. . . as disclosed to Evgeny, resident of Ullitaq, by Wep, a Latvian reporter on assignment there; excerpted from my novel, Glass Bottom.
About five in the morning the sleepless sailors got together amidships. The captain and his son, John, sotted on rationed gin, were still up whipping each other and plotting the death of their wife and mother when the second mate who used to be first mate, together with others of the cantankerous and abused crew, grabbed them and recorded their last requests. The ship’s surgeon castrated the two of them and they were put, still drunk and screaming, into a boat with five other sick and dying men and medical supplies for a fortnight. The sailors then hauled their mutinous asses back to England to face the music. This drama was necessary because Henry Hudson would have kept them floating in that fish-shiny sea until ice blocked the straits and they’d have to winter over again at the cost of the few lives that were left.
What were the mutineers thinking? That seven hating, hurting men could thrive in the new world? That they’d discover enough men, women and children to satisfy their lust on these sparse shores? Or what?
Rowing with all his might to keep up with the sluggish ship, the sobering captain finally shouted up his last request, addressed to the boy’s mother, his wife, pleading with the new captain and the new cabin boy to give her his love and all his pay. Mrs. Katherine Hudson got the message via the mate’s confession at the mutiny trial, but couldn’t get a death certificate on Henry Hudson, so none of his money was released to her. That was a mistake!
Mrs. Katherine Hudson became such a raging pain in the side of the East India Company which had sponsored Henry Hudson’s quest for the northwest passage that she was able to restore her fortune and hang out at court once again. She did not however manage to get a statue of Henry Hudson erected in London. In the process of restoring her fortune she ran across Henrietta, or Etta as she’s known, hanging out with Anabaptists in London.
Mennonites? Evgeny exclaimed.
Yeah, well, Wep replied, the London variation. They dropped the Menno tag there. You know about them?
They keep popping up, Wep continued. This Thomas Helwys is a trip. If this is boring . . . .
No, no. How does this Elvis figure in?
He was one of Etta’s lovers in London. I’ll get to that. Mrs. Katherine Hudson wasted no time. When she realized she was getting the cold shoulder from the East India boys, she decided to work a contact in the French court. She already knew from her teenage son John that Henry Hudson had been fucking a skank named Henrietta. John Hudson was likely prowling the back alley bars for his own gratification when his friends dragged him to the window of a posh club where, within, Henry Hudson was all over Henrietta: hands, moustache, hips. A good mother’s boy, John Hudson told Mrs. Katherine Hudson about it, and it didn’t take her long to ferret out some court gossip on this Henrietta: French with Huguenot connections. Then, in order to learn even more about her mysterious iniquitous husband, Mrs. Katherine Hudson convinced him to take their son on as cabin boy for his next voyage, a super thrill for John Hudson, seventeen, loving and hating his dad, poor kid.
Three years later Mrs. Katherine Hudson and Henrietta were friends, or at least collaborators in their several designs. Henrietta, for instance, had told Mrs Katherine Hudson why she had wangled her way into the posh club and allowed herself to be seduced by Henry Hudson, a sensitive and ponderous lover: it was rebound from the loss of Thomas Helwys, the exiled anabaptist. And, reciprocally, Mrs. Katherine Hudson had told Henrietta that during Henrietta’s sojourn with Thomas Helwys, Henry Hudson had given a tankard-lofting speech at court, a spontaneous display of abstract religious frivolity that tickled another round of anabaptist drownings. Now Henrietta knew that these were the drownings that Thomas Helwys barely escaped on a smuggler’s boat to Holland, leaving town under cover of night, leaving his Henrietta forlorn. It’s doubtful however that Henry Hudson ever heard of Thomas Helwys or thought twice about the consequences of his drunken outburst.
But we jumped a gun, said Wep.
Soon after Henry Hudson sailed to his fate with his son John, Thomas Helwys returned to England. He did not like the Mennonites in Amsterdam, insisting as they did on holding services in Dutch and disagreeing in Dutch with nearly everything he said in English. So, again on the rebound, Henrietta took delight in Thomas Helwys’ return to London with his manuscript, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (which was published in 1612), and his libido, which came with foreshortened declarations of iniquity, a repression she found magnificent to watch. It would explode again and again in the night. And I imagine he was up all night, those nights, praying fervently to some fucked up God. I say fucked up, Evgeny. I know you are a church man, but I don’t understand this shit.
