1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 19
Terrye Jo had an idea what Christina wanted to say, but didn’t know what they called it in the seventeenth century.
“Sensitive,” the duchess finally decided.
Sensitive, Terrye Jo thought. That’s a good word.
“Sure. But maybe this time it’s different.”
“I doubt it. In fact, if there is issue, I would have to be convinced that Louis is the father. Some women are defective; some men are defective as well.”
“So . . . Monsieur Gaston –”
Christina held up her hand. “My dear Teresa. I shall give you a piece of advice, and I trust you will take it. It would be far better if you simply did the work that our duke or my royal brother has set you to do without question or concern, and let it go at that. Gaston will return this spring, I am sure of it, and things will take their course. It would be best for you not to oppose my brother . . . or my husband.”
“I never intended to oppose anyone.”
The duchess gave her a long, hard, appraising look, but it wasn’t any more fierce than a middling-scary drill sergeant.
“I shall take your word, Teresa. We will speak no more of this.”
Up-time, when she was little, Terrye Jo would journey far from Grantville in her mind with the help of the radio. Her dad had told her the usual stories about listening to Pirates games late at night with his little transistor — but this was the 1980s, and she had better equipment: a boom box that her uncle had bought her for Christmas. It could pick up Pittsburgh, and Wheeling, and even Detroit if the weather was right. Hearing the words The Great Voice of the Great Lakes coming out of the tubby little box late at night made her realize how big the world was and how small Grantville was.
It was still small, and in a way this world was even bigger — no airplanes, no superhighways, only a few coal-powered trains. Things were farther apart, and the radio spectrum was far more sparse. But it wasn’t empty: especially in the last year there had been more and more broadcasts of one sort or another — the messages were almost all in the clear, and mostly in German or Amideutsch, with some French and Italian mixed in. During her shifts in the radio room she found herself returning to her former diversion. She would start at the bottom of the dial and slowly move up, listening for some operator’s signal out in the dark, most often sending dots and dashes in short, fitful bursts with lots of errors and QSMs requesting a re-send.
It was boring stuff. Weather reports, gossip, sometimes the death of a nobleman or the birth of his child . . . no baseball games, no world news reports, no entertainment, just the steady and unsteady signals of Morse code sent out into the night. Here I am, the signals said. Here we are.
One cold spring night in late March she had gotten about a third of the way up the dial when she heard a clear, firm signal — a fist she hadn’t heard before, an operator who knew what he was doing. The other guy wasn’t too bad, but the first one was a real pro. She assumed it was an up-timer at first, someone who had learned to send before the Ring of Fire. But she realized that there was no reason to think that — anyone who spent a few months working at it could become proficient. Henri could already send and transcribe almost as fast as Terrye Jo, and most of the other operators weren’t far behind.
The messages were in French. They used expressions and phrases that she didn’t completely understand, but after listening for a half an hour she was able to start making sense of it. One of the senders was speaking for someone he called Le Maréchal; the other referred to Le Cardinal.
It was high-level stuff, and it was coming in the clear.
The idea that she was listening in on something that should have required a security clearance was a bit scary. She certainly knew who Le Cardinal must be — that had to be Richelieu, so that end of the conversation was in Paris. Le Maréchal was in Lyon, over the mountains; there was some sort of army there, a couple of hundred miles from Turin.
Were they getting ready to invade Savoy? She knew very well what Monsieur Gaston thought of Richelieu, and Gaston was on very friendly terms with the duke . . .
But Victor Amadeus would know if there was an army on his border, ready to invade, she thought. Of course, Lyon isn’t exactly on the border with Savoy.
Why were they there? France’s main war theater was Lorraine, and if anything they’d want troops in the field facing the Low Countries or the USE. What was the point of having an army hundreds of miles to the south?
In any case Le Maréchal, whoever he was, had a damn good telegraph operator working for him.
She noted the transmission frequency on her pad, intending to check in on it again the next night, and was about to sign off when she heard a snippet that made her sit up. The operator for Le Maréchal commented that the entraînement spécial — ‘special training’, whatever that was — had been going very well . . . and that Colonel Maddox had been an excellent investment.
Maddox, Terrye Jo thought to herself. There was no way to be sure, but . . . it couldn’t be Ms. Maddox — Sherrilyn Maddox, her old nemesis and P. E. teacher? It might almost make sense, though. Maddox had joined Harry Lefferts’ Wrecking Crew, so she was out there somewhere; why not with a French army? Did that mean that Harry and his posse were all there too, teaching Le Maréchal their own particular methods for raising hell?
She didn’t know what it meant, and wasn’t sure if it was relevant, and even if it was if she should tell Amadeus, or Monsieur Gaston, or someone in Magdeburg.
After moving the dial away from that frequency, she broke one of her own firm rules for the radio room. She took the top sheet from the note pad, and the two sheets underneath that might have an impression from her pencil, and tucked them away in an inner pocket. If she’d learned anything from history at Grantville High — or in the few years since the Ring of Fire — it was that wars sometimes got started by accident. One piece of information, overheard by someone or interpreted the wrong way, could lead to the worst kind of consequences.
When Sylvie came in at midnight to take her shift, Terrye Jo said nothing about it. The other did not seem to notice the missing pages . . . but as she made her way up to her quarters they felt like a leaden weight.