring the same for my friend, Bertel.”
When the girl left, Herr Nielsen sat and gestured for Bertel to do the same. “This Thomas Jefferson apparently lived after our time, but his chocolate recipe is superb. It is still served warm, but it doesn’t have so much spice that it makes your ears fall off.”
Bertel waited with anticipation. It was warm for September and the room was getting stuffy and hot. Already several windows had been thrown wide open and still had not reduced the heat within the room. In one corner there was a crowd of working men, standing around watching somebody else do something in the corner. At another table on the other side of the room, a group of men had several sheets of parchment. They were gesturing and drawing something on the table. In a third area, several the patrons were singing a song. Bertel couldn’t quite make out the words. The tavern was merry and active.
Bertel was about to speak to the harbormaster, when a tray was placed on the table by a serving man. Behind him came the young lady with two large mugs covered in foam. Bertel thought about what he saw. It was interesting and frothy. He liked the froth on beer, so he tried a small sip.
Across the table, Arne had already quaffed a huge gulp. “Very good, very good indeed. And this sandwich smells delicious.”
Bertel examined his plate. There was a round bread roll, split in half and stuffed with what looked like pork in a red sauce. The smell coming up from it was wonderful.
The serving man was still standing next to them, waiting with his hand out. But before Bertel could move to pay, the harbormaster dug a few coins from his pouch and handed them over. The man said nothing, but headed back to the kitchen.
Arne Nielsen laughed. “Bertel, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, try it. I want to know what you think. This smells good and it tastes even better. As for the chocolate, I don’t think you have tried anything quite like it.”
Bertel picked up the bread and meat, like the harbor master had done. It seemed very unmannerly to eat it without a fork, but that seemed the proper way, because that was what everyone else was doing. He lifted it close and took a bite. The flavor was extraordinary, unlike anything he ever tasted before. There was roasted pork and there was a spice and a sweetness it was completely different from anything he had tried.
Bertel noticed the harbormaster watching him. As soon as he swallowed, he said, “That is certainly different. Very good, but different.”
Herr Nielsen nodded and pointed to the large mug next Bertel. “Good. Now, try that.”
The mug was warm and as it came close to his face, the aroma was unlike anything Bertel had experienced. To his surprise the drink was almost unpleasantly hot, like the infusions his mother had made him drink as a sick child. But this smelled sweeter, so he tentatively sipped the beverage. The flavor staggered him, it was sweet but bitter, the aroma raised up into the top of Bertel’s head.
Since the harbormaster was watching intently, Bertel wiped his moustache and said, “That is extraordinary. It is bitter and sweet. So this is chocolate.” He drained the mug and said, “I would like to try the spicy one next..”
Arne signaled the girl over and told her. Her eyes were bright with anticipation as she hurried away. As Bertel took another bite of sandwich, he felt an odd alertness, like he had never experienced.
The girl hurried back with another steaming mug and set it before him. This one smelled similar to the first, with hints of something different. Bertel took a deeper drink and smiled at the harbormaster. But before he could speak, the spices hit. First he felt a burning on his tongue and most of his mouth. Then his eyes watered and he felt heat going down his throat and into his belly, much like a swig of strong brandy burns all the way down. He felt sweat popping out on his forehead, but he was eager to try it again. At the second sip, he said, “There is the taste of spice hotter than pepper. It makes my blood race and I feel as if I could conquer a whole hoard of Ottoman single-handed.”
Arne laughed, as did the rest of the people sitting at table, watching him taste the heat. The harbormaster said, “Yes indeed. I felt that way as well, but the burning in my mouth was too much. It amazes me that Frau Pridmore can use those brown beans to create this drink and cakes, and pastries. Next time we come, I will show you chicken fried steak. Amazingly it has no chicken in it, it’s covered with something called gravy. Then there are the earth apples, potatoes they call them, which are mashed and covered with this gravy, also with salt and butter, very much like parsnips only better.”
At that moment one of the men in the corner shouted something across the room. Bertel couldn’t quite tell what it was, except for the last few words something about ‘Watch this’.
The American woman at the counter, Reva Pridmore, laughed. But the action in the corner was eminently more interesting. An odd sound, almost like a bird beating its wings but very fast came out of the corner. The men standing around the table obscured what was going on, though.
But then Bertel noticed the tobacco and wood smoke near the ceiling of the room began to swirl and he felt a breeze. The rattle of noise was pushing the smoke out the window. Bertel stood up. “I want to go get a closer look at that, what do you think?”
The harbormaster stood as well. “Indeed. Look, I see the three Erics over there, the ones with the tugboat I was telling you about. If I my eyes do not deceive me, those men with the machine are all dressed as Danish Airship workers. This could be interesting.”
The two men made their way over to the table in the corner. The crowd was growing thicker by the moment. But Bertel finally got a glimpse of the device on the table. It looked like steel and copper and was making a lot of noise. It was difficult to hear anyone else. On one side of the machine, there was a blur and they could feel it pulling air from around them and pushing it out the window.
Then somebody gave a cry of pain and the crowd was shoved backwards. The young man standing next to the device said, “I told you not to touch it, that thing can break bones, stay away from it.”
Somebody else at the table said, “You tell him Bone-crusher.”
