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1636 The Atlantic Encounter: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 09:37 EDT

 


 

    For the governor of New Netherland, Gordon Chehab had set aside a clean and semi-formal suit of clothes. The Germans had an expression — Kleider machen Leute — “clothes make the man” — and Cavriani and Miro had suggested in the strongest manner that he should make an effort to impress anyone he met with “the earnest of his mission.”

    The hardworking Danes and the ascetic Puritans had not needed or wanted to be impressed, but Gordon assumed that the Dutch proprietors in New Amsterdam were more likely to be.

    It turned out that he did not need to bother.

     


 

    “Excuse me?” Gordon said.

    “I think you know very well what I mean, Mynheer,” the clerk said, smiling in a way that made Gordon’s skin crawl. “The governor’s time is very valuable.”

    “I’m sure it is. But so is mine.” Gordon looked sideways at Pete, who was standing easy, balanced on the balls of his feet.

    The clerk shrugged and began to turn away.

    “Soâ¦when will the governor have time for us?”

    “Wie het weet?” Who knows? “In a day, maybe two. When he tells me he wants to see you, I’ll let you know.”

    “Unless I⦔

    “Pay the slimy bastard,” Pete said. “Bribe him.”

    The clerk frowned. “I don’t like your choice of words, Amerikaner.”

    Pete took a step toward him. “And I don’t like your style, Dutchman. In order for us to get an interview with the governor of New Amsterdam, I have to cross your palm — or you’ll keep us iced out here indefinitely. If it’s not a bribe you want, what would you like to call it?”

    It was clear that the clerk wasn’t used to any answer other than yes or no.

    “What –” he began.

    Pete hadn’t raised his hand or changed his expression — he was just standing three or four feet away, doing what he did best — doing what he’d come along to do. He was giving the clerk the cool stare.

    The clerk looked at Pete, then beyond him to Gordon. His eyes seemed to plead, as if he didn’t know what Pete might do next.

    It was Gordon’s turn to shrug.

    “The governor –” the clerk began, obviously intimidated, then held up his hand. “I’ll check with him.”

    He disappeared through an inner door, and Gordon and Pete heard the beginning of a muffled conversation in Dutch.

    “Not a perfect work of public relations,” Gordon said. “But at least you didn’t hit him.”

    “What makes you think I was going to hit him?” Pete smiled. “I am a peaceful man.”

    “You didn’t seem so.”

    “Never let the batter know what pitch you’re going to throw, big bro.”

    “I don’t think that clerk knows much about baseball, Pete.”

    “It’s a metaphor.”

    Gordon smiled. “I know it’s a –“

    The door opened; the clerk emerged, looking even more intimidated. “The governor will see you now,” he said, and stepped aside.

    Gordon and Pete walked toward the inner door. As they stepped into the governor’s office, they heard what sounded like a particularly offensive word in German — which apparently bore a strong cognate in Dutch.

    They ignored it.

     


 

    Wouter van Twiller, Governor of New Amsterdam, was a younger man — a few years older than Gordon. He had been promoted to the position after the Nineteen had recalled Peter Minuit a few years earlier. Pete had wondered aloud, when they were reading over the up-time material on van Twiller, if Minuit had been told that he should have paid only nineteen dollars for Manhattan; but it was pretty clear that the current governor had obtained his position due to the influence of his uncle.

    There was certainly little else to recommend him.

    Van Twiller received them in a well-appointed study. He was in a comfortable stuffed armchair — in fact, stuffed was a good way to describe how he was placed. He appeared to have missed very few meals; when his substantial girth was combined with his obviously small stature, his appearance was nothing less than comic. Gordon had all he could do to not laugh.

    “Well, well, mijn Herren,” van Twiller said. “I am told that you wereâ¦insistent in your desire to meet with me.”

    “Thank you for taking the time for us, Governor. My name is Gordon Chehab, and this is my brother Peter. We are on an exploratory mission for the State of Thuringia-Franconia — one of the provinces of the United States of Europe — exploring trade andâ¦other possibilities. We have recently arrived aboard Challenger.”

    “I understand that you were asked for help.” He smiled — a bit ferally, Gordon thought; his eyes, deep set in his round face, glinted in the gray light of afternoon, streaming in through a window. “A sort of embassy, I suppose you might call it.”

    “An unofficial one.”

    “What do you have to offer?”

    “I am not sure what you mean, Excellency,” Gordon said.

    Van Twiller smiled again; he had not yet offered the Americans seats, nor did he appear interested in doing so.

    “If you have come on your exploratory mission to offer us assistance, I would like to know what you care to offer — and I wish to determine what is in it for New Amsterdam — and for me.” He reached out of the depths of the armchair and took hold of a tankard, from which he drank.

    “I didn’t say that we were here to assist you, Excellency,” Gordon said. “I am to report back to my patron on the state of the various colonies here in the New World — yours, the English –“

    “The English have no colonies in the New World,” Van Twiller interrupted. “Their king has sold them all to the French. Sold out: that’s how it could be characterized. The meddling Puritans, the Catholics on the Chesapeake, the tobacco growers and the island plantations. All French now — though they don’t seem to be in any hurry to enforce their patent.”

