Tales from the Mermaid & Tiger: Engines of Change
The Mermaid and Tiger is the most exciting tavern in modern Copenhagen—modern being the year 1636, in the new world created by the Ring of Fire. The food and drink served—and even more, the tales being told—are the best to be found anywhere.
In 1636, near the docks in Copenhagen, a new and unusual tavern opened. What makes the tavern unique is food and drink reputed to come from the far future. The establishment promotes optimism and new ideas, and quickly becomes a center of innovation. Sailors, workmen, scholars, spies—noble and commoner alike—flock to The Mermaid and Tiger.
Momentous things have been happening in Copenhagen. An airship was built and ventured off to the far port of Tranquebar. A great war was concluded, if not in victory then at least not in outright defeat. A Danish prince will even become the future emperor of the United States of Europe. There was work to do and money to be made!
Into this tumult a young man from New Spain is thrust. Diego gets a job as the chocolatero of The Mermaid and Tiger, and works with Reva Pridmore to develop chocolate like she remembered from up-time. In the process, he meets and hears stories from others who have adapted the airship steam engines to solve their problems. Soon, there will be an engine in every shop, it seems.
Diego’s world—everyone’s world—is changing, and nowhere are tales being told like those in The Mermaid and Tiger.
in Frankish calendar
Fatmir stepped off the boat from Venice and shivered. It was supposed to be summer, but the wind had a bite to it he’d not felt since he was a child in Albania. Behind him the servants carried off the luggage and loaded it on a coach.
Kadir leaned through the window of the coach. “Come, Fatmir. I want to arrive at our townhouse before sunset. This wind is frigid.”
Fatmir climbed in the coach and they bumped over the cobblestones into the city. Fatmir was not an Ottoman, like his friend Kadir, who was Persian. He was from Albania. At home, he was considered a slave of the empire. But here in this strange city, he could tell that he was the exotic stranger. He would be visible anywhere he went unless he adopted the local styles.
The ship captain in Venice had been told that he and Kadir were Ottoman merchants investigating the possibility of opening trade with northern markets. And in part that was true. They were investigating trade, but neither man was a merchant. They were spies of the Ottoman empire. And the best part of it was that the Danes knew they were spies.
Fatmir, part of the party from the Ottoman empire, paused on the dock and pulled his coat more tightly around him. Today, he was dressed in Frankish foppery and missed his turban. It would have kept his face and neck much warmer than the felt hat and lace collar he wore. But it would not please His Excellency, Kadir, if Fatmir was obtrusive. His assignment was to observe the Frankish shipping and assess whether or not there would be profit in this market.
He noticed that a small boy was looking at him rather pointedly and saw that his kinjal was peeping out from under the edge of his doublet. He glared at the child and tucked the knife away. Then he moved down the street to appear uncaring. Fatmir was making notes in his mind of the number of ships unloading and what sorts of goods were coming and going in Copenhagen.
He turned a corner and walked a block back into the warehouse district, surprised to see an eating establishment. The sign out front was ‘The Mermaid and Tiger’ and it was far from empty. There were men out front, talking business and smoking pipes. And inside, there were few tables unoccupied.
He found himself a seat in a corner and continued his observations. It wasn’t long before a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than twelve, greeted him. “Sir, what can I get for you?”
Fatmir looked around the room. The menu was chalked on the wall above the counter and some of it was incomprehensible. Some people around him were sipping chocolate and others were sipping beer. “Do you have coffee?”
“Of course, sir. Anything else?”
“I think, some of those biscuits?”
“Yes, sir. Plain or with cheese?”
“Plain is fine.”
She hurried away and reported his order at the window. It was only a couple of moments before she returned. “You are in luck, the biscuits are just out of the oven, and hot. I hope you enjoy them, sir.”
Fatmir was fascinated. He had always enjoyed food, and here was something he’d never seen. The biscuits were not at all like crackers, but more like yeast rolls. And yet, there was no yeast he could smell or taste. The coffee was passable, but not as good as at home. It seemed kind of thin. The biscuit, when he took a bite, was light as a cloud, fragrant and warm. With that first bite, he decided he would come to this place again.
Fatmir had been in Copenhagen for ten days. Today, The Mermaid and Tiger was not busy, only five or six patrons. Fatmir sat at his customary table near a window that looked out at the docks and sipped his chocolate. It was such a different thing, this drink from the Americas. It was not coffee, and yet, it was dark and rich. It was heavily spiced and only slightly sweet. Yet there was something fascinating about it, not only the way it tasted, but the way it felt flowing down his throat and filling his head with vigor.
Fatmir actually had his eyes closed, concentrating on identifying some of the spices when the shouting started. “You churl, I will not sit here a moment longer. Defend yourself!”
He opened his eyes and jumped up, saving his cup when his table was thrown away from him. Two men were struggling with swords inside the shop. The girls working at the counter ran into the kitchen and a boy went out the front door, hopefully to call the City Watch.
Now the shop was empty of bystanders, except for Fatmir and the man he’d been following, Herr Gijsbert Keese. This man was an enigma, called the Dutchman by those who whispered about him. There was definitely something sinister about the Dutchman. Since last night, Fatmir had observed the man buying stolen goods, skirting a bar fight, and talking conspiracy with other suspicious types. Fatmir wanted to find out if this man would be a good source of information.
He turned his attention back to the men with swords. They both were rich enough to afford well-made swords and their doublets were not the rough wool of dock workers. One was dressed almost entirely in black and the other in red and blue. They fenced back and forth, shouting obscenities at each other in French and German. From what Fatmir could tell, they were either fighting about a woman, or a sum of money. It was not entirely clear which and it could have been a sum of money for a woman. He didn’t pay close attention to their shouts, but tried to stay away from the wildly flailing steel.
He ducked and an earthenware jug missed his head. It had been flung by the man in red and blue, who seemed to be losing the duel. The jug shattered against the wall next to him and showered him in cheap red wine. He pulled a kerchief from a sleeve and wiped his eyebrows and beard and while he did so, saw a man run from the room, back into the kitchen. He’d seen this man before, when Herr Keese had been talking conspiracy. But Fatmir didn’t know his name.
That was when the City Watch arrived and stopped the fight. Fatmir picked a table up from the floor, set his chocolate cup on it and then retrieved a chair. When he was seated, he watched the drama as the two duelists were dragged off to see the magistrate.
Before they could go, the young serving girl screamed. She had been trying to clean up the broken crockery, when Herr Keese, seated on a corner bench near her, slid down to the floor into a puddle of his own blood.
The townhouse was very nice. It had as modern a kitchen as Reva had seen since leaving Grantville and the staff were very competent. Especially after finding that Reva was a “hands-on” kind of mistress. The first couple of days had been a little rocky, but now everything was running smoothly.
Reva sat in the front parlor. The room was warm and cozy from the tile stove in the corner. She had her Christmas list in her lap, but was idly staring out the front window. Marlon had been busy with the bank business for a week now. Over the twenty-five years they had been married, Reva had spent a lot of time waiting while Marlon talked. But here, in Denmark, she knew few people. She missed the little town where she’d grown up.
About then, there was a sharp rap on the front door. Reva jumped up and beat Gregers to the door to answer it. The truth was, she was so bored, she’d have considered dancing naked in the street just for something to do.
There were three ladies standing on her stoop and she recognized one. “Judy! Come in, all of you. No need to be out in the cold this morning.” Reva immediately invited them into the parlor and called for tea. The lady she recognized was Judy Wendell. Both being Baptists and both from Grantville, Judy and Reva were well-acquainted. Judy introduced Reva to both of the other women. The first was Inge Styggesen and the other Dorothea Fincke. Reva was a little taken aback. She’d known that the Wendells had moved to Copenhagen in June, but somehow, she hadn’t thought much about it until now.
Before the tea arrived, Judy said, “Reva, I’d heard you were in town, so I came to check for myself. What have you been doing with yourself? Do you have time to go to lunch with us?”
Reva said, “I had been thinking about some Christmas shopping, but I don’t know much about the city yet and Marlon has been so busy with the bankers that he and I have barely been able to speak three words to each other since we arrived.”
Judy smiled and Reva noticed a new wrinkle around her friend’s blue eyes. “Just as I suspected. He hasn’t thought of you at all since he arrived and you’ve just been rotting here in this townhouse. Well, we’re here to take care of that.”
Reva sipped her mint tea. “What do you mean, Judy? Are you kidnapping me?”
Judy laughed. “Something like that. Dorothea and I have become fast friends, even though she’s a Lutheran. I only met Inge a couple of weeks ago and now she has her hands full keeping us out of trouble. We need a wiser head and you’re elected.”
Inge and Dorothea laughed. Reva hadn’t quite gotten who was who straight in her head, so she avoided trying to address either of them separately. “I guess I’ll have to give in to the inevitable. The truth is, I was about to go crazy myself, here in this house. I had no idea where to go or what to do. And Judy, since you’ve been here almost six months, I’ll leave it up to you to give me some ideas. But I’m not the one to keep you out of trouble, you should know that. Remember several years ago at the Lady’s Bazaar?”
This time Judy positively giggled. “Reva Pridmore, I can’t believe you’d remind me of that. Some of those ladies didn’t speak to me again after that night.”
The four ladies bundled up in capes and fur hats and braved the cold and snow. They decided that what Reva needed most was what Judy called “retail therapy“. Inge and Dorothea didn’t really know what that meant, but Reva and Judy laughed.
The Julemarked, or open-air Christmas market, in Copenhagen was wonderful. Booths selling ornaments and sweets abounded. But it was already starting to get dark early in the afternoon. Merchants were already setting up torches and lanterns around their stalls for the late afternoon shoppers.
Reva pulled her wool shawl that wrapped up her head a little closer. “The markets I remember in up-time Germany all had warming drinks. This would sure be a great time for hot chocolate, don’t you think, Judy?”
“I agree with you, Reva. I know one place that sells mulled wine, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for alcohol this early in the day.” Judy started heading down one narrow street, not waiting for the others to follow.
As they moved after Judy, Inge frowned. “I think I have heard of this chocolate. My husband is a merchant and owns three ships to fetch trade goods to Denmark. He told me that when he was in Spain, he tasted some of this drink. It’s hot and spicy, he said. But not like our spicy gløgg. It was made with water and something he couldn’t identify.”
Reva stopped in her tracks. “Did you say it was chocolate? In Spain they call it “choco-latté”.
With Reva stopped, the other women turned around. Inge nodded. “I think that’s what they said. He told me that it was rather sweet and had pepper in it. It sounded like the gløgg my grandmother made for the Christmas season. Is this some sort of drink from up-time?”
Judy smiled. “Yes, I remember my mother making cocoa whenever we went skating. She would bring it in a large thermos.”
Dorothea wasn’t about to be left out. “When I visited my brother in Paris, there was a shop where they sold something like that. It was dark and frothy. I didn’t like it at first, but by the time my tiny cup was empty, I was ready for more.”
