1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 26
It began as nothing but a rumor.
The absence of both king and cardinal was scarcely something unusual; but their absence for more than a few days — without information about a royal progress, or some other such event, was certainly out of the ordinary.
When it became known in the fall that the queen was with child, bells were rung in every church in Paris and across France. Masses and prayers had been said continuously through the winter and early spring in hopes that a new prince would be born. It was common knowledge that the queen had retired to some quiet place to have her child, after the many difficulties and disappointments that had accompanied earlier pregnancies. It was widely rumored that His Majesty had gone recently to join her.
But when no word had come either of prince or king, stories began to circulate. The king had taken ill (as he had done six years earlier while on campaign in Savoy); the queen had chosen to flee to Spain to have her baby, and the king and his minister were in pursuit . . . and so on.
At last the rumors had coalesced, like bits of iron gathering around the poles of a magnet, to a story that had reached Paris from the countryside to the south. There had been a battle, or an ambush, and some villain had struck down the king and all his party — including Cardinal Richelieu and several of his guardsmen. Rumors on Paris streets were usually unreliable . . . but sometimes they came true.
On a cool May afternoon, a large procession of mounted soldiers with Urbain de Maillé-Brézé, Marshal of France, leading, approached and then entered the Porte St. Germain. The Marshal was a serious, imposing figure, rarely given to levity or joy in public; this day he was particularly somber.
Twenty feet behind him was a carriage bearing the royal arms, and word soon spread that it bore the king — or, more precisely, the body of the king. Covered carts followed the royal conveyance, carrying the remains of other victims of some terrible battle — or ambush — in which His Majesty had been involved.
The procession made its way slowly into the city, stopping for no one, crossing the Pont Neuf and turning into the gardens of the Tuileries, where it was met by guardsmen from the palace of the Louvre. Not long afterward, a proclamation was given to the criers to announce all over Paris. Louis, Defender of the Faith and Most Christian King of France, was dead — like his father, the victim of a violent murder.
But where was his minister, Cardinal Richelieu? Where was his Queen? And to whom did the crown now belong — to an infant prince or to an exiled brother?
SPAR SPAR SPAR CQ CQ CQ.
Terrye Jo heard it and recognized the fist at once: it was GBJF, signaling with an intensity that she could almost feel. Henri was standing nearby; it was nearly the end of her afternoon shift — the dinner bell hadn’t rung yet but would do so soon. The duchess had recently begun to insist that she appear at meals in ‘appropriate’ attire, which meant something other than flannels and jeans and work boots, so this time of the day had been assigned to one of the junior operators.
GBJF SPAR KN
SPAR GBJF NOUVELLES IMPORTANTES POUR MONSIEUR
GBJF SPAR, she sent back. BON ATTENDEZ POUR LUI.
She took off the headphones before GBJF replied. “Henri, go and find Vachon.” Vachon was Monsieur Gaston’s valet, who had been making life hell on the serving staff since the prince returned to Turin. “Tell him that — ” her first impulse was to say, tell him that his master should get his ass up here at once, but realized that she shouldn’t, and Henri couldn’t, say anything like that. “Tell him that I am receiving an urgent message for His Highness, and ask that he convey my respects to his master and that he should come at once.”
Henri’s eyebrows went up. Monsieur Gaston had visited the radio room a few times in the last several days, mostly in the evenings and not by arrangement — he came and went as he pleased.
“That sounds a little too much like a demand,” she said after a moment.
“It does, Mademoiselle Teresa.”
“Very well. I . . . damn. Tell Vachon that there is a message for the prince, and that I will receive it and bring it to His Highness personally unless he’d like to come up here and get it directly.”
“He won’t like that either.”
“Will he like it less than the first version?”
“No, this is better.”
“Good. Go.” She waved toward the door and put the headphones back on.
GBJF SPAR, she sent. KN
SPAR GBJF NOUVELLES IMPORTANTES POUR LE PRINCE, she heard, then a long pause. LE ROI EST MORT
A chill came over her. She hesitated over the telegraph key, and then sent: QSM. Send it again.
SPAR GBJF LE ROI EST MORT
That was not the message she had been expecting. Ever since their first exchange, she had been waiting for word that the queen of France — the woman she’d worried about, and that the duchess had seemed to dismiss so casually — had given birth to a child. Terrye Jo understood the situation much more clearly than she had done in the fall. A prince would replace Gaston as the king’s heir; a daughter would be cause for celebration, but wouldn’t change the political situation.
The death of the king, though, promoted Monsieur Gaston to king of France.
Apparently Henri knew how to speak to a valet, and apparently Vachon — for all his arrogance — wasn’t about to get Monsieur Gaston angry. It took no more than twenty minutes for him to appear in the radio room. Terrye Jo expected Louis to be with him — but Gaston came completely alone.
“Good afternoon, Mademoiselle Tillman,” the prince said. He came over to stand next to the bench, and waved Terrye Jo back to her seat as she began to stand. “I am informed that there is an important message.”
She handed him the transcription pad, on which she had written the words LE ROI EST MORT. “This came in from the telegrapher GJBF.”
Gaston looked from the pad to Terrye Jo and back to the pad. His Guy Fawkes face made an attempt at shock and sorrow, but she wasn’t convinced. It was a put-on: it was as if he already knew that something had happened.
“My brother is dead,” Gaston said, placing the pad on the bench. “What else does my créature have to say?”
“I’ll ask for details,” she answered. She turned away and settled the headphones on her head.
SPAR GJBF COMMENT EST-CE ARRIVE? How did it happen?
GJBF SPAR UNE EMBUSCADE DANS LES BOIS.
She wrote down the message. Gaston watched the pencil as she noted each letter. “They were attacked in the woods,” she said. “An ambush.”
“The king would go nowhere without an escort,” Gaston said. “If he was attacked, it wouldn’t be a lone assassin like our father. It would be an armed troop.”
“Shall I ask if there is more information, Highness?”
“If you please.”
She sent an inquiry. After a moment GBJF began to send a description. There was a lot of it; she could keep up, but her correspondent had to stop at intervals. Gaston watched her write each part of the message, then stop and go back, going over it as GJBF repeated it.
At last she sent a SN acknowledgement and turned away from the radio set.
“He has told me what he knows,” she said. “Apparently the king was riding out from Paris in the company of Cardinal Richelieu, and there was an attack by a large group of armed bandits. There . . . were no survivors, and a group sent out afterward found the bodies. They have returned to Paris with the king’s body.”