Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 36
The Hudson River Republic Ohio Company headquarters was less luxurious than Adriaan’s rented chambers, though considerably more defensible. The building was a three-story fortress built of stone. Its walls came to a parapet two stories up, which was patrolled by Dutchmen in polished breastplates and helmets, with long muskets. This guard paced around a pent-house level set back from the outer wall for protection. The pent-house consisted of a single large room with wood-panel walls and tall windows. Through the windows, Isaiah could see the Hudson River and Pennsland on the other side, and in the other direction the wilds of Brooklyn.
Two staircases provided access to the pent-house. The directors came up the large spiral staircase made up marble and sat in the southern two-thirds of the room at a massive dark-stained oak table. There were twelve directors–a bit of a Cahokian number, but also a pious nod to the twelve apostles or the twelve tribes of Israel. Their number included two clergymen and a publisher of some kind–Isaiah recognized the manic look in the eye and the ink-stained fingers.
The rectangular table accommodated sixteen chairs, presently containing thirteen Dutchmen. The one non-director was the company’s Secretary, a bony man with an iron bun of black hair behind his head, whose face looked as if he were perpetually sucking on a lemon. His name was Van Dongen.
While the directors waited, the company’s kitchen staff prepared food. Pannenkoeken, appeltaart, dried fruit, fried poffertjes, oliebollen flavored with cinnamon, and a selection of light wines and liqueurs made the assortment more of a dessert than a meal. None of the directors had yet touched the food, though; they sat waiting and murmuring among themselves.
Van Dongen sharpened several quill pens and neatly ordered a bottle of ink and a thick stack of foolscap.
None of them knew what the emperor wanted, but they were very anxious to hear. “Franklin is just the sort of unofficial messenger who can be used to send a confidential offer,” one director huffed.
“Confidential,” another answered, “and completely deniable after the fact.”
“Yes, yes,” Adriaan Stuyvesant huffed. “We’ll paper it up thoroughly afterward, when the time comes.”
A clerk in a gray frock coat preceded the emperor’s man. “Meneer Temple Franklin,” he said simply, and then descended again out of sight.
“Meneer.” Franklin chuckled and rubbed his belly as he climbed into view. He wore a blue frock coat whose gold thread suggested the Empire’s colors; a kerchief peeking from a breast pocket was embroidered with the ship, eagle, and horses, as well. “How I enjoy the sound of that! So Republican, so egalitarian, and above all, so frugal . . . you pare not only your cheese, but also your titles. We are all meneers here, are we not?”
“There are the serving women,” one of the preachers said. “We customarily refer to a woman as mevrouw, rather than meneer. I believe your Pennslander Germans would say fraÃ¼lein.”
Franklin cast his eye toward Wilkes and the young women. He curtsied along with them.
“Also, some of us are directors,” Adriaan Stuyvesant said loudly. The brusqueness of the comment–even more pointed than the preacher’s, and nearly to the point of being rude–recaptured Franklin’s attention. “One of us is even a chairman.”
“Oh, how embarrassing,” Franklin said. “Forgive me my democratic aspirations.”
“Your grandfather did indeed have such aspirations,” Stuyvesant said. “Lord Thomas’s grandfather may even have had them, agreeing as he did to the Assembly title of Mr. Emperor. But the man you serve is known for rather contrary inclinations.”
Franklin spread his hands in a gesture of admission. “True. And yet I’ve come with olive branches in all my pockets, Mr. Chairman. And I am ready to commence the discussion when you are.”
Stuyvesant nodded. “If we are to take any binding decisions, we shall have to embody the meeting in a formal written act. To that end, Meneer Van Dongen here will take notes of the conversation, and should we decide to proceed, will use those notes to draw up resolutions, as well as any necessary contracts or memoranda.”
“Excellent!” Franklin sat. “Meneer Van Dongen, I shall try to be succinct.”
Van Dongen bobbed his head once and dipped a quill into ink. The directors sat.
Isaiah Wilkes took a bottle of white wine and crept around the table with small, shuffling steps, offering it to each director in turn and filling glasses when asked.
