1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 47
Luebeck, USE naval base
“Please, have a seat.” Admiral Simpson gestured toward a comfortable looking divan with four equally-comfortable-looking chairs clustered around a low table. The ensemble was located in one half of what Ulrik took to be the admiral’s office. Part of his suite, rather. He could see other rooms connected to it, in one of which he spotted an up-time computer perched on a long desk.
The walls were decorated with paintings, but they were seascapes rather than the usual portraits. Three of them were representations of sailing vessels underway.
The variation from custom in the decor was a subtle reminder of the differences between the American and down-timers. At least, down-timers who could afford to commission art work in the first place. For such down-timers, the art’s purpose was in large part to remind anyone who looked — perhaps themselves, first and foremost — of their lineage. To a very large degree, though not always and not entirely, it was that ancestry which explained and justified their present status.
Americans also cherished their ancestry, Ulrik had discovered, but the logic behind that esteem was often peculiar from a down-timer’s standpoint. He’d been struck, for instance, by the fact that several Americans with whom he’d discussed the matter claimed — with great obvious pride — to number a “Cherokee” among their ancestors. In one case, a “Choctaw.” Curious, Ulrik had looked up the references and discovered the Cherokees and Choctaws were barbarian tribes who’d been conquered by the white settlers of North America. Conquered, and then driven entirely off their land into the wilderness.
All Americans who could do so — which many couldn’t, since they were the product of recent immigration — boasted of their polyglot lineage. Father’s side is mostly Polish, but with some Irish mixed in there. Mother’s side is part-Italian, part-Pennsylvania Dutch — those were actually Germans, not Dutch — and part Scots-Irish.
Something along those lines was what you generally heard, where a European nobleman would stress the narrowness of his line. Its purity, to look at it another way.
Not royal families, of course. There simply weren’t enough of them to avoid constant marriages across national lines. But that simply reinforced the status of royal blood as a special category of its own.
For the up-timers, the pride they took in their lineage had very little to do with their present status. That was defined almost entirely by their occupation. Indeed, it was considered a mark of honor for a man to have achieved a high position without the benefit of family patronage, although such patronage was certainly common and not derided.
So, John Chandler Simpson’s walls had paintings of ships and the sea on them. As well he might, given the ships in question. Ulrik had enjoyed this second crossing of the Baltic in an ironclad even less than the first. The warships were tolerable enough in calm waters, if you could ignore their acrid stench. But any sort of rough seas — and it didn’t take much, for a sea to be rough for an ironclad — made them thoroughly unpleasant. On two occasions, Ulrik had begun to worry that they might sink.
The one thing he hadn’t been worried about, however, was Chancellor Oxenstierna. Had a Swedish warship crossed their path and tried to prevent the Union of Kalmar from taking its royal passengers to their destinationâ€¦
But its commander never would have tried in the first place. No more would a mouse try to impede a bull crossing a pasture. The ironclads completely dominated any patch of the seas they passed through.
Simpson’s ironclads — and, as the diagrams and designs on some of the walls in the anteroom showed, the same man was now creating a new line of warships. Sailing ships, these, but Ulrik didn’t doubt they would overshadow any sailing ships that currently existed in any navy in the world.
Once they were seated, Simpson asked: “Would you care for any refreshments?” He looked at Caroline Platzer. “I have some real coffee, I might mention.”
Platzer’s hand flew to her throat, her expression one of histrionic relief and pleasure. “Oh, thank Go — gosh. Yes, admiral, please. A bit of cream, if you have it.”
“Sugar? I have some actual sugar, too, it’s not the usual honey.”
“Really? Then, yes, I’d appreciate some sugar also.”
The admiral turned to the down-timers. “Your Highnesses? Misterâ€¦ ahâ€¦”
“Baldur Norddahl,” said Ulrik. “He is myâ€¦ ahâ€¦”
The admiral smiled thinly. “I’m familiar with Mr. Norddahl, at least by reputation.”
Baldur looked a bit alarmed. Perhaps for that reason, he asked for nothing. Ulrik and Kristina both settled on broth.
The admiral rang a small bell that had been sitting on a side table. A moment later, a servant appeared. A naval enlisted man, judging from the uniform, not a house servant.
And there was another variation in custom. Americans used servants — indeed, ones who’d been wealthy like Simpson were quite accustomed to doing so — but they used them differently. Even a man as powerful and prestigious as Simpson did not think twice about asking his guests for their preferences, as if he were a mere waiter in a restaurant. The orders taken, he would then summon a servant to do the actual work — but he would have to summon them. Usually, with a bell of some sort. He couldn’t simply crook his finger at one of the servants already in the room. There weren’t any.
This was an American custom that Ulrik had already adopted for his own, and had every intention of expanding into imperial practice once he and Kristina were married. He would gladly exchange the trivial chore of having to ring a bell for the great advantage of having some privacy — the one commodity that was in shortest supply for a royal family.
There were two other advantages to the custom, as well, both of them cold-bloodedly practical. The first was that it made it more difficult for enemies to spy on you. They couldn’t just suborn one of the servants. The second was that it would add a bit to the patina of egalitarianism that Ulrik intended to slather all over the new dynasty.
In truth, Ulrik was not burdened with any high regard for egalitarianism. But that sentiment was already burgeoning in this new world and he knew it would only continue to swell. Establishing the new dynasty’s friendliness toward the sentiment — perhaps no more than a tip of the hat, here and there, but polite formalities were important — was just part of the surfing process.