1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 49
“It was my idea,” Rebecca admitted. She folded her hands in her lap and looked directly at Terrye Jo. “I asked your father to come to France with me, and asked your uncle to come along to help convince him.
“For the past six months, Miss Tillman, you have been in the company of Monsieur — soon to be King — Gaston, and his close relation and ally Duke Victor Amadeus. I will be completely honest with you: I know that you have knowledge that may be vital for your country to possess.”
“You’re asking me to betray –”
“Not betray,” Rebecca said. “I want merely to . . . obtain your opinion of certain things. I might also be able to provide you with some information you might not possess.”
Rebecca didn’t answer the question. “In the past few days I have heard two rumors that I find disturbing. The first is that Cardinal Richelieu is recovering somewhere from injuries caused by the attack that killed the king. The second is that the queen — by which I mean Anne of Austria — is in flight, along with an infant son. If either of these is true, and I fear that both are true, then France is headed for civil war.”
“I guess you think I’ll more likely confide in my father than in you?”
“I thought it likely, yes.”
The admission caught Terrye Jo somewhat by surprise. Her dad looked troubled, embarrassed, almost helpless, as if he’d been dragged into this against his will; he was obviously very happy to see her — there was no blame, no anger, just the same profound sadness she’d seen when she was last in Grantville.
He doesn’t really belong here, she thought. Not just here in Reims. He doesn’t belong in the seventeenth century.
She looked down at her clothes, which really did fit well — they’d been made for her. She was completely comfortable; she had a profession, she had a purpose, she had a direction in her life that would never have been there but for the Ring of Fire. She did belong in the seventeenth century.
“So that’s, what, the fig leaf. You ask the questions and I tell my Dad all the secrets. You may have missed the news, ma’am, but we haven’t been talking recently.”
“You write him letters.”
“You’re reading my mail?”
“I asked her the same question,” Joe Tillman said. He glanced at Rebecca and then back at his daughter. “She said that they didn’t. Exactly. But they know that you wrote me letters.”
“You didn’t write back,” Terrye Jo said. “I didn’t know if you even got them.”
“I did,” Joe said. He reached into an inner pocket of his denim jacket and pulled out a thick envelope. “I have every one of them. I’ve read them each a dozen times. I . . . never knew what to write back.”
Terrye Jo didn’t have an answer to her father’s comment. He had never been one to talk or write a great deal — while others bragged about their war service, he’d never had more than a few words to say about his time in Vietnam. As her mother became increasingly more ill, his anger grew but simmered below the surface — it took other forms, making it hard for anyone to reach him.
Her mother’s inevitable death hardened it even further.
“I want to tell you it’s all right,” Terrye Jo said.
“But you can’t.”
Terrye Jo didn’t say anything in reply.
“What do you want to know? I suppose that since you’ve dragged my father and uncle all the way here, you should get something for your investment.”
Rebecca Stearns settled herself in her chair, smoothing her skirts with her hands. There was no doubt that Terrye Jo’s comment was provocative, but she didn’t appear to want to rise to the challenge.
“I don’t want you to betray any confidences, or any duties you owe to the duke of Savoy or His Highness,” she said at last. “I merely want to revisit the time you spent in Turin as a telegrapher.”
“So I can say ‘stop’ at any time.”
“Then ask away.”
“Miss Tillman, I understand that you served as telegrapher for Duke Victor Amadeus and then for Monsieur Gaston, both while he was in residence at Turin and during his progress to Paris after the death of King Louis.”
“I stayed on at Castel Valentino after we built the radio rig for the duke.” Terrye Jo smiled. “That’s how I got Artemisio: he’s one of my apprentices. He’s actually very handy.”
“Should I load my shotgun?” Joe Tillman said.
“Dad, if he was any sort of threat, I’d have shot him myself. Anyway, I helped build and set up the equipment at Castel Valentino, and the duke hired me to manage and take care of it. There wasn’t really much to do, other than to train some of the down-timers as telegraph operators so we could keep the rig staffed at all times. When Monsieur Gaston turned up, we started communicating with someone specific.”
