Brussels

1637

“Noted, Your Majesties. Next on the budget agenda is an item from the marine desk to begin work on precise charts of the approaches to the principal ports for the benefit of the proposed deeper vessels.”

The queen silently pointed to the fine new Augsburg clock at the far end of the council chamber, where the stately swing of its pendulum ticked off the seconds. The king glanced toward it, and laid down the paper in his hand. “Unfortunately, we cannot consider it at this moment. The audience with the envoy from the Penacook tribe is due shortly. That might seem a small matter, but I find it advantageous to be known for keeping such meetings at the agreed time.”

The councilors and functionaries scrambled hastily to their feet and bowed as the king and queen rose. The recording clerk’s pen pirouetted across the page. “Yes, Sire, cannot consider at this time.”

****

The scene was reminiscent of nothing so much as a Rembrandt masterpiece, though not one painted in this world as yet. The dozen men who rose from their chairs as Adriano entered the chamber were dressed in a manner befitting the cream of the Netherlands’ merchant fraternity, as indeed they were. “Welcome, mijnheeren. I am Adriano Navarro, of His Majesty’s staff. I regret this delay of a few moments, but it was unavoidable. Please, be at ease. Will you take wine? Or some good Dutch beer?” At the brief flicker of smiles on a few of the faces, his left hand swept though an exquisitely polished gesture in the general direction of the footman by the door. “Maarten will see to it.”

He settled into the one empty chair in the circle, and flourished a sheaf of papers. “Now, then, your letter to His Majesty has been directed to my attention.” He turned to the portly burgher on his right. “Everyone seems to be looking your way. Will you make the introductions?”

“Very well, Señor Navarro. I am Wolfert van Raaphorst, representing a consortium of marine insurers. Next to me is Chardus Hoosters, trading overseas in rare metals and ores of interest to our near neighbors to the east. Then Jan Smits, in the coastal freight business . . .

” . . . and last, Marcel Breault, associated with Essen machinery interests.”

“I am honored to meet you all. And so we come to the purpose of your visit, and what you wish to bring about, presumably with His Majesty’s assistance. Of that, I find myself uncertain.”

Van Raaphorst glanced toward Smits, who nodded and lowered his glass. “You are perhaps aware, Señor Navarro, that some United States mapmakers have recently sounded and charted the way across the shallows to the harbor they control at Harlingen, and have marked the channel with buoys and stone monuments, carrying bells and whistles that sound clearly across the water? And that far from keeping these charts to themselves as military or trade secrets, their government map office sells them to whoever will pay?”

“No, but please continue.”

“Well, then, because of these marks and charts, and very fine charts they are, the harbor there can be approached more safely than before, even in fog and darkness. And now, we find that of the mariners who formerly frequented Amsterdam, some prefer to land their cargoes at Harlingen instead. This is a concern to us, and not to our profit. The loss of business here is not great, but neither is it nothing. I would imagine that His Majesty would also prefer that merchant traffic not be given reason to go elsewhere?”

Adriano took a small sip, keeping a polite expression on his face while he thought. “I see. You may well be right. And what, in your opinion, should be done, or can be done?”

“I believe what was done for Harlingen must also be done for Amsterdam, so that our commerce may remain healthy. Our harbor and the routes to the sea must be charted and marked, so that ships can find their way and not wander into the shoals. They have a government map office engaged in this work for all their harbors and approaches. We in the Netherlands need the same.”

Adriano swirled the wine in his glass, focusing on it for several heartbeats. He raised his eyes again and surveyed the circle. “A government map office, yes. The logic seems unassailable. But mijnheeren, I regret to have to tell you that His Majesty’s resources are limited. You are perhaps aware that the marine radio station at Vlissingen, even with the not-so-confidential helping hand of those same foreigners, didn’t come cheap, and commercial messages aren’t paying all of its costs. At least, not yet. And there are other measures under diplomatic discussion, which I’m not at liberty to disclose as yet, which will surely benefit you all if they should come to fruition. As worthy as a mapping and charting establishment must surely be, I regret to inform you that revenues and costs being what they are, there is little prospect that any of His Majesty’s funds could be forthcoming.

“On the other hand, it appears to me that among you all, there are more than sufficient means. Tell me, if marine charts were offered for sale in our ports, would mariners pay a good price?”

The men looked at each other, then van Raaphorst looked at him. “I’m not sure I understand you, Señor Navarro. Is His Majesty offering us a monopoly on making and selling marine charts of Dutch waters?”

“A monopoly? By my faith, no! Are you unaware of the many discussions His Majesty has had as to where wealth comes from, and how it is created, with Mr. Wendell, with young Mr. Bartley, with the formidable Richterin, the Earl of Arundel, and many others? A monopoly, in this day and age?

“No, you need only register your charting and publishing venture with the proper office, and you will be at liberty to proceed as you will. I wish you success and profit in your enterprises.”

Adriano rose, and bowed to the room.

“Please, finish your wine. Maarten will see you out when you’re ready.”

He turned and left for his next appointment.

****

“Ah, everyone is here. We’re fortunate to have some time open this afternoon to deal with postponed business. If I remember correctly, we were about to consider a budget item for marine charting when we last met?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, but that seems to be no longer required. In the interim, Señor Navarro has apparently persuaded a company of merchants to take it on as a commercial venture, saving the Crown the cost.”

“Really? He managed that with our tight-fisted Netherlanders? Most excellent.”

The queen smiled. “A valuable young man to have in our service, Fernando. We must keep an eye on him and see how he does in the future. Well, let’s go on to the next item.”

****