Reva started walking again. “So there’s nothing like that in Copenhagen now? I would really like to find somewhere to buy cocoa powder or chocolate now. I only have one box of cocoa powder left from my up-time stores.”
Judy touched Reva on the arm to stop her again. “You still have cocoa powder? You may be the only one in all of Europe, you know.”
Reva gazed in shock at her friend. “Judy, I can’t be the only one. I bet Liz Carstairs still has something. You know what a fanatic she was about storing food in bulk. Mormons are like that. She was the one I always ordered from when we were all still up-time.”
Judy shook her head. “I bet Liz doesn’t have a crumb left. You know she has all those kids, some of them adopted. And while you usually won the ribbon for fudge at the county fair, it was her chocolate chip cookies three years in a row.”
They started walking again and Reva was deep in thought. She didn’t seem to notice her surroundings until Inge tapped her on the shoulder. Reva blinked and saw that they were standing in front of a small stand. The others had small stoneware mugs of gløgg that they were sipping. “Reva, don’t you want some? It will you warm up.”
“Sorry. Yes, I’ll have one, please.” She was still unsure about coins and exchange rates in Denmark. She had an interesting selection of copper and silver coins from the USE, Denmark, France, and Spain. The shopkeeper examined her money for a moment, selected one larger copper piece and put two smaller coins back in her hand.
They stood and sipped the very hot wine for a moment. Reva said, “You know, Judy, my grandmother is probably turning in her grave right now. Remember how much of a teetotaler she was?”
Judy grinned. “I never knew your grandmother, Reva. She was gone before I was five. My Aunt Gertie would have given her a run for her money. But here in the down-time, what are we supposed to drink to stay warm?”
Reva grinned. “Mulled wine, of course.” The wine was a low-quality harsh red wine simmered with spices and then fortified with some sort of brandy before being served. So not only did the warm mug feel good in her gloved hands, but an enjoyable tingle went down her throat and warmed her stomach as well. It reminded her of the last time she was in Germany at Christmas; that up-time would have been almost three years ago now.
Finally, it was fully dark. Each lady had a collection of small packages tucked into baskets as they made their way back to Reva’s townhouse. Reva stopped at the door and turned. “Would you ladies like to come in for a little bit?”
There were negative murmurs all around, so Reva nodded. She placed her hand on the door latch, but was unwilling to let the day end so abruptly. “Judy, thank you for thinking of me. I’ve had a wonderful day.”
Judy smiled. “I’ve thought about you since I saw you at the reception last week, Reva. I won’t be able to shop tomorrow, I’ve got an appointment with Fletcher. But I think Inge and Dorothea can go.” Judy was used to managing everyone around her and Reva didn’t mind. The Danish ladies didn’t seem bothered either.
Dorothea shook her head. “I can’t go tomorrow. But I will call on you later in the week.”
Reva smiled. “Thank you so much, Dorothea. I look forward to seeing you again.” They kissed each other on both cheeks in the European custom, then Dorothea hurried off down the street.
Inge also kissed Reva on both cheeks. “I would be very glad to meet you here tomorrow. Perhaps instead of shopping, you would like some sightseeing. I’ll come at nine in the morning with my coach.”
Reva took Inge’s hands in each of her own. “That would be wonderful, Inge. I’ll be ready. Is there anything special I should bring, or wear?”
“Just dress warmly as you did today. We are not being presented at court. I’ll just show you the palace and some of the churches.
Reva and Inge became fast friends. Several times each week they were in each other’s company, sightseeing, shopping, or sitting in a warm townhouse and embroidering. Although Inge was several years younger than Reva, the American felt she had found a long-lost friend. Inge was helping Reva speak better Danish, and Reva was teaching Inge to cook up-time specialties.
The next couple of weeks were busy. Each night, Marlon brought one or two of his new crew members home for dinner. They were all very nice young men, between the ages of twenty and thirty. They were eager and excited about the new project, and all dreamed of adventure.
So it was a week before Reva realized she hadn’t seen Inge in almost a month.
Today, while Reva was shopping in the market, she glimpsed Inge across the square. She waved, then hurried over to her friend.
Inge had dark circles around her eyes and looked as if she hadn’t eaten at all. “My goodness, Inge, what happened to you? You look miserable.”
“Oh, Reva. It’s good to see you.” Inge continued to sort through the cabbages as if she was searching for a particular vegetable.
Reva took Inge’s hand in her own two hands and tipped her head to try to look in her friend’s eyes. “I think you need to tell me what’s wrong. Come with me.” She firmly tucked Inge’s hand onto her elbow and headed off through the market to the small local wine shop.
Inge didn’t resist. But when Reva peeked back at her friend’s face, there were slow tears tracking down one cheek. She didn’t say another word until they were seated at a table and were waiting for their orders.
“All right, Inge. Tell me everything. Is this about your husband? Is there something I can do to help?”
Inge hid her face in her hands and sobbed silently. Finally, she was able to get herself more composed and looked up at Reva. “Yes, It’s about Axel. You know that he has a warehouse on the dock and often gets into a bidding war with some of the other merchants.”
“Yes, I know, Inge. Did something happen?”
Inge took a deep breath, then sipped her wine. “I don’t understand all of it, but it has something to do with a deal that Axel made last week.”
Reva nodded and patted Inge’s hand. “What happened? This all can’t be because of just one shipload, can it?”
Inge nodded, her eyes welling with unshed tears. “Yes, just one load. Axel overbid at the auction because they told him it was a load of money from the Americas. He was thinking it was gold, or silver, or even sugar. But it wasn’t. That thief, Ingve Olaffsen, lied. Axel got saddled with barrels of beans. And not edible things, they are bitter and gritty. You can’t cook them, everything comes out looking muddy.”
Reva was full of sympathy, but there was something nagging at her memory. “Did you say beans? What do they look like?”
Inge looked up from the table, confused. “I don’t know, just beans. About the size of fava beans from Italy, you know. Axel brought some home to see if I could do anything with them so it wouldn’t be a total loss. After he put all that money into a new ship and it was lost in the West Indies, he was hoping this load would save the business. But it looks now like we are going to lose everything.”
After dinner that night, Reva was the one not listening to Marlon and he got a little grumpy. “Sweetpea, didn’t you hear me? I asked you about your day? Where did you go?”
Reva blinked and sipped her coffee to cover. “Sorry, Swordfish. I was woolgathering, wasn’t I? I went to the market this morning and saw Inge there for the first time in weeks. She and Axel are really having problems.”
Marlon rolled his eyes. “You aren’t about to give me all the gossip, are you? Because I’m not really ready for that. I’ve got too much of this airship on my mind.”
Reva felt her temper flair. “Never mind, then. I’ll handle it. You don’t need to be concerned.”
Marlon stood up and looked at her suspiciously. “Wait, this isn’t like that conversation we had the other day that was going to cost me ten thousand dollars, is it?”
Reva walked around the table and snuggled into her husband’s arms. “No, of course not. How could you think such a thing?” He couldn’t see the glint in her eye as she hugged him. If he had, he would have ducked for cover.
It was a couple of days later. Inge and Reva were in the wine shop again. Reva was sipping and looking smug.
Inge set her cup down a little harder than she meant to. “But I can’t let you do that, Reva. I showed you the beans. Do you even know what they are?”
“Of course I do. They are theobroma cacao, the wonderful cocoa bean. They are raw chocolate and I mean to buy at least half of the load and start making chocolate.”
Inge leaned over and spoke in a low voice. “But do you even know how to make choco-latté?” The last word was a complete whisper.
Reva rolled her eyes and leaned toward Inge. “Well, no, not yet. But I will. At least I know what it’s supposed to taste like. I’ll work from that.”
“How will you know where to start? Did you ever do this back in America?”
Reva shrugged. “No, not really. It always came already prepared. But I don’t see why I can’t do it. Look at my husband. He had never built an airship before, but here he is, building a larger one for King Christian. Who’s to say that I can’t come up with something wonderful?”
“Reva, do you know how much a half-load of beans will cost? And what are you going to do with that many barrels? I mean in terms of tonnage?”
“Well, no.” Reva sighed. “Trust a merchant’s wife to put her finger on the biggest flaw in my plan. How much are we talking about?”
“Well, more than you can keep in a townhouse. You need a warehouse space.”
“Good idea, Inge. Finish your wine and we’ll go shopping for a warehouse I can rent or lease or something. We’ll find a factor I can trust and see what he can come up with. I like this idea more and more.”
By June, Reva and Inge had a warehouse full of barrels of cocoa beans. At the Fourth of July barbecue, she even met Matt Lawler, a machinist. He thought he could build her a grinding machine and probably even a conching machine. Of course, he had to take it on speculation and work on it when he didn’t have an assignment in the shop, but Reva would have the machinery she wanted sooner than later.
They were out shopping and Reva had been thinking about an idea for a couple of weeks. Today was the day when she launched the idea on Inge. “I know exactly what we are going to do to make money with these beans.”
They had been walking down the street and Inge was thinking of something else. “What?”
“We open a chocolate shop and sell it ourselves.” Reva grinned and her eyes glittered with capitalistic dreams.
Inge stopped dead in the middle of the street and stared at her friend. “What do you mean? Open a shop where we cook and serve food to people? Like we were some low-class tavern?”
Reva laughed and took Inge’s arm to guide her out of traffic. “No, not low-class. We’ll make it as high-class as possible. In Paris, the chocolate shops are serving everyone and from the nobles on down, everyone is loving it. If we combine it with some of my up-time cooking, that nobody here has ever seen, we’ll be very popular and we can’t help but make money. I even know what I want to call it. What do you think of The Mermaid and Tiger?”
The next week was busy for Reva and Marlon didn’t even notice. The whole time he was finalizing the build and training for the Royal Anne, Reva paid workmen to rebuild the inside of her warehouse into her idea of the perfect chocolate shop. Then she and Inge sat down to develop a menu.
The Mermaid and Tiger
Fatmir became a regular customer at The Mermaid and Tiger. He tried to vary the time of day he visited, but he was there almost every day. He stopped disguising himself as a Frank and wore his usual clothes. Customers came to expect his turban and brocade coat. They knew he was with the Ottoman party and at first they were curious, having never seen an Ottoman before. Their comments amused him, Fatmir was not an Ottoman, he was from Albania. At home he was considered a slave of the empire. He was beginning to enjoy the notoriety as an exotic outsider.
One evening, Fatmir was in Kadir’s apartments, making his report. “In the last week, I’ve seen shipments from the West Indies carried on ships from the Netherlands, England, France, and Spain. Sixteen shipments of sugar and rum, two of goods from Venice and none of spices from the East Indies. Not counting the fishing boats, I saw sixty-seven merchant ships in total.”
