XI. The Historian’s Craft

There is a lot more to being an historian than simply excavating facts.  Proper names are certainly specific, but what people did and why they did it is a matter of opinion or perspective.  Often the historian must choose between conflicting accounts and identify key points and attitudes.   Interpretation is a tricky business, because what is considered an insignificant or generally accepted new fact may be neither.  Past Imperfect shows how new data leads to constant reinterpretation of the past.  It also shows how discoveries cannot always be taken at face value and what happens if they are.

Past Imperfect

“What’s with Fred?”

“Oh, he probably forgot the bell rotation again.”

That was a fairly common exchange in the copier room.  Two young teachers glanced in the direction of an older figure desperately trotting down the hall and receding into the distance.

Fred Carmichael hadn’t forgotten the rotation.  He knew what bell it was – his free bell, at least for about another ten minutes.  He had to get to his department office to verify a specific date.  If he was right, Pete was about to make an academic fool of himself and snuff out a very successful career.

Fred banked around a corner, hurdled a book bag resting against a wall, and skidded into H-460.  He had a clear path to his desk; his colleagues were all still in class.  He burrowed through the mountain of books and loose papers until he found what he was after.

“Was it May, 1961?  Oh, Jeez….”  That was what he was afraid of.  He retrieved his phone and started to send an emergency message – right below the “NO TEXTING ALLOWED IN THIS BUILDING” sign.

That’s when the bell rang.  All he could send was “STOP!”.  Would Pete get the message – and understand?

*                                              *                                              *

Twentieth Century historians consider the Cuban Missile Crisis the zenith of the Cold War.  The often-repeated scenario tells how John Kennedy discovered the missile installations in Cuba and, with a small group of brilliant advisors, devised a strategy to stare down Nikita Khrushchev and avert nuclear war.  In recent years, however, declassified documents have suggested that events could have easily slipped beyond their control.

One can assume that not every document from the brief but notable Kennedy Presidency has seen the light of day.  In addition to those that the State Department may still deem too sensitive for exposure, there are personal notes and letters that, for various reasons, are not on display in the Presidential library in Massachusetts.

Of course, no secret can remain hidden forever.

*                                              *                                              *

It seemed like Peter Franklin was morphing into a New England Brahman.  He had spent so much time buried in “Camelot” memorabilia that he was starting to say “Cuber” and “Africer”.  He had picked up the gestures, mannerisms, and vocal rhythms so beloved by JFK impersonators.  He was considered an “expert” on those years, although many of his associates thought “fanatic” was a more appropriate label.

”Yeah,” he pontificated.  “That movie gives some truly secondary characters way too much screen time.  They were never in the inner circle.”

The students around the seminar table hung on his every word.  It was as if he had been there and had been an active, central participant.

“Was Khrushchev that much of a bully?” ventured someone at the crowded table.

“I’d say he was more of a clown,” responded another voice.

“Yeah, he’d have been laughable if he didn’t have all those nukes to throw around,” said a third.

Mr. Franklin nodded.  “All three of you are right.  Except I’d throw in one more label.  He was an actor.  He didn’t have anywhere near the nuclear arsenal that Kennedy and the U.S. had.  He just had to leave the impression that he did… Well, there’s the bell.  Next time we’ll look at the Kennedy-Cuba relationship.”

He pronounced it “Cuber”.

The select group of high school seniors filed out as Peter Franklin stuffed DVD’s and two or three volumes decorated with bookmarks into his exploding briefcase.  The kids loved the course.  They even laughed at his jokes.  Life was good.  As he exited he paused to let Fred Carmichael come in.  The two men were old friends; they had been hired the same year and had been fixtures in the History Department for as long as anyone could remember.

“Since the Dawn of Recorded Time” is the way Fred described it.

“May the Force be with you,” said Pete, holding up one hand in a Vulcan salute.

Fred grimaced.

“The gesture is right, but the appropriate Vulcan greeting is ‘Live long and prosper’.  You’re mixing up STAR TREK with that other unmentionable thing.  But I shall accept the intent and reply in the correct fashion.  ‘Peace and long life’.”

“So where are you now?”  asked Pete.

“The formation of the European Union.  And I won’t get beyond that if you don’t let me get set up.  I’ve got to get these people ready for your seminars.”

“Oh, then by all means proceed.”  He bowed and let Fred by. “Do you need any help with that stuff?”

The “stuff” to which he referred included two sets of old roll-down maps and boxes full of old Newsweek magazines, flash drives, and European currencies old as well as new.  Fred believed in the “hands-on” method; it was said that if he had been teaching the Middle Ages, he would have brought a cathedral to class.

Pete had a lighter load and no pending class, so he hung around a bit longer.

“Going anywhere over break?”  he asked. “Europe?  Vulcan, maybe?”

“Nope,” replied Fred, dumping his load on a table.  “Gonna stay home, polish my craft, and sleep in.  What about you?”

“I’m going to Boston,” answered Pete, “to check out the JFK document library.  At least what they’ll let me see.  I want to write something on the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna meeting in 1961.  It was sort of a table-setter for  the Missile Crisis in ‘62”.

“Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll get carte blanche.  You’re the best in the business when it comes to sucking up.”

“I am rather good at it, aren’t I?  Well, I must let you get on with Europe.”

And with that, Pete departed, whistling Beethoven’s Ninth.

“Have a good break!  Don’t lift any forbidden documents!”  Fred called after him.

Pete smiled over his shoulder.  “Who?  Me?  I have my sources!”  And with that he disappeared around a corner.

*                                              *                                              *

“So what do you think?  Isn’t this the best pizza this side of the Atlantic?”

The speaker, Chuck Barrone, mumbled the inquiry through a mouthful of thin crust, peppers and cheese.

Pete Franklin didn’t want to argue and chew at the same time.  Besides, it was a given that Chuck knew his eateries, especially little out-of-the-way, mom-and-pop places like this one in Boston.  He liked to “do business” in them.

Wiping his mouth with a napkin, Chuck launched into the matter at hand.

“I think I’ve got a winner for you.”  He patted his coat pocket.  “Remember the Vienna Summit in ’61?  Khrushchev butchered Jack Kennedy and danced all over his corpse.  Even guys in his own administration admitted their golden boy really looked bad.”

Pete smiled.  “You aren’t terribly fond of the “Camelot” crowd, are you?  Makes one wonder why they let someone like you get within forty feet of their document library.”

“I do my job efficiently and quietly,” responded Chuck.  “They didn’t demand a loyalty oath and I certainly didn’t volunteer one.  It jerks my chain that so many people have made a saint out of that incompetent womanizer.  I’m a Republican and proud of it.”

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll trace these document leaks to you?” Pete asked between bites.

“Let them fire me.  I’ll survive.  And the country will be better informed about its heroes.  Besides, I know you’ll be sufficiently vague about your sources.”

“Enough preliminaries,” Pete said abruptly.  “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Chuck removed the envelope from his jacket breast pocket.  “Try not to get sauce on this.  I destroyed the original scans, including those of the Russian translations.”  He slid it across the table.  “Go ahead and read it.  I want to finish this pizza.”

There was a single sheet in the legal envelope.  Pete unfolded it and found an apparently photocopied typed page.  No fancy stationery or watermark.  Just a handwritten “May ‘61” at the top.  He began to read.

I regret that you felt it necessary to play to the cameras, but I suppose I’d do the same were I in your position.  My people think you left me crying in a corner.  I survived the Cuba invasion mess in April, and I’ll get over this ding on my image too.  Now that the bright lights are off of us, here’s what I propose.  You let us keep NATO missiles in Turkey, and we will let you do whatever you want in order to keep Fidel happy.  No promises re: Berlin.  I guess we’ll agree to disagree there.  I’ll send you a note in June detailing our position.  I do have to warn you about one thing.  We have elections next year, and I may have to do what we call “grandstanding” to win votes.  That means I’ll have to make you look like a bad guy, so I can “save the country”.  Were I you, I’d work out my defense strategy in advance.

Aside from getting my butt kicked in public, I enjoyed meeting you.  Someday let’s share politics stories.

(Signed) John F. Kennedy, POTUS

P.S.  Your May Day parade last week was impressive!

“What’s going on here?” thought Pete.  Is JFK agreeing to let Khrushchev put missiles into Cuba?  And it’s one year before the Missile Crisis!

“Holy Moly!” was all he could say.

“I thought you’d like it,” Chuck responded between chews. “It looks like the Missile Crisis was a pre-election ploy, doesn’t it?  Apparently, Khrushchev couldn’t come up with a plausible response short of pushing the nuclear button.  I guess he was too fixated on Berlin.”

“That could be,” Pete said.  “The Wall went up in August.”  He stared at the sheet.  The signature looked real enough.  This was a real game-changer.  Finally, he broke the silence.

“So how much is this going to cost me?”

“Well, considering that, as you say, I could get fired when this goes public, it has to be something to keep me in pizza for an extended period.”

Chuck threw out a figure.

Pete’s eyebrows shot skyward.  “I could buy a Ferrari for that!”

“And when your book stays on the Best-Seller list for three years, you can buy your Ferrari.”

“I don’t have that much in my checking account.”

“So maybe we can arrange an easy payment plan.  I’m not unreasonable.  What do you say?”

After a moment or two of consideration, Pete said, “Deal!” and returned to his temporarily ignored pizza with gusto.

*                                              *                                              *

When classes resumed, Fred Carmichael found his colleague even more ebullient than usual.

“You must have had one heck of a break!  I’ve never thought of Boston as a fun town.  Outside of Fenway Park, that is.”

“My friend, I have won the historians’ lottery.  Let me write out a proposal so I can send it to my agent.  I’ll share it with you when I get it all worked out.”

Fred smiled.  Being married to your work does have one big drawback for people like Pete who live in the Archives.  Their social contacts are limited to publishers and eventually an audience of jealous peers who wish they had beaten him into print.  That wasn’t for Fred, but he felt honored to be Pete’s one preliminary sounding board.

Days passed.  Pete seemed to dedicate every spare minute to typing his manuscript.

“Forgive me for breaking your concentration,” joked Fred.  “But you know, there have been studies.  Staring at that screen all the time isn’t good for you.  You need to get out more.”

Pete didn’t even look up as he replied, “Got a deadline.  And this is hot stuff!”

His publishing agent thought so too.  Whenever Fred saw her at school, she seemed to treat Pete like the second coming of Dan Brown.

Eventually, the final, polished draft was done.  When the galley proofs arrived, Pete decided the time had come to let his friend in on what was certain to be a blockbuster.

“So what do you think?”  Pete asked after handing the summary blurb to his friend and waiting impatiently for him to read it.

Fred was flabbergasted.  He had grown up in the ‘60’s, and Kennedy was his political idol.

“What kind of evidence do you have to back this up?”

“I have a document signed by JFK.  It was buried in the unavailable portion of the Presidential archives.”

“How’d you get it?”

“A friend.”  He paused. “I, -uh, made it worth his while.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Fred commented, shaking his head.  “It does seem to fit, I guess.  But, good lord!  This is one of the most Machiavellian deals I’ve ever heard of.  It sounds like a nuclear-age Bismarck!”

“Yeah, doesn’t it?  It ought to make the headlines and talk shows.  Maybe I’ll get a guest spot on Colbert.”

“Any chance I could see the original document?” asked Fred.

“No problem.  I had it included with the picture inserts.  “I’ve never seen the Russian version, but this should be enough.”  He shuffled pages.  “Here it is.”

“You’re right.  It looks like his writing.  I’ve seen enough Kennedy papers to say that.  But,…wow!  What a shocker!”

“Gotta run,” said Pete, giving his desk a quick once-over.  “Before the book hits Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Julie has arranged for a press conference tomorrow morning.  She’s some kind of agent!  I have to fly to New York today!”  He virtually bounced out the door.

“I’ll cover your class!” Fred called after him.  Then he remembered what he was holding. “Wait!  You left all the proofs!”

“Hold on to them for me!  I can trust you not to publish it yourself!”

And he was gone.

*                                              *                                              *

At the end of the school day, Fred carefully packed Pete’s masterpiece into his briefcase along with an assortment of papers that needed grading.  The grading, unfortunately, would have to come first; he had held onto those essays way to long.  His plan was to get up early and read Pete’s bombshell.

His wife was working late, so Fred slapped together something he called “dinner” and then made his way to his office-workroom.   He pulled out a fist-full of papers, sighed, and plunged into them.  Several hours and papers later, he remembered that he needed to get up early, so he called it a night and went to bed.

He got up in the dark sometime later, tiptoed back to his study, unpacked Pete’s manuscript, and settled into a comfortable chair.

DUEL OF THE NUCLEAR TITANS.  Fred shook his head at the title.  Not exactly a coy understatement.  No doubt the publicist’s contribution.  He began to turn pages.  The 1960 election…, Bay of Pigs fiasco…, Space Race.  Easy reading, but nothing terribly new and exciting.

Then he got to the Vienna Summit.  There was plenty on Khrushchev’s Berlin demands; it was easy to see why people had concluded that the Soviet leader had drowned Kennedy in a tidal wave of bluster.  A little further along he hit the apparently secret note smuggled between delegations.  Yeah, a casual glance suggested it was authentic.  Kennedy was recovering from the abortive Cuban invasion; and for all his finger-wagging and tirades, Khrushchev was beginning to see his young adversary as a quick study and solid politician.

But would JFK really have let the Soviets do whatever they wanted in Cuba?  Would he have let them put nuclear missiles there… and then insisted that they remove them, risking war in the process?

Something just didn’t add up.  Fred read the note over and over.  He even walked away from the manuscript and graded a few more student essays.  His red pen circled misspelling, incorrect names, and bad chronology.  Why can’t kids get their details straight?

When he got back to Pete’s work, his mind was still mentally reeling from what he considered sloppy scholarship.  He stared at the Kennedy note.  What a difference!  At least it was smooth and accurate.


At the top Kennedy had written “May ‘61”.  The Vienna Summit wasn’t in May.  It was in June.  Could that just be the President’s inadvertent slip?  That seemed unlikely, given the reference to June later in the text.  And the “P.S.” was pretty specific regarding the May Day parade.  The dates were just wrong.  They cast serious doubt as to the authenticity of the entire note, and that note’s “revelations” were the cornerstone of the book.

Fred was sure that Pete would have realized there were problems if he hadn’t let himself be goaded into becoming a publicity juggernaut.  Was there anything he could do at this stage to keep his friend from committing academic suicide?

A glance at his clock showed that he had lingered over the proofs longer than anticipated.  He didn’t have an 8:00 class, but he had promised to cover his friend’s 9:00.  He was cutting even that pretty close.

After the shortest shower he had ever taken – Fred had gotten wetter in rain storms – he grabbed a shirt and tie that maybe matched.  A hasty “love-you” aimed in his wife’s general direction, and he was out the door.

His car stayed at or below the speed limit all the way to school.  And he knew not to try to text and drive.  The squad cars prowled all over this route.  He was glad to see that the sacred Carmichael parking space was still available in the school lot; there was no guarantee of that.  He parked, checked the time, and took off in the direction of the classroom building.

Fred barely slowed down in the hallway.  He nodded toward two younger colleagues in the copier room but didn’t wait for an acknowledgement.  He got to his desk in the vacant department office and unearthed a favorite reference book.  (Mr. Carmichael, it was said, didn’t trust the Internet.)  Then he verified the “June 1961” Summit date.  As the minutes of his free bell ticked away, he got off the one-word message he hoped Pete would understand:  “STOP!”

*                                              *                                              *

*                                              *                                              *

There the manuscript ended.

It was very old, on the order of at least five thousand years according to scans.  Since actual material documents – they were called “paper” – from this age were rare, archaeologists had been eager to get at it.  After an extended and detailed analysis, their report was complete.

“So, what have we got?” inquired Commander Almane.  His antennae arched forward in anticipation.

Chief Analyst Virt brightened the viewscreen; one of his chitinous appendages pointed to the images coming into view.

“As close as we can tell, it’s some kind of political disagreement.  This was a very violent period, and it looks like one leader was desperately worried about his future.”

“How can you tell?” Almane leaned still closer to the screen to see the evidence.

“If we understand the idiom correctly, he seemed extremely interested in procreation.  One individual accuses him of being a ‘womanizer’”.

“Meaning what?”

Virt backed away slightly.  How could he say this politely?

“Uh… that would be a male extremely motivated by reproduction.  I surmise that he needed to breed successors to fend off challenges to his rule.”

“You said there was some kind of debate or conflict, didn’t you?”

“Apparently.  It’s kind of odd.  One individual seems to have gotten upset over trivia.  Not about what two political leaders actually said but the day on which they said it.  Our research suggests that the dates over which they are arguing aren’t that far apart.”

“Probably some kind of clerical fetish,” offered Almane.  “Didn’t someone say there were youth instructors involved?  Those people can get so fixated on details that they lay eggs.”

Virt nodded, acknowledging his superior’s humorous remark. “Indeed” he responded.  “So, anyway… we conclude that the procreation-minded ruler was being friendly with an adversary in search of some later advantage.  Possibly he wanted to arrange for additional females.  One wonders why such things are worth reporting.”

Almane nodded and made a dismissive gesture.  “Thank you, Chief.  Who knows?  Someday someone might find details like these significant.”

Virt backed away, waved an appendage gracefully, and was gone.


  1. Should Pete have accepted, and paid for, Chuck’s “document”?  How could he justify this conduct?
  2. If Chuck knowingly sold Pete a fake document, it clearly represents a lapse in ethics. Does Pete have a legal recourse to get back at him, or does he have to accept the incident as a “life lesson” and avoid publicizing it?
  3. Why would Pete’s agent think that a preliminary news conference, tied to the release of his book, was appropriate and desirable?
  4. Suppose that Fred had not been on time to avert the news conference, or that Pete had been unable to decipher the meaning of the one-word message. What would have been the aftermath of either situation?
  5. The future archaeologists don’t have the same interests or concerns in their world that Fred and Pete have in theirs. Matters that the two societies consider significant vary appreciably.  What are those differences, and what would account for them?
  6. The manuscript ends abruptly, in the middle of the action. Finish Fred and Pete’s story.

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X. Past and Future

Stitches in Time was written partly to encourage a discussion of cause-effect relationships… and partly just for fun.  Alternate timelines are always worth considering, because they illustrate ripple effects and demonstrate that there is no such thing as “inevitability.”  Remembering this keeps historians honest.

Stitches in Time

The sliding doors opened, admitting an altogether nondescript individual. Of middle height and age, as well as average, slightly overweight build and thinning hair, the man in the ordinary brown business suit might have had his presence ignored had not the speaker at the opposite end of the conference room stopped in mid-sentence to acknowledge his arrival.

“Ah, Officer Penn! Who else is with you?”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Jarreau. I’m the only person the Department has available.”

Jarreau and the half-dozen others seated around a heavy table were visibly disappointed. Investigative-Officer-Second-Class Feldon Penn understood why. They wanted someone important, a specialist with a recognized track record; but he was a bureaucrat whose principal skill was the recognition of alphabetical order for filing purposes.

As he claimed a chair near, but not at, the conference table, Penn tried to conceal his embarrassment. He was as successful in this as those in the room had been in hiding their displeasure. Someone in the home office had a strange sense of humor. Instead of declining politely when the University had requested the opportunity to present its “striking new weapon in the war against crime”, a high-level administrator had come up with a better idea. Any person with half a brain knew that the Department of Public Order had no time for tea parties where theoretical models, alien to reality, would be built and then destroyed by little men in horn-rimmed glasses. The best agents were applying every second of available time to the search for the Bogeyman, and these professors wanted somebody significant to waste time sitting around a table with them, while statistical charts flashed by on a computer screen.

Obviously, the Department could not tie up good investigators that way. Then again, they could not afford to alienate the “ivory tower” crowd either. They might need help of some sort from them in the future.

There was only one alternative. Send a nobody. And who was more of a nobody than Investigative-Officer-Second-Class Feldon Penn? He was, at the most charitable, a chair-bound terminal-watcher — someone whose close relatives, if he had any, might overlook without reminders. An android could tend his station while he was “on assignment;” and nobody would know the difference, except that the machine’s conversation would probably be livelier.

Somewhere an administrator was getting a good chuckle out of all this, even if Dr. Jarreau and his colleagues were not. A few professors gave shrugs of futility. Others simply gestured at their spokesman to begin the presentation.

Feeling like a salesman about to make a detailed money pitch to a three-year-old, Jarreau mustered what enthusiasm he could. “Officer Penn, what is the single most heinous crime presently occupying you and your associates?”

“Well, the murders of those seventy-four children, I suppose.”

“The so-called “Bogeyman murders”, correct?”

“Yes, Professor, that’s right. There must be thousands of agents working on that around the globe.”

“Pardon my curiosity, but how many solid leads would you say have been turned up?” There was a tinge of sarcasm in Jarreau’s voice, but Penn was used to being addressed in such a fashion and ignored it.

“Based on what’s come through my filing station, we don’t have anything solid. We know that all the victims were really young — between three and six years. Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern. The nationalities, economic backgrounds, physical features, parents’ ages and jobs, scenes of the crimes, modes of attack . . . nothing seems to repeat itself.”

Penn’s tone drifted back into apology. “At least, as far as I know. Some of the data might be too restricted to run through my station.”

“Wouldn’t it be useful if an agent could be at the scene of a murder when it takes place?”

“Sure, but I don’t see how. . . .”

“Ah, but that is precisely what we are trying to show your Department! It’s new, scarcely more than experimental really. But it does work!” Jarreau’s voice soared with enthusiasm until the startled faces of his associates reminded him that the room was not soundproofed and the project was supposed to be known only to a few.

He turned to another man on his right. “Dr. Sandurski, I think it’s time you took over. Officer Penn, this is Dr. Stefan Sandurski, Senior Professor of Advanced Trans-Dimensional Physics.”

Jarreau sat down. The older, stuped figure rose and softly, almost reluctantly, began to speak in a voice tinged with an Old World accent. “The principle is quite simple really.”

For the next quarter hour, the professor explained the basic elements of theoretical physics upon which his discovery rested. Felden Penn listened respectfully to all of it, unable to comprehend anything except the article adjectives and one or two of the verbs.

One fact did come across, however. Sandurski was describing a workable time machine.

“. . . And that, gentlemen, is the way it should work. But, Dr. Jarreau, I must repeat my warning. It has not been tested thoroughly; and I strongly advise against using a human as an experimental subject, no matter how worthy the cause.”

With this admonition the older man returned to his seat, and Jarreau once again took over. “We fully appreciate Professor Sandurski’s concern, but that is what we propose to do. Three of us have already volunteered to test it in individual experiments. After we confirm that the technology does indeed function as it should, we will assist the Department in pinpointing the locations and times of past atrocities. Then agents can be sent to wait for and apprehend the diseased mind — or minds — behind all this killing. That is what we wish you to transmit to your superiors.”

Penn recognized that these words constituted a dismissal. He nodded, rose, and turned toward the exit. As he passed through the sliding doors, he could hear Jarreau’s voice one last time. “Remember your granddaughter, Stefan. You have given us the power to prevent other tragedies like hers. . . .”

* * *

“Penn, are you sure you’ve got this right? That’s a pretty incredible claim! Can anyone vouch for you on this?”

“No, sir. I mean, I was the only one assigned to the conference. Since you’re my superior, I thought I should report to you.”

Assistant Director Hipling’s chair swung nervously from side to side behind his desk. Its bureaucratic occupant did not like to have a comfortable rut disturbed.

“The security section did report some such classified research in progress at the University, but there’s been a tight lid on it. Oh, -uh, thanks for the report. You can resume your station.”

Penn obediently returned to his post, much to the disappointment of those who worked around him. In its brief tenure, his android substitute had seemed the model of wit and charm in comparison to the human it had temporarily replaced.

A blanket of tight security, combined with Penn’s natural reticence, prevented the extraordinary subject matter of the conference from leaking beyond the few who would and could make decisions. At the computer console of the Investigative-Officer-Second-Class, the entire incident blended into the gray routine of data storage. Occasionally, a casual thought about the strangeness of it all drifted through his head, but the situation was no more bizarre than the failure of a meteorologist here in the twenty-second century to predict the exact temperature of a given day. An eyebrow might rise briefly, but that was all.

Yet three things did catch and hold Felden Penn’s interest. First, a trio of missing-person reports arrived for processing a week or so later. He vaguely recognized the first pair of names as prominent physics professors at the University. The last name seemed to tie things together; it was Dr. Emil Jarreau. All three had been last seen near the laboratories on the sprawling campus.

The second situation was the simultaneous transfer of five highly respected agents from an assignment logged simply as “Classified Criminology Project, Western University”. Each was returned to his previous responsibilities without explanation.

Finally, the number of Bogeyman incidents began to escalate. They varied in their circumstances, but each fit the broad pattern. That ended a brief hiatus which had coincided roughly with the agents’ assignment to the University and the disappearance of the three professors.

All of this was strange enough to move Penn to unaccustomed action. He sought a five-minute interview with Assistant Director Hipling and found his superior in an uncharacteristically frank mood.

“Yes, you’re quite right. Those agents were assigned to that idiocy you heard at that conference. You can guess why we recalled them. The silly machine doesn’t work! Three perfectly intelligent, empirically critical scientists committed suicide in it! They stepped right into the chamber. Professor — what’s his name? — Sandurski threw a switch that was supposed to send them into the past for a few minutes and then bring them back neatly to the present. Instead, they just vanished!”

“Dr. Sandurski did warn them that it needed more testing. I remember him saying that. . . .”

“Well, Penn, they should have listened to the man! It’s still a classified project, but we won’t get involved until they can certify that round-trip tickets are available.”

“What about the murders, sir?”

You mean the recent number of them?”

“I mean the pattern. A lot, then only a few, then a lot again. Do you think that means something?”

“Hmmmm. Odd coincidence, perhaps. Probably nothing more. But don’t worry; I’ll have someone look into it.”

“Thank you, sir.”

After Penn’s departure, Hipling shrugged and immediately forgot the conversation. He had more important things to do.

The Investigative-Officer-Second-Class, however, did not forget. He had enough native intelligence to recognize that no one would take him seriously; he had been hired to file, not analyze. Something nagged at him about that “odd coincidence”, and even the bland rut of his usual thoughts could not quiet it.

When his shift ended, he made his way to the University and to the physics laboratories in particular. His Department badge and written authorization to attend the earlier conference served as passes into what was supposed to be a restricted area.

“Why, yes, Officer. Dr. Sandurski is in his laboratory. But I’m afraid only a few selected physicists are allowed in there. You’ll have to wait.” The security guard was friendly but firm.

“Is there an intercom in the lab? I’d like to be announced.”

“There used to be, but the professor had it disconnected. Too annoying, he said.”

Penn nodded. “Perhaps he has an office in which I could wait.”

The guard seemed uncomfortable with this option, but this rather ordinary visitor was an officer of the Department of Public Order. Obviously, the man was important, in spite of his appearance. He led Penn to a small room, rendered a cubicle by the stacks of paper and overstuffed filing cabinets occupying most of the floor space.

When the guard departed, Penn let his eyes wander around the tight space, at first casually and then with greater care. He did not understand half of what he could make out, but the physicist’s legible handwriting was no barrier.

A lower drawer in the desk was partially open, and its contents were visible. The writing seemed out of place amid the formulae and analytical diagrams. Penn could only see half of a sheet of paper; but at the upper left he read four digits: “2230”. Below that were names and what looked like events or actions with dates in parentheses after them. He recognized none of the names, and yet there was something oddly familiar about a few of them.

Where had he seen them before? Then it struck him. They were the surnames of the Bogeyman’s victims!

“May I help you, Officer?”

It was Stefan Sandurski’s recognizable accent and soft, friendly voice. Penn was startled and embarrassed, like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

“Uh, well, yes, Professor. I have a few questions. I wonder if you might answer them for me.”

“Certainly, Officer — what was your name?”

“Felden Penn,” he answered nervously. In spite of the scientist’s outward cordiality, there was something disconcerting about his stare. He remained standing at the entrance to the office, and his slight figure somehow managed to loom menacingly over his visitor. Penn decided to plunge ahead, as if everything were as pleasant as the words made them appear.

“I was wondering if you could explain to me what happened to your three colleagues who volunteered to test the machine. What went wrong?”

“I told all of you that it needed more work, but no one would listen!” There was an aggressive, bitter edge to the reply. Sandurski never moved from the doorway.

“Yes, sir. I remember that. But could you be a bit more specific?”

The physicist smiled. “Perhaps you will let me demonstrate the problem for you.” He motioned politely toward the entrance. Penn rose with as much nonchalance as he could muster. Maxims about what happens to the unduly curious popped into his mind, but he did his best to suppress them.

Neither man said a word, as they walked down the hall toward the lab. Sandurski waved at the security guard, indicating that his visitor posed no threat. The guard nodded acknowledgement. Keys pushed in a coded sequence unlocked the laboratory door, which then swished open, admitting them into a large, but essentially bare room.

The center of attention was a compartment large enough for one adult. It was connected by an arm to a central motor. On the opposite side of the room, behind a transparent shield, was what seemed to be a control panel.

“This looks like some kind of centrifuge,” ventured Penn.

“Rather simply stated, but essentially correct,” replied the professor.

As the officer stared at the contraption, Sandurski quietly eased his way to the control panel and pressed a few buttons. Then he returned and resumed his explanation.

“Now for your answers, sir. As you may have guessed by now, based on the attention my file drawer was receiving when I entered the office, this machine is perfectly, flawlessly operational. My three colleagues are quite alive.”

Penn felt his heart pounding and sweat forming on his forehead. He stammered, “I assure you, Professor, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“I think you do. Have you told any of your superiors? It really doesn’t matter, as you will realize when I finish. By the way, I know you aren’t armed. There is a security scanner at the door which is programmed to trigger an alarm, if a traditional weapon enters this laboratory. I did more than unlock the door when I pushed those keys.”

Penn could do nothing but listen and stare.

“The three missing scientists are very much alive, as I said. They can be found five years in the future. Their story will no doubt be considered outlandish, and they will probably be deemed deranged or the victims of some kind of group amnesia. In any event, their absence provides a neat premise upon which to base my argument that the machine doesn’t work, thereby getting rid of your Department’s agents, as well as my curious and overly helpful associates. As for the list I carelessly left open to your prying eyes, it is, you might say, ‘future history’. Everyone was so interested in using my research to delve into the past! No one considered its more significant uses for the future!”

He lowered his voice as if to share an amusing secret with a colleague. “Now I will tell you something that only you and I know — among the currently living of course. I AM YOUR BOGEYMAN!”

“But… why?” That was all the dumbfounded Penn could say.

“Officer, how many innocent victims died in the concentration camps of twentieth century Germany or the labor camps of that same period’s Soviet Union? How about the religious persecutions carried out by the ‘Kingdom of God’ only a few decades later? Those figures are astounding, even in our statistically inundated age. Yet think of the lives that could have been saved — the scientists, artists, or writers who could have enriched our cultures — if Hitler or Stalin or Runni had died at an early age! Of course, the immediate families would have grieved temporarily; but later generations would have been spared the utter desolation those children inflicted when they matured.”

He continued. “I simply choose a date a generation or two in the future, and use my machine to witness it first-hand. Where there is tyranny or oppression, I look for the tyrant or oppressor. Obviously, I could do nothing to overturn an entrenched regime, but I have the ability to crush these weeds before they grow!”

Penn shook himself from his trance. “What gives you the right to judge what is good and what is evil? You are not God, Professor!”

“I have a conscience, sir — something I dare say people seem to lack today! The deaths, the torture of millions! That is clearly an evil!”

“While the death of one is good? How can you say that?”

Complacent people like you — the kind that is unaware of their social responsibilities — always condemn anyone who takes action. That’s why I couldn’t share my secret. But no one will discover it, because of the way I use my machine. I go back a day or two in time, study my subjects, select the perfect isolated moment, kill them, return to the machine, and then come back to the present. By using it, I’ve discovered that it is possible – how can I put it? — to be in two places at once. I always have an alibi; and I never stay in the past long enough to arouse suspicion. Admittedly, I had to avoid using the machine while your agents were lurking about; but in a few days, I shall fill in the void by returning to those weeks to do my hunting.”

Here Sandurski paused. After a few seconds, he spoke again. His prophetic intensity had reverted to polite calm. “You are probably wondering, Officer, why I am telling you all of this. I am unarmed and cannot prevent you from leaving here and going straight to the Department with my entire story.”

Although Penn said nothing, that point had indeed crossed his mind.

“And now I will explain.” The scientist walked nonchalantly toward the centrifuge compartment. “In a few seconds, I will disappear into the past. Your past, Officer Penn. I will stop along the way to obtain some biographical data on you, and then I will proceed to some scene in your youth. And you will die, Officer Penn. When I return to this laboratory, a few moments from now, you will no longer be here; because, my friend, you will not exist!”

He entered the compartment and activated something within it. Investigative-Officer-Second-Class Felden Penn watched helplessly as his existence evaporated, along with the figure of Dr. Sandurski.

* * *

When the physics professor reappeared in his laboratory, only a few minutes of real time had elapsed. He emerged from the compartment; and, as he had confidently anticipated, the visitor with whom he had earlier been speaking was not there.

But another of his expectations proved incorrect.

The security guard was still as he remembered him. However, the guard gestured toward the office and advised him that he had company.

Wedged into that tiny space were several men, at least two of whom were studying the contents of his desk drawers with great interest. One man who seemed to be supervising the proceedings hailed the approaching scientist.

“Stefan Sandurski, I believe?”

“Yes. And who are you? What gives you the right to . . .”

“I am Director Hipling of the Department of Public Order. You don’t know me, Doctor; but I assure you I know a great deal about you and, I’m afraid, about your private use of this time travel device. As for what gives me and my people the right to search this office, this should suffice.”

He showed the amazed professor a fully authorized warrant.

“I have to hand it to you, Professor. This was ingenious, right down to the disappearance of your associates — which you obviously engineered to throw us off the scent. It might have worked, had it not been for Investigative-Officer-Second-Class Frammels here.”

He nodded toward a dashing young man dressed in the height of twenty-second century fashion. Frammels stepped forward.

“I always do a little additional analysis on whatever comes through my station, and I couldn’t miss the pattern of the disappearances, the transfers, and the murder rates. It was a simple matter of selling my suspicions to Director Hipling.”

“No one can ignore someone as persuasive as this young man,” the Director interjected. “What luck that we had him at that terminal! Lucky, that is, for the civilized world, Professor, but not for you. These documents support most of his suspicions, and the truth-scan we run on you should confirm the rest.”

A stunned Sandurski yielded without further protest. As he was led away, he heard Hipling casually remark, “Imagine what would have happened if we had put a nobody at that station!”

Questions for Analysis:

1. The story emphasizes the continuity between past, present, and future. Assuming this, can there ever be an “unimportant event”? Why, or why not?

2. Assess the “Bogeyman’s” motives for his crimes. Are they morally justifiable? Why, or why not?

3. If time travel were possible, for what legitimate, positive uses, if any, could it be employed?

4. The story suggests that people often distrust “ivory-tower intellectuals”, whom they regard as separate from the mainstream of events and values. Can you cite any contemporary examples of this? To what degree is this generalization valid?

5. It may be said that historians can change the future by “assassinating the past.” Revision of historical explanations and new assessments of historical personalities go on constantly in book and classroom for a variety of reasons. Given this tendency, can real historical truth ever be determined?

6. Continue the story. What other changes would one expect to encounter in a world without Officer Penn?

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IX. The Cold War and After

This story was originally written thirty years ago, when the Cold War was in what we now consider its final stages.  At the time, however, it did not seem that way.  Distrust always overruled diplomacy.  Also, what we now consider the current threat to civilization, religion-driven terrorism, was a rare aberration.  Today both of those themes seem thoroughly contemporary.

