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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Friday, February 20, 2004 23:22 EST



    It was good for Michel Ducos that he was quiet and impassive. The Comte d’Avaux could feel a rage boiling in the quiet depths of the man’s heart, a rage that would take no more than a word, a gesture, an expression out of place to make good on its threat that he would abandon the pretense of calm reason that he was maintaining. There was something not sane at the core of Ducos’ soul, the Comte had long known. Of course, the same could be said of any heretic, he supposed; but of Ducos, more than most. He reminded d’Avaux of one of the watch-dogs the Comte owned on his estate back in France.

    It was a dangerous beast, improperly handled. On the other hand, also the best watch-dog on the estate—and d’Avaux knew himself for a superb handler, of either dogs or men.

    Ducos had delivered the news-sheet without comment beyond a grave, “Seigneur le Comte should read this.”

    So he had, and having gotten no more than a third of the way down the page he had put the piece of refuse down. Bad enough that this Buckley had outwitted a staff of professional spymasters to penetrate to their more secret counsels, although such was more-or-less to be expected. There was this much to take comfort in: the encyphered dispatches that only d’Avaux, Ducos and their cypher clerk had seen appeared not to have been relayed to the wretched American.

    But to publish! That was the larger half of d’Avaux’s upset. There were customs in such matters, hallowed by time so as to be all but law. By his actions, Buckley had put the American delegation in flagrant mockery of that law. D’Avaux wondered, with unwonted grim humor, whether this meant that the Swede’s creatures wanted matters in Venice played out à l’outrance? They had certainly spared no pains to provoke such. For what purported to be a communiqué of news the thing had the brutal tone of an incendiary pamphlet.

    The Americans had almost certainly acquired that habit in the Germanies. Or, rather, added it like a gloss onto the boorish customs they had brought with them. The Germanies sprouted presses like mushrooms, waxing in the fecal darkness of their Protestant benightedness. The product of those presses was no more wholesome than what they grew in.

    But that brought the metaphor of mushrooms to an abrupt halt, since d’Avaux was partial to the delicacies. So, he forced himself back to the matter at hand.

    To write, in what purported to be news, in the tone of a demagogue exhorting the mob, was—exactly what he might have done, or at least ordered done, had he thought of it first. The realization drained the unaccustomed rage away, unexpressed now save as mild annoyance.

    “Ducos, how did he come by this?”

    A brief smile was Ducos’ first answer. Then: “Monsieur Buckley fancies himself as a spy. An amateur, only.”

    D’Avaux cocked an eyebrow.

    Ducos nodded. “He fancies himself quite the master of espionage, Seigneur. He speaks with servants.”

    D’Avaux felt his own face twitch into a smile. It was, of course, impossible to keep many secrets from one’s servants. Ducos was as good an example as any, and better than most, but below Ducos’ exalted level as factotum, the footmen and valets could not help but overhear a great deal. The astute spymaster would cultivate such sorts and their gossip, and it was seldom needful to disburse more than nominal bribes to procure an essential appreciation of one’s opponent’s counsels and habits of thought. The trick was to sort the wheat from the chaff in the information thus gathered, the genuine intelligence from the idle talk of the lower orders. It did not do to be vexed by this, of course, since those same lower orders were constitutionally incapable of genuine, higher loyalty.

    All that mattered was that the most central secrets be kept. And, when he thought further on the matter, d’Avaux realized that not only had Buckley not penetrated any of those, he had no hope of doing so. He pursed his lips, and set to thinking hard; a calm consideration was called for.

    He tapped his finger on the offending newspaper where it lay on his desk. Once, twice, thrice. “He has, of course, insulted us.”

    “Yes, Seigneur.”

    “Ascribed to us base motives. Suggested that all we have said to the Doge of our mission is a sham. That we seek to continue the war on neutral ground.”

    “Yes, Seigneur.” Ducos impassively awaited instructions.

    “Is there a statement yet from the Americans?”

    “Not as yet, Seigneur.”

    “I thought not. I shall compose a letter to the Doge. Naturally, we are upset at this callous libel, which we regard as damnum iniuria atrox, calling for satisfaction. Naturally, His Most Christian Majesty Louis XIII of France is likewise insulted, and would esteem it a great favor were the Americans proceeded against, or at least expelled from the Most Serene Republic.” D’Avaux drew pen and paper toward himself and contemplated the feather of his quill as he flicked it back and forth.

    “It is my assessment, Seigneur—”

    D’Avaux waved him quiet. “No, I know, Ducos. The Venetians have had gold waved under their noses. They would insult God Himself to get it. But they will respect the forms and take the counsel of their fear of our doing them harm at Istanbul. They will at least reprimand the American priest, and repairing the damage will set him back somewhat.”

    Ducos nodded.

    D’Avaux decided to check before dismissing Ducos. “Is there anything further?” he asked.

    “Yes, Seigneur le Comte.” Ducos produced another paper. “Word is sent us from Istanbul, as it happens. The Grand Seignor of the Turks is to send an emissary.”

    “This came from our own embassy there?”

