1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 77

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 77:

 

 

CHAPTER 28

 

 

Rome

 

            His Holiness stood at the open window. Very little of St. Peter's Square could be seen from that window—there was a builders' scaffold in the way—but the sounds of riot and disorder were very much to be heard. Much less than they had been in the hours after midnight, but still there.

 

            Cardinal Antonio Barberini could just about hear the crackle of muskets, a sound he had only rarely heard before and never in Rome. Again, there was less than there had been the night before, when every militia commander and bodyguard captain in the city—and not a few concerned citizens—had shot at rioters in the streets. There would certainly have been fatalities, and it was too much to hope that all of them were of the blackest character and surely guilty of some heinous crime. Barberini had expressed that hope in the darkest hours, and been told by several of the gentlemen of his salon, more than one of whom had been condottieri in one small way or another in the course of their careers, that the chances of that were slim at best. Ringleaders in riots tended to lead from the rear; those at the forefront were the young, enthusiastic, stupid and drunk, and often all four in the same person.

 

            He was not standing so close to the window—even if the Pope is one's uncle there is a certain minimum level of etiquette to observe—as to see much other than sky. But there were columns of smoke visible, rising and spreading on the light breeze of early summer.

 

            Barberini looked from the smoke to His Holiness and back again. Suddenly, the serene and dignified pontiff looked far more like his elderly Uncle Maffeo, who to a much younger Antonio had seemed like a kindly old man. And yet he had grown terribly old, without his nephew noticing, and seemed bowed on this morning.

 

            The night had been long and hot, and there had been rioting in the city. Antonio, who was no spymaster but had the native wit to recognize the need for a corps of paid informers and the contacts to find someone with the skills to run such a network, had had reports waiting for him before breakfast. And it had been an early breakfast. Cardinal Antonio Barberini was what a later age would call “Bohemian,” for all that he was in theory a senior man in a hierarchy that vowed poverty, chastity and obedience. On an ordinary day, he would rise at a leisurely and civilized hour, on those nights when he took to his bed at all. This night past, he had retired late, slept little and risen early. The morning had an air of unreality about it.

 

            Not least because the reports had been so conflicted, so confused. The rioters were chanting, by Barberini's rough count, fourteen different sets of slogans, attacking three different groups and were coming from a dozen different parishes. It was almost as if the citizens of Rome were looking for any excuse to engage in disorder. It was surely too much to believe that so many disparate strands of disaffection had surfaced at the same time.

 

            Barberini had made his way to the Vatican as soon as he had decently breakfasted, and found himself immediately admitted to His Holiness' presence. Of course, his uncle had always been an early riser of habit, but there was usually at least something of a wait before one might be seen. In fact, one almost expected—

 

            But the Pope was speaking. "My dear nephew," he said, "I presume your early appearance betokens information you have for me on this night's business?" His Holiness turned from the window and smiled at Barberini. It was the simple smile of an old man for a favored, if somewhat wayward, nephew.

 

            "Your Holiness, it does. But I fear that what I have to report to you does not begin to plumb the depths of what is taking place outside—" Barberini began, before the Pope waved him to silence.

 

            "Peace, my boy, peace. I am not the first Pope to arouse the ire of Rome's mob, nor will I be the last, I should imagine. Indeed, I can remember worse rioting than this, and over less.  During the course of breakfast this morning some of the older of my retainers regaled me with tales of some of the disturbances they had seen, and assured me that nothing I could remember was more than a minor brawl by comparison."

 

            The Pope paused to chuckle. "Truly, I remember being your age and being irked beyond measure at the tendency of old men to reminisce about how everything was bigger and better in their day. Be assured, my boy, that the phenomenon does not disappear as one ages. There is always someone who can remember more than you can, and he will always assure you that what you see now is naught but a pale shadow of the glory that once was."

 

            Barberini found himself smiling. "Your Holiness finds me too transparent."

 

            The Pope chuckled again. "Come, claim your Cardinal's dignity and sit in my presence. Summarise for me what your spies tell you, and let us compare it with what my spies tell me. It will pass the time while we wait for a man who truly knows what is happening."

 

            "The Father-General?" Barberini realized as he said it that he was not surprised. The Society of Jesus was considerably less well-represented in Rome than it was elsewhere, since the Jesuits were great believers in being out in the world doing their work rather than intriguing in Rome. It was nevertheless a body of men that did not stint in any aspect of information-gathering. That the Pope should send for their leader at a time like this was only natural.

 

            Barberini realized, as he gave a précis of the little he had learned, that it actually would be a surprise to see Vitelleschi here. It was, after all, civil disturbance. Criminality, albeit on a scale which was surprising to Barberini. Why was the Society involved? Were they involved? Barberini stuck to his report and resolved himself to patience.

 

            Barberini had just completed listing the incidents which had come to his ears when Vitelleschi arrived. The formalities of greeting completed, the spare, ascetic old Jesuit came straight to the point. "Your Holiness, Borja sent a messenger south last night. A fast horse, and a rider with evident orders not to spare the animal."

 

            His Holiness nodded, his gaze turned inward for a moment, reflecting on the news. "And the most recent news from Naples?"

 

            "As it stood when last Your Holiness was last apprised."

About Eric Flint

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