A third timely theme, a generation’s struggle to overcome the nationalistic excesses of the Second World War, provides the element that ties it all together.

Voices in the Dark

The bracing chill in the air was enough to remind a native that winter had not yet had its final say. Yet the sun’s brilliance and the fact that the cold was no longer oppressive suggested that this was the departing gesture of a spent season.

Chief Inspector Wilhelm Heilemann raised the collar of his overcoat and shivered. All optimism aside, it was simply too cold for this kind of thing. He had been waiting at the edge of the tarmac for hours that seemed like weeks. No amount of last-minute activity or mental review and analysis could make the time pass quicker or make him warmer.

His men, plain-clothes and uniformed, lined both sides of the runway. They guarded every access to the landing strip. They were interspersed at regular, carefully determined intervals along the streets adjacent to the airport. Heilemann had joked repeatedly that the motorcade would pass more disguised policemen than civilians, a fact for which the American press would offer all kinds of arcane explanations.

The essential point was that the Inspector did not want an embarrassing incident. While an assassination attempt was probably out of the question, there was always a chance the radical fringe would do something unexpected and uncivilized. It had only been a few years since someone had emptied a bucket of red paint — “blood” he had called it — on the American ambassador’s car in Brussels. That would not happen here.

The “advance-men” who had come from Washington to review airport security had been crude boors whose casual insults had stung him to the quick.

“Jeez, Heilemann, you expect us to see these teeny badges? When we get off the plane, we won’t know somebody with clearance from some crazy who wants an autograph. What do you think this is? The Middle Ages? We have to know who’s who so we don’t rough up the mayor!”

To keep them happy, he had ordered huge, bright badges. As he glanced around him in these final, frigid moments of waiting, he smiled. The iridescent splotches on every official’s lapel looked like ladies’ favors worn into battle by armored knights. Medieval indeed!

The Soviet agents had been hardly more cooperative or courteous. They had merely informed him that they would be keeping their man secure. Local assistance was fine; but in their minds, it was an unreliable trifle not to be taken seriously.

This friendly invasion by condescending boors and sneaks was being made in the name of “peaceful coexistence”.

After the “advance-men” had come the reporters, a swarm of literate locusts marking out turf and interviewing every living creature in the city.

And now — finally — the two leaders would appear and take the well-lighted stage to wave, smile, and posture.

It was a wonder there were no elephants with tiny flags in their trunks.

A stir in the crowd nearby provided the first indication that a black dot in the blue western sky was the American President’s plane on its final approach.

Heilemann nodded to a subordinate a few yards away, and the man raised a walkie-talkie to pass the alert along the security network. Reporters and cameramen jostled each other as they pressed against the barrier separating them from the red-carpeted access ramp.

The main event of this circus was about to begin.

The Inspector was confident that his planning, medieval or not, would prevent a recurrence of the Brussels incident. A person without clearance could not get close enough to threaten the motorcade or the residence that was its destination.
The show must go on.

* * *

“Where’s the Captain? I’m ready to go!” Eleven-year-old Hans bounded down the stairs toward the front door, his enthusiasm bubbling over.

“Just a minute, young man! Have you brushed your teeth? The lake will still be there when you’ve finished. And don’t forget your coat. It’s still winter, remember?”

“Oh, Mama!” The boy’s intense displeasure was obvious. Why all this concern with details? He had a new ship to sail, and these delays only heightened his eagerness to get to the important things.

“Hansel! You will follow your mother’s instructions, or we will not take one step through that door!”

“Aye, Captain,” came the respectful, suitably chastened reply. A second later, dutiful and methodical steps could be heard on the stairs.

The order had come from a tall, elderly man who had emerged from the drawing room to the right of the stairs’ base. Although his hair was thinning and gray and his features were well lined, he still radiated authority. To his worshipful grandson, he was “the Captain”, a hero of wars and struggles the likes of which no ordinary man might experience. Like Siegfried and Frederick Barbarossa, he had fought great enemies; but unlike the names from myth and legend, he had survived the conflicts. In young Hansel’s eyes, he could do no wrong and was someone to emulate but never equal.

But Paul von Heilemann — the rest of the family had only recently dropped the undemocratic “von” — was something else to his son and daughter-in-law. To them he was an aging anachronism, kept around more from a sense of duty than of love. The family owed the old man lodging and as much comfort as they could reasonably afford in his twilight years. He had supplied similar needs for his children in the difficult post-war years, when their mother was ill and they were too young to work.

He was also a help as a babysitter for Hansel, as long as they kept an eye on what he said and did. He had to be watched, because, sadly, senility often seemed to be gaining the upper hand. In the middle of a conversation — or even a story he himself was telling — his face might go blank, save only for a faint but evident expression of pain. Though he would emerge from this cloud after a moment, he never acknowledged that his concentration had been interrupted.

Wilhelm and Gisela knew what was happening. They would keep him around as an ornament, until Hans was old enough to understand and the old gentleman was too addled to know the difference. Then they would institutionalize him. For the moment, however, he was still lucid most of the time; and the periodic attacks did not resist efforts to bring him back to reality. He was harmless, so they would wait to face the future’s problems until the need arose.

Captain Paul von Heilemann (ret.), former destroyer commander in the Third Reich’s resplendent fleet, was not unaware of his family’s appraisals. But he knew they were wrong, for only he understood his strengths and weaknesses. He loved Hansel more than he had ever loved a child, especially since the war had prevented his experiencing the youth of his own children. The boy’s veneration of him filled a void in his life, but he knew he did not deserve such pleasures.

Embedded in his memories, beyond his ability to forget or suppress, was the reality that he had willingly been a party to murder. He still heard that voice, unbidden but intrusive and confident, as if it spoke for his secret self:

We need national fanaticism. There shall be no tolerance for those who do not wish to serve the Fatherland. . . The Jew will destroy the nation, unless we do our duty.

He had done his duty. In the war he had earned decorations for bravery and meritorious leadership. He could live with what he had done in the cause of national defense. Yet the revelations at the end of the war had raised an unanswerable question in his mind. For what cause had he been fighting? Was it possible he still subconsciously believed in it to this very day? It had all been so logical when he had listened as a young man:

My Leader, I will follow thee just as I would my father and mother.

He had sung the rousing songs and marched in rallies and hated the national enemies with righteous intensity. He knew it was right; God was using the Fatherland to save and purify the world.

Wasn’t there an old Jesuit adage that said, “Let a child run until he’s seven and you will never catch him”? If this were true, his morality was set in his youth, during those early days of deprivation and national suffering. The void had been filled, and his beliefs forged, by the Leader, “whose life gives ours meaning.” Try as he might to forget them, he still found himself repeating the old litanies:

Do not trust a Jew. Above all, the Nation must live. That is the highest morality.

My God, my God! Why have I forsaken You? There is no atonement for the soul that cannot cleanse itself of the evil, of its guilt. There is no escape from the Devil when the Devil is within.

No, Hansel, your Captain is not a hero. Willi and Gisela were just as wrong. Would to God he could escape into senility! If only that could exorcise the evil spirit! His mental lapses were something else, however. They were the moments when some casual comment, scene, or gesture would trigger memories and unleash the enemy within:

I will remake you and the Fatherland from the bottom up. I AM your will. Do not think — FEEL. And follow me to victory.

Paul von Heilemann could intellectually recognize that those statements were irrational. He would readily agree that he had been victimized by fallacies. But he could not extricate himself from the entrenched, inner voice:

I am in you. I AM you.

Being left alone was the only thing worse than risking revival of those images and words in casual conversation. Unless his mind was occupied, it would of itself return to them as if drawn by a magnet. The afternoons he spent with Hansel were the best therapy he could get, in spite of the occasional terrible thoughts they might unleash.

That is why he had bought the model ship. It was one of the new kinds, equipped with battery motor and remote control. With that his grandson could really feel something of what it was like to command a vessel. He let the boy determine which of the public parks would be the site of its maiden voyage. The chosen lake must be big enough to allow the newly christened Sea Star room to maneuver.

“I’m ready, Captain. May we go now, Mama? Please?”

“Button your coat, Hansel. And don’t fall into the lake. You will be careful, won’t you, Papa?”

“Gisela! Gisela! You worry too much! The lad’s going to the park, not Singapore! Which one, my boy? We have to let the authorities here know where we’ll be, so they won’t make your father leave the Americans and Russians and look for us.”

“How about the Konigstrasse Park? That lake is huge! And I’ll bet nobody there will have a ship as nice as this one!”

“Don’t be a show-off, Hansel. Well, what do you say, Papa? Papa?” The vacant look and pained expression had reappeared.

“Oh, -uh, yes. . . fine! Konigstrasse it is, my good man! Let’s go! Don’t worry, Gisela! We’ll be fine!”

She watched them leave, descending the oversized steps to the street, hand-in-hand, joking loudly with each other. “Poor old man,” she thought, “What a shame he faces a future of total forgetfulness.”

She did not know he would have welcomed that kind of deliverance.

* * *

The first bomb exploded two hours after the Soviet General Secretary arrived. A parked automobile went up in flames across the street from, of all places, the city’s police headquarters, when the day’s normal commercial activities were just beginning. Four pedestrians and a motorist whose car had been adjacent to the explosion were killed. Several other passers-by were wounded and lay amid scattered debris as emergency rescue squads administered what help they could.

Since the motorcade route was several miles from the headquarters, Chief Inspector Heilemann was not immediately aware of the carnage. From his vantage point, things had gone smoothly. The two leaders were now ensconced in their ceremonial fortresses and would not emerge until the following morning for their obligatory sight-seeing tours. At least that would permit him a few hours respite. Even the news media would abandon him and seek other prey.

Within moments of the explosion, those dreams were shattered like the store fronts across from police headquarters. News of the bomb broke just after the Soviet leader had concluded his vaguely optimistic opening statement and withdrawn to his private facilities. The reporters found that they had been rescued from the unhappy alternatives of interviewing each other or speculating for the hundredth time on the outcome of the conference. A more sensational option had presented itself; and they raced to the scene in droves, beating the Chief Inspector there by several minutes.

Heilemann emerged from his official car into a maelstrom of shouts and clicks, punctuated by the hums of motorized cameras.

No, he knew nothing as yet. No, no group or individual had taken credit for this outrage. Yes, they would be informed when one did. No, he could not assume that this atrocity was related to the Summit now in progress. Yes, it could have been.

He pushed his way through the crowd and toward the entrance to the station. Of course this mess was the result of that circus! The whole world knew it, but he had to deny the obvious until concrete evidence emerged. He cursed profusely and violently as he entered the building and sought out the reassuring confines of his office. Subordinates followed on his heels, responding to his demand for a briefing. While they were providing details of the incident, the tangible proof Heilemann hoped to find surfaced in dramatic fashion.

A clerk interrupted with an envelope bearing the Chief Inspector’s name above the neatly typed inscription, “Concerning our first attack in the War of Liberation.” It seemed someone in the mob had shoved the letter into a policeman’s hand. The officer had been too involved with crowd control to pay much attention until now.

“The paper’s pretty thoroughly crumpled, and the lab’s not sure if they can determine anything from it.”

Heilemann nodded, dismissing the young man. He wondered whether he should tear it open, and risk destroying evidence, or give it to the lab, and risk losing altogether whatever message was inside. A second glance, however, showed that the envelope was only folded shut; it wasn’t sealed. And the message inside bore the same type face as the brief address.

Either this was a hoax, or the terrorists were incredibly careless. Then again, perhaps they were supremely confident and found disguise unnecessary.

Heilemann read the message aloud:

We, the United Liberation Front, do by this attack declare war on all imperialists. We have chosen your city as our battleground, because the enemy is here.
Capitalists, Zionists, Revisionists. All are aggressors who seek to perpetuate their domination. We declare before God the Almighty and All-Knowing that this evil practice will end.
Our second attack will come at 6:00 P.M., against Zionist oppressors and murderers.
Our third attack will come tomorrow and earn us martyrdom. You will kill us, but you cannot prevent God’s foreordained liberation of the oppressed.
Our fourth attack will come at noon on Wednesday, at which time we will win the war.
We have pronounced God’s judgment. We do not need missiles to deliver His punishment for these crimes. Our missile, guided by the Will of the Almighty, has already found its target.

It ended there, without signature or exhortation. Heilemann scanned the stunned faces that surrounded him. Then he looked at his watch. 6:10 P.M.!

The clerk once again interrupted the meeting, but this time his voice and appearance reflected a greater urgency and confusion.

“Inspector! Another car bomb, near the gate to the Israeli embassy! Reports say this one was more powerful. Many casualties!”

And all Brussels had was a lunatic fringe with its buckets of blood!

* * *

Paul von Heilemann and his grandson knew nothing of the mayhem or the threats attached to it. For the two of them, the pressing business at hand was the maiden voyage of the Sea Star. Hansel’s eagerness to see the toy vessel in action had not prevented him from making a careful survey of the nearby bodies of water that were big enough to meet his exacting demands. His choice, the lake in Konigstrasse Park, was indeed ideal. It was larger than most and not out of walking distance from their home. The shoreline was accessible and ringed with trees. In summer, with their branches in full leaf, it was a beautiful sight. Yet even in these final days of winter, it was impressive. The limbs encircled the lake like cathedral spires, and the open expanse of the park beyond extended for several city blocks.

But the natural beauty could not entirely silence the old man’s inner voice:

Ostracize them! Exorcise them! Excise the cancer from the living body! The Fatherland must be saved!

Konigstrasse Park bordered on what had once been the Jewish quarter, from which many families had been removed, divided, and imprisoned, never to return. The bare branches of the trees seemed to gesture accusingly at the old man. He could almost hear their voices, in counterpoint to the persistent internal one:

You dare come here, so close to the scene of your crimes? Other children once played here, but thanks to you their play ended. How can we let our greenery celebrate life? You must look upon us stripped and bare, as your victims were!”

“Where shall we launch, Captain?” Young Hansel was at the shoreline trying to determine the best vantage point from which to operate the remote control unit.

His grandfather forced his mind to concentrate on this reality. “Where you’re standing should be just fine. Let’s give the equipment a quick once-over first. Can’t risk any Titanics, can we?”

A casual glance around them revealed that several other families were involved in similar pastimes. There was enough light breeze for sailing vessels to do quite well. Farther to their right, a young man operated what appeared to be another remote-controlled vessel. Perhaps they could compare performances and specifications.

The battery was working well, and the ship’s propellers responded obediently to the signals from the portable control box.

“I wish we had a bottle to christen her,” Hansel sighed, a momentary cloud drifting across his sunny disposition.

“You don’t seriously expect us to let this ship sail without a proper ceremony, do you?” The grandfather removed a small plastic bottle from his pocket. “I’m afraid it’s only a soft drink, but it should serve our purpose. I’ve taken the liberty of scoring the side of the bottle. It should break easily. We won’t have to worry about damaging the hull.”

With that he tapped the bottle against the bow of the toy, while intoning with exaggerated formality, “I christen thee the good ship Sea Star. May God smile on thee and thy hearty crew!” The little ship slid gracefully away from the shore, with Hansel carefully operating the controls.

From deep within, von Heilemann could hear bands playing “Raise High the Banner!” He could see an earlier vessel’s hearty crew, right arms outstretched in salute, laughing and joining in the triumphal chorus.

“Captain, you think of everything!” There was adoration and pride in his grandson’s voice. He acknowledged it with a wistful smile. Needing only occasional advice, the boy maneuvered the tiny craft between the sailboats. There was plenty of space in the open water well out from the shoreline, and there he could better test speed and stability.

“Careful, Hansel, Don’t push her too hard. It’s still a little cold for swimming, and that’s the only way she could be retrieved.”

“Aye, Captain.” He restrained his desire to push the speed to maximum and eased the controls higher gently.

In the deeper water, their only neighbor was the other remotely operated ship, a somewhat larger and bulkier model. Try as he might, von Heilemann was unable to determine exactly what kind of vessel she was supposed to be. The Sea Star was the obvious configuration of a modern destroyer, but the other ship resisted analysis, especially from that distance. She floated sedately, while the Sea Star darted about a few yards away.

As long as they were sharing the middle of the lake, why not get acquainted with the young man at the other control? Besides, the old navy man’s curiosity was getting the best of him; he wanted that design identified.

“Come on. Let’s get to know our neighbor.”

They eased to their right. Hansel’s eyes alternated between his ship and the control unit; he left his grandfather to do the shore navigation for both of them. The pilot of the other ship seemed equally intent on his controls. He made frequent adjustments, entering minute corrections. A lot of hand motion for so little ship response, thought von Heilemann. Of course, that could be his aim — to see how precisely he could keep his station in the water.

“Hello! How does she steer?” With that kind of greeting, he could show a technical interest and get the fellow to open up.

What he got was a look of surprise, or even shock. Obviously, the young man’s concentration had been so intense that he had not noticed their approach. He almost seemed frightened. Seeing them, he retreated quickly along the shore. His momentary glance showed him to be older than von Heilemann had at first thought. Clean shaven and dark-haired, he might have been taken for a teenager; but a closer look at his face revealed, in addition to the shadow of a beard, distinct signs of weathering. Those now-evident lines reflected pain, care, and agitation.

Was it the Semitic features or the look of fear and suffering? Von Heilemann now saw similar faces, cowering before him in terror. He felt the old, instinctive feeling of limitless power; and heard the dreaded voice:

You must be like the bird of prey, and the Nation will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes. Show no pity.

“What’s wrong, Captain?”

“Um? Oh, nothing really. I was hoping we could talk about his ship. I didn’t mean to scare him.”

“Aw, we don’t need him or anybody. We’ve got the Sea Star. We could sink them all, if we wanted to.”

Von Heilemann’s expression hardened. “Young man, you will not say such a thing in my presence again! We share this place with others who have just as much right to it as we do. That toy by itself doesn’t earn you respect. You can’t force people to do anything but fear or resent you. You earn respect by not abusing your power and privileges.”

“Aye, Captain. I’m sorry.” He sounded genuinely chastened.

The old man softened his expression and his tone. “That’s a lesson we all should learn, my boy. Some of us unfortunately never do.”

* * *

The visiting dignitaries responded to their security briefings in remarkably similar ways. Both canceled the local sight-seeing tours scheduled for the day after their arrival. The reason they gave was the pressing nature of impending negotiations. Their dedication, they said, prevented them from devoting precious hours to public relations displays. Both denied that concern for their personal safety influenced the schedule changes. Security was in the capable hands of the local authorities, as reinforced by their own forces in attendance. There were vehement denials that the incidents would affect their approaches to the talks.

An American spokesman distributed a news release in which the President placed the blame for the attacks squarely on the shoulders of the Soviet leadership and its “encouragement of terrorism by overt and covert means.” The blood of the innocent “could not be washed from their cynical hands.”

The Soviet General Secretary released a simultaneous statement blaming American imperialism for “driving oppressed freedom fighters to such regrettable extremes by refusing to acknowledge, much less support, their legitimate demands.”

Both leaders proclaimed their open-minded willingness to put past assumptions behind them and launch a “new era of peace in Soviet-American relations.”

When they met formally the next morning, the better part of the first hour was occupied with posed photo sessions of the two smiling leaders joking cordially and shaking hands repeatedly. Casual comments reaffirmed their mutual commitment to peace and to friendly coexistence. Spokesmen for both sides affirmed that the first closed sessions which ensued were “marked by a frank exchange of ideas” causing both men to be “cautiously optimistic”.

* * *

Chief Inspector Heilemann tried to leave his problems at the office. However, there was no way he could play down the two attacks that had occurred that day. His wife knew him well enough to recognize that he did not think the dangerous situation was behind them. She could tell by his refusal to involve himself in conversation around the dinner table that he was busy analyzing and planning.

The Inspector knew better than to discuss the implications of the United Liberation Front’s manifesto. The terrorists had not overlooked the wire services; they also had received the neatly typed note and, as expected, had given it the widest possible circulation. Local news reports had caused the kind of hysteria Heilemann had hoped to avoid, with the resultant finger-pointing which only served to cloud the situation further.

He could try to calm Gisela’s fears by down-playing the situation, but what about his father and Hans? The neighborhood was in no danger; there were no diplomatic or commercial sites of any consequence in the vicinity. They could go on about their business of playing with the boy’s gadgets.

Of course, Papa von Heilemann had to be handled delicately. At times, the old man seemed to grasp implications and nuances better than anyone in the house. A comment he made after dinner, when no one else was close enough to hear, was a bit of a shock in its command of things the Inspector had intentionally left unstated.

“The explosions are part of a campaign, Willi. They have some larger point to make. I doubt if they have made it yet.”

If only he could trust the old man’s rationality! It would be a blessing to have someone with his old strategic cunning as an informal advisor. But his consistent mental degeneration made that out of the question. All he could expect the old man to do now was keep Hans occupied.

Paul von Heilemann understood the persistence of fanaticism and the dangers it held for those opposing it. Yet there was no way this knowledge could be put to use, no way he could help his son with the terrible burden he carried. He knew Willi no longer shared with him anything deemed complicated, and he understood the reason. His own self-diagnosis was more severe; he did not consider it senility but gradually encroaching madness. He would not refuse any responsibility delegated to him, no matter how apparently minor. In that regard, he would protect Gisela and Hansel to the limit of his remaining abilities.

When the Inspector telephoned that he would not be home for dinner the following night, von Heilemann concluded that another battle in the terrorists’ campaign was imminent. He took it on himself to distract his daughter-in-law and grandson by giving vivid, animated accounts of the Sea Star’s performance. He described how she had maneuvered unchallenged around the center of the lake. Her performance had been exceptional in every respect.

As if to illustrate how beautifully the tiny ship had responded, he contrasted its movements with those of the now-abandoned mystery ship the young man had been controlling their first time out. What he assumed initially to be intentional station-keeping had apparently been poor response to the control unit. The vessel now floated in the middle of the lake, apparently abandoned until the water warmed up in the spring or a boat could be brought in to recover it.

“Our Sea Star sailed rings around it, Mama,” added Hansel. “It’s the best ship that’s ever been built!”

“Well, it certainly was the best in the middle of the lake today! Your son made some new friends too. A number of boys were really thrilled with the ship, and he let them take turns at the controls.”

Gisela beamed at the old man’s testimonial, and von Heilemann smiled with equal pride. The boy had taken to heart his comments about the abuse of power. An adult would not have been so easily corrected.

“It’s getting late, Hansel. You had better get some sleep, if you want to take her out again tomorrow. I’ll try to come up with some tricky exercises to put her through her paces.”

“You will? Oh, Mama, isn’t the Captain wonderful?”

“He certainly is, Hans. Now up to bed!”

“I can’t wait to show Papa what we can do!” With that the boy raced up the stairs, leaving the two adults chuckling below.

Gisela turned to her father-in-law. “He’s right. You are wonderful. Thank you for keeping my mind off whatever Willi is doing.”

Paul’s eyebrows rose in response. “I don’t seem to have been entirely successful! I wish I could do more. Would it help if I told you no one is better trained to handle the situation than Willi? You know him. Under that cynical exterior there’s a sharp, incredibly efficient mind.”

“Yes, I know that. But sometimes it bothers me that he never discusses his job at home.”

“He does that to keep you from worrying about things over which you have no control.”

“Thank you, Papa. You’re very understanding. You really do quiet my fears. Good night.”

With that she ascended the stairs, her worries now at least under control. If only Papa von Heiliemann could stay the way he was just then!

He remained below awhile, with the lights dimmed, thinking about the impact unreasoned fanaticism and other forms of selfishness can have on innocent victims. That was what Willi was fighting. And that was why so many others had given their lives fighting him.

* * *

The second day of high-level negotiations yielded dramatic photographs of the leaders walking together, gesturing persuasively. Unconfirmed rumors of future Summits in Washington and Moscow also surfaced, enhancing the spirit of good will and high expectations that had set the initial tone. Reporters were reminded that no substantive decisions would be announced until the conclusion of the conference’s third and final day.

The tension that had gripped the city since the first car bomb explosion remained at a peak level, refusing to be lulled by the generalities emanating from the talks. As the sun set that second day, authorities had not apprehended the culprits; and failure to show the press and public any kind of substantial progress led to much criticism. Was anything being done to stop the next phase of the bloody timetable?

Chief Inspector Heilemann accepted the responsibility and pressures as graciously as he could. In spite of his distaste for what he considered the news media’s extremes, he directed his officers to be as open with them as the investigation would permit. He himself presided at a raucous news conference in which the questions seemed to imply repeatedly that he and his department were inactive, inept, or both.

There was nothing he could do to discourage the spreading panic. On the other hand, interception of the next assault was at least theoretically possible. He set about meticulously analyzing the terrorists’ original message, line by typed line and letter by letter, to try to determine the next move of the group, now simply labeled the U.L.F.

The second attack had been punctual, and the target clearly indicated in the phrase “Zionist oppressors and murderers.” The only hint given concerning the third was immensely vague. He knew it would occur the evening of the second day, but no one knew when. It could be anytime from dusk to dawn. And there was not so much as an allusion to the target. All it said was that the attackers expected martyrdom.

Heilemann, with a small team of subordinates, studied the note. Now he understood the utility coffee has for Americans; drinking it gave them something to do during exasperatingly fruitless times like these.

Martyrdom. That meant they expected to launch a suicide attack. They would not just walk into a police station; it would have to be a significant location that would underscore their main point about imperialists.

Where would the defenses be so secure that the attackers would expect to lose? There were no military bases nearby. That was precisely why the site had been chosen for the Summit. If the conspirators planned to assault a target outside the immediate area, would they have concentrated their warnings locally? Claiming credit for far-flung incidents usually meant a phone call to someone in London or Paris. Yet this time every warning was concentrated in this vicinity.

So, whatever was coming had to happen here, unfortunately within his jurisdiction. Every line of analysis led to the same frightening conclusion. The Summit Meeting had to be the target.

The American and Soviet security teams concurred, redoubling efforts to protect their charges. The Americans sought clearance to call in and deploy their anti-terrorist units; but this was a tactless request, implying that their European hosts were unprepared or unqualified to handle the crisis. That air of superiority was another affront to national pride. Heilemann and his associates emphasized that they could handle things and would request help if any were needed.

Thanks, but no thanks.

The already tight Soviet security quietly became even more substantial. Firearms seemed to materialize from nowhere to be manned with authority by individuals previously designated secretaries or aides.

The two delegations were housed separately a few miles apart. An evening attack ruled out the site where the negotiations were held; all meetings ended by 4:00 in the afternoon. If the U.L.F. planned a move, it would have to concentrate on one of the residences or launch two strikes in succession. Or perhaps they would split their forces.

How many forces did they have, anyway?

Heilemann shook his head and forced his brain to concentrate on specifics. The only certainty was that security around those two locations would have to be intensified.

Leaving a token law enforcement presence elsewhere in the community, the entire police manpower pool was immediately mustered and deployed around the two houses.

If the note were a trick, this could cost Heilemann his reputation and his job. But fanatics consistently followed their own warped sense of honor and morality. They would sooner kill than commit the sin of lying. On those grounds he was taking the only appropriate action.

By 7:00 P.M., the streets surrounding the residences were swarming with roadblocks and combat-ready troops, waiting for the unknown. Anti-aircraft guns dotted the roofs of nearby buildings.

At 11:30, an unmarked delivery van slowly approached a checkpoint a few hundred yards from the American enclave. Two policemen in flak jackets signaled that the road was closed and waved toward a detour — but the van kept coming, accelerating rapidly. Behind it were five passenger cars, matching its increasing speed.

The police dodged for cover and brought their firepower to bear on the convoy as it smashed into the barricade. Men armed with automatic weapons abandoned the vehicles as they plunged forward, apparently with accelerators locked to the floor. Amid the general chaos of gunfire, the van erupted in a deafening roar. This was augmented by sequential explosions in the other cars.

At his command post behind a barrier closer to the residence, Heilemann could feel the heat and shock waves of the blasts.

The pattern was clear; each vehicle was a bomb on wheels, packed with explosives. He radioed an alert to his men stationed away from the assault site and then hailed an associate overseeing protection for the Soviets. He quickly learned that they too were under attack.

Continuing gunfire forced Heilemann to abandon his radio. He had expected to hear only the sounds of emergency procedures. Car bomb attacks were usually suicide runs carrying their drivers to Paradise in a blaze of glory. Why did he still hear shots?

The exchange lasted for only a few more minutes, but that was long enough to impede those trying to contain the flames ignited by the explosions. They were spreading to buildings nearby, while structures further away were also in jeopardy. Apparently, the attackers had used the gunfire to buy time for maximum destruction. The other assault followed the same scenario and was having the same effect.

Although the security forces remained on alert the rest of the night, there were no other incidents. The firemen struggled mightily to contain the flames, but it was four hours before they had the scene under control. When the casualties were totaled, there were nine policemen and firemen dead; another twenty-one were seriously wounded.

Neither guest house had been affected by the explosions or the ensuing conflagration. Since the security teams of the superpowers confined themselves to the immediate residential perimeter, they were never involved in the violence.

All that remained of the U.L.F. were twenty-five riddled corpses. Photographers, undeterred by the gore, surrounded the bodies, capturing the bloody display on film and videotape from every conceivable angle. They reminded Heilemann of flies circling carcasses.

The Chief Inspector could feel neither triumph nor relief, for the biggest enigma of all still awaited a solution: “Our fourth attack will occur at noon on Wednesday, at which time we will win the war.

In less than twelve hours something else would happen; and neither he, nor his advisors, nor the superior Americans, nor the cunning Russians knew what to expect or where to look for it. In the waning darkness, he turned again to the note. Time was running out, but the words continued to yield only one clue. And it was neither useful nor encouraging. Each time, his eyes kept returning to the final paragraph: “We have pronounced God’s judgment. We do not need missiles to deliver His punishment for these crimes. Our missile, guided by the Will of the Almighty, has already found its target.

No wonder hysteria was spreading throughout the city. Everyone knew what missiles were designed to deliver; that was, after all, the major agenda item of the Summit Conference. Weapons technology was easy to secure, and fissionable material had been stolen before. In short, this was nuclear blackmail, without the hope of ransom.

After the night assaults, the two world leaders prudently decided to cut short their negotiations and resume them “at a mutually convenient time in the future”. They prepared no final communiqué, saying only that statements would be issued after their return home. Following a brief “cordial” phone call, the leaders and their entourages repaired to the airport and departed in the pre-dawn hours.

Heilemann wondered if the conspirators had anticipated the premature breakup of the talks. Did it matter to them whether either the Americans or the Soviets were present for the last act of their drama, or did they feel that their point — the inexorable power of their cause — would be clear even from a distance?

Speculation about such matters could wait. Heilemann needed divine inspiration or a stroke of blind luck; he did not care which.

He phoned his wife and told her he would be home that afternoon, once the trouble had blown over. He reassured her that none of the attackers had escaped and that she need not worry about further incidents. He hoped she would believe this, but he had his doubts.

Yes, it would be over this afternoon, provided, of course, that this afternoon came.

* * *

Televised news bulletins and the front page of the morning newspaper carried lurid accounts of the night assaults.

Worry was beginning to take a heavy toll on Gisela, and it took all the persuasiveness Paul von Heilemann could muster to reinforce his son’s reassurances. Of course, it would be all right; at times like these, families must have courage. Within himself he acknowledged his doubts; he knew he was lying to his daughter-in-law. But she would accept him on faith, just as he had believed that voice:

We must be strong and victory will come. Only the weak and the treacherous acknowledge defeat as inevitable.

At least his lies were justifiable, since they promoted calm in the face of unavoidable evil. The old lies were the unavoidable evil.

“Captain, why is Mama crying? Is Papa all right?”

“He’s fine, Hansel. It’s just that those bad men — the ones who broke up the conference — are making him work overtime. He’ll be home later today.”

“At that moment the television in the family room flashed yet another bulletin and repeated for perhaps the thirtieth time a summary of the previous night’s events. Once more the color videotapes rolled.

The old man tried to distract his grandson’s attention from the graphically depicted gore, but it was too late.

“Captain! Look!”

“Now, Hansel. You know violence gives you nightmares. You shouldn’t be watching that.”

“But look! It’s the man with the funny ship! You know. . . the one in the lake!”

Von Heilemann stared. That face among the bodies, on the screen for only a moment, did look familiar.

“Gisela! Did we get a newspaper this morning?”

A shouted reply came from several rooms away. “Yes, Papa! But I threw it out! I didn’t want to look at all those pictures!”

“This is important! Where’d you throw it?”

“In the kitchen trash!”

He bolted from his chair and in a few seconds had retrieved a now-garbage-encrusted newspaper from the waste can. He unfolded it carefully and began to study the photos of the U.L.F. attack force. Finally, he found what he sought. The expression was distorted, but it was indeed the young man with the mystery ship. That face had triggered too many memories for him to wipe it from his mind.

He was one of the terrorists! No wonder he had been reluctant to engage in conversation. But why would he be taking the time to play with a toy? Unless. . . .

“Gisela! Come here! Please! Hans, you too!” The urgency in his voice brought them running.

“Gisela, call Willi! I think I know where the bomb is! What time is it?”

“A little after eleven.”

Less than an hour!

“Hansel, tell your father where that abandoned model ship is! Tell him to get a bomb disarming team there RIGHT NOW!”

“But where are you going?” Gisela asked, as she dialed the phone.

“Not enough time! I’ll meet them there!”

Von Heilemann, adrenaline flowing and heart racing, was out the door and down the steps before another question could be asked. He pushed his aging body to its limit, alternating a fast walk, a trot, and a sprint. For once his old naval discipline and physical training was something he might tap in a positive way. He could be there in twenty minutes if he pushed; who knew when the police would arrive? If they delayed or questioned Gisela and Hans too long, they might not make it at all.

He began to run out of breath. He felt light-headed and drenched with sweat, in spite of the chill in the air. Yet he would not allow himself to rest.

You are physically superior. You were born to dominate.

Not to dominate, he answered the demon voice. To serve and sacrifice. And by sacrificing, to atone.

From a distance he saw another pedestrian coming toward him. A business suit. He might know. “Excuse me, sir,” he gasped. “Might you have the time?”

“Why, yes. It’s 11:40. . . Are you all right?”

Apart from a courteous but hasty “Thank you”, he didn’t reply. Instead, he pushed himself to double his pace toward the park and the lake.

There it was, only a few hundred meters away. Now his mind could hear two voices: “If we are not victorious, we will take all civilization down with us.” And then, louder than the persistent, recurring demon, he could hear his grandson: “You can do anything, Captain!”

There were children, entire families around the lake. And there, placid but lethal, the mystery ship floated. He dragged his exhausted, aching body to the water’s edge.

“Bomb! Run! Get away! That boat’s going to explode!”

Those who heard him might have thought him a crank, had not the events of the last few days conditioned them to believe and fear anything. They ran in panic, abandoning the lake to one haunted old man and a tiny floating device of unimaginable destructive power.

No sign of the police. How much time was left? One thing on which all the news reports agreed: The U.L.F. was punctual!

He could not wait. He threw himself into the frigid water. His chest ached. His heart pounded as if it intended to shake itself loose from his breast. Nosebleed. He had expected that when he felt his heart jolt against the cold. No time to think about it now. He pushed himself into a swimming stroke, counting regularly to smooth it out.

The water was getting deeper. It would be over his head when he reached the bomb-ship. No matter; he knew how to tread water. The icy water cut like a knife. He couldn’t pass out now! It reminded him of the North Atlantic, 1942. He had survived then, to fight for the “Master Race”; he would survive now for all of humanity.