Anyway, dealing with her own loss of Henry, the money and the status, it immediately occurred to Mrs. Katherine Hudson that she could use Henrietta since she was French and could speak the language like a sailor. She found Henrietta via a royal police officer whose assignment was to keep an eye on this whacky cult that Henry Hudson had once gone on about, home drunk and late one night, howling with laughter, trying to recall a funny poem that the water poet had recited to the hall following Henry Hudson’s suggestion that they drown a few of these baptizers and watch their bubbles swear allegiance to the King. A great cheer had gone up, Henry Hudson was toasted with a fresh round, and it’s likely that he cemented the court’s confidence in his loyalty at that moment. Up until then he’d been sailing for the Dutch and was under scrutiny as a possible enemy agent. Thomas Helwys was one of those religious weirdos marked for trial and death but he escaped the dragnet and found himself among the smug Mennonites of Amsterdam who felt quite safe enough to split hairs over the nature of vaginal fluids in the birth canal of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Wep’s voice had begun to mumble. I’m off track, he said.
You’ve lost me, too, Evgeny offered. So Henrietta was fucking whom when?
Sorry. I distract easily. My editors can’t stand it. Cut all this shit, they say, because it’s not journalism. I tell them it’s news. Whatever.
It was Thomas Helwys first; who knows how Henrietta met him. Who knows why she was in England. She may have come to an anabaptist meeting because she had this Huguenot affiliation in France. Then, when Thomas Helwys fled to Amsterdam she picked up with Henry Hudson and when he left to discover his Bay it was about the time that Thomas Helwys came back to London. I’m repeating myself. He probably felt that he’d abandoned his flock, but I suspect he couldn’t get the evangelical pussy out of his mind and had to see Henrietta no matter how risky. He also needed to show his English publisher the manuscript in which he clears up the mystery of iniquity; that is, proves that the first and second beasts of the apocalypse are the Roman and Anglican churches respectively, and that the King of England is a good guy who could secure his tax base indefinitely if he would immediately suspend cash flow to the second beast, let people of conscience believe whatever they like, and channel all that money to himself. A fine theologian and economist!
I assume Henrietta was still among his company when the cop found her, took her aside, and passed on Mrs. Katherine Hudson’s message: that she wanted to see her; would she come willingly? Well, she would. Apocalyptic theologies rather quickly suffer from the law of diminishing returns and I suspect Henrietta was looking for a way out by then. She told Thomas Helwys that she had urgent family business in France.
Wep suddenly thrust a query into Evg’s stupor. This is good, no?
This is a lot of detail, I know, but I think it’ll be good to establish some historical credibility. Do you agree?
Oh, yes, yes. I just wish it wasn’t Mennonites.
Well, it’s not about them. They’re incidental really, but good colour, don’t you think?
Evgeny nodded; Wep dabbed at his nose and plodded on.
They went to Paris together and wangled their way into court, Mrs. Katherine Hudson with her account of British betrayal, and Henrietta with ribald stories of English sailers. But as Henrietta’s performances grew in popularity, and when invitations drew her closer to Marie de Medici’s inner circle, the stories began to touch nerves close to bone. Her jokes were deemed banal, her Huguenot associations came to light, and she was thrown into the street. Mrs. Katherine Hudson put her up in an apartment not far from her own and discreetly introduced her to a friend at court who claimed knowledge of every tavern in Paris.
The next thing we know, she’d hooked up with an old acquaintance, uncle I think, and his circle of disgruntled Huguenots who had secretly decided to explore or revive the initial separatist ideas that John Calvin had entertained, then dismissed, while making a bid for power in Basel.
Why, oh why, was he, like everyone, besotted with the beast?
It was recorded that Henrietta shouted this into the heated debate around a table she was serving. The outburst, and something about the way she tied the knots in her bodice, dropped René Bobin, just then appointed secretary to a delegation setting out for England where these Huguenot renegades would join a meeting organized by the anabaptist, Thomas Helwys, no doubt a plan recommended by Henrietta . . . dropped him into an erotic abyss that saw him and Henrietta fucking in every stage coach, berth and roadhouse all the way to London. The theology that normally arises from these hors-d’oeuvres; namely, unworthy sinner speaks for a terrible God, was softened by the post-coital gaze of Henrietta and the words, Not to worry, René, I’m a perpetual virgin. By now René had the theological skills to work that out. Eventually Henrietta becomes everyones virgin.
