1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 55

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 55:

Barberini thought further. Nothing suggested itself. The report he would give to his uncle would be an uncomfortable one. He tried to anticipate the course of that audience. His Holiness would almost certainly suggest that approaching the problem from its fundamentals would yield results; the schools of philosophy and theology he had adhered to all his life left clear imprints on the way he thought. So, what was at the root of Borja’s stratagem? “They are making allegations about the influence of the United States of Europe on His Holiness, yes?” he said.

“Yes, Your Eminence,” Vitelleschi said, his face betraying nothing.

Vitelleschi had received his education, if not at the same time then at least from teachers trained in the same tradition as Pope Urban VIII. Their generation was the last of the mediaevals, in truth, where that of Cardinal Antonio Barberini the Younger was really the first to be untouched by that old way of thinking. It could make for conversations at uncomfortable cross-purposes, especially when the older man was bound and determined to make a Socratic dialogue of it. Very well—“and it remains the case that the contact between His Holiness and the United States of Europe since the conclusion of the Galileo affair has been only of the most perfunctory and formal kind, not such as to permit any opportunity of influence? And that their time in Rome has been spent making and maintaining contacts with merchants on the one hand, and learned men and doctors of physic and natural philosophy on the other, to the almost total exclusion of anyone with real political influence?”

“So far as I am aware, Your Eminence.”

“And that has not prevented Quevedo’s busy printers from nevertheless telling anyone who will listen that His Holiness is wholly under the spell of these wonder-workers from the future?”

“It has not, Your Eminence.”

Barberini searched the older man’s face. There was not a clue to be read there. Nary a twitch nor crease out of imperturbable place. “It therefore follows that there is no harm to be done by opening informal, social contact with the Dottoressa Nichols?”

“None that is not already being done in the fullest measure within our opponents’ power, Your Eminence,” Vitelleschi said.

“But why would I do such a thing? I confess I have not taken any steps since my uncle last spoke to me of the matter.”

Vitelleschi avoided the trap of Barberini’s rapid-fire question by mis-parsing it. “Your Eminence needs no excuse to invite a notable lady of high repute in the medical arts and sciences to one of his salons. Your Eminence already cultivates several doctors of natural philosophy.”

“I would have us drop the pretense, Father General,” Barberini said after a short pause. “While your efforts to educate me in matters perquisite to my position are greatly appreciated, in this matter I must ask that you advise me.”

Vitelleschi’s smile returned, for the merest scintilla temporis. The blink of an insect would have sufficed to miss it. “On Friday last in the forenoon Frank and Giovanna Stone, at whose wedding Your Eminence was pleased to administer the sacrament, attended the embassy of the United States of Europe in the first of what will be regular meetings. Giovanna Stone is under the medical care of the Dottoressa Nichols.”

“Is she ill?” Barberini’s concern was genuine. While he had been scared out of his wits by the gunplay at Galileo’s trial-that-was-not-a-trial, he had found them to be a pleasant young couple, only a few years younger than he was himself, for whom he had heartfelt wishes of every happiness.

“On the contrary. The marriage Your Eminence performed is to be fruitful in the latter part of this year, if God grant there be no complications. The girl is young and healthy, so as these things go the prospects must be accounted good.”

“Excellent!” Barberini cried aloud, thinking at least someone is getting good news. “And this bears on my contact with the Dottoressa—oh.” Now he said it aloud, it seemed obvious. Vitelleschi had scored against him again. Which was, given the man’s age and formidable learning, only to be expected. “The Committee of Correspondence is dedicated to organising mass action. You believe they -?”

“Almost certainly not in our direct interests. But they have a laudable commitment to honesty in their dealings, or so I understand from my brethren in the Germanies. We would find them foes, but honourable foes,” Vitelleschi said.

“I understand, though, that Stone is, as far as the activities of the Committee of Correspondence in Rome are concerned, careful to undertake no mass organisation. Given his history with the Inquisition, it seems wise of him.”

“True. But we face many months of Borja’s actions, and given time, the presence of an organisation which concentrates the minds of the mob on ills which can be remedied will prove useful. In the longer term, we would have to deal with them more directly.”

“Surely such things take time? The reports I have seen on the Committee—”

“We should have time. The present unrest is sporadic, and small. There has been little call for the militia. It will take time to build to a serious problem. By then, with a guarantee of the Inquisition’s restraint, it may be that the Committee will be working against the machinations of Quevedo’s agitators. They do something very much like it in the Germanies.”

“I am unconvinced of the value of such a strategem, Father-General.”

“I would ask Your Eminence to cultivate the contact nevertheless. It will be some time before I can meet with His Holiness without attracting comment. Please pass to him that this is my recommendation also.”

Barberini sighed. “I feel sure that he, too, will not think well of a plan that involves inviting revolutionaries, anti-clerical revolutionaries at that, in to Rome. But, be that as it may, I shall speak with Dottoressa Nichols in any event. Her presence at my salon will be stimulating.”

“I thank Your Eminence for the consideration.”

Barberini reached for his drink again, and saw the handbill on the table. “Of course, I will be accused in print of inviting her in order to fornicate with her. I had better invite Bedmar’s man as well. He is her intended, and I have heard stories about that man.”

About Eric Flint

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