1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 12

1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 12

“I graciously accept.” He gave his most charming smile, glancing at his loyal follower Francois. “But let me not disturb you. I assume circumstances are fortuitous for us to send a message this evening?”

“I’ll need some information.”

“Ah.” He reached into a sleeve and drew out a small rectangle of paper and handed it to her. “This is the . . . frequency? Yes. And the call sign.”

Terrye Jo nodded approvingly. Francois was leaning very slightly forward to see what was written, showing more curiosity than she would have credited him with. She set the card on the table in front of her and put the headphones back on. She slowly moved the dial to the frequency Gaston had indicated. There was some small amount of background noise, but it was in a relatively clear part of the radio spectrum — a good choice by whoever had picked it.

GJBF, she sent. GJBF, GJBF. She wasn’t sure what the JBF was for — something something France, she supposed — but the G was probably for Gaston. GJBF. CQ CQ. CQ was the signal for anyone listening to respond.

She looked up at Gaston, who was watching intently. There was no immediate response; the frequency was quiet. She looked down at the card, and checked the position of the master dial. It was set correctly. He’d told her nothing about who might be waiting for the message. She imagined some guy, dressed like the prince, waiting by a set somewhere far away.

GBJF GBJF GBJF, she sent again. CQ CQ CQ.

She waited another several seconds and was just about to tell Monsieur Gaston that there was no response — and then she heard something. It was faint and halting, as if being transmitted by someone with little skill on a telegraph key. It certainly wasn’t a “fist” she recognized. To a trained operator, the “fist” was the style and pattern of a sender — not quite as unique as a fingerprint, but like the sound of a human voice, they could be told apart.

GBJF, she heard. SPAR SPAR KN

It repeated once more, and she wrote it down on the pad and showed it to Gaston. SPAR was a call sign, one she didn’t recognize. But Gaston did.

“That is my servant in Paris,” he said, laying a finger on the pad. “SPAR. Well done, Mademoiselle. Are they ready to send?”

“They’re waiting for you, Highness,” she answered. “That’s what the KN means.”

“Ah. Bon. Ask them about the queen.”

“All right . . . anything specific?” He didn’t answer, so she shrugged. She sent GBJF SPAR COMMENT EST LA REINE? KN

There was another long pause, and then slowly, almost painfully, there was a response, beginning with SPAR GBJF. She copied it down, letter by letter, onto the pad.

LA REINE A UN POLICHINELLE DANS LE TIROIR, she wrote. The queen has . . . something in the something, but she wasn’t sure. She sent GBJF SPAR QSMplease send the last message again.

“Is there any — ” Gaston said, and she held up her hand. She was fairly sure that princes weren’t used to having that happen, but she needed to hear what was being transmitted. The message was as before. When it had been fully transmitted again she lifted the pad and showed it to him.

Apparently whatever something was in the something, it meant something to Monsieur Gaston. His expression went pale, and then hardened into a tight-lipped anger.

“You’re sure that this message was sent, Mademoiselle Tillman. This exact message.”

“I had them repeat it. Your servant isn’t a very good telegrapher, but this is what he sent. I have no idea what it means.”

“A polichinelle is . . . a sort of puppet. A marionette. My servant says that the queen has a puppet in the drawer — it is a common expression. It means . . . that the queen is pregnant.”

Terrye Jo smiled. “A bun in the oven,” she said in English. “Un p’tit pain dans le four,” she translated. “I guess it doesn’t make any sense in French.”

“It is not an expression we use, Mademoiselle. But yes, the sense would be the same.” He held the pad tightly, and for just a moment she thought he might slam it down or throw it at something. But instead he placed it on the desk and slowly, carefully adjusted the lace of his cuffs.

She heard QSL in her headphones. Can you acknowledge receipt?

Without looking away from Gaston, she reached her hand to the telegraph key and sent, GBJF SN. ENTENDU. Understood.

“What was that, then?”

“I told them you’d gotten the message. What do you want me to send now?”

“Ask them . . . where is the queen now?”

Terrye Jo nodded, and turned again to face the radio set. GBJF SPAR OU EST LA REINE? KN, she sent.


“She is away from Paris,” she said. “In . . . seclusion?”

“But where?”

GBJF SPAR OU? She sent, asking where.


“I’m not sure what that means, Highness,” she said, showing him the pad again. “The secret is under . . .”

Beneath the red robe,” Gaston said. “Richelieu. He has sent her somewhere in secret. He knows where she is, but my loyal servant does not. Very well. Send him . . . tell him that as he loves me, it is paramount that he locate her and report to me. At once.

GBJF SPAR TROUVER LA REINE ET SIGNALER IMMEDIATEMENT, she sent, and then added IMMEDIATEMENT TOUT SUITE PAR ORDRE G. She figured that would be enough for them to get the at once part of his orders.


“They got the message.”

“Good. Excellent.” He turned on his heel and walked to the door, then turned, as if he’d forgotten something.

“Was there anything else?” she asked.

“No. Not tonight. . . ah.” He looked at Francois. “Attend me,” he said. “But by all means pay her.”

Without turning, she reached for the key and sent CLclosing down. In her earphones she heard SN.

Francois reached into an inside pocket of his cloak and took out a small pouch which rattled. He dropped it on to a chair without a word and swept out after his master. Terrye Jo had a moment’s urge to pick it up and throw it at his head. The abrupt end to the conversation and the way he’d left money for her — not by handing it over but by leaving it behind — felt vaguely insulting.

