Authors: Jim DeFelice
Tags: #Patriot Spy
"Any bushel you can find will fetch nine dollars at least," one of the men told the keeper. To judge from his companion's remarks, the man's name was Shorty, though in truth he stood much taller than average.
"They're paying ten at Newburgh," said the second man, who was nicknamed Fats. He was of far less than average weight — obviously the pair came from a part of the country where bodies or nicknames were deformed.
"Two dollars would be robbery," responded the innkeeper. "Salt was thirty cents not two years ago."
"The problem is the money. You can't count its worth," said Shorty.
"I have Spanish dollars, as solid as any."
per bushel," suggested Fats.
"Two bushels for five
and not a
"Can't be done. That's not even thirty shillings," complained Shorty.
"It's forty if it's a penny."
"Excuse me," said van Clynne, stirring from his chair to enter the conversation. "Perhaps if you used Dutch equivalents as a standard, your calculations would be easier."
"What business is it of yours?" demanded the innkeeper.
Van Clynne gave him an indulgent smile. "I have overcome such difficulties many times. Perhaps if I offered my services as a negotiator."
"Just another profiteer looking to cut himself in," said Shorty.
"No, no, I am an honest philosopher, a follower of the good Adam Smith," said van Clynne. "As men of business, I assume you have read his work?"
"There was an Adam Brown with us on the
offered Fats. "He was a mate."
"An amazing coincidence," remarked van Clynne. "Perhaps they are brothers."
"You owe me two pence for your coffee," said the keeper. "You may pay in legal tender and take your leave."
"Tut, tut, my good man," said van Clynne. "I wouldn't think of using English money in a good Revolutionary household such as this." He turned to Shorty, obviously the brains of the operation, such as they were. "I gather you are from Connecticut?"
"I always like to know where my partners come from," answered van Clynne.
"Obviously you don't want my services as a mediator, so I will have to get involved in this transaction directly."
"I think you'd best stay out of this business," countered the keeper.
"Business is my business," said van Clynne, extending his hand in a grand gesture of friendship. "Claus van Clynne, at your service."
"I have a suggestion that will make us all very happy," said the Dutchman. He held out his coffee cup for a refill. The innkeeper was clearly not pleased, but went and got his kettle.
"We're waiting, Mr. Clynne," said Shorty.
"It's van Clynne, actually," returned the Dutchman mildly. "But no harm done — call me anything you like. You are men of the sea, I take it."
"How'd you know?"
"A lucky guess. It happens that I am going north," said van Clynne, "and for a small fee, will gladly stop by Newburgh. There I can sell your salt on consignment. We're sure to double or triple our profit, as salt is in great demand there."
"Why should we cut you in?" said Fats.
"Gentlemen, surely you understand the theory of mercantile trade."
"Oh, we understand all right," said Shorty. "The question is, how much will you pay for our salt?"
"I've already set a price," interrupted the innkeeper. "Five Spanish dollars for two bushels."
"It's possible that a sale might make more sense," said van Clynne. "But I think it would be robbery to pay less than three Spanish dollars, or
per bushel. Now, if we converted that to crowns — “
"I thought you didn't have British money," said the keeper.
"I said I wouldn't think of insulting a patriot innkeeper with it," corrected van Clynne. "These men, being citizens of the sea, will find some simpleton to burden with it in a foreign port, I'm sure."
"There are plenty of simpletons in foreign ports," answered Shorty. "But none here. I think four dollars per bushel a very fair price.”
The innkeeper objected strenuously, and began resorting to the argument any good thief makes when he sees his profit washing away — moral persuasion. He had a business arrangement with these men, he had stood by them when no one else did, he had sheltered them from the British authorities in Connecticut, etc. His efforts were unavailing until he agreed to pay four
"Well, sir, can you meet that price?" Shorty asked van Clynne.
"Regretfully, no," answered the Dutchman. "I am sorry, but there are travel expenses to be considered."
"Then we have an arrangement," said Shorty, shaking the keeper's hand.
If the man smiled at the seamen, he frowned at van Clynne. But Shorty gave the Dutchman a wink, and then bought him another coffee — even consenting to pay for the two van Clynne had already had.
"Three," said the innkeeper.
"Three then," said Shorty.
The keeper's mood gradually lightened; he would still make a sizeable profit selling the salt in the neighborhood. The seamen were also in a jolly way, spending a portion of their profits on a large breakfast. Even van Clynne remained happy — for he knew the transaction had not quite been concluded.
The squire stayed talking for a few minutes more before excusing himself. He went outside and gathered his horses, which had been tended to by the keeper's teenage son. Van Clynne took great interest in the lad's description of the animals' care, inspected each part of his mare's saddle and equipage, and otherwise delayed so that he was barely on the roadway when the two seamen came tumbling from the cottage after him, yelling for the "Good Mr. Clynne" to halt and walk with them a bit.
"What a coincidence that we're going the same way," he ventured.
"Yes, indeed," said Shorty. "And of further coincidence is some notion that just fell into our heads upon seeing you — we have a few more bushels of salt to spare."
"Indeed," replied the Dutchman. "How fortunate."
"Old Harold can never take more than three or four bushels of anything we sell," said Fats. "He's afraid his past will catch up with him if he's accused of profiteering. He was run out of Connecticut, you know."
"A timid soul does not make a profit, eh, Mr. Clynne?" winked Shorty.
"The 'van' is an important part of my name," answered the Dutchman, whose tone now was so abruptly different from before that both seamen looked about to see if they had fallen in with the wrong fellow. "What business are you in?"
"Why salt, of course!" said Fats.
