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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Monday, January 5, 2004 16:40 EST



    One of the great things about the seventeenth century, Joe Buckley reflected, was that you couldn’t be left behind. Back up-time, what he had just done would have called for accreditations and passes and all manner of like nonsense and paperwork. If nothing else, airplane tickets.

    Here and now, as the coming man in the field of investigative journalism that he was inventing a few hundred years early, Joe had just had to buy a good horse and try and keep up.

    There was a downside, of course. A sore ass was only half of it. Name recognition was the other half. Between the Imperial Post and every other one-horse town boasting a printing press, there had been a lot of places on the route that had received his reports from Grantville and Magdeburg. Most of them didn’t pay, which was a bind, but copyright and syndication were for the future. Nevertheless, his name was getting well known around Europe, bylined in all manner of odd corners. He’d even seen some pieces he definitely hadn’t written but which had his name on them. Which was flattering, even if he never saw so much as a copper groat for it.

    Still, he hadn’t hardly put his hand in his pocket from Thuringia through Switzerland to Italy. Even in the rural backwaters where literacy was down around the thirty per cent mark, in little towns where lack of practice lost people the letters they’d had, there was generally someone who’d read his stuff out in the tavern. Joe was the only twentieth-century-trained investigative journalist practicing his trade in the here-and-now, so far as he knew—which made him something of an instant superstar.

    But—and it was a big but—his every attempt to get something on or about the ambassadorial party to Venice had so far been thwarted. Now, though, he had a top-floor suite of rooms in a building adjoining the palazzo that held the newly-arrived embassy of the United States of Europe. The place was something of a dump, even though it had been home to the Swedish ambassador for a while. But there had never been any strong diplomatic presence from Sweden here, and so far as Buckley could tell, most of Venice was a dump anyway.

    Joe dropped his bags, and took a moment to reflect on how he had changed. A good eight inches off the waistline, what with a lot more walking and riding and—surprise—a better diet. When the seventeenth century ate well, it generally ate healthily, he’d found. He was also now fairly fluent in three languages and able to get by, just, in two more. Of course, one of the ones he had trouble with was Italian, but he would improve that soon enough.

    Behind him, a couple of the palazzo’s staff were unpacking his gear and putting it away. He stared out of the window and contemplated the rooftops of Venice. From here he could see—well, no more than two or three streets away, but he was looking east across the city from quite close to the western end. Rooftops, all the way. Under every one, he thought, a story to be told.

    And that was the other half of the change in fashion he’d started. He talked to the people who lived just under those roofs, and told the stories of the Rich and Famous from their point of view. Back in the twentieth century, of course, there had been precious little of that. The media was mostly controlled by big corporations, and that meant sucking up to the corporate bosses that owned them. It was the same in the seventeenth century, in a way. Poor people didn’t own printing presses here anymore than they had up-time. But there was a big difference in social status. A man who, back up-time, would be a CEO and entitled to some major ass-kissing was, in the seventeenth century, merely “in trade” and thought the less of for it.

    He turned around and tried his Italian on for size. “Ladies,” he said, “what is happening in Venice lately?”

    The two maids froze and stared at him. Then, in a moment no choreographer could have bettered, looked at each other and giggled.

    Thank you, God, Joe thought. Another town where everyone ignores the help.



    Claude de Mesmes, comte d’Avaux, considered himself a patient and sensible man. A lawyer like his father before him and his grandfather also.

    He had seen little cause for concern in the news from the Germanies at first, but then it had all reached him at third hand in Venice and Rome. True, he had met the king of Sweden and knew him for the brute and the bully he was. But d’Avaux had still been as astonished as anyone at Gustavus Adolphus’ rapid success once he intervened in Germany. It had been hard work to extract from the Swede even mild limits on his exactions and depredations. At that, he had broken those promises. D’Avaux had heard of all manner of treasure being carted back to Sweden.

    For now, alas, the Germanies were the demesne of the Swede—the Germanies and the assortment of bizarre strangers brought into their midst.

    That last was the true source of his trouble. Trouble, mostly, in maintaining the proper and seemly patience of his station. It was difficult, sometimes, in the still watches of the long waits that characterized the diplomat’s trade, to remember that in all things there were laws. Laws ordained by God for the natural order. Any scourge of God—like the Hun, or the Swede, or the Turk or doubtless others from the dawn of time to the crack of doom—might temporarily and locally overturn that order. But the sheer force of God’s design in the world would soon assert itself, through those who acted as God’s instruments in the world of time.

    So, d’Avaux reassured himself once again, there was no cause for long-term concern. Cardinal Richelieu had that reassertion of the sublime will well in hand. It was the same argument they had long used with the Father Joseph and his devots: there were secondary causes in the world through which God worked, and in bringing about the triumph of God’s will there was no law save necessity, no matter the distasteful actions required in the short term. Such as, for example, subsidizing the Swede in the past or allying now with Spain. Granted, the feu-de-dieu was feeding newer and yet more pernicious heresies into the mélange of European strife. But how often had short-sighted moral and theological imperatives led to the ruin of all?

    Best to work subtly. Hence the cardinal’s instructions and their urgent tenor:

    To Venice, M. Le Comte. Nothing within your power must be left undone toward the end of thwarting the work of the ambassador of the United States of Europe. Their entire aim and design at Venice must be set at hazard, in which matter I repose my full confidence in you. There is no scruple or nicety as regards the Americans you will find there; there is now hot war between France and the Swede and his accomplices. You might spare some small scruple for the niceties as regards the rulers of the Most Serene Republic, but there is little injury in that quarter that sufficient money cannot repair. Above all, the strategic isolation of the United States of Europe is vital.