Henrietta’s experiences were adding up to a kind of wisdom. She’d agreed to go on this clandestine sortie to London primarily to make things right with Thomas Helwys, tell him straight out how it was for her, his love, what she thinks and feels about it all. But there’s no knowing whether she got to see him or not. In London, everything went wrong for the Huguenot delegation and René Bobin ended up hating her. There never was a meeting between the Huguenot delegation and the Anabaptists, at least no evidence of one.
Too bad, Evg interjected.
Wep opened one eye: a puzzled look.
Better recipes, I mean.
Mennonites could have done with some French cooking tips. Sorry to interrupt.
So you know Mennonites? Holy shit!
My mom was one. Food might have been better, that’s all; maybe God.
Fuck off. I can see how you might need this story more than I do.
So, anyway, Wep continued, Mrs. Katherine Hudson was putting together a deal with the captain of the Mercredi, one of a fleet of cargo ships sailing regularly to the French settlements in Quebec. Her investment, modelled on those of the East India Company, was to secure a shipment of tobacco for distribution to Parisian cafes and beyond. What with the smoking bans springing up all over Europe she was going to make a killing. So, on the return trip, this captain agreed to sail home via Jamestown where the British were warehousing tobacco for high bidders, no matter who, as long as they came with a British letter and seal of one sort or another, a matter which Mrs. Katherine Hudson easily arranged. She was also thinking of her husband and son, of course, and needed someone trustworthy to go on this voyage and look for him. When she learned that the Mercredi would also be carrying brides to the new world and that Henrietta was back in Paris, she concocted an additional plan. That’s how Henrietta got to be on that ship, persuaded that if she could find Henry Hudson, not only would she please her friend, but she could reconcile her life, maybe even start a new one in Henry Hudson’s horrible bay and make everything good again.
The following spring Henrietta boarded the bride boat loaded with settlement supplies and females bound for New France to make homes and babies. Fortunately these were healthy, tough and adventurous women fit for hard work and reproduction. It made Etta’s job easier. It didn’t take her half way across to get most of them to delete the husband from their dreams of life in the new world. The mutiny, if such it could be called, was even easier to arrange. It was a simple swap, negotiated in a minute. The mutinees got sex at regular hours from their new bosses, and absolution with assurance of life everlasting from the priest who was promised the tutelage of the Hudson boy when he’d be found in the new land. The women got to chose where they’d be dropped off, and the captain could continue to fulfill the balance of his contracts.
By the time Etta learned navigation and had steered the ship into Arctic waters, not all the women were feeling great about this wild bid for freedom, but when they anchored within a nautical mile of a tropical island, most of their doubts dissolved. The first scouts reported that getting over the shore ice was difficult in heels, but why didn’t they just wear their ugly boots, and otherwise the place was paradise. There was no sign, however, of Henry Hudson or the boy or anyone else. The place was theirs!
Those of the all-male crew who wanted to exchange labour and sex for life in paradise, possibly forever, could stay, Etta said. One of them did, but the rest of the sailors, along with the priest and several women, left to carry out their original mission. They had parting orders from Etta to look for Henry Hudson and son and tell them where she could be found.
The bride-boat did not reach the French settlements or ever return to its owners. It and everyone were presumed lost, but not before Etta`s message got through to Henry Hudson who, with his boy, was able to reach the island in September of that same summer.
By the time Henry Hudson arrived, the islanders had designed several types of shelters and had cut trails through the bonsai rainforest to the plateau. What the first winter would be like was a matter of pure speculation: they assumed that high winds would penetrate the bubble of hot air, pile snow onto the island and ice up the shoreline. There was evidence of frost damage everywhere but in general the jungle vegetation flourished between the beaches and up the shallow slopes to the central plain. The plateau, less than fifteen meters altitude, was a semi-arid grassland inhabited by a herd of gazelle and a pride of lions. After a feed, the adult female lions slept in the wandering branches of the one enormous banyan tree that grew low to the ground in the midst of a dozen steaming hot springs up there.
Etta’s islanders speculated wildly as to how the jungle-like flora and fauna got there. They were finding and cataloguing more of it every day, specimens they deduced were from equatorial coasts in Africa and South America, even Asia. Then they saw it happen with their own eyes: a humpback drove onto one of their beaches and threw up the contents of its stomach, an enormous heap of tropical rubbage including plants, birds, insects and animals, alive and dead, and two middle-aged men gasping for breath: Mennonites! they shrieked.