1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 59:



Sharon had been in the Palazzo Barberini for less than an hour, and was already feeling under siege. Ruy had wandered off to discuss poetry with someone or other—Sharon suspected that he almost certainly had the poor fellow completely confused by now—and she had been, well, mobbed was the only word for it, by every single one of the physicists, physicians, astronomers and in a couple of cases outright charlatans that His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Barberini seemed to have surrounded himself with.

She’d exchanged maybe ten words with the cardinal, a short, slightly pudgy, bright-eyed little fellow who, whatever his priestly vows, came off as gay as the eighteen-nineties. Which was some achievement for a man born in the early seventeenth century. Doubtless he’d be around again later; it beggared belief that this invitation had turned up for no good reason after nearly three months of very polite cold shoulder from his uncle the pope. For now, though, she was having trouble keeping the names straight of the dozen or so guys who were literally hanging on her every word. She’d managed to get through a blow-by-blow account of the operation she’d done on her fiancé, and made a list of the mistakes she’d made for them to learn from.

That seemed to puzzle them. She’d read up on the way science operated in this time after the business with Galileo. Half of what would be peer-reviewed journals, in later times, was filled with outright bragging. That was a good part of the reason that scientific controversy reached the levels of venom that had got Galileo in trouble. Not that, judging from some of the stories her dad told about getting papers published, it was much different in the twentieth century. It was just that the backbiting and nastiness tended not to end up mixed in with the science.

So when she pointed out that her dad had explained that getting direct sunlight on Ruy’s innards was a bad idea, and that he’d listed a whole lot of other mistakes she’d made, they seemed to decide that as well as knowing a great deal more than they did, she was capable of saintly forbearance as well. As for the rest of it, she was trotting out high-school science, and they were hanging on every word.

That was what was so damn exhausting. Individually, they were charming, wouldn’t let her move a muscle to call for more food or drink, and were solicitous of her every want and need. She just found it hard work to carry the entire load of the discussion, when what she really wanted was whatever gossip they had about Rome and its notables. On the other hand, she wished it was this easy to get people to listen elsewhere. Of course, elsewhere, she didn’t usually have an audience that consisted entirely of the most forward-thinking minds in the neighborhood. Lots of other people considered themselves too hard-headed and practical to believe in something that they could neither see nor read about in the Bible. How Stoner got the results he did when he lectured, she’d love to know. It wasn’t like she said anything different. She supposed it was because where she was simply exotic, where Stoner was otherworldly to these people. There was the air of alien wizardry about him, which just seemed to establish confidence and credibility the way that the charlatans of alchemy and magic did.

As she was winding up an explanation of the difference between bacterial and viral infection, Cardinal Antonio Barberini finally returned.

“Signori,” he said, cutting in smoothly as Sharon wound down, “you monopolize the dottoressa, for shame!” He wagged a finger around at the assembled scientific talent of Rome. “My salon is for the sciences and the arts, doctors. So let me show the dottoressa some of the finer things we have here, eh?”

There were a few rueful grins and flowery apologies.

“Really,” she said, getting in to the spirit of the thing, “it is no trouble at all. I wish every audience I had was this appreciative.”

Barberini’s grin was impish. “And in some quarters, getting an audience at all would have been a help, perhaps?”

Here it comes, she thought. She and Ruy had discussed the matter, and there had been a couple of hours of back-and-forth radio traffic with the State Department over it. No-one really had a clue why Barberini had invited her to her salon, except to manage the stunningly obvious conclusion that the Pope’s nephew was hardly likely to invite her over to the family palazzo for an afternoon of wine and chit-chat in learned company if there wasn’t some deeper purpose. If it was purely for the sake of her scientific knowledge, entirely practical and rule-of-thumb by the standards of the twentieth century but cutting-edge theory here and now, why not earlier?

There had been some change, and she was probably about to find out what. “Your Eminence need not worry,” she said, uncomfortable at how stilted she sounded in the more formal Italian they used hereabouts. “The doctors have been most kind, and I in turn have learned far more about their own fields of expertise than I have been pleased to help with from my own small knowledge.”

Of course, that brought a round of flowery protests from the doctors—why, their own arts were nearly mediaeval—the new learning far outstripped their own—the dottoressa was a legend, and deservedly so. Polite fictions, all of it, and Sharon realized there was a huge difference between the way in which polite society functioned and the cut-and-thrust of scientific debate. The conversation she’d had had up to now had been far more colloquial and informal, more near to what she’d been used to back home. Earlier, they had, to their credit, been challenging what she’d said and taken notes when she’d described high-school lab experiments they could do to verify some of it. Not that they needed scientific method explained, though. That was familiar to all of these good Lyncaeans, in its practical terms if not as a formal methodology.

The flowery protests ran down, and Barberini beamed. “Nevertheless, doctors, I shall claim the privilege of rank and steal the dottoressa away from you for a time. Doubtless you will seek to recapture her later, but for the time being let me show her that this symposium is not of natural philosophers alone?”

Well, Sharon thought, it’s his party. And, truth to tell, she was dying of curiosity as well. She got to her feet. “Thank you, Your Eminence,. I should like that very much, if only to repay your generosity as host in some small way.”