About two-thirds of the way there, he blacked out momentarily. His head’s slipping beneath the surface brought him out of it.

“Wash away my sins, Lord. I offer my life. . . .”

He was there. He forced himself to concentrate, regardless of the pain and exhaustion. First, he must tread water and evaluate. It was not a real model — just a facade surrounding a mechanism. And it was anchored by a line that must have been released remotely when it reached that point. The mechanism itself was not visible.

Time was running out, and there was no sign of help. He would have to risk dismantling it while it was anchored. Otherwise, it might float away. He approached it and gripped the tiny bridge and observation deck, tugging slightly. It was a few inches above the waterline, so removal would not flood whatever lay below. He pulled steadily; it slipped off with surprising ease. Light, molded plastic — that was all it was!

Below it lay a confusion of wires and pockets, as well as the face of a digital alarm clock, almost ludicrous in its simplicity. It read “Wednesday; 11:56 A.M.” The small alarm panel to the left of the digital face revealed an arrow pointing to “12:00 Noon”. He delicately slid his hand around the clock’s casing, searching for a wire that would link it to the detonator. The display silently changed to “11:57 A.M.”

A wire! One end disappeared into the back of the clock. The other was wedged into what must be the bomb’s mechanism. Did an electric pulse ignite the detonator, or was it the vibration of the alarm? He wasn’t sure, and was afraid to make a wrong guess.

“11:58 A.M.”

He decided to separate the wire from the clock. He pulled as gently as a man could, at least a man treading water with muscles in open rebellion. Nothing. It was attached too tightly. He had no knife. Could he bite through it? He would have to reach it first!

“11:59 A.M.”

He rotated the tiny ship so that the exposed wire was as close to his face as he could make it. He pulled out as much of the length as he could without yanking. Nothing must be jarred! He tilted his head back and kicked hard to raise himself higher in the water. The wire slipped between his teeth. He bit down, first gently and then with the pent-up rage and frustration of his guilt.

It separated. The single strand had become two parts, each with an end that led nowhere.

“12:00 Noon”

First, nothing. Then a light buzzing. Then pain and blackness.

* * *

Paul von Heilemann awoke in a hospital bed. A pair of doctors bent over him while a nurse monitored something behind them.

“Now that’s better!” said one of the doctors. “It’s hard to say which was the bigger problem — the coronary or the hypothermia. I’d rather deal with one at a time myself! You know, you people ought to wait for June, if you want to go for a swim!” He looked at the second doctor. “How’s Mr. Obramowitz?”

“Not bad, given his age. That water must have been quite a shock.” He shook his head. “Imagine. He came out of his house when he heard all the ruckus, saw someone flailing in the middle of the lake, and jumped right in. He risked his life. If he hadn’t, this man would have drowned for sure.”

“The technician in the police ambulance said Mr. Obramowitz is one of the old timers who survived the war and the camps. He said he mumbled something about making a promise never to stand by and let someone die if he could do something about it. I guess he meant it.”

“You think we can let this man’s family in?”

“Certainly. He’ll make it now. ”

Within seconds Willi, Gisela, and little Hansel had taken the physicians’ places.

“I suppose you can guess that you did the job since we’re all still alive! You won’t believe this, but the bomb squad couldn’t get through the traffic!” That was Willi’s voice. The old man’s eyes would not focus, but he knew the voice.

The bomb squad couldn’t get through, but Mr. Abramowitz, the camp survivor, did.

Another voice broke in. “I love you, Captain! You saved everybody! That’s the greatest thing you ever did!”

“You hurry up and get well. We want you home.”

In all these unseen voices there was strength and love – a strength and love loud enough finally to silence the demon.

* * *

The statement from Washington blamed the Soviet Union for insincere bargaining at the Summit. It charged that the conference had been nothing more than a public relations stunt devoid of any sincere intent to seek control or abolition of nuclear weapons. Until the Communist leadership was ready to bargain in good faith, it continued, the United States government saw no reason to commit itself to further negotiations. The statement further hinted that the abrupt termination of the last Summit had been the result of Soviet planning, designed to focus the world’s attention on radical terrorists who were critical of American foreign policy. Once more Washington reiterated that, had any Americans died as a result of these criminal assaults, the United States government would have “taken steps to hold those behind the lawlessness responsible for their actions.”

The Soviet response appeared the following day in a Pravda editorial. American allegations that Moscow had not bargained in good faith were deemed “insultingly and patently false.” The First Secretary of the Party, it stated, had made several concrete proposals aimed at “a realistic reduction in armaments”; but these were rejected outright by “an intransigent, militaristic, and imperialistic regime.” As long as Washington adopted such a posture, “world peace remained in jeopardy.” As for the “unfortunate interlude” resulting from the actions of the U.L.F., the editorial asserted that such extreme incidents would no doubt continue, “as long as the Americans persisted along their oppressive path.”

Both administrations voiced the belief that it would be only through the renewal of sincere negotiations that arms could be reduced and a lasting peace established for the good of all mankind.

Questions for Analysis:

1. It has been said that Cold War Summit conferences tended to raise hopes that could never be fulfilled. What is the declared purpose of the meeting in the story, and what barriers can you identify which prevented the achievement of its goal?

2. Paul von Heilemann’s mental stability is obviously affected by his role in the events leading up to and during the Second World War. How would you characterize his attitude toward those years and his own conduct? Compare von Heilemann’s feelings with those of American veterans suffering the depression and alienation labeled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. How are the causes similar, and how are they different?

3. The Chief Inspector is not fond of what he considers the “excesses” of the press. What examples can you cite from the story to support his negative viewpoint? Are the actions of the news media in the story justifiable, in your opinion? If not, how could they have been corrected without seriously impeding the basic values inherent in freedom of the press?

4. Describe the personalities of the terrorists in the story. What kind of person would attempt such a campaign? How do the actions and motives of the U.L.F. compare with those of individuals behind real terrorist incidents?

5. Europeans during the Cold War occasionally showed resentment about what they considered a declining ability to control their own destinies. What examples can you find in the story to s Continue reading

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VIII. The Inter-War Period

Post-World War I Europe experienced economic hardships that were the result of total war and continuing distrust and animosity.  Unable to strike back at the impersonal economic system, disillusioned citizens redirected their frustrations and took aim at tangible, concrete “enemies,” particularly Jews and aliens whose foreign background made their allegiance questionable.  The Homeland attempts to describe how hardships paved the way for demagogues and bigotry.

The Homeland

The people of Morenia suffered acutely as a result of the Great War. They had supported the Central Powers because of a profound sense of national honor. However, the conflict which had begun confidently as a display of national pride had ended as a nightmare amid the barbed wire and trenches of mechanized war. What was left of the small European state faced a grim, uncertain future.

Michael Tabeck, age twenty-four, survived the horrors of combat to find his small family farm a shambles. Four years before, he had enlisted in the army to support the patriotic cause personified in King Henrik. Now that cause was gone, for Henrik had abdicated, a victim of the democratic epidemic that had swept over the continent at the war’s conclusion. A group of lawyers was now meeting in what was called the National Assembly, and rumors persisted that there would soon be elections.

Michael ignored most of this. He knew how to do his duty, as any good citizen did. He would carry out the laws, but his world was the farm and those who depended on him for bread. Where would he get seed and stock to make the land productive again? Since his father’s death in the war, his mother and two sisters had scratched out a bare existence. They faced another very real danger — starvation — if Michael could not replenish the stores and revitalize the land.

Had it not been for the three of them, the young ex-soldier would probably have emigrated. In the last months of the fighting, he had grown profoundly cynical about the ideas at the center of the Morenia’s culture. Was unquestioning loyalty to the government some kind of natural law? Where were all the uniformed dandies who had convinced him that war was a glorious adventure? They had not slogged through the trenches. And what about the religion they had followed like the Pied Piper’s rats for hundreds of years? The Bishop told them that killing for the government was God’s will. Apparently drowning in waves of poison gas was God’s will as well. The Church was supposed to be at the core of their moral beliefs. How could men suspend their morality for four years and be expected to return to society as constructive citizens? The old values did not work for people who had to force everything from their minds but self-preservation.
Michael would have gladly sought a totally fresh existence elsewhere, had not the three women needed him so badly. Familial duty proved his strongest instinct, and he returned to the small patch of land near Kenowic as soon as he was discharged. No words can describe the hopelessness he felt when he first saw the trampled land pock-marked with shell holes. Obviously, it was a miracle the farmhouse and other buildings still stood.

The first words he spoke at his homecoming were, “Mama, how did you survive all this?”
“We found rooms in the city, Michael. They weren’t much, but they were all we could afford. We still owe a little on them. Mr. Paulik was kind enough to let us stay on credit when the fighting was so close. It was terrible, but we survived.”

Michael noticed a momentary look of disgust on the faces of his two sisters, but he assumed it was their way of responding to those memories.

“What about David’s family and their land? We served together until he was wounded and sent home from the front.”

Katarina, his elder sister, was first to respond. “You know he lost his left arm. He wasn’t much help on the farm, so they’ve moved to the city. The land still belongs to them, but I think they are trying to open some kind of bakery. Would you believe that? Amid all this famine, they are baking cakes and selling them!”

Noting the unexpected bitterness in her voice, Michael tried to soothe his sister. “Well, one must survive. When we get this farm going again, we won’t give the grain away, now will we? We’ll have to earn enough to buy the things we need. I’m sure that’s what David’s family is trying to do. They’re just using what they have.”

There was no response from Katarina, so he changed the subject and tried to maintain a sanguine tone that circumstances did not warrant.
“I guess my first order of business should be a trip to Kenowic to pick up a few groceries with some of this fine soldier’s pay.” Michael noticed the anxious expression on his mother’s face, so he quickly added, “But not today. Tomorrow I can use the whole day to buy food and look into the farm supplies we need. Now I want to be with my family!”

The dam holding back his mother’s suppressed tears gave way, as her son smiled and hugged her. For the rest of the day, nothing could detract from the joy of the homecoming.

* * *

Michael rose early the next morning for the long walk to Kenowic.. Since their livestock was too scrawny to provide serviceable transportation, he had no alternative. He set out on foot with his money in the pocket of the jacket from his old army uniform. That and his heavy boots were the only tangible things he brought back from the war. Morenia’s role in it had ended so precipitously that no one had bothered to collect the coat and shoes; it was pure luck that his pay had made it to his hands and that the currency was still considered acceptable. As he plodded along the country road, he mused about the fortunes of his family, which were now clearly on the rise. The day was sunny and filled with the fresh sounds of nature reborn. Nothing could impede his confidence. There were no more whistling artillery shells and no more persistent, unrelenting barks of small arms fire. The world was at peace, so what could go wrong?

As he approached Kenowic, he went over mentally what had to be done on this trip. He had to seek out a farm supplier and negotiate the purchase of seed and livestock. Then he must obtain groceries for his family. Finally, he must find that bakery of David Verlanger.
The young farmer had been reluctant to bring up Anna’s name. His sisters, for some reason, seemed critical of the Verlanger’s new occupation, so Michael did not think it wise to remind them that David’s sister was his sweetheart and, he hoped, soon would be his wife. Remembering her long, blonde hair and soft, quiet smile, he came close to searching for the Verlangers first. But reality called; reason overruled love. The overriding need was for provisions and farm supplies.

Kenowic was a city only by the standards of agricultural Morenia; the vast urban centers of western Europe made it worthy of no label grander than “town.” It was not so large that Michael would have trouble finding a merchant selling farm supplies. By asking questions in local markets, which in those meager days were relatively inactive, he discovered that the most reliable source was Lazlo Paulik. He recognized the name and sought directions. Perhaps the fact that his family had dealt with the man during the war would make it easier to obtain supplies.

Within an hour, Michael had made his way to a business establishment which in no way suggested the depressed state of the general economy. Inside, the well-appointed furnishings of the large reception area reflected prosperity, and the number of sullen figures in the waiting room showed that Paulik’s services were in demand. The clients seemed mostly to be peasants on errands similar to Michael’s. In fact, he thought he recognized some of the faces as old comrades-in-arms. No one was in the mood for casual conversation, so he waited silently, thinking that the atmosphere was more funereal than mercantile.

Eventually, he was paged by a receptionist and directed into a smaller, carpeted inner office, where a seated, middle-aged man smiled from behind a wide mustache. On the desk was a nameplate: “Lazlo Paulik.”

Paulik did not rise. He motioned Michael to a chair, and spoke in a perfunctory manner which betrayed the artificiality of the smile.
“Well, Mr. Tabeck. Have you come to borrow or to pay back old debts?”

Michael was perplexed, but replied, “I would like to obtain supplies to return our farm to productivity, sir. I have been told that you have access to stock and seed, and I would like to arrange a purchase.”

“That is a costly venture, Mr. Tabeck. May I call you Michael?” Without waiting for a response, he proceeded. “I have been trying to explain the difficulties to your fellow rustics for weeks with no apparent success. Since I came to your country fifteen years ago, I have never fully understood the difficulty you people have in comprehending the value of money.” His tone hardened as he spoke, and although Michael towered over him, there was no mistaking that this little man was in control. Paulik continued.

“Your case, in addition, is a rather special one, because your family already owes me money from past-due rent. I’m sure you will understand that since the Tabeck slate is not clean, I cannot advance you more than a minimal amount of credit.” He described a small measure of grain and an equally minuscule number of stock animals which he could arrange for Michael’s family to receive. His charge was enormous, and a payment amounting to almost three-quarters of the cash Michael carried was his demand as an immediate first installment
The cynical hostility which had now become a suppressed part of the former soldier’s personality welled to the surface. His temper flared.
“Perhaps a lien on my soul should also be included in your terms! Those charges are usury, sir!”

Paulik shrugged and maintained his artificial smile. “I doubt if either heaven or hell is interested in your peasant’s soul, Michael. As for the charges, they are in line with the current economic instability of Morenia. You may look elsewhere, but you will find no bargains. And you will find very few people whose deliveries are as reliable as mine. Of course, you may choose to do as you wish, but I must remind you that my patience is growing a bit thin because of the debt your family already owes me. I shall use the authorities to collect it, if the money isn’t paid in a week.

Shock and astonishment smothered Michael’s rage . He could not pay the overdue bill, which was even larger than the payment demanded for the farm supplies. He opted for the supplies because at least a little money would remain for groceries. As he counted the proffered currency, Paulik said calmly, “Your supplies will be ready Thursday. Until then I wish you good day.”

When Tabeck left the office, his demeanor seemed to confirm the fears reflected on the sullen faces in the waiting room. A few heads nodded knowingly to one another, as he departed. He had no choice now but to spend the remainder of his pay on a small parcel of groceries, scarcely more than a few days’ provisions for a family of four. He was intensely bitter and had to force himself to suppress thoughts of violent revenge against Paulik.

As if to regain some of his earlier sunny outlook, he set out to locate the Verlanger’s bakery. There was still plenty of time left in the day, and he intended to block from his mind the memory of the merchant’s injustice.

* * *

“Mikki! Father in Heaven! Is it really you?”

Anna saw him coming before he could cross the narrow street on which the bakery was located. Throwing propriety to the wind, she ran to embrace him just as he reached the sidewalk. Soon the rest of the Verlangers appeared to greet him with an enthusiasm equally genuine if slightly less demonstrative. In the pleasure of the reunion, Michael did not notice the restrained, one-armed figure, who stopped in the shadow of the doorway as if not daring to venture into the street.

Young Tabeck stared with speechless affection into the face of his sweetheart. They seemed oblivious to the happy swarm around them, until the movement swept them almost unconsciously into the shop. It took a second for Michael to spot David, but when he did, he reached out for his friend to embrace him like the long-lost brother he considered him to be. Apart from the three women who awaited his return, no persons on earth were as dear to him as the Verlangers.

David’s earlier restraint subsided.

“This calls for a celebration, Mikki! We are a bit low on coffee, but I think we have enough to share along with some freshly baked bread. Mother, Fritz, and Josef will mind the shop while Anna, you, and I talk.”

The familiar light banter continued for a while, until Michael was asked if he had come to shop for groceries in Kenowic. He recounted the unhappy tale of his meeting with Paulik.

David was sympathetic. “That man is a heartless monster. He wouldn’t give us any credit at all for supplies because he said my handicap made me a bad risk. To think he and Father came to Morenia together in ’05 and were close friends for years until the war! Paulik struck it rich and our fortunes were destroyed. His kind is making it difficult for all of us now.”
“Well, at least you have your bakery,” Michael answered. “I can’t say I understand where you got the materials to start your business in such bad times, but your product is certainly good enough!” He picked up a piece of the bread David had earlier requested and took an enthusiastic bite.

“Father had some savings,” Anna explained. “We had to fall back on that and on Mother’s old talents when we couldn’t make a go of the farm.”

“You should be prosperous in no time, if you continue like this. Then you can laugh at Paulik!”

David shook his head at his friend’s optimism. “I wish hard work and ability guaranteed success, but I’m afraid we have new problems you apparently know nothing about. Did you notice the high prices in the markets? Our new democratic government’s money is worth next to nothing. All they do in the capital is talk about free speech and elections while the rest of the country starves. It is also unfortunate that Konrad Schundler has been made Finance Minister.”

Michael’s brow furrowed . “General Schundler? The troops respected him, and he has always seemed an intelligent, fair-minded man. Why is he such a bad choice?”

The reply was another question. “Where was he born?”

“In Germany, I believe,” answered Tabeck. “But he’s lived in Morenia for as long as I can remember. Why is that important?”

Again, David responded with a question. “Have you heard of Jan Vanor and the Home Defense League?”


“Mikki, listen. You were among the last troops mustered out. Many others returned months ago, because, I suppose, they were stationed nearer home. Vanor was among them, a first lieutenant who had been decorated twice for bravery and who possesses unique persuasive abilities. He could not accept our defeat as the logical outcome of the Allies’ military superiority, and he began to spread convincing arguments that Morenia had been betrayed.”

Michael interrupted. “That’s ridiculous. We fought as bravely as any troops in the war, in spite of the terrible conditions.”
David assumed an exaggerated, theatrical pose. “Yes, my friend, you fought well for our nation, but surely you remember that you fought alone. Where were all the foreigners who should have been willing to die for their adopted land? They betrayed you. They wanted you to lose so they could profit from your defeat by replacing our great traditional monarchy with a foreign-run government, a puppet of wealthy traitors whose loyalty is to some foreign power! Schundler, Paulik, the others — they are all foreigners. Can’t you see what shape Morenia is in?”

Michael smiled. “Oh, then you lost your arm picking a fellow soldier’s pocket! No one believes that rubbish, do they?”
Anna replied softly. “We have found our store front defaced three times in the last two weeks. They spit at us when we go down the street. They yell ‘Traitor, go home!’ Mikki, we have no place to go without money to operate our farm. It’s so unfair!” She seemed about to break down, and Tabeck for the second time that day found his hopes shattered by an injustice he did not understand.
“Let me get that farm of ours going again, then I’ll do what I can to help you.” Michael’s strength was vaguely reassuring, and the trio talked no more of the joint problems of Vanor and Paulik. The rest of the afternoon was as happy a time as Tabeck thought himself capable of experiencing. As he left to begin the trek homeward, he thought of the love he bore Anna, David, and their family. If any person could defend their interests, he would be the one.

* * *

After Michael described his encounter with Paulik, Katarina grew more overtly bitter than she had been the previous day.
“Foreign scum! He and his like will soon get what they deserve!”

Although Mrs. Tabeck remained passively forgiving, the third female member of the household, young Maria, nodded agreement to her elder sister’s comments. Maria was nineteen and had always been the least outspoken of the children. She tended to copy her mother in that respect, but this time she was not reluctant to display her feelings.

Michael was so exasperated by the events of the day that he had begun his narrative the second he opened the door, and his description of Paulik had flowed nonstop to its conclusion and Katarina’s epilogue. A male visitor went unnoticed until Maria referred with pride to her guest. “Leo and the H.D.L. plan to do something about animals like Paulik. Isn’t that right?”

Michael immediately became aware of the dark young man, dressed in a deep green uniform, who had up to this time remained speechless and motionless. “The Commander will want to know of such inhuman acts by foreigners,” he said in a quietly confident voice. “You will have your revenge, my friends, before the week ends.”

The women introduced Leo Talos to Michael, presenting him as a great friend of Maria’s and the family’s guardian angel, who had looked out for them in the weeks before the male head of the household had returned. Further conversation revealed that he was a dedicated follower of Jan Vanor and wore the uniform of the National Legion, the paramilitary branch of the Home Defense League. When he spoke, the women seemed to hang reverently on every word. It did not take Michael long to recognize the source of the otherwise inexplicable hate now reflected in his sisters.

The conversation revealed an additional motive for the girls’ willingness to accept Leo’s views. During the darkest hours of the war, Paulik had offered to waive the rental charges if Mrs. Tabeck would marry him. It seemed he wanted the property, and that would be the quickest way to get it. When she rejected his advances, he struck back vindictively in the only way available to him: exorbitant rent. The merchant seemed determined to seize the land and to humiliate the family. Consequently, they had sought protection from the followers of Jan Vanor.

Maria obviously had fallen for Talos, so Michael thought it best to avoid any mention of his friendship with the Verlangers. He listened cordially as the uniformed visitor boasted of the League’s role as the real defender of the people. When Leo departed and the family bade each other good night, Michael lay awake pondering the future. Unless someone in the government acted decisively, it was clear that Vanor’s hotheads could incite desperate people to bloodshed.

* * *

For the next few days, the Tabecks threw all their energies into the farm. Storage areas had to be repaired and old equipment overhauled. It would be weeks before planting could be attempted, but there would be plenty to occupy the time. They could not allow their minds to dwell on fears about food for the winter. Katarina and Maria were confident that the League would take care of them if they fell into desperate straits.

Paulik’s supplies were ready exactly when he had promised them. When Michael arrived to pick up the goods, a clerk informed him that the stock would be brought to the farm later in the day. He was also told that Mr. Paulik wished to remind him of his mother’s outstanding debt.

The men who brought the assorted animals made a point of stopping by the farm house to collect the past-due bill, only to be told that the family could not pay at that time. Upon hearing this, the man who seemed to be in charge replied curtly that Mr. Paulik would seek legal recourse if he did not receive payment by Monday.

That night a small band of unidentified men broke into Lazlo Paulik’s office and destroyed most of the furniture. Entire files were burned and the ashes were scattered about the devastated rooms. Outside, on the walls of the building, investigators found a familiar bit of graffiti: the green figure of a swooping eagle, the insignia of the National Legion.

It was common knowledge that this was their standard, but government officials were unable to find a single witness who would confirm the involvement of Vanor’s people. Everyone said that he heard nothing or suggested that it had been the work of adolescent vandals.
The smug bearing of Leo Talos, who visited the Tabeck farm the following day, left Michael with no doubt as to the real identity of those involved. Although he did not approve of the National Legion’s views, he felt a certain elation over the damage done to Paulik. Perhaps Vanor was not as terrible a presence as he had first believed.

Although the police were unable to apprehend the guilty party, the victim refused to accept his losses. He knew what the painting on the wall meant, and he knew which of his patrons had connections with that radical organization. His suspicions focused on the one family whose financial predicament had intensified that very week, and he decided that they would feel his wrath.

Monday morning, Lazlo Paulik arrived at the Tabeck farm, accompanied by several policemen. Across a field Michael noticed the somber gathering at the door; he had a premonition that something bad was about to happen. He abandoned his labors and hurried toward the crowd. When he recognized Paulik, he quickened his pace even more.

“You will pay now or I will be forced to seize the equivalent value from your belongings.” The merchant spoke evenly, without emotion, as if his words carried no more weight than a simple “hello.”

Mrs. Tabeck’s face graphically showed the prededing weeks’ strain, but she likewise maintained an even temper. “Lazlo, we have just begun to put the farm in order again. It will be weeks before things are stable enough for us to repay you.”

“Under the law, my dear Mrs. Tabeck, one’s debts should be considered before any expectations of profit. I have waited longer than I am legally required to wait, and I shall wait no longer. Officer! Collect the items on the list I gave you in Kenowic. I believe I am within my rights.”

“Wretch! You don’t deserve to live!” Michael recognized Katarina’s scream, but he could not see any of his family except his mother. His sisters must have been standing behind her in the doorway.

“Is that a threat, Miss Tabeck?” replied Paulik with a smile. “I should think you would leave the threats to your friends in the National Legion.”

A hand flashed from the doorway, and Michael saw Paulik reel back from the slap. The merchant’s composure vanished. He lunged forward to repay in kind the blow he had received. The scene became chaotic, for the police likewise advanced to prevent a possible brawl. There were sounds of a struggle, followed momentarily by a dull crash and a shriek. Michael tore through the human barrier and saw his mother lying on the floor beside a table. Her head rested in a pool of blood, and there was a deep gash in her left temple.

For a stunned moment, he froze. On the borders of his consciousness, he heard Paulik’s panting voice, “She lunged at me! You saw that! I was only protecting myself!”

The thin veneer of restraint, already damaged by the brutality of war, vanished from the mind of Michael Tabeck. He now recognized only one motivation, an all-consuming hatred of Lazlo Paulik. Before anyone could stop him, his powerful hands were at the merchant’s throat, slamming his head into the wall with terrible force.

Two officers separated Michael from the limp body of his victim. He sensed that Paulik, like his mother, was dead; and with only mild surprise, he realized that he did not regret his actions. Over the uncontrollable sobs of his sisters, he heard words addressed to him by one of the officers. Only a few of them registered in his agitated mind: arrest . . . murder . . . law . . . state.
The hatred surged again. This time its focus was the weak, blind government which seemed to care only for the rich. Had he fought a war for this? With almost superhuman strength, he broke from his captors and plunged through a window. He was across the road before the police emerged from the house. Their pursuit proved futile, for Michael Tabeck knew how to hide from those bent on taking his life. The war had taught him that at least. He vanished into a thicket, leaving the tragedy behind him.

* * *

News of the violence at the Tabeck farm spread rapidly throughout the region surrounding Kenowic, and the popular reaction was predictable. Paulik had gotten what he deserved, most people concluded. Mrs. Tabeck’s timid personality was transformed into that of a heroic martyr by the growing number of Home Defense League sympathizers. Member-families quickly took in Katarina and Maria, against whom the authorities could press no charges.

The whereabouts of Michael was the subject of much discussion, but when he failed to surface after a few weeks, interest waned. The police searched the region without success, until the growing domestic crisis made an escaped peasant-murderer a minor concern.

Authorities found their attention shifting to the increasing strength and belligerence of Vanor and his followers. Throughout Morenia rallies in the name of the H.D.L. were occurring more frequently and with ever-increasing attendance figures. Whether the Commander himself presided or any of a number of lesser party dignitaries, the pattern of the meetings was always the same. Green-uniformed Legionnaires marched in, carrying the banner of the swooping eagle. Oratory reminded listeners of their duty to preserve Morenia from the foreign blight. The mechanism of government was alleged to be in the clutches of these unpatriotic interests, and had to be wrenched away if national traditions were to endure. This alone was the purpose of the H.D.L. Its members were the best Morenia had to offer; there were no inferior, parasitic foreign elements within it. If a Morenian wished to be true to his heritage, he must join the crusade to return the nation to its former position purity and greatness.

What could the government do against such inflammatory raving? General Schundler and the others agreed that free speech must be preserved, even for these radicals. As prices soared, thanks to the instability of the national currency, more citizens listened to Vanor and became convinced that he, and not the elected leaders, deserved their allegiance. The roots of democracy were too shallow for Morenians to appreciate their recently gained individual rights. They sought national leadership with a clear purpose and with easily identifiable dragons to slay.

In that atmosphere, the plight of the Verlangers grew increasingly more dire. Vandalism became habitual; and in every instance, the local authorities were either too inefficient or too frightened to press an investigation. Obviously, the bakery could not yield a profit under such circumstances; and with Paulik’s business now in the hands of an H.D.L. sympathizer, flour, sugar, and other supplies became next to impossible to obtain.

Mrs. Verlanger was a truly courageous matriarch upon whom leadership had devolved when her husband died in the first months of the Great War. David, her eldest son, was handicapped by the loss of his arm; but he shared his mother’s spirit. Fritz and Josef were barely teenagers, but they realized that much would be expected of them. The symbolic center of the family was Anna. In times of danger, the other four seemed to circle her to block any threat. In return, she nurtured their courage with a deep religious faith. She might admit her fears, as she had done the day of Michael’s return; but these worries never slipped into despair. God would protect them.
Vanor’s onslaught severely tested this confidence, but somehow the family endured. They were certain that the hate campaign of the H.D.L. would eventually be recognized for the irrationality that it was. Until then, however, their existence would be increasingly precarious. They braced themselves to weather the storm. If it ever entered their minds to seek sanctuary in a foreign country, no one suggested it. Morenia was their homeland; and whatever the Legion might think, their hearts were loyal.

In the face of such widespread civil discontent, the national government set the date for the first exercise of the democratic right of franchise. Parties of every shade of the political spectrum bid for seats in the National Assembly, but those with the most widespread support were the radical groups who promised sweeping changes as panaceas. Placards decorated every wall; and automobiles, until then rarely seen in depressed Morenia, carried politicians from rally to rally in garish splendor.

As he watched green uniforms parade to the tune of a traditional march, David Verlanger felt frustration and disgust. He had grown use to the insults and the looks of intense dislike directed his way by absolute strangers. He could ignore and even forgive such injustice. However, he sensed that people were on the edge of physical violence directed against all the foreign-born in the country.
He walked back to the bakery through the cold stares. His brothers were at work obliterating H.D.L. slogans which had been painted on the store front the night before. To protect their shrinking investment, the Verlangers were living in small rooms in the back of the shop; and they ventured from this relative safety very infrequently.

“May God grant that Schundler’s party wins a majority of delegates. They are weak, but there may yet be a chance to teach these people how irresponsibly they are acting.” Mrs. Verlanger spoke as if the damage and threats they were enduring were no more than annoyances, but the others knew she understood the gravity of the situation.

“It will take a miracle, Mother,” answered David, shaking his head. “If there were an earthquake on election day, the Vanor fanatics would still risk their lives to vote. They are really convinced that we are the cause of their problems.”

“We should put our account books on display at the City Hall so everyone can see how much we are benefiting from our neighbors’ poverty!” Mrs. Verlanger made no effort to dilute her sarcasm.

Anna now joined the conversation. “We must remember that we aren’t the only family being treated this way. The Donaceks have been attacked as much as we have. Mrs. Donacek is seriously ill now that doctors refuse to treat her. The Tamasus and Renslers have applied for visas to emigrate; but that may take months, and the radicals are making things unbearable for them. We should be grateful for the little we have.”
“Well, one thing we still have is the right to vote,” said David, trying to seem buoyant. “At least I can see to it that one Legionnaire vote is neutralized.”

* * *

When election day arrived, David got his chance to strike the one legal blow available to him. Universal manhood suffrage was the new rule in Morenia, so he left Anna and his mother in the care of his younger brothers and set out for the polls a few blocks away. He became aware almost immediately that he was being watched by several men on both sides of the street.

“Go home, pig! Go cheat your own kind! Leave our government to those who love this country!”

David pretended not to hear and continued his steady pace toward his destination. Through the corner of his eye, he could see local policemen stationed at intervals along the streets, apparently to prevent incidents such as this from developing into something worse. He also sensed that his tormentors meant to follow him all the way to the polls.

He glanced at the officers whose job it was to defend him from the hecklers, and something made him uneasy. He saw in their faces the same dislike, somewhat veiled but there nonetheless. He thought of Anna and remembered with a touch of cynicism her assurances that God would protect.

Scarcely a block from the polling station, the litany of hate became a chorus that could no longer be ignored. Neutral passersby watched in fascination as the hostile crowd, now substantially larger, circulated menacingly about its victim. The police made only token efforts to restrain the mob, as David was pelted with verbal abuse and spittle. Stone-faced, the one-armed man continued toward his objective.
He did not see one of his tormentors pull a brick from beneath his coat and hurl it with deadly accuracy. There was a moment of pain and then blackness.

David awoke to a throbbing head. His mother and sister were hovering over him, placing cold compresses on the huge welt left by the brick. In a moment he realized that he was back in the living quarters of the bakery.

“What happened?” he muttered feebly.

“You were a victim of Legionnaire democracy in action,” responded his mother bitterly. “You might have been killed, but apparrently the good patriots are not yet ready to commit public murder.”

“The election! I have to vote!” David tried to rise but the pain overcame him, and he collapsed back onto the pillow.

“You will not leave here, David,” ordered his mother. “If you try again, they might not hold back. Besides, I doubt that the votes of Kenowic will be counted accurately anyway! There are H.D.L. members swarming all over the streets. I can’t see how the government is going to keep them from influencing the tabulation.”

She sighed and shrugged. David could only respond, “Then it’s out of our hands.”

“Out of ours and into Vanor’s, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. Verlanger. “Well, we should let you rest.” They quietly withdrew, leaving an air of gloom and resignation behind them.

* * *

Amid ecstatic celebrating, Jan Vanor was inaugurated President of Morenia. Within weeks the flag of the young republic was replaced by a gold banner on which was emblazoned in green an eagle swooping downward on an unseen prey. A short time later, the Commander, as the new head of state preferred to be called, began to enact his program through a puppet National Assembly.

The Renslers and the Tamasus never received visas. Instead, both families were arrested for “conduct destructive to the Morenian people.” Immigrants gradually disappeared from public view, and the state seized their property, converting it into goods and services for native-born patriots.

The Verlanger bakery shut its doors. Prior to the election, business had tailed off badly, but it became virtually nonexistent after Vanor took power. For their own protection, the family decided to live like hermits on the supplies they had stockpiled for the shop. That was only a temporary solution, because it would be only a matter of time before a truck filled with green-clad troops stopped in front of their home. Because of their foreign blood, they were now officially enemies of the state.

During these dark days, Anna’s faith held firm, but the strain began to tell on David and his mother. Waiting for a time bomb to explode was unbearable.

At last the wait ended. On an otherwise peaceful evening, they heard a vehicle stop abruptly in front of the bakery. Several pairs of footsteps approached the door, and then there was an authoritative knock.

“Open in the name of the state of Morenia!”

“Stay back here,” David advised. “We must give them no excuse for violence.”

He walked to the door, opened it, and stared into the face of the officer before him, as lesser troops brushed rudely by.
The officer was Michael Tabeck.

* * *

The path that led from the incident at the farmhouse to the Verlanger’s door had been one of combined hostility and self-preservation. When he escaped from the police that morning, Michael knew that he could never forgive a government that would defend the likes of Paulik and evoke an unjust, impersonal law against a defenseless family. Years of combat had taught him how to take lives without remorse; now he could bring a new emotional commitment to his old skills. He had no life within current Morenian society, so he would not live by its rules. He would dedicate himself to the extermination of the Pauliks and their passive helpers.

Alone, Tabeck became little more than a vicious animal, hopelessly outnumbered by enemies. He lived off the land for days, evading the government’s feeble pursuit and considering how best to implement his hatred. Obviously, he could not remain in the vicinity of Kenowic. He was too well known there; and, anyway, after the death of Paulik, there was no other immediate target for his retribution. He carefully made his way to the capital, where he was certain no one had heard of, or cared to hear about, a peasant-murderer.

There was only one channel for his anti-establishment frenzy, and he knew where to find it. He joined the H.D.L. and quickly put his talents to work as a Legionnaire. Jan Vanor himself eventually came to hear about the farmer with the seemingly boundless, and pitiless, dedication to the Cause.