    “Yes, Seigneur. Our courier believes he got the message here a full day before the official message from the Sublime Porte, which will be for the Doge first in any event.”

    “Good,” d’Avaux said. “We are, I believe, much in favor with the Grand Turk lately.”


    “Well, I suppose there’s no reason you shouldn’t know,” the Comte said, putting down his pen for a moment and using his best tone of condescension. Ducos responded well to that; the Huguenot underling treasured the little tidbits d’Avaux handfed him as much as did the savage watch-dog on his estate.

    “His Eminence has spared no pains in his efforts to confine the Swede in northern Europe. Cardinal Richelieu has had profuse warnings carried to the Grand Vizier, to the Sultan and to the priests of the Mahometans. The Turks much dislike novelty and disorder, you know, and are easily persuaded by news of the Committees of Correspondence that the Swede’s new United States is a wholesale fomenter of revolt.”

    “Which is true,” Ducos said, in a rare excursion into commentary.

    “Naturally,” d’Avaux agreed. “The truth was all it needed. And by representing the League of Ostend as a matter of distracting the Spaniards from the Mediterranean where they compete with the Turk’s Algerines, we ingratiate ourselves further with the Turk. It is simple work to advance ourselves in this matter by the most traditional of means, while the rest of Europe is more pressingly engaged elsewhere and trade outside the Mediterranean is disrupted.”

    “And so the emissary?”

    D’Avaux permitted himself another smile; this session was proving quite pleasant after its inauspicious beginning. “The emissary has been sent—you may depend upon it, Ducos—to satisfy the Grand Turk’s curiosity about these peculiar Americans and to warn Venice to have no truck with them, on pain of the Sultan’s displeasure.”

    “What does the Seigneur want done?”

    D’Avaux paused, while he composed his thoughts. Ducos was a good servant in this, especially. He stood always ready to do his superior’s bidding. “I believe,” d’Avaux said at length, “we should see that the Turk’s undoubted prejudices are validated in full.”

    Ducos remained silent and attentive, while the germ of an idea sprouted in d’Avaux’s mind. “See that Buckley’s attention is diverted toward the Turk. Let us see how they react to perceived insult.”

    “Yes, Seigneur le Comte.”

    D’Avaux fixed his man with a steady gaze. “The Turk’s response, of course, will most likely be sanguinary.”

    “Yes, Seigneur le Comte,” Ducos said, and withdrew.

    When the room was silent and d’Avaux was sure he was alone, he permitted himself a small chuckle, and then a brief prayer of thanks. Sometimes, the secondary causes through which God worked were truly remarkable. The Turk, indeed! How pleasant to use such a tool, atop another like the Huguenot heretic.

    It was, of course, a given that the Mahometan religion was of the devil. They were also notorious funders of Protestant arms in the Germanies. The current Grand Turk had a reputation as more of a monster than most. A prodigious brute of uncommon size and strength, he was by repute taking the Turkish state all the firmer in his grip by the simple expedient of terrorizing all who opposed him. Executions by the thousand were reported in some years. Of course, lacking the Law and the Order that it brought with it, such brutal measures were all that would answer the Turk’s purposes.

    And having to resort to such in his own home land, who would doubt that his emissaries would do otherwise to someone who offended them in Venice?

    Did d’Avaux care to wager, he felt, he could do worse than to hazard a small sum that Ducos would not need to act on his instructions at all.



    “Well, that didn’t go quite as I expected,” Sharon said.

    Magda’s only response was to stump along toward the gondolas tied up at a pier, muttering a litany of some kind in German. Sharon was catching, perhaps, one word in three. She understood those because they were swear words. It was a wonder that the paintwork on the palazzi they were walking past didn’t blister. Even the Marines who had been sent along because they were carrying cash were probably learning some words, and Sharon was mildly worried because their officer was Billy Trumble, who seemed like such a sweet kid under the uniform.

    “I wonder what we were doing wrong?” Sharon tried, when the pyroclastic flow had subsided.

    “Going to the place of business of an ill-mannered arschloch, that is what we were doing wrong!” Magda snapped. And then: “Oh, please forgive me, Sharon. I should go back and give that, that—” She shuddered. “I should give to him a piece of my mind, that is what I should do.”

    Sharon tried a smile on for size. “You already did that, honey.”

    She was rewarded with an answering grin. “Oh, nein. I gave him a talking-to, quite mild for me. I should go back and insult him properly, I think.”

    Sharon pantomimed horror. “But, Magda, we’d get arrested. He all but died of fright right there on the spot.”

    That was almost true, she thought. They’d gone into Casa Falier to keep an appointment with one of their senior agents. Maestro Luzzatto had given them a list of brokers who dealt in the goods on their “shopping list,” and they had decided that the simplest way to go about it was to visit one of them and ask him. Luzzatto had cheerfully admitted he was not a specialist in the kind of trading they were doing, but would hunt up some friends and acquaintances who could help more directly when they had scouted the lay of the land. After all, most of the stuff on their list he’d never even heard of.

