So this was freedom. The canoe went with the river's tide, water bumping against the bow. Dirk van Dyck looked at the little girl and wondered: Was this journey a terrible mistake? Big river, calling him to the north. Big sky, calling him to the west. Land of many rivers, land of many mountains, land of many forests. How far did it continue? Nobody knew. Not for certain. High above the eagles, only the sun on its huge journey westward could ever see the whole of it. Yes, he had found freedom here, and love, in the wilderness. Van Dyck was a large man. He wore Dutch pantaloons, boots with turnover tops, and a leather jerkin over his shirt. Now they were approaching the port, he had put on a wide-brimmed hat with a feather in it. He gazed at the girl. His daughter. Child of his sin. His sin for which, religion said, he must be punished. How old was she? Ten, eleven? She had been so excited when he'd agreed to take her downriver. She had her mother's eyes. A lovely Indian child. Pale Feather, her people called her. Only her pale skin betrayed the rest of her story. "Soon we shall be there." The Dutchman spoke in Algonquin, the language of the local tribes. New Amsterdam. A trading post. A fort and little town behind a palisade. But it was important, all the same, in the worldwide com mercial empire of the Dutch.
Van Dyck was proud to be Dutch. Their country might be small, but the indomitable Netherlanders had stood up to the mighty, occupying Spanish Empire, and won their independence. It was his people who had constructed the great dykes to reclaim huge tracts of fertile land from the rage of the sea. It was the maritime Dutch who had built up a trading empire that was the envy of the nations. Their cities—Amsterdam, Delft, Antwerp—where the rows of tall, gabled houses lined stately canals and waterways, were havens for artists, scholars and freethinkers from all over Europe, in this, the golden age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Yes, he was proud to be Dutch.
In its lower reaches, the great river was tidal. This morning it was ﬂowing down toward the ocean. During the afternoon, it would reverse itself and ﬂow back toward the north.
The girl was looking forward, downstream. Van Dyck sat facing her, his back resting against a large pile of skins, beaver mostly, that ﬁlled the center of the canoe. The canoe was large and broad, its sides made of tree bark, sturdy but light. Four Indians paddled, two fore, two aft. Just behind them, a second boat, manned by his own men, followed them down the stream. He'd needed to take on this Indian canoe to carry all the cargo he had bought. Upriver, the late-spring sky was thunderous; above them, gray clouds. But ahead, the water was bright.
A sudden shaft of sunlight ﬂashed from behind a cloud. The river made a tapping sound on the side of the boat, like a native drum giving him warning. The breeze on his face tingled, light as sparkling wine. He spoke again. He did not want to hurt her, but it had to be done.
"You must not say I am your father."
The girl glanced down at the little stone pendant that hung around her neck. A tiny carved face, painted red and black. The face hung upside down, Indian fashion. Logical, in fact: when you lifted the pendant to look at it, the face would be staring at you the right way up. A lucky charm. The Masked One, Lord of the Forest, the keeper of nature's balance.
Pale Feather did not answer him, but only gazed down at the face of her Indian god. What was she thinking? Did she understand? He could not tell.
From behind the rocky cliffs that stretched up the western bank like high, stone palisades, there now came a distant rumble of thunder. The little girl smiled. His own people, the Dutchman thought, as men of the sea, had no liking for thunder. To them it brought harms and fears. But the Indians were wiser. They knew what it meant when the thunder spoke: the gods who dwelt in the lowest of the twelve heavens were protecting the world from evil.
The sound echoed down the river, and dissolved in space. Pale Feather let the pendant fall, a tiny gesture full of grace. Then she looked up.
"Shall I meet your wife?"
Dirk van Dyck gave a little intake of breath. His wife Margaretha had no idea he was so near. He'd sent no word ahead of his return. But could he really hope to bring the girl ashore and conceal her from his wife? He must have been mad. He twisted round, awkwardly, and stared down the river. They had already reached the northern end of the narrow territory called Manhattan, and they were running with the tide. It was too late to turn back now.
Margaretha de Groot took a slow draw on the clay pipe in her sensual mouth, looked at the man with the wooden leg in a considering kind of way, and wondered what it would be like to sleep with him.
Tall, upright, determined, with piercing eyes, he might be gray, and well into middle age now, but he was still indomitable. As for the peg leg, it was a badge of honor, a reminder of his battles. That wound might have killed some men, but not Peter Stuyvesant. He was walking down the street with surprising speed. As she gazed at the hard, polished wood, she felt herself give a tiny shudder, though he did not see it.