In the weeks prior to the election, someone in their party discovered that Michael had killed a foreign-born merchant. The disclosure enhanced his reputation, although it had to be carefully shielded from the police. Tabeck received a commission as major in the paramilitary organization, officially retaining it after the Commander’s inauguration as President.

When brutal decrees needed enforcement, Tabeck led squads to arrest “enemies of the Morenian people.” He was greatly respected and greatly feared by those who had to deal with him in an official capacity.

One evening, his assignment was to proceed to a rural area and secure the arrest of an offending family. He ordered a unit of four troopers to a truck and set out, unaware that this mission would be different from the rest.

With his men at his back, Major Tabeck knocked, repeating the statement which by that time had become second nature:
“ Open in the name of the state of Morenia!”

A tired, middle-aged woman unlatched the door and stared helplessly into his face.

“You and your family will come with us, by force if necessary.” Tabeck’s voice was hard, precise, and formidable.

“May we have a moment, sir, to order our things?” she begged, visibly frightened by the soldier’s truculence.

“You will need nothing,” he replied coldly. “Come with us immediately.”

“You despicable bully! What kind of pleasure do you get from abusing a helpless woman?” From the shadows stepped a younger woman, dressed in nightgown and robe.

“You may have ten minutes to dress, if you wish, but you won’t have that if you continue to show no respect.”
The girl became a fury. “Respect? For what? You certainly don’t mean respect for law, because you drag that through the mud!” She rushed forward, apparently to strike him. Instinctively, he moved to protect himself by shoving her aside. The older woman, however, had stepped between them, and it was she whom Tabeck pushed. Her head crashed against the furniture and she fell lifeless to the floor.
“You’ve killed her, you butcher!” the girl screamed and flung herself on top of the body. A pool of blood had begun to form on the floor beneath the fallen woman’s head.

Michael never heard the accusation, for all he heard were echoes of other voices from the mist of suppressed memory.
The blind rage that had dominated and driven him for months now confronted the one barrier it could not overcome: family. His enfeebled conscience now rose up; its accusation was inescapable.

“God forgive me! I have become a Paulik!” he thought. “Where is the justice in this?”

Before this revelation, he swayed and momentarily lost his balance. His men quickly took command of the situation and asked if the women had injured him.

“No, it’s nothing. I merely stumbled. Bring them along, Lieutenant.”

The realization that his obsessive vengeance had made him as terrible as those he sought to destroy had a two-fold effect on Michael. He knew he could not continue as a Legionnaire, for the burning hostility that had motivated him for months had expired with that woman on the floor of the farmhouse.

* * *

Major Tabeck of the National Legion stood before an old and valued friend, David Verlanger, who stared at him in disbelief.
“Lord of Heaven, Mikki! This cannot be you! We are your friends!”

“Gather your belongings, traitor. You and your family are leaving tonight.”

Michael heard a heart-rending sob and looked up to see Anna collapse into the arms of her younger brothers. His face remained emotionless as he watched his men herd the family into the room at the front of the bakery.

Mrs. Verlanger spoke loudly enough for all to hear. “Well, at least the wait is over. We will be able to sleep now. Tell me, Major Tabeck, will you sleep well tonight with the blood of friends on your hands?”

“I can never sleep well when enemies of the nation remain free,” came the haughty reply. Michael called for everyone’s attention. “I am commissioned to take all of you to the detention center at Moranzy. Two soldiers will remain to oversee the cataloguing of your possessions. Two others will accompany us. Is that clear?”

There was no response.

“Load the bags, Sergeant.”

Within five minutes, the vehicle, a limousine, had departed Kenowic and was motoring along a dark road toward Moranzy, fifty miles to the northwest. Inside the cab, there was no conversation. Anna continued to sob, resisting the efforts of her relatives to comfort her. David and Michael exchanged sullen glances, and Tabeck saw in the eyes of his friend an intense and well-deserved hatred.

After an hour the automobile approached an intersection. Michael spoke up, as if he were trying to stimulate some light conversation. “Funny, isn’t it? Turn left here and you will be at the Morenian border in twenty minutes and but a step from freedom. Go to the right and in about the same amount of time you come to the detention center and imprisonment.”

No one seemed interested or amused. He ignored the cold silence, and turned to the officer sitting next to him.

“I think we had better stop here for a moment. The tires are riding rough. We may be on the verge of a blowout.” He turned to the driver. “Pull over so we can check the tires.”

They emerged from the car. Tabeck watched as his two subordinates bent over to inspect the tires. He walked over to the sergeant, apparently to indicate a worn spot, but instead whipped out his pistol and brought it crashing down on the unsuspecting man’s head. Then he whirled and ordered the amazed driver to face the car and lean on it. In a second the pistol butt had rendered the second man unconscious.

The Verlangers watched the scene without understanding. Finally, Michael spoke again, “David! There are two lengths of rope in the trunk. Get them!” When no one moved, Tabeck’s voice became more urgent. “I’m trying to get you out of the country. I know it’s hard to believe, but you must understand. I cannot support this madness any longer, and I will not allow any of you to be injured!”
They looked at him incredulously, without moving. Finally, he walked to the window at which David sat. Calmly raising his pistol, he handed it to his friend, butt first. “You know from your military training that it is loaded. You may shoot me now or hold it against my head until I make good my promise.”

The look of hate faded from David’s eyes. They now filled with tears of relief. He returned the gun to his friend, saying in a choked voice, “I still don’t think I understand, Mikki. I just know you frightened the devil out of us.”

“I had to look convincing, my friend. It will buy us time. Now help me with those ropes.”

The two soldiers were tied, gagged, and hidden in the brush a number of yards from the road. Michael returned to the limousine, and seconds behind him came David, now attired in the sergeant’s green uniform, the empty sleeve pinned neatly at his waist. The automobile began its journey again, but it took the left turn at the intersection rather than the right.

* * *

At the border it was a simple matter for an officer as respected as Major Tabeck to convince the guards that the occupants of the limousine were being exiled. He explained that the detention center was temporarily overcrowded and that the Commander wanted this family immediately deprived of its possessions and removed from the scene. Forged papers were produced to validate the story. The guards had no reason to be suspicious of the sergeant’s physical handicap, for many such wounded heroes were Legionnaires. They agreed to raise the barrier that lay between the automobile and freedom.

Michael told them that he and David had to escort the four prisoners out of the country. As soon as the captives had been released at the guardhouse, the limousine would return. It never occurred to the inexperienced guards that members of the Legion had no authority beyond the border.

The automobile was indeed returned, but without any of its former occupants. Tabeck and the Verlangers were now under the protection of a sympathetic government. An interrogation followed, but the refugees were finally granted asylum.

The border disappeared behind them at last, amid a collective sigh of relief.

“I hope our new home welcomes us more willingly than the old one,” said David. “We wish nothing more than to be allowed to live in peace under the law.”

Michael nodded agreement. He had traded his uniform for civilian clothes at the guard post, but the memory of the banner with the swooping eagle was still fresh in his mind.

“All we can hope for is that hate stops at the border.”

Questions for Analysis:

1. The story suggests that the people of Morenia were opting for “xenophobia,” that is, extreme aversion to foreigners. What kind of impact could such a policy have on a modern nation’s economy? Would it help a country to compete in the modern world, or would it hinder it? Explain. Does xenophobia exist today? If so, what form does it take?

2. The Fascist and Nazi movements often described democratic governments as weak. What can you find in the story which they might have used as evidence of this? What evidence can you find to suggest that the H.D.L. would provide stronger, more efficient rule?

3. Should General Schundler and the democratic administration have jailed the Legionnaires as dangerous radicals? Is the preservation of law and order worth depriving a group of free speech? Is it better to have a powerful and efficient government or one that is dedicated to the protection of individual rights?

4. What signs can you find in the story that suggest the new Morenian government might take aggressive action against other countries? How does the H.D.L. convince the people that they are militarily capable and have a just cause?

5. What safeguards exist to prevent a Jan Vanor from coming to power in this country today? Could one be elected President of the United States? Why or why not?

6. Assume that Jan Vanor joined the Axis powers in World War II and met the same fate as his fellow dictators. If, in 1945, Michael Tabeck now an influential political, as well as military, figure, had returned to reconstruct the Morenian government along democratic guidelines, what would he have had to do to win the confidence of the people. How could he build a stable regime that would avoid the weakness of the pre-war administration?

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VII. The Industrial Revolution

James Watt invented the steam engine and launched Great Britain’s economic boom and the Industrial Revolution in general.  Not everyone benefitted, however.  Peasants driven off the land by the Enclosure Movement ended up looking for work in factory towns.  What they found were jobs with long hours and dangerous, grueling working conditions.  Some sympathetic reformers, among them Karl Marx, offered radical solutions to a situation that seemed to put profits ahead of all other considerations.  According to most of the owners, economic ”natural laws” prevented them from improving conditions.  A few “Utopians” did try to save the workers and the system.   Allenby’s Folly is loosely based on their efforts and the resistance they encountered.

Allenby’s Folly

The desk at which he sat was ponderously elegant. It was clearly the desk of a man whose success had earned him a claim to luxury even in his work. The same mark of Victorian distinction characterized the other furnishings, from the ornate, overstuffed chairs to the delicate light fixtures. A visitor unfamiliar with its occupant would instantly see that here great decisions were made involving equally great sums of money.

The man behind the desk was in his early thirties, an age surprisingly young for a businessman of his financial stature; and except for his high-collared linen shirt and tailored coat, he did not look the part of a tycoon. Roger Allenby had the ethereal presence of a minister. He was slightly built and wore a perpetual smile that infected his face so thoroughly that it radiated to the border of his receding hair line. Those with whom he was acquainted knew him to be pleasant and, in the most literal meaning of the term, a “gentleman.”

He was listening respectfully to an older, far more dynamic visitor who, pacing before him, erupted in vehement protest.

“Roger, it simply will not work. I know I am hardly in a position to question the plans of a man as successful as you, but this violates logic. It is wasteful to spend so much of your money on what you admit is just an experiment!”

“But George, someone must experiment if a theory is to be confirmed.” Allenby offered his reply so benignly that the visitor grew even more frustrated.

“I will grant you that. Now tell me why such an experiment is necessary in the first place. Your mill turns a fine profit, and you are so well respected that you may soon gain a seat in Parliament. Rumors of your idea are circulating in some very influential circles; and, believe me, there are a great many raised eyebrows.”

“Good. If they raise their eyebrows high enough, they might finally get around to opening their eyes. Our society lacks men of real vision, my friend. We are a world power because others are even blinder than we are. These benefits are costly, but they are necessary if production is to maintain itself for more than a generation.” Then he added abruptly, “George, do you approve of slavery?”

The older man stopped his pacing and stared over the desk at the unbroken serenity of his interrogator.
“Slavery? Of course not. It’s immoral to own a man. But what does that have to do with what we are talking about?”

“Sometimes I wonder if our free English factory workers are as well off as American slaves. Have you ever looked at these people? I mean, closely? Even excluding the superficial distinction of their shabby clothes, they are pitiful human specimens. How many years can I expect them to be productive? Not long, I assure you. And my mill is not unique in that regard. Our population does not provide an endless source of factory labor, and we must conserve what we have.”

“But your plan is too drastic, Roger! Good lord, man! Can’t you at least see that? It could destroy the economy more than it benefits it!”

Allenby’s reply was exasperatingly simple. “I don’t think so.”

The visitor threw up his arms in frustrated despair. There was no reason to continue this unprofitable conversation. He walked over to a chair to retrieve a pair of gloves, a cane, and a top hat, and, having done so, turned for one final comment. “You are my friend, and I would stand by you were you to suggest investment in a plan to help the damned in Hell. All I ask is that you seriously think about the consequences.”

Allenby rose and walked over to his visitor, with his hand outstretched affectionately. “I have given it serious thought, George, and I believe I am working on the very hypothetical case to which you have just alluded. Forgive my stubbornness, old friend, but I am compelled by morality, as well as practicality, to proceed with these plans.”

* * *
That evening, at a considerable distance from Roger Allenby’s business office but not too far from his textile mill, there was another debate. The room in which it occurred was small and poorly ventilated. The furniture was at best in a state of advanced disrepair, but this was mostly unnoticed. The lighting was so poor that, except for the spectral faces of its inhabitants, very little else was visible. Those to whom this bare space was home were used to its dinginess.

A weary Henry Thomas intently listened to his guest’s impassioned arguments.

“Life holds more than this, Henry, for any human. Look at you, sitting in this dung heap with miserable rags on your back, waiting patiently for the sun to show itself so you can trudge to that mill day after day! What about Maggie and the boys? She’s thirty-five and looks twice that, and have you been watching your maturing sons? A wonderful life to look forward to, isn’t it? And you sit there like a dumb beast under a whip and take it!”

Henry sighed; his reply was scarcely above a hopeless whisper. “Ay, Robert, it is no life worth living, at least not now. But it will get better. The government’s making some changes, and I’ve heard from the foremen that Mr. Allenby is planning to overhaul the system so that the hands will have better homes and better working conditions. There isn’t another choice open to me. Maggie and me, we know nothing but that power loom. We’ve got no other talents. If things get better, James and Michael will have good lives. I’m not going to risk losing that for them.

Robert sneered. “You mean you trust a wealthy pig like Allenby? Oh, he’s ‘Little Mr. Honorable’ to all his high social friends, but what’s in it for him to make him come to the aid of the likes of you and me? Look at your right hand, Henry. Look at that scar that tells how you nearly lost three fingers to his machine. Whose side is that rich man on?”

“But he got me the doctor and he didn’t dock me my full pay the way the other owners would have. Robert, I have met Mr. Allenby and I think he’s a good man that the Lord has rewarded.”

“And you must be the most evil soul in creation, my friend, because God hasn’t done much to help you. Don’t wait on the owner to help you, or the government he runs. You have to take what your blood and sweat has earned!”

Up to that point, Henry had been stoically noncommittal before the sledge hammer eloquence of his fellow worker. At that last assertion, however, he rose to his feet and something like fire flickered in his exhausted eyes.

“I will not have you preaching riot and disorder in my home! I have always been a law-abiding man no matter how hard things got, and I’ve had but one thing that let me sleep peacefully at night. And that is, I have never broken laws or let my family break them! I treat my fellow man — rich and poor — with humble respect, and anyone who comes here preaching violence is no real friend of mine. I’ll thank you to leave, Robert, and keep your dishonest dealings to yourself.”

As Robert retreated across the thinly furnished room, he turned for one last plea. “Think about it differently, Henry. Think about saving your family from a fate they don’t deserve. Otherwise, their suffering rests firmly on your tired shoulders.”

“My shoulders are tired, but I am still proud enough to stand up straight, Robert. We are honest people here.”

Robert cast a look of pity at his wretched but noble friend, and then walked out into the darkness.

* * *
The following day, Roger Allenby left his elegant surroundings and made his way to the office of Charles Fenton, a highly regarded architect and builder. He was greeted warmly, demonstrating the high esteem in which successful men were held by their contemporaries.

“Mr. Allenby, it is indeed a pleasure to see you, sir. To what do I owe this great honor?”

“I have an unusual business proposition for you, Charles. Unusual, perhaps, but profitable. I want you to build a model industrial community for me on some land I have recently purchased.”

Fenton was eager to oblige. “By that I assume you want a new mill. Is that correct?”

Allenby’s smile was broader than usual, as he replied, “Yes, but much more. I want neat, sanitary housing for the laborers; and I want safety factors stressed in the working area. In short, the whole thing must be functional and pleasant enough for anyone employed there to find congenial.”

“I think I understand, sir,” nodded Fenton, “but such an enterprise will be a very expensive undertaking. Are you sure it’s worth the time and money? I can build a mill under normal specifications in a few months and at a fraction of the cost. Mind you, not that I wouldn’t like to make such a handsome profit; but as you say, it is highly unusual.”

“I know, Charles. You have now joined the multitudes who warn me against such a venture. It is, however, exactly what I desire. How soon can you begin?”

Fenton pursed his lips and speculated aloud, “I’ll need the measurements and characteristics of the land, and I’ll need to devise a preliminary plan.” He paused, then spoke abruptly: “Is a month acceptable, Mr. Allenby?”

“That should be quite adequate. I have some groundwork of my own to lay among fellow entrepreneurs. They do not share my enthusiasm for the plan, and must be persuaded if not to like the idea at least to tolerate it. I have the land specifications right here, so you may begin immediately.”

He handed the papers to the builder, and, with a pleasant “good-day,” left the office and proceeded to a gentlemen’s club, popular with men as successful in business as Roger Allenby. He expected to find many of those “raised eyebrows” whom his friend George Wentworth had mentioned the day before and whom he intended to satisfy as to the rationality of his intentions.

They were indeed there. The stout, walrus-features of Reginald Dantley were instantly recognizable, and there were the less imposing, but equally wealthy, Thomas Atkinson and William Lee. Allenby approached them as if the meeting were coincidental.

“Gentlemen, may I join you for a smoke” he asked amiably.

Dantley took charge. “Certainly, Roger. Take that chair.” The four men sat puffing cigars contentedly amid the splendid drawing-room surroundings of the club.

“How’s business, Roger?” asked Lee.

“Quite good, Will. Our cloth production set records this past year, and I am quite optimistic about the future.”

“We heard you were contemplating expansion.” intervened Dantley. “It’s a fine idea, I say. A fine idea.”

“Thank you, Reg, but I have more in mind than simply duplicating my old building. You may have heard about it.”

“Ah, you mean your ‘improvements’?” The last word was spoken with an emphasis that suggested Dantley meant it as a euphemism. Allenby chose to ignore what was intended as thinly veiled criticism.

“Yes, I want to raise the level of working and living conditions so that laborers will actually be proud to work there.”

The anticipated outburst of disapproval followed immediately. Atkinson, who had been quiet up to this point, was the first to speak.

“Now, see here, Roger, this scheme of yours is ridiculous. The more you give those wretches the more they will want. They don’t have the native intelligence to respond favorably to such a move. Parliament gave in to them once, over our protests, and they still complain. Here, let me tell you what happened to me. When I was young, I went through the same phase that is afflicting you now. I tried to shorten their working hours, and how do you think they responded — men, women, and children? Well, first, they certainly didn’t work any harder; my production rate fell off considerably during those months. And the drinking and crime! They just got more hours in which to do their mischief! What you want to do simply can’t help you, Allenby. Believe me!”

Dantley again intervened before there could be a reply. “And it can’t help those poor devils either. You’re an educated man, Allenby. You’ve read your Malthus and Ricardo. The workers are actually better off at the poverty level than they would be if we tried to help them. Give them more free time, like Tom says, and they waste it on crime and immorality. They reproduce like rabbits, man! They just use any leisure hours or extra comforts you try to give them filling their households with new and expensive mouths to feed. They’ll never get above the poverty level, because they have neither the sense nor the values. All you will be doing is throwing your hard earned profits down a rat hole.”

Lee immediately picked up the slack as Dantley’s attack subsided. “And you are putting us in a terrible position too, Roger. You make all of us look like heartless monsters, when you do your “humanitarian experimenting”. Tom and Reg are not being greedy; they are being logical and moral. Now let me add a bit of patriotism to that blend. Britain thrives on our success, does she not? Our textiles and other products are traded in eager overseas markets, and they become a principal tool in Her Majesty’s foreign policy. Our commerce means more influence and more ways to advance civilization abroad. We can lead the backward wretches of the world, but we need our factories to do it. Ideas such as yours weaken the national strength. Britain cannot afford your inefficient experiments.”

While he listened to their arguments, Allenby retained his perpetual smile. Finally, he realized that their batteries were exhausted, and calmly began his defense.

“Gentlemen, I deeply respect your sincerity and the native wisdom which experience has strengthened. Had I not already considered each of the points you have just made, I would not have proceeded with my plan. It is my conviction that improved industrial communities will strengthen us all. Our factories will be more efficient and more productive if the entire environment is changed for the better. For that reason, I think I am following the best course for everyone concerned — businessman, laborer, and nation. I am sorry to find you in such adamant opposition, for I respect and admire each of you; but no one has convinced me that my experiment is foredoomed to failure.”

Dantley protested again but with less intensity. Only one statement carried a heavy significance. “You realize, Roger, that the financial community will in no way assist you in this madness. We carry much weight in banking circles, and those men will listen to us, not to your schemes.”

Allenby became uncharacteristically serious, his expression set like a determined crusader. “Then I will do what must be done by myself. Gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I have pressing business to which I must attend.” He rid himself of the cigar butt, rose, and departed, leaving behind three gravely shaking heads.

* * *
While Allenby was seeking in vain the understanding of his financial peers, Henry Thomas was finding it difficult to concentrate on the power loom. Robert Lund had not written off the possibility of bringing the veteran worker around to his activist position. As both men tended the imposing machinery amid a deafening, rhythmic drone, Henry cast an occasional glance at his colleague, who was a few yards away.

Robert was a full decade younger than the man whom he had visited the night before. He was tall and agile, but inclined to be gaunt and somber. Somewhere in his past, he had become adept at reading and writing; but as these talents were unnecessary to a factory worker, he had initially made very little use of them. Only recently had he come upon an English translation of a pamphlet written by two Germans that purported to contain the solution to the workers’ plight. His reading of this Communist Manifesto galvanized him into a frenzy of organizational activity. Carefully avoiding any worker known to be stupidly content or friendly with management, he had circulated his call to arms among the men and women that would give it serious consideration.

Henry was a calculated risk. He had always accepted his fate with stoic resignation, but the accident from which he had only recently recovered and the declining health of his family were factors that might motivate any man. It would, of course, take him a while to wrestle with what the pamphlet called his “bourgeois values.” Now, as both men went about their jobs of nursing the oppressive machines in their dreary surroundings, Robert was aware of Henry’s periodic glances, Perhaps the seed had begun to germinate.

At the end of the long working day, the older man sought out the younger to apologize for his uncivil conduct the night before.

“Forget it,” said Robert reassuringly. “I shouldn’t have pushed so hard. All I want you to remember is that I care about you and your family. I care about anyone who is unfairly exploited by the wealthy. Listen, Henry, tomorrow night a few of us are getting together at my home to discuss what we can do to help ourselves. Why don’t you drop by? You can leave whenever you choose, no questions asked.”

Henry stared at the road beneath his feet, as the two exhausted men plodded homeward. “I might come, Robert, but you know I won’t be doing anything illegal. I’ll just listen to your suggestions, for the sake of my family.”

Robert smiled and patted his companion on the back. “Fair enough, my friend. We all want only the best course for the working man and woman.”

Soon they separated, and Henry continued down a narrow street, dingy with soot from the factory’s chimneys. His wife had gone ahead to prepare a simple meal for the four of them. The boys would already be home, since laws no longer let children under thirteen work more than a forty-eight-hour week. He stabilized his stride into an automatic reflex, simultaneously lapsing into deep thought. Robert really seemed sincere and he was right about the working conditions, but things could be even worse than they were. Indeed, they were worse away from Mr. Allenby’s paternal oversight.

Allenby seemed like a really decent chap, even though he was rich. But wasn’t he caught up in things too? One factory was just like any other putrid, noisy, dirty factory; it was the same everywhere. That ‘s what had to be changed. The whole rotten system victimized the poor and even restricted basically good men like Allenby, who might make promises but didn’t have a magic wand to correct things. Laws did no more than scratch the surface. So was it really worthwhile waiting on more promised changes? They would probably be only minor ones at best.

He entered his quarters through a tiny door that opened directly onto the street. When he saw the forced, exhausted smiles of the three people whom he loved most in all the world, he made up his mind. He would attend Robert’s meeting, and he would listen.

* * *
Work was briefly interrupted at the mill the following day for an unusual assembly. The hands gathered to hear Mr. Allenby proclaim the construction of a new factory for the benefit of the workers. They listened to a description of the advantages that would accrue to them and applauded dutifully on signals from the foremen. There was a touch of the messianic in the young owner’s impassioned delivery, and this could have moved some of his listeners to enthusiastic support. However, a careful observer might have noticed that the majority showed no reaction and seemed merely to accept the meeting as a welcomed break from their drudgery.

Allenby’s dedication prevented him from being such a careful observer. When the workers were dismissed, he was buoyant with optimism. They did not have to dance in the streets for him to understand how much they would appreciate the changes. He thought he saw a flicker of hope in their faces, and that was enough to convince him that his course was the right one. It would take time, but the result would be well worth it.

That assembly complicated the dilemma of Henry Thomas, for once more he began to feel that this good man was really working to improve the lot of the worker. Instinctively, the veteran laborer trusted him, even though Allenby was a young and wealthy businessman. Henry was vaguely uneasy about the intensity of Robert’s attacks against entire groups of people whom he had never met. How could anyone be so sure that all rich factory owners were greedy and oppressive? Still, he owed it to his family to investigate every possible way to improve their situation; and Robert, if a bit radical, was still sincere. Perhaps at that meeting everyone would decide to wait for Mr. Allenby’s improvements, before considering other, possibly illegal, courses. Well, he would go and listen.

That evening, he arrived at Robert’s home to find it packed with fifteen to twenty men and women, most of whom he knew by first names. The room in which they were meeting resembled Henry’s own cramped quarters, so space was severely limited. Each of the workers had found a tight, inviolable spot to occupy with a semblance of comfort, and everyone’s attention focused on the arguments rather than the surroundings. Henry found a vacant square on the floor and began to listen.

As he had suspected, Mr. Allenby’s plan was the main subject. A female employee named Bessie was engaged in a vitriolic attack.

“I’ve been working here in Planton for about ten years, and before that I worked in a couple of other towns to the north. I don’t see where our saintly owner is much nobler or more generous than any other one. I’m just as tired and just as poor as I’ve ever been, and I don’t expect him to make things any better. Tush, he’s just trumpeting like that to make his conscience feel good. I bet he goes to church on Sunday and asks the Lord for a pat on the back!”

Henry glanced around, and the majority of heads were nodding in agreement. He sensed that no one was going to come to that good man’s defense, so overcoming a momentary feeling of embarrassment, he broke his rule of silence.

“You’re wrong, Bessie. Mr. Allenby’s given us better medical attention and shorter hours than the other mill operators. I’ve worked here longer than most of you, and I remember that things were much, much worse under his father. We were beaten to death for nothing, and old man Allenby never understood why his profits were so low. Young Roger has tripled his family’s wealth by treating us as well as the system allows and better than the laws demand. Those of you who have been around know that. It’s still bad; I don’t deny that conditions are still terrible. I can’t stand my family suffering the way they do. But I’m not blind. We’ve got the best owner in all of Britain, and if things can get better, he’ll make them so.”

There was a nervous pause before Robert calmly picked up the thread and continued.

“I agree with Henry. This mill is a better place to work than many others. Ask yourself why, though, and you’ll find the answer in what you just heard. Profits have tripled. Working conditions have improved a little, but profits? They have tripled!”

Henry interrupted. “Now, wait a minute, Robert. I said he was doing everything the system lets him do. You know I said that.”

Robert’s face lit up as if his prey had just fallen into his grasp. “That’s right! The system won’t allow it! My friends, Allenby is not our enemy; I readily agree to that. The enemy is the factory system with its bourgeois parasites who live off the honest toil of oppressed workers. We must destroy that system if we are ever to live decent lives!”

A voice behind Henry asked, “Why can’t we just draw up a list of complaints we’d like to see straightened out in that new factory? We could give them to him and see what he says.”

Robert nodded. “Yes, we could do that, and we might even get some of the things we want. But remember, a factory owner under this system called ‘capitalism’ is not in business for the sake of enjoyment. He wants to make money; he wants the biggest profit he can get out of what you work to supply him. He must push as hard as he can to squeeze every ounce of labor from us. How sweeping do you think his reforms can be, if he wants to stay in business?”

No one, not even Henry, could come up with a suitable reply, and Robert seized the opportunity to explain the principles of the Communist Manifesto. One ringing claim stuck in Henry’s mind: “We laborers are all brothers and sisters. We are at war and the enemies are the rich, comfortable factory owners.”

Another meeting was set for the following week. Henry had not as yet resolved his inner conflict, so again he attended. Owners can be enemies in our minds without our having to do anything illegal to them, he reasoned. There was still no harm in listening.

* * *
Work was progressing nicely on Mr. Allenby’s project. After six months, the huge complex began to take shape. Most of his fortune was directly tied up in the venture, since he could get no support from the banking community. It was a risk, but at worst he would have two factories; and their profits would replenish his depleted reserves.

As he sat behind his ornate desk, Roger Allenby absentmindedly perused a stack of correspondence. His mind was on the experiment, not the everyday duties of business. Still, he must look to such minutiae if the plan was to be completed.

A visit from George Wentworth interrupted the tedium. He alone among the wealthy had stuck by his “mad” friend, whose scheme was now widely labeled “Allenby’s Folly.”

“Would you care to join me for lunch at the club, Roger?”

Allenby smiled and replied with mock formality, “Indeed, Mr. Wentworth, I would be honored to accompany you. However, can we not find a place where the temperature is apt to be less frigid?”

George chuckled and responded, “That bad, eh?”

“A mummy would provide more stimulating conversation than that which my old friends employ in my presence. When I was a child, I used to wonder what life was like for those Biblical lepers. I think it would be safe to say I’m beginning to have an idea.”

“Well, how is the project coming along?”

“Oh, quite beautifully really. The foundations are down and some of the areas are even far enough along to receive the heavy machinery. We’ll be moving in some of it next week. I go to the site regularly and it never fails to thrill me. If this works, George, it could mean a genuine humanitarian social revolution from which we will all profit.”

“Still proselytizing, Roger?” George asked with another chuckle. They both laughed.

“You might call it that, because I really do feel this is a Christian duty. I’ll tell you more over lunch. Shall we go?” As he rose from the desk, thoughts of the papers which lay before him evaporated and were instantly replaced by enthusiastic arguments in support of his great experiment.

* * *
The progress of Mr. Allenby’s new factory did not go unnoticed by those who attended the meetings at Robert’s home. They had been unable to convene regularly, but had met frequently enough to allow Robert’s native eloquence to promulgate the doctrines of Marx and Engels. He gained many converts, but his most serious opposition came from Henry Thomas.

Robert had the keen mind of an accomplished debater and constantly listened for some phrase that would serve as a springboard for his advocacy of the Communist Manifesto. When he saw the direction comments were taking, he would seize the opportunity.

“I wonder why anyone bothers to invent such machines, if those of us who work with them are so opposed to their use.”

A young man gave him the answer he anticipated. “Nobody asks us. It’s the owners who buy them and put them in. They just hire us to make sure they produce.”

“Oh,” said Robert, calmly nodding agreement. “Those big hunks of steam-breathing metal are dumped on us so the factory owner can increase a profit. Friends, I think we’ve hit on another example of how the wealthy oppress the poor for their own benefit. It’s a constant struggle, I tell you. Our two classes are at war. It’s inevitable, and we outnumber them. We cannot lose the struggle.”

Robert expected to hear the soft voice of his rival and wasn’t disappointed.

“Come now, Robert. You can’t be expecting poor men and women like us to throw stones at everyone in a fine coat. It would be crazy, and how could we benefit from it? We’d starve without our jobs.”

“We could run things, Henry. It is the workers who have the real skills. Isn’t it? Isn‘t it?” His glance passed from side to side, taking in everyone in the room.

Henry was not finished, however. “It sounds to me like you’re urging us to riot and murder. You’ll get us all killed, because we’d be breaking the laws of God and man.”

“The laws of oppressors, you mean. Laws that are meant to keep you under their heels! Can’t you see that, Henry? For pity’s sake, man, can’t you see beyond your nose?”

Robert’s frustration was about to get the best of him, but Henry retained his equanimity.

“I don’t think any of us hates a rich man enough to kill him.”

Robert Lund’s eyes narrowed and his voice calmed. “If I could show you how we could strike at the system without committing what you call ‘murder’, would you listen?”

The older man’s face was totally guileless. “I’m sure we all would. Everyone wants to improve his life, but we aren‘t killers.”

The majority of the group nodded their agreement. Robert saw that here was a chance to silence the opposition and get them to open their minds.

“Tomorrow night, Henry, I’d like you to take a little walk with me. I’m going to show you how to strike a blow in the name of the worker without staining your hands with blood.”

The meeting broke up. For the first time in weeks, Robert felt genuine exhilaration, because at last he knew a way to end the weeks of frustrating stalemate.

* * *

Henry had no trouble excusing himself after his family finished dinner. He had been careful to conceal nothing from his wife about the periodic gatherings at Robert’s. Tonight, he said, he was to see something that might improve their living conditions.

Robert waited in front of the Lund quarters. He was carrying a small, unobtrusive package under his right arm, but made no effort to call his companion’ s attention to it. They started to walk toward the outskirts of the community.

Robert led the way, for he did not think it wise to tell Henry their destination. The older worker followed in blind good faith, confident that, wherever they might be going, the excursion could help his family.

The younger man began to reiterate some of the conclusions that the group had reached the night before. Factory machines are dangerous and dehumanizing. They help owners make profits at the expense of labor. They rob the worker of pride and threaten his meager livelihood by taking over his job. Henry listened without disputing the conclusions; the deep scar on his hand was a perpetual reminder that there was something evil in those huge, impersonal contraptions. Robert’s conversation never strayed from that subject, and he watched his friend’s normally calm responses grow bitter.

They walked for close to an hour, until finally their destination materialized before them, clearly visible now in the moonlight. It was Allenby’s new industrial site. Half-completed buildings stood like bare skeletons before them.

“This is the factory into which we will be moved, Henry. Do you see anything unusually humanitarian about it?” Robert watched as his friend gazed at the unfinished buildings.

“Well, I suppose it’s too early to see any of the real improvements. But it sure is big!” Henry whistled softly as he considered its vast size.

“You know we’re alone here,” said Robert. “All the construction men have gone home. There may be a few guards, but they have a lot to cover. Wait here for a minute. I want to take a look in that building.”

He stole away and disappeared into a structure that seemed more complete than most of the others. While he was gone, Henry continued to scan with awe the beginnings of the new community.

When Robert returned, something was missing. It took a few seconds before Henry realized that he no longer carried a package.

“You will soon see how workers can fight oppressors by striking at the very heart of their profits.” That was all Robert would say until Henry, after a brief, perplexed silence, was jolted by a realization.

“Good Lord! Did you plant a bomb?”

“It will go off in a minute or so,” was the simple reply.

Henry could do nothing but stare in disbelief and say, “You’re breaking the law, man!”

“Hah! I’m destroying the things that nearly crippled you, my friend. I do this for all of us.”

As they stood there in the shadows, a faint light appeared in the building from which Robert had returned scarcely moments before.

“What’s that? Is someone in there?” asked Henry on the edge of frenzy.

“No. It’s probably just the moonlight reflecting off a piece of metal.”

“That’s no reflection, Robert! Look!”

Through an unfinished window of the building, the figure of a man carrying a lantern came into view. It was Roger Allenby, out on one of his frequent inspections of his crusader’s dream.

“Robert! Mr. Allenby… he’ll be killed!”

“Henry! You must believe me! I didn’t know he would be here! All I wanted to do was destroy the machines!” There was genuine remorse in the voice of the revolutionary.

But Henry Thomas was no longer listening. His tired body was electrified with fear for the life of the one man he most respected. He ran toward the building, screaming, “Mr. Allenby! Mr. Allenby! Run!”

He disappeared through the door, and for one brief moment there was silence.

It was shattered by a deafening roar. The structure was engulfed in flame, and the night became an inferno.

* * *
Two bodies were retrieved from the ashes. A bit of jewelry identified one of them as Roger Allenby, wealthy young industrialist and social reformer. It was not as easy to identify the other, for there were no rings or trinkets. Finally, someone noticed the deep scar on the right hand, which by simple luck had not been as badly burned as the rest of the body. It took some time, but the authorities managed to discover that the charred corpse had once been Henry Thomas, a veteran factory worker in Mr. Allenby’s employ.