"And other things," allowed Shorty. "But just salt, right now. We'll sell you a wagon load, eighteen bushels full, at three
per bushel. And we have a sack of sugar cones for the same price."
"I have no need for the sugar," said van Clynne. "As for the salt, three dollars a bushel in Spanish currency is much too much. I could arrange for the equivalent of, say, three New York dollars for two bushels."
"You were just arguing that three was too little for one!"
"I did that solely on the condition of helping you. Think of it as a commission for this new deal."
"If you gentlemen are not interested in disposing of your wares, I must take my leave. I have urgent business further north with a friend of mine. He's quite at sea without me — no offense."
"All of the Dutch are thieves," said Fats, who received a slap across the chest from his partner for his candor.
"He meant nothing by it, sir," said Shorty. "I have some Dutch blood in me myself."
"I could tell. If we were dealing in Connecticut warrants, perhaps I could give you better terms," suggested van Clynne.
"That would be inconvenient."
"Come now. I would wager you will be traveling that way very shortly."
The negotiations proceeded for ten more minutes, as the two sides maneuvered for the final few pence advantage. Van Clynne was willing to go higher with the Connecticut money since he found it grossly devalued in New York. Still, he got his salt for less than half what the innkeeper had just paid, a bargain that would bring a sizeable profit in a few hours when he met Putnam's quartermaster in Peekskill.
Not a dereliction of duty, surely — Peekskill is clearly en route to Albany. And a man with salt in such starved country needs no special introduction beyond a sample of his spice.
When at last the deal was struck, the men sealed it by spitting in their hands — a bit of unhygienic fuss the Dutchman ordinarily shied from. Considering the profit he was about to make, however, some sacrifices were warranted.
But such are the contingencies of business during wartime that one finds not even a good wad of spittle will set an agreement in iron. For there proved to be an important codicil to this arrangement — evidence that Shorty did indeed have some Dutch blood in him.
Van Clynne had assumed that the salt was in a storehouse or hidden somewhere along the highway, where he might direct Putnam's men once the second leg of the transaction was concluded. He could therefore proceed without the bother of bringing more than a pocketful of the substance with him. But the commodity was actually in a wagon, and the wagon was precariously parked in the middle of a streambed, positioned in such a way that water came nearly halfway up the wheels.
"We'll just toss it out and be on our way," said Shorty cheerfully. "Sure you don't want any sugar?"
"How much for the wagon?" grumbled van Clynne.
"I don't know that it's for sale," ventured Shorty.
But of course, everything has its price, and van Clynne was soon able to work a reasonable transaction: he traded the two Tory horses for the wagon and its ox, with the sugar thrown in to sweeten the deal. Hitching his own mare to the back, he proceeded north, grumbling loudly about the seamen's sharp dealing until they were out of earshot.
Wherein, a traveler's desires go unmet, with dire results.
nother traveler was
looking for breakfast at this hour, though his appetite was well beyond what could be satiated by the thick mince pie offered by the proprietor of the small ordinary along the Old York Road where he stopped. Major Dr. Keen had traveled north in his coach from the precincts of Manhattan, crossing off the island at King's Bridge. The British soldiers he'd consulted at the various sentry posts had supplied no useful information about his quarry. The Dutchman and his assistant Gibbs had succeeded in vanishing from the environs without visible trace.
In itself, this neither supported nor refuted Bacon's belief that van Clynne was an imposter. Keen endeavored to keep an open mind on the issue. While naturally inclined toward the hope that his prey would prove counterfeits — and therefore suitable for whatever designs happened to take his fancy — the doctor attacked his problem as he attacked all difficulties, from a scientific angle. Certain drugs included in the large store that he kept in his carriage would aid his inquiries greatly, once he succeeded in locating the Dutchman.
Keen had left behind the safety of the British lines about an hour before, traveling through the Neutral Ground in the thick neck of the land above Manhattan. The Old York Road was only one of many different routes northward. Keen had gathered from his driver — though not a native, Phillip Percival had spent several years in the country prior to the war — that this was the most likely route a rebel in a hurry would take. The doctor himself knew little of this land; he had been in the county only once before. A small cottage further north owned by one of General Bacon's many intelligence operatives had been placed at Keen's disposal; if circumstances allowed, he would use it as a base of operations. Otherwise, he would have to improvise.
The small tavern where Keen now stopped was not more than a mile from the spot where Howe had made his headquarters during his unsuccessful foray into central Westchester the previous summer. The establishment was small even by local standards, more a private hovel with food and a spare bed for travelers. It had barely two rooms on the first floor, with the hearth in the main room doubling as kitchen; the upstairs was a half-story attic-cum-bedroom. The thick, rough logs betrayed its early Dutch ancestry and bore witness to a significant and rare battle with the river Indians — but Keen was not much of a local history buff".
One of the difficulties of working in the wilderness — a man used to London found even the highly cultivated land hereabouts untamed — was that the inhabitants failed to properly anticipate a man's needs. For example, the serving wench who brought him his tea and pie had to make a trip back to her small sideboard to retrieve cream. Such stupidity would not be tolerated even in so primitive a place as New York City.
And another thing — the people responded to the simplest question with bewilderment.
"He is Dutch, with a beard, russet-colored clothes, and a large, round, silver-flecked hat," repeated the doctor.
"No, sir, I have not seen any such man," said the girl. She had a wholesome tint in her cheeks, and her hips were well-rounded beneath the very simple and worn flaxen dress. It occurred to Keen that she was just the sort of morsel whose parts were worth more than the whole.
"Do you know of him?"