A Dangerous Climate (Saint-Germain #22)

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05.03.2019

"If only we had a little time to be alone, so that you could … ah… amuse me," Zozia exclaimed with an arch look at Saint-Germain as she touched the soft line of her collar-bone. "My brother can be most inconvenient at times; never more so than now." She tossed her head provocatively. "It's been much too long since you and I had time to ourselves. I've missed all the delightful things you know how to do to me."

"Since Benedykt is aware of my dissimulation, you need to be careful not to compromise yourself in that regard with him." Saint-Germain made a gesture of commiseration. "Not that it would not be very pleasant to pass time together, you and I."

"He is forever telling me that Arpad will arrive here in the spring and denounce me as an adulteress-not that he ever did before," she said, turning sulky. "You would think that my brother wants to ruin my work here, the way he behaves, as well as all you and I have done for Poland-he's worse than a jealous suitor with his interfering."

"What has he done now?" Saint-Germain asked.

"Invited that Ragoczi person to the salon."

Saint-Germain thought this over. "It need not go badly because of that."

Her eyes brightened. "No, it won't. I will not allow it."

"But you think he did it deliberately, to slight you."

"Yes. It is all of a piece with him. He doesn't like to be eclipsed by anyone, least of all his sister, so he seeks ways to sabotage and undermine my efforts, in particular, this salon." She sighed, and straightened herself. "I try to keep in mind that the salon is only a part of what I have achieved, and, in spite of Benedykt, it has the approval of the Czar."

"And with your salon this afternoon, I should imagine you have little time for anything beyond your preparations," Saint-Germain said with a gallant bow. It was approaching mid-day and he noticed that half of the household staff had already left for the English Residence.

"All the more reason to dally when there's opportunity," she said, studying his dark clothing. "You aren't going to wear black to the salon, are you? You look like a Court priest."

"If it would displease you, of course not," he said.

"It would displease the Czar, and that could redound to my discredit," she said, pursing her lips in distaste. "Wear something elegant-the dull-blue velvet with the silver waistcoat would be a good choice, or the spruce-blue satin with the damask waistcoat and the new wig you had sent from Prague, with the clusters of curls around the face-and when you're there, don't go on and on about the care-house. This is the wrong occasion for that kind of conversation, and I know you have the manners to make yourself good company. We must build up our goodwill with Piotyr and the Europeans, which demands we tread a fine line."

"You have a mission, and I will do what I can to aid you to fulfill it," said Saint-Germain with a touch of sympathy, for it was apparent that this salon had taken on significance that was more than Zozia had anticipated at the start.

"Thank you," she said, a bit more curtly than she intended. "You're right-time is short. I should prepare to receive my guests, not you."

"Alas," he said.

"Still, if we had time …" She had put on her stays and her petticoats, and stood, half-dressed, on her side of the divided bedroom, the pallid sunlight from the single window touching her pale hair and the froth of ruched lace on her petticoats with a soft glow, suffusing her skin, pale as a wax candle, with the same lambency as her lace. "But I would have to get out of my under-clothes, and that would mean bathing and dressing again afterwards. Besides, Salomea is probably listening. I know Benedykt would be if he were about; he has gone to supervise bringing in the wine for the salon."

"Then all the more reason for us to be discreet," he said.

"Can't we be alone?" she asked wistfully.

"Hardly anyone is ever truly alone in Sankt Piterburkh, no matter where they go; everyone watches everyone else, and the servants watch the whole. All the city is filled with spies of one sort or another. And since that is the case …" In concession to that, he held the music he had brought with him in his left hand. "You asked to review what I have on hand for clavichord. This is my current collection of airs, anthems, and dances."

She took the sheets and flipped through them. "English-good. Italian-good, especially the Venetian. French-fashionable. Prussian-good. Bohemian-good. Hessian-good. Luxembourgois-unexceptional. Spanish-I think not. Austrian-awkward, considering the situation there. Swiss-good enough. Dutch-very good." She raised her eyes to his. "Why have you nothing Polish in these sheets?"

"I assumed you would have made choices of your own." He saw his remark had stung her in a way he had not anticipated. "Had you told me you would rather I select-"

"Very well, find a polonaise and a czardas: Poland and Hungary will be represented," she said, cutting him off. "Is there anything you can do along those lines?"