What had happened seemed fairly obvious to investigators. The laborer, crazed by a recent mill injury, had sought revenge against the owner whom he somehow knew to be a frequent visitor to the out-of-the-way site. The murderer had planted a bomb and then been inadvertently confronted and trapped by Allenby. Unable to escape, he had become a victim of his own plot.

Maggie Thomas was inconsolable. She could not believe that her Henry, who had always spoken so kindly of Mr. Allenby, would try to commit so horrible a murder. She sought out Robert Lund to find the truth she knew would clear her husband’s name. Robert, however, could give her little comfort. They had talked about destroying some machinery, he said; and Henry’s bitterness had grown into a desire for vengeance which could not be checked when he realized Allenby was there. Robert explained that he knew Henry was no murderer at heart, but when they saw that gigantic new home for killer-machines, something had snapped inside the old worker. Maggie could do little else than accept this explanation since, after all, Robert had been one of Henry’s closest associates.

Subsequent meetings of the labor discussion group took on a different tone. Gone was their former reluctant to consider violent confrontation, for they had a martyr now. The name of Henry Thomas, became the rallying cry of all who sought to crush the oppressive bourgeoisie. Henry had not died for nothing, Robert Lund was fond of saying.

The mill’s new owner, George Wentworth, now became the victim of all manner of sabotage and resistance. It was all he could do to squeeze a meager profit from the once productive factory. His predicament was well known throughout the business community, and he always met with the greatest sympathy when he visited the club.

“It’s a tragedy that Allenby’s folly had to hurt a practical man like you, George,” commiserated Reginald Dantley. “If only he had come to his senses before all that humanitarian trash cost him his life. He had such great promise, you know. We warned him that he could not succeed. The working class is hardly more than animals; they would as soon kill you as say ‘good morning.”

George nodded sadly. Reg was obviously right. Yet somehow he had almost come to believe that Roger’s plans were rational and correct. Yes, he had almost come to believe it, but now he knew better.


Questions for Analysis:


1. The theoreticians and businessmen who sought to improve the condition of the poor were caustically labeled “utopian” socialists by Karl Marx. What is a “utopia?” Based on this definition, would you consider Roger Allenby’s plan “utopian?” Why or why not?

2. Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and other economists maintained that there are conditions built into society which prevent the workers’ quality of life from improving. What segment of society widely accepted these views, according to the story? Why do you feel this group tended to advocate them?

3. What basic elements of communist social theory are shown in the story? How does communism differ from classical economics and “utopian” socialism?

4. In the story, machinery is described as an evil, in the opinion of the factory worker, because of many reasons. What are some of the reasons presented? Modern technology is often regarded with apprehension by laborers today. Why is that? Are there any similarities between contemporary fears and those of the early period of the Industrial Revolution?

5. Suppose Robert and the others had worked for an owner less humanitarian than Allenby. Would you consider the violent course espoused by Robert to be justified in such a case? Explain.

6. What do you think would have happened to Robert’s group after the events in the story? What, if anything, would they have accomplished to benefit laborers? Suppose you were George Wentworth and, instead of rejecting Roger’s views, you were convinced of their rectitude. In the face of sabotage and worker resistance, as well as the disfavor of the wealthy, how would you have gone about completing the unfinished plan?


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VI. The Enlightment and the Romantic Revolt

The Renaissance brought about a revival of interest in a rational approach to the physical sciences. Curiosity about Humanity’s place in the Universe led to a renewed interest in a wide variety of pursuits considered irrelevant in the medieval worldview. In the years following the devastation caused by the Plague, population and trade began once more to increase. People were ready to lay up treasures on earth, not just in Heaven; and merchants discovered that the new science, and education in general, greatly facilitated this.

By the seventeenth century, literate and prosperous members of the middle class began to wonder why a world that followed PHYSICAL laws would not also follow SOCIAL rules as well. Surely everything from the arts to religion had to be rational, and rulers who portrayed themselves as paragons of Reason would have to recognize and live by these “higher laws.” During the Age of Reason, social scientists (philosophes) sought to recruit supporters among the ruling class and were, at best, only moderately successful. They had hoped that Reason would win out, but when it did not, some reluctantly turned to violence in the name of Natural Law.

Others, the Romantics, thought they knew why Logic had failed and willingly embraced the jump to violence. They concluded that Humanity was not bound by clockwork rules, because EMOTION, not Reason, was the real path to TRUTH. The bridge between the rational Age of Enlightenment and the turbulent Age of Revolt is represented in The Force of Will.

The Force of Will 

I was nineteen when I first discovered the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the change they wrought in me is beyond description. How I got them I do not remember, and it seems strange now that I cannot recall even the name of the book. It could have been part of my father’s collection, but as most of those volumes had been confiscated by that time, that seems unlikely.

Of course, I understand why the King suppressed such literature. It would become a loaded pistol in my hand; and because of that, I am eternally grateful to a beneficent Providence.

Our family had lived in Eisenwald for generations. My ancestors became close advisors to the ancient monarchs, probably because of heroism in battle or unusual prowess in administration. In any event, in more recent decades their unique position was that of Domestic Coordinator of Education, a post of considerable importance. Under the monarchy all ceremonial positions were reserved for the parasitic, decorative nobility, while the work that required skill was done by graduates of royal academies.

King Philip was immensely pleased with the training provided by these schools, for it seemed to verify his claim to be enlightened. The curriculum was severely restricted, and those who might attend were screened carefully as well. That was Father’s principal responsibility, which he did with pride and dedication for more than twenty years.

I can still remember the misgivings he had about adding works by the philosophes to the curriculum. At first he suggested that such material ought to be expunged because it was frequently revolutionary in nature, advocating freedom of thought and equality of opportunity. King Philip’s decision was surprising to Father, and many times he repeated the monarch’s instructions concerning the books.

“Their acceptance in our Academy, monsieur, will show the world that the ruler of Eisenwald does not fear free thought. We must prove that our citizens love us and we them.”

It was widely recognized that King Philip used French when he wished to appear more sophisticated than our small country’s traditions would allow. Father reminded him that the image of benevolence he wished to project might be detrimental when the students began to compare the social theories in the curriculum with the imposed order under which they lived.

The King’s answer was dogmatically cryptic: “Institutions will be maintained.”

That meant the Royal Guard. Philip loved to display the cultured facade of civilization; perhaps it heightened his self-esteem. Nevertheless, he reserved his greatest appreciation for the military instrument he had fashioned with the care of a fine craftsman. They were numerically inconsequential in terms of the massed forces employed by the great European powers, but they were superior in terms of physical strength and iron discipline. He paraded them about like a child playing with  toy soldiers.  Although Eisenwald never took part in the major wars of the day, this fine group of polished killers had to be kept battle-ready using other means. In short, they were the police who maintained the oppressive status quo, or as King Philip called it, the “institutions.”

He could appraise in French the relative values of freedom with visiting scholars, while the nobility exploited peasants and the city’s poor starved. If anyone attempted to carry the matter beyond the discussion stage, he was branded a mad rebel and forcibly silenced by the efficient guard.

I doubt if the outside world knew of this odious double standard, but for that matter I wonder if the outside world would have cared. Foreigners were regularly fêted at court in garish brilliance. There were costly soirées in which the finest European musicians performed works commissioned by that great patron of culture, King Philip. Renowned social philosophers were on friendly terms with our monarch, as I have said, and they frequently were welcome visitors. Obviously, they fell victim to this superficial glitter, for nothing but compliments ever flowed from their mouths.

My family was blind to all of this. Ancestral ties to the monarchy prevented our appreciation of reality. It was probably the result of the social inertia which led the entire country to accept the existing order as inviolable; everyone knew that doing one’s duty was the highest political virtue. As the eldest son, I was to be trained in the Academy so that I might succeed my father upon his death or retirement. Consequently, he took pains to develop in me a love for the liberal arts. My studies always contained heavy doses of royal propaganda as well, so that I learned quite early that the King is always right.

Part of the educational ritual in which we indulged was the family reading hour; every evening Father read aloud from some classic literary work. The content varied widely, because his tastes were truly universal. Sometimes we thrilled to medieval romance and ancient epic, while on other occasions we puzzled over Aristotle, Aquinas, or Hobbes. My fondest memories of childhood stem from these gatherings, in spite of the tragedy which they eventually inspired.

King Philip’s smug assurance that writings which avowed the logic of freedom would be nothing more than decorative knickknacks on the Academy shelves naturally overrode Father’s objections. The works of English and French rationalists joined the curriculum with no immediate decline in the morality of order. The King was pleased to find his judgment vindicated.

It may have been a kind of curiosity that led Father to do it. He had read meager excerpts from those works in previous years, but only the radical passages that had earned their authors notoriety among conservatives. It occurred to Father that Locke’s Two Treatises on Government and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws might prove interesting fodder for discussion. Mother, Karl, Anna, and I readily agreed, and all four of us launched into them with enthusiasm. I was thirteen and considered these sessions an integral part of my academic preparation.

How those arguments riveted our attention! We found ourselves appreciating the unique nobility of all humanity as we had never done before. The basic tenets were all there: equal protection and opportunity under law, freedom from religious oppression, the right to free expression of opinion. Hearing truth so resoundingly stated for the first time was like passing from dreary night into day. The entire family was profoundly affected during those weeks, but Father most of all. He became deeply disturbed. His rock-like confidence in monarchical institutions was irreparably shaken.

It took some months of bitter internal struggle, the depth of which we could only assume, before the transformation was complete. Father emerged a dedicated reformer with goals that were far-reaching by any standard. As we would later discover, he did not share his conclusions openly with his family for fear that there would be governmental reprisals against us. Mother’s nervousness hinted that she suspected this change. Perhaps I was wise beyond my years, for I sensed what had happened and accepted it as the logical consequence of our reading sessions.

Beyond that, Father’s subversive views were hidden from us. We did not know that he had with skill and subtlety sought out the few men at court who harbored the same outlook. They formed a society, auspiciously for the purpose of literary discussion but in reality to plot a fundamental change in the government of Eisenwald. With careful planning they hoped to make use of their easy access to the King’s person to stage a coup d’état. They would seize him; and if he proved unreceptive, as they suspected he might, they would assassinate him and exile the royal family. Once King Philip was removed from the scene, the Royal Guard would have no one but the vacuous queen and her three-year-old son around whom to rally. The troops would recognize the illogic of such a course and support the conspirators. The victory would be followed by a virtual flood of reform.

It was indeed a noble plan with lofty motives, even though it involved a probable murder. Since the dawn of civilization, tyrannicide has been recognized as a moral imperative. Besides that, John Locke’s contract theory explains that subjects are bound to overthrow a government that has usurped their rights.

The fatal weakness in the plan was their reliance on logic. The eight conspirators managed to appear at court simultaneously, and through some means involved Philip in a conversation on domestic policy. They wore ceremonial swords which would not attract the suspicions of anyone in the state room. At a prearranged signal they drew the swords and demanded that the terrified king listen to their grievances. Philip screamed for the Guard. My father plunged his weapon into that ponderous, regal bulk, but before he could take further action, shots rang out, mortally wounding three conspirators. Other guards took advantage of the momentary confusion to knock down and disarm the rest of them.

Unfortunately, Philip survived the wound, but something in his spirit died. Gone were the trappings of benevolent enlightenment. He belatedly followed Father’s advice and removed all “subversive literature” from the Academy. He continued to entertain guests, but his French began to fail, and he no longer played the role of a scholarly public servant. More and more the monarchy became overtly oppressive. The slightest inclination to question “legitimate authority” was immediately and thoroughly crushed.

As if to establish a standard for the ensuing terror, Philip had Father and the other conspirators publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered. It surprises me now that I am able to speak of this terrible deed, but I have long since survived the horror of the moment.  Mother and the rest of our family fled the kingdom to avoid the monarch’s continuing rage. All of Father’s possessions, most notably his books, were confiscated. The fact that we had played no role in the plot was irrelevant to Philip; the blood of a traitor was in our veins, and he was afraid it might make itself felt again. We barely escaped imprisonment, fleeing at night to another country in which my family still resides. The threat of reprisals persists, for offended tyrants have long memories.

Likewise, we could not forget. The validity of equal rights remained even after the abortive coup. Father had died trying to implement a rational course by violent means. Perhaps he was too civilized to accomplish such a purpose.

Mother had friends in the country to which we fled, and they were kind enough to provide financial support until we could become self-sustaining. She would not let me earn wages by ordinary means for two reasons. First, she claimed that I was much too young for such a burden; and second, Father had insisted on my securing the advanced education which he felt suited someone of our family and rank. The ironic contradiction of the second assertion never occurred to him.

I was nevertheless enrolled in my late teens at a university of great fame and tradition to study law, a professional subject for which I felt a strange affinity. I immersed myself in natural and moral philosophy as well, since I had concluded that the latter provides the foundation for the written rules of society. Because of Father’s tutelage, study came easily; and my frivolous comrades often remarked that they could not understand how anyone could become so deeply engrossed in work.

When the opportunity came for me to hear the great philosopher, Friedrich Wiederbach, I could scarcely control my anticipation. Some of his writings had played a significant part in our family’s reading sessions; and in spite of the difficulty of his prose, I had learned, even at such a tender age, to appreciate the complexity of his thought. The subject upon which he was to lecture further intrigued me: “The Individual in Political Society.”

I need not repeat at length how I hung on every word uttered by the pale little man with the shock of white hair. The tragedy in my personal life screamed for rational explanation, since my studies had taught me that the basic laws of existence are intellectually discernible and applicable. I fully expected Wiederbach to provide the key, and the more I listened, the more it seemed those expectations would be fulfilled.

The State, said Wiederbach, has a transcendent existence and places a mystical claim on one’s loyalties. The individual finds spiritual fulfillment by preserving the State, that is, by carrying out the ancient social rules whose very survival over time shows their value. Anyone who seeks to disrupt public order by overturning established laws is guilty of the gravest offense.

This renowned authority, by ten-fold repetition of this basic theme, slowly convinced me of something I fought to resist. Father and his conspiracy, supposedly acting in the name of reason, had committed a great crime when they challenged the overriding truths of the State. In short, he received the treatment he had deserved, and all of Eisenwald should be thankful for Philip’s survival. The more Wiederbach talked, the more the logic of his horrifying argument seemed irresistible. I remember weeping uncontrollably after one of his lectures, much to my friends’ derisive amusement.

Somehow, in the midst of this turmoil, I discovered Rousseau. Perhaps I was trying to escape from the pain caused by Wiederbach; I do not specifically recall. All I know is that there, in those inspired pages, I found the real answers. When I wished to know how the reason of liberty and the reason of the State could seem valid yet contradictory, I discovered the only reality: The heart alone is the source of truth. Wisdom comes from following native instincts, which society has tried to chain with artificial, destructive rules. Listen to the heart, the spirit, Rousseau pleaded to me; and I understood. Father had acted out of a desire to free the spirit of Eisenwald, oppressed by tyrannical laws. The logical futility of his actions I now recognized as the inspired gesture of a heroic will to freedom.

The next day I interrupted Wiederbach in the middle of his lecture on passive duty; I could not permit what I knew to be an unfair attack on my father’s memory. I still recall the exchange.

“How can you advocate duty to a government which crushes the free spirit of its citizens? You ask slaves to accept their chains gratefully!”

“Sir, to speak otherwise is to praise disunity, illogic, and disorder. There must be a single will in the nation, and it must be that of time-honored traditions. Remove, for example, an ancient monarchy, and what remains? Only anarchy, a helpless, leaderless confusion!”

“No, Herr Professor. What is left is unshackled wills of free souls, able at last to achieve the unfettered majesty to which Destiny calls them!”

Naturally, such disruptions could not he tolerated, since they unsettled the learned philosopher. They removed me from the hall without delay.

After the lecture a fellow-student went out of his way to speak to me.  “You are now a hero, my friend. Many of us have lacked the courage to challenge Old Rock-Face as you did. We salute you and beg you to join us at the Rathskeller.”

I did, and found a small group of young men dedicated to Spirit with the same intensity that my reading of Rousseau had inspired in me. We formed a tight band of comradeship; and for the remaining time I spent at the university, we were inseparable.  They introduced me to poets, musicians, and others who shared the belief that social rules are artificial limits on Freedom.

In particular, there was a young composer, Jacob Härster, who wished to discuss a symphony he was writing.  “It will have five movements, rather than the customary four, and it will celebrate the greatness of the German National Soul. I have passed back and forth through those petty states which claim to be ancient countries. They are not, you know. The separate monarchies, duchies, and so on which have grown up within them are superficial developments. The Spirit of the People is the same great German Spirit in all of them; and to prove it, I have catalogued a multitude of overlapping folk tunes, many of which I plan to use in my symphony.”

“Yes,” I replied, “We are all alike inside. We all yearn to be free, as I am sure those folk songs express.”

“Indeed, they do. Come. Let me play one excerpt for you.” Jacob grabbed me by the sleeve and enthusiastically pulled me over to a spinet.

I listened and was moved by the tragic loveliness of the melody. “Such a spirit must be free,” I said simply, when he had finished.

His reply burns in my memory. “Yes, my friend, and we shall make it so!”

No matter what artistic field we embraced, the basic message was always the same. Society must allow men to achieve the fullest development of that transcendent essence within each of us. My unique sphere became, as one might expect, philosophy. Although I continued my legal studies out of deference to my mother, my heart was simply not in them. Instead, I set about to free the HUMAN WILL. My pen became a weapon used to attack blind injustice and social inequality.

I met with some renown in literary circles and have heard that my arguments were the subject of animated debate on more than one occasion. For that, of course, I am grateful. Yet at that time such a response seemed a very meager reward. As I knew from my early days, views have real meaning only if they are acted upon. I did not wish to become the center of polite drawing room gatherings, like some quaint curiosity. I remembered that Rousseau had often filled the role of resident non-conformist, and I knew I did not wish to duplicate him there.

The more in demand I was, the less satisfied I became. My old friends began to notice that apparent misanthropy had replaced my penchant for work and study. “He who would save mankind now hates society” was their good-natured jest. I could not explain to them that I wanted action, not fame.

Only Jacob understood. As I had never returned to live with my relatives, my associates effectively became my new family. Jacob became closer than a brother to me, and the bond forged between us seemed to manifest itself in an inexpressible understanding.

“They will not listen because they are privileged enough not to feel the suffering of oppression,” Jacob said comfortingly. “Those most oppressed cannot read what you have written, and your readers are too much enthralled in their artificial world to take you seriously.”

“What can I do to make men think? How can I make them free their Spirits?”

“Whatever you do,” he replied, “it must be more direct.”

Thus Jacob showed me my destiny. I would be the instrument of Fate and would bring men to their senses. My father had failed, but I would not. The highest goal is worth the effort, because even in failure there is victory in the seeking. I knew this from my heart. I knew also that my WILL was set; I could not fail.

The assassination of the King of Eisenwald would be no easy task; I did not delude myself on that account. Philip had not recovered emotionally from Father’s attempt on his life; he had tripled security measures and had become suspicious of practically everyone, according to the reports that reached us. He might prove a difficult quarry, but I could already feel the thrill that success would bring.

When I revealed my intention to Jacob, he was ecstatic. Like the true spiritual brother I knew him to be, he asked to assist me in my mission.

“My composing is such a passive thing. To strike a real blow for the German Soul would be as great a joy as to avenge your father, my friend.”

That night we made a sacred pact, dedicating ourselves to the eradication of that odious monster. It would be the decisive first step for freeing all of Germany.  Our lives would be intertwined from that moment with but one objective to achieve.

Jacob’s musical notebooks provided us with the way to launch the effort. For years he had wandered about the countryside collecting bits and pieces of traditional melodies. It was an arduous process, but one in which he reveled, since it kept him in touch with the common folk who were largely uncorrupted by urban society. His wandering made him an easily recognized figure throughout the dozens of tiny countries, and all the border guards became so familiar with the young man who hiked about the land that they seldom questioned or detained him. In the future, we decided, he would have a companion, whose avowed purpose would be the collection of folk tales.

For me to play such a role, two things were necessary. First, I would have to immerse myself in all the information available on such lore. I could not display total ignorance of the subject which I would allegedly be researching, so I attacked the literature with relish. Next, I would have to alter my appearance drastically, since my previous notoriety had probably reached the once-so-enlightened King Philip. He would know my views as well as my physical description.

It was no great matter for someone in our Bohemian society to drop from public view, so I determined to do this until I had grown a full beard and shoulder-length hair. To perfect new mannerisms, I spent months practicing an exaggerated swagger and vocal modulation. Jacob’s quizzical expressions provided the perfect mirror in which to judge whether my renovated appearance was effective. Finally, both of us were satisfied with the result. We left the constriction of urban life and set off into the countryside to pursue our destinies.

It was spring and the simple, unmarred beauty was indescribably exhilarating. I believe we could have continued in such a natural setting forever, had not our hearts been set on other things. Both of us carried pistols concealed in our gear, and these served as somber reminders of our real intentions.

Wherever we went, village and country folk greeted us with genuine hospitality, something rare amid the courtly manners of the city. Over and over, I discovered that Jacob knew the people by name from his earlier journeys; and, in each case, the reunion was a festive one. Our hosts strained their memories for traditional stories and tunes, the presentation of which was pure enchantment to us. I found myself filling notebook after notebook with the outlines of folk tales, for such exposure had aroused within me a sincere interest which made role playing unnecessary. What genuine regret we felt when we had to move on, even though we knew that more joys awaited wherever Fate might lead us!

Our wanderings continued to follow this idyllic pattern for several months. Regardless of the political division in which we found ourselves, Jacob’s appearance was welcomed; and I was accepted with equal enthusiasm. Our reputations spread even within Eisenwald, where we took care to spend plenty of time. I traveled under the name of Franz Gruening, which of course did not in the slightest suggest my real family; so these forays into my native region attracted no suspicion.

Finally, the time came for us to build upon the foundation we had established. There would be one more journey into Eisenwald, and one more careful cultivation of  our musical and literary reputations there. We hoped to kindle a spark of curiosity in that great patron of the arts, King Philip, and we had faith in our destinies to accomplish our purpose.

In each village, as we listened to the humble offerings of the town folk, we mentioned that we were now collaborating on a choral fantasy taken from Eisenwald folk themes. We made sure that the border guards heard of our grand artistic design. The fact that we would never have considered restricting ourselves to such an artificially created region would not occur to the narrow minds of the ruling powers, and should by chance anyone ever question it, we had two plausible answers. We could assert that the fantasy would be but one movement in a gigantic composition to include the other German states. More than likely, we would need only to say that the work was meant as a tribute to the peaceful way of life within Eisenwald. Such flattery, when it reached King Philip, would be accepted as his due.

It took several weeks for word of our purpose to reach the royal ear. We were in the town of Lunendorf when a towering member of the esteemed Royal Guard sought us out.

Herr Gruening and Herr Härster, I have been commissioned to bid you to wait upon the King at his court in Kleinburg. He wishes me to say that he is pleasantly intrigued by the nature of your composition, and he would like the honor of seeing to its premiere.”

We expressed our deep gratitude and asked when His Royal Highness desired our attendance.

“I am to escort you to the court, meinen Herren,” he replied with characteristic authority.

Obligingly, we retrieved our things, and left the village. The trip was a relatively brief one, since King Philip had thoughtfully provided horses for both of us. We declined an offer to have our packs carried by another animal which seemed to have been brought for that purpose. Jacob explained that we did not want our invaluable notebooks and other materials separated from our persons. Consequently, we did not have to fear the discovery of our pistols.

With difficulty, I suppressed the flood of violent emotions that welled up within me as the capital city became visible. It had changed very little since the days when Father had so proudly exercised his control over state education. I reminded myself nor to display any recognition of these surroundings, which had been home to me a few years before. To wrench my heart from those awful memories, I engaged Jacob in an animated conversation over the great luck we would enjoy if King Philip indeed decided to premiere the composition.

Escorted by a stream of soldiers in the colorful uniform of the Guard, we were brought before the throne of the King. Nervousness before the regal presence was expected. I loosened the reins on my emotions so that the King could easily see and easily misread my agitation. How he had aged! He had always been heavy set, with prominent lips and jowls, but now even an impartial observer could not help but consider him grotesque. His face was deeply lined with age and, I expect, with the worry which had dogged him after Father’s conspiracy. Fortunately for us, he was not as yet immune to artistic flattery, although, as I have said, his rising suspicions had severely curtailed his old activities.

Messieurs, We are honored to meet two men who seek to celebrate the greatness of our people. How noble a cause!” His greeting was positively unctuous , and he seemed unaware of how out of place was his use of French address, in light of the purely German nature of our enterprise.

Philip was genuinely interested in sponsoring the presentation of our fantasy. He had retained the services of an accomplished orchestra, and, by eliciting support from various church choirs, had secured us a chorus. Naturally, we accepted his offer and agreed to begin rehearsals in a hall which he provided as soon as final arrangements had been made. Philip offered to pay us for our time, but Jacob responded, with pointed irony, that the royal family’s presence at the concert was the only reward we desired.

We were lodged in fine rooms at a nearby hotel, and that evening met to plan the details which would lead to the successful conclusion of our efforts. A usable score was available, extracted by Jacob from his proudest composition, an unpublished five-movement symphony. As for the words, I easily grafted them onto the folk melodies with very minor adjustments. We spent some time verifying that the choral part did not sound like a crude addition that would detract from the impact of the music.

Artistic values having been satisfied, we turned our attentions to the real purpose of the concert. Three members of the royal family would be in attendance, or so Philip had promised. We would be seated in a box to the left of the orchestra, since Jacob had declined the opportunity to conduct the score himself. Halfway into the fantasy, the choir would break into a hauntingly beautiful folk song, lamenting the fate of a poor farmer whose world has collapsed around him. As the final note of that melody faded, we would act.

It took ten days for the musicians to practice the piece until it was acceptable for performance. Jacob and I oversaw the rehearsals and were permitted to make suggestions when it was obvious that help was needed. The pending concert received wide publicity, and we knew we could expect a hall full of dignitaries to witness our gift to the German people.

The night of the concert we found ourselves strangely calm. We dressed with great care and hid our loaded pistols within our coats. Before leaving our quarters at the hotel, we embraced. It was a feeble token of the spiritual love we bore each other, but it seemed to steel our resolve even more. We descended to the street, obtained the horses which were still reserved for our use, and proceeded at a moderate pace toward the hall.

We left the horses near an exit guarded by a soldier. I asked the man to be sure no one took our mounts from that spot, since hidden on them was a score we intended to present to the King as a surprise gift. He agreed, with a knowing smile, and we entered the building. We had become fixtures in that place in the days prior to the concert; so apart from some patrons who wished us success, no one took much notice of our arrival. We made our way down a narrow side corridor that bordered the large hall and provided direct access to our box.

The royal family had not arrived. We knew that they would have to make a ceremonial entrance just prior to the beginning of the concert and would claim their seats on the first row. We waited stoically as the orchestra continued its tuning exercises. The room was filling steadily with a suitable throng of spectators to witness the culmination of our purpose. At last, the friendly chatter ceased and the entire hall rose in honor of King Philip, his wife, and his son, who were making their way in a stately procession to their reserved places. Everyone bowed, including ourselves, and we were favored with a smiling inclination of the monarch’s head.

The choking formality that afflicts society was even a part of concert hall procedures. There must be an overture as well as other selections in order to fulfill the requirements of established musical etiquette. Naturally, our composition held the place of honor as the featured work and would conclude the performance. The wait seemed interminable; and our nerves, which we had so effectively kept in check, began to fray. We wondered if our appearance would betray the plan, for sweat had begun to pour from our brows and our muscles twitched mercilessly. I glanced around the audience, but met only condescending, reassuring smiles in return. Everyone seemed to have written off our emotion as pre-performance jitters. I lightly touched the pocket within my coat; the weapon was there, calmly waiting to fulfill its role.

When the fantasy began, no fears could distract from the beauty of the National Spirit it embodied. How deep and rich is the German Soul, and how persistent its unquenchable Will to Freedom! I reminded myself that the two of us were the instruments of that Will.

At last, we were listening to that exquisite, plaintive lament. Jacob and I exchanged one final glance. He was to kill the prince, and I was to avenge the blood of my martyred father. The last few notes faded on the air.

Pistol in hand, I leaped to my feet, shouting, “FOR FREEDOM AND GERMANY!” Two shots rang out almost simultaneously, and Philip and his son rolled to the floor, bleeding, amid shrieks of horror and utter pandemonium.

In an instant we were running through the corridor toward the exit. The confusion in the hall detained the members of the Guard caught up within it, and this gave us the advantage of time. We burst through the door and were met by the perplexed stare of the soldier who had been dutifully minding our horses.

“The King and Prince have been shot!” Jacob screamed hysterically, and the guard instinctively responded, plunging into the melee. We mounted the horses and in a very short time had put the royal city of Kleinburg behind us.

We knew that there remained but one act to perform, one which required our avoiding contact with any person. Our joy and exhilaration were limitless, for we had accomplished the noble mission toward which Fate had inexorably been directing our lives. A blow had been struck for the FREEDOM OF THE HUMAN WILL AND THE GERMAN SPIRIT!  What greater purpose could life hold? We recognized in that moment of triumph the culmination of our lives.

We willingly relinquish the few years of life which remain to us by carrying out one final act of sacrifice. There is no way that two men who have slain in the name of Freedom may return to the shackles of society. We pray our acts will open men to the truth of the heart, but it is not for us to share that awakening.

Our pistols are once more loaded, and Jacob awaits only the completion of this testament.

We embrace you, our unknown reader, with a love that can never die, the love of unfettered spirits.

Questions for Analysis:

  1. Romantics challenged the rational, mechanistic view of life popular at the end of the eighteenth century. What examples can you find in the story which show that the young men rejected reason as the valid guide for their lives? Is the ending of the story consistent with their attitudes, in your opinion?
  2. Enlightened despotism, that is, rule by educated, well-intentioned monarchs conforming to perceived natural laws, in reality fell considerably short of the ideal projected for it by the great minds of the eighteenth century. What reasons does the story suggest for its failure to provide a workable means of reform?
  3. Why do young romantics find national loyalty such a powerful motivation? How does nationalism fit the romantic pattern? Do you think nationalism today fits the romantic pattern?
  4. In your opinion, are the two leading figures of the story heroes? Why or why not? How would our society view someone who acted as they did?
  5. Compare the revolutionary motives of the writer of the testament with those of his father. How do they differ, and in what ways are they alike?
  6. Continue the story by describing the effect which the assassinations would have had on the country. What do you feel those deaths accomplished in the long run? Explain.

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V. The Age of Absolutism

The Seventeenth Century was the age of absolute monarchical power, with France establishing the model that other rulers sought to emulate.  Building on the work of clever royal politicians before him, Louis XIV, the Sun King, reigned for seventy-two years and provided the template others would consciously try to follow.  In his advice to his son, he explained that a monarch must raise himself above others and radiate calm assurance and authority.  His personal life was not always parties and grandeur, but he embodied that advice with a consistency that made him almost god-like in his kingdom and throughout the continent.  This story, based on a real incident, suggests that there was more to the man than what others saw at court.


With the moon hovering above a placid bay, it was a night beyond description.   The two young lovers were more aware of the effects than they were of the specifics, however.  Antoine and Sophie had completed their responsibilities as Court laborers, but, instead of retiring to their quarters, had managed by prior arrangement to slip away together to the shore for what they anticipated would be an unobserved romantic tryst.

There was some risk involved.  If their absence was noticed, it could lead to embarrassing questions; and if they were detected here, this far outside of their prescribed zone of responsibilities, … well, the outcome of that would be serious indeed.

But they were in love, and the dangers only added to the thrill of the moment.

Antoine whispered extravagant compliments, comparing his beloved’s eyes to the brilliant moon, which in all honesty, he had barely regarded.  He was too thoroughly focused on Sophie to pay attention to worlds around him.  She responded with sighs, snuggling deeper into his embrace.  It was perfect night.

At least, it was until they realized that they were not alone.

A figure had emerged from the shadowy vegetation onto the shoreline scarcely ten yards from them.   The full moon revealed the stern, square features of someone they knew all too well:  the King.  The shock was overwhelming but temporary.  They disentangled themselves and leaped to their feet, smoothing their clothing and brushing away sand.  The worst that could happen had happened.  Expulsion from the court seemed a foregone conclusion, and there were any number of punishments they might have to endure to deter others from repeating the offense.  They stood as straight and as still as their nerves would permit waiting for the storm to break.  Antoine positioned himself in front of Sophie to protect her from the full force of the anticipated regal thunderbolt.

But there was no clap of thunder or lightning flashes.  The earth did not open to swallow them.  Instead, the King smiled wistfully.

“Please forgive the interruption, children.  I fear my wanderings have disturbed the business at hand.”

He seemed about to return to the shadows from which he had only just appeared when Antoine impulsively ventured.  “Your Majesty?”

The King took a few casual steps in the couple’s direction, so that his features became clearer.  The moonlight now revealed not the embodiment of severe authority but a care-worn, middle-aged man.

“Yes, it is I… or should I say ‘we’ to maintain court protocol?  Under the circumstances, I shall break my own rule and dispense with formality.  First, you may relax.  No one is going to be punished — although I probably should remind you of what you already know.  You could have done yourselves irreparable harm.  Had someone else caught you, or even if I had caught you under different circumstances, your futures would not have been happy ones.  As it is, however, you find me remembering when I too lay on this shore with the one I loved.  There’s enough pain in affairs of the heart without someone yelling at you for stepping over some imaginary line.”

“I did not think you and the Queen ever had an opportunity to enjoy the Bay in the moonlight,” Sophie volunteered.  “Court life is so tightly scheduled and regulated.”

The King’s smile became more genuine, as if he were enjoying an unspoken joke. “It is that, my dear.  And, no, I have never been here with the Queen.”

Sophie quickly caught his meaning and replied with an embarrassed “Oh.”

With a casual gesture the man redirected the conversation.  “It is beautiful, isn’t it?”  He sighed.  “But I’m afraid I can no longer fully appreciate it.  Those days are gone.  When I look at the moon over the water, it brings back painful memories.  And regret.”    For several silent moments, he looked out over the bay, but they could tell that his mind was on something, or someone, far way.

Finally, he returned to the present and his young companions.  “Well… In any event, I dare not leave you two out here.  My guards patrol more regularly and thoroughly than you know.  I will take care of you.”  Then he added, barely audibly, “I promise.  I’m sorry, Dee.”  He gestured toward the shadows. “Join me and I’ll see you home safely.  And I’ll make sure enough courtiers see you with me to start rumors circulating.  It will enhance your reputations.  Come.”

He moved off, and they respectfully followed.  The Royal Carriage, complete with uniformed driver and footman, was evident several yards away.

As they proceeded, a change came over the King.  The wistful smile was gone.  His expression became granitic and Olympian.  He was the embodiment of POWER.

When they reached the coach, the footman, with mechanical precision, opened the door and placed an ornate step at the entrance.  The King said “Home”, and without another word climbed aboard; Antoine and Sophie realized that they were supposed to follow in his wake.

There was no further conversation.  The only sounds were the rhythmic beat of the horses’ hooves and an occasional creak from the vehicle’s springs. The young couple sat with rigid formality as the minutes passed.  Apparently, the road builders did not know the shortcut to the bay; because what should have taken no time at all dragged into an hour.

Like a marble statue, the King never moved or altered his expression.  His mind, however, began to review and relive the memories that the encounter on the shore had dragged to the surface.