    “So you don’t see them as a threat.”

    “No, of course not. Why should I? We’re not English, and New France has no particular quarrel with us. Not to mention that we are thousands of miles across the sea, Mynheer Chabot.”

    “Chehab.”

    “I beg your pardon. We are thousands of miles across the sea, and the French king seems somewhat preoccupied at the moment, doesn’t he? His recent war with the USE went poorly for him, he faces serious unrest at home, and he doesn’t have an heir, at least not yet. I don’t really think he cares much about New Amsterdam.”

    Gordon thought, Your uncle thought there was a threat — two years ago. Just because they haven’t gotten around to you yet doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    Unless Kiliaen van Rensselaer didn’t tell his nephew anything. He’s half a world away, sitting in his counting house in Amsterdam. Why did he arrange to send Van der Glinde to Don Francisco?

    “The French are a threat, Excellency. Just because they haven’t come calling so far doesn’t mean they won’t get to it eventually.”

    “And in the meanwhileâ¦what do you want from me?”

    “My instructions are very general, Governor van Twiller. I am to encourage any of France’s enemies or rivals in the New World to make common cause: you, the former English colonies, the natives –“

    “Common cause? With the natives? With the Puritans?” He laughed — a disturbing sort of giggle that made all of his several chins bob up and down. “That is the most absurd thing I’ve heard this month, if not this year. England, before it sold its rights away, interfered with and hindered us in the name of a conflicting claim. As for the Puritans, they insisted on planting their settlements on land claimed by the Netherlands: they are the stubbornest, most pigheaded folk in Christendom. They made themselves so obnoxious to their king that it is no wonder he cut them adrift.

 



 

    1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 38

    “They can go straight to Hell, Mynheer Chehab, which is where they claim we are all going. I shall not make ‘common cause’ with any of those mock-pious preeners. And as for the natives: they may be dangerous to soft Virginia planters, but the burghers and the patroons of New Netherland know how to deal with them. Once the wall on the kill is built, there should be no threat from the savages.

    “Now,” he said at last, taking another healthy drink from his tankard, “was there anything else?”

     


 

    As he walked along the muddy street, Gordon clenched and unclenched his fists. Pete walked silently beside him, keeping an eye on everyone who passed by.

    “He can’t really believe that,” Gordon said at last.

    “Yes, he can. He’s a moron.”

    “The Dutch would never leave a moron as governor. He’s willfully ignorant — he’s not stupid.”

    “No, big bro,” Pete said, “he’s both willfully ignorant and stupid. He thinks that just because the French are far away that they’re no threat, and he has no use for anyone who’s not Dutch. We just have to find someone here who doesn’t agree with him.”

     


 

    Ask, Gordon thought a few hours later, and it shall be given you. Waiting at the East River dock was a young ship’s mate who escorted them to a smaller ship nearby.

    Someone was waiting at the top of the gangplank: a middle-aged man with a carefully trimmed beard and a hawk’s nose. He seemed impatient, but greeted them politely when they reached him.

    “Mynheer Chehab,” the man said. “And Mynheer Chehab. My name is de Vries. Jan de Vries. I understand that you have just had an interview with our — ” He paused, looking as if he was about to spit. “Governor.”

    “You seem to be well informed.”

    “New Amsterdam is a small town,” de Vries answered.

    “He wasn’t very helpful, Captain de Vries. I assume you know the results of our little chat.”

    “Not Captain,” the Dutchman replied. “Commander.” He smiled slightly. “They go where I tell them” — he made a gesture — “but they trim the sails. As for Van Twiller, the little klootoog wasn’t much help, you say.”

    The expression wasn’t one he was familiar with, but Gordon got its meaning. “I cannot say that I am surprised,” de Vries added.

    “It was worse than not being helpful,” Pete said. “He doesn’t seem to be much interested in anything other thanâ¦consuming.”

    “That’s Van Twiller.” A few more Dutch invectives flew past. “Did you offer him anything to consume?”

    “That’s not why we’re here.”

    “I am curious just why you are here,” de Vries said. He beckoned to them, and they walked back to the quarterdeck.

    Pete leaned against the rail. “Damn,” he said. “Everyone is asking us that.”

    De Vries drew a pipe out of an inner pocket of his captain’s coat, followed by a pouch of tobacco. “Then I’m sure that you have a ready answer to that question.”

    “We’re here on an exploratory expedition, Commander,” Gordon said. “Our employer sent us to see the lay of the land here in the New World. We have little to offer.”

    “Other than technology, perhaps.”

    “I have no technology to offer,” Gordon said. “The sorts of things you would want — flying machines and armored ships — are not mine to give. I come equipped with something more dangerous, if I can make good use of it.”

    “And what would that be?” de Vries asked, lighting his pipe.

    “Knowledge, Commander. A little insight into what is to come. What happens to all of us — to all of this.”

    “What does happen, Mynheer?”

