A Dangerous Climate (Saint-Germain #22)

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05.03.2019

"I have been studying the lesson you gave me two days ago," said Ludmilla, her exercise book clutched in her hands. She was looking a bit tired, as if the long nights were taking a greater toll on her now that the care-house had every bed and a dozen extra pallets occupied; she had changed from her working smock and for this evening she had donned one of her many European-style dresses, this one of bitter-green wool with a high neck and long sleeves, for the evenings had turned clammily cold as the low fog insinuated itself through Sankt Piterburkh. "I have copied the alphabets you have shown me, and I have memorized them both."

Saint-Germain motioned to the stool at the trestle-table where he had laid out the tools for her lesson. "A very good beginning. We will make more progress this evening." He reached to adjust the flame on the oil-lamps hanging over the table; Ludmilla came toward him, her expression eager, and climbed onto the stool. "Would you like a shawl to put around your shoulders? In spite of Hroger's and my best efforts, this room is still drafty."

Mildly surprised at his question, she gazed at him for nearly a minute before saying, "Yes, please. If you have one." The lamplight made the gold in her eyes shine.

He had anticipated her need; he had placed a long, broad Hungarian muffler of dark-red wool on the back of his reading-chair which he brought to her, unfolding it and slipping it around her shoulders. "It may not be elegant, but I assure you that it is warm."

"Warm is what I want." She eased it down her arms and let it drape at her elbows. "I have an hour for our lesson this evening," she said, "barring surprises."

On the lower floor, the first bowls of fish-stew were being served and the oil-lamps had been lit, dispelling the gloom at day's end. In the next room, Hroger worked to prepare food for those injured men in the room beyond, two of whom were workmen who had been rescued from another part of the flooded marsh; one had had half his foot removed when his toes had turned black four days ago, and one was still suffering from a badly sprained shoulder. The other injuries ranged from a deep cut on the chest to multiple broken bones from being thrown out of a wagon where the road gave way to a ragged laceration in the gut, the result of a dockside brawl.

Saint-Germain went to close the door so that they would not be distracted. "Then we must make the most of it. We will review what you learned in our first lesson." He opened a small notebook, spread it out on the table in front of her, and said, "Begin with the Russian: name all the letters."

She recited the alphabet carefully but without hesitation, taking the time to speak clearly. When she was finished, she smiled. "I told you I memorized them." She pointed to the Dutch alphabet and began to pronounce the letters as she ran her finger under them. "It's confusing to have letters that look like our Russian ones but are pronounced differently."

"I realize that," said Saint-Germain, spreading out a sheet of English foolscap for her to use, "but it is helpful to keep the pronunciation in mind when you encounter a word you don't know, because this kind of alphabet makes it possible to sound out the word you want to say. There are many other languages in the world that do not do this." He thought of Chinese, and the angular patterns of the Hittites.

"Assuming you see words written down, you mean; simply hearing them is different," she said, and smiled over at him. "Shall I write them down, both these alphabets?"

"If you would, please," he told her as he handed her a trimmed goose-quill pen and a standish of ink along with a saucer of fine sand. "And name the letters as you write them."

Ludmilla turned back her unfashionably simple cuffs and tipped a little of the sand onto the paper, rubbed it over the sheet with her hand, then wiped it away with the small square of linen Saint-Germain provided. Next she dipped the pen into the standish and tapped the pen gently to keep it from holding too much ink, so that there would be no blots on the page. Finally, she squared the paper to the edge of the table and began to write the Cyrillic alphabet, adding ink to her pen every two letters. When she was done, she wrote the Dutch alphabet directly under the Russian one. "There."

"You have been practicing," Saint-Germain approved.

"I want to learn," she said, then went on in a rush, "Will you show me how to write my name? In Dutch as well as Russian." This time her smile was more tentative. "If you don't mind?"

"Why should I mind? It is good to know how to write your own name-why would I refuse to show you how?" he asked as he pointed out the Cyrillic letters. "That is your personal name." Dutifully she wrote it out. "Now show me what letters would spell Borisevna. Remember how they sound."

She tried to pick out the right letters, whispering them as she pointed to them. "Is that right?"

