1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 67

That was the duke’s temperament at work. Despite his status, George had a rare capacity to distance himself from political nostrums. He had almost a child’s reaction to what Melissa called the as-we-all-know syndrome. He’d ask “why is that true?” where most of his class — of any class, being fair — would just take as-we-all-know for granted.

Brunswick-Lüneburg’s own political views were quite moderate, as such things were gauged in the here and now. Like a number of highly-placed people — James could see a copy of the book in Torstensson’s bookcase right here and now, in fact — Duke George was being influenced by the writings of the Netherlands essayist Alessandro Scaglia.

James hadn’t read Political Methods and the Laws of Nations, but Melissa had. The book was only being circulated privately, but when she’d asked Scaglia for a copy he’d sent it to her with his compliments.

Her depiction of the policies advocated by Scaglia had been as follows: “The gist of his argument is that the powers-that-be are going to get screwed anyway, no matter what. So they might as well relax and try to work out the best possible arrangement with the plebes. Make ’em agree to take a bath regularly and dress up for dinner, that sort of thing. He uses longer words and a lot more of them.”

The orderly appeared with a tray bearing a cup of tea. He placed it on the side table next to Nichols’ chair and withdrew to the back of the room. There was a moment of silence as the three generals waited politely for the doctor to take his first sip.

After he set the cup down, he said: “In answer to your unspoken question, General Torstensson, I can’t tell you anything about the emperor’s condition. I was not permitted to see him.”

Torstensson grunted. “Not permitted by Chancellor Oxenstierna?”

“I was told the orders came from him, yes. But I didn’t speak to him myself. Then or at any time in the three days I was in Berlin.”

“Told by whom?”

“Colonel Hand.”

“Ah! The king’s estimable cousin.” That came from Duke George. Knyphausen’s contribution was to issue one of those grunts that seemed freighted with meaning; but, alas, a meaning known only to the grunter.

“I’m interested in what else –” Torstensson started to say, but then closed his mouth and shook his head. “Never mind.”

At a guess, Nichols thought Torstensson was going to ask him what else Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand had said to him.

If he had…

James wasn’t sure how he’d have responded. The colonel had asked him not to speak to anyone about the matter they’d discussed, on the grounds that he didn’t want to raise false hopes. A bit grudgingly, Nichols had agreed. He’d never had much use himself for that whole “let’s not raise false hopes” line of reasoning, which was rampant in the medical community. But he’d agreed to go along. He hadn’t thought much about it, to be honest.

Now, if he was interpreting Torstensson’s abrupt silence correctly, James began to wonder if Hand really had simply been reluctant to “raise false hopes.” What if…

What if what he’d really wanted was to keep Chancellor Oxenstierna from learning that Gustav Adolf appeared to be having flashes of coherence in his speech and his reactions to the people around him? One thing that Hand had made clear was that Oxenstierna only came to visit the stricken monarch on rare occasions now. For the past two months, understandably enough, the chancellor had been pre-occupied with political affairs.


For the moment, though, Nichols didn’t see where there was much he could do, one way or the other. So he decided to satisfy his own curiosity.

“If you don’t mind my asking, General Torstensson, I’m wondering what your own intentions are.” He waved his hand in a vague gesture. “About the overall political situation, I mean.”

Knyphausen issued another of those meaninglessly meaningful grunts. Brunswick-Lüneburg grinned like a Cheshire cat. Which was equally meaningless, coming from him.

Torstensson pursed his lips. “To be honest, Dr. Nichols, I am not prepared to give you an answer that would be at all…how to put it?”

“Expansive,” suggested Duke George.

“Yes, that’s it. Expansive.”

“I’ll settle for terse,” said Nichols.

Knyphausen grunted again.

“Not that terse, please.”

The three generals burst into laughter. “Ah, Dodo!” exclaimed the duke. “You see? As I’ve told you time and again, you could drive the Oracle at Delphi mad.”

Torstensson finished the wine in his glass and set it down. “Let me put it this way, Doctor. I believe — so do George and Dodo; and, yes, of course we’ve discussed the matter — that nothing would be improved at all if we allowed the main forces of the USE’s army to be dragged into the civil conflict. That, for any number of reasons, not the least of them being” — his own voice got stiff for a moment — “as I have now explained to the chancellor on several occasions — that it is by no means clear how the army itself would react if I did so. The enlisted men, I mean.”

Knyphausen grunted again — but, finally, put some words behind the sound. “In this instance, ‘enlisted men’ being a euphemism for ‘the fellows holding most of the guns.’ ”

“And know how to use them, too.” That came from George; this time, without a smile. “There is a sort of unspoken, tacit agreement between ourselves — the commanding officers, I mean — and the soldiers in our army here at PoznaÅ„. They agree to obey orders — here — and we agree that we will stay here and not try to use them to enforce any sort of settlement back in the USE proper.”

“That’s well put,” added Torstensson. “And about as much as we are prepared to say.”