Kadir sat and shook his head. “Have some more coffee, my friend. You always amaze me in these reports. How do you know ships and numbers and goods so well? Nobody reports to the Sultan as you do.”
Fatmir sipped his thick sweet coffee. “It is a matter of memory, only that. I have always been gifted in the fact that I seem to notice more than most men and I am fortunate that I remember what I see.”
“You seem to have an affinity for that odd little shop. What’s it called, Mermaid and something?”
Fatmir smiled. “The Mermaid and Tiger. Yes, I spend time there. I can get an excellent view of goings and comings at high tide. Besides, they have unique food. One of the partners is an American from that town, Grantville. She makes. . .”
Kadir interrupted. “She? I will never become accustomed to these Franks and their shameless women. She is running the shop? Herself?”
Fatmir smiled. “Not by herself, there is another woman there and several young girls. The only male I have seen that works there is a boy of ten and he runs errands. But the American, she cooks things I have never seen before. You must come with me some time and try the biscuits and gravy. A biscuit is a soft bread with a new texture and the gravy is a meat sauce with some sort of milk or cream all together. I’ve never seen a sauce such as this. I’m totally enthralled.”
Kadir set his small coffee cup on the small table between them. “Fatmir, for all the years I’ve known you, I’ve considered you a connoisseur of fine things and yet you know almost nothing about this sauce? Is it really that different? Or are you enamored with these shameless women?”
Fatmir tilted his head and thought about it. Then he stood up and smiled softly at Kadir. “I will leave you to ponder whether it is the women, the food, or the chocolate. Until you sample it, make no judgments of me.” And he left Kadir’s apartment.
Fatmir still counted ships and noted cargo. The empire was interested to see what shipments arrived in this faraway place and what the Franks (as the Ottomans thought of everyone who was not in the empire) traded that was not offered to the Ottomans.
Chocolate was one of those things. At the moment, Spain was not on good terms with the empire and Spain appeared to have a monopoly on the substance. Fatmir didn’t yet know much about chocolate, or the beans it came from, but he knew that he would rather have a hot cup of chocolate than coffee.
Fatmir had been disappointed to find that The Mermaid and Tiger, although it opened very early, before dawn, was not open in the evening. He could not blame the women who owned the establishment for avoiding the docks after dark, but it would have been so pleasant to sit and sip chocolate while he was observing ships leaving with the tide at midnight. But such was the fate of a slave of the empire.
Fatmir was delighted, in this cold country, to have The Mermaid and Tiger. Even in the summer, Copenhagen seemed too cold. The cold made him crave something hot, just to keep his heart going. He was on good terms with Frau Pridmore, the cook. She had been introducing new items to the menu on a regular basis. She said they were from up-time, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. It was too good a marketing ploy to be certain.
Still, her Danish was not always as good as his and she had some odd attitudes. She saw no problem at all with women doing all the cooking and running of the business. There didn’t seem to be any men involved in the process at all. Perhaps she was from the up-time, after all.
One reason Fatmir was in Copenhagen was because of the up-timers. It was noted on other reports that King Christian was hiring experts from the up-time village of Grantville and Fatmir’s instructions were to glean what he could of them.
He knew that there were reports from many localities on the movements of the up-timers, so his would not be unique. Still, he was curious as to the differences between these people and anyone else. They certainly didn’t appear any different than the Franks who surrounded him every day. They were old and young, kind and selfish, generous and greedy, successful and failures. He did notice that many of them seemed to have a talent of accumulating wealth, but that was not exclusive of Grantville.
Today he was in The Mermaid and Tiger because he was following a man. It was just happy coincidence that the man came into Fatmir’s favorite shop.
The man was large and dark-haired. Fatmir had spotted him a week ago and become curious. The man stood out to Fatmir on the busy street one evening just because he was trying to be furtive. If he had succeeded, Fatmir might never have noticed, but the way he continually looked over his shoulder to see if he was followed intrigued the Albanian.
So he followed the man around the city for two days, noting to whom he spoke and what kind of money was involved. He discovered that this man’s name was Gijsbert Keese and he was fleeing some sort of prison sentence in one of the Germanies. From gossip on the docks, this man, Keese, was known to one and all as the Dutchman. Very few actually knew his name, but many knew of him. The Dutchman was the person one went to for the black market. Whispers were that he had swindled the Grantville Railroad of a good deal of money. He seemed to be in Copenhagen to contact someone and make his escape to the Americas.
Fatmir was interested in this fellow. He was the sort of lowlife that one would contact if there were some dirty work needed doing with no way to trace it back to the empire.
He watched one night, as Keese met the man he’d been searching for. Fatmir was in a shadow by a warehouse and could hear their conversation.
The stranger, in a dark hood, spoke first. “Just what is the emergency that I need to be pulled away from my duties, Keese? I told you never to contact me. Are you trying to extort more money from me? I refuse to pay anything else. When you were arrested, my operation had to be closed down and you almost put me out of business. I’ve sent you enough cash to get you out of Europe. What do you want now?”
Keese puffed himself up, reminding Fatmir of a fat toad. “It takes more gold than I have to get to the West Indies. I need enough that I can buy a plantation and retire. I’m not going over there as a slave.”
The man in the hood snorted. “I’m not going to provide you with that kind of money unless you can give me something of worth in return. Do you have those military secrets you claimed to have? I need the documents we discussed.”
Keese seemed very uncomfortable and Fatmir was almost certain that he was lying. “Of course I have them. All the information you could want about the kingdom of the Lowlands. You could topple the whole thing with what I’ve found.”
The other man glared at him for a moment. “I’m leaving tonight for Amsterdam, but I will return in September. Meet me at the chocolate shop. Sit by the east window, where I left a note before. If I like the documents you have for me, you’ll get what you deserve.”
The Mermaid and Tiger
So one night in September, Gijsbert Keese came to the chocolate shop. The city was abuzz with news of the Royal Anne and its phenomenal trip to the Far East. It had launched the evening before and nobody could talk of anything else. This evening, the shop was almost empty.
Fatmir was drinking chocolate at his customary table. Kadir had been at the launch the night before, but Fatmir didn’t attend because of the Keese matter.
The menu board over the bar had something new on the bakery list. It was called a “brownie”. As far as Fatmir knew, in his study of the English language, that was the name of a small elfin creature, not some kind of biscuit. But he decided to try it. He loved trying all the new innovations that Frau Pridmore introduced to the menu.
Before the brownie arrived, a fight broke out. The man in black was loud and probably drunk. Fatmir decided, by his accent and use of Catalan obscenities, that the man was Spanish. The one in red and blue was probably English, an egotistical fop. There was no way they would kill one another short of an accident.
He was able to save his chocolate just before his table was kicked over. Only Keese stayed where he’d been. At the time, Fatmir thought it strange that he didn’t move a muscle, even when the brawl came very close. All the rest of the patrons of the shop evaporated at the first sign of trouble.
Then, the Englishman parried a thrust from the Spanish Captain and his sword slipped from his fingers, slid to the side and slithered off into a corner. “So, Gonzalez. We are at the same impasse as we were on your ship. I have lost my sword. Do you expect me to surrender?”
Before Gonzalez could answer, the City Watch arrived. The two duelists were escorted to the magistrate for disturbing the peace. Fatmir was just making himself comfortable again and was just as surprised as anyone to see the Dutchman fall to the ground.
Frau Pridmore came from the kitchen in horror. “Oh, my stars! Is he dead?” Frau Styggesen was wringing her hands behind her American friend.
The captain of the City Watch nudged the body with a toe. “Yes, I think he is. This is a serious matter. Who is the owner of this establishment?”
Frau Pridmore looked very pale and woozy, but not as bad as Frau Styggesen. “We are, captain. Why?”
The captain bowed slightly. “You will immediately accompany my men and me to the magistrate. You can worry about cleaning this up when you return.”
Reva and Inge nodded and got their wraps against the night air. Everyone else was sent home and the shop was locked.
Fatmir followed the party out of the shop. He stayed in the background while the City Watch was involved. He had no urge to be noticed by city officials. But he was concerned about the fate of his favorite chocolate shop and the ladies who owned it. So he followed the ladies and their escort to the magistrate.
But as he hurried through the dark streets, he considered the situation. The man was still as loose as a bag of meal, so he could not have been dead long. He had to have died during the two or three hours that Fatmir sat in the shop. Otherwise, he would have stiffened into the sitting position he died in.
So Fatmir tried to remember who had been near the Dutchman and when the last time was that he had noticed the man move. It was difficult to remember.
The ordeal at the magistrate was not conducive to remembering anything. It was noisy and confusing. When officials discovered that one of the owners was the wife of the airship inventor, everybody looked worried. They certainly didn’t want to offend anyone at the Royal Palace. Finally, the women were released with admonitions to stay in town until the inquest could be completed.
As they hurried away, Fatmir heard Frau Styggesen speaking. “But Reva, what are we going to do? I’ve never dealt with a dead body before.”
“Neither have I, Inge, but somebody has to do it. You go find the mortician, or whoever builds the coffins and I’ll start cleaning up the shop. Nobody ever thinks about the cleanup when they start a bar fight, do they?”
The Danish woman hurried off and Fatmir followed the American woman back to the shop. When he was sure she was safe inside, he made his way to his own apartments.
When he got home, he lit the brazier and settled the water to heat. He always thought better with a hot drink to soothe his senses. When he could finally sit on his cushions and sip the scalding coffee, he let his mind wander free for a moment. The Dutchman had been sitting in the corner when Fatmir arrived at the shop, about two o’clock. Fatmir had been sitting in his customary location and the two of them glanced at each other and their eyes fleetingly met as they glanced at each other. In that moment, Fatmir saw a dangerous man. The Dutchman looked like an animal, dangerous because he was backed into a corner.
That was the only interaction that Fatmir could remember. They didn’t speak and Fatmir had not seen him in the chocolate shop before.
So he closed his eyes and let his mind drift again. He had not noticed anyone sitting with the man. And the crew of the shop tried to stay away from him as much as possible. How had someone gotten close enough to the man to kill him?
Fatmir looked as if he slept. It was totally dark when he opened his eyes again. He had a slight smile on his face as he put the cup next to the brazier and retired to his bedroom.
The Mermaid and Tiger
Reva was in a state. The Mermaid and Tiger had been closed for a week because of the investigation. They had been making sandwiches and other delicacies that Inge’s brother sold from a cart, but they had not been able to open the shop to customers.
This morning, she was supposed to be making fresh biscuits but she just couldn’t concentrate. She had to re-measure the flour three times and finally, Inge took her hand and led her out of the kitchen and into the dining room. “Reva, you don’t need to worry, everything will be fine. They will find who killed that poor man and we will go back to serving people chocolate and sandwiches.”
“I don’t know, Inge. I’ve seen things like this ruin a business. Besides, Marlon will back soon and I don’t want the shop to fail before he even has a chance to see it.” She couldn’t go on, but put her face in her hands. Inge could see tears dripping from between Reva’s fingers.
