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Chapter 12

When Rebecca ushered the Scots officer into the Roths' house, she was surprised to see her father sitting in one of the armchairs in the main salon. That was called the "living room." The odd name was typical of Americans, Rebecca thought. For all their near-magical powers, they were in many ways the most practical folk she had ever met. More so, even, than the hardheaded merchants of Amsterdam.


She was relieved to see him sitting up, for the first time since his heart attack. Indeed, Balthazar Abrabanel was having an animated conversation with both of the American doctors, James Nichols and Jeffrey Adams. Morris and Judith Roth were present also.


"Rebecca!" he exclaimed cheerfully, turning his head to his daughter. "I have the most marvelous news." Balthazar pointed to the doctors. "They have just—"


He broke off, seeing the officer standing behind Rebecca. His face, formerly so animated, froze into a mask. There was nothing hostile in the expression. It was simply the face of an experienced diplomat.


Rebecca's lips twitched. Diplomat? Say better—an experienced spy.


She knew her father's history. His branch of the Abrabanels had lived in London for well over a hundred years, since the expulsion of the Sephardim from Spain. Their existence was technically illegal—Jews had been officially banned from the island centuries earlier—but the English authorities made no attempt to enforce the ban so long as the Jews kept their community small and discreet. If for no other reason, English monarchs and high nobility preferred Jewish doctors to gentile ones.


With Elizabeth's ascent to the throne, in what Christians called the year 1558 anno Domini, the position of the Jews became quite secure. Elizabeth's own physician, Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, was Sephardic. The queen came to rely upon him to some degree for political as well as medical advice—particularly with regard to the dangers posed by Philip II of Spain. Dr. Lopez, acting as her intermediary, organized several members of the Abrabanel family to serve the English crown as spies. The Abrabanels, one of the great families of the far-flung Sephardim, were well placed to keep an eye on the doings of the Spaniards.


Rebecca's grandfather Aaron had so served, until his death, and had passed the mantle to his two sons, Balthazar and Uriel. Rebecca still had memories, from her early childhood, of being taken by her father down to London's great harbor to meet with Portuguese seamen and merchants, many of whom were marranos.


With Elizabeth's death and the coronation of James I, unfortunately, the political climate had changed. James was partial to the Spanish, and was inclined to grant their many demands. He even executed Sir Walter Raleigh to placate the Spaniards, though the official charge was treason. Jews were no longer welcome at the English court—not even privately—and the pressure on the Sephardic community intensified. In 1609, James again ordered their expulsion.


A few Jewish families remained, Rebecca's among them. They were sheltered by elements in the British government and, most of all, by the Puritans. The Puritans, a growing force in English society, were much more favorably inclined toward the Jews than the established church. Many of their scholars were keenly interested in the study of Hebrew texts, as part of their efforts to "purify" Christianity.


The Scottish officer stepped into the room and spoke his first words. As soon as Balthazar heard that unmistakable accent, his rigid face softened. Within seconds, Rebecca saw her father's normal warmth and wit returning.


She, too, had felt the charm of that northerly version of the English tongue. It was not the accent itself, but what lay beneath it. On two occasions, once when she was twelve and again when she was fourteen, Rebecca had accompanied her father and uncle to Cambridge, which was a hotbed of Puritanism. The presence of the two learned Jewish doctors—fluent alike in Hebrew and Greek—had been requested to clarify certain obscure passages in the Biblical texts.


"I bring you greetings from Gustavus Adolphus, Balthazar Abrananel."


Hearing that accent, Rebecca remembered those earnest Puritan scholars with fondness. Their branch of the Abrabanels had finally been forced to leave England, not long thereafter. Uriel, always the more adventurous of the brothers, had opted to seek his fortune in Germany. Her father, burdened with a sickly wife and a daughter, had chosen Amsterdam. There, among the Dutch cousins of the Puritans, they had found a haven.


Balthazar Abrananel nodded. "Please convey my deepest respects to His Majesty, uh—?"


"Mackay, sir. Alexander Mackay, captain in the king of Sweden's Green Regiment, at your service."


Stern and stiff they were, those Calvinists—as humorless and cold as the Sephardim were not—but they had a respect for the Bible not shared by the Catholics, or even the Lutherans. God had given the people of Abraham a place in the world. Who were they to question His will?