"I know some dances, but I would have to play them from memory," he said, trying to read her intentions in her choices. "If that would please you, I would be glad to do it."

"Would the music sound … less artistic than what you have here? If you play a piece poorly from memory, it would be better that you not play at all." She pressed her lips together, revealing her nervousness.

"No, Zozia, it would not," he said quietly.

"It will have to do," she said, her eyes narrowing. "The consort we have engaged will have some Polish works to perform, and one of the singers has a Polish song in his repertoire. Were it not that you and I have a shared purpose, I wouldn't be concerned about what you play, but I trust you understand?"

"Yes, I do, Zozia," he said, knowing her masterly airs were borne of the demands she felt were being made of her. "And I will play a czardas as part of my contribution to the evening. As I am Hungarian, many would think it odd if I did not include at least one piece from home, especially if Lajos Rakoczi is going to attend. He will expect a Hungarian song or two, and will remark on their absence. The assembly would expect me to play that kind of piece from memory."

She heard him out and shrugged dismissively. "Oh, all right. Abigail Carruther won't object, and who knows what the Czar may decide?"

"I will speak with him in advance, if you like," Saint-Germain offered. "When I come to tune the clavichord, I can discuss my choices with Colonel Broughton, to discover if he can find anything wrong with my repertoire."

"Broughton listens to you more than he does to most of us," said Zozia, a note of resignation in her observation. "All right. I'll arrange it. Keep in mind that the Resident has decided to take a secondary role in all this, to keep from any potential cross-purposes being served-they will be, of course, but he is officially not to know of it-so that he and England will not be embarrassed. He will not take kindly to someone deliberately affronting any of the guests. He's warned both Missus Carruther and me of his views."

"That is very kind of him," said Saint-Germain, a tinge of irony in his voice.

"It is, since the salon is happening under his roof and his indulgence." She shot him a hard look, as if to satisfy herself that he was sincere; she took a step back, saying, "There will be thirteen more women with us tonight than there were at the reception last summer. Everyone will be pleased."

"How many are attending tonight?" Saint-Germain asked.

"Our totals, without counting the consort of musicians or the Bohemian poet, are fifty-nine men and twenty-two women attending. We have engaged nine extra servants for the evening, beyond the Residence staff. Your colleague, van Hoek, will attend, as I'm sure you know." She smiled as she saw a look of curiosity cross Saint-Germain's attractive, irregular features. "And the Czar and his Marfa, of course. We don't count them with the rest."

"So over eighty guests. A very respectable number, given the size of the Foreign Quarter," he said, and bowed to her again. "I look forward to seeing you at the second hour before sunset, at the English Residence on Nevsky Street. I will bring my wrenches for tuning the instrument at that time."

"Nevsky Prospekt," she corrected him. "The Czar has ordered that the embankments be stone-covered by this time next year, and a proper promenade be made in stone at the top of them. He has declared that it will be renamed to suit his plan for it, and we are to start giving it its new name at once. Just as well that you have wrenches for the clavichord-I doubt the Czar has a set."

Saint-Germain kept his opinion to himself; he withdrew to the door and paused long enough to say, "I wish you every degree of good fortune possible this evening, Ksiezna."

She dipped a curtsy to him. "Thank you, Hercegek. I know I may depend upon you to do your part." Her wave of dismissal was abrupt.

Leaving Zozia's house, Saint-Germain stepped out into the glistening sunshine of an early autumn afternoon. The air was clear, the sky an improbable blue, the streets busy as the people of the Foreign Quarter hurried to make the most of this pleasant day; servants hastened to the market-squares to secure meat and poultry for the coming months, when both would be in short supply; merchants bustled through the markets as well, making themselves aware of the goods on display, and seeing that their own products were available and attractive. It appeared that most of the people could feel the last warmth of autumn slipping away. Taking his time along the street, Saint-Germain seemed to be enjoying his short walk; all the while he was covertly scanning the crowd, searching for any man whose presence troubled him, anyone who seemed too interested in him. The fellow in the hat might be in the crowd, but Saint-Germain could not see him; with all the care he could muster, he could detect no one who might be following him, but he could not rid himself of the sensation of being watched; long experience had taught him to lend credence to such impressions, and he bore that lesson in mind as he arrived at the care-house, for he lingered in the small vestibule long enough to have a thorough look at the street before he entered the main room, where he found Heer van Hoek deep in conversation with Brother Gilarye.

