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 QSM — please 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.
SPAR GBJF RECLUSION HORS DE PARIS.
“She is away from Paris,” she said. “In . . . seclusion?”
GBJF SPAR OU? She sent, asking where.
SPAR GBJF UN GRAND SECRET SOUS LA ROBE ROUGE.
“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.
SPAR GBJF ENTENDU SN.
“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 CL — closing 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.