1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 31:
Doña Mencia blinked. The May sun reflecting from the rosy brick walls of the empress’ private garden had led her—misled her?—into a brief nap on the marble bench. She looked around quickly. Maria Anna was safe on the other side of the enclosure, digging in the dirt next to the empress and dropping flower seeds into the trenches she made.
The girl held out several items rolled up like ancient scrolls. “I have the newspapers.”
“Ah. Oh, yes. Thank you.”
“And the change.”
“I think….” Doña Mencia glanced at the empress. “I think it would be better if you brought them to the archduchess’ apartments privately. There is a formal dinner this evening. So—tomorrow morning, please, right after breakfast.
“Salt water isn’t good for the seeds, you know,” Eleonora Gonzaga said gently.
Maria Anna put her spade down. “I know, Mama. I didn’t mean to drip on them. I just thought, all of a sudden, that this would be the first time that I won’t be with you here, in the summer, to see our flowers bloom.”
Susanna Allegretti stood quietly in Archduchess Maria Anna’s bedroom, her face blank. She wasn’t wincing. That, she assured herself, meant that she was getting better at being a court seamstress. She wanted to wince. The two archduchesses had newspapers spread out all over the tapestry coverlet on the bed. Smearing ink on it. Undoubtedly smearing ink on it.
She had gotten some of the newspapers she had brought them at the Thurn und Taxis post office. But the others, the uncensored ones, she’d obtained through unofficial sources—two apprentices of the cloth factor who had provided costumes for the play they put on before Lent. Those, especially, had smeared all ink over her fingers. Not, luckily, on her clothing, although it was on the inside of the tote bag she had used to carry them back to the palace. As soon as she could, she would have to turn the bag inside out and clean it if she didn’t want to ruin other things.
The archduchesses weren’t even thinking that someone would have to clean that tapestry coverlet.
Why would they? It would be a maid or laundress who cleaned it, not either of them.
If it could be cleaned at all. That ink had boiled linseed oil in it and was nasty stuff to get off.
She opened her mouth nervously and then closed it firmly. It wasn’t her place to ask two archduchesses of Austria to take the newspapers off the coverlet.
It wouldn’t do any good to put the newspapers on the floor, anyway. It was covered with a Turkey carpet, just as expensive and just as hard to clean.
“There’s nothing in the papers about the negotiations between Don Fernando and the archbishop.” Maria Anna twisted her mouth with annoyance. “Well, nothing except guesses. What they call these ‘opinion pieces.’”
“Duke Bernhard has not sent his troops to the Elbe to join with the rest of the French army, either. Like Don Fernando, he has moved out some of his units. Three cavalry regiments. Some distance. But only part way north from Swabia, along the left bank of the Rhine toward Mainz.” Cecelia Renata looked up. “How do the newspapers get all this information so fast, now?”
“Radio, I expect,” Maria Anna answered.
“It would be nice to have a radio,” Cecelia Renata said wistfully. “I’ve read about them, these ‘crystal sets.’ Ordinary villagers in the USE have them now and can listen to the Voice of America.”
“You’re not going to get one.” Maria Anna, ever practical, squelched that hope as soon as it was born. “Not, at least, unless someone smuggles one into Austria for you. You’d have to hide it. Papa would have apoplexy and your confessor would have a stroke.”
“I’m not sure how far a person can hear with them, anyway. But I’d be willing to try.” Cecelia Renata, as usual, was not repentant. “There is a radio in Amsterdam, although it belongs to the USE embassy and not Fredrik Hendrik. They use towers. Tall towers. From Amsterdam, reports go to Magdeburg, I assume. And to the Swede, wherever he is at the moment. That is rapid. Almost at once, or at least as fast as the operator can send this ‘Morse Code.’ I need to learn more about how that works.”
“What is this ‘Morse code’? A cypher?”
“I suppose it could send something that had been cyphered.” Cecelia Renata looked thoughtful. “But from the encyclopedia, it seems just a way of sending the letters of the alphabet by way of these radios. Maybe it is not always encyphered. Stearns' administration does not seem to be as obsessed as some regimes I will not mention with keeping everything a secret.”
“Don’t say that to Mariana. She loves our brother Ferdinand and is very loyal to him, but she still will not listen to a word against Philip IV.”
“Magdeburg is crawling with spies. Grantville is, too. So then just a courier from Magdeburg or Grantville to here? A week once the newspaper reporter learns the information?” The tone of Cecelia Renata’s voice made the statement into a question.
Doña Mencia shook her head. “There is radio in Nürnberg, too, now. Even in Amberg. Although the one in Nürnberg belongs to the city council and the one in Amberg to Duke Ernst. Still, your father has agents there, so the newspapers do too, I am sure.”
“Agents?” Cecelia Renata giggled. “Say ‘spies.’ I said ‘spies.’ You mean ‘spies.’”
“Agents,” Doña Mencia said firmly. “Especially in Amberg. Not that it probably makes much difference how loose Stearns’ people are, since obsessively-secretive administrations tend to be leaky as sieves also. Just think of the French. I was astounded that they managed to keep the League of Ostend a secret until the Battle of Dunkirk last year. So… it really just needs a courier from Amberg to Vienna. Much less than a week, by way of Passau.”
Doña Mencia bit her upper lip. Should she or shouldn’t she? “I have received letters from Brussels, also.”
“Isn’t your brother, Cardinal Bedmar, still in Venice?”
“Yes. Alphonso writes regularly. He has been observing the USE embassy with great interest. The ambassadress is a Moor, you know. But I have letters from Brussels, as well. When we were both much younger than we are now, before the infanta’s marriage to Archduke Albrecht, I had the honor to serve as her lady-in-waiting for several years. She was gracious enough to give me her friendship.”
Maria Anna narrowed her eyes. She had not been told about that part of her chief attendant’s past.
Doña Mencia continued. “We do correspond regularly. She wrote me a very interesting description of her interview with Gretchen Richter. Gretchen Higgins as those up-timers would have it. Ridiculous thing, to call a woman by the name of her husband! Absurd, even. A person’s surname is properly determined by the provisions in her parents’ marriage contract.”
“And you didn’t read it to us?” Cecelia Renata wailed.
“I relent. Now that you know I have it, I will share it with you.”
“Doña Mencia, you’re an angel on earth.”
“No, Your Highness,” that lady replied after a brief, meditative, pause. “No, I am not. Not an angel. But…”
“Because of that old friendship, with Isabella Clara Eugenia’s approval, I receive letters from some of her close advisers as well. Occasionally from Rubens. More recently from Alessandro Scaglia.”
“The Savoyard? She has taken him into her confidence?”
“Not without questions from some other members of her circle, but yes. He tells me that Don Fernando received Señora Rebecca Abrabanel—please observe that she is not sufficiently stupid to call herself Rebecca Stearns; indeed, she is not stupid at all, from what I hear—for a formal dinner at his quarters. That was two days after the tercios moved out to Grol. Rubens was there also. So was Scaglia himself. And…”
“Tell!” Cecelia Renata jumped off the bed, scattering newspapers. “Tell!”
“Gretchen Richter and her husband also.”
“Splendid,” Maria Anna said. “Yes. Tell. But what I really need to know is why those tercios have only moved as far as Grol.”
Susanna Allegretti was quite certain that she should not have been present at this conversation. It wasn’t just that she was small and standing quietly. It was that she was a servant. Great lords and ladies tended to forget that servants were there.
The archduchesses were lucky that she was trustworthy.
She took a private vow to be worthy of their trust. Forever. Even though, really, they did not realize that they were trusting her.