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1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 08:00 EDT



Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

    Moments after retrieving the already-anxious Cuthbert Pudsey, a familiar voice with a Dutch accent inquired, “Do you approve of the preparations, Lady Anne Cathrine?”

    She turned after an instant’s delay: the time it took for her to be sure that she had successfully pasted a smile over her expression of surprise and fear that, somehow, someone had seen her eavesdropping in the infirmary.

    Maarten Tromp was standing just to one side, hands folded before him. As he often did, he radiated fatherly approval and regard — which at this moment, made her feel incongruously like a naughty, sneaky, child, even thought she had now almost reached the unthinkably advanced age of eighteen. “Why yes, Admiral,” she answered, glancing at the sail-derived pavilion and the crude tables beneath it, “I could not approve more. Not that my approval is of any particularly importance!”

    Whereas Leonora nodded and announced, “They seem quite wonderful!”

    He smiled, beginning to stroll as he gestured at his intended path, inviting them to walk with him. “I must differ with you regarding the importance of your approval, Lady Anne Cathrine. You and your sister have seen more of such events than anyone else here. With the exception of the others that came with you from your father’s court, none of us are well-acquainted with the staging of such large celebrations.” He chuckled. “I fear that you will have to be willing to tolerate a large measure of what burgers and the gentry consider ‘an entertainment.'”

    Anne Cathrine did not have to summon or amplify her responding laugh. “Admiral, if you could only imagine how dull and downright plodding the majority of state affairs prove to be. Most of the men are too old, busy, and ‘dignified’ to dance, whereas their wives are equally old, busy, and self-conscious of the infirmities that impede their grace. And for every such infirmity that is actual, there are a dozen that are imagined, though they may be painfully real in the minds of those who believe themselves afflicted. The food is plentiful, and so, wasted in quantities that would feed whole villages. The wine and drink is equally plentiful, but the opposite problem obtains; so much is consumed that felicity becomes besotted carousing.”

    “And conjugal incapacity later on,” Leonora added casually. When she noted Tromp’s startled stare and Cuthbert’s delighted surprise, she blinked. “What? Are we not simply speaking truths that society is typically too polite to utter?”

    Anne Cathrine smiled winningly, while thinking, Dear sister, would that your social sensibilities were so well-tuned as your intellectual gifts. Aloud: “My sister’s convictions, and the courage with which she shares them, are among the rarest of gifts. Alas that she hasn’t the time to share more.”

    “I don’t?”

    Anne Cathrine tried to make sure that her smile did not evolve into a grimace. “You have forgotten? That you and Sophie agreed to prepare for the party together?”

    Leonora’s eyelids opened wider. “Oh, yes! I quite forgot! You must excuse me!”

    The others waved her on her way. Anne Cathrine was simply glad that the excuse was genuine; Sophie and Leonora had indeed felt that it would be pleasant for them to help each other primp for the great event. Whereas, had Anne Cathrine fabricated a groundless excuse on the spot, Leonora would almost certainly have argued that there was no such appointment, rather than taking the hint. Instead, she ran off with the blind abandon spawned by that sudden fixity of purpose observable in fourteen-year-olds the world over, nobility or not.

    Pudsey looked around for her escort. “Er, Lady Sophie, about your sister…”

    Anne Cathrine was doubly relieved. “Go with her until she is safe in our house, Cuthbert. I am sure that the admiral or one of his staff will see me safely home.”

    Tromp smiled at the mercenary-become-protector-of-noble-ladies. “My word on it.”

    “Obliged, sir!” Pudsey answered and trundled after Leonora.

    Before Anne Cathrine could speak, Tromp began walking, murmuring, “I am glad for this opportunity to speak with you.”

    “What about, Admiral?”

    Tromp made a huffing sound that took her a few seconds to recognize as a heavily suppressed chortle. “Merry-making.”

    She smiled. “I doubt I am your best resource for that! I have attended many balls and dances and dinners, but have not spent a moment ever planning one or observing the process.”

    Tromp nodded as they strolled out from under the west pavilion and crossed in front of the entrance to Government House. “And yet you have more experience of them, from which we may hope to interpolate what must go into their making.”

    She tried not to frown. “Admiral, I am flattered that you reside such trust in my opinions, but at this late hour . . .”

    He held up a hand as they stopped in front of Government House. “I fully realize that this is an extraordinary imposition, made more so by coming to you at, almost literally, the last possible minute. But before you object, please, let me explain.

    “Lady Anne Cathrine, as you could not have failed to notice, I am not a man who has spent much time observing society, let alone the ways of the nobility. All I know about entertainments, regardless of their type, is whether I am enjoying them or not. My colleagues and officers are cut from the same cloth; our involvement has always been in matters that are intensely practical, if not barbaric. We are military men, after all.

