The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 11

The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 11

“Sorry,” Marc said. “It’s the best we can do with the documentation I’ve been able to procure.”

He wasn’t really sorry.

Susanna blinked. “Mama isn’t sick, is she?”

“Not as far as we know, but it’s a good excuse, especially since you’re an only surviving child.”

“I haven’t heard from her for ages and I’m not even sure that she’s still in Tyrol. When the regent remarried to Grand Duke Bernhard, she didn’t take most of the ladies-in-waiting she had in Tyrol with her. Mama’s mistress had come from Tuscany when the regent married her second husband. She may have gone back, or taken service in some other court. But if Mama isn’t sick, then that’s all right.” She snuggled her head against his collarbone and looked up flirtatiously. “Am I your fiancée?”

“You’re more than welcome to be.”

“Then I need to go to The Hague and learn to live among Calvinists,” she said stubbornly.

“Magdeburg,” Marc suggested.

“Magdeburg is Lutheran, not Calvinist. The emperor isn’t even married and when he was, he left his wife behind in Sweden for … how many years? … while he rattled around in the Germanies. She only visited him once. I’m sure he buys a few court clothes for Princess Kristina for ceremonial functions, but she’s still a child and her governess-companion is an up-timer who wears simple clothing. I’ve seen pictures. What good would Magdeburg do me? Tell me why it would be preferable to Besançon.”

“This is not the end of the world.” Raudegen was getting impatient. “We’re not staying in France, even with Huguenots, after Soubise is settled in. We deliver the packages to Paris and go on. I’ll stop in Burgundy and send the two of you the rest of the way to Geneva. Once you get there, Marc’s parents will have the pick of all the world’s Calvinists for you to learn to live among.”

“Oh. So, that’s so, I guess. Just sort of so. Without recourse.” She looked at Marc. “Your letters were diplomatic and didn’t tell me anything. Of course, with half the world reading the other half’s mail, that was sensible of you, but did you learn if you could live among Catholics? Was your time in Naples as enlightening as your father predicted it would be?”

“In a lot of ways. It wasn’t always comfortable, particularly after certain representatives of the inquisition became aware of my presence in the city. I spent one difficult day and most of the following night holding still in the middle of a nativity scene made up of life-sized papier-mâché figures. All of them wearing cloth costumes. I was one of the magi–the one who had his head bent down with his hood falling over his face while he made his offering to the Christ Child. It was strange, not to mention hard on my knees.”

“Oh.”

“I did learn, though, that not all Catholics, not even all Spanish Catholics resident in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, agree with the inquisition’s aims, not even when they earn a living making statues of saints and such. It was my landlord, Bartolo, who sent his son to sneak me out of there through the staging area. I barely had time to get the kinks out of my legs, eat a slice of bread, and squirrel away a bottle of wine for future emergencies before I turned into a bale of denim.”

“The inquisition has no interest in denim?”

“Not when the seals on the bale assured the investigators that I was being imported rather than exported.”

“Seals?”

“Well, yes. That’s the whole trick, you see–or at least most of it. Be as authentic as you can be. The denim had come down the coast from Genoa. The bale happened to find itself removed to the staging area for the nativity scenes, where it was tucked into a shed, eviscerated, reinforced, filled up with me, and deposited back in its original place on the wharf before anybody noticed its side trip. I stayed on the wharf until a wheelbarrow came by and the barrow man knocked on the frame of the bale. Out I came, in he went, I pushed the wheelbarrow down the pier and across the gangplank, and the barrow’s load took ship for Marseilles, which was where it was on the lading list as headed. Along with me, since I had a ticket. Under someone else’s name, of course. I’d reimbursed Bartolo for the barrow in advance. The bale left the wharf again and went on its way inland, stopping in the staging area long enough to disgorge Bartolo’s son and retrieve its original contents. Then it set out for some village in Calabria, none the worse for wear. Denim is pretty tough stuff.”

Susanna nodded. “That reminds me. Before we leave, I need to pay for my new shoes. Old Joseph has ten pair ready for me, but I’ll have to borrow money from you. We had worked out an installment plan, but if I’m not coming back….”

Raudegen winced on behalf of the pack horse. Ten pair of shoes? Who needed ten pair of shoes all at once?

The next day they headed for Paris, assorted Huguenots in tow. Because Susanna begged, they detoured by way of the airfield. A plane was scheduled to come in. She wanted to see it. She had been in Brussels for a long time and had never seen an airplane land, because they came during the daylight, almost always, and during the daylight, she was at work. She gasped in awe. Soubise shuddered and proclaimed that nobody would ever get him into one of those things.

They had not expected that Louis XIII would be killed, nor that the crown would be seized by Monsieur Gaston. These events, news of which reached them after they had spent three more days mucking their way through mud, meant that the question “Are we there yet?” acquired some dire undertones. Gaston’s people were said to be on high alert when it came to potential subversives.

They stopped at an inn–a nice one, courtesy of Aunt Alis’ parting bank draft–to spend an evening considering their options. The status of Soubise was interesting. He had been exiled by Louis XIII. Was it safe to interpret that the king’s death rendered the proclamation of exile invalid? Or not? If it was no longer valid, would it occur to Gaston to renew it?

“More practically,” Susanna said, “has it occurred to the new king to renew it. We don’t have any way of knowing. With everything else that’s going on, sorry M. de Soubise, your status isn’t front page news.”

“We’re miles from a radio,” Marc complained. “I’m not going to get anything from Geneva. This probably explains why there weren’t any letters from Papa waiting for me in Brussels. If nothing else, Gaston has messed up the postal system for bags coming through France. We’re winging it from here on.”

“Don’t do anything that will cause me to flee like a thief in the night,” Soubise grumbled. “At my age, I’m not as nimble as I used to be.”

The next day, they sank back into the mud. It appeared that the flight path to the Brussels airfield followed, more or less, the route of the road. They had seen a couple of planes going over as they mucked their way south. When the second of the craft passed over their heads, Soubise looked up at the sky, down at the brown slime caked on his horse’s legs and hooves, and then muttered, “maybe they could get me into one of those things, if conditions on the ground were bad enough.”

The likelihood that anyone would successfully flee the border crossing was nil. It was an approximately rectangular acre of mud hole bounded by customs booths.

The traffic, human, animal, and inanimate, was covered with mud. The border guards, mostly human as far as the eye could tell, were covered with shit-colored splatters. It never crossed their minds that someone who was in a status of “might have to flee” would even try to cross the border that day. The best that anyone could hope to achieve was “manage to pick his feet up” out of the sticky, gluey, mess.

They hit the Paris road and slogged, finally reaching the city and going to ground. Not in the Rohan household, where it would have been impossible to conceal Soubise’s presence. Rather, even though it was essentially next door to the Palais-Royal, recently renamed by Marie de’ Medici from being the Palais-Cardinal, they slipped into the residence of Soubise’s unmarried sister Anne at the Hôtel de Mélusine, where she fluttered around her brother with hot poultices, soft pillows, and current gossip.

 

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