"Oh, Hercegek," he said, cutting into his exchange with the monk. "May I have a word with you?" Since he spoke in Dutch, it was apparent he did not want their conversation understood by the patients.

"If you like," said Saint-Germain, almost certain he knew what van Hoek wanted to discuss.

"I have been using that sovereign remedy you provided me, and I am pleased to say that two of the most stubborn cases of Swamp Fever are finally showing signs of improvement. I hope to have encouraging news on the new patients, as well." He stopped abruptly, and took a moment before continuing.

When the silence grew, Saint-Germain said, "But-?"

Van Hoek locked his hands together. "But we have another condition developing among our patients; Brother Gilarye has been telling me of its distinctions, so that I and Madame Svarinskaya may be more alert to its presence." He rubbed his hands together as if to rid them of something unpleasant. "From what Brother Gilarye and I have been able to determine, it is a kind of rash on the skin, circular in appearance, about as large as the palm of my hand, and I fear it may be contagious, for it has spread among them."

"A rash on the skin?" Saint-Germain asked, giving van Hoek his full attention. "Have the bed-linens been boiled weekly?"

"When I can persuade Klavdye and Jascha to do it, yes. But with the weather turning so damp and wet, they aren't as willing to boil the washing as they were in the summer. They claim it chaps their hands and damages the sheets to boil them."

"It probably does lead to chapping, but it is still important. Have the sheets checked for bed-bugs and boil any that have them; it may not be much, but it could decrease the problem. Also, have the horses and dogs examined for signs of the rash; sometimes such conditions are shared by men and beasts alike," said Saint-Germain, feeling more alarmed than he allowed himself to reveal; he moved toward the stairs. "You will attend the salon, as I understand. You finally made up your mind to go."

"Either Madame Svarinskaya or I must, according to the Czar, and since Ludmilla has night-duty here …"

"And a woman by herself at such a function might attract unwelcome attention," said Saint-Germain, voicing a worry that had beset Ludmilla from the time the invitation arrived. "None of us wants that."

"She would have to speak only to other women, as well, if she went alone," said van Hoek. "Do you think I should offer to escort her? For an hour or two?"

"Why not ask her? But keep in mind that you would be ill-advised to depart the salon before the Czar and Madame Skavronskaya do, and that could run into very late hours." Saint-Germain started up the stairs. "Would you like me to make an ointment for Klavdye and Jascha to lessen the chapping?"

"If you would, it may help. I would also appreciate your opinion on the rashes the patients are suffering. I know bed-bug rashes, but this hasn't the look of them. You've seen a great many diseases in your travels, and you may be able to advise me." It was obvious he disliked asking for such help.

"Of course." He stopped on the fourth step up. "Would you like me to attend to them now, or tomorrow? Whatever treatment I may have to offer, you are welcome to it."

"If you can spare the time to prepare the concoction this afternoon, we may take steps to halt the spread tonight." He flung up one hand in exasperation. "It is always something, isn't it? I suppose we should be grateful that matters are no worse."

"So it would seem." He resumed his climb and found Hroger waiting for him, prepared to lay out his clothing for the salon.

"You've heard about the rash?" he asked as Saint-Germain came into his quarters. "Kyril says it is becoming prevalent among the work-gangs."

"Van Hoek just told me," he answered. "Have you seen it?"

"I have. It is like that condition you saw in Poland before you were summoned to the Court of Karl-lo-Magne."

Saint-Germain swung around to look at Hroger. "You mean those eruptions called skin mushrooms?" He frowned. "I hope you are wrong, old friend."

"So do I," said Hroger with more emotion than he usually revealed. "But it has that kind of appearance. You should look for yourself."

"Yes; I told van Hoek I would," Saint-Germain said to him. "So I suppose I should don a smock and go downstairs." He went to take a clean smock from its peg. "I assume Madame Svarinskaya is resting for her night duties."

