1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 73:



            Within, Quevedo had, to Borja's irritation, retained the street-ruffian attire in which he went about Rome doing Borja's bidding, and had his filthy clogs on the furniture. He made no effort whatsoever to rise on the cardinal's entrance being announced. "Well?" Borja asked, deciding that drawing attention to Quevedo's loutish behaviour would be undignified.


            "Your Eminence ought to know that there was rioting at the embassy of the so-called United States of Europe earlier in the evening. Rival gangs brawled in the street outside." Quevedo smiled thinly. "It appears that the ambassador is fomenting unrest of her own, and the rivalry between the insurrectionary factions is spilling into the streets of Rome."


            "Take note, Ferrigno," Borja said. "You will append a full report on this latest outrage to the dispatch to Naples."


            "Yes, Your Eminence," Ferrigno said distractedly, his pencil scratching away.


            "Is there more?" Borja asked.


            "Much, Your Eminence, if I might anticipate the contents of Your Eminence's next dispatch to those set in authority over him."


            "Do go on," Borja purred. Truly, he thought, the providence of the Holy Spirit is in generous humor tonight. It was humbling, truly humbling, to be the agent of God's will in the mortal world.


            "Your Eminence is already aware from earlier reports that the ambassador from the United States of Europe is in communication with the anarchist elements of the Committees of Correspondence?"


            Borja nodded. "Yes, yes."


            "The ambassador of the United States of Europe and the sister of the former prime minister of that nation were both seen in conversation with the ringleader of the Committee, following the disturbances outside the embassy. That it should be coincidence that there followed the unpleasantness at Your Eminence's very doorstep is to strain credulity, I most respectfully suggest. Furthermore, I have reports that a large party of ruffians departed the very nest of these vipers shortly before I set out to report to Your Eminence and warn him of the impending danger. I made haste to outpace those miscreants and bring advance warning. It seems, however, that these were but reinforcements for an assault already in hand, and for my failure to deliver warning of that, Your Eminence, I, Francisco de Quevedo y Villega, must most humbly apologise."


            "And, in view of your most diligent and excellent work otherwise, Senor Quevedo y Villega," Borja said, amazed at the man's ability to keep his face straight, for the provocation of just such an assault had in no small measure been directed by the agent himself, "I can do no other than accept your most gracious apology in the spirit in which it was offered, and tender the forgiveness which is by Christ's law your merest due."


            Quevedo sketched a bow of acknowledgement from where he sat, but did not trouble to disarrange his footwear from the chair on which his feet took their ease. "Your Eminence is most charitable in overlooking his most humble servant's many failings." It was all Borja could do not to strike his insolent face where he sat.


            He took a deep breath. "Is there anything further that I should include in my despatch?"


            "Only, Your Eminence, that the Committee of Correspondence, as well as acts tending to the general disorder, are inducing the common citizenry of Rome to acts of immorality. I had agents present earlier in the evening at their principal den, and I grieve to report to Your Eminence that the place was the scene of the most lewd cavortings and intoxication. The corruption of the city's youth seemed to be their principal end, Your Eminence. Such lasciviousness and abandon must needs be stopped. I also have a full dossier of the material circulated about the city under this organization's aegis and name. Your Eminence, it is fomentation of the most disgusting sort, calling for revolution, brigandage and the atheistic folly of separation of church and state. Production is in the thousands, and naturally Your Eminence will be concerned about an attack on the morals and faith of the best-educated of the common folk—those who can and do read. Not least becase the Inquisition appear to have been suborned by these wretches. The felon Stone visits there regularly, twice a week it is said, and not once have efforts been made to arrest him. The connection is obvious."


            "I thank you, Senor Quevedo y Villega. Doubtless my secretary will take a full report from you in due course. Ferrigno?"


            "Yes, Your Eminence?"


            "Go and prepare the draft. I want a despatch for my signature within the hour. Ensure his Excellency is asked to put in hand the measures already agreed with all possible haste, and encypher that part. Use your discretion as to what other parts must be encyphered, but have a mind that this matter is urgent, both here and in Naples."


            "Yes, Your Eminence." Ferrigno was still scribbling as he left.


            "So, Senor," Borja said when Ferrigno had shut the door, "Was it the stupidity of the civil authorities?"


            "Largely, no. The unpredictable nature of the common folk and a number of useful coincidences were among our principal advantages. That the matter worked on the first provocation was of great good fortune. The matter could so easily have died away to the status of street-gossip for the next week."


            "The hand of the Holy Spirit!" Borja cried aloud. "I was surer of nothing else!"


            "Your Eminence's insight into such matters is well known," Quevedo said, gravely.




            In the end, the despatch went on a fast horse to Naples at two in the morning. The shooting at the gate had died down an hour before.