1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 79

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 79:

 

 

            "How has he achieved—?" Barberini waved an arm at the open window to indicate what he asked after. The sounds of trouble were still audible, the palls of smoke still smearing the sky.

 

            "It is reported that he began by simply disbursing money to procure crowds at selected places. It may be that he suborned a militia officer to over-react, although that seems doubtful. Gulled him in some way, most likely, if ordinary stupidity does not suffice to explain the matter. Certainly the officer in question seems to have died in the melee.  The resulting ill-feeling swelled some of his subsequent performances, and it appears he has taken pains to ensure a strong militia reaction at several of them. He maintained this activity for some time, until food prices rose, provoking further discontent, and Rome's Committee of Correspondence made the unwise move last night of breaking up one of the demonstrations."

 

            Barberini caught the tone with which Vitelleschi had said the word “unwise.” Almost … approving. He decided to ask—"Unwise how, Father-General?"

 

            Vitelleschi smiled. Slightly, and one would have to know the man well to see it there, but he smiled. "Unwise, did they wish to continue with a policy of what the Americans call a ‘low profile,’ Your Eminence. A crowd, probably inspired by Quevedo even if not actually paid by him, attacked the hostelry they keep. The young Signor Stone, following the disturbance, grew … eloquent. A demonstration at the embassy of the United States of Europe last night was chased off without injury to any person, but the core members of the Committee have been spreading rumors through the Borgo and beyond that the troubles are Spain's doing. The worst of the disturbances last night were anti-foreigner sentiment, I understand."

 

            That accorded with the reports Barberini had had as well. The worst of the rioting—and the most shootings—had been at the gates of the villa Borja. If Borja had paid for that mob, the implications were downright nasty. If it wasn't murder at law, it was certainly murder before God. Barberini shuddered again, as he had done when he had first heard about Borja's company of mercenary bodyguards pouring musket fire into that crowd. They'd even had a firing step erected under the estate wall, expecting to need it. There still wasn't a certain count of the number of dead, although reports ranged from twenty to two hundred. One would be too many, Barberini thought to himself.  He realized he now understood all too well why Mazarini bent so much effort toward making peace wherever he could. He had seen two wars at close quarters, and the second of those, the war of the Mantuan succession, had included more than its fair share of atrocities.

 

            And he found himself unable to share the comforting logic that his superiors were following. He'd met Borja. Had spent session after interminable session with him on the Galileo Commission. He knew, precisely, how self-righteous, arrogant and impenetrably stupid the man was. Whatever his orders from Madrid were, Borja could be relied on to do something spectacular. Even if he didn't intend it, he could easily bring about, if not the actual biblical apocalypse, a reasonable imitation of it. And in Naples he had hired Quevedo. And Quevedo had been trying to provoke disorder. Barberini realized that this particular recipe for disaster was already in the oven and the cooks had sent word to announce dinner.

 

            "Has Your Holiness…" he began diffidently, and stopped. While he had been musing, the Father-General and his uncle had continued conferring, on the subject of what stratagems might be expected once Borja was in a position to begin his political assault.

 

            They looked at him, both with a patient and forebearing expression on their faces. He felt himself color momentarily, then cleared his throat. "Please, excuse my impertinence in persisting with a subject which Your Holiness and the Father-General perhaps had deemed closed, but ought it not to be prudent to ensure that the See of Rome's military forces are called to their colors? And perhaps make preparations for a defense of the city?"

 

            His Holiness nodded. "My dear nephew, your concern for Our safety is quite proper. Commendable, even. However, the prospects of Spain—whether His Most Catholic Majesty or his Viceroy at Naples—undertaking anything so rash as to invade Rome at this time are remote. And the risk of that is as nothing compared to the certainty of worse disorder if word should spread among the people of Rome that we were calling out our troops."

 

            "I see," said Barberini, "and should the worst come to the worst, does Your Holiness have plans for evacuation?"

 

            "It will not come to that," His Holiness said, with a definite hint of closing the subject. "And if any such step should come to light, the political embarrassment would cause Us trouble elsewhere."

 

            Barberini could not, however, stop worrying. He followed the discussion of possible schemes that Borja might have in hand, even offered some small suggestions, but could not shake the feeling that Borja really was about to attempt something that would leave Rome in flames. Surely he would not send for military assistance if he fully expected to be refused? Was even Borja that stupid? On reflection, Barberini realized, he was. On his worse days, at least.

 

            It was that firing step, the waiting mercenaries, that were the worry. That betokened preparation. And that Borja had set Quevedo to work on the street disorder rather than the political maneuvers. His Holiness and the Father-General might affect to have seen it all before when it came to fighting in the streets, but Barberini found it worrying. In and of itself, not just for what it provided outsiders with a pretext for doing. And while Borja might be a profoundly stupid and ignorant man, he could bring more brain-power to bear on being a fool than most men could exert in the profoundest philosophical inquiry.

 

            As the meeting came to a close, Barberini realized that while His Holiness had denied the necessity of an escape-plan, he had not forbidden his nephew from seeing that one was in place. Better that a little effort be wasted than that something so vital should not be in place at dire need.

 

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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