    “I don’t know. I can tell you that the future that was going to come about is out of the question now. In the history of my own time, New Amsterdam lasts until 1664 as a Dutch colony, then it’s ceded to another European power.”

    “The French?”

    “No,” Gordon said. “The English. This was to become one of the greatest cities in the world — New York. A huge place. A rich place. Eventually, an American place. But King Charles sold it away, and unless some English king reconsiders, this might well become a French city.”

    “I assume that Van Twiller had no interest in this.”

    “He told me that New Amsterdam had no quarrel with the French, as if Cardinal Richelieu would make some distinction when it came time for him to enforce his king’s new patent. He told me that the former English colonies could go to perdition, and he laughed at making any sort of accord with the natives. In short, Commander de Vries, if he speaks for the majority view of most of your fellow New Amsterdammers, he told me that you guys have no friends, and when the French do arrive there’ll be no one to come to your aid.”

    “He doesn’t represent a majority view, Mynheer Chehab,” de Vries said. “He doesn’t represent anyone but a small group of venal men — I don’t even think he does what his uncle, the Patroon Van Rensselaer wants him to do. I’m surprised that the Nineteen haven’t replaced him already.”

    “That’s good to hear,” Gordon said. “Then tell me: I’ve been doing most of the talking. What’s your angle?”

    “Myâ¦angle?”

    “You brought us aboard your fine ship for a reason. What do you want from me? I’ve already told you that I have no up-time flash-and-sparkle to offer.”

    “No,” de Vries said, “Apparently you do not. But you do have a vision, and you do offer the hope of a powerful alliance. I know something of your United States of Europe, watching your country change the course of the German war. I have even seen one of your airplanes fly over me in the sky: I should like to ride in one someday.”

    Gordon and Pete exchanged a glance.

    “I think you have something to offer New Amsterdam, regardless of the opinions of that idiot Wouter van Twiller. Accordingly, I should like to see what I and the Staat van Hoorn” — he gestured to his ship — “can do to further that alliance.”

     


 

    Gordon and his team had practiced the setup procedure plenty of times at the Grantville airfield, but it was the first time it had been done in the New World under time pressure. The dirigible itself was essentially a huge canvas bag reinforced by ripstop seams, which when fully inflated would be an oblong watermelon shape a hundred and fifty feet long and about sixty feet in diameter.

    The whole thing weighed more than four hundred and fifty pounds. It was hoisted over the side of Challenger and lowered onto a raft, where it was rowed to shore and hauled out by six crewmen, with a bosun there to curse them all the way to watch out for sharp rocks that might tear the cloth. “‘Tis all right, they work harder that way, Mynheer,” he told Gordon between bouts of cursing. Devout Christians of the time deplored blasphemy, but had no problem with simple profanity.

    Once the canvas was laid out flat on shore with the bow pointed upwind, they rigged a line to the fore end of the bag and attached it to an anchor, to guard against a sudden gust pulling the entire affair into the ocean. Then the sailors and cursing bosun returned to Challenger and brought back the passenger car, setting it up in the same orientation, and Gordon and Pete got to work mounting the lawnmower engines to the outside, testing the propane tanks, and setting up the fan that would enable the inflation of the canvas envelope.

    With the fan in place, Pete started up one of the engines and the blades began to spin, pushing air into the bottom of the sack. Slowly, the great canvas envelope began to fill.

    They’d chosen Oyster Island to set up John Wayne and get it into the air. It was one of a set of three low-lying islands, surrounded by vast oyster beds, located in the harbor just south of New Amsterdam. For Gordon, however, there was symbolism that none of the spectators could appreciate. Rather than the future Ellis Island or the future Governors Island, the flat, fairly circular spot where they’d decided to set up the dirigible was the future Liberty Island. In the spot where the propane burners were heating up the air was the place where the Statue of Liberty would never stand.

    “This is the up-time flash, big bro,” Pete said, hands on his hips. “This isn’t an airplane, but it’s something they’ve never seen before.”

    “Bet Van Twiller would like a ride in this,” Gordon said.

    “Bet he’s never going to get it. De Vries, on the other hand⦔

    “Maybe. I told him we were going to put John Wayne aloft, and he got this look in his eyes — as if he already knew what it was good for.”

    “Which is?” Pete asked, already knowing the answer.

    “The purpose we have it along. Recon. Up there we have a better view than anyone on the ground. Tactical advantage, as you put it — we’ll see what’s coming long before it sees us.”

    “I’m not sure about de Vries, big bro. Are you sure you want to add him to our merry band?”

    “I think he has his own reasons, Pete. We’ve got to trust someone, sometime, so I choose to trust him. He could be dangerous, but he could also be of enormous help. Staat van Hoorn is as close as we might have to a warship on our side.”

    “I’m going to keep an eye on him, if you don’t mind.”

    “No, little bro,” Gordon said. “I don’t mind a bit.”

     


 

    Among the many spectators lining the waterfront on Manhattan was a young Alsatian who knew the lines of Challenger very well indeed — and even as the lighter-than-air craft John Wayne rose into the air, he was planning what he would write in his next letter to his patron far across the ocean.


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