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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 13:09 EST



    Ducos coughed discreetly at the door. D’Avaux nodded, once, permitting the man entry. At least Ducos remembered that Seigneur le Comte deserved a modicum of dignity and took pains to respect it. D’Avaux, feeling guilt at indulging a passion so strong as hatred, darted his glance across the desk to the pile of papers on the corner. All of the reports on Buckley, and by him. He forced calm upon his troubled soul. To grow irrational through the righteous anger of wounded honor would simply not do.

    “Seigneur le Comte,” Ducos said, after the silence had grown uncomfortable, and bowed.

    D’Avaux collected himself. Yes, he had grown distracted and omitted the proper protocol. Permissible between familiars, but with even so exalted a servant as Ducos—not unpardonable, but nevertheless noblesse oblige required otherwise. “Ducos, if it please you, do you have something to report?”

    “Several matters, master,” Ducos said. His face hardly moved as he spoke, but there seemed to be a faint smile in every syllable his voice spoke. The smile of a cat sauntering away from a mousehole licking his chops. D’Avaux pulled his desk lamp closer—the hour was late, midnight close at hand—and turned to face his man. A crook of the eyebrow invited him to proceed.

    “As to the American Buckley, I have arranged matters. Seigneur le Comte’s proposal that the Turks be involved or implicated proved impractical, and I have therefore suborned a member of the Holy Office’s retinue to the deed.”

    D’Avaux felt a thrill of shock. “Ducos, I gave orders for no such...” He trailed off. “No,” he said when he had collected himself again, “first give me the remainder of your report.”

    “Yes, Seigneur. The Turk delegation declines to speak of Buckley. They are well disciplined and bring all their own slaves, so it is very difficult to make any progress with them. Had they a long-established presence in Venice there would be known avenues of approach, but this mission is ad-hoc and improvisation has availed nothing in the time I have had. The short time since they arrive also means that Buckley has had no time to give plausible offence. I can do nothing to place any Turk even near the scene of the deed, or Buckley plausibly in the company of any Turk.”

    D’Avaux leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “Pray continue, Ducos. How did you proceed from there to the Holy Office?” This was beginning to sound intriguing, particularly as Ducos had had to improvise, a practice foreign to his nature. To both their natures, if it came to it. The unexpected was not an experience d’Avaux relished.

    “Seigneur.” Ducos made a little bow before going on. “I proceeded with ordinary matters after my rebuff early in the day with the Turks. I had news, perhaps some small moments earlier than the Seigneur did, of the latest developments in the business of the astronomer Galileo, when I paid a visit to my contacts with the Holy Office.”

    D’Avaux began to wonder where this was going. The business with Galileo was a slightly vexing one, to be certain. Few people of education regarded the matter as anything too serious; perhaps the interpretation of scripture required to be looked at afresh, as the Lyncaeans suggested, or perhaps the astronomers were chasing proverbial moonbeams as well as the real thing. D’Avaux considered himself a man of parts, but there seemed to be a new advance in natural philosophy every year—this Galileo responsible for a fair fraction himself—and just keeping up with his own country’s advances in the mathematics was hard enough. Although...

    D’Avaux had heard, he now remembered, that this affair with Galileo was apparently something of a notoriety in the history books brought by the Americans through the Ring of Fire. Those wretched, miserable history books which had caused so much unexpectedness in d’Avaux’s well-ordered life. Cardinal Richelieu could say what he wanted. In private, the Comte was quite certain the Ring of Fire was of diabolic origin.

    He blinked once, twice, suddenly aware he was wandering away from the point. “He is to be tried, yes?”

    “He is to be tried. This will come as something of a relief to the Holy Office, I understand, which will be pleased to stop paying bounties on copies of Galileo’s book.” There was a hairline smile on Ducos’ face. “There are some enterprising souls in Venice who, when they heard there was a bounty on each copy, began printing cheap and shoddy copies and turning them in by the box-full.”

    D’Avaux frowned back. “I should think such a mockery was hardly a laughing matter, Ducos.”

    Ducos’ face straightened immediately. “Seigneur, my apologies. I simply have regard for an audacious scheme, while at once condemning the motivation for it.”

    D’Avaux felt his own face cracking. “And the fact that the Holy Office is made the butt of this joke is of no account, eh?”

    Ducos nodded acknowledgement. There were subjects troubling even for his icy demeanor—the Holy Office had hardly been needed for his Huguenot co-religionists in France. It was only understandable that Ducos should find jokes at the expense of organs of Mother Church to be entertaining. But it would not do to let him laugh out loud without reminding him he was, when all was said and done, a heretic.

