Ounces of Prevention



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Ounces of Prevention

by Kim Mackey
When Pieter Paul Rubens entered the Brussels’ home of fellow diplomat Alessandro Scaglia he was surprised to find his friend and patron, Nicolaas Rockox of Antwerp, deep in conversation with the abate.

“Nicolaas”, said Ruben, clasping his friend’s arm as Rockox and Scaglia rose to greet him, “I didn’t know you were acquainted with Alessandro.”

Scaglia smiled and motioned for Rubens to take a seat next to him, “We do share an affinity for Flemish painters, don’t we Nicolaas?”

Rockox laughed. “Indeed we do. And since Pieter has been much occupied with the Cardinal-Infante’s diplomatic missions, we have had to look for new artists to patronize, haven’t we?”

“Actually Pieter,” said Scaglia, settling himself back into his chair, “Nicolaas is assisting me in the purchase of a house in the Keizerstraat in Antwerp and decided to visit when he learned that Anthony Van Dyck had returned from London. You know I’ve always been partial to Van Dyck’s work.”

Scaglia sat back in his chair and his eyes sharpened. “But that is why Nicolaas is here. A more interesting question I think is why are you here Pieter? Is that abominable siege of Amsterdam over yet?”

Rubens sighed.

When the Cardinal-Infante had become the Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands both he and Scaglia had offered their services to the young Spanish nobleman. Like Rubens, Scaglia had extensive diplomatic contacts throughout Europe. Unlike Rubens, however, Scaglia was acknowledged as one of Europe’s premier spymasters. Originally from Savoy, Scaglia had settled in Brussels when the pro-French Duke, Vittorio Amedeo I had ascended to the Savoy throne. Because the Duke had not wished to offend Alessandro’s elder brother, Augusto Manfredo, count of Verrua, Scaglia had been permitted to retain control of all three of his commendatory abbeys and pensions held in Savoy. Those plus the abbey of Mandanici in Sicily that had been granted by the Spanish in 1631 as a gift for his services had allowed him to maintain a sumptuous lifestyle in one of the best houses in Brussels.

What had especially attracted the Cardinal-Infante’s attention, however, was the abate’s antipathy for Richelieu. Throughout the 1620’s Scaglia had worked hard to develop extensive diplomatic contacts in France and England for Duke Carlo Emmanuele I of Savoy. He had built an excellent working relationship with the Duke of Buckingham in England and with many nobles of the French court, particularly those supporting the Protestant Duke de Rohan and the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. With the deaths of Buckingham in 1628 and Carlo Emmanuelle I in 1630, however, Scaglia had found himself out of favor, especially when he continued to push for the support of French protestants as a counter-weight to Richelieu’s growing political power.

Like Scaglia, the Cardinal-Infante was apprehensive about French intentions regarding the league of Ostend and had encouraged Scaglia to maintain and broaden his contacts with the French exile community in Brussels and elsewhere. Scaglia had further cemented his relationship with the Infante when his spies had uncovered a plot by leading Walloon noblemen, including the Duke of Aerschot, to disconnect the Spanish Netherlands from the direct control of Spain and create a neutral territory at peace with the United Provinces. While several of the plotters had been arrested, others, including the Duke, had not, and that fact had intrigued both Scaglia and Rubens. It was clear to both of them that the Cardinal-Infante was interested in far more than being a simple puppet for his brother, the King of Spain.

Rubens waved his hand in dismissal. “Unfortunately not, Alessandro. The siege continues. The cordon is somewhat looser than it has been because the Infante has had to send additional troops to Haarlem and Utrecht to put down riots and unrest by Counter-Remonstrants. The Arminians are content with the Infante’s benevolent rule, but the anti-Catholic fanatics are not and continue to campaign against him.”

A difficult knot to cut,” said Scaglia. “If he does not respond with force he emboldens the rebels, and if he uses too much force he makes them into martyrs for the cause.”

“Precisely,” said Rubens. “And in this situation, maintaining adequate troop strength is a must, which brings me to the reason why I’m in Brussels.”

Rubens took two manuscripts out of his valise and handed one to Scaglia and another to Rockox. For several minutes the men read with little comment beyond a mild exclamation or two. When Scaglia was done he looked over at Rubens and smiled. “So let me guess…you have promised the Infante that the wonderful mechanics and men of science of the Spanish Netherlands can make this elixir, this chloramphenicol. Am I right?”

Rubens nodded somewhat sheepishly. Scaglia looked over at Rockox. “Well Nicolaas, what do you think? The Acontians?”

