1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 08
“At least in regard to politics,” Terrye Jo said.
“Yes. Of course. As for the rest . . .” he settled himself in a creaky armchair and flipped a page in the book in front of him. “There is much I could teach you, Signorina, if you would merely open your mind to science.”
It was an old argument, and she bit back a reply. Him chiding her about science was . . . typical, if absurd.
“Why do you think that the duke wants to contact Paris?”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Heard what? I didn’t take breakfast this morning. Wasn’t hungry.”
“We have a guest. His Highness Gaston Jean-Baptiste de France, and his lovely wife Marguerite de Lorraine. Come to pay his sister a visit.”
“Gaston.” Terrye Jo knew the name, but wasn’t up on the politics. “Monsieur Gaston, except they always call him Monsieur Gaston. The king’s younger brother.”
“Estranged brother, I daresay,” Baldaccio said. “He is in exile from France for his intrigues. Yet, for all that, he is the heir to the throne, since the king appears . . . disinclined to produce one of his own.”
“So he’s the next king of France? What’s he doing here?”
“I would not venture to say. But I suspect that your — instruments –” he gestured toward the disassembled antenna strut in front of Artemisio. “They might have something to do with it. The prince is here to make use of them.”
“Huh. But . . . you said he was in exile.”
Baldaccio sighed. He leaned back, making the chair complain. “Foolish girl. Monsieur is in exile, but not all of his friends are so disadvantaged. He is here — but his friends are there.” He folded his hands over his ample belly, looking satisfied — like a snake that has just enjoyed a particularly filling meal.
She ignored the foolish girl, though she had an image in her mind of stuffing the words one letter at a time down his throat. “I got the impression that Duke Victor Amadeus is a friend of the king of France. You’re suggesting that he’s part of some intrigue with Monsieur Gaston.”
“I am not suggesting anything, Signorina, and will deny any imputation of the sort. I am merely employing logic, which is a key to science, as –”
“As you’d teach me if I’d only listen. I understand.” She sat on the bench next to the antenna. Artemisio, who had remained silent through the entire exchange, joined her at once. “I’ve got work to do. Maybe later.”
Monsieur Gaston’s reasons for visiting his sister were made clear to Terrye Jo a few days later. She was in the operator’s room, a cubicle below the tower that was built into the ceiling above the workshop; it was accessible by a staircase made of new, unfinished wood.
It was dusk, the shadows from the mountains lengthening across the valley. She was trying to pick up a broadcast signal from Magdeburg when she felt, rather than heard, the tramp of boots. When they came into the cubicle, she had taken off her headphones and stood up to see who had come to visit.
The man who addressed her was young — about Terrye Jo’s age — and richly dressed in the latest fashion. He had a piercing gaze with deep blue eyes and a smooth, clear voice. The four men with him were also well-dressed, but were clearly no more than ornaments for the one who had spoken.
“Monsieur,” she said, standing. Her Italian was better than her French, and this man was a native speaker.
“No, please sit. I am FranÃ§ois de VendÃ´me, at your service.” He offered a courtier’s bow. “And you are the most distinguished up-time . . . er, radio operator.”
“Yes. My Lord,” she added, realizing it was appropriate and he’d be expecting it.
A tiny smile appeared on FranÃ§ois de VendÃ´me’s face. “My father is CÃ©sar de VendÃ´me, Mademoiselle. I am in Monsieur Gaston’s company, and at his direction I have come to . . . inspect your facility. With the permission of His Grace the duke, we will require some extra work from you.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Terrye Jo said. She had decided to remain standing, rather than sit in the presence of this nobleman. “Extra work?”
“Yes. Some communications. Do not worry, you will be paid well for your trouble.”
On vous paiera bien de vos travaux. It sounded very nice in French. “I am always happy to hear that,” she said. “I would like assurance that it is with the permission of the duke.”
Louis looked over his shoulder at his companions, then back at her. “Do you have any doubts, Mademoiselle?”
“The . . . no, Monsieur. My Lord, I do not doubt your intentions, but this equipment is in my care, and I am obligated to the duke as an employee. If anything were to happen it would be my responsibility, no matter who is operating it.”
“It would be you, surely?”
“Not necessarily. There are a dozen people qualified to run it at the moment,” she said. “But it’s me in charge regardless of who –”
“You are quite right to be cautious, Mademoiselle, but it would be His Highness’ wish that for his communications that it would be you, and only you, at the instrument.” He held up one hand, the lace cuff hanging limply at the wrist, as if to forestall any response. “Your ability at teaching the skills are not in question. I can assure you –”
“I am sure you can.”
“What do you want? Exactly?”
“I think written permission would be helpful. A note with Duke Victor Amadeus’ signature and seal would do, indicating that I should be selected to do what a dozen people at the Castello del Valentino can competently handle.”
The little smile disappeared. For a moment, Terrye Jo wasn’t sure whether she’d stepped across some line with the man. Then she decided that she didn’t care — this was her gear, and she was responsible. Getting bullied by some French prince, or duke, or whatever he was, wasn’t going to work.
“I assume that there won’t be any problem with that.”
“You are a very determined young woman, Mademoiselle. Is this a characteristic of all up-time females, like . . . trousers?”
She smiled. Her working clothes weren’t exactly what someone like FranÃ§ois de VendÃ´me was used to.
“Only the tough ones.” She smiled, and FranÃ§ois’ expression softened slightly. “I don’t know about the others.”
“In the instance that I obtain this permission I will expect that you will provide the service that Monsieur Gaston requires, and that you will keep all that you see — and send over your radio — in confidence. This is most important, Mademoiselle. Many things, and many people, depend on your care in this matter.”
“I know how to keep secrets, My Lord,” Terrye Jo said. “You can ask the duke and duchess.”
“Yes,” he answered. “I already did. You are highly regarded. Particularly by the duchess.” He looked her up and down, from the fierce smile to the trousers and work boots. “Otherwise we would not be having this conversation.”