Behind her, Rebecca sensed Michael coming into the room. He came to stand behind her. Very near, he was. A bit more so, perhaps, than propriety allowed.


Rebecca found her lips curving into a smile, and forced the expression from her face.


Propriety. But whose, exactly? Not the Americans! They seem oblivious to the concept. The most shameless folk I have ever met. Remembering the treatment she and her father had been given: And have perhaps less reason to be shameful, in all truth.


Michael was very close. She felt an almost overpowering urge to lean back against him. Then, seeing her father's eyes upon her, she straightened.


The eyes were knowing. Rebecca had tried to keep her daily reports to her father free of any emotion. She had been especially careful—or so she thought—to keep any trace of warmth from her accounts of Michael and his doings.


Inwardly, she sighed. No doubt she had tried too hard. Balthazar Abrabanel was as shrewd a man as ever existed. She had never been able to hide anything from her father. In truth, she had never really tried before.


There will be a stern fatherly lecture coming, she thought glumly. Very stern.


Balthazar's eyes moved away from her and focused again on the Scots officer. Mackay had been bustled into a heavily upholstered armchair by Judith Roth, and was now resuming his conversation.


The Scotsman glanced quickly around the room. Clearly enough, the presence of the Americans was making him a bit reticent.


"You may speak freely, Captain Mackay," said Balthazar. "Our hosts are quite aware already of the treasure I was bringing with me." He bestowed a lingering look upon Michael. Rebecca was relieved to see that there was no anger in her father's eyes. Simply gratitude, and respect.


"Indeed, had it not been for them—Michael especially—the silver would now be in the possession of Tilly's monsters." He leaned forward and extended his hands. The spread fingers were heavily laden with bejeweled rings. "Along with these, cut from my body." Harshly: "And my daughter, of course."


Balthazar nodded toward the ceiling. "The chest containing the money for your king is upstairs in my bedroom. It is all there, every guilder. I have a receipt, of course."


Mackay waved his hand. The gesture was one of certainty and assurance. No need, Balthazar Abrabanel. Your honesty is unquestioned.


Perhaps oddly, Rebecca's reaction to that little movement was more one of anger than of pride. Of course you trust the Jews with your money. And then, when the mood changes, you accuse us of foul crimes because we can turn a profit without cheating. Unlike your own bankers. Christians!


But her anger was only momentary. In truth, it was misdirected. The various branches of the Calvinist creed were by no means free of intolerance toward Jews. But they had their own firm belief in the value of hard work and thrift, they encouraged literacy, and they tended to view people who acquired wealth more with admiration than envy.


It was not the Calvinists, after all, who forced us to leave Amsterdam's Jewish quarter. My father was expelled by orthodox rabbis, not Christian preachers.


She forced her mind to focus on the moment. Her father would want her advice and opinion. Especially now, in such deep and unknown waters.


Mackay, she saw, was staring at Michael also. There was respect in that look—and more than a trace of puzzlement.


"Why?" the Scotsman suddenly blurted out.


"Why what?" responded Michael. But the question was rhetorical. The American placed his hands on Rebecca's shoulders and gently moved himself around her to come to the center of the room. There, standing straight with his hands on his hips, he gazed down on Mackay. The gaze was almost a glare.


"Why aren't we rapists and thieves?"


Mackay lowered his head and shook it. "That's not what I meant." The Scotsman ran fingers through his thick red hair, his face crunched into a frown. Plainly enough, he was groping for words.


Rebecca's father found the words for him. "It is simply their way, Captain Mackay." Balthazar glanced at the Americans in the room. His eyes lingered on the black doctor for a moment.


"It's not that these Americans are lambs." He smiled. "Some of them, I imagine, have even been known to commit armed robbery. Attempt it, at least." James Nichols grinned.


Again, Balthazar's eyes studied the various Americans. They came to rest, this time, on Michael. "And other depredations, I have no doubt. Brawling, for instance. Drunk and disorderly conduct. Disrespect for the public authorities."


Michael was grinning, now. Rebecca did not understand why, but she was relieved to feel the tension easing from the room.


Balthazar's smile was quite warm when he turned it to Mackay. "But they are also a people who cherish their laws. Which they enact themselves, you know, with scant respect for lineage and rank. From what my daughter has told me, they are the most inveterate republicans since the ancient Greeks."