There was a knock at the door and Inge hurried over. “I’m sorry, we’re still closed.”
The man outside was the Ottoman in the turban. “Dear lady, I have come to help you solve the murder. Please let me enter.”
Inge opened the door and let the stranger in. He proceeded to his usual place and sat, then examined Reva and Inge with interest. “We must call gather all who were here at the time of tragedy. We must have the City Watch get all of them together.”
It took some time, but all were gathered, including the Spanish captain in black and the Englishman in red and blue. The shop was arranged as it had been and the Captain of the Watch, with his lieutenant, stood at the front of the shop, watching Fatmir with suspicion. From windows all around the shop, the curious fought for a place to see the drama unfold.
And through all of it, Fatmir was a model of patience and decorum. He sipped a cup of chocolate with extra cinnamon that Reva had prepared especially for him. He watched with interest the Captain’s second in command, Lieutenant Brinker. The man was tall and dark, a common face for a Dane. And he seemed quite agitated. “Captain, this is a complete waste of time. It’s obvious that this foreigner from the Ottoman empire is a more likely suspect than anyone he could name. I demand that we stop this farce and arrest the man at once.”
The Captain took a seat near the door and looked at his lieutenant with raised eyebrows. “You have evidence that I have not seen? This man, Fatmir was seen by at least seven individuals to have stayed in plain sight in the shop. Not one of them saw him anywhere near the dead man. What evidence do you have that he is our culprit?”
Before the argument could continue, Fatmir stood and bowed slightly to the Captain of the Watch. “Excellent to see you here, sir, and I am pleased that you have an open mind for these proceedings. What I propose to do is recreate the events of that evening, to see if we can come to an agreement. Shall we begin?”
The Captain gestured to Brinker and the disgruntled young man sat next to his commander. “Certainly, Herr Fatmir. Please continue with your little tableau. I will be more than happy to see this matter put to rest.”
Fatmir bowed again, then smiled at the crowd at the windows. “As you will all remember, it was the great day that the airship, Royal Anne, launched on its voyage to the East Indies. Many people witnessed the astounding thing, such a large ship, floating in the air. That evening, there were few here at the shop. Only myself, at this table by the window. The dead man, Herr Keese, was seated across the room by that window. Would someone like to portray the dead man for us? You, sir, come in and be seated.”
The dock worker that Fatmir chose ran around to the front of the shop and entered. He sat in Keese’s seat and leaned against the wall, dramatically dead. His friends snickered at that.
Fatmir continued. “Our friend, Gonzalez, was seated at this table with Herr Wells. Would you gentlemen kindly take your places?”
The man in black and the man in red and blue nodded and seated themselves at the table near the middle of the room.
Fatmir walked toward the kitchen. “The only members of the staff visible were Frau Styggesen’s niece, Anna, and her brother, Eric. They were here near the kitchen. As I remember, there was no one else in the room. Does anyone remember it differently?”
Reva and Inge were standing in a back corner. Reva had her arms crossed and a stern look on her face and Inge was wringing her hands nervously, but nobody disagreed with the Ottoman.
Fatmir smiled. “Good. The question we have is, ‘When was Herr Keese stabbed?’ We have a few very important clues. It must have happened when nobody was watching and it must have happened before the sword fight.”
At this, the young Lieutenant Brinker jumped to his feet again. “Captain, I protest this procedure again. It is a waste of our time. If the king hears of this farce . . . ”
The Captain merely shook his head and waved his hand at the lieutenant’s chair. “Have a seat, Peder. I will hear this. Continue, if you would, Herr Fatmir.”
“Thank you, Captain. As I said, Herr Keese had to have been killed before the sword fight because he didn’t react to anything these fine gentlemen did that afternoon. Herr Gonzalez, Herr Wells, begin your argument, as you did that day.”
Wells stood and grinned then pulled his sword. He asked, “Do you want swords and all? Very well, Come, Gonzalez, defend yourself, you coward!”
Gonzalez grinned as well and pulled his sword. The two combatants began waving swords and knocking over tables.
Fatmir stepped away from his table as the brawl knocked it over. “Everyone would assume that a person, intent on murder, would use this diversion to his advantage. But how is one to know there will be a diversion? Wouldn’t it be better to strike before a diversion and be out of the way of it? So the best way to avoid the diversion would have been to incite it before the fact.”
Everyone watched as Fatmir slipped quickly between the duelists and stopped them. “Gentlemen, I must ask you: before your fight, had you been in this shop?”
Gonzalez stopped and sheathed his sword. “No, I had not been here before, I was not aware that I could get chocolatté in Copenhagen.” He gestured at the Englishman. “My friend, Harrison, brought me that day because he knew of my love of chocolate.”
Fatmir turned to the man in red and blue. “Herr Wells, why did you bring Gonzalez here that day?”
The Englishman looked guilty and pulled a lace handkerchief from his sleeve to hide his discomfiture. “I’m not sure I remember. It was a whim, I think.”
Fatmir took a step closer. “A whim? Really? No money was exchanged?”
All eyes turned to Wells and Gonzalez pulled his sword from the scabbard again. “You were paid to bring me to the scene of a murder? Assume a virtue if you have it not!” He lunged, attempting to plant his sword in the Englishman’s heart, but Wells parried the attack and brought one of his own. Where the previous conflict had been more for show, this one appeared to be deadly serious. Everyone in the shop was on their feet, trying either to exit the room or to stop the violence before blood was shed.
In one swift motion, the Captain rose, grabbed his staff, and knocked Gonzalez to the ground, then turned on Wells. “Put that sword away, or I swear I will knock your head from your shoulders!” Within seconds, the brawl was under control.
Fatmir looked at Wells again. “So you took money to bring Gonzalez to the shop. Was it specifically Gonzalez, or were the instructions more general?”
Wells licked his lips. Fatmir could tell that he was afraid. “What are you afraid of? Were you paid to kill the man yourself?”
Wells shook his head. “No. I was told to bring a brawl to the chocolate shop.” He turned to where Reva and Inge were still in the corner. “I’m sorry ladies, but it is the truth. I never knew that it would be such a pleasant, clean establishment. If I had known. . .”
Wells was cut off when the young lieutenant lunged at him with a dagger in hand. “You are a liar and a thief!”
Wells stepped back, trying to find where he’d dropped his sword on the floor. He dodged the lieutenant’s first blow. Gonzalez whistled and when he caught Wells’ eye, he tossed him his own sword.
Wells caught it and now had a piece of steel a foot and a half longer than the dagger that Peder wielded. But Peder was more than a head taller than Wells and his arms were longer. In reality, the battle was very evenly matched.
The Captain tried to stop them as he had with Wells and Gonzalez, but he was unable to come between them. Peder was intent on killing Wells and the Englishman was intent on surviving, even if it meant killing Peder.
The lieutenant fought like a madman and it became evident that he would overcome Wells in a matter of moments. Fatmir picked up a chair and struck with all his might at the back of Peder’s head and finally the madman collapsed on the floor, unconscious. He kicked the knife away from the hand of the lieutenant and then gestured towards him. “Captain, may I suggest we restrain this man before he gains consciousness? I think it would be best for all involved.”
The Captain nodded and two of his men hurried forward to snap shackles on Peder’s hands and feet. “I have never seen him act like this. I don’t know what came over him.”
Fatmir sat at his table again. “Please, everyone be seated. I will explain as best I can. If he wakes soon, we can question Peder as well.”
So the women in the corner found chairs and Gonzalez and Wells sat behind the Captain of the Watch, unwilling to face Peder, even in chains. When all were seated, Fatmir nodded. “Here is what I think happened. I think that Herr Keese came in the shop and sat by the window to watch for someone. And even though he was sitting on this bench in a corner, he was more vulnerable than he thought. Look at this.”
Fatmir stood and walked to the wall where the dock worker was still mugging for laughs with his friends. “Sir, you are excused, I want to show everyone something.”
The man stumbled out, still pretending to be dead, or at least dead drunk. Fatmir pulled a pen knife from his pocket and pushed it through a crack in the wall. “The killer knew that he didn’t need to be in the shop to kill this man, he just had to encourage him to sit in the right place.”
The Captain came and peered at the cracks in the wall. “It is difficult to see how he would know that. In fact, I’m not sure how you found out about it.”
Fatmir went back to his table and sat down to sip his chocolate. “Very simple, Captain. I overheard Herr Keese in a discussion several days ago with a man in the shadows. Herr Keese was attempting to blackmail the man and get money to go to the West Indies to retire. I heard the man tell Herr Keese to meet him here and sit by the east window. Obviously, he’s used this place before. Have any other odd murders been reported?”
The Captain began to pace. “I see what you mean. We found a man in an alley not far from here. He’d been stabbed in the side, very similarly to Herr Keese, and dumped in the alley. We knew he had been dumped there because there was no blood from the wound. He bled somewhere else and was dumped there. I assigned Lieutenant Peder Brinker to investigate . . . Oh . . .”
Fatmir nodded as the Captain realized why that murder remained unsolved. “I’m sorry, Captain. There are things you should look at in your own department. Tell me, how long has Lieutenant Brinker worked with the City Watch?”
The Captain stopped pacing. “I’ll tell you, but first, tell me now you knew it was my Lieutenant. I didn’t have a clue to his activities until this moment. You are a stranger here in Copenhagen. How could you know so quickly?”
Fatmir smiled. “Very simple, Captain. After overhearing Herr Keese, I waited for the right moment and followed the man in the shadows. It was not easy, but I have a good ear for voices and a good memory for the way men walk. When I lost him in the darkness, I skulked for a couple of days until I heard the voice again. I followed him to an empty warehouse down at the other end of the pier from here and I listened to him. It interested me that there were barrels and crates that had not been there before. I heard the shadowy man making a deal with a Spanish captain. Don’t worry, it wasn’t Gonzalez. I think he was a ship’s captain bound for Amsterdam. It seemed that the shadowy man had gotten hold of supplies that he was selling to the Spaniard to support some sort of plot against the crown in the Lowlands. You would be well-informed to break up this conspiracy, or at least move it out of Copenhagen. I’m certain that your King doesn’t want to be implicated in that sort of political plot.”
The Captain was alarmed. He signaled for one of his men and whispered a message to him, then sent him running. “I’ll take care to investigate that myself, if you don’t mind, sir. But you have not yet told me how you knew it was Peder.”
Fatmir nodded and finished his chocolate. “Delicious. I must find a source of this at home. I knew it was your lieutenant because I followed him after that meeting and he went straight to the magistrate. Then a few days later, when Herr Keese was murdered, I followed the ladies to the magistrate and saw your lieutenant at your side. They were one in the same.”
There was a groan on the floor and Peder tried to rise. Fatmir strode next to the man on the ground. “Lieutenant, I have a few questions.”
