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Chapter 3

Two to Europe

The Virginia Company and the Merchant Adventurers were like a clutch of squirrels scrambling after the last walnuts on the tree. They knew they needed something but weren’t sure that what they had would answer their need. That wasn't my problem. I'd render my report and then move on to larger problems. They had other sources on the continent besides me. Reports from those sources had them worried.

I spent some time in London, trying to get a sense of the political atmosphere in England and what might interest clients. As it turned out, my clients wanted me to find out what was happening on the continent. My bigger problem was that being gone so long to the New World, I hadn't maintained my contacts in the Old World. My shattered network hardly counted anymore. Informers who aren't paid tend to find new clients to inform. The French, via New France, were up to something. The French, under Richelieu, were always up to something. English investors in North America had to be constantly on the lookout. Unlike King Charles, Richelieu wasn't miserly in opening his purse when obtaining information became vital.

I didn't fancy traveling to the continent in the dead of winter. My clients wanted nothing less than my re-establishing my entire spy network, reaching from the Spanish border to Denmark, and they were willing to provide the gold needed to accomplish that. I found the idea of being well away from the autonomous rule of Charles I, King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and North America, for a good, long time, at least as important as the gold. I agreed to leave in the spring. We finalized the deal, and I left for Leaning Oaks, cold weather or no cold weather. It was beginning to be almost pointless to own my home there. It was only going to be a short stay. The vicar, for all practical purposes, "owned" it as much as I did.

This time, I wasn't going to make the mistake of trying to function alone. Eliezer was about to have an adventure in traveling that he hadn't foreseen. He wouldn't like London, and it was a virtual certainty that he wouldn't like many of the other areas I had to visit. However, it was time that he understood the master-servant relationship. He was a young man, and his world was about to be broadened, whether he liked it or not.

I was home for only three days. Long enough to pack for a lengthy journey, settle my affairs with the vicar, and inform Eliezer that he was going on a long trip. We were lucky with weather for that time of year. The southeastern English coast was relatively clear, with only a few moderate waves and a strong breeze stirring the puffy clouds. As we pulled up the Thames, I noticed his nose wrinkling. I suppose that I was so used to the smell that I'd ceased to notice it. He looked uncomfortable all the way to my London house.

I hadn't yet planned to leave for the continent for a few weeks. I attended one or two social gatherings, as much to let Eliezer acclimate himself to a servant's role among servants as to gain any enjoyment from them myself. He seemed to have no difficulty with the role of chief footman and majordomo. As isolated as he'd been in the country, I doubt very much that inquisitive servants acquired much information from him.

Business began to call. We attended a performance of Hamlet at the Globe Theater, but I was closeted in a rented private box with Albrect van der Hoorne, an important contact from Amsterdam. The Dutchman had contacts by letters all over Europe, but he was extremely greedy. I hadn't yet received my monies from the merchants for whom I was to spy. Van der Hoorne wasn't a man to take a promissory note. Because I was unable to pay him any large quantity of gold immediately, he only passed me a few of the less important letters. The entire incident was unsatisfactory. I kept being distracted, watching Eliezer, laughing at the play. Hamlet had never struck me as a comedy.

I was looking forward to one of my few visits around London with someone who wasn't one of King Charles' toadies. Sir Thomas Roe was recently back from India, which meant that his news was fresh. I'd brought a bundle of furs back with me from the Massachusetts colonies, and I planned to make myself even more welcome with some furs for his wife, Eleanor, upon whom I knew that he doted. India wasn't noted for its furs. Even better: I knew that he lived far enough outside London so that his Woodford mansion lay beyond the London stink.

I was pleasantly surprised. Thomas seemed eager to hear about conditions in North America and just as eager to share some new information about India. Charles had just informed him that he’d be going as an ambassador to the court of King Christian in Copenhagen. He'd personally been strongly involved with the Hudson Bay Company, which made his curiosity about the New World understandable. As I had myself, Thomas had run into a stone wall from King Charles' inner circle. He hadn't been able to discuss anything beyond the ambassadorial appointment, and the monarch seemed ready to let the entire Hudson Bay project go by the wayside. Letters he'd received from contacts in Denmark indicated that King Christian IV was up to something. Sir Thomas strongly indicated that I should make it a priority to visit that fat, old drunk.

