1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 04
Cologne, Hatzfeldt House
Hiding behind the curtains in a noble lady’s bedroom while she was undressing! Father Johannes bit his lip to keep back a totally inappropriate giggle. During his stay in Grantville he had read a few of the so called “Romances” the Americans had brought with them, and this was straight out of one of them. There were differences: he was not a young nobleman in trouble, but a middle-age priest and painter in trouble. And the lady in question was not a beautiful and willful young virgin, but a very competent spinster his own age. A very handsome spinster in Father Johannes’ opinion, but there really wasn’t that much similarity between the adorable Annabella of Love Conquers All and Sister Maximiliane, former Countess von Wartenberg.
Sister Maximiliane had come from Bavaria to Bonn the previous winter to nurse her cousin, Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne, during an illness, and she had accepted an offer to stay and take charge of the Hatzfeldt household in Cologne, as the four Hatzfeldt brother’s feud with their step-mother, Margaretha von Backenfoerde, had left them with no one presently capable of the task. The house was an old and worn complex of buildings acquired from the Nassau family by the brothers’ father, Imperial Knight Sebastian von Hatzfeldt, and left in his will to his third son, Franz. It was a shabby residence for such a prominent family, but after Crottorf, the main castle of the Hatzfeldt family, had been invaded by the Swedes in 1631, causing the death of old Sebastian, it had been decided to shelter as many family members as possible behind the defenses of Cologne. Bishop Franz had for that — and other — reasons contacted Father Johannes in Grantville the previous autumn, and hired him to transform the old Nassauer Hof into something worthy of the name Hatzfeldt House.
At the moment only Sister Maximiliane and a few servants had arrived in Cologne, and all in all it should have been the best time for Father Johannes to do a bit of snooping around. Not that he wasn’t free to enter any room during the daytime, but what possible reason could he give for taking down a picture in Sister Maximiliane’s bedroom, and searching both front and back through a lens? Only — time had slipped away from him, and Sister Maximiliane had come back from Evening Mass before he’d had the time to get out. Now all he could do was to wait for the maid to leave and Sister Maximiliane to go to sleep.
“I wish thee would come forth.” Sister Maximiliane’s voice was sharp and firm.
But the maid had just left! She could not have seen him. He had not left open a hole to peek through. Or moved.
“It is thee behind the curtain I’m talking to. If I shall have to leave my bed to come pull thee forth, I shall be most annoyed.”
Father Johannes moved the curtain slightly to the side and saw Sister Maximiliane sitting in the bed staring straight at him.
“It’s only me, Sister Maximiliane.” Father Johannes took a few steps forward and bowed. “I most humbly apologize for intruding on your privacy, but assure you that I intend you neither harm nor disrespect.”
“Hmpf! Father Johannes.” Sister Maximiliane frowned. “I’m not in the habit of holding evening levees, but come sit on the bed and give me an explanation.”
Father Johannes sat as he was told. “I just wanted to study the painting on the wall. The Heavenly Madonna. I believe it’s by Paul Moreau. Do you know him?”
“You put it back upside down.”
“Oh!” Father Johannes half-rose to turn the picture.
“Never mind that. Just what are you up to with that young whipper-snapper Franz von Hatzfeldt?”
“Father Johannes, Franz might be the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg these days, but I have known him all his life. He’s only seven years younger than I, a friend of my brother, Franz Wilhelm, and our families have known each other since before the Deluge. He’s up to something.” She shrugged. “So is just about everybody else these days, but in my estimate Franz would just about sell his soul to get his diocese back from the Protestant occupation. With the Americans being the blank shields in this cabal, and Franz hiring a painter straight from their town — not to mention giving you free-hands and an open purse — I would have to be dumb as a door not to suspect something. And no one has ever called me stupid, Father Johannes.”
“N-No, Milady. Quite the opposite. S-surely.” Father Johannes swallowed and tried to gather what was left of his wits. Sister Maximiliane was unsettling enough when being the formal grand lady, but once she dropped her formality, she was absolutely terrifying. He could either try to play dumb or confess everything, and hope for her kindness. And he really wasn’t that much of an actor. And Sister Maximiliane was better known for her competence than her kindness. “My commission from the p-prince-bishop is quite genuine; a written contract filed with the authorities here in Cologne, money for my payment as well as expenses deposed with the bankers. It’s a very generous agreement, but then I am well known within clerical circles. A-as a painter, I mean. ”
“Certainly. I cannot say I approve of all the uses you have made of your gifts, but I do not deny they are great. So, what is not in the files?”
Father Johannes swallowed nervously. “Everybody wants to know about the Americans, Milady. My patron just wants me to tell him about them. W-when he comes here to visit his family.”
“Father Johannes, no one is that ingenuous past the age of twenty. You are making me angry.”
This wasn’t working. “Sister Maximiliane, I’ll be putting my life in your hands.” Father Johannes dropped his cringe and looked Sister Maximiliane straight in the eyes.
“It is already there, Father Johannes.” Then Sister Maximiliane’s stern face eased in to a little smile, “but if it’s any consolation to you, I consider you far too talented a painter to waste.”
“Your cousin, Archbishop Ferdinand, felt the same way about my friend Paul Moreau. So after he faked the evidence for Paul’s trial, your cousin ordered his torturer to spare Paul’s hands and arms and concentrate on the lower part of his body. I do not find your words much of a consolation.” There was absolutely no answering smile on Father Johannes face.
Sister Maximiliane gaped, then pulled herself together. “Are you absolutely sure of this? My cousin is politically ruthless, that goes with being part of the ducal family of Bavaria, but this!” Sister Maximiliane took a deep breath. “To spare the hands of a talented painter would be a kindness. If the man was guilty, the evidence genuine…”
“Not a chance. Paul’s mother was a friend of my mother, and we have often studied and criticized each other’s paintings. Four or five years ago Paul was accused of painting votive pictures for the Black Mass. Three years ago I was in Bonn just before going to Magdeburg to paint the propaganda broad-sheets for that campaign. By accident I saw those evil pictures attributed to Paul. And he never painted those. I recognized the work of Alain van Beekx, a painter from Holland. Van Beekx is known to work for Felix Gruyard, your cousin’s torturer and executor.”
“I’ve met Gruyard.” Sister Maximiliane looked up at the Madonna painting. “You saw the protocol as well? No chance Gruyard acted on his own? Faked the evidence without my cousin’s knowledge?”