The man tried to sit up and was surprised to find shackles on his hands and feet. “Captain, what is the meaning of this? Why have you allowed this Ottoman to slander me? Why did you let him attack me? I demand an explanation.”
The Captain put his foot on Peder’s shoulder. “Stay where you are, Peder. I’ve just been apprised of some of your activities in Copenhagen that need to be answered for. The magistrate will hear of this. You are accused of murder. Men, take him away.”
By the time the Royal Anne returned from the East Indies, The Mermaid and Tiger was back in business. And the notoriety didn’t hurt business, either. Many people stopped by just because they had heard of the murder and Lieutenant Brinker’s arrest. It was a great way to introduce the Danes to chocolate.
The day before the Royal Anne was to arrive, Reva and Inge sat at the microphone of the radio. Inge was nervous because she was not used to this kind of machinery and was half certain that it would electrocute her. She wrung her hands and said to Reva, “Are you sure he’ll contact you? He’s been almost all the way around the world. Maybe he’s not . . .”
Then they heard Marlon’s voice. “Put my wife on this thing, dammit!”
Reva laughed and squeezed the switch. “Swordfish, there’s no reason to swear.”
Marlon’s voice faded for a moment, then came in strongly. “Is that you, Sweetpea? I can’t tell you how good it is to hear your sweet voice. Has it only been a month?”
Reva grinned. “If you count the time you took to build that silly thing, it’s been more like a year.”
After that, Inge and the radio man stepped out of the room and let the two have a little privacy; the conversation devolved into giggles and sweet nothings. It was late when Reva came out of the radio room, but her eyes were bright and her cheeks were red and rosy as if she were young again.
The next day, Reva tried to stay at The Mermaid and Tiger, but she couldn’t concentrate. Finally, Inge decided to close the business completely. It wasn’t like they had a lot of customers anyway, it seemed that the whole city was gathering at the airfield.
Reva bundled up for the cold night air. October wasn’t known in Denmark as a warm month and snow had been threatening for a couple of days. But the skies remained clear as the city waited for the Royal Anne. The airfield took on the air of a carnival when she arrived. It was a couple of hours to sundown and the Anne was expected any time.
Reva was nervous. Not only was Marlon returning triumphant, but it was finally time to tell him about her capital venture. And she worried that he would not approve. Finally, the noise and celebration were more than Reva could take and she went out to the seawall at the edge of the airfield. She stood and stared out into the bay, thinking of how she was going to tell him.
The time seemed to crawl by on the back of an old tortoise and Reva sat on the cold rock, thinking of Marlon. She could hear the noise in the distance as the airship landed and the shouts and cannon fire told her that everyone was still celebrating. No disaster yet. She waited, knowing that Marlon would come looking for her.
When she heard a step on the gravel behind her, she stood up and smiled. There stood Marlon, carrying a leather sack. She could see that the strong tropic sun had burned his cheeks and forehead brown.
When he saw her, a grin split his beard with dazzling white and she ran toward him. “I got you something, Sweetpea. Here, tell me what you think.”
Reva laughed. “Never mind that, Swordfish. I get a hug, first, don’t I?”
Marlon wrapped his arms around his wife and swung her around in a circle, kissing her as if he hadn’t seen her in a year. Reva laughed and hugged him tighter. “Swordfish, if this is what it takes to get some love and attention, I’ll send you off more often.”
The palace was decorated as only people in the seventeenth century would decorate. The food was sumptuous and the drink flowed like water. Marlon and Reva, in their best garb, mingled and rubbed elbows with the upper crust of Danish society.
For about an hour and a half. Then they quietly slipped out and got in their coach. Marlon looked old and tired and Reva was concerned. “Swordfish, maybe we should save my surprise for tomorrow. You look absolutely wiped out.”
Marlon perked up. “You have a surprise? I can’t wait for that. Is it at home, or somewhere else?”
Reva settled back on the seat. “Not at home. Remember how you were worried I’d waste your money? I used most of my retirement fund for this, so I don’t want to hear you squawk about it, all right?”
Marlon frowned like a kicked puppy. “I won’t squawk. But can I ask how much you’ve invested?”
“No, you may not. Just sit back and I’ll let you know what you can ask later.”
Marlon was surprised when they got to the docks. “Are we getting on a ship?”
Reva grinned. “No. Guess again.”
The coach stopped in front of a very nice little shop called ‘The Mermaid and Tiger’. Marlon peered out the window of the coach. “Are we stopping for a late-night snack?”
Reva started climbing out of the coach. Marlon jumped down and helped her climb out. “Thank you, Swordfish. It’s ever so much more difficult to do things with all this fabric in the skirt. And, yes, we’re stopping for a snack.”
Marlon’s eyebrows went up, but he kept his mouth wisely shut. Reva pulled keys out of her handbag and unlocked the door. “Come on in, Swordfish.”
Inside, he was pleased to see an array of small tables and chairs and on the menu board, some of his favorite items, especially the biscuits and gravy. “What are we having?”
Reva pointed to a chair. “You sit down, I’ll be right back.”
Marlon tried to wait patiently, but he yawned a couple of times and worried that he would split his head open if he did it again. Finally Reva returned with a small tray, two cups of something steaming and two plates.
Marlon almost jumped up again, but caught a look from his wife and stayed in his seat. “Is that what I think it is?”
Reva set a small cup in front of him and a plate with a moist brown square planted directly in the middle of it. “Probably. It’s hot chocolate and a brownie. Be careful of the chocolate, it’s down-timer style and not what you remember from home. But the brownie is real.”
Marlon sat in awe for a moment, as Reva sat across from him. “You made this?”
She nodded and watched as he delicately picked up his fork and nabbed a bite of the brownie. Reva ran out of patience as he chewed. “So, what do you think? Have I come close?”
Marlon’s face changed from the angelic look of enjoyment to clouded confusion. He swallowed. “Close to what? To heaven? Because that’s what I think this brownie tastes like. I don’t think you ever made one this good for the state fair.”
Reva smiled at her husband. “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”
Reva Pridmore sat down in the kitchen of The Mermaid and Tiger, the dock-side café owned by her partner, Inge Styggesen, and herself. She wiped her face with a rag because today’s lunch rush had been busier than ever. The room was bright with light from two east windows and a skylight. There was a cooking fire, a ceramic arrangement for an oven and a dish-washing station set up to Reva’s exacting standards for food safety.
In the room she could see Inge kneading dough for sandwich rolls. The four employees that Reva and Inge had gathered, Anna, Eric, Claus and Else were all doing chores. At the moment, twelve year old Anna and ten year old Eric, Inge’s niece and nephew, were sweeping and cleaning tables. Anna was a waitress and Eric ran errands and washed dishes with Claus Asmussen. And Else Jensen, the other waitress, was carrying a tray out to the last lunch customer.
Everything as just as it should be, but somehow, Reva just couldn’t get her head in the game. She never thought that it would take so much work to take raw cocoa beans and turn them into food. Every time she understood a process, another problem raised its shaggy head.
Reva sighed, remembering how she’d convinced Matt Lawler to build her a roasting machine, based off of drawings from her copy of The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe. He had finally agreed to work on his days off if she would feed him at the café for free. Probably for the rest of his life.
The drawings were reproductions of woodcuts from the past, which made for interesting design choices. Matt made some pieces for convenience, or because, as he put it, “That’s just the way machinery works, Reva.” Other choices were based on Reva’s experience as a baker and chocolate enthusiast.
In the beginning, before they opened the café, Reva experimented with different methods for breaking down the beans. She had a Food Processor at the townhouse, but her experiment with it proved almost disastrous because the ground beans almost burned out her motor and new Food Processors were not available. So she moved on to a mortar and pestle.
The cocoa nibs were like volcanic pebbles in the small mortar, and she knew she would never be able to produce enough for the café. She searched the markets of Copenhagen for a larger mortar and finally found one seven or eight inches in diameter with a good deep bowl. It was ceramic and very sturdy.
Still no success until she remembered the need for heat while processing chocolate. She dug out a Sterno can (one of the two she had left) from one of the crates from home and put the mortar on a little stand. She needed a stool to stand on and grind the beans, but this was the method that worked the best so far.
From the ground cocoa beans, known as chocolate liquor, Reva was able to achieve what was known as Dutch chocolate. This process was pretty basic. She put the dark paste into an open-weave bag, like cheesecloth. This she hung in the warehouse with a tub beneath it and a weight on the top of the bag. Between gravity and the extra weight, the cocoa butter was squeezed out of the mass, leaving a the cocoa in almost a powder form. It may not have been as efficient as some modern methods, but it got her something she could use to make fudge and brownies.
Reva still didn’t see how she could achieve what she thought of as real chocolate. She wanted it solid, low melting temperature so it would liquefy in her mouth. She could remember just the mouth feel and the flavor of a good milk chocolate and that’s what she wanted.
Reva noticed little Anna as the girl came around the work table and sat down. After a moment, the girl reached over and patted Reva’s hand.
Reva said, “Thank you, Anna, but what was that for?”
Anna shrugged. “I could tell you’re worrying about something. But I don’t think you should worry. After all, the magistrate said we could reopen the shop. The murderer was caught and Herr Fatmir the Ottoman has increased the popularity of our shop by ten times. We have more business than we ever had before. Why are you sad?”
Reva smiled and sat up straight. “I am not really sad, Anna. I am thinking. There should be a way to improve the quality of our chocolate. I mean the drink is good, but it’s not as good as they have in Paris or Madrid. And I think it should be.”
There was a voice near the back door of the kitchen. “I agree with you, Señora. That is why I have come.”
Reva stood up and saw a man with dark hair and dark eyes a beard and moustache. He was dressed in a stylish red doublet and held his hat with ostrich feathers in one hand. It was true that the red brocade was not the best quality and the velvet was worn down to shiny on elbows and around the collar. But the man carried himself with a kind of haughtiness only seen in men of high rank.
Beside him stood Captain Gonzalez, one of the duelists from the murder investigation. Reva noticed the similarity of both men, dark hair and eyes.
Eric skidded to a stop in front of the gentlemen. “I am sorry, Frau Pridmore, these men came to the door and asked to speak to the person responsible for this café. I was about to tell you, when they walked in and started talking.”
Reva smiled. “That’s all right, Eric. Get back to your chores and I will speak with them.”
Eric grinned and ran off to the dining room and Anna jumped up and followed him. Reva turned to the men. “Sir, we have not been introduced. I am Frau Pridmore, co-owner of this establishment. I have met Captain Gonzalez before. What can I do for you?”
The man in red bowed with a flourish of his feathered hat. “I am Santiago Juan Batista Garcia Suñega, your servant. I come seeking employment.”
