1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 43

“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.”