    “Seigneur,” was all he said. Though his face seemed tighter than ever.

    “And how will Galileo’s trial assist?” d’Avaux asked, after granting Ducos a moment to compose himself.

    “It had been said that the Pope would surely instruct the Holy Office that there was to be no revision of scriptural interpretation, Seigneur. It was further said that there was no prospect of Galileo’s book remaining lawful to possess anywhere in Italy, and there had been some suggestion that Galileo might be prevailed upon to flee to the Swede’s territories. To that end, he had been kept under close watch while his ill health prevented him from traveling to Rome.”

    “And you have reason to doubt this?” D’Avaux was intrigued.

    “Until today, Seigneur, no. However, there is a factor that is the talk of the lower ranks of the Holy Office here, and that is Mazarini.”

    “The legate?”

    “The same. He has been to and from Venice and Rome repeatedly while the Americans have been here, and it is now emerging that the American priest, Mazzare, has been in communication with Rome. He is commanded to Rome to speak at the trial of Galileo, Seigneur.”

    “I confess I cannot see why.” D’Avaux spent a moment turning it over in his mind. “What is the Pope thinking? The American is neither inquisitor nor natural philosopher, and he has no name as a doctor of theology.”

    “It is thought that all these Americans have a great command of natural philosophy, Seigneur. It is reported to me—with what accuracy I cannot at present judge—that Mazarini impressed this upon either the Holy Office or the Pope himself. For this reason they seek this American priest as amicus curiae or some such.” Ducos made a small, dismissing wave of the hand. “I confess I know little of the proper procedure in such matters, and this may be entirely normal.”

    “It is not, as it happens,” D’Avaux said, musingly. “It is not at all. I cannot see that even the See of Rome will lightly prevail upon a priest’s vows of obedience to call him away from a secular mission imposed by his prince—even if, in this case, the prince involved calls himself a ‘prime minister.’ There must be more to it.”

    However, this troubling issue was not a matter to be discussed with a heretic like Ducos, d’Avaux reminded himself. He crooked a finger to invite Ducos to continue. “But we digress. You were explaining why the Holy Office will kill Buckley.”

    “Seigneur. Buckley has publicized the scheme with the Galileo books. Every town with a printing press can print copies of the book for a sum less than the bounty offered, and so—”

    “A profit margin, yes. And I see the humor in it, Ducos.” There was a trace of frost in his voice. “Up to a point.”

    “The Seigneur is most kind. I understand that there was an argument some weeks ago whether a bounty was to be paid on copies that had been bound with the ink still wet. Many pages were apparently blurred and unreadable. The concluding argument was that if the Inquisition wished to announce that the book was now acceptable in the booksellers of Venice, the pious citizens would cease buying up the copies and turning them in. Since there is as yet no firm order banning the book, the Inquisition is in a tricky position carrying out its orders to suppress the thing.”

    D’Avaux was impressed. Even for Ducos, that had been deadpan. “Do go on.”

    “Yes, Seigneur. Buckley has published a further piece roundly denouncing the folly of the scheme and encouraging others to use the printing press to break the Inquisition. He has even coined a phrase: ‘Information wants to be at liberty.’ It is beginning to be passed as a slogan, Seigneur.”

    “‘Information wants to be at liberty.’“ D’Avaux turned the idea over and over in his mind. “What a remarkable proposition. Is he some manner of pagan, then, believing that mere thoughts and words have their own animating spirit that might express such a desire?”

    “Most droll, Seigneur. It is nevertheless a slogan that people may act upon. The Holy Office is most concerned.” Ducos reported it flatly, in the tones of one remarking that the weather continued fair, rather than the tones of one suggesting that the feared Inquisition was growing vexed with someone.

    “And yet it is not heresy, which surely makes it not the concern of the Holy Office?” D’Avaux found the argument of the avocatus diaboli surprisingly easy to formulate. “Is it not the case that absent palpable heresy, there is value in freedom of speech? Many advance this argument.”

    “None among the Holy Office, Seigneur. And Buckley advances the argument in support of suspected heresy. They grow concerned and turn to stratagems to silence Buckley.”

    “And you have provided them with one?”

    “Indeed, Seigneur. And in the same stroke I believe we will also prevent any closer contact forming between the Swede and Rome.”

    “Between the arch-Protestant of northern Europe and His Holiness? Surely there was no great danger of that?”