“Perhaps,” said Rockox dubiously. “But even then…” He shrugged. “There are too many unknowns here to say for sure. We need an expert’s opinion.”

Rubens cocked an eyebrow at Scaglia. “Acontians?”

Scaglia nodded. “Followers of Jacobus Acontius. An Italian protestant from the last century who settled in England. He wrote “The Strategem of Satan” in 1565 calling for the renunciation of violence in religious affairs. The Acontian society was established to further his ideas on religious tolerance and science.” Scaglia smiled. “Think of them as more tolerant and less dogmatic yet more secretive Baconians. They are particularly strong in England and the low countries.”

Rockox suddenly sat forward in his chair. “Ah, I remember now! I believe I know someone who can help us. He would never admit his Acontian connections, but I know he has been very interested in the new science coming from Grantville. And he lives close by, in Vilvorde.”

“Vilvorde?” said Scaglia, “hmmm, is this the man who did the experiment with the tree?”

Rockox nodded. “Yes, Johann Baptista von Helmont. His wife, Margaret van Ranst, is a distant cousin of mine.”

Scaglia glanced out the window, noting the position of the sun.

“Let’s pay him a visit, shall we? Vilvorde is less than four miles away and it’s time for my afternoon carriage ride anyway.”

Rubens smiled. Perhaps this wasn’t such an impossible fool’s errand after all. Together the three men rose and walked towards the front door.
***
“Impossible gentlemen, what you ask is impossible,” said Johann Baptista von Helmont. “Or at least, impossible within any time span that will do the Infante’s army any good. Five years, at a minimum. Perhaps ten.”

Rubens shook his head in dismay. Five years.

“But surely you can get other Acontians to help you? Wouldn’t that speed up the process?”
 Von Helmont snorted. “Perhaps if they were still in The Netherlands. But they have all left, including my young and adventurous son, Francis Mercury! Those that haven’t gone directly to Grantville are working in Essen for the Essen Chemical Company or teaching or taking classes at the new applied sciences university in Bochum that the Republic of Essen has established. If you want their help you will have to provide them more incentives than Essen is offering, and that will be difficult.”

Von Helmont smiled. “From what my son writes me, the Governor-General of Essen, Louis de Geer, has gone to considerable lengths to attract the best scientific minds of Europe, particularly those young people like the Acontians who haven’t been weighted down by the Aristotelian nonsense that passes for science education at most universities across Europe.”

“But surely the manuscript can help,” said Scaglia. “It appears to be quite explicit with regards to the ingredients and apparati needed to make this chloramphenicol.”

Von Helmont snorted again. “Oh, indeed it helps, gentlemen, much like the exact diagrams for a rocket to the moon would help to build a ship to cross the far reaches of space. But the devil is in the details.”

Von Helmont brought out the manuscript to make chloramphenicol that Rubens had given him. “For example, take the ring nitration phase of this process. Not only do I need very pure sulfuric and nitric acid, which are themselves quite difficult to obtain, but I must also find some way to keep the temperature as close to zero degrees Celsius as possible at all times.” Von Helmont shook his head. “Where will the instruments come from? True, Santorio Santorio developed an air thermometer in 1612, but it was notoriously unreliable. I have a precision mercury thermometer on order from the Essen Instrument Company thanks to my son, but they have a six month backlog in all of their orders, and their priority customers in Essen have first call on any emergency equipment. If you truly want to make chloramphenicol any time in the next few years, you will have to get the cooperation of either Essen or Grantville, both in terms of ingredients and instrumentation.”

Rubens sighed. Essen. In any reasonably normal European political environment, the Republic of Essen would have been still-born or quickly repressed by the Hapsburgs. But with the League of Ostend focusing their military and diplomatic efforts on the United Provinces and the Swedish-and Grantville-supported United States of Europe, little outside backing could be given to Catholics along the Rhine alarmed at the founding of the new protestant republic.

And it showed. The latest word from Essen was that the army assembled by the Catholic Rhine Alliance had been destroyed by military forces a third their size at the battle of Wanheim Creek. Still, Louis de Geer was a famous Dutch industrialist known for his pragmatism. It was also reported that he had selected the well-known Arminian, Hugo Grotius, to be the Chief Justice of the Republic of Essen’s Supreme Court.

“So Alessandro, what do you think? Perhaps it is time we paid a visit to Essen? At the very least we can perhaps establish some useful diplomatic contacts.”

