Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Bavarian Crisis: Chapter Thirty

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2005 07:52 EDT



Munich, Bavaria

    “Yes, I am.”

    “No, you are not.”



    “Am!” Dona Mencia sighed. These morning walks through the Hofgarten severely stressed her knees, especially when the archduchess became agitated and started striding at full speed. “With all due apologies, Your Grace, you are being foolish. Someone must remain in your apartments to carry through with the cover story of your illness.”

    Maria Anna’s expression could only be described as mulish. “I am not leaving you behind.”

    “You are. You will. Or you will greatly endanger not only yourself, but all of the other members of your household who have supported you and who are leaving to make their way back home.” Dona Mencia made her voice as firm as she could while still keeping it soft enough that no one else could hear her.

    Maria Anna looked at her. It is your clear duty. It is God’s will. The voices that had surrounded her all her life were not gone. The only difference, it seemed, was that now they lived in Dona Mencia rather than in Papa, Mama, and Father Lamormaini, her tutors and her governesses.

    “They will arrest you. And....”

    “It is to be hoped,” Dona Mencia said, “that they will not. And that is all you need to know, Your Grace. Just carry that hope in your heart.”



    It was so close to the time to leave, Maria Anna thought, that she could risk offending Frau Stecher. More than, for some reason, her very existence appeared to offend Frau Stecher.

    As the dressmaker adjusted the high, stiff, lace-edged collar for the dress she would wear to attend the play, Maria Anna suddenly threw her head back.

    “Ouch! Frau Stecher, that was not called for.”

    “What was not called for, Your Grace?”

    “You poked me. And hard.”

    Frau Stecher was fairly sure that she had not.

    “Leave the room. At once. Let Susanna Allegretti remain behind to complete the fitting. Her hands are more delicate.”

    Maria Anna had never before had the joy of giving in to an unreasonable temper tantrum, but she thought that she was doing it rather well. Especially since, if she didn’t manage to do it perfectly, everyone else would just put it down to pre-wedding nerves. Three more days to the wedding.

    “Everyone else, too. Out!”

    Dona Mencia remained behind.

    “That means you, too! And close the door behind you.”

    Dona Mencia left.



    Such a responsibility! From the archduchess herself!

    Susanna’s hands shook as she inserted the pins at the base of the collar. They had to be just right if the stitching was to cause it to stand at the correct angle, framing the archduchess’ face.

    “You do understand?”

    “Yes, Your Grace. I understand. When I join the others in the group of which I am a member, I am to tell them that we do not leave Munich right away. We are to wait, somewhere that we ourselves decide. We are to wait until Dona Mencia cannot keep up the deception any longer. Then we are to make sure that she gets away safely. Upon our most sacred honor.”

    “That,” Maria Anna said, “is definitely the general idea. If you have trouble persuading the other members of your group, show them this.” She grinned down at the tiny girl; then handed her a note.

    “Susanna, have you ever read any of the books from Grantville?”

    “Ah, no, Your Grace.”

    Maria Anna’s grin grew more reckless. “I have. The few that have been brought to me, that I have been able to obtain, in spite of how carefully I am watched. One was a fascinating book. I left it behind in Vienna, with the cloth merchant who helped with the masque costumes. Just as well, since you found that man in my oratory here, leafing through my prayer book.”

    She threw her head back. “The author was named Benjamin Franklin. Dona Mencia says that she has hope. But, perhaps, hope can be given a stronger foundation. God helps those who help themselves.”

    She decided. To this girl, she would say what no one else but Dona Mencia knew. All the others believed that she was returning home. She leaned down, whispering. “Save Dona Mencia, for me, Susanna. And do not go to Vienna, then. Come to Brussels. Come to me in Brussels and join my household there.”



    This was the day. Mary Ward looked at them. “We are going now and taking the risk that we may be captured. I will not hide that possibility from you. We could have delayed here as long as possible, until the day when we were arrested. Those were our choices, given what Bavaria is becoming this summer. And we are obeying the will of the pope, to whom, I hope, we may shortly be permitted to make a vow of special obedience.”

    She had not kept the summer’s news away from the other sisters. All of them nodded.

    Or from Mary and Veronica. Mary Simpson, thinking of the pope’s change of policy toward the United States of Europe, also nodded. She was mildly nervous. She tried to hide it by remarking on the similarity of their plight to the circumstances under which Martin Luther’s future wife had gotten out of her convent. Hidden in a grocery wagon, accompanied by her aunt and fellow-nuns.

    Winifred Wigmore looked at her disapprovingly.

    Veronica pulled the pouch out from under the front of her dress and further disguised herself by taking out her teeth again.

    Someone giggled, a little shrilly. Everyone in the house on Paradise Street was feeling rather high strung this morning.

    Mary Ward opened the front door. It was not yet quite dawn; they would be at the gate shortly after it opened. The gates were opening early today, because of the play.



    Marc heard noise.

