1636 The Viennese Waltz – Snippet 17
Chapter 7: A Trip to Bohemia
As it happened, Karl’s wait for the king’s pleasure wasn’t long at all. In fact, the king’s call came as soon as they arrived at the palace. Karl was escorted to a small throne room, not the big one, more of an office really. And before he could even finish his bow, Wallenstein asked him, “Was your father a thief?”
“I don’t think so, Your Majesty,” Karl answered carefully. “Though I am aware that others hold a different view. I prefer to think he was simply a practical man.”
“Not exactly a ringing endorsement from a son.” Wallenstein snorted. “I take it you don’t think I’m a thief, either.”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“Then you would accept paper money issued by the crown of Bohemia. That is, by me!”
Karl had apparently landed in the middle of a rather heated debate. He noted the presence of Morris Roth, Uriel Abrabanel, and a few other people that he suspected were counselors to the king or money lenders. Bankers, as the up-timers would have it. He began to get an inkling of what was going on. King Albrecht was setting up his national bank. The timing seemed about right. And the king had just been told that there were problems.
Karl had a decision to make and he had to make it fast. Telling truth to power wasn’t a safe thing to do, but if what the family said about Wallenstein was true, lying about this could be incredibly costly. He hesitated, saw the expression on King Albrecht’s face, and blurted out, “Not if I could safely avoid it, Your Majesty.”
“You acknowledge that I’m not a thief, but wouldn’t accept my money?” King Al gave Karl a hard look. “Which time were you lying?”
“Neither, Your Majesty. But just because I trust your money’s value, doesn’t mean I can spend it. That would require that the person I’m buying from trust it. Sarah Wendell is the person you should be talking to about this.”
“Who is Sarah Wendell?” King Albrecht looked around the room as though she might be hiding in a corner.
“She’s the daughter of the USE Treasury Secretary,” Morris Roth explained.
“She’s his girlfriend.” Pappenheim jerked a thumb at Karl. “I read it in the National Inquisitor.”
“She was the chief financial officer for OPM before she resigned to take a post with the USE Federal Reserve,” explained Uriel Abrabanel.
“She’s just outside,” Karl said, all of them speaking pretty much simultaneously.
King Albrecht took it all in, or at least he seemed to. He motioned to the soldier waiting by the door, “Invite the young lady in.”
Sarah entered the room to see the king in a chair only a little grander than the chairs of the others in the room. Except for Karl, they were all sitting. Pappenheim was on the king’s right, Morris Roth and Uriel Abrabanel on his left. There were three other men she didn’t recognize. She did an awkward curtsey and went to stand beside Karl.
She wanted to take his hand but doubted that would be appropriate. She wondered when taking his hand had become such a natural first response.
The king looked at her and at him, and waved them to chairs. “Miss Wendell, Prince Karl here says you’re the person I should be talking to about introducing Bohemian paper money. That you can explain to me why my money will be no good in spite of the fact that Karl says he trusts me?
Suddenly she didn’t want to hold Karl’s hand. She wanted to hit him in the head. Hard!
Karl saw her expression and, risking royal displeasure, hastened to explain. “His Majesty asked me if I trusted him, then if I would take his money. I remembered how you had explained the situation regarding me issuing money on my lands.”
“Who gave you permission to issue money?” King Albrecht asked.
“No one, Your Majesty, and I hadn’t brought up the subject. It was a preemptive lecture, lest I should fail to consult them before doing anything so foolish.”
“So my issuing money is foolish?”
“No, Your Majesty. My issuing money would be foolish.”
Sarah was not by nature a pushy person — at least, she didn’t think she was. But she didn’t like being bullied nor did she like those around her being bullied. “Actually, Your Majesty, your issuing money would be equally foolish. No, it would be more foolish! Karl wasn’t personally involved in Kipper and Wipper, only his family was. You, on the other hand, were one of the major beneficiaries.
“Holy Roman Empire money is the next best thing to waste paper in the USE, in large part because Karl’s Uncle Gundaker is Emperor Ferdinand’s finance minister and he, like Karl, wasn’t involved.”
“Actually, Gundaker was instrumental in getting us the deal.”
Sarah stopped and took a deep breath. “I didn’t know that, Your Majesty, and it’s really beside the point. If the name Gundaker von Liechtenstein was enough to ruin the credibility of HRE paper, what do you think Albrecht von Wallenstein is going to do to Bohemian paper?”
“She is right, Your Majesty,” Morris said.
“Maybe so, but I doesn’t make me like being called a thief.”
“I didn’t call you a thief, Your Majesty,” Sarah said. “If you and the others had known in 1618 what we know now, it would have been different. You could have introduced silver-backed paper money, used a partial reserve system with a guarantee of silver on demand and added more money without ill effect. But you didn’t have the knowledge. It was acquired bit by bit over centuries. No one knew. But, however noble your motives, today the names Liechtenstein and Wallenstein are not names to instill confidence in monetary policy.”
“What name is then?”
“Up-timer,” Karl said quickly, “Perhaps Abrabanel, but ‘Someone von Up-time’ would be best. Preferably someone who worked at the Grantville Bank or the Credit Union. In fact –” He waved at Sarah. “– Sarah would be among the best choices, if she were interested in the job.”
“I’m too young,” Sarah said.
“I disagree,” said Uriel Abrabanel. “Sarah’s paper on comparative economics and the effect of the American dollar is read all over Europe. As are several others.”
“And I’m not looking for a job,” Sarah added. “Besides, what you really need is the bank to be independent of the crown, even if you got me to head it. It wouldn’t matter unless it was made clear that you couldn’t order me to create money because you wanted a new palace.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” said Uriel Abrabanel. “‘Up-timer’ is a word to conjure with, especially in financial matters.”
“Remember all the fights between Coleman Walker and the President, ah, Mike Stearns –” Sarah corrected herself. She thought of Mike Stearns as the President of the USE because he had been the leader of her nation in a couple of very formative years. But, in truth, his fights with Coleman Walker had been as much when he was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee as when he was the President of the New US. “Those fights were a lot of what gave the American dollar its credibility. It was clear that the government couldn’t just create money, and that the money had to represent something real. Even if almost no one knew what GDP meant, everyone was convinced it meant something.”