Neither of us had to explain: A fat, old drunk King Christian might be, but he was a sharply conniving monarch, with his fingers secretly in a lot more pies than anyone suspected. The item of information that spurred my interest the most strongly was the fact that King Christian and his courtiers had been closeting with French agents and some others that Sir Thomas suspected of being Spanish agents. Worse, he'd heard that the French and Spanish agents had much the same agenda.

I didn't like what I'd heard at all. I could kick myself for allowing my Continental informant network to deteriorate to the point that it had. Winter or no winter, it was time that I was on the move. I ate well and drank well at Woodford, but I made a somewhat hasty retreat. On the way back to London, I made certain that Eliezer knew that we'd be leaving England immediately.


We boarded a ship to Bordeaux, bound for a land where the residents spoke little English. I was at home in French, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Danish. The fact that we were bound for places where Eliezer would be helpless in the language didn't trouble me at all. That would limit the errands on which he could be sent, true, but that would make him doubly difficult to suborn. He was a faceless Pequod-Englishman-bodyguard instead of a person, except to me. I had become very fond of the lad aboard the Four Sisters. Perhaps I should have married and had children of my own, but I was “married” to my work. I confided more and more to him. Though most noblemen had stopped even perceiving servants as other than invisible extensions of their own will, my best sources were servants. I didn't want my own business shared with inquisitive enemy agents the same way.

I think my "lone spy" journeys had made me lonely. The voyage gave me time to find out more about Eliezer’s past, and I found myself enjoying his tales. Imagine: trying to row all the way around Long island! I was surprised to discover from which tribe he'd originated. I'd missed an opportunity there. Inevitably, he picked up many French words, especially those in the crabbed Brittany dialect. He could order food or oversee care for the carriage horses, but he wasn't about to strike up any conversations. He still treated the horses like they might decide to eat him, given half a chance! Bordeaux wasn't our final destination, anyway. On the French side of the Pyrenees, the Kingdom of Navarre and Bearn, and the Duchy of Albret, were still generally independent of France proper. France and Spain had been fighting for decades over exactly who'd dominate them. I’d rented a coach, and we’d traveled southward to the tiny provinces. The roads were, to say the least, not very well maintained. We frequently had to help the coachman clear downed trees from the road or walk afoot around deep mud-holes. Thank goodness that Eliezer was as strong as he was. Eventually we arrived at our destination, exhausted by the trip.

Tucked as they were against the Spanish perimeter, the border duchies received the freshest Spanish gossip. I'm sure they also transmitted the freshest French gossip to Spain. Every third person was probably an agent for one side or the other. Because of that, I had few noble contacts there. I intended to be neutral, lost in the crowd, even if the crowd was mostly spies.

News from the south filtered through there first. If it happened in Spain, they'd hear about it in Bearn. Similarly, coded letters from Spain proper had come to my agents in Albret. There had been quite a pile of those waiting for me when we arrived. Sadly, many repeated old tales. The lack of payments had reduced most of my contacts to simple gossip. Important news required hard coin.

I resorted to other means to gather information. I made it a habit to find a way to observe the servants' entrance of various noble households, usually from a sidewalk café. When the correct servant exited a mansion, I'd nod, and Eliezer would follow him until he could hand him a silver English penny and say: "Here; you dropped this." in Brittany-French. The servant-agents often simply accepted the silver penny from him without the you-dropped-this routine. That set up my meeting in a nearby tavern that night.

At the tavern information-drops, I personally only carried enough gold and silver to pay the single agent involved, and I negotiated that price downward if at all possible. Eliezer's size was there to intimidate. With his hunting knife strapped to the small of his back and a walking stick that was a step short of a war-club, he also had under his clothing a money belt, heavy with gold coins. I never left monies in our room. Servants, of course, would never be carrying that much gold. He'd always seemed puzzled by the gold-silver-copper coinage that Europeans found so desirable. Stealing the fortune he carried would never have occurred to him, for a dozen different reasons. A person could only love such innocence.

If the contact failed to show up after three nights, I'd mark him from my list: He’d gotten his silver penny; I’d gotten to tighten up my list. Once contact had been re-established, the servant knew to gather information for me, to be delivered on my next visit. He also was encouraged to suggest other likely servants who might provide information on other nobles. The servants had their own networks in the towns.

I became just another tourist, shopping and visiting the homes of a few rich friends. Some shops also had a large pile of letters for me. We attended no church services. Only Catholic services were available. Eliezer evidently remembered the vicar's stories of the burning stakes. French Huguenots, who were something like Englishmen in belief, were under constant threat.