"Almost," he said, and showed her what she had missed.

"It is so complicated," she said as she watched him.

"Until you get used to it, yes, it is." He waited while she studied the two minor corrections he had made. "Now pick out Svarinskaya."

She went to work selecting the letters, sounding them out carefully before making her final choice. "Should I write it?"

"If you would," he said, keeping close to her shoulder, in the pool of light from the oil-lamps overhead. When she was done he said, "Very good. The letters are well-formed. Now in Roman letters." It took her a bit longer to decide on which letters would do, but she finally wrote her name and waited for Saint-Germain to speak. "You've done very well, but you will need to work on the placing of the letters so that the spacing is more even."

She sighed as if she had been holding her breath. "Thank you. I want to do well."

After a long moment, he said, "Then most certainly you shall: intent is the very heart of achievement."

"As Piotyr Alexeievich shows us every day," she said dutifully.

His dark eyes rested on hers. "And as you do, as well," he told her, then went on more briskly, "We will begin with some simple words. I will write them in Russian and Dutch, and you may copy them as I do." He had a second trimmed pen prepared, and took a second sheet of English foolscap, putting it next to hers. "Let us begin with house," he said, writing the word first in Cyrillic, then in Roman letters.

She copied the words, saying them aloud to fix them in her mind. "What next?"

"You choose," he said.

"Man, and then woman," she answered at once, wiping the nib of her pen so that it would not become clogged with dried ink.

He wrote the two words side by side, both in Russian and in Dutch. "Copy them onto your paper." As she did, he said, "Let us try food next."

She copied his writing again. "Can we do medicine next instead? I have more call to learn them."

"Certainly." He wrote the word in both languages. By the end of the hour, they had gone over more than forty words.

"But I can learn some more," Ludmilla protested.

"You will want to memorize these before adding more," he said. "If you try for too many words at once, they may become confused. It is easier to delay learning than to have to unlearn, as I learned to my grief when I was much younger." He had a series of memories flash through his mind: Egypt, Persia, Spain, Delhi … He shifted his attention back to Ludmilla.

"You have taught others before now, haven't you?"

"Yes, over the years, I have," he answered, watching her.

She faltered, then asked, "Then, am I a good pupil, in your judgment?"

"You are a good pupil, which is why I would not want to damage your learning by forcing too much upon you too quickly. Take what you have done tonight and memorize it. If you want to practice writing, I will provide you with pens and a new exercise-book when the one you have is full." Handing her the two foolscap sheets, he said, "These will provide you a guide."

Ludmilla took them, and started to hand back the muffler. "I truly am grateful, Hercegek, but I can't help but want to learn as fast as I can. Every day I feel the lack my ignorance imposes, and it chafes at me. Heer van Hoek keeps records of our patients, but I cannot read them, and for that, the patients may suffer. If I could keep records of my own, then it would be even better." She looked directly at him, the muffler in her hand. "Who knows how much longer the King of Poland will allow you and your wife to remain here."

This had worried Saint-Germain more than once; he said, "Whatever the King wants must wait until spring." He took the muffler. "The seas will not be safe until then, and the ice is already forming on the Neva. I will be here until spring, most assuredly."

She nodded. "Yes. But that may be all the time we have, and I know I have to make the most of it." Her eyes grew troubled. "Can you understand?"

"Yes, Ludmilla Borisevna, I can," he told her gently.

"Then day after tomorrow, in the evening, you will teach me more?" There was an element of command in her question.

"If that is what you want, it is what I will do, but two nights after that I must attend the salon the Ksiezna is sponsoring with Abigail Carruther; you have declined the invitation, I know, but I have little option: not only is my wife a hostess, but I have been asked to play the clavichord for the guests. If you would be willing to postpone that lesson until the night after, I would be honored to continue our instruction," he promised her, and went to open the door for her, bowing slightly. "I have a few books in Dutch that in time you will want to read. I will set them aside for you."

"Not until I'm able to read them," she said. "They would only vex me if I had them selected for me and couldn't read them." She laid her hand on his. "But you give me something to hope for." With a quick nod in his direction, she went out of his quarters and into the surgery-room, her exercise-book and the two sheets of foolscap carried as if they were fragile treasures.