Scaglia nodded and smiled. “And other contacts as well. I am interested in meeting more of these Acontians.”
***
“God, I am so nervous.”

Nicki Jo Prickett twirled when her friend, lover and confidante, Catherine Boyle, motioned for her to turn around.

Catherine eyed Nicki critically and then readjusted the silver barrette that kept Nicki’s bun of black hair in place.

“Why?” said Catherine. “You’ve been to business and diplomatic meetings like this before. What’s the expression? Piece of cake.”

Nicki Jo shook her head. “Piece of cake? I don’t think so. Colette and Josh are both in Grantville. All the other times I’ve been able to sit back and let Colette do most of the explaining and negotiation handling. I was just along to provide the technical expertise and show myself off as the resident, token American. It’s like I’m some kind of damn talisman. They want to keep touching me to see if I’m real.”

Well I can understand that,” Catherine said softly, moving her hand down to stroke Nicki Jo’s neck, “I kind of like touching you myself.”

Nicki Jo laughed and shivered. “Now stop that you minx! I’ve got no time for hanky panky!”

Catherine laughed herself and stepped back. Nicki Jo was a year or two older than Catherine but she had been totally out of her element in the aristocratic society of 17th century Europe. As the daughter of the Great Earl of Corke, Richard Boyle, on the other hand, Catherine had been learning the ins, outs and intrigues of European nobility almost from birth. When Nicki Jo had been recruited in Grantville by Colette and Josh Modi to help develop and run the Essen Chemical Company, they had hired Catherine Boyle to assist her, along with other members of the Acontian Society who had arrived from England in mid-1632.

Catherine motioned for Nicki Jo to turn again. Clothing for businesswomen in Essen was still more conservative than Grantville but definitely trending in the right direction, in Catherine’s opinion. Nicki Jo was dressed in a dark gray stylish riding skirt with inside pockets and a white, long-sleeved, high-collared blouse. Over the blouse she had a buttoned black vest. Nicki wore a trace of red lipstick, which helped make her seem more feminine, but she needed something more…this was, after all, a male-only meeting, except for Nicki.

Catherine snapped her fingers.

“What?” said Nicki Jo.

“You need something to add to your femininity,” said Catherine, rustling through the dresser in their bedroom, “it never hurts to distract the male opposition in a business meeting…ah, found it!”

“You want me to wear that?” said Nicki Jo, pouting. “I gave you that for Christmas.”

“I know,” said Catherine, holding up a pretty black lace choker, “but business is business,” she said firmly.
***
Fortunately Nicki Jo’s nervousness vanished within the first five minutes of the meeting. It helped that the Governor-General, Louis de Geer, was there along with the Chief Justice, Hugo Grotius. She had met both men a number of times since Colette Modi was De Geer’s niece and often invited her and Catherine to go along to the De Geer household for holiday visits. It was often a fun madhouse since Louis de Geer had ten children under the age of 18.

The other two men at the meeting had been introduced as Alessandro Scaglia and Pieter Paul Rubens, diplomats from the Spanish Netherlands. Nicki Jo’s eyes had widened a bit upon being introduced to the famous painter, but she had put a firm throttle on her desire to gush.

But her nervousness totally vanished when she heard what the diplomats were doing in Essen.

“Chloramphenicol? You want to make chloramphenicol? Why in God’s name would you want to waste your resources trying to do that?”

Louis de Geer started to chuckle but quickly turned it into a cough. “Excuse me Miss Prickett. Please continue.”

Rubens waved his hand. “We have dozens, scores of soldiers dying every day from Typhus, Miss Prickett. Surely we should do what we can to save their lives.”

Nicki Jo snorted. How typical. Keep the soldiers alive but screw the damn women, children and other civilians.

“I’d like to help you gentlemen, really I would, but the Essen Chemical Company won’t be ready to produce chloramphenicol for at least another six months.” She took a deep breath. “And when we do, I have to say that it is highly unlikely that we would sell you any for saving soldiers dying of Typhus. Are you aware of what’s coming to the lower Rhine Valley in 1635 and 1636?”

Scaglia and Rubens both shook their heads.

“Plague, gentlemen, bubonic plague. Even in Amsterdam Plague killed 20 percent of the population in 1635 and 1636. In the Rhine valley itself many of the towns like Kleve saw sixty to seventy percent of their population die. So all of our chloramphenicol is going to go towards keeping plague victims alive over the next couple of years. But Chloramphenicol is the cure. What about prevention?”

Rubens looked at her with a puzzled expression. “Prevention?”

