1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 38
Oranjestad, St. Eustatia
Eddie turned, discovered the source of the tongue-in-cheek comments: Joost Banckert. The vice admiral had finally made his way up the dock to them, but the man who’d been walking with him earlier was still on the dock, haggling with a ship’s master over an untapped tun of wine.
“I have a similar reaction to Jan’s ‘careful planning,’ Joost,” Tromp said mildly. “Welcome home.”
“Good to be here,” Banckert replied, glancing over their heads at Oranjestad’s roofs. “Eight weeks and I hardly recognize this place. And barely enough room in the bay to fit my ships back in.”
Van Walbeeck nodded down the dock, toward the man who’d debarked with him. “Did he come aboard your ship or –?”
“No, but he sailed along with us, though. And on the biggest Bermudan sloop I’ve ever seen. When I told them about this market day, everyone in Somers Isles started falling over each other, trying to get their cargos taken on consignment. Fish in Bahamian salt, cedar, pitch, and pork — both smoked and live. Those pigs made an unholy mess and stink when we had to take them below decks during the high weather just past.” He glanced back at his guest. “He’s a good fellow, but shrewd. Hard-nosed. If it wasn’t for that thick accent of his, he could have been a Dutchman.”
“Oh, and where’s he from?”
Eddie almost laughed out loud. If any other group was in a position to teach the Dutch about being hard-nosed and shrewd businessmen, it was probably the Scots.
Banckert was studying the Dutch hulls in the anchorage. “So I am wondering why the standards of each ship’s province no longer have the pride of place at the stern. And they’re not flying the Company’s pennant at all. On the other hand, I see more of the ‘national’ colors. A great deal more.” He smiled, but it was not all mirth. “So, are we all sailing under your flag now, eh, Maarten?”
Tromp shook his head slightly. “Never mine. The banner of Hendrik of the Netherlands.”
Banckert smiled. “I see. So has he even bought up the husk of the Companies, then? Has so much changed since I sailed to the Somers Isles?”
Van Walbeeck smiled, but shook his head more vigorously than Tromp had. “You will not bait us with your grinning nonsense, Joost — though it is good to see you, regardless of your so-called sense of humor. In answer: to the best of my knowledge, the Prince of Orange has not changed his position in regard to the Companies. But they are broken, my friend, not just in the Caribbean and the East Indies. Almost all their possessions, at least here in the West Indies — we’ve had no news from the East Indies in quite some time — are in Spanish or native hands, now. So whose flag should we fly? Ours is better than Spain’s, ja?”
Banckert smiled back. “Now, Jan: if I couldn’t bait my colleagues, where would be the joy in this life? In the main I agree with what I’ve heard of the changes. But how do we make profit now, hey? Our way has always been to fight for shares, with our own ships and crews, and full freedom in how we went about our missions. Now, we have become like the Spanish, all saluting one flag, all taking orders from one man.”
Tromp had less patience for the friendly jousting than van Walbeeck. “Joost, you know perfectly well that the Companies always acted with oversight from the government.”
“Some, yes, but they always had a great deal of freedom. They — and we — did better when both the Raad and the Stadtholder watched from afar and interfered infrequently.”
The Bermudan, his negotiations over, had approached as Banckert completed his riposte. Tromp held up a hand to pause the discussion, turned to the newcomer, led the others in that fusion of bow and shallow nod that was the common greeting among those making a first acquaintance. “Sir, do I have the honor of addressing Councilor Patrick Coapland of the Somers Isles?”
The Bermudan returned the gesture, did a fair job at masking surprise. “I am he, but you have me at a disadvantage, sir. How is that you know who I am?”
“Well, there is a radio aboard my ship,” Banckert said with a smile.
“Your ship has one of these devices? And you did not tell me?” Coapland’s aggrieved tone was only half playacting.
Banckert’s smile widened. “You did not ask.”