Saint-Germain went back toward the trestle-table and began to put away the writing supplies, all the while thinking how best to continue with Ludmilla's lessons. The experience of learning had sparked something in her that she was deeply pleased with; he could hear it in her voice as she spoke, and see it in the animation that possessed her as she strove to learn. He rubbed his forehead where his attackers had left a bad bruise in May and stared at the hanging oil-lamps contemplatively.

"My master?" Hroger called from beyond the door.

"Come in," Saint-Germain called out, abandoning his rumination for the time being. "What is it, old friend?"

Hroger made a complicated gesture. "Gavril Valentinovich is having trouble again. The remaining part of his foot is swelling and he is feverish. I couldn't get him to eat just now."

"Is he delirious?" Saint-Germain asked, hoping the man was not.

"Not completely so, but not wholly in his right mind, either; I would call it drifting-you know, the way the centurion was at Diva Nis?"

"That was a long time ago," said Saint-Germain. "Yet you remember."

"I remember." Hroger stared at the far wall. "He is failing, isn't he?"

"I fear so," said Saint-Germain; the pleasant sense of satisfaction that had filled him only ten minutes ago had now vanished, to be replaced by keen assessment and a kind of sorrow that had been with him for over three thousand years. "If you would inform Heer van Hoek for me when I have finished my evaluation of Gavril Valentinovich, I will go and see him now. If only we had better access to more medicaments." This last revealed to Hroger how truly helpless Saint-Germain felt.

"I will report to van Hoek. But I think you should consider moving the patient," said Hroger.

"For what reason?"

"We may need to get him out of the opposite room because he is beginning to bother the other patients. He frets and sometimes he curses for no reason, except that he feels his end approaching. That troubles the rest of the patients in the room." Hroger looked toward the second chamber of their quarters. "We could put a pallet in there, couldn't we? On the opposite side of the room from my bunk."

"I suppose so," said Saint-Germain.

"Then I'll arrange it," said Hroger. "I can keep watch on him for as long as necessary."

"That is very good of you," said Saint-Germain.

"And when you're done with the patient, Saari would like to see you. He'll wait at the rear of this building for another three hours for you." He added this last as if it were a minor consideration.

"About what?" Saint-Germain paused in the act of reaching for his smock.

"He has been watching Lajos Rakoczi-"

"Whoever he may be," Saint-Germain interjected.

"Just so. And he may have found out something of interest," said Hroger as he picked up Saint-Germain's small leather case of medical equipment. "I told him to come around after nine tonight."

"A good hour. Thank you." Saint-Germain donned his smock and went out the door and across to the far side of the surgery-room where the injured were kept, separated from the ill on the first floor. He went along to the ninth bed, where Gavril Valentinovich Pretishkin lay, his blankets wadded into a lump behind his knees, his hair matted, his breathing noisy and strained, and his skin unhealthfully mottled; Saint-Germain bent over him, touching his neck to evaluate his pulse; he felt the movement of blood through its vessels. "Fast and weak," he said to Hroger in a low voice. "He has most certainly developed a secondary poison within him."

"Is there anything to be done?" Hroger asked, anticipating the answer.

"We could amputate again, possibly as high as the knee, depending on how far the heat has spread, but if the poison has traveled throughout the body, it would only increase his suffering to subject him to more cutting." He stood up. "He will want syrup of poppies at the least."

"How large a dose, my master?" Hroger asked.

"Half a vial, and mixed with a double dose of the sovereign remedy." He said this almost without emotion. "It will be anodyne, at least."

"I'll do it as soon as I've spoken to Heer van Hoek." He held out the leather case of tools to Saint-Germain. "If you don't need them, shall I put them back?"

"If you would, please," said Saint-Germain and, as Hroger left the room, he went to draw up one of the four stools in the room to the bed of Gavril Valentinovich, in order to study his condition more closely. He could find no ominous lines running up the man's damaged leg, and he could detect no odor of rottenness, but clearly something had gone wrong, and there was poison in him. Had there been atomies in the water that had carried a venom of their own, or had the man already taken ill when his toes blackened, and he would have reached this point no matter what had been done? He could not decide.