Reva frowned and looked at Gonzalez, still dressed in the impeccable black doublet. Gonzalez swept off his hat and in a swirl of pheasant feathers, bowed as well. “Señora Pridmore, my humble thanks for receiving us. This arrogant man beside me is my cousin, Diego, and considered a burden on the entire family. The truth is, he was picked up by the city watch in a street brawl last night and spent the night in jail. This morning, I got a message he was there and he hasn’t a skelling to pay the fine. I spoke for him and the magistrate told me that either he finds work, or he’ll be sold off to pay for damages in the tavern and to pay his fine.”
Reva gestured to the work table. “Won’t you sit down?” She followed her own advice and sat. Suñega and Gonzalez sat, opposite her. Reva said, “Why don’t we discuss this? Captain Gonzalez, what does your cousin have that would make him a valuable employee? This is still a very new café and I don’t have a lot of money to spend.”
Gonzalez said, “Señora Pridmore, I can say your beautiful café serves the best chocolate north of Amsterdam. You have seen me here often because of that. But my uncle, José, is a chocolatero and at one time worked in the royal court in Cadiz. And, although I don’t want to offend you, Señora Pridmore, yours is not the best chocolate. When he was younger, my cousin here helped his father with the chocolate.”
Reva thought for a moment. “Captain Gonzalez, thank you for your tact. I know that my chocolate is not the best. In the place where I was born, I could buy hot chocolate many places, so I never learned the secrets of the guild masters. But here, there is not a chocolate guild in the whole of Denmark. I must do what I can. What does your cousin say for himself?”
The young man in red stood and bowed again, with another flourish of his ostrich feathers. “I am called Diego, Señora. I must tell you, I am youngest son of José Angel Martinez Suñega. I come from the Palacio Real de Cadiz and I am a chocolatero.”
Gonzalez tugged on his cousin’s arm until the young man sat down. “You are not a chocolatero, Diego. You ran away from your apprenticeship before you could be tested as a journeyman. It brought disgrace to your father and broke you mother’s heart. She is dead because of you. And now, your arrogance will lose you this opportunity and you will disappear again.”
Diego hung his head and sat down. Then he looked up at Reva. “I am sorry, Señora Pridmore. My cousin speaks the truth. I am not a chocolatero, but I know some of the family secrets for chocolate. I would be willing to show them to you.”
Captain Gonzalez left and Reva took her new employee into the chocolate room. It was a workroom next to the kitchen, with windows down the west side of the room. There were barrels stacked in one corner, tools and machinery in other places, and the floor was flagstone.
She did all her chocolate work in this room. Diego left his coat, hat, and sword on a shelf, then rolled up his sleeves and put on the apron Reva handed him. “Señora, show me your process. Some of this is familiar to me and some is not.”
Reva walked over to barrels stacked to one side. “Here is my store of cacao beans. We use this bucket to take a batch to the roasters, over there.” As she spoke, she picked up the small bucket, scooped it full of the beans and walked over to another station.
“This is my roaster. Be careful, because it is very hot. I have experimented with different times and temperatures for roasting and I think there is still room for improvement on this step.” She emptied the bucket into the hopper, then moved a lever that fed the beans into the roaster.
Next, she walked a couple of steps to another station where there were beans that had been roasted and cooled. “These are the roasted beans and this is the winnowing station.” She picked up a fan and waved it as she gathered beans with the other hand. As they fell, the shell of the beans loosened from the nibs and were blown to the back of the machine.
Reva gathered the nibs into another bucket and stepped to the next station. There was a flat stone on four legs, with a pot of oil and a wick underneath. “Here is our grinder. I couldn’t find the volcanic rock for a proper metate, but this granite one has worked fine. I have the fire underneath to keep it warm as the beans are ground.”
Through all of this, Diego watched and nodded. Now he said, “Perhaps there are a few things I could show you. But essentially, you are doing well. How do you know such things?”
Reva frowned and cleaned her hands on her own apron. “As you may or may not know, I come from the future and when we were suddenly transported, we were lucky enough to bring along our books. This book I had owned for about a year before the event. I had read it, but not too thoroughly. When I came into possession of cacao beans, the first available in Denmark, I found my book and read it more carefully. I will show it to you later, if you’d like.”
Diego bowed and smiled. “It is English?”
Reva nodded. “Of course. All my books are in English.”
Diego said, “I can read English if I go slowly. It would be interesting to see a book from the future and decide if it is true. I have had my doubts about the stories I have heard of Grantville. Perhaps it is a hoax. But I will try to have an open mind.”
Reva shook her head but said nothing about the arrogance. She stepped back to the metate. “I think that for now, I will have you work on grinding. I am not very good at it and it is still one of the high labor steps. If all you do is increase my production, you are already worth your hire.”
Diego lifted the mano, or grinding stone, from the metate. “Do you have a standard fineness you want me to get?”
Reva looked at him. “Do your best and we’ll talk later.”
Diego nodded and scooped winnowed beans from the bucket onto the grinding stone.
Near sunset, after the last customer had left, Diego watched Reva set a pot of chili and some cornbread on the work table for staff dinner. Claus had told him that they ate together every day after the closing. Reva felt that it increased morale and introduced her staff to some of the dishes she would serve in the café. Reva sat down next to Claus and started dishing up chili and handing out bowls. “Sit down here, next to Eric, Diego.”
As he moved to comply, the back door opened. A man entered and Señora Pridmore said, “About time you got here. I expected you twenty minutes ago, Marlon.”
“Am I late?” The man seemed to be about the same age as Señora Pridmore, who Diego guessed was about thirty-five. He would have been shocked to know that the Pridmores were almost twenty years older. Marlon was dressed in coveralls like all the workmen wore at the airship field. His hair was wild and his hands were dirty.
Reva laughed. “Swordfish, never in the twenty-eight years we’ve been married have you ever been late to dinner. Especially not when I make cornbread. Now wash up before you come to the table – you’re filthy.”
Marlon’s eyes flashed in delight. “I didn’t know there was cornbread.” He hurried over to the dish-washing station and vigorously washed his hands and face.
Reva turned and glared at little Eric. “I happen to know that you have a spy in my kitchen who runs down to your workshop as soon as I decide what I’m making for dinner. Sit down, before it gets cold.”
Marlon settled into his chair across from Reva. Claus leaned and whispered to Diego. “This is a ritual that we’ve witnessed every night since the Royal Anne returned from India. Do not think that they don’t care for each other. This is a mock fight.”
Señor Pridmore sat rubbed his hands together. “Smells as good as ever, Sweetpea.”
Reva smiled and handed a bowl to Diego. “Marlon, we have a new member of the staff. This is Diego, my chocolatero. Diego, this is my husband, Marlon Pridmore.”
Diego stood and, although he was wearing an apron and had no hat, he waved his hand as if his hat was in it and sketched an elaborate bow. “Señor Pridmore, I am honored to meet you.”
Marlon watched this performance with a smile. “Nice to meet you too. How long have you been in Copenhagen?”
Diego was suddenly embarrassed. It was hard to make a good impression if the first thing you have to tell someone is that you were here to stay out of prison. “About ten days, sir. I arrived from Spain and was thrown off the ship.” He was examining his bowl of chili with a square yellow chunk of something on top. He watched the others eat and saw them pick up the yellow square with their fingers, so he did the same and sniffed it.
Reva watched him smell his cornbread. “Try it, Diego. It is a bread, made from corn meal, like masa. I think you’ll like it.”
Diego frowned, but bit off a small corner. It tasted different, not as dry as he expected. And the corn taste was interesting. “This is very good.”
Reva said, “Now try some chili. Marlon likes to break off pieces of cornbread to eat with the chili.”
Marlon grinned and gobbled up another spoonful. Diego noticed that half of Marlon’s bowl was gone. The young man took a spoonful and raised it up to his nose to smell. “I have never seen food of this sort. Is it peasant food from your Grantville?”
Inge laughed. “I would be careful who you call peasants, especially around the Americans from Grantville. Most of them are very rich, while you have almost nothing. Instead of your Spanish arrogance, I think you should try a little humility.”
Diego kept his head down and said nothing. He tasted the chili and took another bite of cornbread. When he looked up, he saw that everyone at the table had stopped eating and were all watching him. Reva said, “What do you think?”
Diego’s mouth was full so he said nothing, but he took another bite and then fell to eating in earnest. Eric clapped his hands. “I think he likes it.”
They all laughed and Marlon handed his bowl back to Reva. “Do you think there is a little more for me? I worked hard today, on another engine.”
Reva handed the refilled bowl back to her husband. “Really? Who was this one for?”
Marlon swallowed a huge bite, then wiped his beard with his napkin. “It was Captain Eric Lange. He has decided to build another boat.”
Claus laughed. “Please, Herr Pridmore, tell the Eric story again. It’s my favorite one.”
Marlon grinned. “Sure thing, Claus. This one is called The Three Erics.
The Three Erics
The old longboat was what their forefathers had called a ship of twenty-six rooms for the twenty-six oars, lucky thirteen on each side. And twenty-six men on those oars. They all faced aft, where the Captain stood on the board at the stern and shouted orders. They were towing a ship into harbor and it followed smoothly behind them.
Captain Olsen’s voice came loud and clear. “All together! Pull!” Eric Lange braced himself and put his back into the work of pulling his oar.
The Captain kept his eye on the water, gauging distance. “Ready? Oars up! Smartly now.” All the oarsmen in the boat pushed the oars down and raised the blades to vertical.
That is, except for Thorvald. Lange shook his head. Thorvald was always late. There was a sickening crunch as Thorvald’s oar banged on the end of the dock and a startled Thorvald was thrown into the water while his oar shattered.
The rowboat was really big and solid. It worked as a tug in the harbor of Copenhagen. Eric Lange turned to his companions and said, “There’s got to be a better way, that’s the fifth time this month that Thorvald has gotten himself thrown from the boat.”
In this boat, there was a surfeit of Erics and since they were friends, they worked on adjacent benches. There were three, so each had a unique nickname to avoid confusion. Lange was called that because he was tallest. Sharing his bench was Halbard. And that was because one evening, full of beer, he had fallen asleep at the tavern. The young ladies, as a joke, shaved off half of his beard. Not the bottom half, like you would normally expect, but from the left half of his face. The right side was still bushy beard.
When he woke in the morning, Eric Halbard liked it that way, so for the last month, he’d shaved just the left side. It had become an important part of his identity.
On the other bench, next to Thorvald’s empty seat, was the third Eric. He was called Krake meaning scaling ladder. Eric Krake was not the tallest, but he was definitely the thinnest. When he wasn’t working on the tug, he served as a harpooner on the fishing vessels that worked outside of Copenhagen.
Eric Krake said, “I have an idea, perhaps we could . . .”
Eric Lange glanced at the Captain, then held up his hand to stop the garrulous Krake. “Wait, let’s talk about this later. We need to get our job done now.” They all turned and glanced at Captain Olsen, who was glowering at them. So talk ceased and the tugboat ground ashore. Then everybody leapt overboard, waist deep in the water, grabbed hold of the rails of the boat and dragged it on to the gravel.