*                            *                      *

The evening was magical.  The moon over the bay was breathtaking, and the real stars shone almost as brightly as those in the eyes of the lovers.

The young King had known other women; he was far more experienced than one might have expected of his seventeen years.  In fact, his education had been less formal than experiential. He could read and write; that was an outgrowth of his religious training.  Beyond that, however, he had been left on his own.  His rugged good looks turned heads that might not otherwise have taken notice of him, beyond the requirements of court etiquette, and his prowess as a dancer enhanced his appeal.

In short, women threw themselves at him.  He could have any of them he wanted.  He was not shy; he wanted a lot of them, and he got what he wanted.  Of course, that meant regular visits to his Confessor which always followed the same pattern.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

“What have you done, my son.”

“I have lain with women with whom I am not married.”

Women?  How many, my son?

There would be a rather lengthy pause, followed by, “Uh… several.”

“My son, you must learn to curb your appetites!”

The young King always wanted to reply, “But I’m hungry all the time.  And the kitchen is always open.”  He had the good taste to keep that to himself and say, “I know, Father.”

The priest would list the necessary penitential steps he must take and would admonish him to do better in the future.

Somehow, he never did better.  At least, he didn’t until he met Diane, the daughter of one of the many courtiers caught up in his parents’ orbit.  Diane was different.  She was, of course, remarkably attractive; but there was more to her than that.  She was intelligent and had somehow been educated at least as well as, and perhaps even better than, he had.  They went on picnics and ended up discussing philosophy, politics, history, and a myriad of other topics.  It did not take him long to realize, with a shock, that he was in love.

She seemed genuinely to return his affections.  They became inseparable, much to the regret of the other ladies at court.

On that magical star-lit night beside the bay, he made his intentions crystal clear.

“I want you to be my Queen, Dee.  I want you with me every moment of every day.  Without you I am just another ignorant figurehead surrounded by sycophants and aspiring to be nothing beyond that.  You will make me more.  And in return I will take care of you.”

On that night they pledged themselves to each other, and he became happier than he had ever been … or would be in the future.

*                            *                      *

“I don’t understand.  What do you mean I can’t marry Dee?  Peasants choose their mates, don’t they?  Well, I’m the King!  Doesn’t that come with at least that simple prerogative?”

“No peasant is responsible for the lives of a million subjects.  And no peasant can end a century-long war.  I have told you repeatedly, sire, that just as your people belong to you, you belong to them as well.”

That was the calm reply of the man who had been designated Royal Protector by his brother-in-law, the former King, in the days just before he died  and left the crown to a six-year old child.  For a decade the man had tried to fulfill what he considered his two-fold responsibility:  To make crucial Royal decisions and to prepare his nephew to do the same when he came of age.  The first job had earned him the animosity of powerful families whose bloodlines placed them closer to the Crown than he as the Queen-Mother’s brother.   He had been piloting the ship of state through turbulent seas of international conflict with a crew bent on mutiny at the first opportunity.

There were times when the second responsibility threatened to shorten his life as well.  His gray hair came from more than age.  Sustaining the young King’s attention was like trying to hold water in a sieve.  The Protector’s  sister, the Queen Mother,  reinforced his efforts, but the boy’s exalted rank allowed him to roam free whenever the whim struck him.  Certainly, the child loved and respected him as the father he had never known.  It was only because of that respect that he had been able to force attendance at council meetings.  What the young King learned from these could well be more significant in the long run than the formal education the boy had somehow managed to evade.  When the King reached puberty, sustaining his attention bordered on the impossible at times, and occasionally desperate measures were called for.

“Marrying the Princess is the final, and I repeat, the necessary, step to seal peaceful relations between their royal family and ours.  The wars have cost us too many lives and too much treasure.  It will allow you to concentrate on other pressing questions, like domestic resource development and establishing a substantial foothold in the New World.  Wealth is power, Your Majesty.  You cannot jeopardize all of this on a youthful whim.”

“It isn’t a whim, Uncle.  Love is more than that.” He turned to the third person in the room in search of support.  “Mother?”

Her expression was sympathetic, but she slowly shook her head.  “Your uncle is unfortunately correct, my son.”  She paused, carefully framing what she would say next.  “Diane accepts this, so you need have no concern for her feelings.  Her family requested and was given leave to withdraw from the court and return to their estates.  They said there is another suitor who does not present this kind of conundrum… and they — and by that I mean Diane as well — have already accepted his proposal.   In the eyes of the Church, they are already tied.  She departed earlier today for her ship.  Marriage with her is no longer an option.”

The young King was stunned.  “But… but that cannot be!  We have been planning our lives together for weeks.  She mentioned no one else!”

“Perhaps she simply wanted to keep her options open, my son,” interjected his uncle. “There are many women at court who aspire to be queen, but would take a definite offer from a well-placed family if one came along.  You must learn to accept nothing at face value.  Never trust anyone.

“No!  That’s not Dee!  I know her too well!  What port are they trying to reach?”  His resolve returned as he headed for the nearest exit. “I can still catch them and settle this matter!”

“Stop, child!” his mother’s voice froze him in his tracks.  “They anticipated that you might react strongly to all of this.  They would not say anything more than ‘a port.’   You cannot track them!”

The King looked first at one and then the other.  He was clearly pleading for a solution and not just sympathy, but all he saw was sympathy.

Perhaps to ease the impact of this crushing blow, his uncle volunteered, “They say the Princess is so taken with the portrait of you that we sent her that she sleeps with it under her pillow every night.  She will make a devoted wife.”

Without another word, the King left the room.

“Tell me again why it was necessary to do such cruel, spiteful things to my boy,” the       Queen-Mother requested, shaking her head.

“If we had told him the truth, he would be riding out as we speak, holding a checklist of every port in the realm.  We both know he probably would have caught up with them as well.  He did promise to protect her, as I recall.”  The man sighed. “No.  He must marry the Princess and end the internecine feud between our families.  There’s more to that young man than frivolity and skirt-chasing.  He will get over it and survive.”

He was at least partly right.

*    *    *

The crushing of his dreams had several effects on the King, the most immediate of which was the completion of the arrangement for his marriage to the Princess.  He was distant and formal from the moment of their first meeting, through the ornate pomp of the royal wedding, and even when the time came to consummate the relationship in the marriage bed.  He seemed merely to be doing what custom dictated.

His bride, however, was more than willing to ignore what she perceived to be his natural reserve.  She had slept with a lifeless image for weeks before their actual meeting, and seemed to have accustomed herself to that kind of relationship.  She was utterly devoted to him and took great pains to fulfill what was expected of a regal consort, standing by her husband with exemplary grace at official functions.  More significant politically was the announcement a few months into the marriage that the young Queen was pregnant.  She would soon give birth to an heir that would sustain the Royal line.  In every way she was the perfect wife and the model of propriety.

On the other hand, the King was somewhat lacking when it came to propriety.  It did not take him long to resume his notorious womanizing, selecting and then pursuing a variety of mistresses without attempting to conceal his actions.  While those at Court felt the embarrassment and humiliation his recent bride must be experiencing, they shrugged it off as a monarch’s traditional prerogative. Besides, did not the King have a long history of this kind of conduct?

Over the next few years, other changes became evident.  His personality hardened.

He began to cultivate an air of humorless authority, consciously elevating himself above everyone in his entourage.  His distant, cold, superior manner intimidated his inferiors and kept them on their toes.  No one wanted to see the rage that would emerge once the icy wall gave way.  The few who were slow to recognize their limits had been struck down by the King with thorough and emotionless precision.  There was, for example,  the finance officer who thought himself a part of the inner circle and above reproach.  He had been caught embezzling funds from the Royal Treasury and had been relegated to a stone prison high in the distant mountains for the remainder of his life.

But the King obviously knew the Machiavellian principle maintaining that it is useful to be feared but fear must never be allowed to degenerate into hatred.  He introduced a dizzying calendar of parties, rituals, and entertainments that always gave the court something either  to look forward to, prepare for, or participate in.  He himself took part, reminding the Court that dancing had always been one of his favorite pastimes.  At each of these functions, he picked out a ranking noble for special attention, inviting him to sit with the Royal family and periodically leaning over to share with him some personal observation that left the impression that the man was the only one with whom he could reveal such personal knowledge.  At the end of the evening the noble departed a dedicated and loyal subject.

People wondered what was behind the transition from the fun-loving boy who wore his heart on his sleeve to the Olympian, calculating leader who was so comfortable wielding power.    If someone had speculated that it was the result of being left alone with a shoe, he would have been the victim of ridicule.

But he would have been right.

*     *    *

Within five years, more subtle, changes came over the young ruler, but their cause only indirectly related to the marriage debacle.  First, a virulent epidemic ravaged the kingdom, sparing neither the poor nor the privileged.  Among its victims was the Queen-Mother, who mercifully was spared a slow and painful descent to the grave when she died within a week of first contracting it.  The King’s uncle also contracted the disease.  His age outweighed his rugged constitution, and although his body put up a valiant fight, it was clear that death would be the eventual victor.

The immediate Royal family otherwise received only a glancing blow. The Queen escaped altogether, as did her infant son, probably because the King took care to isolate them from the outside world during the height of the contagion.  For his part the monarch himself contracted only a mild case and was up and about in a few days.

No one knew the depth of the grief caused by his mother’s death.  She had been the only overtly sympathetic figure when his betrothal to Diane had been blocked.  Although she disapproved of his extra-marital conduct, insisting that he pay regular visits to his Confessor, she seemed to understand what its root cause was.  He was searching for perfect love, having had it painfully torn from his grasp.

The impending death of the man, who had been both his surrogate father as well as his political mentor, heightened his fear of being left virtually alone.  In spite of warnings that he might still fall ill from the disease, he sat beside his uncle’s sickbed for days on end, feeding him whenever the dying man’s constitution permitted.

When the end seemed to be imminent, his uncle pulled together the last of his strength.  He would soon be administered Extreme Unction; and after his Last Rites, he could have no desire to speak  to his nephew.

“My son?” His voice sounded as if it came from the depths of a cavern.

“I am here, Uncle.”

“I do not want to die with my guilt unconfessed.”

“I shall call the priest.”  He rose quickly and turned toward the door.  He did not want the old man to see his tears.

“No, no!  I have to confess to you!  The priest can wait.”

He returned to his place beside the bed and took the old man’s hand into his own.  “I am here, Uncle.”

“I dare not waste time, so I will get straight to the point.  We lied to you about Diane.  She loved you dearly.  She had to be dragged forcibly away by her family.”

“But, why did you lie to me?

Authority returned to the face and the voice of the old man. “Isn’t it obvious?  I explained all of that to you a hundred times!  You had to end the war with the arranged marriage!  I knew it, and your mother knew it.  We couldn’t beat it into your head with argument, so we stretched the truth.  My God, boy!   Have my lessons meant nothing to you?”

The King’s emotions were so tangled that he was unable to separate his grief from his shock or from the anger  he felt rising within him.  “And you have waited until NOW to tell me this?”

His uncle’s voice softened.  “Because Diane is dead, my son.  She contracted this infernal fever.  In her last days, she composed a message that she wanted delivered to you personally.  Of course, I intercepted it, but under the circumstances, you deserve it.  It’s in my shoe, wherever it may be.”  He paused. “I know.  That sounds ridiculous, but it seemed a good idea at the time, given the death of your dear mother.  I learned of all this a few days ago, just before they threw me into this bed.  I would have told you sooner.”

The King could not stop his eyes from scanning the sickroom floor, in search of his uncle’s shoes.  Finally, he saw them in a corner; but before tearing them apart, he had one last question.

“How many other times have you lied to me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps dozens.  I did it when I thought it had to be done. ”

Watching his nephew’s eyebrows shoot skyward, he continued, “And what is the first law I taught you? Be the masterNever trust anyone!  ANYONE!”  A violent coughing fit prevented his proceeding.  It was time to call the priest.

The King silently left the room as the priest entered.  No one asked him why he was carrying his uncle’s shoes.

Alone, he began to tear away the soles until he found a small, tightly creased sheet of paper.  Gently, he unfolded it.   It was written in a handwriting he did not recognize, suggesting that she had dictated it to someone she trusted.  At the top was written, “My Dearest Zeus.”  He smiled in spite of himself; only she had called him that.  He read on:

By now you could have forgotten me, but I am convinced that you have not.  I know love transcends politics. But even without me at your side, I know you will be the greatest of kings.

 I also know that you will return often to our favorite spot by the bay. Please think of your Dee when you are there and never forget that I love you and always will.

He was glad he was alone, because no one must ever see the King shed tears.



  1. Although MAJESTY is loosely based on an episode in the life of a real seventeenth-century European monarch, neither the King nor his country is ever identified. What clues in the story would you use to determine the names of the specific monarch and his realm?
  2. The King’s uncle tells him that “just as your people belong to you, you belong to them as well. What does he mean by that statement?  How is it applied in the story?
  3. According to the story, the King’s uncle and mentor “had been piloting the ship of state through turbulent seas of international conflict with a crew bent on mutiny at the first opportunity.” What foreign and domestic problems are suggested in the story?
  4. What are the biases of the narrator? Is this a straight-forward story, or is it a slanted account aimed at manipulating the reader?  Do you think that the description of personalities and events is historically accurate?   If not, what should be changed to make it more reliable?
  5. The story suggests that royal promiscuity, while frowned upon by the Church, was accepted, or even expected, by the general public. Do you think the same tolerance would have been afforded people of lesser rank?  Why or why not?
  6. Continue the story. What advice would the King give his son to help guide his conduct?  Do you think he would recommend the same approaches favored by his uncle, or would he reject his uncle’s advice in favor of some other course of action?

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IV. The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation was the first successful challenge to Papal authority in Western Europe, and it began when a single monk challenged a Church plan to raise money.  Martin Luther’s moral outrage got him in trouble with Rome and with its political representative in Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  These two faced each other at an assembly in Worms.  Luther could have been arrested and executed there, but Charles had given his promise of safe passage.  Since the monk would not back down, he became a wanted man the moment the Emperor’s promise expired. He disappeared, however.   This story begins there and suggests that the motives on both sides of this issue were not always those of the two main actors.

Pawns and Principles

The full moon cast pale but distinct shadows as the two horses moved steadily across the meadow.  The trail they followed was no more than a footpath, but the lead animal appeared to be familiar with his surroundings. His rider urged him along as rapidly as the subdued light would safely permit, and all the while the man in the saddle seemed as wary as his mount was unconcerned.

The young soldier shot glances in all directions and pressed the horse to greater exertion. He was armed only with a short sword; anything heavier would have impeded their progress.

Since his livery bore the insignia of the Baron, whose word was law among the scattered inhabitants of this tiny German state, perhaps that would count for something.

This was his second night of escorting the hooded figure riding behind him, and thus far there had been no complications. They had successfully eluded Imperial troops by travelling after dark and resting at camouflaged encampments during the day. But now he cursed the full moon, which offered so little protection from eyes searching for riders.

The Baron had chosen the worst possible time to execute this maneuver. Of course, he always had his reasons. Anyway, a soldier’s lot was to obey, regardless of the risk.

His companion on the second horse did not seem to share his concern. For that matter, the man was essentially nothing more than dead weight.  Except for his acknowledgement of changes in pace and direction, he said nothing as they travelled and very little when they camped.

Stealth was certainly desirable in territory infested with outlaw bands as well as the Emperor’s troops, and silence attracted no pursuers. On the other hand, a little conversation during meals when they had halted for the day might have lightened the tension and mystery. The mute shadow left in his charge was lost in his own separate world and did not wish to communicate with anyone in another.

I suppose he has good reason, thought the soldier. It is, after all, his soul.

A muffled drumming interrupted his thoughts. The soldier raised his right arm to signal an immediate halt. His trained ears listened for a few seconds, and then he whirled to face his companion.

“Troops!” he hissed. “About four or five I think, behind us, on the road. Can’t be peasants — not with horses. They’ll be on us in a moment. Go for the woods!  I’ll handle them!”

The other rider complied immediately. First slowly, to leave no obvious trail, and then with greater haste, he made for the trees one hundred yards ahead.   He faded into his surroundings just as the pursuers appeared. Remaining within the protective darkness, he stopped, turned, and strained his eyes in the pale light to see the confrontation he was avoiding.

The figures were discernible, but their individual features were masked in the half light. After a few seconds, however, there were shouts and a faint clinking of distant metal. One rider fell to the ground; there was no way to tell who it was or what had happened.

Could he afford to wait for answers? Reason fought with panic, and the latter won.  He yanked the reins about and fled into the wooded unknown.

*               *               *

The Papal Legate was not accustomed to waiting. As a Cardinal, a Prince of the Church, he commanded a prestige that required deference. Besides, a man of his age should not be left to pace in some anteroom; it was rude and disrespectful.

The Holy See desired a status report. He was there to obtain a thorough accounting of the campaign against the heretics. They were like ants running from some damnable anthill; attack their source and they ran in all directions. At present they were few in number compared to the legions that, with proper dedication, could be mustered against them. Boldness and persistence would rid Christendom of these vermin.

An Imperial officer approached to say that the Emperor would see him now. The old Cardinal straightened himself to look as impressive as his, short frame would permit and then followed the man through the double doors that led to what was, for the time being, an audience hall.

Since the Emperor was perpetually travelling throughout his extensive domains, he had to requisition a suitable building as a temporary court whenever he paused for a stay of any length.

Although he usually seemed to prefer monasteries, the current choice was an inn – and a rather impressive one at that, given its distance from real civilization.

Sitting on a makeshift throne opposite the doors, he was an imposing figure; and even through the design of his ornate clothing one could perceive an athletic build. His face dominated his appearance; for it possessed the two characteristics that had become Imperial trademarks: Warm, intelligent eyes and a lower lip and jaw that protruded, freezing his features in a determined pout.

“His Eminence the Cardinal, Sire.”

The announcement, a courtly formality, was hardly necessary. The two had been sparring partners for what seemed like centuries, although in reality it had been two years.  The papal emissary, presuming on this familiarity as well as his ecclesiastical rank, launched into his verbal assault.

“Well, my son, has the new wolf that threatens the flock been run to ground? We have heard little since his, -uh, escape.”

The Emperor shifted on his throne, resting his prominent jaw in his hand as he leaned on an arm of the chair.

“Your Eminence, he is being tracked at this very moment.”  The voice, tinged with a distinct Flemish accent, was deep and assured, reflecting a personality that seemed born to command.  “We assure you that we are doing all that can be done to stop these heresies.”

“All?  But you intentionally permitted the false monk who started this madness to slip through your fingers! His kind enlists support from the ignorant and irresponsible. His influence has spread faster than rats can breed.”

The Emperor straightened. Dropping the imperial “we”  normally employed in court conversation, his words took on as hard an edge as his loyalty to Rome would permit.

“I gave that Augustinian a safe conduct so that I might hear his position and try to bring him back to the Church. Surely the Holy Father would not want a prodigal disowned before he can be shown the error of his ways!”

“But you failed, didn’t you?  And, with that snake in your grasp, you calmly let him wriggle away! Do you have any idea what effect his pamphlets are having? Indulgence sales have plummeted, and so has respect for Papal authority. Our officials are being harassed, and some have even been killed by mobs responding to his writings! Imagine! Physical abuse of men who carry out divinely sanctioned responsibilities!

Without waiting for a reply, he continued.  “The Holy Father is most displeased. Building projects designed to glorify the throne of St. Peter have to be delayed because the funds are not forthcoming from our once-faithful German flock.  We can no longer quibble over niceties like your promise of safety to a dangerous madman. He and those like him have to be crushed and the old loyalty to the Pope restored at all costs!”

He regretted the outburst immediately. The Emperor almost leaped to his feet, throwing his impressive bulk toward the Cardinal.  He stopped an arm’s length from him, towering angrily over the smaller man. For a moment another instance of clerical physical abuse seemed imminent.

Without saying or doing anything, the Emperor regained his composure. He backed away and sighed deeply.

“It seems, your Eminence, that the Holy Father is more interested in catching a thief than in saving a soul. We find that most regrettable. Here is what you may convey to His Holiness. He can, as usual, rely on our forces to defend the Faith, whether it be against Turkish infidels or German heretics. The Church will be protected from danger, using all the resources at our disposal. Now, if you will excuse us, there are pressing matters relating to this vexing issue which demand our attention.”

The Cardinal bowed and withdrew, or, more accurately, escaped.   The Emperor silently watched the little man depart. This time he had come within a heartbeat of telling that pompous old scarecrow what he really thought about all of this. The rebel monks and priests who challenged Rome were indeed heretics. He knew that.  They posed genuine dangers to the Christian souls they contaminated.  But the ignorant listened to them because the Roman alternatives were personified in men like the Cardinal. There was rot within the only human institution that really mattered. And no one listened when men who were genuinely concerned cried out like the prophets of old for reform.

Nevertheless, the Church, for all its corruption, was the Church; and he was its Strong Right Arm, its Sword.  He left the audience chamber through a door at his right, virtually ignoring the uniformed guards on either side of it. Beyond that door a small room had been temporarily converted into a tiny chapel, and there he would address the pressing matters to which he had referred.

*               *               *

The Baron paced like a caged and claustrophobic animal, as he awaited the report. Although his castle was small compared to those of more influential members of the German nobility, it was not unimpressive. It was clearly the residence of a man accustomed to immediate and unquestioned fulfillment of his orders.

What he demanded now was a precise and accurate explanation of why the fugitive he awaited had not arrived.  When one of his retainers appeared, he pivoted toward him.

“Well? Speak up, man!” he growled.

“My Lord, it appears the Emperor’s men overtook the captain. He. . . “

“Blood of Heaven!  Don’t tell me they caught the monk?”

An incomprehensible blur of verbal abuse followed, deluging the servant-victim. He withdrew a step but managed to weather the storm without flinching noticeably. It was customary for the Baron to follow the ancient tradition of blaming all bad news on the messenger who brought it. The effects never lasted, however.

When at last gaps began to appear between the curses and accusations, the aide decided he could venture an interruption.

“The monk apparently escaped, my Lord. Unfortunately, the captain was not so lucky. He was killed in a skirmish with a small Imperial force near the forest on the Nurnhof road. He must have bought time for the other man to retreat, because word has it that the Emperor’s men swear they were tracking two riders.”

The Baron’s fury subsided abruptly. He not only mastered his temper but became ingratiating. A hint of cunning, nonetheless, lurked almost imperceptively beneath the new sunny disposition.

“That poor young soldier. Did you hear why he died?”

“He mistook them for masquerading robbers, my Lord. He killed one or two of them in the fight, I believe.”

“Those are dangerous roads to travel, aren’t they, Franz? So the Emperor has only shadows in the moonlight and tracks on a public roadway as evidence of a second rider. It doesn’t seem like something to stake one’s reputation on, does it?  Still, we can’t assume that he and his men will react reasonably and deem it a false alarm. They might make the wild assumption — just as we must — that the monk did manage to hide in the forest. There are some peasant huts in the area, aren’t there? Who knows how many bandit encampments there are.”

He stood silent for a moment.  Then, he nodded to himself and resumed.  “I want that region scoured from end to end in search of, let us say, the highwaymen who threaten travelers. Call it a simple matter of law enforcement. But make no mistake.  I want that monk found before the Emperors men find him!

*               *               *

Time blurred as the horse, pushed relentlessly by its rider, struggled deeper into the forest’s blackness. Finally, the animal could endure no more and slowed to a virtual standstill.  Sensing that the exhausted beast was about to collapse, the fugitive monk dismounted and removed the bag which held the few personal items he possessed. He also removed the saddle; there was no use expecting to ride that poor creature any further, and perhaps he could ease its discomfort.

There was also no use trying to proceed on foot.  It was black as the pit of Hell in those woods, and night compounded the problem. At least when morning came he might be able to find an open spot and get his bearings.  In the meantime he must force himself to reverse the pattern of the last few days and rest until daybreak. Gathering his hooded cloak around him, he settled into a crevice at the base of a large tree. After a few moments of silent prayer, a sense of calm replaced his dread. The trees seemed no longer to be barriers but guardian angels. After the tensions and exertions of the evening, he found sleep easier than he had expected.

But dawn did not bring allow him to regain his bearings. Screened by the dense forest growth, he had not noticed the gradual buildup of clouds. A steady pattern of gigantic droplets falling from the web of branches overhead awoke him to the reality of a storm in progress.         Although he was protected from the downpour, he was not protected from its effects. His robes were saturated, and the damp sponginess of the earth beneath his wet sandals suggested that there would be no dry place of refuge.

Compounding this miserable situation was the simple fact that he remained thoroughly lost. Without a clear vantage point from which to gauge the sun’s course, he would find it impossible to determine what direction to take. His foes would be looking for him, and he knew that staying too long in one place would work to his enemies’ advantage.  He decided at last to make his best guess about the direction of sanctuary. After all, that was what had been promised him by the soldier who had been his guide until the previous evening.

Then he became aware that he was not alone. There were muffled footsteps all around him; this time flight was impossible.  Fearing the worst, he knelt to pray the prayer of the condemned: “Father, into Thy hands. . .”

Then he heard a peasant’s rough-edged voice speaking with reverential awe.

“It’s the holy friar himself!”

He raised his head to find a small band of shabbily dressed men armed with staffs, bows, and crude blades.  One of the peasants, obviously the leader, moved in front of the others.

“Don’t worry, Father. Those devils won’t get you. I’ll take you home with me. You’ll be safe there for as long as you want. Then we’ll help you on your way.”

Noticing the monk’s look of confusion, he answered his unspoken question.

“Don’t let these, -uh, ‘tools’ worry you. We’re farmers. It’s just that sometimes a man has to find a few other ways to feed his family, and it can’t be a sin to cut a fat purse off a man who’d just as soon let his horse trample you.”

One man moved to retrieve the fugitive’s small bundle while two others helped him rise from the soggy turf.  At a nod from the leader, the band set off into the murky dampness. They moved with surprising ease, as if these woods were their native environment.

It would have been difficult to determine the ages of those who made up this ragtag group. Their features were uniformly weathered by care and endless hours of labor on land which, with the exception of this forest, comprised their entire world. Probably even they did not know the years of their births, for season followed season in an endlessly monotonous and painful existence. As their leader had bitterly suggested, they were no more than dumb, replaceable beasts of burden in the eyes of the society’s ruling class. Armed rabble such as these provided a clear indication that unrest was growing, but few who had the power to offer remedies had the inclination to try.

All of this the monk considered as he was led he knew not where. This latest and least expected turn of events was almost more than his poor digestion could bear. He shook his head when one of his new companions, with utmost respect, offered him something to eat as they walked. The peasant retreated, crushed rejection showing clearly in the expression on his rough face.

Had his stomach been less knotted, the monk would have graciously accepted the gift, no matter how repulsive its appearance. He appreciated such kindness and certainly meant no insult when he declined it. These were simple folk, however; and they were unaccustomed to any but the most direct and obvious motives. Gifts were extensions of oneself; rejection of the gift was rejection of the giver. It was natural for such folk to harbor resentment against the privileged few. For centuries the Church had taught the peasantry that their suffering was the way God tempered them in preparation for the rewards of Paradise. This no longer sufficed as an explanation for their misery.

Without warning a clearing opened before them, revealing what would have been a spectacular view of hilly farm and pasture land with mountains beyond. Now enshrouded in the mist and rain, it took on a ghostly aspect.

The leader halted them near the edge of the wood while they were as yet concealed by the trees.

“I’ll take him from here. Remember! Scatter, and leave the weapons where we agreed. No contacts for ten days and watch your tongues!”

He squinted into the grayness and bit his lower lip.

“Visitors. They’re faster than I thought they’d be.”

He lowered his head and peered blankly at the ground before speaking.

“And what can I do with you, Father?  Ummm. . . well, looks like you’ll have to be defrocked for sur. Follow me.”

They retreated a number of yards among the trees. There, hidden beneath roots and thin shrubbery, was a cache of supplies:  ragged clothes and assorted crude but lethal weapons.

“I wouldn’t worry about the fit or wear. Around here tailoring isn’t a very profitable profession.”

He stared for a moment at the one physical feature the clothes did not cover: the monk’s tonsure.

“The rain’s more a blessing than I thought. Wearing a hat won’t make you look suspicious, and I’ll wear one too. Good thing you’re a big man. You can carry a tool and blend right in.”

He assisted with the change of clothes and continued his explanatory monologue.

“Actually, you’re more one of us than one of them. Roman indulgence peddlers squeeze us just like the nobles — and for the same reasons. They want as much gold and power as they can get at our expense. We’re all grateful that you spoke out. I remember someone telling me how you stood up to them. I didn’t understand it all; but when I saw one of the pictures you spread around  —  the one showing the Pope as a demon — I understood. We’re all equal in God’s eyes. They’re going to pay for having used us to feather their nests. I promise you we’ll even the score when we get the chance.”

The monk listened without comment. The man’s bitterness was too ingrained for him to understand that God had witnessed the injustices. He would judge the wicked and needed no human help. Personal vengeance and wild-eyed bloodletting were not justified nor could they be condoned. The Word of God was a message of peace and brotherhood, of faith and love, not a call to battle for a bigger share of the world’s wealth.

He pitied the abused poor, and also demanded that the Church cease to be an instrument of that abuse. He prayed that those in secular authority would likewise be guided by righteousness, but how could violence really change men for the better?

“Now, follow my lead and don’t do anything without a clear signal from me.”

With only those directions the man led him out of the wood and toward the structures in the mists ahead.

*               *               *

“Gone at daybreak in weather like this? I find that either uncommonly diligent or distinctly suspicious. Still, the same judgment could be made about us, I suppose.”

The speaker kept his riding cloak pulled tightly about his head to shield his face from the damp. He sat astride a powerful, spirited horse, holding it in check. The large number of armed and uniformed attendants who hung on his every word revealed his identity as unmistakably as did a glimpse of that prominent jaw and lower lip.

Moved by intuition or perhaps skepticism, the Emperor had chosen to investigate this possible sighting of his elusive quarry. He had left orders to be awakened when the troops investigating this lead returned. Having heard their account of the pursuit and fatal skirmish, he had concluded that the dead soldier had fought a valiant rear-guard action to protect a fleeing associate, undoubtedly the fugitive-monk. The story about mistaking the Imperial force for highwaymen seemed a clever but transparent ruse.

Within minutes of that report, he had been in the saddle accompanied by a large number of armed men. The gathering storm clouds were a portent of the Wrath of God about to descend on the stubbornly heretical monk. This time he would not escape.

A few hours of hard riding brought them to the scene of the confrontation mentioned in the soldiers’ accounts. Skirting the forest, they sought to determine what settlements bordered it. They secured these by leaving armed guards to prevent the arrival of “intruders”. They hoped then to sweep through the woods and run down their prey by enclosing him in an ever-tightening net.

A pattern regarding the crude farms began to emerge as the rainy morning dawned. Only women, small children, and the infirm revealed themselves. The men were already working, or so the occupants said repeatedly; and thorough searches had yielded no sign of the missing family members or the fugitive monk.

“I want these settlements secured,” the Emperor directed his officers. “We will wait a while to see if the absent men turn up. Not a soul was laboring in the fields we passed getting here. Something, or someone, is obviously being concealed. If nothing useful turns up, we will sweep the surrounding woods. See that there are regular reports, gentlemen.”

The peasant men did indeed begin to wander in, carrying hand tools and muddied head to foot from apparent hard work in the fields. They seemed genuinely awed by the Imperial troops and responded in simple, direct answers to the questions put to them. All claimed that they had been on their hands and knees in the muck to rid their furrows of weeds. They insisted that rain freed the noxious roots from the soil; and the opportunity it afforded could not be missed, if they were to protect the season’s crop.

The Emperor listened in person to one of these interrogations. He had decided to enter one of the dwellings, along with a sufficient guard, in the hope of finding an environment preferable to the drenched misery outside. What he found within was an indescribable stench and unrelieved dampness.

It was inconceivable to him that human beings could live in such a place. God would no doubt reward them for their endurance, if they maintained their faith amid this adversity.

He reminded himself that we all have responsibilities to fulfill; theirs was to labor diligently in this squalor, and his was to protect the vast domains over which he had been made steward by the Will of God. His environment might seem more comfortable, but the stinking odors were often more subtle and vastly more pervasive.

The peasants’ explanations were logically consistent. Perhaps his intuition had misled him. He had no need to fear subterfuge from minds as simple and trusting as theirs. His interrogating officer, having concluded the list of inquiries he had been instructed to make, quietly awaited the next command. The Emperor sighed softly. There was nothing left to do but sweep the forest, hope there would be no gaps in the net, and see if all the discomfort had been worth it.

He took a step toward the crude door, almost grateful to be returning to the rain. A large peasant who had been standing near the opening quickly eased himself into a corner in order to clear the passage.

The Emperor glanced casually at the face receding into the shadows. Then he froze, and the glance became a stare. He saw in that face no evidence of the hard labor etched so clearly on the others. And there was something else; that face was familiar.

“This profession suits you better than the one you formerly held, sir,  ” he said. “Captain, arrest this heretic. And bring these hardworking peasants as well. I fear we must do some weeding of our own.”

*               *               *

The weather moderated.  The expedition, with prisoners in tow, began the trek homeward to the temporary Imperial court.  Like the weather, the Emperor’s mood had improved noticeably. His responsibility to Rome had at last been almost discharged. There was some mopping up to do; but with their spiritual leader out of circulation, the heretics and their movement would find their days numbered.

But like the weather, a few dark clouds persisted. Would the Holy Father learn a lesson from this not-so-isolated incident? Would the Church return to its spiritual mission with the energy now being devoted to avarice?

He was also not immune to the mingled grief and terror he was leaving in his wake. Old men, children, and women would be left to fend for themselves and mourn their loved ones who might never return. The demands of the landlord would probably not abate either.

Yet he was the Strong Right Arm of the Faith, and he had done what duty required.

There would probably be some kind of complaint from the noble on whose land the peasants labored. His quotas would not be met that season, no matter how much he threatened, pressured, or drove the remaining labor force. Given the weight of the charge connected with these arrests, however, such a protest would be mild and could be dismissed as inconsequential.

The caravan moved slowly toward its destination. The Emperor saw no reason to push his weary entourage, since their goal had been achieved and the fate of the captives seemed assured. As night fell, the home base remained some hours away. They would camp on the road overnight and make a triumphal entry late the following morning.

Guards were strategically stationed along the roadway to rule out the possibility of even the most unforeseen threat, and a token watch was established to scan the scrub brush adjacent to the camp.

The Emperor performed his evening devotionals, giving special thanks for the success that had been granted him on this occasion. He hoped to sleep better than he had slept in weeks, in spite of the Spartan discomfort of his field tent.

Two hours later, he found that his prayer of thanksgiving had been premature.

Except for the scattered soldiers at their stations, the camp showed no sign of activity. Even the dozen captives, exhausted by the day’s events, had slipped into the oblivion of sleep. Likewise, those assigned to guard them found it difficult to maintain careful attention to their charges.

First, three sentries guarding one side of the road silently disappeared from view to be replaced moments later by figures who in the darkness could have been mistaken for them.

It would have taken sharp eyes, not ones half-closed with fatigue, to discern movement amid the underbrush. Even had this activity been perceived, it would not have revealed the number of armed men who were its cause.  Moments later, the dozing guards who surrounded the prisoners were shocked into consciousness by an assaulting horde of wild men. The moon was not bright enough to show the attackers’ faces, but the faint light did reveal their ragged attire and primitive weapons.