“Understand that what Lord Thomas proposing is a package.” Temple Franklin stretched his shoulder and back and sank comfortable into his chair. “I am empowered to take a complete yes. I am not empowered to accept a partial yes, or to agree to any other terms.”
“Do you take us for children?” Stuyvesant bellowed. “We know what you are, Franklin. We know the limits and powers of a creature like you.”
“A creature? My goodness.” Franklin smiled. “Some of your Dutch terms sound almost insulting when translated into good Penn’s English.”
Stuyvesant raised his eyebrows and waited.
Franklin began, raising fingers to count off terms as he listed them. “Item one, all existing lawsuits between the Imperial Ohio Company and the Dutch Ohio Company to be settled with a mutual release. No payment of damages by any party.”
“That’s outrageous!” an older director snapped. Isaiah thought he might have personally been on a ship that the Imperials had burned.
“Wait, Paul,” Stuyvesant urged his fellow. To Franklin he added: “go on.”
“Item two, the release of claims between the two companies shall further provide that neither shall commence any lawsuit against the other predicated on any facts existing prior to the date of the agreement.”
Paul blustered further, but the other directors looked thoughtful.
“We’ll want some covenants,” one murmured.
“Yes, yes,” Franklin agreed, “we’ll let the lawyers at it once we’ve agreed, but on short leashes–nothing ruins a good agreement like a lawyer.”
“Go on,” Stuyvesant said again.
“Item three, for a period of ten years, renewable upon agreement of the parties, all Ohio markets to be shared and all prices to be agreed jointly by a steering committee of the two companies, having equal representation thereon.”
“Existing markets and also new ones,” Stuyvesant said.
“Naturally.” Franklin nodded.
“Deadlocks to be broken by an arbitrator acceptable to both parties, to be located in New Amsterdam.”
Franklin’s nod was slower this time. “I believe that will be acceptable.”
The directors were beginning to smile.
“Item four, all disputes between traders of the two companies to be settled by same steering committee.” Franklin hesitated, ” . . . with the same arbitration provision.”
Now the directors said nothing, but leaned forward over the table as if anxious to hear Temple Franklin’s every word. And no wonder; what he proposed went well beyond settling lawsuits, and offered something that sounded like alliance.
Isaiah had come to the meeting knowing that Adriaan Stuyvesant would feel pressured to accept a good settlement. He now became concerned that Stuyvesant would in fact accept the offer.
And perhaps betray Isaiah as a sign of good faith?
Isaiah moved to the next director. “Witte wijn, meneer direktor?” he asked in his best contralto.
Van Dongen wrote furiously.
“Item five, and this is the last item, but, mark you well, it is the most important one.” Franklin peered through his spectacles slowing around the table, meeting each man’s gaze. Only Stuyvesant flinched. “The Emperor has decided to take a Dutch wife. How did you say it? A mevrouw. Naturally, she will have to come with a dowry no less excellent than that of any other imperial bride.”
“You can only mean the dowry paid for Hannah Penn,” Stuyvesant said slowly. “As I recall, that was three hundred thousand crowns.”
“Five hundred thousand, actually.” Franklin looked Adriaan Stuyvesant directly in the eye. “Yes, that’s the appropriate amount.”
“But . . . who on earth?” Adriaan looked green in the face and his words came haltingly. “Or rather, who on the Hudson River?”
“Yes. His Imperial Majesty feared you might have a hard time deciding, so he has taken the liberty of deciding for you.” Franklin made a show of reaching into his jacket pocket to find a square of paper and then examining the name written on it. “Why, how curious! Lord Thomas has written here the name Julia Stuyvesant. Perhaps you know her, Mr. Chairman.”
Nathaniel felt a little less nervous for the fact that Jacob Hop came with him.
They lay on the floor in the attic bedroom above Ambroos’s house, and Nathaniel drummed them up seven steps and onto the starlit plain of the spirit world.
Jacob Hop stared at the sky and at the endless waves of grass and finally at Nathaniel.