1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 60:

Barberini offered her his arm. “Let me show you around some of the things we have here, dottoressa. Doubtless you have heard the stories of Barberini peculation?” Not waiting for her to acknowledge the reference to the principal charge against his family’s tenure in the papacy, he added, with a sly smile, “I should like to show you what it has bought.”

“I should like that very much indeed, Your Eminence,” she said, and that was the plain truth. The place had more art about the place than any museum she’d been in back in the up-time US, although her experience in that line hadn’t been much. She wasn’t a great connoisseur of art, really, but she’d tried not to be a complete philistine. And Cardinal Mazzare had told her that the collection that this man had assembled was, in the twentieth-century Rome that Mazzare had worked in as a young priest, the nucleus of the Italian state’s national art collection, in a museum housed in this very palazzo. So she was getting a tour of one of Europe’s better art collections conducted by one of Europe’s leading patrons of the arts who was also, despite being only three or four years older than Sharon herself, recognized as one of the leading experts in the field as well.

Indeed, it soon became apparent the man was encyclopedic on just about everything in the place, and there were dozens of rooms packed with beautiful things. The rest of the salon was taking place in the huge hall on the ground floor that still looked a little bare. Apparently Cortona was due to begin work on it soon, although Sharon hadn’t a clue who he might be. But the Palazzo Barberini was a huge building with a dozen or more rooms on each floor and even the parts that were still under construction were breathtaking.

At length, she could resist no longer. “Your Eminence,” she said, “I love what you’ve done with the place.”

He creased up at that. “Yes, it is a little overwhelming all in one go, isn’t it? I confess, I am a thieving magpie.”

He was looking at her expectantly, and she realized there was a reference she wasn’t getting here. And there was no guarantee it was even one she could ask about. From what she’d heard, he’d had a lot brought from Grantville and there was every possibility he knew more about twentieth-century art and literature and music than she did. She decided to brush past it if she could. “Who wouldn’t be, if they could?”

“True. It does not stop my family’s enemies upbraiding us for it.” His face twisted up in a sour expression for a moment. “Horseflies, they call us. Still, Cardinal Mazzare tells me that one day all this will edify the multitudes.” He waved a hand around.

“He told me that, as well,” Sharon agreed. “He said he found it strange to be staying here in what he last came to as a museum.” She paused a moment to take in the profusion. The décor was remarkable in every detail, the themes varying from room to room in wild profusion without ever clashing, and almost completely hidden with every square inch covered in art and sculpture. You could, she realized, lose days in here. It was a wonder that this Barberini, whose enthusiasm seeped out of every pore, ever left the place.

As it was, he was ranging his eyes over the collection. “Mazzare,” he said, after a moment, “is a man who is destined either for great things or to be remembered by history as the worst disaster ever to befall the Church.”

“How so?” Sharon asked. “The disaster part, that is.”

“It is… hard to explain,” Barberini said, after another long stare at the paintings. “I do not, you understand, pretend to understand all of the politics. Or the theology. Or how the two go together.”

Sharon looked around, and realized that, for the first time since they had started on this little tour, they were alone. Barberini had stopped in a spot where, with only a little effort, easily covered as contemplation of the surrounding artwork, he could see for quite some distance into the adjoining rooms whose doors had been thrown open. They would not be easily overheard by anyone. After Barberini’s pause had grown uncomfortably long, she said, “I don’t really understand all of it myself. Really, I just wanted to be a nurse. It wasn’t my fault I ended up a politician. As for theology, well, I went to church on Sundays and that was it.” She refrained from mentioning which church, since the African Methodist Episcopal church didn’t even exist in this time and place. Not that Barberini wouldn’t have had full reports on her accompanying Ruy to mass on Sunday.

“There are those that do, Dottoressa. And they have taken decisions I do not pretend to understand, and cannot see the wisdom of. There are times when I wonder whether we would not be better simply to denounce everything from your time as witchcraft as some of the older generation want to.” He sounded weary. “It would spare us all so many complications. After all, everyone understood the world before the Ring of Fire came, even though some of us affected a certain skepticism. Cynicism, even. Now? My esteemed uncle seems to have an idea fixed in his mind that God himself is speaking to him in this matter. But is not yet convinced he knows what he is being told.”

Sharon didn’t know what to say to that. And so the uncomfortable pause stretched even longer than the one before it. She said nothing, and just waited. What was up with the man? Either he thought she was going to be offended or he wasn’t happy with what he’d been ordered to say to her.

She hoped—no, she wasn’t sure what she hoped. She could take offense in stride, she figured. It wasn’t like most of what she saw around here wasn’t offensive in some way or other, and after a while she’d stopped noticing, most of the time. If he was unhappy about what he had to say, what was the worst of it? Business as usual, the Pope carefully pretending he didn’t have one more ambassador in his city, one who wasn’t getting invited to his court. Something that, between any other nations not actually at war, would be an insult but which the USE was being very forbearing about since they’d had the bare minimum recognition that protocol required. So either way there was no need to worry.

Barberini was making it look like there was, though. After a moment or too more, he turned back to her. “I must apologize, Dottoressa. I am being most unmannerly with you. I am uncharacteristically unsure of how to phrase what I would ask of you.”

Well, that was easy enough to deal with. It wasn’t like a bashful patient wasn’t something she had the training and experience to handle. She shrugged, and summoned up her best bedside manner. “So begin at the beginning. I promise I won’t hit you.”

He smiled a small, sad, smile. “For all that I would extend you every courtesy, Dottoressa, it is not for your sake that I hesitate. I am unconvinced of the wisdom of what must follow as it affects the interests of the Church, nor as it affects the interests of the papal states. I am, I confess, no diplomat, nor yet much of a politician, measured against those who instruct me. So perhaps I am naive.”