Captain Olsen rubbed his face. “Somebody throw Thorvald a line. Eric, get our towline on the winch and pull us into its berth.” The Captain never cared which Eric responded.
At the end of a long day, it was always harder to move the ships into their berth on the dock. Thorvald and Krake joined the others, grunting and heaving. The ship they had pushed into the berth, a three-masted merchant ship, was finally secured against the dock. Even before Halbard could get it tied off, a large gang of stevedores swarmed aboard to unload cargo.
Back at the tugboat, the crew began to drag their craft back into the water for the next tow job. It was all a typical day’s work.
“At least“, Eric Lange said to the others, “today the weather is good and the water is smooth.” That was about as good as it ever got.
After work, the four faithful companions met together in a little tavern on the harbor. The place was called the Northern Lights and it was a very popular place that served food and drink. It was also where Halbard lost his facial hair.
The owner, an old ships cook, was said to have sailed the whole world. He served exotic drinks and made strange dishes. For all of the unusual food and drink, the prices were low and the quality was high. The place had been open for years and was a favorite place on the waterfront.
The beer arrived and the men were quiet while they drank the first round. Then Eric Lange pointed at Eric Krake as he swallowed. “Okay, Krake. You have an idea, something that’ll make the job easier?”
Eric Krake grinned. “It’s like this. I’ve been working in the harbor with you two for more than a year now. We were all there when the Swedes brought their warships into the harbor. We all saw how they worked, especially the ones called paddle wheels. I think we could build a paddle wheel too. How complicated could it be? If we did that, it would be much easier to move around in the congested harbor. We wouldn’t have Thorvald getting him self knocked overboard every other day because he can’t get his oar out of the way fast enough.”
Eric Halbard just chuckled. “Yes but that would eliminate half the fun of the job. It is always amusing to hear what Thorvald says when he is being pulled out of the bay. I think he has the largest cursing vocabulary in the city.”
Thorvald finished his beer. “Well, I have to keep up my reputation.”
All laughed because it was true. Then Eric Lange continued. “You know there might be something to this. We could start, not building a whole new boat but by using two long slim rowboats for supporting a framework, then put two of the paddle wheels between the rowboats. That would allow us to keep all the moving parts in the middle, away from anything in the harbor that could foul the wheel.”
Eric Halbard said, “Yes and perhaps if we can run the paddle wheels hard enough we could push on a ship, rather than pull it, that way we wouldn’t have the problem of getting out of the way when the ship is being put up next to the dock. The more ships we can move the more fees we can take, putting more money in our pockets.”
Eric Krake pulled a much-folded piece of paper out of his shirt and laid it on the table. “I’ve been drawing and this is what I think we could do.”
They gathered and examined the drawing for a moment. Eric Lange said, “That’s all very interesting, but what makes the wheels go around?”
Krake said, “I was thinking that perhaps we could use something like a capstan, mounted on each side of the paddle wheel. I mean we have one paddle wheel next to the rowboat hull on the left side and one on the right. We could put the capstan inside the rowboat hulls and have men pulling on the handles to make the wheels work.”
Eric Lange looked askance at Krake. “Excuse me, but it doesn’t make much sense. At least not the way you’re telling it.”
Eric Krake pulled out his pencil and started to draw. Both his companions looked skyward for the blessings of patience from the angels. When Krake got like this, he was insufferable.
But Krake didn’t notice them. “No wait, this is easy to see.” The discussion went on for several hours, through six mugs of exotic spiced rum and three plates of exotic food.
Finally, because he thought of himself as the leader, Eric Lange stood up. “We’ve got to get home and I have to think about this. If we can build a model or something like it, perhaps we can promote the idea to somebody with enough money to make it work.”
Eric Lange sigh. There had been so many meetings. Many people were interested in the idea, but only a few were interested enough to spend money. Those interested had formed an organization led by Josef Magnussen, who was deeply interested in transportation, shipping, and most of all getting more work done for less cost.
At this meeting, Herr Magnussen looked over the drawings and gleefully said, “This is the way to make money. And making money is what we are all about.” The deal was drawn up and the Erics signed, committing their lives and fortunes.
Then the three Erics, armed with their patron’s money and boundless enthusiasm, had purchased two long slender hulls and moved them to a space owned by Herr Magnussen. They threw themselves into the construction of their vessel.
Halbard had an uncle who ran a water-powered sawmill. The uncle was a great source of information for the water wheels. Krake had a friend who sold them the timbers required for the construction of the new vessel. Eric Lange oversaw the project. The most important thing about the vessel was that it be strong enough to do useful work, but light enough so that it was not an impossible task to drive it through the water.
Weeks went by in the construction and the three Erics became more and more enthusiastic. Nevertheless the commentary from the rest of the harbor was ribald and extreme. Mostly the three young men were accused of wanting to set up a wheat grinding operation in the middle of the harbor. So they were dubbed bread masters of the inner harbor. The onlookers made imaginative commentary on their work. However day by day, week by week, the work progressed and finally Lange could see that the craft was finished.
Harbormaster Arne came to the work-site for the launching of the new craft. His white beard and moustache contrasted nicely with his deep black doublet. He looked over the unlikely contrivance and asked, “So you think this is going to work?”
Eric Halbard smiled. “Yes, I think so. We tried it sitting on blocks. Four men on each side pulling the capstan handles make the wheels spin quite easily. The wheels are even independent of each other and can be turned in opposite directions. We think that we will be able to have it pivot within the length of the boat. That will make us very maneuverable and it should give us the ability to work in very tight quarters.”
The harbormaster asked, “Do you have a name for this thing yet? I know that most tugboats are not named, them being just rowboats. But this is something unique. I’ve never seen anything like this except for maybe those Swedish warships.”
Eric Lange said, “We are still thinking about that. I’m sure we’ll come up with something soon.”
Arne shook his head, then checked his paperwork. “Well, it’s your neck, I guess. The last thing I need to know is who is in charge here?”
They laughed and pointed at each other. “Eric is in charge!” Everyone in earshot dissolved into laughter.
Grunting and heaving, the whole crew wrestled the new craft into the water. Then everybody watched as the three Erics and Thorvald climbed into the craft and took their places, two at each capstan. They begin to pull on the handles of the capstans.
Eric Lange noticed it first. There was a lot more resistance in the water. “This is hard! I don’t how long I can keep this up.”
Eric Halbard said, “Well don’t quit now not while they’re watching. Let’s at least go around in a circle and then back to shore before we stop.”
Very soon the four men were sweating like they’d been drinking all week. Gasping and grunting, they finally drove the craft onto the beach.
Josef Magnussen rushed up to the four men and asked, “What do you think? Will it work? How soon can we get into business?”
Eric Lange said, “To tell the truth there are a few small problems. Mostly it seems a lot harder than I thought it should be. We may have to put more men on the capstan to make it practical. But as you saw we can turn the boat within its own length by turning the two paddle wheels in opposite directions. That by itself will make this much more useful than a rowboat with long sweep oars.”
They wrestled with the problem for the rest of the week. The crew gradually increased to eight men and even so it was not quite as effective as a rowboat with oars.
At the end of the week, Eric Lange gathered his partners and said, “It looks like we’ll have to have as many men as a regular rowboat, just to make it work. If we do that it will cost us more to pay those men and do the maintenance then it would just to have a simple rowboat. We need to think of something more efficient. Let’s tie up our craft and go back to the drawing. Perhaps by Monday, we can come up with an idea that will improve our machine.”
The other three, Eric, Eric, and Thorvald nodded in agreement. Thorvald said, “It is still better than getting thrown into the water all the time.” All four laughed and made their way to the Northern Lights.
By the end of the evening, everybody was well into their cups and nobody had any ideas, except for Eric Krake. He was still scribbling and had only imbibed about half the amount of ale of his partners. He picked up his mug and drained it and then he said, “I saw a bicycle this weekend; it was a new and improved model. It had a link chain and sprocket gears to drive the wheel. The gear on the wheel was small and not quite a hand span across, but the pedals were mounted upon a gear that was almost an arms length in diameter. The result is that was that the smaller gear went around many times for one rotation of the gear on the pedals. Perhaps if we did something similar, we could get more rotations of the paddles for less work.”
A great deal of discussion ensued. Finally, Eric Lange said, “I think I understand how this would work. I think we could try it. What do we lose for the effort?”
Krake nodded. “One of the benefits is that if we move the paddle wheels slightly forward, and the capstan slightly aft the tugboat will track straight through the water.”
In spite of headaches, the four men set to work the next morning. By the end of the week the modifications had been achieved. This time there were not nearly as many people standing around to watch as they launched their new model tugboat.
On the water, Eric Lange was thrilled to note that it was not nearly as hard to pull the levers around. The only problem was that they had to pull them very rapidly to move the tugboat at all.
Then it happened. Thorvald let his attention drift somewhat and a lever from the capstan snagged his jacket and lofted him into the water.
Everyone, Thorvald included, burst into laughter. Eric Krake said, “This modification helps a lot, but I still think that we cannot compete successfully with normal tugboats.”
They pulled Thorvald back into the boat and looked around. Halbard said, “It’s dark, where are we? I think it’s time to quit for the day. Are we close enough to The Mermaid and Tiger? I want to go try that new chocolate recipe I heard about.”
They maneuvered over to a dock and Eric Lange was last out of the boat. He watched his weary companions as they staggered along the waterfront towards the American eatery. Eric said, “I’m glad we are here. I hope it is not too crowded tonight.”
Eric Halbard opened the door and looked inside where there were a lot of people. He said, “If you think this is not too crowded, I wonder what crowded really is?”
Thorvald said, “I think there is a table over there; let us go capture it before someone else does. I can tell you what I want and you can go place the order.”
The three Erics looked at each other and Eric Halbard asked, “Which one of us are you talking to?”
Thorvald grinned. “Why, Eric of course.” Thorvald then beat a hasty retreat towards the open table.
Eric Lange surveyed the room. It had been converted from a warehouse by putting a wall and a counter across the back. A lady was tending the counter and there was something different about her dress. She had pockets, so she must be one of the Americans.
The items available for the day were written on a large chalkboard on the wall behind the counter. Eric Lange said, “Let’s go to the counter. I want a better look at what’s on the list. At least we have a little silver left to buy our meal.”
Eric the Halbard nodded. “I have heard several different things they make here that are said to be quite extraordinary. One of them is the sandwich, they take a roll of bread, place meat and cheese between the two halves and serve it to you on a plate. You can eat it with your hands.”
Eric Krake said, “I want to taste the new chocolate. That chocolate drink is something everybody is talking about. Some men that I sailed with tried it in Spain and said it is better than wine. I don’t know about that. They say it warms the blood, but has a bitterness. Every place has a different recipe with spices added to it to make it taste even more exotic.”