    “In consequence, we planned carefully for these days when so many people would come to Oranjestad, for this opportunity to fix it in so many minds as a hub not only of commerce and power, but society, opportunity, and entertainment. So naturally, we always envisioned a party, but particularly a dance, an event where new romantic friendships may be kindled and so, start to bind all our islands together with even stronger ties. But in all of those considerations, no one ever stopped to ask: ‘but who shall oversee this party?'”

    He looked up at Government House, the facade of which was three stories high. Its wings and the rear extension were only two floors. “We considered the space we needed, we allowed for food and drink, where they would be prepared and in what quantities. We asked for volunteers to help with that service and promised tariff relief as an incentive, and so accrued more willing hands than we know what to do with. We even contacted the musicians among us, who used the last two days of strolling the streets as a time to rehearse and prepare.

    He sighed. “We were military men approaching this objective as we would any other; identify and gather resources at the time and place where they are needed.” He huff-laughed again. “But somehow, we missed the final analogy that should have been the first thing we determined: to recruit a knowledgeable commander for this enterprise.” He glanced at Anne Cathrine.

    “Admiral, even if I was capable and willing to take on this great enterprise” — God forbid! I’m better at a council table or commanding defenders, and I’d prefer the dangers of either before the drudgery of this! — “I am expected to be at the party. I was honored to have so many notes sent to my house expressing the fond hope that I might reserve a minute of the evening to spend with its sender.” She smiled. “I also know what those requests really mean. They are oblique attempts to gain access to my ear. The majority of those correspondents hope to enlist my support, or acquaint me with an issue germane to their own interests, or speak to any one of a number of important people who are routinely in my circle of acquaintance: Hannibal Sehested, Governor Walbeeck, you, my husband, even my father.”

    She put a hand to her head; it was really rather dizzying as, speaking it out all at once, she realized just how big a fish she had become in this little pond. “I agreed to dozens of such brief meetings that will, I am sure, all go on too long. Governor van Walbeeck prevailed upon me to do so, if for no other reason than these are all persons who are wealthy, influential, or ambitious. And the more of them who know that they will be able to speak with me, the more of them will attend. And the more of them who attend, the more prestigious the event becomes, and so the desire to be seen at it spreads like wildfire. And so it has. And so I may not be absent from the event, given the role to which I am already committed.”

    At about the halfway point of her explanation, Tromp had again folded his hands patiently in front of him. “That is why I am asking you to give us only an hour now. To answer the questions of the volunteers and servers, not officer them through the event. We lack the knowledge to tell them what will please the guests the most, what music and dances were last in fashion, how and when to best serve food and drink.”



    “But I do not know these things.”

    “Perhaps not, but they will listen and obey what you tell them, Lady Anne Cathrine.” He smiled. “You may constantly point out that you are ‘only’ a king’s daughter, but they still refer to you as ‘the princess’. Without that voice of authority, they will continue to bicker with each other. You need not be knowledgeable, but even so, you will have far more knowledge than any of them, simply by dint of having been present at such expansive entertainments.”

    An hour. She really didn’t have the time. But on the other hand —

    Her future was here, she realized in a sudden rush. This New World, this place far away from the viper pits of Danish — no, of European — nobility: this was where she felt more vibrant, more alive, more useful, than she ever had in her entire life. And maybe, just maybe, she could have a hand in guiding it to evolve toward . . . toward what?

    Toward something better, affirmed a blunt, practical voice in her head. Toward a community where one’s daughters and principles and “friendships” were not employed as chess-pieces in a sweeping, unending, and insufferable game of accruing and preserving power. She did not envision a Utopia; she already knew too much of human nature to consider that anything more than a quixotic dream. But she could help make this New World better, perhaps much the same way that Grantville had wrought wondrous changes in the old one.

    She turned to Tromp. “Yes. I will help. Would you be so kind as to escort me there?”



    Three hours later, Anne Cathrine emerged from the same door, where Tromp — who had been called to other matters — had agreed to meet her when she sent for him. She was exhausted but energized. She did not care much for the topics upon which she had been called to make decisions, but, well — she most certainly did like making decisions. And here in the New World, she was not being pushed behind those who held power; she was being drawn forward to wield it. Her thoughts flashed to Eddie, and she felt blood rushing to the places where thoughts of him usually hastened it.

    But upon seeing Tromp, she stilled that as best she could and nodded at him. “I believe you shall find that this evening’s entertainment will still be chaotic, but at least its delivery shall not be divisive.”

    He bowed deeply. “Lady Anne Cathrine, you have done all that I could have hoped and more.”

    “Then Admiral, I wonder if you will do something for me in return.”