    Unexpected noise. At this hour of the day, the English Ladies should be chanting one of the liturgical offices. He admitted to himself that he didn’t have the slightest idea which one. He was, after all, a Calvinist. Maybe he should learn; he might need to know some day.

    He sat up. He couldn’t stand in the lean-to; the roof was too low. It hadn’t been a bad night, though; his only companions had been some old lumber, a small pile of bricks that matched the ones that paved the courtyard, and a few bugs.

    Cautiously, he forced his way through the uncomfortably small gap that breaking the upper hinge on the door had left; then he set it back in place, with only a small sag to show that the hinge had broken and that the door’s weight had stretched the lower one.

    The English Ladies were leaving their house.

    All eight of them. No, ten of them. No, nine and a man. No. Eight English Ladies. Not wearing their ordinary-well, ladyish-clothes. Wearing the clothing of ordinary Munich women. Each carrying a worn satchel. A ninth English Lady. No, Frau Dreeson, also with a satchel. A serving man. No. Frau Simpson, wearing a shirt and slops. Her hair was still, though he supposed that she had last had it cut before the left Grantville in the spring, far too short for her to present herself as a down-time woman. Or, at least, as anything but a down-time prostitute who had recently had her head shaved.

    Involuntarily, he smiled at the incongruous image of the precise and gracious Frau Simpson as a lady of easy virtue. Frau Simpson was pushing a wheelbarrow.

    That was the noise he had heard.

    Thanking God profoundly that he was barefoot, he followed them.



    They were almost to the Schwäbinger gate now; Mary Ward had decided that if they were going north, as a group, they could not afford the delay of going out one of the other gates and around the walls. First, the inner gate. Then, the space between the two sets of walls. Then, the outer gate. Then crossing the narrow bridge over the moat. A long time, to be watched by guards.

    Through the inner gate. There was a constant stream of people coming in. Those going out had to move to the right. Coming down from the direction of the Hofgarten, a tall, brunette, young woman, her hair tied back with a kerchief. Also dressed in a Munich woman’s working clothes; a white blouse; a brown skirt with a wide waistband; rough shoes. Pushing a gardener’s wheelbarrow.

    “Wait for me, Tante Maria. Mama says that I am to go with you.” The German was as coarse as that of any market woman.

    Mary Simpson gasped.

    “Now.” The guard pointed his lance at them. “Move along through the outer gate while there’s this break in the crowd. Don’t dilly-dally.”

    The younger woman broke into an energetic run, catching up with the rest of them without much trouble.

    The guard was watching her bosom jiggle. It was a very impressive bosom.

    He didn’t pay any attention to her face.



    Marc had no idea who the younger woman was. As soon as he got through the gates-he had to wait longer because an entire circus appeared to be coming in-he dashed for the baggage wagons to tell his father that Frau Simpson and Frau Dreeson were outside the gates.

    Without either of the Cavrianis having done a thing about it. Which was rather disheartening.

    Leopold, more practically, asked where they were going.

    “North on the Nürnberger Strasse, the last time I saw them.” Quickly, Marc described how they were dressed. Then he paused. “But they were all carrying satchels.”

    “By now, you are implying, they could be dressed quite differently?”

    “Well, not by now, I think. The road is too busy. But probably they don’t intend to look like Münchnerinnen tomorrow.”

    “That makes sense.” Leopold stood up. “I’ll take my things and follow them. Here’s a purse. I’ll leave the camp here, with your things. You go back in. Keep working on the house next door to the one on Paradise street; track if anyone comes to it; tries to go in, tries to go out. If nothing happens today, stay tomorrow. Sleep here, as usual. If nothing has happened in three days, come on north. Don’t try to catch me; there’s no way I can predict which way the English Ladies are going and if I leave directions for you, Duke Maximilian’s men might find them. Just head for Pfaffenhofen; if I’m not there, for Neuburg. I’ll find you there.”

    By the time he had finished talking, Leopold was packed and ready to go.

    “Papa,” Marc called after him as he rode away. “There was a younger woman who came later. She went with them, too.” He wasn’t sure whether or not his father had heard him.

    Marc looked at the camp. Papa had said to sleep here tonight. But, just in case something happened, he had better pick up. He rolled up his pallet and packed his things into his rucksack; then wrapped them all in the oiled canvas that they had in case of rain.

    The young ironsmith arrived at work a little late. No one noticed. But if anyone had observed, he would not have been particularly surprised. The traffic was terrible this morning.



    A half mile outside the walls of Munich, something occurred to Mary Ward. Two empty wheelbarrows would attract attention to their group. They would just have to lose some time. At her direction they turned back, skirting the city walls until they came to the baggage wagon park. They lined up the wheelbarrows neatly, next to a couple of dozen other wheelbarrows.

    By the time they got back on the Nürnberger Strasse, they were behind Leopold Cavriani.