As Eric Lange and his two companions approached the counter the woman said, “Hello, I am Reva Pridmore. This is my place. I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before so what can I do for you?”
When Eric Lange saw that both of his friends were looking at him, he found his tongue and said, “Frau Pridmore, it is a pleasure to meet you. We have heard extraordinary things about the food here, even including that exotic drink from the New World called chocolate. I have long thought that the person who prepares the food knows it best, so I ask what do you recommend for supper?”
The woman paused a moment to think. “We should keep it simple. Why don’t you each choose a sandwich and what we call a Copenhagen cup. The Copenhagen cup is chocolate with just a few extras, mostly a little bit of sea salt to give it a distinctive flavor. On the board behind me we have a list of the breads, the meats, and the cheeses. Pick what you want and I will tell you what it would cost.”
Eric Lange felt a little bit overwhelmed. Still his companions had imposed leadership upon him, he would not fail them. Resolutely he said, “That sounds good. We need four cups of chocolate as you described and four sandwiches. I think we will take a rye bread, a white bread, whatever sourdough is, and last a French roll. We all want pork and good Danish cheese. How much you think that would be?”
The woman across the counter scratched a few notes on a piece of paper looked up showed him the paper and said, “You can see it’s not too much. We wanted to make this a place where people could come for meals frequently so we try and keep the cost low as possible. If you ever want to try something more exotic, you should try the dinner menu.” The woman pointed to the other half of the board behind her. There were listed exotic menu items that Eric Lange had never heard of. He wondered, for instance, about biscuits and gravy. What in the world could a chicken fried steak be? Would it be chicken, or beef, or something else entirely?
Eric Lange laughed. “I think we will stick with the Sand Witches for now. I don’t think I’m ready for chickens that can fry anything. They must be well-trained, in truth.”
The woman laughed as well. “Yes indeed, it’s hard to get them trained up enough before we eat them.”
Eric Lange frowned and handed her some coins. Then the woman smiled and turned away. Lange felt a trifle confused. Then he heard the woman say, “Go ahead and sit down at that table with your friend over there. We will bring the order out to you.”
Thorvald had secured a table with four chairs, close to a window in the corner. As they approached, Thorvald said, “Over here in this corner is where that man was murdered a couple of weeks ago. Right here in this very shop during a sword fight. The fight didn’t kill him, but when the excitement was over, they looked in the corner and he was just dead. It all sounded very exciting.”
Eric Lange remembered hearing something about it, but he said, “Never mind about that now. Let’s just sit down. They say they’re going to bring the food out to us in a moment. We got you something called a sand witch and a drink called a Copenhagen cup. I hope you like it, they cost almost our whole day’s wages.”
Halbard said, “Are you sure you heard her right? Sand Witch? That can’t be good for us.” Nobody paid much attention to him, there were curious things going on.
As Eric Lange sat down Thorvald nudged him and said, “Look over there at the table next to us. They all work for the Danish airship company. You can tell by those odd doublets. Ole told me that they call them jumpsuits or something like that. I don’t know what it is but they’re doing something at the table.”
Eric Lange stood up, expecting to see a game of cards or an argument. But his attention was riveted by the things the men were putting on the table. It was machinery of some kind. One piece went into the window, another was clamped down on the edge of the table and they were fastening a piece of wood to a shaft that came out of the side of the mechanism.
Another man was standing next to Lange and he tapped the man on the shoulder. “Do you have any idea what they are doing?”
The man laughed. “Not really, they come in two or three times a week. But they’ve never done this. I think these are some models of what they are building out there for the airship company.”
The Erics sat down and watched the show. Everybody nearby was talking and laughing. Eric Lange watched intently as devices were connected to each other, adjustments were made and instructions delivered with great precision and rapidity.
Then a man, an American by his accent, shouted across the room to Frau Pridmore. He said something like, “Hold my drink, Reva, and watch this!” Then he adjusted the valve and spun the wooden piece on the front.
The little machine coughed, then the wooden bar began to move on its own, slowly at first, then faster. It made a noise like chain-shot hurtling through the air.
Eric had never seen anything like this. With the spinning paddle on the front, it really looked like one of the engines on the airship that launched last week. It was fascinating. Someone nearby commented that the long wooden piece was called a propeller and as it spun the air began to move, blowing the hot humid air from inside the shop out the open window.
The girl came with a tray and put a plate in front of each of the Erics and Thorvald. The food was different, with things stacked between slices of bread. Then she gave each a cup, steaming and fragrant. So before they sampled the sand witches, they each tried the chocolate.
They tasted, then closed their eyes and tasted again. It was sweet and yet bitter, smooth and yet spicy, calming and yet exciting. Never had Eric Lange tasted anything like it.
And the sandwiches were interesting as well. They didn’t look like much, but there was a new experience with each bite. Krake grinned at Eric Halbard. “Are you afraid to taste your Sand Witch?”
Eric Halbard glared at Krake and took a huge bite. Then his eyes got wide and he took another. Eric Lange laughed. “Maybe they are witches, they’ve cast a spell on our food critic.”
Their attention was torn away from their repast when the machinery next to their table started hissing. That hiss caused thee airship men to scramble quickly around machine, until it was completely obscured from sight. Then the American turned back to the counter in front and shouted, “Nothing to worry about, we were just going a little too fast and the safety went off. No problem.”
All the Erics and Thorvald were on their feet, and they crowded around the American, looking at the machine as if it were a live demon. There was something in forming in Eric’s mind, something that really important, something about the propeller going in a circle. Everyone had gone back to the table, but Eric Lange was still standing in the middle of the floor, chasing the elusive thought. Then Eric had it. The propeller rotated like the paddle wheels and it could push, maybe even harder, because the American would not let anybody close to the propeller, saying that might break their hands.
So before he sat back down to his excellent food, he touched the American on the sleeve. “I have a question, can this be made bigger?”
The American machinist said, “Well yes. These are a quarter size of the airship ones. But we are building the six cylinder as the standard size. This one only has six cylinders but the shop standard engine has twelve and is as strong as a thousand horses pulling together.”
Eric put his hand out to the American. “I’m Eric, they call me Eric Lange I would like to know more about your machine.”
Around him in the tavern, other men rushed forward to speak. It seemed that everybody found the engine to be the solution for their problem. Deals were being made, bargains struck. Money was in play. It was a good evening all around.
The next morning, all the Erics and Thorvald trooped over to the airship shop and listened as the airship engineers explained. Apparently the engine could be made larger or smaller depending on how it was put together.
After careful consideration Eric Lange said, “So that is how they make the wheels on the Swedish warships turn. This smaller engine, how much would it cost?”
All of the partners leaned closer to hear. They discussed money and the possible cost of hiring an engineer to maintain the engine, or train their crew.
Finally Eric Lange stood up. “Gentlemen, thank you for your time. We need to check with our sponsor. But I think the purchase of an engine of the size you mentioned might possibly solve our problem. It certainly would be easier than pulling handles on a capstan.”
By the end of the day, Eric Lange was back in the engine workshop. He had spoken to Herr Magnussen, discussed payment, and set up a delivery time for the engine. Because this engine was assembled from stocks, a new one would only take two days to produce.
Thorvald was more excited than anyone at the news. “From now on, I stay in the boat!
It had been a week since the momentous night at The Mermaid and Tiger. The engine had been delivered and was now mounted on a platform between the two paddle wheels. A chain drive left over from the hand cranked bicycle experiment had been attached to each paddle wheel along with something that the American machinist called a reversible clutch for each wheel.
The controls were explained. There was a lever on a large valve called the throttle, which could move forward or backwards to increase or decrease the amount of steam from the steam generator. Each reversible clutch was a lever that had a central, forward and reverse position which controlled its corresponding paddle wheel. Finally there was a long cord with the ‘T’ handle that was used to give the initial impulse to start the engine. All three of the levers had been routed back to the steering position. Conceivably one person could work the whole tug boat. However, it was much more rational to have a crewman in charge of the machinery a crewman in charge of the paddle wheels and throttle and somebody to steer with the tiller.
Everybody was ready. Eric Lange asked, “Is the fire hot? Is there enough steam?”
Thorvald had been given the responsibility of keeping the fire fed. He said, “If I understand this correctly, the gauges are telling me that we are prepared. You may open the valve when you will.”
Eric Lange was in command, Eric Halbard was on the tiller, and Eric Krake by the mooring ropes. Lange stood up. “All right, get everything ready. We are about to back out. Thorvald turn the engine over.”
Thorvald waved acknowledgment. Then he opened the throttle a crack, grabbed the ‘T’ handle, and gave it a sharp tug. Everybody was intensely interested as the machinery began to work.
Eric Lange saw Thorvald turn back to feed the fire, so he blew his steam whistle, opened his throttle control a little wider, and pulled the throttle open. Then he grabbed both paddle wheel control levers to move them into reverse. Majestically the wheels began to turn and the tug boat backed away from the shore.
Eric Krake was scrambling to make sure all the ropes that tied the tug boat to the dock were released. Lange closed the throttle and placed the paddle wheel controls in neutral. The tug boat continued to glide away from the shore.
Lange said, “Halbard, move the tiller so that we start turning the bow towards the open harbor. I want to see what this thing can do.”
Eric Halbard waved acknowledgment and pushed the tiller over and the back of the towboat began an arc toward shore. Eric Lange waited a moment then opened the throttle a bit more, engaging both paddle wheels in the forward direction. With a thrashing of foam, the wheels spun as the boat worked to change direction. Gradually the tug boat began to move forward and out across the harbor. Eric Lange was entranced, every bit of his being was focused on making the tugboat go where he wanted.
Then he heard Halbard. “Lange, I can’t hold it, it’s trying to veer off to starboard. Can you do anything to make it straighten out?”
Eric Lange considered for a moment and then adjusted one of the wheel control levers just a bit. The tug boat began to move straight across the harbor. From that point on, the men experimented with their new craft. They found they could spin it in place, not using the tiller at all. They could make it back up, or go forward, even curve across the harbor in long shallow glides.
Finally Thorvald said, “Lange, We are running out of fuel. I think it’s time to go back before we have to row.”
From the bow, Eric Krake laughed. “Very true, Lange, if we have to row, Thorvald will end up in the bay again and we don’t want that. Nobody likes a wet Thorvald.”
Halbard leaned on the tiller, Lange sent the craft about, then they set off towards their mooring place. The wind was in their hair and Herr Magnussen stood on the shore clapping his hands and hooting encouragements. Lange felt as if his chest would burst in pride at their accomplishment.
Just before they reached the dock, Lange clapped Krake on the shoulder. “I know what we will name this vessel.
Halbard jumped onto the dock to secure the mooring ropes. He laughed. “Is it ‘Krake’s Folly?”
Krake glared at Halbard. But Lange continued. “No. We’ll call it ‘Thorvald’s Blessing.”
They all laughed and headed for The Mermaid and Tiger.
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.