    The Comte sat at the window of the French Embassy and brooded on the cavalcade that carried the Americans and their lackeys through town. Naturally, the Venetians—a frivolous people—had spent their time and money on a foolish dumb-show. A foolish dumb-show that d’Avaux had nevertheless ensured, in several days of furious negotiation, was less ostentatious than the dumb-show that had greeted his own arrival in Venice a few weeks earlier.

    The Venetians, after all, had learned many of their habits from the Turk, among whom display and ostentation was all. Reports from Istanbul told always of the furious fights over ever smaller and smaller slices of status among the ambassadors.

    But enough of past triumphs, and especially such piffling ones. D’Avaux turned away from the window.

    His agent Ducos, awaiting the subtle signal, stepped forward from where he had been warming himself beside the fire against the last chill of a Venetian winter. D’Avaux noted that he had done so by standing on the shadowed side of the chimney-hood where, between the light of the window, the glow of the fire, a natural cat-like immobility and the Huguenot severity of his somber suit, Ducos was all but invisible.

    D’Avaux found it amusing, from time to time, to chide Ducos for his religious prejudices. Ducos took it largely in good part, for D’Avaux was careful never to press the matter to the point of a serious effort at conversion. There was a use for the hard core of French Protestants whom no edict or religious war would extirpate. There were tasks that had to be undertaken, things that had to be done that the moral flexibility of a theology that denied the value of good behavior could allow where a Catholic, bound to good works for the salvation of his soul, could not in good conscience tread. It would not do to send someone who was not already damned to do such things.

    And so Ducos was a heretic servant of His Most Christian Majesty. And a useful one, too. Behind the scenes, in darkened rooms and in places where the likes of M. le Comte D’Avaux could not go, Ducos would go and do and learn things the doing and learning of which were sanctified by the law of necessity and that law alone.

    Watching him step forward into the light, D’Avaux was put in mind of some sleek, gray-finned creature of the deep, rising into the sunlit upper waters where men navigated. Woe betide the hapless mariner who found himself in the water when such a one came up from his accustomed darkness.

    “M. le Comte.” Ducos gave him the little nod of the head that did him the duty served other men by extravagant bows.

    “I believe,” said d’Avaux, “that we have in place appropriate receptions for the Americans?”

    “Yes, M. le Comte. All that could conveniently be laid in advance has been. I have disbursed some three hundred scudi so far.”

    D’Avaux raised an eyebrow. Not at the sum, which would hire the exclusive services of one of the better class of physicians for a year, but at Ducos’ choice of words. “Conveniently?” he repeated. Perhaps he was over-sensitive to nuances, but it paid to check. Besides, Ducos was nothing if not precise.

    “Conveniently,” Ducos nodded.

    “I shall leave to your judgment how much I should know, of course.”

    Ducos paused a moment before replying. “There is another American newly arrived in town,” he said at some length.

    “Not connected to the embassy?”

    “I do not believe so, M. le Comte. An rogue American, I think. He calls himself Buckley. Joe Buckley.”

    D’Avaux found that intriguing. Joe Buckley was a well-known demagogue and rabble-rouser, for all that his career was a recent one. His vernacular was English but he had a damnable knack of getting translated and passed around Europe by who knew what means. Yet, all the cardinal’s spies reported that he was in ill-favor with the Americans themselves, despite being one of their number. “What is that silly term he favors for himself?”

    “‘Investigative reporter.’” Ducos made a small shrug. “Which is to say, a spy.”

    “And who to know better than you?” The small witticism was hard for d’Avaux to resist.

    “Just so, M. le Comte. Just so. I have a number of schemes, in outline, for dealing with the Americans. I will add this ‘Buckley’ to the mix. Some depend on contingencies, but under pressure I will be able to—”

    D’Avaux held up a hand. “Enough, Ducos. It suffices that, what? He has taken steps against you?”

    “Not yet, since he’s just arrived. But he will, be sure of it. He will certainly make himself familiar with the staff at the embassy. That will make it more difficult to safely place my own agents there.”

    D’Avaux waited a moment after Ducos stopped talking. The starveling-looking Huguenot could sometimes be hard to read. He would pause to marshal words, sometimes for remarkably long times. At other times, he would simply stop talking, without verbal punctuation, when in his opinion his master’s conscience was sufficiently informed. D’Avaux admired that. Ducos had the casuistry of a Jesuit—but ten times the moral flexibility that had earned d’Avaux himself the ill name of comforter of heretics among the devots at home.

    The Comte brought himself back to the matter at hand. “I had heard this of the Americans,” he said, as much to himself as to Ducos. “The cardinal warned me specifically. They have a knack—even the pretended nobility among them—to consort and grow familiar with the lower orders.”

    Ducos said nothing.

    “It may perhaps be,” d’Avaux mused aloud, “that will prove their undoing in this time and place. Especially in this place, where nobility is false already—merchants with delusions of grandeur—and thus its appearance may not be diluted. In Venice, the facade is all. Ah, yes. There is much that might be said, in the right ears. Ducos?”

    “Yes, M. le Comte?”

    “Do I understand that some of your methods include the disbursement of funds among the servant classes?”

    “Yes, M. le Comte.”

    “Then I should like, if it please you, to have reports as to those with whom this Buckley, and all the other Americans, choose to consort. No matter how low their station.”

    “Yes, M. le Comte. And, M. le Comte?”


    “Has M. le Comte read the notes I have provided as to the Spanish delegation?”

    “Yes, Ducos. I thank you for reminding me. It would appear that Bedmar seeks Spain’s advantage in Venice—no surprise there—and by like methods as he used before. He failed before, Ducos. Disastrously, in fact. See that he fails again. Simply because we are allied now, I see no reason to cede any advantage to the Spaniards here.”

    “Yes, M. le Comte.”

    “I leave the details, as always, to you, Ducos.”

    “Yes, M. le Comte.”

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