The Emperor emerged from his dreams of peace to be confronted by chaos. His personal guard quickly insulated him from possible harm; thus protected, he took the measure of the scene and quickly determined the target of the raid. Shouting encouragement, he rallied his forces and ordered them to secure the area where the prisoners were held. He hoped there would be time to reinforce his outnumbered guards.

Time was not his ally, however. The raiders were retreating into the night before Imperial troops could bring their superior manpower to bear.

Within seconds of their arrival on the scene, the Emperor’s men had reestablished command of the area and tallied the casualties. A few of the mysterious attackers were scattered among the bodies, as were the remains of almost all those being held in custody.

One of the captives was missing. There was no trace of the monk.

“None of these wretches is alive, Sire,” reported an efficient captain. “Any wounded seem to have been spirited away during the retreat. But at least we know who’s to blame. And we didn’t let them rescue all their comrades.”

Anger and frustration overcame the Emperor. He pivoted, speechless, apparently seeking something or someone upon whom to vent his rage. The guards gave him as wide a birth as their

responsibility to his person would allow.

Damn those miserable peasants! Heretics and rebels, all of them!

His men were too exhausted to retaliate immediately; but, by Heaven, he would return and level those huts as soon as he could rest and resupply!

Only one thing seemed odd, but the intensity of his fury did not allow this detail to influence the singleness of his purpose.  The faces of the dead attackers did not show the weathered lines or the marks of hard labor and suffering characteristic of the peasant class.

*               *               *

It seemed an ironic coincidence that less than twenty-four hours after the return of the disconsolate Imperial forces, an emissary from the Baron arrived seeking an audience with the Emperor. He wished to discuss the dangers posed by brigands along the Nurnhof road.  Ordinarily, it would have taken time to arrange such a meeting. But not this time.  Perhaps because his misery sought proverbial company, or perhaps because the alternative would have been his having to listen to a new tirade by a livid Cardinal, the Emperor immediately received the Baron’s man.

The emissary listened to a summary of the previous night’s unfortunate events, delivered in clipped and bitter phrases. The Emperor wanted those rogues roasted on a spit, and he embellished his vision of their execution not omitting a gory detail.

The Baron’s emissary nodded in sympathetic agreement. Such, he said, was also the will of his lord.  “He needs only your acquiescence, Sire. He intends to use his forces to subjugate those peasants totally.  He thoroughly agrees; they have been allowed to get quite out of hand.”

“So it seems, sir. We did not hear your name.”

“Franz, Sire. I have served my Lord the Baron for several years.”

“Well, Franz, such lawlessness reflects badly on your Baron; for that land is his to administer.” The Emperor’s irascibility persisted. He fidgeted on the makeshift throne. “Quite frankly, we were about to raze those settlements with our own forces.”

“Surely Your Imperial Majesty will not overstep the Baron’s jurisdiction in this matter!” protested the emissary. “That is exactly why I am here. The Baron must be allowed to reestablish respect for his authority. If Imperial troops do the policing in this matter, the problems will return when those forces are removed — as they surely will be, given the extent of Your Imperial Majesty’s domains. My Lord begs that he be allowed to be your sword. It will serve his interests, as well as those of the Empire; and the culprits will receive the punishment they richly deserve.”

Resting that singular jaw in his hand as he leaned on an arm of his chair-throne, the Emperor pondered the proposal. He had no desire to overstep traditionally granted authority, because he needed allies in the numerous conflicts that fell within his jurisdiction. If the Baron failed to fulfill his end of the bargain, he could be dealt with at a future date. No isolated noble could stand against his superior Imperial resources.

“We see advantages in your proposal, but you omit one crucial item. We are here for one reason only — to bring the heretic monk to justice. How is that purpose served here?”

”My Lord requests that you trust him to carry out that mission as well. He swears before all the saints that he too wishes to find the friar. Will you not demonstrate your faith in him by withdrawing from the region? The Imperial shadow is an intimidating one. It inhibits authority and the freedom of action necessary to deal with this grave situation.”

The Emperor leaned back with resignation. He lifted his eyes toward the ceiling as if imploring God for guidance. After a few seconds in silence, he slapped both hands decisively down upon the arms of his chair.

“All right, then. The Baron shall have this demonstration of our trust. Inform him that we shall withdraw. There are other enemies to fight and more territories to secure. But caution him not to delude himself in one regard. If he fails to impose order in these regions or does not run that heretic to ground, we shall return; and he will face as much wrath as Imperial power can bring down on his head.”

”I am sure, Sire, that he fully comprehends the implications of your displeasure.”

With those words and a nod of dismissal from the Emperor, the emissary withdrew, his mission having been successfully completed.

*               *               *

The explosive laughter of the Baron thundered down the corridors of his fortress-castle.

“The Emperor agreed? Splendid! Splendid! By Heaven, that ought to be grounds for a Te Deum if ever there were one!”

A jovial slap on his retainer’s back almost sent the latter sprawling, but the Baron did not notice. “We can’t disappoint him, can we? I swore to crush those rebels and secure the monk. We’ve accomplished the second; now let’s see to the first!”

He resembled a dancing bear as he cavorted gleefully about the room. What a stroke of genius — and luck! He would be rid of the Emperor’s menacing presence; and, if he played his role with his customary skill, the future would hold no more Imperial threats.

Patiently, Franz waited for the fit of joy to run its course. There were specifics to address, but he dared not break the Baron’s euphoria for fear a rapid and extreme mood reversal might follow.

After a few additional minutes of rollicking ecstasy, the noble wiped the tears from his eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, and finally became stationary.

“Ah, my dear, patient Franz. Ever at hand when I need you. Prepare an armed expedition for — what shall I call it?  ‘Imperial retribution’ against the peasantry. Obviously, we must take a few prisoners and execute them in a suitably public manner. Have the men burn a village or two also, so that this has the proper deterrent effect on the rabble.   Oh, yes. . . one more thing. Tell them to burn those rags immediately and secretly. We cant leave any evidence. As far as the Emperor is concerned, common brigands attacked him. Nothing must lead him to doubt this — until he can no longer do anything about it.”

“And our men, my Lord?”  As usual, Franz recognized the potential loose ends in any of the Baron’s plans. “They are a loyal band, but can we assume that none of them will let the truth slip at an inopportune moment?”

“The public executions should be enough to convince them to hold their tongues — especially if we make clear that they will lose theirs, as well as their lives, if they don’t keep silent. No one must learn that my men staged that raid, at least not yet.”

“As you wish, my Lord.  Will there be any further orders?”

“Yes. Have the monk brought to me as soon as possible. I must convince him that the peasants are being disciplined for defying proper authority. Everyone must be subject to the ‘higher powers’. Isn’t that Biblical?  And don’t go far from the door.  I want to pray with him and leave no doubt that his message has effected in me a true spiritual revival. Remember, Franz. Those must be our motives in his eyes.  The other princes in north Germany may be pious men, but they cannot help seeing how they can benefit from this situation. When the Imperial troops leave, we will escort the monk to the Elector. I know he understands what all of us can gain. Besides, his resources are better than mine; he can hide and protect accused heretics with greater ease — and without suspicion.”

Franz nodded in agreement. He turned toward the door, but the Baron’s arm on his shoulder stopped him.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I want you to see to a survey of my holdings. Pinpoint every speck of wealth presently controlled by the Holy See. When the Emperor is far enough away, and we are assured of allies, I shall go public with my new faith and seize everything Roman.”

“Of course, my Lord. God would not have it otherwise.”

“Bless you, Franz,” replied the Baron, and he erupted in another burst of laughter.

 Questions For Analysis:

  1. The Cardinal and the Emperor make it clear that they consider the monk to be at the center of attacks against the Roman Church. Had he been eliminated, would papal authority have been fully restored automatically? Why or why not?
  2. The German states of the sixteenth century were part of the far-flung Holy Roman Empire. Look at all three words in its title. What kind of entity do they suggest it should have been? What evidence can you find in the story that suggests it did not live up to its name?
  3. Assess the motives of each of the following characters: the Emperor, the Baron, the monk, and the Cardinal. Which seem most guided by moral purpose and which seem least guided by such motives? What evidence can you find to support your evaluations?
  4. Given the status of the peasantry as described in the story, do you consider their willingness to rebel justified? Today, are violent acts by those who consider themselves oppressed justifiable? Why or why not?
  5. The illiterate peasants in the story do not totally or accurately comprehend the monk’s views. How did they first learn about these ideas? Could their misunderstanding be attributed in any way to the medium that spread them? If so, how? Can modern news media produce incomplete or inaccurate impressions? If so, how? If not, how do they avoid this?
  6. Continue the story. What impact would the escape and protection of the monk have on political power, social unrest, and religious unity within the Empire?


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III Renaissance Italy

Two concepts that were highly prized in the Italian Renaissance were versatility and the ability to succeed.  Focused for centuries almost exclusively on the next world, Europeans began to turn their attention to this life.  Those who could understand and master the totality of their environment flaunted their ability and wanted to be recognized and remembered for their talents in fields as varied as diplomacy, politics, arts, and science.  They did not reject religion, although they were more inclined to concentrate on earthly success — often at any cost.  This story reflects this often-amoral world.

The Eyes of the Duke

It was early afternoon when the travelers arrived at their destination. Northern Italy was speckled with similar tiny sovereign states; some, like Milan, Venice, and Florence were even great regional powers. An uneasy balance was the best that could be expected among them, and a rudimentary system of diplomatic exchange had evolved to keep each city-state aware of its dangerous rivals’ activities. The man in charge of the travelers was on that kind of mission. He was going to be the eyes and ears of his government in this city.

Francesco Montefalco and his train of mounted soldiers and servants worked their way laboriously through bustling streets. The crowd of common folk, going about their day’s business, gave way before men so obviously important and watched with mild curiosity and perhaps a tinge of jealousy as the wealthy ambassador’s company glided past.

Montefalco was road-weary and kept breathing silent prayers that the Duke’s palace would be around the next bend. He was beginning to feel that God was giving him a foretaste of Purgatory when at last a fortified tower appeared, looming over the lesser buildings of the city. The captain of his armed escort rode forward to announce Signor Montefalco’s arrival to a detachment of guards. There was another momentary delay, this time expected and consequently less tedious. The guard must announce the visitors so that they could be greeted with the ceremony due a company of such rank.

The gates finally opened, admitting the party to an inner courtyard. They alighted, but most were to remain in the courtyard for one more wait. The ambassador, his secretary, and the captain of his armed contingent were the only members of the group ushered further. They were taken to the Duke’s conference chamber for the formal presentation of diplomatic credentials.

Montefalco noted that the passages were lined with all manner of art treasures: tapestries, sculpture, and paintings. Apparently the Duke’ s reputation as a connoisseur of beauty was not an exaggeration. Such tastes were not unusual among Italian rulers of this age, but the Duke’s collection was exceptionally fine.

They finally passed through a wide doorway into a richly decorated room overlooking the courtyard. Seated at the head of an opulently carved table was the Duke, apparently absorbed in reading a letter. He looked up before his visitors could be announced and broke into a radiant smile.

“Ah, Signor Montefalco! How good to see you! I hope your journey was a pleasant one.”

Montefalco bowed, and with a gravity demonstrating not only his respect for his host but also the importance of his own position, presented the papers officially designating his appointment as ambassador.

“I trust we find your Lordship in good health. It is an honor to bask in the radiance that is such a well-known characteristic of your court as well as your person.” The diplomat was an old hand at flattery. The words came easily.

Where the Duke was concerned, however, exaggeration was unnecessary. Still in his late twenties, he possessed the compact, powerful build of an athlete and was reputed to be an extraordinary rider and swordsman. He supplemented this with the grace peculiar to an accomplished dancer.

The most impressive of his physical characteristics was his face. A full, dark brown beard shadowed the lower half and seemed to frame a pair of burning, intelligent eyes. They were penetrating.  As the Duke smiled enigmatically, Montefalco had the feeling that they were reading his thoughts. They stared with vague amusement into the new ambassador’s eyes while the host’s jeweled hand accepted the letter of introduction.

To Montefalco’s relief, they lowered to scan the document.

After a moment the Duke rose abruptly. “You are no doubt fatigued from your journey, Signor. I fear these formalities keep you from the rest you require to carry out your duties. A mind cannot be keen if it is clouded by the dust of the road. I myself will see you to your quarters. They are but a few streets away, and I have some business nearby to which I must attend. Please refresh yourself with some wine while I prepare for my errand.”

Without waiting for a reply, he signaled a guard at the door, requested refreshments for the ambassador’s party with nothing more than a gesture, and then disappeared through a door at the side of the chamber.

* * *

The travelers were grateful for the brief respite from the street. Some of Montefalco’s men were already about their “diplomatic responsibilities”, which amounted to little more than espionage. They engaged the palace servants in conversation and, by making oblique references to the Duke’s power and prestige, elicited opinions of his regime’s stability. These assessments would be passed on to Montefalco for his analysis and possible inclusion in his written reports to the home government.

After twenty minutes the Duke, now in riding attire, joined the ambassador’s party in the courtyard. With Montefalco at his side, he rode out through the gates and onto the busy thoroughfare. The two men exchanged pleasantries. They discussed the weather and the beauty of the countryside around the city. They were beginning to share opinions on the strengths of Cicero’s orations, when their attention was drawn to part of the crowd lining the Street.

The way had been clearing in front of the procession, as the commoners respectfully stepped aside and bowed bareheaded to their ruler. This ended abruptly when a young man broke free and, waving a dagger, threw himself in front of the riders. Even through the confusion that accompanied the scene, the intruder’s hysterical shout was joltingly audible.

“Death to the enemies of the Duke!”

The young man raised both arms above his head. Blood covered the dagger and the hand that held it. The Duke’s guards swiftly and efficiently relieved the man of his gruesome weapon. Although there seemed to be no imminent danger, Montefalco was shaken, and he maneuvered closer to his personal bodyguard.

With a coolness that suggested only curiosity, the Duke spurred his horse to the side of the young man. He showed not the slightest concern that there might be others in the crowd who were less dedicated to the preservation of his health. He riveted the young intruder with his unique stare. There were cryptic questions which the ambassador could not hear, even though recalling his duty made him try. The Duke listened to the replies without emotion; he showed neither gratitude nor skepticism. After this brief period of questioning, he swung around slowly in his saddle and addressed the crowd.

“This young man has shown not only the love he has for me but also the intelligent respect he has for social order. He knows that my enemies are his enemies and that I am all that stands between the well-being of my people and bloody, terrible chaos. I generously reward such dedication in all of my subjects.” He reached down, and an aide handed him a leather purse. The Duke loosened its strings and poured several gold coins into his hand. He raised the purse and the gold so that all might see them. Then he returned the coins to the purse, and in one grand motion, tossed the reward to the young intruder.

He spoke again to the crowd. “But just as my rewards are generous, so my punishments are swift and merciless.” Montefalco knew that the statement was made for his benefit as well as for that of the citizenry.

As the procession resumed its measured pace, the ambassador noticed as the Duke called over an officer of the guard. This time he could hear the order clearly: “I want that man watched. He is too free with his blade, and he may be useful to some of my generous enemies.”

They reached the ambassador’s quarters without further incident, and a relieved Montefalco breathed a final prayer, this time of thanks. He took leave of his host and guide using the same gracious excesses he had employed at their first meeting. He was, he said, awed by the Duke’s power and benevolence. The ruler smiled, and with one last penetrating glance, he withdrew with his party.

Montefalco assigned a secretary to oversee the tedious unpacking. He found a table and chair in a small room that was obviously meant to fill the role of a study. A servant brought his writing materials, and immediately he began his initial report. Weariness could not keep him from what he felt must be his first duty. He must record his own impressions while his memory of events was sharp. He would canvas the servants as soon as the baggage had been properly unloaded, and their information would be appended to his report that evening.

The ambassador dispensed with the particulars of his trip in a sentence, and got directly to what he considered the essential points, that is, his first impressions of the Duke. He wrote carefully with the thoroughness and clarity of an experienced observer. After recounting the incident of the young intruder, he added, “The Duke is young and quite impressive in appearance. He seems confident and decisive. However, I am convinced by his own admissions that he has powerful enemies. Apparently, he fears a plot. I do not believe he knows who the leaders are. Although he does not show it, I am sure this domestic threat to his authority absorbs much of his attention.”

* * *

The official party proceeded another few blocks after taking leave of Montefalco. They stopped before the studio of Giovanni Caniglio, the sculptor and artist whose talents were recognized throughout Italy as well as in more educated circles elsewhere in Europe.

The studio was better called a workshop. Young apprentices scurried about mixing paints and preparing other materials used in the artistic professions. Those young men who were not seeing to the supplies were at work in all manner of activities; some were fashioning clay figures as models for sculpture, others worked on sketch pads before posed models, and still others were adding careful touches to oil paintings. It was a scene only slightly less active than the Street.

The Duke told a young boy, whose job seemed to be that of receptionist-messenger, that he wished to see Maestro Caniglio concerning the statue for his palace courtyard. The boy obediently retrieved the balding, muscular artist, who greeted his visitor with a bow and a cordial smile.

“I have the preliminary sketches ready, Excellency. Will you be so good as to accompany me to my private working area?”

The nobleman instructed his entourage to wait and strolled off with the artist. They might have seemed social equals to a casual observer. Caniglio knew he was a commoner and treated his ruler with the respect due a superior. Yet the artist possessed the blood of artistic genius, something that could neither be readily inherited nor conquered; and so he claimed deference in all areas where his talent made him the overriding authority.

As they passed through the door to the private studio, those nearby heard the Duke comment, “Your letter said you have some questions about my wishes. I am eager to see your suggestions.” Then Caniglio closed the door, shutting out the studio clamor and guaranteeing that there conversation would not be interrupted.

Once they were alone, the Duke continued, “Your note also contained more significant information, as I recall.”

“Indeed!” Caniglio replied. “I believe I may have something you will appreciate, even if you cannot display it at the palace! Your secretary knows of the plot against you. He came here yesterday, seeking to engage my services for a portrait. He hinted vaguely that he might be coming into a lot of money soon. I probed, asking if you had accrued new lands to rule. He responded that you had not, but you might find his services worthy of greater compensation in the future nonetheless. Since I have noticed no great improvements in his talents or his tact, I must conclude that information is the only thing of value he possesses.”

The Duke listened as the artist presented the information with precision and simplicity. His expression showed that he was analyzing each point, but beyond that he gave no hint of emotion. He said nothing for several moments before he replied.

“Maestro, your artist’s ears are as valuable as your artist’s eyes. Your talents — all of them — are without equal. I am in your debt… Now, may I see those sketches?”

There was no further reference to the visit of the secretary; it was as if the matter had never been mentioned at all. The two men poured over drawings, exchanging ideas on perspective, balance, and design. The Duke demonstrated that he was as comfortable around the technical vocabulary of art as the artist was around the finer points of political conspiracy.

When they emerged from the private studio, all uncertainties relative to the statue had been resolved. Both men seemed immensely satisfied.

“The equestrian design is superb. It is exactly what I had in mind, my friend. You have read my thoughts!” There was genuine admiration in the Duke’s voice. “With such a plan the result is bound to bring even more credit to your well-deserved reputation.” With that he took his leave of the studio and rejoined his escorts for their return to the palace.

His guards concluded that their ruler’s smile was that of a man anticipating some pleasant future event; his mood no doubt was a reflection of Caniglio’s ingenious plan. They were unaware that the Duke was perfecting a design of his own that was of a very different nature.

* * *

It was customary for the Duke to spend his mid-morning hours dictating correspondence in his conference chambers. The following day saw no variation in this pattern. When the ruler arrived, his secretary, Minelli, was waiting, as he had waited regularly since the Duke’s accession to power three years before.

Minelli was a slight, middle-aged man, learned and technically proficient in every phase of his clerical duties. If he displayed a flaw, it was a smug pride in his own indispensability. His skills had been employed by the Duke’s predecessor, and he had expanded upon these experiences until he had a knowledge of court personalities that few could match. In short, the secretary knew the strengths and weaknesses of every leading citizen, and he knew what items of gossip had foundations in truth. Nobles had learned to treat him with the respect. He walked confidently among those who might otherwise claim to be his betters.

“Good morning, Excellency. I have copies of yesterday’s business and today’s important correspondence. Everything is ready for your perusal and signature. I believe the request for military support from your eastern neighbors is probably the most important matter for you today.” The secretary’s oily tone was almost condescending; he sounded like a teacher coaxing a student.

“You are right, of course, my dear Minelli. I must not delay that any longer,” replied the smiling Duke, as he settled into his chair behind the carved desk on which his secretary had placed a neatly ordered stack of official documents. “I suppose the Duchy would founder, if you were not here to remind me of my duties.” The subtle jibe escaped the secretary, who thanked his master for the “gracious compliment.”

After an hour of dictation and discussion, the Duke appeared to have spent his energies. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair then rose and paced the room. He seemed to have difficulty concentrating on affairs of state, so the secretary dutifully asked if he felt ill.

The Duke sighed and rubbed his eyes. “My health is as yet unimpaired, my friend, but that incident yesterday with the death of a would-be assassin has quite unsettled me. I wonder how many other threats may be lining the streets in the future. I would pay handsomely if I could rid the city of such treachery.”

Minelli listened sympathetically. His master needed assistance, and it was his moral duty to render it. Of course, financial reward was a pleasant supplementary benefit that could not be overlooked. There might never be another time when the Duke would be more willing to be generous. That much-desired portrait by Caniglio could now indeed be within his grasp. He mustered his vocal resources.

“Excellency, you know I have always sought to uphold your interests. Every rumor that has reached me I have instantly relayed because of the love you know I have for you. In that regard, I may have heard only quite recently something which could assist you with your dilemma. It is so outlandish that I might never have given it serious thought, but your agitated state moves me to report it.”

The anxiety in the Dukè’s eyes softened to be replaced with what appeared to be gratitude and hope. “What is that?” he asked eagerly.

“Please do not feel that I offer this out of any desire for material gain,” the secretary lied. “Your peace of mind is my sole motivation.”

The Duke assured him that he understood perfectly, adding that he would nevertheless be rewarded as richly as he deserved.

“Word has it that your younger brother wants to replace you. You have not married and have no heir, so in the event of your death he would accede to your title. It is rumored that he has secretly approached a number of wealthy citizens to solicit their backing. I myself was approached some months ago, but of course, my loyalty to you is unshakable.”

“Of course,” the Dulce agreed. As he listened, his expression hardened. He scarcely moved, but his eyes followed the secretary’ s every gesture and his mind analyzed each nuance in the story. “How widespread has this conspiracy become?” he asked.

“If the gossip may be believed, it has attracted a significant following. They are inclined to hire assassins rather than bloody their own hands, since they can always deny their complicity with a common murderer. If they were to move against you on their own and fail, they would of course not survive that failure.”

The Duke asked if he could name any of the wealthy citizens who were tied to his brother’s conspiracy. His secretary immediately responded with a list of seven men prominent in the city.

The ruler seemed to regain his composure. “Thank you, Minelli. You are dismissed for today. When I have taken certain measures, you shall be openly rewarded for your invaluable assistance.” The secretary bowed and withdrew. The vision of the portrait he craved was now more vivid than ever. He could scarcely suppress a smile as he took his leave. The Duke’s eyes followed him through the door. There was a hint of a smile on his face too.

* * *

A short time later, a member of the Duke’s guard entered the conference chamber in response to a summons. He had been assigned to shadow the young intruder who had interrupted the procession the previous day.

“Yes, Excellency. I have been watching him very carefully. He could not have scratched his arm without my noting it,” the guard affirmed confidently.

The Duke smiled. “More to the point, did he scratch the arms of any of these men?” He repeated the names of the citizens, including his brother, who had been linked by his secretary to the conspiracy.

The guard acknowledged that the young man had indeed met with three of the men in a corner of a busy market. The Duke’s brother, however, had not been present.

The soldier was instructed to continue his surveillance of the young man. “Be sure to ask the man who relieved you while you were here if he has seen these citizens in the vicinity. I suspect that they will appear.” With that admonition, the ruler dismissed the guard.

Soon, a second visitor came to the Duke’s chamber in response to a summons. This time it was a noble whose name was on Minelli’s list and who had been seen conversing with the young intruder in the marketplace.

The Duke greeted him cordially. “This afternoon I will announce publicly that you are leaving on a diplomatic mission to one of my new allies. It is a position for which men will envy you.”

The nobleman bowed. He was overcome by the Duke’s confidence in him, he said.

“Oh, you are not going on any diplomatic mission, sir. I will simply tell the city that you are, and your absence will not be questioned by your friends.” The Duke spoke this correction with an enigmatic smile that chilled his visitor. Suddenly his visage changed; his eyes glowed like burning coals. He wheeled toward the door. “Guard!” he shouted. An armed attendant responded.

“This man is under arrest.”

The nobleman had no opportunity to protest. He scarcely had a chance to stammer that he did not understand.

“You will soon, I expect. I have some questions for you relative to good government. With a little urging, I am sure you will be eager to answer them.” With the guard at his back, the noble disappeared through the door.

* * *

Further reports showed that almost all of the alleged conspirators had been in contact with the man who had supposedly been ready to defend his ruler’s safety with his dagger.

Alone in the conference chamber, the Duke reviewed what he knew of the plot, analyzing its characteristics the way a jeweler evaluates a gem. That scene yesterday was a ploy to divert suspicion from the real assassin, he thought. It was clumsy and transparent, an obvious trick thought up by inexperienced, shallow minds. He should be thankful that fortune had surrounded him with such fools.

Somewhat later, a message arrived that the nobleman, under questioning and no small amount of physical stress, had implicated all the others mentioned by the secretary — including the Duke’s brother. News of the bogus diplomatic appointment had spread sufficiently to cover the prisoner’s disappearance and assure that no one would suspect that the final trap was about to spring. “That man had best lick his wounds in my dungeon while he has the power to do so,” thought the ruler.

More orders emerged from his council chamber. It was announced that the Duke would be visiting Maestro Caniglio’s studio again the following afternoon. He would be accompanied by his personal guard; but since the errand was personal rather than official, the escort would be minimal.

There was no variation in court routine for the rest of the day. The Duke reviewed and signed the items prepared by his secretary, and dispatched other matters with his customary ease. The next day he worked most of the morning with Minelli, to whom he was inordinately cordial. The secretary noted that his master had regained his former confidence and his zest for authority.

When the morning’s work was done and Minelli had departed, the Duke sent for his brother. It took a little more than an hour, but he finally arrived. To a casual observer the two men could easily have been mistaken for each other. The only obvious difference between them was a contrast in style. Whereas the Duke was by turns gracious and intense, the younger man was perpetually surly and morose. He had never been able to forget that a simple accident of birth had deprived him of an opportunity for power and had given it to a relative scarcely two years his senior. Jealousy had eaten away at him; but in the period since the Duke had officially taken control, his brother’s resentment had become an all-consuming passion. It was little wonder the two men bore no affection for each other. Not only was their shared blood no bond of love, it was the very foundation of their mutual hatred.

After an exchange of superficial amenities, the Duke informed his brother that he had an errand for him. “Something of overwhelming significance, no doubt,” remarked the younger man with scarcely veiled sarcasm.

“Actually, it is a matter of greater import than you might think,” replied the Duke. “I want you to take my place on that errand to Maestro Caniglio today. The guard is to be in attendance, and I am ordering that you be supplied with my riding clothes. The more you resemble me, the more likely the crowd will be to allow you to pass without delay. Ah, here are the servants with the riding gear now!”

The face of the brother lost its color. “But the matter with Caniglio is a personal concern of yours. Wouldn’t it be better if you dealt with it yourself?” The Duke perceived genuine urgency in his brother’s voice.

“I am unfortunately detained by a matter that has come up unexpectedly. I must evaluate some designs for a structure we are building and, alas, it cannot wait. Since I have complete confidence in your taste — and I know you have my best interests at heart — you should be able to handle this errand. It will even give you an opportunity to act like a Duke and have the citizenry take you for one! My men have strict orders to take you to the studio by the normal route and then bring you back to the palace the same way. There will be no detours. It will be swift and painless. So get ready. I want you to leave immediately.”

His brother was obviously flustered. He babbled several limp excuses, each of which was shunted aside with the reminder not to forget a single item of his riding attire. Still protesting, he was politely but firmly escorted from the room.

With the younger man gone, the Duke turned to the building designs to which he had alluded. The good humor vanished from his eyes, and their customary intensity returned as his fingers traced the outline of the gallows on the paper before him.

Perhaps an hour elapsed before confused shouting in the courtyard beneath the chamber window broke his concentration. A member of the escort party had burst through the gates and was vehemently demanding to see the Duke. He was ushered into the ruler’s presence without delay.

“Excellency! Excellency! Your brother! Oh, Excellency, what bloody treachery!”

The Duke cut short the agitated soldier’s raving with a gesture. The guard made an effort to compose himself. “Your brother is dead, Excellency. The assassin ran out of the crowd. Before we could stop him, he had stabbed your brother.”

The Duke seemed shaken by the news. He asked if they had apprehended the murderer.

“Yes, Excellency. He is the same young ruffian who stopped the procession a few days ago.”

“Leave him to his grief,” a servant whispered, and they withdrew.

For hours no one dared interrupt the Duke. When he finally emerged from the conference chamber, he had total command of himself. Many at court were amazed to learn that in spite of his great personal tragedy, he had continued with business and concluded several bureaucratic matters he had before him at the time the tragic message had arrived.

* * *

News of the assassination quickly spread throughout the city, as did word of the arrest of several prominent citizens. It was said that these evil men had sought to promote chaos throughout the duchy by killing the Duke and seizing power for their own aggrandizement. They had hired someone to commit the bloody deed; but by a quirk of fate, the assassin had mistakenly killed the Duke’s brother instead.

Francesco Montefalco dutifully relayed all of this to his home government. His own analysis of the event was that the Duke had been miraculously fortunate. He wondered how long his luck would last.

The assassination was still very much on everyone’s lips when a messenger brought word to Montefalco that the Duke wished the honor of his presence. Since the arrest of the conspirators, work had begun on what was clearly a gallows erected in the public square. When Montefalco passed it the next day on his way to the palace, he noticed that the macabre structure was nearing completion. Upon his arrival, he was again escorted to the conference chamber, where the Duke greeted him.

“I have invited you, Signor, to witness an exercise in justice. I wish you to accompany me, because I believe what you will observe shall be of great interest to the governors who so astutely named you their agent here. My servants are this minute proclaiming throughout the city that the execution of the men who murdered my brother will take place at noon in the square. In addition to my guard, we will be accompanied by my personal secretary whom I plan to reward today for his service in breaking the plot.”

Montefalco’s total concentration on the Duke had led him to overlook the slight man with the self-important air who was sitting at a small table nearby. He acknowledged Minelli with a courteous nod.

There was a brief delay as the Duke changed not into riding dress but into his most impressive official attire. When ready, he personified sovereign power. The three men proceeded to the courtyard to lead a formal procession to the square.

The prisoners had already arrived and been placed beneath the individual nooses that were to terminate their conspiracies forever. A large crowd gathered to witness the spectacle, which had the atmosphere of a sporting event. With the approach of the Duke, all noise subsided, save the regular pattern of the horses’ hooves against the stone pavement. The ruler’s party approached the scaffold and halted. Slowly, the Duke passed his eyes from criminal to criminal; his face was emotionless. He turned to the crowd and, with the absolute command which Montefalco had come to appreciate, addressed the onlookers.

“My love for my people goes beyond words. It is to protect you that I continuously place my life at risk in the face of threats by traitors and assassins. I will not temper my justice with mercy when a criminal threatens this city. Should anyone within the sound of my voice regard murder and civic disruption as a viable option, I say now that your reward will be a thousand times more painful and terrible than that of these traitors.” He paused to scan the mute faces of his listeners; the silence was complete and he let it drag on for several seconds. Then he turned to the master executioner and said simply, “Proceed.”

In a matter of moments, it was over.

The crowd began to disperse, and the Duke turned to his secretary. “Now, Minelli, we must look to your reward at the studios of Maestro Caniglio.”

The secretary was ecstatic. Thanks bubbled from him. Montefalco noted that the Duke could be overwhelmingly gracious when he wished to be.

The procession wound its way toward the artist’s workshop. When they arrived, the ruler dispatched the young guardian of the door for his master. Minelli could scarcely contain his joy, as the Duke began to instruct Caniglio.

“Maestro, I wish to retain your services for a portrait of my secretary. I want you to devote the greatest care to it. No detail, no wrinkle, no shade of color must be less than perfect. Even the background must be vividly realistic to remind my ever faithful Minelli of this unfortunate episode in his life.” He paused and smiled at his secretary, whose expression was slowly transforming into incomprehension. Addressing himself again to the painter, he added, “Oh, yes. One more thing. The portrait will be painted in my dungeon.”

The entire company reacted with stares of disbelief.

The Duke continued without changing his tone. “This man knew of a plot against me and did not divulge it until he found it profitable. I am not a child who may be so easily hoodwinked, and I do not overlook such predilections in my subjects. Minelli will live on meager rations and will be given just enough medical attention to keep him alive.

Your painting must reflect the change which will no doubt come over his appearance within, say, the next year. You will have an hour a day to paint, as I do not want you to interrupt my former secretary’s time for reflection on his past misdeeds. At the end of the first year, if I am satisfied that your portrait does him justice, I will present it to him and suggest that he take up residence in some distant land. Guards, take this man to his new dwelling while I arrange the details.”

The prisoner seemed on the verge of a seizure but was nevertheless removed, gasping and choking, from the studio. As the Duke continued to talk, Montefalco studied him. A new and deeper respect was forming in his mind.

When the conversation with the artist drew to a close, the company departed. The Duke remarked casually that he hoped the afternoon had been entertaining and edifying. He added with emphasis, “You realize, Signor Montefalco, that I will not tolerate your government’s welcoming that worm Minelli when I exile him. Do not trifle with me, sir. If your superiors wish my military and diplomatic support, we must base our dealings on mutual respect. I can easily choose other allies, some of whom your employers would find most disagreeable. I never negotiate from weakness.”

The Duke’s eyes burned these words into the ambassador, who could do little but listen. That night his report would make clear that the Duke’s power was as worthy of respect as his formidable appearance.

Questions for Analysis:

1. Probably the most famous study of the exercise of political power to come out of the Italian Renaissance is The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli asserted that it is good for a ruler to be both feared and loved but it is safer to be feared. How does the Duke measure up when analyzed in Machiavellian terms?

2. How effectively does Montefalco fulfill the role of ambassador for his government? Is he successful in carrying out the responsibilities for which he was sent to the city? How are modern ambassadors different from those of Renaissance Italy?

3. A Renaissance ideal was the “Universal Man”, i.e., someone who was accomplished in many different fields of endeavor. What events in the story suggest that the Duke was a “Universal Man”? Can you name anyone today who would qualify for this label?

4. Another trait which was highly prized in Renaissance Italy was virtú, which means the ability to reach a desired goal. Is the Duke successful in living up to that ideal?

5. Do you find the Duke to be an admirable figure? Would you like to have been one of his subjects? How would you feel if he were elected President today?

6. Obviously, Montefalco’s appraisal of the Duke was greatly altered by the events of that fateful afternoon. Imagine you are the ambassador and you are writing the report mentioned in the final paragraph. What would your report say?

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II. The Medieval Period

Central authority broke down in the ninth and tenth centuries. Europe was circled by hostile invaders. To defend against this threat to their very existence, the ruling classes fell back on an old loyalty system: Feudalism, a mechanism based on keeping sacred oaths.  This story is designed to reflect the problems inherent in the system.


