1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 37
“A large part of our goal was to see the lay of the land, to understand what was going on in the New World. But it’s clear that we can accomplish something more important — to forge friendship, if not alliance, between all of France’s enemies here in North America. All of you — the Danes in Newfoundland, the English colonies in Massachusetts and along the Connecticut River as well as the ones in Maryland and Virginia, you here in the New Netherlands, and even the native tribes that are friendly to any of you and hostile to the French — could work together against the threats that exist and the ones that are to come in the future. You outnumber the French here in the New World. You have more guns, more potential soldiers, and you all have something to lose.
“What’s more, you need to do this for yourselves and largely by yourselves. The New World is at the end of a logistical tail thousands of miles long. The very thing that has prevented the cardinal from executing his king’s warrant across all of North America makes it extremely difficult for anyone in Europe to help you.”
* * *
Van der Glinde left to go ashore. Gordon and Pete stood at the rail watching the lanterns at the tillers bob as little boats crossed the sound to Manhattan Island, the place that would never become New York.
“I don’t think he got the answer he was looking for, big bro,” Pete said.
“We couldn’t give it to him. He wanted — he wants — the magic wand, the magic up-timer technology that makes us invincible. The problem is that it doesn’t exist. One good musket ball, one bolt of lightning, one bad case of any number of diseases and we wind up just as dead. We’re as vulnerable as anyone born to this time, and every passing year makes it worse.”
“I think he knows that, Gord. I don’t think he sees us as supermen. I don’t think anyone does, not Richelieu, not anyone. They’re afraid of how we think. American ingenuity, all that. We’re all like that guy on TV who could take two pieces of string and a tin can and a pack of matches and build himself a Chevy or whatever.”
“MacGyver. I loved that show.”
“Yeah, I remember. They think every American they meet is MacGyver. And we are, to them.”
The lantern was almost out of sight. Challenger rode gently at anchor; above, the sky was full of stars.
“If he didn’t like our answer,” Gordon said at last, “wait until their governor hears what we have to say.”
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.
“So…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.”
“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 were…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 and…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.”
“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 meanwhile…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.