The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 09

Chapter 7

The Low Countries

March-April 1636

Any given Channel crossing from England to the Netherlands was likely to be better in March than in February. Not much, but some. On the average, so to speak. Marc Cavriani said that everyone involved in Henri de Rohan’s rescue mission for his brother should be grateful for that. Moreover, Soubise was out from under an, admittedly pretty comfortable, prolonged house arrest in London.

Soubise failed to support that cheerful perspective, but did heave a dramatic sigh of relief at being on solid ground again after the Channel crossing. Raudegen looked at him speculatively. Their charge had not shown the slightest sign of seasickness. Indeed, he had moved around the deck with considerable agility for a man of his publicly proclaimed decrepitude.

The newspapers in The Hague were still celebrating the February birth of Ernst Wilhelm, infant Grand Duke of the Free County of Burgundy, first child of Bernhard and Claudia. While it might seem premature to a rational man that the columnists were discussing the possibility that some day this infant might marry the Netherlands’ own Baby Archduchess (a cutie if ever there was one!), that didn’t stop the reporters.

Marc gathered up the various passports and letters of passage. He would find someone his father knew in the Dutch diplomatic service to have them returned to Huygens in England by way of a diplomatic pouch.

Soubise inquired where the Stadthouder was to be found, made a courtesy call, and was invited to remain for a private supper and some informal conversation, his companions included.

Over wine, Fredrik Hendrik, who of course knew the elder Cavriani, fingered the wispy blond moustache that matched his wispy blond hair and wispy blond goatee and asked Marc about his Wanderjahr.

“I don’t have many entertaining tales to tell of my travels,” Marc answered with a grin. “Alas, I am a prudent young man. Prudent to the point of dullness. It’s difficult to make much of the thugs who did not beat me up in Marseilles because I didn’t stay around long enough for them to locate me.

“I did mention to that bargemaster on the Rhône that there was a place in the hull that looked perilously thin, but when he ignored me, I left the boat at the last stopping point before they would have needed to pull it out to do the portage over the rapids. That particular pool was deep and tended to swirl, I had heard. It was too bad they lost the wine, though, for it was a good vintage and would have made a nice profit for the seller. I hope the shipment was insured.

“In the matter of those people in Lyon who might or might not have been Spanish spies…all I can say is that the aggressive pseudo-barmaid did not seduce me, because I went up to bed early and put a bar across my door. ” He pushed back the curl that constantly fell down into the middle of his forehead and shrugged, both palms pointing upwards. “Some of us were born to have exciting adventures and some were not. Odysseus will never need to envy me.”

He paused. “If I may inquire….”

“Permission granted.”

“I need to contact Froken Susanna Allegretti. Per my father’s arrangement, she was to be transferred from Brussels to your wife’s staff some months ago. She is a skilled dressmaker. She would be with your lady wife.”

But she wasn’t. Not to the best of the Stadthouder‘s knowledge. Nor, for that matter to that of his wife Amelia, her ladies-in-waiting, the steward, or anyone else. Nobody had even heard of her, much less of any proposed assumption of her into the household. There were no letters in the files. There was no notation in regard to compensation in the ledgers. The Hague had no knowledge of her existence.

“Which means,” Marc said, “that I am going to Brussels. Raudegen, you can escort Soubise directly to France if you wish, but I’m going to Brussels. Anything could have happened to Susanna since the last time Papa heard from her. Anything!”

Raudegen was more inclined to the view that one should never attribute to malice those things that could be explained by stupidity and suggested that M. Cavriani’s request for her transfer might have been lost in the mail or misplaced on someone’s desk, so the girl was still snug and comfortable where she had been the preceding autumn.

Marc was junior to everyone else involved in the rescue mission, both in age and rank. Nonetheless, the party proceeded toward Brussels–with ample funds, for a change, Marc having first produced the brilliant idea of drawing money on the Netherlands branch of the Cavriani Frères firm that his Aunt Alis managed and then having located a banker in the Hague who was willing to produce a substantial advance upon the Stadthouder’s secretary’s assistant’s clerk’s assurances that Marc was who he claimed to be. Faced with the options of either traveling from The Hague to Paris by way of Brussels furnished with sturdy horses, comfortable inns, and good food, or going directly from the Hague to Paris under conditions of utmost discomfort and frugality….

Not to mention that Raudegen, having developed a sneaking fondness for the little dressmaker when he escorted her from Basel to the Netherlands eighteen months or so earlier, agreed to the Brussels option…. The whole party was going to Brussels. Soubise would have to endure it with what little good grace he could manage.

Soubise’s valet, secretary, coachman, and cook took the news with even less grace.

* * * *

Soubise hadn’t enjoyed their stop in The Hague any more than he had enjoyed the Channel crossing. Nevertheless, he grumbled all the way to Brussels about having to leave it in such abominable weather.

“Yes, it remains true,” Colonel Raudegen commented, eyeing the dripping sky with an expression of piety. “Money cannot buy happiness.”

The roads from The Hague to Brussels were mostly mud, which was natural when the calendar was turning from late March into April. If wishes had been horses, they could have cut from The Hague east and caught a new railroad line that was well under construction. When it was complete, it would go from Amsterdam to Brussels, a strange one-rail construction with a few light cars. “By June,” the Stadthouder’s secretary said. “The contractors promise that in spite of all the difficulties, delays, cost overruns, equipment failures, unexpected engineering challenges, insufficient bridges, and the like, they will have it open by June.” Marc was not prepared to spend two or three months in The Hague waiting upon an uncertain technological future when Susanna was, presumably, in Brussels.

Soubise continued to utter profound complaints in regard to the detour.

“The direct road to Paris would be just as boggy,” Marc pointed out.

Boggy. Boggy with running rivulets of water. Soggy. Soggy and sticky with an astounding capacity for removing horseshoes. Squishy, creeping over the tops of their boots. Squishy mixed with manure as it crept over the tops of and into their boots, turning their socks into slimy, sliding serpents. Rutted from carts and wagons, the rivulets filling up the ruts, so it was almost impossible to detect where the deep spots were.

When Aunt Alis saw Marc standing on her front steps–her recently scrubbed front steps, washed by the maid whose duty it was, among other things, to keep front steps immaculate–she gave him a look that made him reach up and twirl the curl that fell into the middle of his forehead as if he were still six years old. Then she made them go around, come in through the back of the house, and strip down to their drawers before she allowed them out of the mud room. She had the servants bring a copper tub and fill it, ordering them to take baths and put on clean clothes before they set foot on the meticulously scrubbed black and white tile floor of her entryway, much less the hardwood floors, and most certainly not yet any room with a carpet.

Soubise, too. Duke or no duke. For that matter, Calvinist or not. It was possible that she might have shown more respect to him if the Rohan family had been more solvent, but Marc rather doubted it. The only ducal privilege that Aunt Alis granted was that of the First Bath. The valet got the second bath because the duke declaimed at length, with gestures, that his sitting around in the nude for hours in this weather, with no clothes and no valet and no manservant to assist him in donning the clothes, would probably be the death of him, old man that he was. Impossible! Marc laughed and deferred to the valet, but maintained precedence over the duke’s other servants.