Gavril Valentinovich coughed, the sound deep and ropy. He moaned and moved as if trying to find a comfortable place on the bed. His eyes were open but unfocused; he pulled at his nightshirt as if plucking it of feathers.

There were footsteps behind Saint-Germain and he turned to see Heer van Hoek standing a short distance away. He asked in Dutch, "Hroger spoke with you?"

"He did." He regarded their patient. "He is deteriorating."

"Quite rapidly," Saint-Germain agreed. "I think we may have done all that is possible for the man."

Van Hoek took a minute to respond. "If he survives, he won't be able to be a supervisor here, and he is a long way from his district. With all that has happened to him, would he be able to return to his people?"

"And when he got there, would they care for him?" Saint-Germain asked, expecting no answer.

"Kyril says that many injured men are abandoned to be beggars. There is no provision for them here, and no other city has offered a haven to them. Not even the monks want them." He pulled at the edges of his mustache. "Is there a good reason to remove the whole foot? And a part of the leg?"

"Not that I can think of," said Saint-Germain. "It is unlikely to spare him, and it would mean he would have to endure more pain."

"Then we are agreed," said van Hoek heavily. "Your man will move him into your quarters and he will be carefully tended; you will provide anodynes to ease his misery." He cleared his throat. "We can move the fellow over there"-he pointed to a pallet at the end of the row of beds-"into this bed."

"How is he doing?" Saint-Germain asked, for he had not taken the time to examine their newest patient since his initial assessment, two days ago.

"His work-gang who turned on him broke his shoulder, and it's difficult to get a clean healing in the shoulder. He worries at his bindings, and that doesn't help." He paused. "The Czar ordered that gang out to the fourth levee to help in the rebuilding. With the nights freezing, their tents will do little to keep them from chilblains."

"And the supervisors will not fare much better. The barracks most of them are assigned to are unfinished."

"Winter is going to be hard," said van Hoek.

Saint-Germain nodded as he rose from the stool, and said to Gavril Valentinovich in Russian, "Be of good heart. We are going to make you more comfortable."

Gavril mumbled something that sounded like a curse, then drifted off into a kind of sleep.

Van Hoek motioned to Saint-Germain to come out into the surgery-room. "Three or four days, do you think?"

"Possibly. I have seen men more stricken than he last longer than that, and some less so go out like a blown candle." He tried not to recall all the ways in which he had seen men and women die, or all the differences he had seen in their determination not to die.

"Do you think he has a family somewhere?"

"He may. We will have to notify the Guards. They are in charge of such lists now." Saint-Germain lowered his head. "Hroger and Kyril will attend to moving him later this evening, and I will see he is relieved of pain."

"Dream himself into eternity, as the Orientals have it?" van Hoek proposed distantly.

"So I hope." Saint-Germain looked about the room.

"Incidentally," said van Hoek as if it had just occurred to him, "I'm indebted to you for trying to introduce Ludmilla Borisevna to the Dutch language-let alone the Russian one. Reading and writing is such a trial for women."

"Especially since most of them are not permitted to learn either," said Saint-Germain with an ironic tinge to his observation. "This way, in a few months, you and she can exchange notes. Would you like me to teach you Russian?"

"I can speak it, and that's sufficient," said van Hoek with a wave of dismissal.

Realizing there was nothing more to say on that topic, Saint-Germain asked, "Do you anticipate needing this chamber for a few hours? It will take a little while for Hroger to ready a bunk for him, and if you have surgery to do, you will not want to have the other going on."

"Nothing tonight. I am planning to go out for a while." He shrugged in a complex way. "I need a few hours away from here."

"Then we will proceed," said Saint-Germain. "May your evening be a pleasant one."

Van Hoek shrugged again. "Just an opportunity to meet with a few of the Dutch in this city, and to make up a hand or two of cards and enjoy a pipe or two. I miss hearing my own language." He gave Saint-Germain a consoling look. "You have a worse situation than I, with so few speakers of your tongue in Sankt Piterburkh."