    At Tom Stone’s request, his wife and Sharon had taken on one of the secondary tasks of the USE mission to Venice, which was to try and fulfill as much of the wish list of chemicals, raw materials and useful items that had been thrown together by the combined efforts of Grantville’s and Magdeburg’s corps of technologists. A lot of the stuff—certainly the material in the smaller quantities—was needed for research into things that probably weren’t going to pay off for years to come. Others were vital strategic supplies. Zinc, for example, which was already being imported from Asia but which few Europeans outside of Grantville recognized as a distinct element.

    Magda actually chuckled. “I think we need to make a better plan, Sharon.”

    “I think we may well, at that. It seems they want us to buy wholesale.”

    “If we do not want to buy retail, ‘with the other peasants,’” Magda muttered.

    “Did he really say that?”

    “Ja, he did! He muttered it, but I heard him. Filthy manners, that swine.”

    There was a rumble from the Marines behind them.

    “Ma’am?” asked Lieutenant Trumble, “you want we should go back and maybe have a stronger word with the man?”

    “Oh, no, Billy,” said Sharon hastily. “That won’t be necessary. He just doesn’t get any more of our business, is all. Bad service, and we tell everyone who wants to hear. Simple.” She smiled at him as brightly as she could, having visions of the repercussions of three of the USE’s uniformed finest turning up to terrorize a respected Venetian merchant house. Billy Trumble would be for diplomacy what a bull would be for a china shop.

    Magda sighed. “We go back to the embassy, then, and plan afresh.”

    “Well, maybe.” Sharon was seized by a sudden wild impulse. “How about we go do a little personal shopping instead? We’ve got money of our own, after all—and three big strong boys here to carry our purchases. That’s a rare opportunity, let me tell you.”

    “Shopping?” Magda looked intrigued.

    “Yeah, shopping. We call it retail therapy. Just the thing after a disappointing experience. One of the finer inventions of the twentieth century.”

    Magda smiled her agreement. “Shopping!” she said.

    Sharon looked back at the Marines. Billy was the only up-timer of the three, and his face was a picture.



    The embassy was quickly settling into a routine of drinks before dinner, which was just getting going when Sharon and Magda got back. The down-time Marines had been introduced to the pleasure of accompanying ladies in a serious retail frenzy; thereby proving, to Sharon’s satisfaction, that blank-faced stoical response was hardwired into the male genetic code. Born three hundred years before the invention of the mall, they had developed the stance and the face without even having to think about it. Sharon had been amused, despite herself. And besides, shopping was just plain fun.

    They’d gotten back, squared accounts from their own funds, and changed for dinner.

    “Any success, ladies?” Father Mazzare asked.

    “Not yet, no,” Sharon said. “Explored a blind alley this morning, and took the rest of the day just exploring. We’re going to get hold of Maestro Luzzatto as soon as we can and work up a real plan of action.”

    She and Magda hadn’t just been shopping, actually. They’d crossed and re-crossed the Rialto district as they’d picked up souvenirs, clothes and assorted pretties, and watched deals go down left, right and center. Venice was a town that, however tight margins currently were, lived and died by dealing. When the weather was good, Venetians came out and did it in the street, strolling across the Piazza and in taprooms and tavernas everywhere. Wander into the right part of town and you heard everything being bought and sold. They’d even taken a look at the Palazzo Ducale, and walked through the Imbroglio, which had given its name to the kind of insanely complicated political and commercial deals which were put together there.

    Eavesdropping had been fruitful. Sharon and Magda had gotten some idea of the kind of trading they wanted to do here, and they were already revising their plan of attack.

    Tom was over by the fire, sprawled sideways across an armchair and perusing his notes. Given the volume of requests which had poured in as soon as the embassy arrived in Venice, Stoner had decided to postpone setting up his own laboratory in favor of purely educational work. He was about to start his lectures with a series on the practical problems of scaling lab processes to industrial ones, right here in Venice. He would be going to the university in Padua later, to do the more academic stuff on scientific method and real chemistry. He was absorbed in his material, so much so that he wasn’t paying any attention to the room around him.

    “I should go reassure my husband,” Magda said. “He seems nervous.”

    “I think you’re right,” Sharon agreed. “And Magda?”


    “I think we maybe ought to turn out for Tom’s lectures, don’t you?”

    “Well, naturally...” Magda said, frowning at the implied suggestion that she hadn’t been going to support her man.

    “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean we should go with our trading hats on. Not every chemist is as unworldly as your Stoner.” She smiled to take any possible sting out of the words. To hear Magda tell it, as well as being the most frustrating thing about Stoner, his impracticality was one of the things she loved most about him. “And maybe there’s a slice of that action to be had.”

    Magda, grasping what Sharon was driving at immediately, grinned back. And it was not a friendly grin, either. Sharon realized that there was something deeply predatory about her friend, something that had been aroused to a terrible hunger by the scent of deals in the water.

    She suspected that the next few weeks were going to be very interesting indeed. As Magda crossed the room to mop Tom’s fevered brow, Sharon began looking around for Luzzatto to make an appointment.

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