    “There is according to the Inquisition, Seigneur. They fear that His Holiness will undertake to co-opt the Catholic presence in the United States of Europe to press further reforms in the Church. There is talk of correspondence already passing between Rome and Magdeburg.”

    “Ah, so those rumors have reached Venice, have they?”

    “Seigneur?” Ducos inclined his head a little. It was rare that D’Avaux’s factotum was caught by surprise.

    “A briefing at the highest level...” No sense in naming His Eminence. “I am given to understand that Mazarini made a number of trips to Grantville shortly after its appearance, and proceeded from his last trip there straight to Rome. It is also reported that the priest was moved to send a great deal of material to the Vatican, although we have been unable to discover precisely what. It centers on what the Americans claim is the future development of the Church, that much we do know. Doubtless the Holy Office is suitably concerned, since many of them in Italy are creatures of Spain, or at least under their direction.”

    Ducos nodded. “They certainly wish Buckley to be silent, for the moment.”

    D’Avaux smiled. “Well, if it assists in saving the Church from American heresy at the very highest level, I see no good reason why they should not be suitably obliged. See to it, Ducos.”

    “As the Seigneur le Comte directs.” Ducos acknowledged the order with a bow. “There is further intelligence,” he went on. “I am informed that the Venetian Committee of Correspondence, such as it is, has some notion of taking further action over Galileo.”

    “Further than printing copies of his book? How significant could they be, here in Venice?”

    “The Seigneur is most perspicacious. Indeed, they are said to be a rather pathetic grouping. Not much more than one malcontent and his family. My assessment is that even with the aid of the youths with the American party they will proceed no further than making tedious speeches to each other in draughty rooms. But my informer tells me they are at least talking about a scheme to rescue Galileo from his impending trial.”

    “Are they, now?” d’Avaux mused. “You say some American youths are involved with them? Is there not then an opportunity to further divide the Vatican from the Americans?”

    “As I observed to the Seigneur, there is perhaps little prospect of these particular radicals taking any effective action. They are regarded as something of a joke by virtually every organ of the Venetian state and by the Holy Office.”

    “And yet more unlikely groups have delivered themselves of great coups in the past, have they not?” D’Avaux stroked his beard, thinking furiously. “Are we certain that there are Americans with them?”

    “Yes, Seigneur. The three sons of Doctor Stone. They have attended several meetings.” Ducos was firm on this point.

    “Perhaps they might be impressed with the desire to proceed further?” D’Avaux could hardly hope for a result like that, although Ducos’ resourcefulness had surprised him before. “Perhaps a new member with some spirit and drive, a spark of, dare I say, competence?”

    “If the Seigneur gives leave, I might serve as such an agent provocateur, yes.” The idea seemed to amuse the cold factotum, as much as anything did. “I regret I have no operative in Venice who would pass as a genuine adherent, not on such short notice.”

    “So be it, then. Except I think that perhaps we might press them to go further than simply attempting to spirit Galileo away. The first objection to any such accusation would be that the Americans had sent an advocate to the trial and would hardly cheat themselves of victory. I feel sure that so radical and dangerous a group must be plotting some greater outrage against a prince of the church. Perhaps—perish the very thought—another plot against His Holiness’ life?”

    “Perhaps, Seigneur le Comte. But again, I would suggest that such a plot might not be considered very credible, even compared with the last such. These are not hardened revolutionists, Seigneur, but a small group of wild-eyed artisans and rebellious youths. Competence is not easily to be found among them.”

    “True,” reflected d’Avaux. Indeed, the last publicized plot on the Pope’s life had been a farce, an attempt to do him to death with image magic, sticking pins in a doll dressed as the Pope. “Nevertheless, if we add a soupçon of competence to their armory?”

    “I still hold out no great hope of success, Seigneur.” Ducos sounded almost disappointed.

    “That will not be necessary, Ducos. Simply a spirited effort will do. All I ask is that they appear to have intended a prominent outrage. For our purposes, a near thing will be better since it will achieve all of our aims without bloodshed.”

    “Yes, Seigneur le Comte. With your permission, I shall be about it. You understand, this will almost certainly require me to absent myself from Venice?”

    D’Avaux nodded and waved him away. He steeled himself to do without his factotum for a few weeks. In some ways, that would be a relief. Having Ducos around was more than a bit like having a mad dog on a leash. Taxing to the spirit.



    D’Avaux’s spirit would have been considerably more taxed had he seen the smile on Ducos’ face after his factotum left the Comte’s chamber. All of Ducos’ careful planning had finally come to fruition. Every piece of his scheme, finally in its place.

    The smile of a man, finally slipping the leash.

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