Saint-Germain's native language had vanished from all speakers but him more than three thousand years ago; even its descendant tongue had been gone for more than two millennia. "I understand," he said with feeling.

"Then you will not begrudge me the evening."

"Why should I?" Saint-Germain asked. "I am here on your sufferance, not the other way around."

"You're right," said van Hoek as if he had forgotten it. "Well, I will check in on Gavril Valentinovich when I return, which should be about midnight."

"Do you want an escort home? There are still gangs on the streets these nights."

"You would think of that," said van Hoek. "Who can blame you, after all? But from what I've seen, the Guards have driven most of the gangs into hiding, or across the river."

Saint-Germain held up his hand. "You cannot assume that the Guards, useful though they may be, have completely swept all outlaws from the city."

"Between here and the house of Barendt van Zwolle, what risk do I run? There are a few lights over the street, and I will stay on Spasky Street and Tsariana Natalya Street. If the Savior and the Czar's mother can't protect me, what can the Guards do?" Van Hoek chuckled and gave Saint-Germain a negligent wave. "The worst that will happen to me is a hangover."

Although he felt uneasy, Saint-Germain offered no more objections, but gave van Hoek an affable smile and went on to his private quarters to collect his cloak, then went down the stairs to the first floor and out the rear door, stepping out into the gelid fog. He looked about, seeing the heavy mists but nothing more, not even the trunks of trees growing three paces away. "Saari?"

"I am here," he said in Finnish, just above a whisper.

"Would you like to step into the care-house? It is warmer inside."

Saari peered into the hazy dark. "Better out here, I think, where we won't be seen, or heard."

"As you wish." Saint-Germain moved a few steps nearer to him. "What have you found out?"

"I'm not sure. But I thought you should know that your wife's brother has twice been gambling with this Rakoczi at the house of the Prussian Envoy."

"Graf von Altenburg?" Saint-Germain was somewhat startled.

"There are a dozen men who gather there regularly to play games of chance," said Saari. "I thought you must know."

"I knew von Altenburg often entertains, but I was unaware that Rakoczi went there." He frowned, then the frown vanished. "This has happened twice, you said?"

"Yes; twice." He hesitated. "I wouldn't have noticed, but your wife asked her brother whom he had seen at the Prussian Envoy's, and he mentioned that Rakoczi was new to their group."

"And when did they have this exchange?" Saint-Germain asked.

"When they were getting into the larger carriage five days ago; they were going to the English Residence, making plans for the salon. They have done that most nights of late." He stared into the night. "The Ksiezna is preoccupied with the salon."

"I realize that," said Saint-Germain. "Do you know if the Ksiaze Radom has met with this Rakoczi at any other time, beyond diplomatic occasions?"

"He hasn't said anything that makes me think so, but I don't often hear him talk." Saari lowered his eyes. "But they are acquainted, and you wanted to know if they had any contact."

Saint-Germain smiled slightly. "Perhaps one evening, I will join von Altenburg's gaming tables. He has invited me to do so, upon occasion."

"Will you speak to Ksiaze Radom?"

"I doubt it would be wise; at least, not yet." Saint-Germain took three gold coins from the small purse that hung inside his cloak and handed them to Yrjo. "Thank you for this information. I think it is likely to prove useful in time. If you notice that the two men have met again, send me word of it."

"I will be at the corner most of tomorrow, seeing who comes to the care-house, and I'll report to you by evening if I've found anyone suspicious watching," he said with fixed determination.

But Saint-Germain shook his head. "For the time being, I would prefer you watch the Ksiezna and the Ksiaze, to keep them safe."

"Why? You are the one who has employed me, not they."

"Just at present," said Saint-Germain, "my fortunes here are tied to theirs. I have to know what befalls them, and I must rely upon you to keep me informed, since I am living here, not at the Ksiezna's house." There was something in his eyes that commanded Saari's acquiescence.

"All right," said Saari uncertainly. "I'll watch them."

"Thank you," Saint-Germain said again. "If you have something to report, tell Hroger when he comes to speak with Gronigen for his daily report on the horses. You two occupy the room in the stable, and you may talk with him and not attract undue attention."