Nicki Jo nodded. “A man named Benjamin Franklin in my country up-time had a wise saying that is very apropos here; “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Perhaps you should work to prevent Typhus if you can’t cure it. Something else comes to mind…how do you know it’s really Typhus? As I recall from lectures I went to in Grantville before I moved to Essen, Typhus and Typhoid were not distinguished by doctors prior to the mid-nineteenth century. So maybe some of your Typhus cases are actually from Typhoid, which has a different disease vector entirely. And then there are diarrheal diseases. Similar vector to Typhoid. If you really want to lower the death rates for everyone, not just the army, you need to work on prevention.”

Nicki Jo smiled at De Geer. “Like we are doing here in the Republic, correct Governor-General?”

Louis de Geer smiled back. “Correct Miss Prickett.”

“What you need, gentlemen,” Nicki Jo continued, “is a complete arsenal of products to fight disease, particularly bacterial diseases that are easily transmitted by insects. Typhus is a bacterial disease that is transmitted by lice, so you need an insecticide that can be effective at killing lice. You also would like that insecticide to kill fleas, since fleas carry the plague. In addition you want a rodent killer, since rats carry the fleas that carry the plague. Then you also want a disinfectant, an antiseptic, and some antibiotics. Here in Essen we are producing a disinfectant that is also a bleaching powder, calcium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite can be used to purify water, which, in combination with a good filtration system, can cut typhoid and diarrheal diseases practically to zero. Our insecticide of choice is hexachlorobenzene, which is easier for us to produce than the DDT that Grantville is making. Most of our benzene feedstock right now, however, is going to produce aniline dyes. As an antiseptic a good choice is a pure, high-proof alcohol. In addition, to prepare for the more difficult process of making chloramphenicol, our chemists are producing small quantities of an antibiotic called sulfanilamide, which can be used to prevent wound infections.”

“Something to keep in mind, however,” Nicki Jo continued, “is that the Essen Chemical Company is a business, we can’t give this stuff away or we’ll go bankrupt. Research costs and the capital costs of building production facilities alone have run into the hundreds of thousands of guilders. We could indeed sell you, right now, hexachlorobenzene, as well as plenty of bleaching powder that could be used to prevent Typhoid and other water-borne diseases. The only difficulty is, our number one priority customer has pre-bought all our production for the next year. So you’ll have to talk to them if you want to purchase any.”

“Your number one customer?” said Rubens.

“Yup,” said Nicki, “the Republic of Essen,” she waved her hand towards Louis de Geer and Hugo Grotius.

Hugo Grotius rubbed his hands. “Shall we begin negotiations, gentlemen? I am sure we can reach some accommodation beneficial for all.”
***
The Cardinal-Infante was silent for a long time after Rubens had finished communicating the terms of the agreement that the Republic of Essen had offered.

“Well,” said the Infante, “the terms do not seem too bad. They will sell us the insecticide, the bleaching powder and the water filtration units for the cost of production plus ten percent. But why do I get the impression that there is more that you are not saying, Pieter?”

Rubens nodded. “Your are correct your Excellency, there is indeed more. De Geer will sell us what we need, but only if we allow the Republic of Essen the chance to transport an equal amount of each product into Amsterdam.”

“Is that all?” asked the Infante.

“As far as the health products are concerned, your Excellency, but De Geer had more to propose.”

The Infante motioned him to continue.

“De Geer said that he was willing to accept up to 10,000 Counter-Remonstrant exiles in Essen, provided you acquiesced to the annexation by the Republic of County Kleve and County Moers. In addition, he proposes a secret 12-year truce, effective upon the termination of the siege of Amsterdam, between the Republic of Essen and the country or political entity you represent at that time.”

“How…interesting,” said the Infante quietly. “Anything else?”

Rubens nodded. “He also proposed, Your Excellency, that The Netherlands and the Republic of Essen negotiate a NEFTA to promote trade and commerce.”

“NEFTA?”

Rubens smiled. “Northern European Free Trade Association. De Geer, being a businessman, feels that the Republic’s natural partners are the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands, particularly given the current transportation networks and commercial markets. He was also quite explicit about his fears of French hegemony. He has read some of the same histories we have, your Excellency. With regards to the French, he said, a few ounces of prevention may indeed be worth many pounds of cure.”

So, thought the Infante. De Geer knows, or guesses, what I have planned. And is willing to help.

“So Pieter, are you ready for another trip to Essen? I think Governor-General De Geer will be expecting an answer, don’t you?”

Rubens nodded eagerly.




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