Gaston had worked hard at charming her, but she was very much like a Number 2 pencil: a tool. This was an unequal relationship, and he’d just shown her who was the prince and who was the servant.

SN, she thought. I understand.


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16 Responses to 1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 12

  1. Randomiser says:

    Poor Gaston! He hasn’t got two brain cells to rub together.

    Firstly, he is broadcasting in clear. Anyone willing to lay down some money that Richelieu doesn’t have some kind of radio interception service up? ( I also have some great bottom land in Florida for sale, if you’re interested?)

    Secondly, he is busy dissing an uptimer who is going to have access to both his secrets and a radio transmitter.

    I suppose all the histories do say he was an incompetent plotter …

    • Doug Lampert says:

      It takes substantial numbers of people and radios to manage a comprehensive listening post. Richelieu presumably has limited trained people and limited radios and lots of uses for his limited resources, any listening post is likely limited a couple of guys scanning.

      Which means a short message would have pretty good odds of slipping through unnoticed. Of course sending and resending and going with complete sentences all increase the odds that someone will overhear.

      Re Daveo’s comment below: Pretty well everything said in the stories is translated for the reader, but the telegraph messages are clearly French and she explicitly translates “a bun in the oven” to French before Gaston reacts to it, I see no indication that Gaston speaks English.

      • Randomiser says:

        Richelieu runs France. Why would his resources for counter espionage be particularly limited? By this time, I think, you can buy a radio receiver in most towns in Northern Germany

        Venus and Mercury in GG VII suggests they were a bit slow in removing all the references to Huff Duff transmitter detecting from the Granville library. So we’ll see what happens.

        On the English, I’m with you, no sign here that Gaston speaks it. The great universal literary translator is at work, as always, in most of the snippet. I think we just get the original French of the radiologist transmission to suggest the inherent delay and create a modicum of dramatic tension. (Plus those of us that can read it get to feel smug!)

        • Randomiser says:

          Make that “radio transmission”. My touchscreen keyboard’s autocomplete slips in the weirdest things sometimes .

    • John Cowan says:

      As Marcel Givierge, the great French cryptologist (1871-1931) said, “Encode well or do not encode at all. In transmitting cleartext, you give only a piece of information to the enemy, and you know what it is; in encoding badly, you permit him to read all your correspondence and that of your friends.”

  2. daveo says:

    Odd that Gaston speaks English, and the radio talk is in French. At that period it would be highly unusual for a French noble to be able to discuss anything in English. Neither was Gaston noted for intelligence or linguistic ability.

    • Joe says:

      I suspect that the entire discussion was conducted in French, which Terrye Jo speaks, although not as well as she would like. The technical terms were no doubt in English, but the rest would most likely have been in French. By the same token, her day-to-day discourse with the Duke and Duchess is surely supposed to be in Savoyard Italian.

    • jimhacker says:

      The 1632 series typically uses a translation convention

  3. Escape Zeppelin says:

    What I don’t understand, what does Savoy hope to get out of this? Do they really feel that Louis’ position is shaky enough that they want to have Gaston’s gratitude if he should take the throne? Savoy already has close family connections that tie them to the throne of France, they’re in no danger from either brother or France. And the fairly modern attitude of Savoy shows they don’t really have much in common with Gaston politically.

    Unless they plan on killing both the King and Gaston and putting their own children on the throne of France or this thing is a huge con by Richelieu they don’t seem like they’d benefit much from this conspiracy.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      They don’t need to benefit much, because there’s no obvious downside to them in assisting.

      The Duchess’s brother wants to use the use their radio. They aren’t anyone’s vassals, AFAICT Savoy was an independent principality at this time. They aren’t engaged in an illegal conspiracy. Gaston may be, but that’s his problem.

      At the absolute worst, they’re a sovereign state engaging in espionage and letting the sovereign’s brother-in-law visit and use their radio, in the clear and carrying no obviously illegal or subversive messages. The horror.

      Say Richelieu knows? So what?

      Letting Gaston in and letting him use their transmitter may well result in Gaston owing them one later. And Gaston is still Heir Presumptive to the throne of France and Duke of Orleans. Prior to word of the Queen’s pregnancy the only decent reason to expect him not to inherit is all the history books from Grantville saying that in our timeline he didn’t, and those will also say that he was still quite important till 1852.

      • Terranovan says:

        Sorry to nitpick –
        I’m presuming you mean that he was important until 1652 instead of 1852, since:
        1. Living to 1852 would have him being more than 200 years old,
        2. Wikipedia has him dying in 1660,
        3. Wikipedia has Richelieu exiling him in 1652.

      • laclongquan says:

        By the same token, refuse to help Gaston in this matter has some unfortunate future consequence, since he’s still heir presumptive to the throne of France.

        Also, refuse brother in law in need of some small help make for tense familial situations.

        And finally, refuse to help Gaston bring no benefit that they can see, since it’s not that needful (for them) to curry favour with Richelieu.

  4. Stephen says:

    As for sending in the clear: nothing in this exchange was a secret. Richelieu knows full well that Gaston will quickly learn of the pregnancy and try to find the queen, and he probably knows what Gaston had for breakfast this morning. We can hope that Gaston will be more careful with his illegal orders.

    (I am not hoping that because I am rooting for Gaston, but because the books are more interesting when both sides of a struggle are competent.)

  5. Stephen says:

    I am rooting for Richelieu to crush Gaston, freeing him and Turenne to create dramatic tension in the series again.

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