"I will. But if what I learn is urgent, I'll come here directly." He folded his arms to demonstrate his commitment.

"Do not worry," said Saint-Germain. "For now I am protected. The care-house is watched by the Guard. The Czar has ordered it."

"The Guard may have such orders, but they don't know how to perform the work they're assigned. They drink too much, and they don't bother to patrol the side-streets, especially if they think there could be danger." Saari's indignation caused him to raise his voice; as soon as he realized what he had done, he went quiet.

Saint-Germain regarded him steadily. "For now, we must depend upon the Guard, and hope for the best from them. As long as the Czar is here in Sankt Piterburkh, we must live as he wills. The Guard may be lax, but they will attend to their duties until Piotyr Alexeievich returns to his Swedish war."

Saari ducked his head. "As you wish." With that, he took two steps backward and was lost in the thickening mists that rose from the half-frozen marsh.

Text of a letter from Klaus Demetrius Krems, confidential secretary to the former King Augustus II of Poland, to Ferenz Ragoczy, Grofok Saint-Germain, in his capacity as the substitute for Arpad Arco-Tolvay, Hercegek Gyor, at Sankt Piterburkh, written in code at Madeburg, sent by courier, and delivered nine weeks after it was written.

To the noble Ferenz Ragoczy, Grofok Saint-Germain, the greetings of Klaus Demetrius Krems on the order of Frederick Augustus, formerly Augustus II of Poland.

My dear Grofok,

As you have probably discovered for yourself, matters in Poland and among the German States have changed in the last few months, circumstances that have brought your particular mission to a difficult pass. You have been a most valuable source of information during your stay in the Czar's new city, and it is Royal Augustus' wish that I commend you for all you have done to serve what had been our interests there. But you are doubtless aware that with new developments must come new solutions, and it is for that reason that I am charged with asking one last effort from you: that you will mark the progress of dredging and building so that we will have an estimate when the Russians will be able to deal with a full-sized fleet of merchant vessels, and the degree of naval presence the Czar is planning for Sankt Piterburkh. There are rumors that he will have an Admiralty there in two years, but no one here is inclined to give such an ambitious plan much credence. Your information will be essential in the decisions we make here for the next five years.

Difficult as it may be, I must ask you to discuss nothing of this with Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, for her continued loyalty to Poland could prove to be at cross-purposes to our own. Your alliances are not nearly as clearly defined as hers must be, so I must tell you that your services will be subject to scrutiny that they have not received in the past. For that reason, I request that you provide as much secondary information that can be used to support your observations as is practicable. This imposition is being made in order to ensure that all those making evaluations may be given the kind of weight their intelligence deserves.

We are also interested in ascertaining the number of foreigners presently residing in the Foreign Quarter, and their various stations and degrees. We know the Czar has encouraged more diplomatic interchanges with Europe, England, and Scandinavia, but we have little information on who has been posted there, in what numbers, and in what capacity, and if these numbers have been reduced for the winter, or kept in place.

Royal Augustus wishes me to assure you that he will extend his thanks to you when you have ended your mission, and that you will find him most appreciative of your service. He also wishes me to inform you that your imposture has remained intact as far as this Court is concerned. We have no information from the Poles regarding anything the Ksiezna may have revealed. You are urged to remain on your guard, especially now that the War of the Spanish Succession appears to be lasting longer than was first thought to be likely. The name Ferenc II Rakoczi has become better-known throughout Europe in the last six months, in ways that would not all be advantageous to you. Therefore, let me urge you to keep up your masquerade as Arpad Arco-Tolvay as long as you are able to, for your own safety and the safety of the Ksiezna.

The courier who brings this will carry back the messages you entrust to him, and will move them as rapidly as the weather permits. He will, of course, contribute his own observations to his account of his journey. You are asked to house and feed him for as long as he remains in Sankt Piterburkh, and to stable his horses. May God guard and keep you.

Your faithful servant,

Klaus Demetrius Krems

private and confidential secretary to

Frederick Augustus, formerly Augustus II, King of Poland

October 23rd, 1704