"Actually, no, she has gone to the butcher to order smoked pork and pickled beef while both can be had. She says she'll rest later today." He paused. "She holds you in high regard."

"As I do her," said Saint-Germain.

"I'm aware of that," said Hroger with almost no inflection.

"For some reason, you have reservations," said Saint-Germain, perplexed by this uncharacteristic stance.

"Not about Madame Svarinskaya, but about the Ksiezna, who seems to be a woman most reluctant to share anything she deems to be hers."

"Such as myself?" Saint-Germain shook his head, his dark eyes distant. "It is unlikely to come to that."

"But if it does, you will need to be extremely careful, for Ludmilla's sake as well as your own; the Ksiezna would not use half-measures in such circumstances; she expects you to obey her commands." Abruptly he changed the subject. "Would you like to see the men with the rashes now?"

"Yes. Then I will need to dress, since I must go to tune the clavichord in a while." He held up his hand. "Zozia has requested I wear the spruce-blue satin. I leave you to choose waistcoat, chemise, neckcloth, and leg-hose; you know which shoes I will wear."

"I will," said Hroger.

"Do any of our patients on this floor have the rash you spoke of?" Saint-Germain asked. "I am assuming you've checked."

"I have, and none show signs of it yet. One or two have developed a cough, but at this time of year with the weather turning cold-" He shrugged his conclusion.

"Then I'll go down and have van Hoek show me." He turned, ready to descend. "Is there anything else I should be aware of?"

"Heer van Hoek has asked to borrow your microscope, since it is more powerful than his."

Saint-Germain considered his answer. "So long as he uses it in my quarters, I have no objection."

"Because of the monks," Hroger said.

"Precisely," said Saint-Germain. "They persist in believing that the atomies the microscope shows are devils, not instruments of disease. I will not be long." He was as good as his word, returning in less than half an hour, his face somber. "You were right: it is skin mushrooms. All the bedding will need to be boiled with urine, and the men with the rash will have to be separated from the others." He went to his trestle-table and took out a sheet of foolscap from its case, and reached for his writing materials. "I'll write this out for van Hoek." He set actions to words, sanding and clearing the sheet as he tucked up his cuff-ruffles. "If you will see he has this?"

"Of course," said Hroger. "I will set out your clothing while you finish your report."

"Thank you, old friend." He wrote two more lines, then added, "If you would, tell Ludmilla what we have discovered about the rash."

"I will do so, when she is awake." He left Saint-Germain to finish writing his report to van Hoek.

It was not quite two hours later when Saint-Germain left the care-house, bound for the English Residence. He was magnificently dressed in the spruce-blue satin coat and knee-britches; his waistcoat was of pinkish-tan faille with an edging of seed-pearls, his chemise was pale blue-gray, his neck-cloth edged in Belgian lace, as were his cuffs. Leg-hose of spruce-blue silk and black Florentine leather shoes with ruby-studded silver buckles completed his ensemble; he wore his best wig and carried a handkerchief in one hand, along with a fashionable tall cane, and his case of sheet music in the other. Traffic on the street had lessened from what it had been at mid-day, and now he reached his destination in about five minutes without undue haste.

"Welcome, Hercegek," said Drury Carruther as he opened the door of the Residence to him. "You come in good time."

"Better than to rush at the last moment," said Saint-Germain, stepping into the small entry-porch. "How are our wives?" The whole of the Residence smelled of roasting venison and beef, and there were servants hurrying to finish setting out glasses and the buffet that would be offered. Four large tubs filled with ice had been well-stocked with bottles and jars of beer, and a two-colored fountain offered red and white wine to the thirsty. There was even a large pitcher of lavender ratafia for the ladies.

"Busy. Perhaps a bit overwhelmed, what with the Resident laid down on his bed."

"His gout is still bothering him," said Saint-Germain with certainty.

"More than you know," said Carruther. "Perhaps you will call on him tomorrow, to administer some of that decoction of yours."

"Of course," said Saint-Germain.

"Your efforts will be much appreciated." He led Saint-Germain through the main room to one of the side-rooms where a group of musicians were setting up their chairs and stands. "The clavichord is in the corner. I'll have the servants bring a tree of candles for you."

"Thank you," said Saint-Germain, nodding to the other musicians. "I will try not to interpose my tuning with theirs."