The same process was repeated half a dozen times before we took a rented coach back to Bordeaux. The French, who'd been off-and-on enemies of England, were enjoying a season of neutrality. The "spy" business involved a lot of waiting. Eliezer had packed away three hefty books from my library. He didn't drink much: beer or diluted wine; but he had a fixation on reading, the like of which I've never seen.

From Bordeaux, we boarded a ship that would take us to the mouth of the Seine. From there, rather than endure a coach trip on France's inferior roads, across half the breadth of the country, we caught a barge up the river to the capital.

To Eliezer, Paris was simply a London where they spoke a different language. It was too big, there were too many people, and the whole collection stank to high heaven. I stopped at various homes of other noblemen, plying them with non-sensitive gossip from Spain and the south of France. I called on many others. There was no "official" war on at that moment between England and France, and the French court was quiet, but everyone was on edge. Who knew which way the wind would shift? Good information was always at a premium. I could successfully ignore the city's stench because I sniffed something suspicious in the political wind. That was a greater stench, but I couldn't yet narrow that further.

It was actually easier for Eliezer to pass over the silver pennies once I'd informed him which of the servants was my source in a particular household. He was expected to wait with the other servants while I conversed, ate, or sipped wine with some French nobleman. The agent among the staff had usually noticed me already. He or she was often expecting a contact. Whoever it was kept himself or herself close to the Pequod. Since Eliezer could barely stumble along in French, conversation simply wasn't possible.

Several of my former French agents failed to show at the prearranged tavern rendezvous. That made me nervous, but the majority of my sources indicated that they were still ready to sell information. The year 1630 slipped away before we could leave France. I forwarded what I could verify, along with an analysis of the rumors that were circulating, to my clients back in England and received a large draft, payable in gold to continue my work. By the amount of funds I received, it was evident someone was very concerned about what the rumors were saying. The spring of 1631 was well underway before hints led me to believe that events to the north were where the action was going to be. Eliezer now knew quite a few more French phrases. Now, he'd need to learn Dutch.

We had to return to the French coast to make the short run around to the Dutch Netherlands. The Spanish Netherlands weren't safe for Englishmen that year. My agent in Amsterdam was just that: an agent. He received letters from the Spanish Netherlands, smuggled across or around the siege lines. He was also a collection point for information from the east. Amsterdam was a key trading center for goods and information traveling west from Poland and the Germanies. He expected to be paid, and paid well, for his services.

I'd had trouble convincing Herr van der Hoorne to wait for future funds when we'd met in London. He only turned over half the letters he'd collected then. Business was business. Herr van der Hoorne kept stringing me along with promises of some key letter sure to arrive soon. The cold of 1631 was effectively gone before I was ready to leave Amsterdam. Few gave much attention to the flash of light from the east in May.


We were ready to leave, but no ship was available. I wasn't desperate enough to travel overland in a wet spring. Roads were beyond bad, and the same peasants who might ignore you in the summer would cut your throat for a bent copper after the snow flew and they'd eaten up their harvest. During the daylight hours, I looked into various Dutch investments, with Eliezer along to discourage thieves and pickpockets. The neighborhood around the Wisselbank was nominally good, but thieves knew those visiting the bank, and businesses in the surrounding blocks frequently carried gold and silver to complete their transactions. One sight of Eliezer was enough to send thieves on to easier pickings. At night, Eliezer read from my books, until I tired of paperwork and we retired for the night. Like any good servant he snuffed the candles nightly. As my work in Amsterdam slowly wound down, I wrote an extensive letter to Sir Thomas Roe, hoping for a reply before we left for Copenhagen, our next stop. Eliezer had learned a few Dutch words, but not many.

Denmark was just around the corner, beyond Hamburg. North Sea storms, however, tended to make that "corner" a nasty lee shore. I kept finding excuses to delay that voyage. There were quite a few expatriate Englishmen in Holland, so I found convivial company with them. They had relatively few English servants, however, so that Eliezer's communication ability stayed dormant.

An unexpected note from Herr van der Hoorne promised some startling news. He encouraged me to wait in Amsterdam, while he went to Hanover "on business." He wrote that he expected to return by coach within a week or two, but springtime roads were a sea of mud. We'd made arrangements to cool our heels, without appearing suspicious. After sixteen more days, I received another note to meet at Der Gilden Schwein that night.

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