1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 79:
“Admiral?” Torstensson’s voice snapped John out of his brown study. He saw that everyone was peering at him. A bit embarrassed, he realized that they’d all been waiting for him to finish whatever he was pondering over.
He still had some reservations, but none of them were really that severe. And, in any event, he was pretty sure he’d just used up all his bargaining leverage. Torstensson was looking a bit impatient.
“Yes, fine,” he said. “That should do nicely.”
“Excellent,” said the Swedish commander. “Now I propose to move on to the issue of re-fueling. John tells me that there is now sufficient diesel stocked at Lauenberg to provide enough fuel to get the ironclads through Hamburg—patience, patience, Bryan, I’ll get to the political situation in a moment—and well into the Frisian islands. But that still leaves the problem of bringing enough diesel down the river so that the ironclads can get the rest of the way.” He smiled around the room. “Which is essential, of course. I’ve seen the Frisian islands. I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy stranded on those miserable things, much less our splendid navy.”
That got a little laugh.
They spent a few minutes resolving the fuel issue. That really didn’t take long, because the key problem was the political one of getting passage through Hamburg, not supplying the ironclads once they did.
Torstensson cleared his throat. “Now. As for the politics involved—”
That seemed to take forever. John was puzzled by the fact that Torstensson was giving such a detailed recitation of the political situation involving Hamburg. There was nothing new in what he was saying. It was almost as if he were deliberately using up the time left for the meeting.
The gist of the problem was quite simple, and could be easily summarized in two or three short paragraphs.
There was no way to get the ironclads into the North Sea except by using the Elbe, and Hamburg stood astride the Elbe and Hamburg was an independent imperial city. Alas, the Hamburg authorities were still dancing about, unwilling to make any commitment. They wouldn’t say yes, they wouldn’t say no.
Alas again, with the emperor locked into Luebeck, there was no real possibility of bringing military pressure to bear. Needless to say, once the emperor broke out and began his counter-attack, his ability to snarl at the Hamburgers would escalate with incredible speed—and he snarled very nicely, thank you. But the delay involved would be enough to scramble the timing needed to get the ironclads in place for the breakout itself.
It was all very tangled. A thorny problem, indeed.
Jackson and Thorpe began to speak simultaneously, but Torstensson raised his hand. “Gentlemen, please.” He consulted his up-time wristwatch. “I’m afraid I used up too much time. Admiral Simpson still has a great deal of work ahead of him, if the ironclads are to—slip their moorings, I believe is the correct nautical expression?—the day after tomorrow.”
“At dawn, day after tomorrow,” Simpson half-growled.
“Yes. And most of the rest of you will need what’s left of the afternoon to get Mavrinac and his men ready to go. And all the rest of the preparations. So let’s not waste any more time.”
He shrugged heavily. “And a waste of time is what it would be. We’ve thrashed out the mess in Hamburg half a dozen times already. In the end, it’s a political problem, not a military one. That’ll be the emperor’s business—and decision—not ours.”
Torstensson clapped his hands on his knees. “So that it’s, then. Let’s all get about our business. Admiral, I’d appreciate it if you would remain behind.”
The cue being obvious, everyone else rose and filed out of the conference room. When they were gone, and the door had closed behind the last officer to leave, Torstensson rose and went over to the same window John had looked through before.
“The situation in Hamburg hasn’t changed a bit in months, John. And we can’t postpone deciding on a policy any longer. So—it is his decision to make—I had a long radio exchange on the matter with the emperor last night. As it happens, he’s been reading a history of the United States—the one you used to have, I mean, the one up-time—in his spare moments. He instructed me to tell you one thing and ask you two questions.”
“What he wanted me to tell you is that he is prepared to make the decision himself. But, for a variety of reasons, would much prefer it if he did not have to. The diplomatic repercussions, you understand.”
Simpson nodded. “Yes, I understand. And the questions were?”
“The first question. Are you familiar with the history of your country? Especially its military history.”
Simpson nodded again. “Fairly well, to the first. Very well, to the second.”
“Good. The emperor told me that you needed to be able to answer ‘yes’ to that question, or the next one would be meaningless.”
By now, John was intrigued. It was quite unlike Gustav Adolf to play games like this. The fact that he was doing so made it clear just how severe the “diplomatic repercussions” might be. He was not a man to shilly-shally and dance around a subject.
“And that question?”
Torstensson turned his head to look John. “The question makes no sense at all to me. But it’s quite simple. The emperor wanted me to ask you if you were willing to take Florida for him?”
After a couple of seconds, Simpson began laughing softly. He even slipped into informality. “I have to tell you, Lennart, that’s got to be the first time anyone ever compared me to that no-good class-baiting rabble-rousing bank-busting son-of-a-bitch. But, yes. You can tell Gustav Adolf that I will be his Andy Jackson. I’ll give him Florida on a plate, and if he needs to he can wash his hands of the whole thing and swear up and down he had no idea I was going to do it. Of course, just like Monroe did, he’ll keep Florida. A fait accompli is what it is.”
“Oh, splendid. No, no, please!” Torstensson held up both hands, and then brought them together as if in prayer. “Do not explain the specifics.”
“I wasn’t about to. You might very well be called upon to do some public hand-washing yourself.”
“So I might. It’s shocking, really, the sort of outrages that headstrong subordinate officers can commit when they take it upon themselves to act on their own initiative instead of remaining within the limits of sober official policy.”
He lowered his hands, and then gave Simpson a quick, stiff nod. Not quite a bow, but close.
“Should I not have the chance again, John, let me say that it has been a great pleasure to work with you.”
Simpson rose and returned the nod. “Thank you, sir. One favor, though.”
“Whatever happens, please don’t tell my wife about this conversation. My opinion of Andy Jackson is pallid compared to Mary’s. On this subject, her blood runs as blue as the Danube is supposed to and doesn’t.”
“Ah. This Andy Jackson fellow was not favored by proper folk, I take it?”
“To put it mildly.”
Quizzically, Torstensson cocked his head. “Yet… your own opinion of him is not so severe. Why is that?”
Simpson smiled. “The son-of-a-bitch got us Florida, didn’t he?”