"They'll appreciate that, I'm sure," said Carruther. "Shall I ask a servant to bring you anything to drink?"

"No, thank you," said Saint-Germain, a bit distantly.

"Oh, that's right. The scars-I remember. You don't drink wine, do you? Or eat." He smiled. "The better to tune on pitch, I suppose. Would you like anything else from me, other than silence?"

"Silence is helpful for tuning," said Saint-Germain; he bowed to Carruther. "I thank you for your kind offer."

"I'll leave you to it, then," said Carruther, and took a few steps backward, nearly tripping over the Italian tuning his viola da gamba; he muttered something as he escaped from the room.

Saint-Germain laid out his wrenches on the instrument's music stand and began the long process of bringing all the strings into tune, starting at the base A and making his way upward. He was so engrossed by what he was doing that he hardly noticed when one of the Resident's English servants brought a tree of wax candles and stood it next to the instrument, then lit the candles and went away. Undistracted, Saint-Germain worked calmly and steadily, sounding nuances of pitch as he created octaves, then fifths, then thirds in true harmony with one another; it was a keyboard of three octaves and a fifth, so the tuning could not be done rapidly.

"You've a good ear," said one of the three violinists; he spoke in French. Like the other musicians, he was dressed in dark-gray with the simplest of waistcoats and neck-cloths, and a wig with a single pigeon's wing over each ear. "Clavichords are the very devil to tune, aren't they?"

"They can be. We will see how well this one holds pitch." Saint-Germain played a chromatic run up the keyboard, wincing at a few of the notes. "More work to do yet."

"We'll be practicing three of our pieces in a little while. Will that disturb you?" It was intended as a polite inquiry but nothing more. "We have more musicians coming, and soon we'll be fairly noisy."

"I doubt it will," said Saint-Germain. "But will my tuning be a distraction to you?"

"I wouldn't think so," said the French violinist.

"If we discover there are problems, then we can deal with them when they arise," said Saint-Germain, picking up one of his wrenches again.

"Good of you, Hercegek," the violinist said, revealing by the use of his title that the other musicians had been instructed by one of the hostesses to defer to him. Over the next half-hour, the rest of the consort drifted in, the oboe da caccia player complaining of a sore throat and occasional cough, to whom the violinist recommended hot brandy and orange peel before they began playing. They set about arranging their chairs and stands to their liking and settled down to tune.

"Whose note?" The lyra da braccia player asked.

"Hercegek," the violinist called out as Saint-Germain was trying out one of the Italian airs he had brought to play.

"Yes?" Saint-Germain replied as he stopped I Fiori de' Lagrime in mid-run.

"Would you give us your middle A?" He lifted his violin to his chin and prepared to align its sound with the clavichord.

"Gladly," said Saint-Germain, and struck the note with some authority.

From the doorway, a handsome young woman with glorious red-brown hair, dressed in a grande toilette of rosy taffeta and ecru lace, exclaimed, "Oh, I wish I'd known you'd be here. We could have done songs together, Hercegek."

The violinist lowered his instrument. "My wife, Irina," he said, making room for her in the horse-shoe center of musicians. "And where is Natalia, and Julij?"

"They are coming. We have been warming up, as you're about to do," she said, kissing him on the cheek. She curtsied to Saint-Germain. "Hercegek."

"Madame," Saint-Germain responded with an acknowledging nod, all the while remembering his time in Roma with Giorgianna Ferrugia, fifteen years earlier.

"My wife is a contralto of rare range and richness of tone," the violinist boasted. "Natalia is her student, a soprano, and Julij used to sing at the Court of Augustus II of Poland." He escorted Irina to a chair, then returned to his place among the instrumentalists. "Hercegek, if you would be kind enough to sound the A once again."

Saint-Germain provided the note, and listened to the swarm of sounds that greeted it; he enjoyed the amiable chaos that began so many musical occasions, finding it a familiar observance throughout much of the world. The six string-players settled on their A, and the violinist nodded to Saint-Germain. As he struck the A again for the brass and woodwinds, he noticed that the fellow with the lyra da braccia was staring at Irina as if he were parched and she were spring water; Irina was smiling slyly, her attractive features carefully controlled.