Laughter ensued, joined sheepishly by the man who tried to touch the spinning disk. Bertel listened to everyone around him. He gathered that the thing on the table was an engine that was capable of work and that while this was just a small example, larger ones could be made. As the talk went on Bertel heard that the things could be made to run slow, not just fast.
He turned to go back to his sandwich, but in his head, an idea began to form. Arne followed Bertel and as they sat down, Bertel said, “I wonder, they keep talking about this thing in terms of horsepower. Do you think you really could replace a horse?”
The harbormaster’s face was solemn he replied. “Perhaps. Perhaps if you mounted it on wheels that can be locked in place and use the bollards along the waterfront for a pulley, perhaps you could pull your dredge with it. The machine is not as bulky as three full teams of horses. Indeed even Heinrich Hansen at the Palace might be impressed with the modern possibilities of this machine.”
Bertel smiled “You know, the government still owes me for the four horses they took. They offered money, but I was holding out for two new teams. Maybe, maybe I could get them to buy me a machine instead.”
Arne looked thoughtful as he finished his sandwich. “Bertel, that’s not a bad idea. Certainly, I can give you a letter stating that this is a better way to clean the harbor. Indeed, we might be able to get the minister up at the Palace more enthusiastic. With that kind of support for the idea, it could happen very quickly. It certainly would make him look good if it worked.”
In the weeks that followed, Bertel was frantically busy. Heinrich Hansen was wildly enthusiastic for the engine, but had given him a deadline. Bertel had to scramble and work late into the night for a week to meet it.
Finally, the test day arrived. Bertel drove to the docks in a specially designed wagon, pulled by Daisy and Buttercup. The wagon was loaded with the apparatus. The steam generator was hot and hissing. The engine sat lubricated and gleaming on the end of the wagon. Bertel unhitched his team and led them a distance from the machine. It had been tested in the shop, but he knew that there was a difference between shop tests and actual work.
When his horses were safely away, he made certain the wagon wheels were locked down and the cable securely mounted to the winch. And as a precaution, he used two heavy chains and lashed the front of the wagon to his bollard. The harbormaster stood close to his side, because if this didn’t work, they both could lose their jobs. “Bertel, are you sure this is going to work?”
Bertel shrugged, but kept checking, tightening, worrying. “No, I’m not absolutely sure. But I’ve come too far to quit. Everybody thinks machines are the future and perhaps they are, but I still think that care should be taken in their operation.”
When he was ready, Bertel stepped next to the starting lever and raised his voice so the crowd around could hear him over the hissing of the steam generator. “All of you dock workers, there! Stand away. You call yourselves sailors. Don’t you know what happens when a cable snaps? It could cut you in a half and I don’t want to be responsible for cleaning up the waterfront.”
A babble rose as the crowd backed up. Most stood behind pilings or walls and tried to put something solid between them and the cable. There were faces in every window on the first level above the ground. Many were hoping to see Bertel fail, but many more were excited about the new machinery.
Bertel motioned to his helpers across the channel to drop the dredge into the water. “Okay, harbormaster. We’re set. Here we go.” Bertel took a deep breath. Put his hand on the machine and pulled the lever opening the valve, to admit steam to the engine. There was a hiss and a groan, the piston moved, the shaft began to turn and the cable pulled up tight winding onto the pulley.
Remarkably, in spite of the brakes, the engine began to pull the wagon backwards to the limits of the chains. The cable straightened out like a bar of iron. And where the cable went through the pulley, it lifted up out of the water. Then the cable came in faster.
Before Bertel was ready, the dredge was across the channel. It was really fast. Bertel lunged at the lever and shouted, “Look out!” He shoved the valve closed and the engine shuddered to a stop. The dredge burst out of the water in a boil of foam and bounced across the beach with it’s load of dirt and stones.
Everybody had scattered at the sudden movement, but when things quieted down they all turned to look. The dredge had half over-turned, spilling a pile of mud and stones from the bottom of the channel. The cable was stretched taut and raised in the air all the way out to the dredge.
Cautiously Bertel took a hammer and tapped the release. This allowed the cable to wind back. Bertel wondered if the result was a disaster or success. He couldn’t tell yet.
Arne Nielsen, the harbormaster, slapped him on the back and his booming voice was heard all the way to the dredge. “Marvelous, Bertel! Extraordinary! So modern. This will show the world, that we know how to do things in a new and progressive way in Denmark. Very good young man, I applaud your success now we will have the cleanest harbor and channels in the north. It was extraordinarily well done.”
Kicking the cable pulley into neutral, Bertel walked over to the dredge. With both hands he struggled and emptied the dredge of the remaining stones and muck. Bertel waved to his companions and they began to set the cable to send the dredge back across the channel. Lifting the pulley and its collar, positioning it at the next post on the waterfront, Bertel set up, checked the a line of the dredge across the channel, walked back to his engine. “Let’s try this again.”
The second time across the channel went even more smoothly and soon, Bertel and his crew were working in concert. The trick, it seemed, was to slow the engine down just before the dredge could reach the edge of the channel. His crew worked out how to make the engine and dredge work to the best effect.
Harbormaster, ship captains, stevedores, cargo masters, and everyone else cheered at the results. There was excitement, but there was consideration also, somehow the world had just changed. And Bertel was the hero of the day.