    Maria Anna could scarcely believe how lightweight and comfortable these clothes were. Somewhat coarse and scratchy against the skin, but still very comfortable. That was good. Under the skirt, on the left side, between her petticoats, she was carrying a rather heavy purse. It didn’t have much money in it; she didn’t have much money. It did have her prayer book and rosary. On the right side-thank goodness that Dona Mencia had wrapped it in flannel; even through the bundle and two petticoats, its leaves poked her-was the golden rose.

    At the last minute, she just couldn’t bear to leave it behind.



    The archduchess had attended six o’clock mass, as usual. She had gone for her walk in the Hofgarten. Nobody actually saw her return, but Dona Mencia and the other two ladies-in-waiting who had accompanied her requested a light breakfast, as usual. For themselves only. Dona Mencia remarked that the archduchess was not feeling well and had decided to rest until time to dress for the mid-day meal and the play.

    An hour later, Dona Mencia requested one of the servants to bring two hot bricks, wrapped in towels.

    An hour after that, Dona Mencia announced that the archduchess was suffering from a severe case of the cramps and would be forced to miss the play.



    The privy council met. This was a bad omen. With the wedding in two more days, this distressing timing, however natural the phenomenon, would complicate the issue of consummation of the marriage. Consummation was necessary for a canonically valid marriage. The discussion became physiologically detailed; Duke Maximilian excused himself from the remainder of the meeting.



    Dona Mencia called for more hot bricks.



    There was great public disappointment that the archduchess was too ill to attend the presentation of Belisarius, particularly since Duke Maximilian had taken the excuse of her illness not to attend either, but was staying in his office to catch up on paperwork.

    Not to mention chatting with Richel and Forer about the insanity of the pope’s action in appointing a cardinal-protector of the USE. Both of them heartily agreed with his outrage.

    This did not keep the festivities from going on. Duke Albrecht, his wife, and their sons did the public honors; the archduchess’ ladies-in-waiting, with the exception of Freiherrin Lukretia, who was on her way back to Vienna, were present.

    Well, also with the exception of Dona Mencia de Mendoza who had, naturally, remained with her mistress.

    Everyone agreed that Countess Polyxena’s gown was magnificent. Somewhat more magnificent than was allowed to a countess under Duke Maximilian’s sumptuary laws. Of course, her husband was a Reichsgraf under the emperor, in Austria-not a Graf from one of the German principalities. That might make a difference.

    In any case, those court personnel who were not watching the play were watching Countess Polyxena. She was highly gratified.

    Belisarius was a wild success.

    “After all this effort,” Father Rader said, “it is almost a pity that there is only one performance. It is too bad that we can’t do it over again tomorrow.”

    Father Drexel just looked at him.



    When Countess Polyxena returned from the play, Dona Mencia reported to her that the archduchess was seriously ill.

    “Don’t so much as whisper it to anyone else,” Dona Mencia said. “I certainly don’t wish to cause a panic, with so many people in the city, coming and going. But I am not sure that it is a simple case of the cramps. If she is not better in the morning, I will ask the duke to send the court physician.”

    Countess Polyxena didn’t need to have it spelled out for her. When people spoke of “seriously ill” in those hushed tones, it could only mean plague.

    She did not go anywhere near the archduchess’ bedchamber.



    “I,” Dekan Golla said after the banquet, “find this illness rather astonishing. We have all been assured that die Habsburgerin is, whatever else she may be, abundantly healthy.”

    “I have read the reports from Frau Stecher in some detail,” Duke Maximilian’s physician said. “They contain no information whatsoever that the archduchess is prone to suffer from cramps. Or related ailments. Moreover...” He paused, looking at the other men. “While we know that the cycles of women are prone to be overset by excitement and anxiety, which is a natural consequence of their weak and fallible nature...”

    “Come to the point,” Dekan Golla said.

    “It is the wrong time of the month for the archduchess to be having cramps. We took that into account when we scheduled the wedding date.” He grimaced with distaste. “Along with, of course, her horoscope. And that of the duke.”

    Someone knocked on the door. Father Forer rose and opened it.

    Frau Stecher was standing outside.

    “I thought you might want to know,” she said, “that according to Countess Polyxena, Dona Mencia has expressed some concern that the archduchess is more seriously ill than cramps could normally account for.”

    Countess Polyxena had thought, “plague.” However, she had not said it when she spoke to Frau Stecher; the possibility had not occured to the seamstress. There were, just at present, no known plague cases in the city. Not that there probably wouldn’t be after the wedding, with so many people coming and going from so many different places.

    Plague did not occur to the four men, either. The first thought that came to each of them was the same, and quite natural. Poison? The implications of that possibility distracted them for quite some time. By whom? For whose benefit?

    By the time that the physician made his way to Maria Anna’s hushed and darkened apartments, Dona Mencia informed him that the archduchess was now sleeping quietly. She spoke of a day marked by stomach pains, fever and restlessness; she commented on the nature of the illustrious patient’s bowel movements and provided him with a sample she had saved; she described the pain in the joints and headache that the archduchess had experienced. She promised that if there was no improvement in the morning, she would summon him at once.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image