"Shall we try the middle portion of the Gesualdo?" the violinist asked, and waited while everyone found his place in the music. "On the up-beat. One and." He motioned with his bow and the consort picked up the rocking beat of the plaintive threnody. They were halfway through the piece when the two remaining singers arrived, and for a short time the rehearsal stopped again while the specific order of playing was decided upon.

Just before the salon began, Julij Redzynski approached Saint-Germain and held out an envelope to him. "I have been asked to give this to you by a countryman of yours." He spoke so punctiliously that his bow was superfluous.

Saint-Germain reached up for the envelope, concealing his intense curiosity. "That is kind of you," he said calmly; he saw there was only his name on the envelope, and that confirmed his misgiving about its source.

Julij seemed disappointed at this cool reception; he prompted Saint-Germain with his observation, "He said you'd understand what it's about."

"I have some notion, but this is not the time or the place to address Lajos Rakoczi's concerns." He slipped the envelope inside his coat and into the pocket concealed there, then he brought out a silver Angel and handed it to the singer. "For your service."

"Thank you," said Julij, biting his lower lip. "You know that the Grofok will be here this evening."

"I do," said Saint-Germain without displaying a trace of discomfort.

Nonplussed, Julij turned away. "Oh."

Carruther looked in at the door. "The Czar is arriving," he said. "The salon is about to begin."

"We're ready," said the violinist, the flurry of shifting pages belying his statement. "The Entrata. On my signal."

There was a flurry of activity around the front door, and one of the staff pulled the side-room door wide so that the music could be heard. Since he was not playing with the consort, as the Entrata began, Saint-Germain rose and, with the rest of the household and staff, bowed to Piotyr Alexeievich and Marfa Skavronskaya as they came into the Residence, the Czar ducking to keep his head from striking the door-frame.

Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, and Abigail Carruther were the first to rise from their curtsies in order to welcome the first guests of the evening.

Text of a letter from Lajos Rakoczi, Grofok Saint-Germain, to Arpad Arco-Tolvay, Hercegek Gyor, written in Viennese German.

To the most distinguished Hungarian, Arpad Arco-Tolvay, Hercegek Gyor, and husband to Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, Polish Royal observer at Sankt Piterburkh, the greetings of Lajos Ragoczi, Grofok Saint-Germain.

My dear Hercegek,

Before his departure to Moscow, the Czar's deputy, his poteshnye Alexander Menshikov, informed me that you had told him that you knew of your own knowledge to a certainty that my uncle, Ferenz Rakoczi, is alive, or was so when you say you saw him no more than nine months ago. While I do not question your motives for advancing such a claim-for it is understood that if you have evidence that my uncle is still alive, it is your duty to declare it officially-yet you must understand that I would like very much to see what proof, beyond your assertion, you have to support this. As you may imagine, I am most interested in all you have to tell on this point, for it seems strange to me that I would have been granted his title were there any doubt as to his survival. To support my own position I have with me, here in Sankt Piterburkh, the official decision from Buda, with the seals of the court upholding my inheritance; I would not like it thought by anyone that because I have no body to bury, that I have come to my position by fraud.

I do not say that you have made such a claim, of course. I have been told that you most specifically avoided making such a charge: Menshikov told me himself that you were most insistent that you only wished to inform him that you had seen my uncle more than two years after the Court was informed that he had died, and that you were convinced further investigation was necessary.

Since you have not come to me in regard to this matter, it appears that I must come to you, and so I entrust this to the singer, Julij Redzynski, and ask that he deliver it into your hands before the salon at the English Residence this evening. It would hardly be appropriate for me that I broach the matter with you while the festivities are ongoing, so I hope this will serve to gain your attention. If you are willing to discuss this with me, you have only to say when and at what place, and I will present myself.

I know you informed Menshikov that you are disinclined to take up the matter with me in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and were we in Hungary, I would second your probity, but as we are in Russia, such sticking points would seem to be too severe to our shared circumstances. Therefore I urge you to provide me with all the information that is at your command so that I may set about putting this injustice-if there is an injustice-to rights. You may rely upon my discretion in anything we discuss.

Believe me, Hercegek,

Your faithful countryman,

Lajos Rakoczi

Grofok Saint-Germain

October 25th, 1704