1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 27:


December, 1635

Unequal laws unto a savage race

Chapter 10

Prague, capital of Bohemia

After he entered the huge salon that served Morris and Judith Roth for what Americans left back up-time would have called a living room on steroids, Mike Stearns spent half a minute or so examining the room. No casual inspection — this was a careful scrutiny that lingered on nothing but didn’t miss any significant detail, either.

By the time he was finished, his hosts had seated themselves on a luxurious divan located toward the center of the room and the servants had withdrawn at Judith’s signal, giving them some privacy.

Morris had a pained expression on his face. “Go ahead. Make the wisecracks about the nouveau riche so we can be done with it.”

Mike gave him a glance and smiled. He took a last few seconds to finish his examination and then took a seat on an armchair across from his hosts.

“Actually, I was going to compliment you on your judgment,” he said. “God help me for my sins, but I’ve become an expert on gauging ostentation, the proper degree thereof. I’d say” — he raised his hand and made a circular motion with his forefinger — “you’ve hit this just about right. Splendid enough to cement your position with the city’s Jewish population and satisfy any gentile grandee who happens to pop over that you’re a man to be taken seriously, but not so immodest as to stir up the animosity of those same gentiles.”

Morris grunted. “The second reason’s less important than the first. The only gentile grandee who pops over here on a regular basis is Pappenheim.”

Judith winced. “Puh-leese don’t use that expression in front of him, either one of you. The man has a sense of humor — pretty good one, in fact, if you allow for the rough edges — but it only extends so far, when it comes to himself. General Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim does not ‘pop over.’ He visits, with grace and style.”

Morris and Mike both smiled. Then Morris added: “The point being, Pappenheim’s the only important gentile figure in Bohemia who’s ever been over here and most of what’s in these public rooms is stuff that means nothing to him.”

He pointed to a series of etchings on one of the walls. Morris and Judith were the subjects of three of them, two separately and one as a couple. Mike didn’t recognize any of the other people portrayed, but from subtleties of their costume he thought they were probably other prominent figures in Prague’s very large Jewish community.

“Those are all by Václav Hollar,” Morris said. “He was born and raised here, but then moved to Cologne. Judith sweet-talked him into coming back with the offer of a number of commissions.”

Mike shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

“He became well enough known that there’s a brief mention of him in my records,” Judith said. She was referring to the files on her computer. Before the Ring of Fire, Judith’s interest in her family’s genealogy had led her to compile quite a bit of information from the internet on Prague’s Jewish community during the seventeenth century. Her ancestors had come from here. One of them, in fact, had been the famous rabbi known as the Maharal, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, whom legend said invented the golem.

“But that happened years from now in our old timeline,” Judith went on, “after he moved to England. In the here and now, he’s too young to be famous. Which is a good part of the reason I wanted him. You’re right that it can be a bit dangerous — might be more than a bit, under some circumstances — for Jews to be too ostentatious.”

Morris shrugged. “What I was getting at, though, was that we could have commissioned Rubens or Rembrandt to do those portraits and Pappenheim wouldn’t have known the difference.”

“Rubens and Rembrandt wouldn’t have come anyway,” said Judith, “but if they had you can be sure that Wallenstein would have known about it — and he does know who they are.”

“Speaking of Wallenstein…” Mike’s expression had no humor left in it now. “He doesn’t look good. At all.”