“Who was that?”
“Well, his name is Georges Cordonnier, but I only just met him. He was a telegrapher working for the Count of Soissons in Paris; the Count of Soissons is –”
“I know who he is, Miss Tillman. What sort of messages did Monsieur Gaston send and receive?”
“Well, he was interested in certain things — what was going on in Paris. Georges — GJBF was his handle, it’s all I knew until we reached Paris — was reporting on things like the queen’s pregnancy and seclusion. Monsieur Gaston wanted to know how things were progressing and where the queen was staying — no one knew. I don’t think Monsieur Gaston knows even now.”
“He has issued a proclamation inviting her to attend his coronation,” Rebecca said. “I do not expect to see her. Do you know if she is still carrying the child, or if it has been born?”
“I don’t know.”
“Gaston would certainly want to know if Queen Anne had a son. Even if he succeeds in his throne grab and proclaims the baby to be illegitimate, the infant will garner enough supporters to be a problem just because he exists. Particularly since Gaston does not have a direct male heir of his own — only a daughter who, under French law, is excluded from the throne.”
“Up-time there was never a woman President.”
“In any case,” Rebecca continued, “you transmitted the report of the king’s death. Is that correct?”
“Yes. The message came in toward evening, just before dinner. I sent word and Monsieur Gaston came at once.”
“And he prepared at once to come and claim his inheritance. The end of his exile at last, with the king and Cardinal Richelieu dead. Assuming he is dead.”
“I guess nobody knows that,” Terrye Jo said. “I keep hearing rumors, and you said you’d heard them as well.”
Terrye Jo looked as if she was going to say more, but didn’t. When she fell silent, Rebecca sat forward again.
“And nothing. Just rumors, I guess.”
“Miss Tillman, there is something you aren’t telling me.”
“How do you know?”
Rebecca smiled. “I am my father’s daughter, Miss Tillman. He taught me — and taught me very well, I would venture — to listen carefully to what people say, and take especial note of that which they do not say.”
“You’re an expert on words.”
“My father is a Jewish scholar,” Rebecca said. “Everyone in the Jewish race is an expert on words. Morris Roth told me that even up-time, putting three rabbis in a conversation would yield five opinions. At least.
“So I am assured that you are leaving something out. I would very much like to know what it is.”
“I’m still working for Monsieur Gaston, ma’am.”
“I do not ask you to betray any of his secrets.”
“Well,” Terrye Jo said, “it’s just . . . when the news of King Louis’ death came in — just that, that the king was dead, by an ambush in a forest — Monsieur made a show of being upset. But I got the feeling that he almost expected it. But he really wanted to know what had happened to the cardinal. Cardinal Richelieu. If his body had been returned to Paris along with the king’s. When there was no information, he was angry. Very angry.”
“I just told you some things you didn’t know,” Terrye Jo said. “If this gets back to Gaston I’ll not be working for him anymore.”
“It is in strictest confidence,” Rebecca answered. “We’ve been very careful here to make sure we’re not easily overheard. And with your relatives here, there is an easy cover for your visit to our consulate. I think . . . we may need to have you show your father and uncle around Reims. I will be in touch with people back at home.
“Your information is very valuable, Miss Tillman,” she added, standing up. Terrye Jo stood also, picking up her hat; the interview was clearly over. “I don’t know what it all means, but I do know that there is more to this than is immediately clear.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” she answered, taking Rebecca’s hand. “It’s . . . well, it’s great to meet you after hearing and reading so much about you.”
“It is also my pleasure to meet you,” Rebecca said, with a glance at Joe, who had stood up as well. “I’ve heard a great deal about you as well.” She placed Terrye Jo’s hand in her father’s.
She looked at Joe — really looked at him. He was smiling, but seemed almost on the edge of tears.
“Come on, Dad,” she said at last. “Let’s go see the sights.”