Balthazar spread his hands, as if demonstrating the obvious. "This is why, I think, that their instinctive response was to protect us, along with our goods. The law was being broken, you see. Their law, not the crown's."


The Jewish physician gave Michael another glance, lifting a finger at him. "Ask him, Mackay. Ask him again. But do not ask: why? Simply ask: did you even think twice? Or even once, for that matter?"


Mackay looked at Michael. The American, after a moment, let his hands fall from his hips. It was a weary gesture. But there was nothing weary in the way the large hands curled into fists.


"I don't know what kind of a world you people have created here, Captain Mackay," Michael growled. "But we will be no part of it. None, do you understand me? Wherever our power runs, the law will be obeyed. Our law."


"And how far does that power run?" asked Mackay.


Michael's response was instant. "As far as we can stretch it."


Mackay leaned back in his chair. "Some questions, then. My first." He pointed to the revolver at Michael's hip. "Are your weapons as good as I—as Lennox—thinks?"


Michael glanced down at the sidearm. "With a rifle, I can hit a one-inch bull's-eye at two hundred yards. Three hundred yards, with a scope. And I'm not the best marksman among us, not by a long shot." He stared out the window, as if examining the town. "There are other things, also, which we can make."


Michael brought his eyes back to Mackay. Blue and cold. "Your next question," he commanded.


Mackay jerked his head, pointing to the ceiling and the rooms above. "There is a small fortune up there, Michael of the Americans. It belongs to the king of Sweden, but he has authorized me to dispense it as I see fit. Will you take his colors?"


"No." Very blue and very cold. "We are not mercenaries. We will fight under our own banners, and no other."


Mackay stroked his beard, thinking. "Would you accept an alliance, then?" Hurriedly: "It needn't be anything very formal, you understand. Just an agreement between gentlemen. And with the funds I now have, I could cover the expenses."


The young Scotsman's gaze moved to the window. He tightened his own hands into fists, for a moment. And, for that moment, his green eyes held the same glitter as Michael's. "Think of us what you will, American. I take no more pleasure than you in seeing farmers and their children massacred, or their women subjected to vile abuse."


His right hand opened, and a finger of accusation pointed through the window to the north. "Tilly's beasts are pouring into Thuringia. They will be taking the larger cities soon, and then plundering the countryside like locusts. I cannot possibly stop them, not with my few hundred cavalrymen. But—"


His eyes fixed on Michael's revolver. Suddenly, startlingly, Michael clapped his hands together.


"Oh—that kind of alliance!" he exclaimed. Michael was grinning from ear to ear. The sheer good humor of the expression, for all the ferocity lurking in it, was like pure sunshine.


"Sure, Alexander Mackay. We accept."


 


Less than a minute later, Michael was out on the street, where dozens of his coal miners were chatting amiably with the Scots cavalrymen. Mackay was at his side. A large crowd was gathered about, most of them students from the high school who had followed them into town.


Rebecca, watching through the window, saw Michael's lips moving. She could not hear the words, but knew he was addressing the coal miners. An instant later, the crowd on the street dissolved into an orgy of celebration and back slapping. Julie Sims and her cheerleading squad again started that bizarre little dance. And, again, the students responded with a roaring chant.


 
Two—four—six—eight!
Who do we appreciate?
Scotsmen! Scotsmen!
 


The chant was loud enough to be heard through the window. More than loud enough. Rebecca thought the chant was bizarre, although she could not deny its raucous charm.


Then the cheerleaders began leading the crowd in a different chant and she was completely mystified.


Frowning, she turned to James Nichols. The doctor was on his feet, staring out the window, clapping his hands in time to the chant and muttering the same peculiar, meaningless words under his breath.


"Please," she asked, "explain this to me. What does that mean, exactly?" Her lips formed around unfamiliar words. "On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin!"


The doctor grinned. "What it means, young lady, is that a bunch of swaggering thugs are about to get a history lesson. In advance, so to speak."


He turned to her, still grinning. "Let me introduce you to another unfamiliar American expression." The white teeth, shining in a black face, reminded Rebecca of nothing so much as a shield of heraldry.


"We call it—D-Day."


 


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