    Tromp was too experienced to be giddy at the prospect of furnishing recompense for her efforts; it was the way of kings and their families, and it was one of their least welcome habits. He stood, almost stiffly. “Certainly.”

    She gestured at Government House behind him. “This place is a mystery. I would have you explain it to me.”

    He frowned. “I am not sure what you are referring to, Lady Anne Cathrine.”

    “It was originally built as the Governor’s House. I remember the first time I saw the inside of it.”

    Tromp nodded. “The New Year’s party. Just six months ago.”

    “Yes. A quaint and intimate event compared to what will be held here in but four hours. But between that first event and this one, and without any announcements, it became Government House. Two immense wings to either side, an even greater expansion to the rear to create a great hall.” She began walking in the direction of the house she and Eddie had been given as the senior representatives of a foreign power. “Why these changes?”

    Tromp put his hands behind his back, head down, and considered a moment before answering. He resembled a school master, again.

    “There are ticklish subjects involved in this explanation. I will trust that you will not share them with anyone except your husband.”

    “He is not already aware?”

    Tromp shrugged. “Very possibly. It was not purposefully kept from him. But he was busy with the planning and preparations for the interception of La Flota, and there was no reason to distract him with such details.

    “So: when the time came for Jan — Governor Walbeeck — to take up residence in the Governor’s House, he decided it would be unwise. After seeing the almost desperate merriment of the New Year’s Party, he came to realized that the building was sorely needed by the community as a place to gather, whether to celebrate, debate, or mourn.

    “He also perceived that, although it is a colonial tradition that the governor should have a separate, and large, residence, there were political frictions here on St. Eustatia which made that inadvisable. Too many of our people were still living in tents. And if resentment for that privilege struck even the smallest sparks of resentment, our political opponents — this island’s stubborn and increasingly obstreperous slaveholders — were likely to attempt to fan those sparks into a conflagration.”

    Anne Cathrine frowned. “Could they have succeeded, do you think?”

    Tromp shrugged again. “Even if they had not, van Walbeeck foresaw that if the slave-holders made so overt an attempt to undermine our authority, that act would draw permanent battle lines. Even if the colonists were indifferent or unfriendly to their cause, the resulting pall of discord and animus would not readily dissipate. Morale would have suffered when we needed it to be strong. So van Walbeeck elected to retain his apartment in the fort until a more modest domicile could be built for the governor’s use.

    “Within weeks, however, we began discovering yet another reason why we needed to convert the Governor’s House into Government House; we needed more space for our administrators and officials. More specifically, with the USE’s fleet permanently in the New World, and trade ties rapidly increasing between the cast-off communities that had once been England’s possessions, we found ourselves appointing a harbor master, a customs and tariff office, a sheriff, a court of justice, a deeds and titles registry and archive.”

    Anne Cathrine raised an eyebrow. “I have been told that Spanish colonies often do without such formalities for years, even decades.”

    Tromp nodded. “And that is quite true, but that is because their leadership in the New World follows the true nature of governance in Spain itself: highly centralized autocratic power. They only introduce additional layers of control when they must, which creates a rigid, tiered hierarchy in which even the lowest positions are as often filled by nepotism as proven qualifications.”

    Anne Cathrine smiled. “Whereas you innovative, independent, and contentious Dutch rely on public offices not merely for order, but to prevent excessive centralization of power.” She smiled wider when Tromp glanced at her sharply, surprised, but also pleased. “My father has made quite a study of your government. He admires it. He also fears that if that model becomes popular in Denmark, it might undermine his throne.”

    Tromp chuckled. “Yes, because our system is so much better: a marginally competent civil service shot through with a double skein of bribery and cronyism.”

    They shared a laugh. They then walked in silence for almost a minute.

    Anne Cathrine looked up at him. “So, you do not feel the Dutch system is much better than a monarchy?”

    Tromp frowned, head down as he walked and reflected. “I simply meant to underscore that it is by no means perfect, or even particularly fair.” He paused as they arrived at her door. “But I will not serve an absolute king, and would die fighting to keep my country from having one. If I felt otherwise, our half century of struggle against the Spanish means we were not fighting for our freedom, but over whose collar we would wear.”

    She smiled slowly. “I shall see you again tonight, Admiral.”

    “That shall be my honor and my pleasure, Lady Anne Cathrine. Here comes Pudsey; my happy duty escorting you is at an end.” He bowed and left at a brisk walk.

    Pudsey approached. “That seemed a most serious talk you were having with the Admiral, Lady Anne.” He tried to inject a lighter tone. “From the looks on your faces, it seemed as if you might be solving the problems of this old world.”

    “No,” she mused, looking after the admiral’s retreating and entirely average figure, “we were talking about how best to build this new one.”

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