1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 68:



It had been an evening for everyone to go out and hear some music. One of the minor Colonnas was hosting an evening of string recitals by someone who, as far as anyone could remember, was destined to be thoroughly forgotten by history.

A hired carriage had been booked and Sharon was busy getting ready. She’d been uncomfortable at first with the idea of having a maid to help, but Greta and Maria, whom Adolf Kohl had hired as part of the housekeeping staff for the embassy, had gotten to be friends and insisted on helping her get ready for the various functions she held and got invited to as ambassador. And, truth be told, it was kind of fun to have a bit of a girls’ pre-party, especially given the fussiness of some of the dresses that were fashionable hereabouts. A girl needed help. Not that they weren’t, sometimes, gorgeous, and Sharon had enjoyed playing dress-up as a kid as much as anyone.

And, of course, now that Rita and Melissa were here, there was every possibility of their being ever-so-slightly late. Not least because Melissa was approaching the whole thing with a determination to have fun that bordered on the grim. “Sharon,” she’d said, “I spent all those months shut up in the Tower. You think I’m not going to make the most of every opportunity to go out, think again.”

She, too, had been a bit chary of having maids to help. She hadn’t said anything, but there was a faint aura of disapproval until she got into the spirit of the thing. It wasn’t really part of either girl’s job, just a bit of after-hours fun with the boss. Sometimes, Sharon wondered what the shock would be like for them if they went back to working for the usual run of Roman gentlefolk. Since Greta was engaged to be married, her prospects for remaining in work were pretty limited anyway. The USE might not follow the usual practice of not keeping any but the more senior servants on if they married, but her husband-to-be would have to be something out of the common run if he was going to tolerate having a working wife. Sharon had wondered how to approach the question of getting the guy—he did something with horses, she wasn’t sure what—to take a job at the embassy in the hopes that with the pair of them sharing servants’ quarters he’d not feel so publicly humiliated and just take the extra income. Greta was really good, and great fun to have around.

Still, it wasn’t the evening to be fretting over the problems of being a boss. They were getting ready to go show the assembled minor nobility of Rome how three American gals could knock ’em dead, even if they did have to make do with downtime makeup these days. Thank god for Stoner, was all she could say. His dyes and pigments might not have been up to making lipstick to Revlon’s standards, but compared with the poisons they used down-time, they were a godsend.

The clothes made up for it, though. Rita was quite vocal about dressing up as a fairy princess, and she wasn’t far off the mark. Melissa might not be saying anything, but Sharon could tell she wasn’t exactly protesting at the confections of, well, pretty much everything that the local seamstresses had turned out for them.

So was that when Captain Taggart knocked and Sharon shouted out “Come in! We’re decent—”

—and Rita had shouted “Speak for yourself, girl”—

He put his head round the door to see a scene that looked like aftermath of a twister in a cosmetics-and-lingerie warehouse. To his credit, other than his eyes widening briefly, he didn’t seem fazed. “Mistress Nichols, you should see this, out the front.”

Sharon’s suite of rooms was at the back of the building. As they followed the Captain of Marine Horse toward the front of the building, she heard the commotion before they saw it. The ballroom-cum-exercise-hall had the best view of the street and it was there that he led them. Ruy and Tom and her dad were there, already ready to go out. In Dad’s case, he’d probably been ready for a while and was ready to complain loudly and bitterly about female tardiness—not that that wouldn’t stop him strutting once he had the results on his arm. The three men were peering out the window looking out at whatever was making the racket in the street below, along with one of the marines.

Sharon went over and joined them. The twilit street outside was hardly crowded with the group who were doing all the shouting. They stood back a little from the entrance, no doubt because there was a constant two-marine guard there with rifle, bayonet and saber. Other than that, they were gathered around the entrance, reached back maybe halfway across the street and a few yards either side. As mob protests went, pretty feeble stuff. At a rough guess, between the staff and the marines, the crowd was outnumbered by the embassy they were picketing. Or, if Ruy was making the estimate, by him alone.

“They arrived all together a few minutes ago,” Captain Taggart said.

“All together?” Sharon asked.

“Not even the pretence of spontaneous action,” Ruy said, sounding amused.

“This one of the rent-a-crowds you’ve been telling us about?” Her father addressed his question to no-one in particular.

Melissa sniffed. “I should go out and give them some pointers. In my day, we knew how to protest. I could start evening classes, I’d clean up.”

Ruy chuckled. “Dona Melissa, it is certain that your skills in these matters would command a higher price than was spent on all of these poltroons together. I have made enquiries. This is work for those lacking the skill to shovel dung from the streets. I have spoken with some of the people who have been to such things, and wit was not much in evidence. I have not spoken to the teams of men Quevedo has organizing these little parties, but the practice seems to be that any warm body will do.”