Van Walbeeck reached out to shake the Bermudan’s hand. “I am Governor van Walbeeck, Councilor Coapland. It is my pleasure to welcome you to Orangestad and to insist that you address me as Jan.” He turned to Banckert. “And as far our arrangements with home are concerned, Joost, well, at an earlier time, that would have made for an interesting debate. But now, the matter is already settled. Prince Hendrik remains the Stadtholder. And, as a wise ruler, he well understands that commerce succeeds most when government intrudes least. But right now, we are at war.”
“With whom?” Banckert shot back. “With the Spanish dandy who now calls himself King in the Lowlands and to whom we have agreed to bow? I presume not.” He smiled wolfishly. “Or has civil war been declared while I was gone?”
Tromp sighed, folded his hands. “Joost, let us put this to rest. The Netherlands is now reunited, but Fredrik Hendrik and the Dutch provinces have full autonomy over their internal affairs. King Fernando controls foreign policy but, just like the Stadtholder, he is given to allow commercial enterprises here in the New World to run themselves as they see fit. So no state of war exists between the Netherlands and Spain. However, this island is far beyond the Tordesillas meridian which Pope Julius II affirmed as the starting point of Spain’s New World dominion. And as Madrid has asserted, there is no peace beyond that line. Ever.
“But whereas ten years ago, our business in the New World was mostly as raiders and opportunistic colonizers, we have become a decided presence, along with allies” — he glanced at Eddie — “who share the enmity of Spain. So yes, there is a war on, here. And there will be for some time. And if we were to remain a loose rabble of raiders, we would surely be swept away.”
“Perhaps that is only because we have become a permanent and growing irritant to the Spanish,” Banckert countered.
Before Eddie could stop himself, he shook his head.
Coapland’s eyes cut in his direction. “You believe differently, sir?” His gaze travelled over Eddie’s clothes, then studied the boot over his prosthetic. “Ah! As I surmised. You are the young up-time admiral, then!” He bowed.
“Merely a commodore,” Eddie corrected.
The Bermudan, whose Scots burr seemed to deepen, smiled. “Come, come. We all know whose ships have brought such changes to the balance of power in the New World, and whose presence has emboldened men such as Admiral Tromp to engage the Spanish head on. And so, have made them the permanent irritant that Admiral Banckert just mentioned.”
Eddie nodded. “Yes, that would be me. But my ships are not what caused the changes in the New World. In point of fact, they are simply the result of changes that were already occurring.”
Coapland cocked his head. “Your words are clear but their meaning is not, I fear.”
Eddie kept himself from looking at Tromp and van Walbeeck; technically, this was about the Dutch, not the USE, and so, not his debate. On the other hand, the conversation was moving into the realm of global implications, so . . . “Councilor Coapland, the changes occurring in the New World are not a product of Grantville’s technology, but its knowledge. Specifically, that which is contained in its library.”
Banckert made to interrupt but Eddie pressed on. “No one in this time foresaw that the New World would be the root cause of the power shifts that would occur during the coming centuries. That’s because they failed to realize that the real wealth was not in gold and silver, but in resources and land.
“But this time, there’s a big difference. In my world, explorers and prospectors first had to find that wealth. That took centuries. But in this world, we have maps that give us a pretty good idea of where all the major mineral deposits are. We know where the fishing is best. Which soils and regions are best for which crops. Which areas are joined by what rivers.”
He swept an arm from the north, through the west, and ending on the south. “Kings and queens didn’t — couldn’t — know how much they should invest in all those unknown places because they didn’t know what they’d ultimately be worth. Well, now they have the answers to both those mysteries. And we’re lucky that the Spanish have been so stuck in their notions of short-term conquest and wealth extraction at gunpoint that they haven’t acted upon that new information yet. But they will. Every nation’s scholars spend days and weeks in our library. If we hadn’t arrived in the middle of what our historians called the Thirty Years’ War, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more national flags flying from topgallants in this part of the world, by now.