What did he think of her? He liked her, she was sure of that. And why shouldn't he? She was a ﬁne, full-bosomed woman in her thirties with a broad face and long blonde hair. But she hadn't run to fat, like many Dutchwomen. She was still in good trim, and there was something quite voluptuous about her. As for her liking for a pipe, most of the Dutch smoked pipes, men and women alike.
He saw her, stopped, and smiled.
"Good morning, Greet." Greet. A familiar form of address. Like most Dutchwomen, Margaretha van Dyck was normally known by her maiden name, Margaretha de Groot; and that is how she had expected him to address her. Of course, he'd known her since she was a girl. But even so . . . He was normally such a formal man. She almost blushed. "You are still alone?"
She was standing in front of her house. It was a typical Dutch town house, a simple, rectangular dwelling, two stories high, with wooden sides and its narrow, gabled end turned to the street. This end displayed a handsome pattern of black and yellow brick. A short stairway led up to the street door, which was large and protected by a porch. This was the Dutch "stoop". The windows were not large, but the ensemble was made impressive by the high, stepped gable that the Dutch favored, and the roof ridge was crowned with a weathervane.
"Your husband is still upriver?" Stuyvesant repeated. She nodded. "When will he return?"
"Who knows?" She shrugged. She could hardly complain that her husband's business took him north. The trade in furs, especially the all-important beaver pelts, had been so great that the local Indians had hunted their animals almost to extinction. Van Dyck often had to go far north into the hinterland to get his supplies from the Iroquois. And he was remarkably successful.
But did he have to stay away so long? In the early days of their marriage, his journeys had only taken a couple of weeks. But grad ually his absences had extended. He was a good husband when he was at home, attentive to her and loving to his children. Yet she couldn't help feeling neglected. Only that morning her little daughter had asked her when her father would be home. "As soon as he can," she had answered with a smile. "You may be sure of that." But was he avoiding her? Were there other women in his life?
Loyalty was important to Margaretha de Groot. So it was not surprising if, fearing her husband might be unfaithful, she told herself that he was morally weak and, dreaming of solace in more righteous arms, allowed a voice within her to whisper: "If only he were a man like Governor Stuyvesant."
"These are difﬁcult times, Greet." Stuyvesant's face did not show it, but she could hear the sadness in his voice. "You know I have enemies."
He was conﬁding in her. She felt a little rush of emotion. She wanted to put her hand on his arm, but didn't dare.
"Those cursed English."
If the trading empire of the Dutch extended from the Orient to the Americas, the English merchants were not far behind. Sometimes the two Protestant nations acted together against their common enemies, the Catholic empires of Spain and Portugal; but most of the time they were rivals. Fifteen years ago, when Oliver Cromwell and his godly army took away King Charles of England's crown—and his head—the rivalry had intensiﬁed. The Dutch had a lucrative slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean. Cromwell's mission was clear.
"The slave trade must belong to England."
Many honest Dutchmen wondered if this brutal trafﬁcking in humans was moral; the good Puritans of England had no such doubts. And soon Cromwell had taken Jamaica from the Spanish, to use as a slaving base. When Cromwell had died four years ago, and a second King Charles had been restored to the English throne, the same policy had continued. Word had already reached New Amsterdam that the English had attacked the Dutch slaving ports on the Guinea coast of Africa. And the rumor across the ocean was that they wanted not only the Dutchman's slave trade, but his port of New Amsterdam as well.
New Amsterdam might not be large: a fort, a couple of wind mills, a church with a pointed spire; there was one small attempt at a canal, more like a large ditch really, and some streets of step-gabled houses which, together with some modest orchards and allotments, were enclosed within a wall that ran from west to east across Manhattan's southern tip. Yet it had a history. Ten years before even the Mayﬂower
sailed, the Dutch West India Company, seeing the value of the vast natural harbor, had set up a trading post there. And now, after half a century of ﬁts and starts, it had developed into a busy port with outlying settlements scattered for dozens of miles around—a territory which the Dutch called the New Netherland.
It already had character. For two generations the Dutch and their neighbors, the Protestant, French-speaking Walloons, had been ﬁghting for independence from their master, Catholic Spain. And they had won. Dutch and Walloons together had settled in New Amsterdam. It was a Walloon, Pierre Minuit—a name that was still pronounced in French, "Minwee"—who had bargained with the native Indians, four decades ago, to purchase the right to settle on Manhattan. From its birth, the tough, independent spirit of these mixed Protestant merchants had infused the place.
But above all, it had position. The fort, to a soldier's eye, might not be impressive, but it dominated the southern tip of Manhattan Island where it jutted out into the wide waters of a magniﬁcent, sheltered harbor. It guarded the entrance to the big North River.
And Peter Stuyvesant was its ruler.
Copyright © 2010 by Edward Rutherfurd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.