Honor and the Fox

Silence filled the large hall, save for the faint rustle and clank of the mailed knight who with measured step was approaching the dais. Sir Hugh du Rochet dropped to his knees before the seated figure of Reginald, Count of Belloir, and raised his hands, palms together, as if in supplication. From his slightly raised position, the Count slowly leaned forward. He pressed Sir Hugh’s hands between his as the lesser noble promised to be faithful and to protect him with his sword.

“And I promise to honor you as a true vassal and to defend you to the extent that God gives me power,” responded the Count. He raised Sir Hugh to his feet and kissed him ceremoniously.

There was yet one more feudal ritual. Sir Reginald extended toward the knight a hand that contained nothing more than a few stalks of straw. By receiving them, Sir Hugh was accepting hereditary jurisdiction over a fief, a designated land area. By the sacred affirmation of mutual loyalty and service, the Count had gained a military ally and the knight effective use of acreage.

Both men were pleased, but the Count glowed with a satisfaction that seemed unlimited.

“Tonight, Sir Hugh, we will further consecrate our oaths with a banquet worthy of such an event. Our arrangement is one that shall have far-reaching impact. I dare say that we will have innumerable opportunities for celebration in the future.”

With that the Count took his leave, under the pretext of having to see to the evening’s provisions and entertainment. He strode from the hail and Sir Hugh once again marveled at the immensity of the man. Muscularly built and well over six feet in height, Sir Reginald was not a man to be taken lightly. His flaming red hair suggested tremendous vitality.  Indeed his energy seemed boundless and was equalled by his ambition.

Sir Hugh, at twenty-four, was younger than his new lord, and only slightly less physically impressive. Military prowess made him a valuable ally; but his reputation in that regard was matched, if not surpassed, by moral rectitude. His late father, Sir Charles du Rochet, had demanded that the youth’s education stress all elements of the Code of Chivalry. Valor in battle, true Christian piety, and reverence for women, the chief tenets of this code, were practical standards to Sir Charles, as his memory throughout the region attested. That his son would be a ‘true and perfect knight’ became an obsession. When the elder du Rochet died of a fever, he closed his eyes satisfied that he had succeeded. His son could stand the test.

Certainly, the boy had been tempted on many occasions to use his gifts in less than perfect ways. He possessed a dark complexion and rugged features enhanced by a scar across his left cheek, a result of a minor dispute the likes of which were common between nobles so protective of their honor. The young knight could have dedicated himself with some success to revelry or to power and wealth gained by combat, but he had chosen the more difficult road of honor.

As he watched the Count’s massive back disappear from the hall, Sir Hugh could not suppress a twinge of regret that his father was not there to witness his investiture by one of the leading nobles of the realm. He was now the effective master of huge chunks of land, but he did not have a living relative with whom to share his good fortune. Although many knights would have been proud to claim him for a son-in-law, he had no marriage prospects.

He resigned himself to savor the new vassalage with none but the Count and his associates.

The banquet would be sumptuous, and he resolved to block anything from his mind that might detract from its enjoyment. He would be rallying his band of military retainers to Count Reginald’s standard for the defense of just causes, and this made the future bright.

* * *
A traveler leaving that celebration and riding northwest four days over the narrow, dusty road would have come to the city in which King Geoffrey resided. It was little more than a town, but because it was as busy as any community trying to recover from the worst of the commerce-impaired Feudal age, and because it also served as the seat of the Archbishop, it had earned the title of “city” as a necessary badge of prestige.

The presence of the King, of course, contributed to its status, but it was by no means the city’s most important attribute. A royal title carried with it little more than traditional respect. In theory a monarch was the highest noble in the land, but unless military power reinforced such pretensions, the significance was purely superficial. The realm supposedly belonged to a king, but he might well be at the mercy of powerful vassals.

Geoffrey’s grip on his realm was a tenuous one. To secure his goals, he had to supplement with a keen wit the relatively meager number of troops directly bound to him. For a decade he had been a successful chess master, surviving a perpetual state of crisis; and he seemed much older than his thirty-five years. Youthful optimism had yielded to the tough, experienced look of cunning which had earned for him the nickname of “the Fox.”

The afternoon of Sir Hugh’s investiture, King Geoffrey was in conference with the Archbishop.

“The grant of land should be quite sufficient for the convent, my Lord Archbishop. We are ever attentive to the needs of Holy Mother Church and have recognized our dependence on Her for spiritual guidance.”

The elderly prelate, in miter and robe, smiled benignly. “My son, if only your diligence in support of God’s work could be an inspiration to the knights who let greed imperil their souls! You are always generous in your gifts and your devotion. Our Lord will reward you with the peace of mind that such kind acts bring.”

“I pray He may strengthen me against my enemies,” the King answered with a sigh. “I have received pledges of fealty from a score of knights and have granted them substantial fiefs, so that my troop strength should be the envy of all. However, many vassals have little regard for their sacred oaths. They subinfeudate their holdings so extensively that if their vassals prove loyal to them and they prove disloyal to me, I shall be left almost defenseless. A few are growing quarrelsome; they are resisting the payment of aids, such as the one I ordered to assist the operation of that new nunnery. There will be trouble soon.”

“My son, you observe the Holy Sacraments; you venerate all sacred relics; you are scrupulous in your obedience to the Holy Father at Rome. God will not leave you comfortless in your affliction.” The Archbishop made the sign of the Cross with his hand, and the King bowed his head and crossed himself.

“I have never doubted either His or your support,” replied Geoffrey. “But allow me to shift to a less ominous subject. When Sir Roger de Vane died, he left no heir old enough to reaffirm his feudal obligations. His only child is Lady Margaret. As she is only sixteen and an orphan, I am exercising my right of wardship. The fief will be administered by royal agents until the child reaches her majority. I was hoping that the good sisters of the convent might agree to care for the girl in the interim.”

For the entire conversation they had been seated, the aged Archbishop in a banquet chair temporarily placed before the King’s raised throne. Except for the visual formalities required by the positions the two men filled, there was nothing to suggest that this was more than old friends in amiable conversation.

“I am sure that the sisters will be happy to repay your generosity in such a manner,” said the Archbishop. “As soon as they establish themselves in their new quarters, I will ask the Abbess to send for the child.”

“Good,” replied Geoffrey with a smile. “She is currently staying here at court. I am not at all sure that the intrigue she may witness here is a good influence on her. What would a potential husband say, if he knew his future wife was a schemer who modeled herself after ‘the Fox?”

The two men exchanged grins. Shortly thereafter, the Archbishop and his retinue of attendants withdrew from the royal presence. Queen Catherine entered as the party disappeared through the heavy oaken doors at the opposite end of the throne room.

“You are smiling, my Lord. The visit of the Archbishop seems to have had a sanguine effect on you.”

“He is an old friend, Cat, and old friends are always reassuring. I would rather have him on my side than all of Sir Reginald’s cavalry.” The King held out his hand to his wife. How fortunate he was! Theirs had been a marriage contracted by parents for political reasons, and yet they loved each other deeply. The warmth and grace of this slight, lovely woman had strengthened him in the face of many dangers. She had grown to love him as a man, not as a reigning monarch. Her only ambition was to support him, whether his plans proved foolish or brilliant. Perhaps thanks to the strength he drew from her, those plans seemed to have grown more and more ingenious.

He drew her to him, and made room on the throne beside him. She sat down daintily on the narrow section, and he put his arm about her shoulder. “My Lord, this is a most undignified posture,” she protested, feigning outrage.

“And whom, pray, are we going to scandalize? Young Edward is in the courtyard practicing with his sword. Lady Margaret is at her sewing. Oh, and the guards are loyal!”

After a moment Geoffrey grew somber, “Cat, I have asked the Archbishop to arrange Margaret’s transfer to the nunnery. It will be better for her there. I do not want her destiny tied too closely to ours in case something unforeseen occurs.”

“You are right, my Lord, but I will miss her at court. In those few short weeks, I have grown quite fond of the child.”

“She is a fine girl,” the King agreed. “But she is no longer a child. I must try to match her to some worthy and loyal knight.”

The Queen’s face hardened. “Yes’, my Lord, ‘and loyal.”

* * *
Count Reginald paced the room gesturing emphatically.

“The opportunity is golden. With the inclusion of Sir Hugh, my forces are formidable, and what’s more, they are loyal to me. I have scrupulously honored all my feudal obligations to them, while that fool who calls himself a King has heaped upon his vassals one financial levy after another. Even if they are for the Church,” he stopped and crossed himself— “they are enough to distress more than a few knights. I could challenge him now, and use the charge that he has broken his feudal oath with these aids. My army would crush him on the field of battle, and I could secure my claim to the throne.”

The Count was addressing Sir Robert Mandeville, a veteran warrior who had become his chief advisor. Sir Robert, listening patiently, now ventured to interrupt.

“If you proceed in haste, you are acting rashly. You must convince the King’s other vassals that you do not take such a step treacherously. If they believe your motive to be a selfish desire for the crown, they may support the King. After all, it is better for them to have a clever weakling on the throne than a man such as yourself, who might constitute a threat to their privileges.”

Sir Reginald sighed. “Of course, my friend. As usual, you are subtle and logical. I must send someone who is highly regarded to court to lay my grievances before the King and seek redress. If Geoffrey acquiesces to my demands, he is weakened further. If he refuses, conflict is inevitable and the outcome certain.”

Sir Robert again interrupted. “There is one knight who can best serve your interests. He is highly regarded throughout the realm, ethically as well as militarily, and has just pledged himself to defend your interests.”

“Sir Hugh!” This time it was the Count who interrupted. “What a marvelous stroke! His armor scarcely hides his angel’s wings! Has he left the manor yet?”

“I believe he planned to rise early and depart this morning. I spoke with him during the banquet and he seemed rather pensive. Perhaps he is ill at ease in celebrations and would prefer some concrete task to perform. If he has set out for home, he cannot have gone far on the road. A messenger could reach him and bring him back before evening.”

“Excellent! I will dispatch that messenger at once.” Without even casting a glance in the direction of Sir Robert, the Count strode through the door in quest of a servant.

* * *
The rider who was dispatched successfully accomplished his lord’s wishes. He crossed the castle drawbridge with Sir Hugh late in the day and ushered him from the courtyard through the bleak stone corridors to a small, tapestry-hung sitting room. Count Reginald was waiting.

Sir Hugh bowed. “Your message said you have an urgent task for me to perform. I am ready to do my duty.” He was obviously exhausted, but he carried himself with pride and dignity.

He is a perfect choice, the Count thought to himself before begging the young knight to sit.

“You will be my guest again tonight. You must conserve your energy, since it is four days’ journey to the royal court.” With that introduction Sir Reginald proceeded to draw a picture of dedicated vassals taxed beyond endurance by a corrupt and devious monarch.

“Obviously, I do not wish to shirk my feudal responsibilities,” he continued. “Several knights who are King Geoffrey’s vassals have discussed the dilemma with me, and we have concluded that our only honorable recourse is to petition for a redress of grievances.”

Sir Hugh sought clarification. “My Lord, as you may be aware, my father held his fief by the grace of the King; and I myself renewed the vow of service upon my father’s death. When the King has called for payments, I have always given them freely, especially since they have usually gone for sacred causes that all worthy Christian knights are honor-bound to support. How is it that so many royal vassals consider themselves ill-used?”

The Count rose from his chair and moved to a small open window. He scanned the courtyard and the fields beyond. His expression suggested he was carefully choosing his words.

“Your hereditary grant is a small one, Sir Hugh. I knew your father. His manor barely produced enough to support his family and retainers. What you took over was a handful of serfs and poor soil as well. The King knows better than to anticipate much from you. Furthermore, he knows that your family has always lived by the highest moral standards. What better way to wrench from you the little you possess than by avowing some ecclesiastical cause? While it is probably true that some of your contributions made their way into Church coffers, it is more certain that much of the money has gone to support his court luxuries.” Reginald’s voice rose steadily in crescendo; he seemed to be working himself into a fury of righteous indignation.

The performance was not in vain. Sir Hugh knew King Geoffrey’s reputation for cunning.

His father had not conveyed to him a strong impression of the monarch, so he had little on which to base his evaluation but common opinion. True, the King had been gracious to him at the investiture ceremony when Sir Hugh took over his father’s obligations, but this could have been clever royal politics. Whose evaluation could be more trustworthy than Sir Reginald Demotte, Count of Belloir?

Sir Hugh listened as the Count, now calm, continued. “Please forgive my temper, sir. I am a man who believes in simple honesty. I leave subtle plotting to our regal lord. Something must be done before that man pushes honest vassals so far that their honor will permit only the recourse of combat. You must take this to Geoffrey.” He picked up a large, rolled parchment and handed it to the young knight. “I have had scribes prepare this. It is an explanation of our grievances and a strenuous request for a change in royal policy. Tell him that we do not demand an instant reply.  You are to wait upon the King at court for six weeks or as long as it takes to give him the time to devise methods which we may all accept. Certainly we can be no fairer than that under our feudal obligations.”

The following morning Sir Hugh left the Count’s manor with the parchment safely packed in his gear. Accompanied only by his squire, he set out again on the dusty road.

* * *
He knew he was nearing his destination now. The spires of the great cathedral, like thin fingers reaching toward Heaven, could be seen while the rest of the city was nothing more than a tiny blur. At first sight of the holy sanctuary, still essentially under construction but impressive nonetheless, the knight reined in his horse and paused to bow his head and cross himself. He prayed for strength to perform his task. He feared “the Fox” as he feared no military adversary.

“Well, Richard, therein lies the dragon we must slay with words,” he commented with forced good humor to his squire, who knew in general terms of the errand. “Faith, my Lord! They say dragons breathe fire enough to roast a good knight. At least we need not expect this of a fox!”

The jest relaxed his master, and they soon made their way through the crowded streets to the fortified castle. In a matter of minutes they were admitted to the courtyard and informed that the King was ready to receive his noble visitor in the throne room.

“Sir Knight, I saw your shield and livery while you were yet below, and I knew you immediately to belong to the honored house of du Rochet. What favor may your King grant so loyal a vassal?” Geoffrey’s cordial tone was lost on Sir Hugh, who had braced himself against royal subtlety. He presented the parchment and briefly and emotionlessly summarized its contents.

The King was respected for his literacy and needed no scribe to decipher the contents. He glanced at the document and handed it to an attendant who stood nearby. The young knight thought he perceived a fleeting hint of consternation on the lined face of the monarch. He did not fully understand when Geoffrey turned to the Queen who sat beside him and remarked indifferently, “Well, it has begun.”

“Your Highness, I am instructed to remain at court to allow time for a proper reply. I hope that will be permitted.” The vassal tried to maintain a stiff propriety as he spoke.

However, he felt vaguely guilty about delivering such an ultimatum. “Is this pity I feel?” he asked himself.

Except for that momentary lapse, Geoffrey never lost his composure. “Not only will we permit you to remain, we demand it. You are known to be an honest and dedicated knight. Your humility is refreshingly real. As your King and lord, I would like to rely on your council in this matter and to honor you as an example all knights should emulate. Would you be willing to assist with some simple court duties during your stay?”

Although vaguely suspicious, Sir Hugh agreed.

“Good,” the King replied. “Now you must rest and we will have our first discussion this afternoon.” He motioned to an attendant. “Show this worthy lord and his man to quarters. They are honored guests.”

* * *
A few hours later, a messenger came to the room in which the two men had been resting to say that the King invited Sir Hugh to join him in the palace garden.

“Bribery with down pillows,” yawned Richard. “It takes less to win my allegiance.”

“Get up, you lazy hound,” laughed the knight. “I want my weapons and armor shining before this day is over.”

He left with the messenger who led him to a small, colorful patch of earth within the gray confines of the castle walls. The King was alone relaxing informally against a low wall. He gestured for the knight to approach.

“Here, sir, is where ‘the Fox’ devises all those devilish schemes about which you have heard. Well, you look rested and fit.” He smiled disarmingly.

“The quarters are most comfortable, my Lord,” was the only reply. Sir Hugh expected the King to dispense with pleasantries and initiate serious conversation.

He did not have long to wait. “Tell me, sir, how would you respond to the request of Count Reginald and the others? Should I give them what they want and restrict my levies?”

“It would seem the simplest solution to a problem that could have a most unfortunate result, Your Highness.”

“Yes, you are right I suppose. It does have the virtue of simplicity. Do you remember the purpose for which I usually impose these levies?”

“For the Church, my Lord.”

“And bow do you feel about donations specified for that cause?”

“Anything that promotes God’s work is, of course, the worthiest of gifts.”

Both men crossed themselves.

“Let us assume,” King Geoffrey continued, “that a substantial part of the assessment does go to Holy Mother Church. Perhaps not all, but I will get to that later. Do you know why I contribute so heavily?”

“I assume, my Lord, that you do it out of a desire to serve God.”

“While that is true, I must confess that I have other reasons as well.”

The young knight studied the weathered features of the monarch as the latter examined a flower. The subtle master of intrigue seemed to be speaking from the heart.

The King broke the silence with a surprising question. “Do you read Latin, sir?”

“I know only some phrases, my Lord. I fear I read very little.”

“Those phrases would be understood in Paris, London, or Saragossa, as well as Rome. Our vast world, from horizon to horizon, has but one thing that unites men of dissimilar natures; and that is the beneficent influence of the Church. We are all part of Christendom, sir, and without the order that has come out of this. I fear we would cut each other’s throat even more frequently than we do now.”

Again, the men crossed themselves before the King resumed. “I give the Church all I can, not just to save my soul from Hell but also to cultivate a civilizing influence. Without that influence murder, greed, and worse would have no restraints.”

Sir Hugh wanted to comment, but there was little he could add. He could not suppress the fact that he was beginning to admire this man.

The King smiled self-consciously and turned his face to his guest. “I begin to sound like my Lord the Archbishop.  But I do have one request to make of you, sir. You must satisfy yourself on two counts. First, is the money which I require of my vassals actually going to the Church? And, if it is, what use is being made of it to promote the cause of Christendom?’

Sir Hugh tried to protest that a subject’s duty was never to question his King, but this feeble attempt was shunted aside.

“Loyalty ought to be based on more than custom,” persisted Geoffrey. “When a knight like you is convinced of the justice of a cause, he becomes a worthy defender. You have heard the Count’s arguments; now you will see the best defense I have against them.”

The two men began to stroll along the narrow stone paths that wound through the small garden. Sir Hugh continued to listen respectfully.

‘I have asked the Holy Sisters to look after the young Lady Margaret de Vane, who has become my ward since her father’s death. They have been establishing themselves on their new fief, and I now understand they are sufficiently prepared to receive their guest. You will escort her there tomorrow. I have taken pains to make sure that word of your visit’s true purpose does not spread; you can verify that any way you wish. Observe whether the funds I request are being properly used, and report your findings to me. I will send for you in the morning.”

After extending an invitation to the knight to join the court for dinner, the King dismissed him.

Sir Hugh, of course, attended, but even as he laughed at the antics of jesters, he kept mulling over in his mind the simplicity of King Geoffrey’s argument in the garden. He reminded himself to be observant and keep an open mind.

He did not know that his observations would be influenced by an unexpected and unfamiliar emotion.

* * *
Early the following day, the royal party left the castle and the city and slowly worked its way along an open road toward the new convent. Lady Margaret, in dark riding cloak, rode side saddle next to her escort.

She was the picture of youthful grace and charm. Her light brown hair, partly visible in spite of a hood, shone in the early sun. Her lively eyes suggested that, for all her passive bearing, here was a thoughtful, strong-willed personality. Sir Hugh noticed that she did not seem pleased with the trip.

“My Lady, you seem too pensive for such a beautiful day. Do you dread the sisters of the convent?”

Margaret glanced at the young man beside her, evaluating whether he would be a sincere and responsible confidant. She decided, on the basis of impulse to take the risk.

“No, sir knight, I know they are honest and compassionate. My fears are for those I leave behind. The King and Queen have treated me as more than a guest. I have grown to have affection for them in the weeks I have lived at court. I worry about their safety.”

Sir Hugh sought to reassure her that the King was too clever to be vulnerable.

“He would not have arranged my departure, if he were not concerned, sir. Do you know that there are rumors that one of his most powerful vassals is scheming to seize the throne? King Geoffrey is as honorable and just a lord as any subject could desire. How misunderstood he is by those who call him a schemer! When I became his ward, he could have forced me to wed any of a number of nobles who would have made powerful vassal allies for him. I suppose I feared this as much as any aftereffect of my father’s death. But he assured me that when he gave my hand and holdings to a knight, he wanted two happy and loyal subjects, not just one! I pray daily that God will protect him!”

Lady Margaret’s emotional defense of the King broke off. She tried to hide her face from her escort.

For a moment Sir Hugh felt the confusion men typically feel in the presence female tears. He experienced a twinge of guilt, knowing that he was, if not the cause, at least the catalyst of this lady’s pain. This fact moved his chivalric heart as much as his native sympathy did. No tired clichés would do here; his words had to be substantial and comforting.

“I too am an orphan who has been treated graciously by the King.”

She turned her face to stare at him in surprise. It had been hard for her to picture that rugged, scarred face as anything but a seasoned warrior, just as it had been for him, until her impassioned disclosure, to consider her more than another young and mindlessly decorative lady.

That moment forged a bond between them.

As the company travelled deliberately along its way, the two young people traded personal reminiscences. Sir Hugh scrupulously avoided any mention of the errand that had brought him to court, and prayed the subject would never come up. Lady Margaret showed herself to be politically astute in conversation. Her father had lavished all the education he could on her, perhaps to compensate for not having a male heir. Her wit dazzled the knight, whose training had instilled in him the stereotype of the passive, purely domestic court lady.

“I hope to continue my Latin studies at the convent, if the sisters will allow it. King Geoffrey encouraged me; he says an intelligent wife can be the greatest of comforts to a husband.”

This surprised Sir Hugh. He had been taught that God had designed all of them, from serf to lord, for their roles in life, and He would judge them on how well they carried out the duties incumbent in those roles. He had been taught that women were shallow, lesser beings. Lady Margaret broke this pattern, yet how well her unorthodox training seemed to fit her nature!

Inevitably, they approached the convent. Cultivated fields signaled its proximity, as did a village where the serfs and artisans whose toil supported the nuns lived. The fief had previously been granted to a knight, but his line had ended with his death. The administration of the land had reverted to King Geoffrey, who had concluded that, with some alterations, the manor house could be converted to ecclesiastical use. The aids he had assessed effected these changes.

What Sir Hugh found when at last he dismounted at the convent was a tidy household run by well-bred ladies dressed in habits. There was no better place in society for high-born widows or unwed daughters of noble families. They went about their tasks with efficient optimism in an atmosphere that was disciplined but not austere. The Abbess, who knew Lady Margaret from her stay at court, greeted them cordially and had her guest’s belongings taken to her new quarters.

Alleging the interest of a curious outsider, Sir Hugh prevailed on the Abbess to show them the new facilities to the extent rules permitted. From the main convocation hail, they passed through a spotless kitchen, then out into a garden not unlike the one he had seen at the royal court.

As they entered the small chapel, where several nuns were about their devotions, awareness of the immediacy of God overwhelmed them. They knelt briefly in silent prayer.

The Abbess tried to persuade him to stay for Vespers, but the knight protested that he had been instructed to return immediately. Before taking his leave, Sir Hugh bowed to Lady Margaret and, with as much emotion as his proper breeding would allow, asked if he might be permitted to call upon her again to bring her news of affairs at court. She smiled and with equal self-control answered that such a service would be invaluable to her and would be greatly appreciated.

As the returning horsemen disappeared behind a cloud of road dust, a nun who had been in attendance commented, “What a handsome and proper young lord!” Lady Margaret’s blush went unnoticed as she responded, “Yes. We are good friends.”

* * *
On the now-tedious journey back, Sir Hugh was tortured by contrasting feelings at war within him. He had a duty to perform for Count Reginald, but he had to be fair in assessing the King’ s blame. How could someone like Lady Margaret err in her evaluation of Geoffrey? But wasn’t Geoffrey known for his cunning? The convent was, nevertheless, just as the King had led him to expect.  Wherein did his duty and honor lie?

This internal battle was still raging the following morning, when he was summoned by royal messenger. Once again, he found himself surrounded by the silent pageantry of the garden.

“Well, sir, have you found my assessments ill-spent?”

“On the contrary, my Lord. They are most impressive.”

“Did you discover evidence that I had instructed anyone to keep the truth from you?”

“No, Your Highness. I found nothing of the kind.”

“Of course, that does not mean that I could not have arranged a few distortions, does it? I am ‘the Fox,’ you know.”

Sir Hugh smiled. He sensed the King was leading to some kind of conclusion, but, unexpectedly, Geoffrey changed subjects.

“I promised that I would explain the other expenditures for which I so excessively burden my vassals. Come with me.”

They left the garden and entered the living quarters, following a narrow corridor. It led them to a low-vaulted hall in which several young boys sat working at desks overseen by the tonsured figure of a priest.

The King motioned to the room’s occupants to ignore the intrusion. He then whispered an explanation. “It has been difficult, but I believe I have put together a rudimentary school for youths who serve me at court or are the sons of my vassals. You see my son Edward there on the left.

Father Robert is a well-known Latin scholar, secured for me by my Lord, the Archbishop. I want these boys to read and write. I dare say you have never heard of this. It is an incomprehensible waste to the majority of my subject nobility. Your own father would probably have agreed with them, but this venture is scarcely two years old. Oh, but what use is a man who can read and write in a society of armor and lances? I will tell you; the man who emerges from this place will have a disciplined mind. He will know a kind of precision unfamiliar to his unlettered comrades. The vassals who complain of my levies were offered access to this for their children. They refused and accuse me of waste!”

Sir Hugh was aware that he had once again fallen under the monarch’s spell. He secretly longed to have a command of Latin, if for no other reason than to gain the respect of Lady Margaret. The King again plunged on to new subjects.

“I have one more expenditure to show you, sir, with which I feel the Count would find himself more at home.”

They proceeded rapidly along the corridor until it emptied into a broad courtyard. Mounted men were jousting with padded weapons; others were on foot practicing close, hand-to-hand combat. Sir Hugh estimated that there were approximately fifty soldiers. As they observed the drill, Geoffrey spoke slowly, with the emphasis his companion had come to expect. There were no rhetorical questions this time.

“My personal guard is small but highly skilled. I have seen to that. They are also intensely loyal to me, strange as that may seem to some. My own military abilities have no doubt fallen into disrepair, but should war break out, I will be ready. I am the only man in this realm, other than my son, who is of royal blood. The land on which my vassals live belongs not to them but to me, their monarch. I will defend what is mine against what I consider paltry, dishonest complaints. I might easily wait six weeks before saying this, but my decision will not change. I have enough loyal followers to resist the Count, and I will.”

Sir Hugh felt awkwardly uncomfortable, like a young boy being scolded by his father. What could he say?

The King’s visage softened. He held out his hand and rested it on the knight’s shoulder.

“You are honorable, sir, and I know you are struggling to determine your path, should combat result. Remember this: under the tradition of liege homage, I have a claim on your sword that is older, and consequently stronger, than Count Reginald’s. But I will not press that claim. If war comes, you must choose the side wherein your honor lies. I have presented my arguments. Please consider them tonight, and bear my message to the Count tomorrow.”

Sir Hugh realized he had been dismissed. The King departed, leaving him to watch the small band of warriors and to fight his own personal war.

* * *
Richard noticed that his lord was unusually somber and uncommunicative for the entire journey back to the Count’s manor. The squire had always been able to generate some kind of light, tension-breaking comment; but this time his instincts advised against it.

Sir Hugh had not been able to resolve the dilemma overnight. It had been complicated by his sincere desire to maintain the good graces of Lady Margaret. When would he be able to see her again? Could he face her knowing the role he played in the growing crisis? He steeled his resolve with one conclusion. He would always have to live with the decision he would make; it must be one his honor could accept. As the Count’s hall came into view on the fourth day, he knew he had reached his decision.

He was immediately ushered into the smiling, but awesome presence of Count Reginald, who stood, arms akimbo, before his chair. He greeted the traveler with boisterous enthusiasm.

“You have certainly wasted little time in fulfilling your errand, sir knight. We did not expect to see you for some weeks yet. What reply do you bring to our requests? Has the King come to his senses so quickly?”

“I fear his reply will displease you, my lord. He claims the charges are unfounded and is prepared to defend his hold on the realm.”

“What hold?” The Count’s temper flared abruptly. “He reigns because we tolerate his empty posturing! That devious reprobate did not award us the privilege of receiving a detailed answer to our petition! Let it be publicly known that he leaves us no other recourse!”

He spun around and addressed himself to a guard in attendance.

“I want messengers sent immediately to Sir Howard Fitzdale, Duke Robert of Cauneleau, and Sir John De Maine. They are to organize their forces and those of their vassals. “Robert! You have the names of the others; give them to this man. We will rendezvous at Charter Field on Monday next!”

The ever-present Mandeville bowed and moved briskly toward the door, followed by the guard. Count Reginald whirled again toward Sir Hugh like a man possessed.

“Du Rochet! You have heard what I have told these men. I claim your support as my vassal.  You will muster your troops as I have ordered.”

With stoic resignation, Sir Hugh replied simply and unemotionally, “No, my lord. I will not.”

The Count stared as if he had not understood the reply, but no explanation was forthcoming.

Sir Reginald’s exclamation shattered the ominous silence.

“No? What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I mean, my lord, that I cannot honorably support your cause. By liege homage I am committed to defend the King, but if I were not so obliged, I could not join you. You have no true complaint against him except that by holding the throne he threatens your desire for power. My men will join his forces.”

“You simpleton! Do you not see how he has maneuvered you? Take your honor with you then. We do not need your pitiful support. But do not plead for mercy when next we meet, for you are a disloyal vassal in forfeit of your obligations!”

Sir Hugh bowed with excessive dignity and exited to the courtyard. When he and his squire were free of the Count’s jurisdiction, the young knight instructed Richard to return with all speed to the royal court.

“You must arrive in less than four days. The King has but a week to prepare his defenses. I will join you after I have organized my fighting men. Now, ride!”

The two men galloped in separate directions, driving their mounts with the urgency of their convictions.

* * *
An imposing armored figure rode at the head of twenty mounted warriors accompanied by more numerous foot soldiers. His shield bore du Rochet heraldry: a gold stag’s head on a field of green. Although the other knights carried designs which identified their noble lineage, none of them were of a mind to challenge the leadership of their young lord. He had proven his skill and courage in earlier engagements.

Only once did the procession halt briefly, and that was at the convent Here the startled Abbess gave Sir Hugh permission to speak with the Lady Margaret.

The interview was brief. The knight explained cryptically what was transpiring. Combat was inevitable now. He asked her forgiveness for bearing such bad news; and then, fighting to control his emotions, he confessed to her the role of deception he had played.

“I cannot support the Count, knowing what I know now. I ask only that you forgive me for misleading you. Please believe me when I say that I would not willingly hurt you for any worldly possession.”

She was visibly shaken. Maintaining what composure she could, she replied, “I forgive you, sir, and will pray God to sustain you. You must fulfill your pledge to return with news of the court.”

They smiled at each other through suppressed tears, and then he was gone.

* * *
King Geoffrey was hardly surprised by the revelations of Sir Hugh’s squire. When the knight had first arrived with the fateful document, the King had ordered those vassals whom he knew to be loyal to prepare their forces for the forty days’ military service that was a mandatory feudal obligation. They should all be nearing the city now, he reasoned, and that gave them at least a little time to outline their deployment on Charter Field.

He took one unmilitary step which he hoped might calm the city’s inhabitants. Wild rumors were circulating; and the people, whose everyday lives might not be affected by the actual events, were nonetheless clearly disturbed. He sought to check this through the influence of the Archbishop, whose presence he requested at court.

Once again, the two friends observed a minimum of formality and fell immediately into serious conversation.

“There should be no reprisals taken on the people of the city,” the King observed. “It is obvious that the rebels want nothing more than to replace me with the Count.”

“You speak as if your armies had already been defeated, my son. Why are you so faint of heart?”

“My Lord Archbishop, I have scarcely one-half the forces Sir Reginald can muster. There is an irresistible logic attached to my conclusion. We can deploy carefully, but barring a miracle, we cannot win. You must use your influence to maintain calm and order.”

“I know the justice of your cause, Geoffrey. Holy Mother Church will do all She can to protect you as you have always protected Her.”

The King smiled. “My ecclesiastical vassals have already fulfilled their feudal obligations by sending troops or a payment substitute. The Church’s support has been a great comfort to me.”

The Archbishop could only say that if the Church relied solely on strength of arms, Her meaning would be inconsequential indeed. “God and His Church will shield you,” he added in an authoritative, soothing tone. The old priest made the sign of the Cross, and the King crossed himself in response. On that comforting note, the conversation ended.

Soon after this, messengers began to arrive announcing the approach of troops led by nobles loyal to Geoffrey. He directed them to pitch camp in the fields east of the city and, when convenient, to send their commanders to him.

He greeted each man as an old friend. When Sir Hugh arrived, the King was visibly moved.

“I am glad to have one such as you with us. I hope that my son will come to know you better; he could have no one better to emulate.”

Sir Hugh replied, “If he learns from his father, sire, he will need no other teacher.”

Geoffrey’s eyes reflected his gratitude. “Is not one generation of foxes enough?” he joked, and then turned to the others. A visual survey revealed that all the principal commanders were there. Calling for their attention, the King got to the point immediately. “My Lords, we have two days before the rebel forces are due at Charter Field. I propose we consider a strategy that will minimize their numerical advantage.”

For two hours the leaders discussed the probable makeup and deployment of the enemy and the possible counter moves available.

“Count Reginald’s knights will form the center,” the King concluded. “He is a rash politician, but his courage and strength are beyond dispute.”

“We should try to strengthen our flanks and envelop him, then,” one commander suggested.

“There will be considerable risk in that,” said another. “Fitzdale and de Maine have several knights at their command. The count may use this cavalry to strengthen his right and left.”

“In any event, I believe we should make his capture our main objective,” replied the King.

The discussion continued, and it became apparent that each hypothetical move depended not only on their military prowess but also on some strategic blunder by the enemy. They were grim and resigned.

Geoffrey said finally, “The Archbishop will oversee the administration of the Sacraments tomorrow. The men will enter the fight without the burden of fear for their souls.” He again thanked each man for his loyalty and dismissed them with this simple benediction: “This day we few serve honor.”

* * *
By Sunday afternoon, Count Reginald’s formidable army had begun to assemble on the open land at the southern fringe of Charter Field. The force grew to over five thousand, many of whom were heavily armored knights mounted on gigantic steeds, displaying the easily recognized standards of nobility.

Royal scouts reported throughout the day. The only comfort Geoffrey could give his worried Queen was that Sir Reginald’s confidence and swagger occasionally led him to disregard careful planning. “If he relies on brute strength, he will fall into our hands before most of his army can strike a blow,” Geoffrey explained to Queen Catherine. “That is our best hope.”

When morning came, the two opposing forces were facing each other across the deceptive tranquility of Charter Field. The Count had stationed himself in the forefront of his line, as had been expected; but his flanks were well-manned. Geoffrey was to lead the attack on the right flank; the place directly opposite their powerful adversary had gone to Sir Hugh, who seemed to offer the best hope of holding the middle against the first onslaught.

Shields, armor, and weapons glistened in the morning sun and ensigns fluttered above the knights. Only the heavy silence that enveloped the men as they nervously awaited the signal to charge revealed that the festive colors were a deadly pageant.

From his position in the forefront, Count Reginald was preparing to wave a mailed fist as a signal for attack, when something froze him in mid-motion.

Onto the peaceful no-man’s land of the field, a small procession emerged from the road running perpendicular to the two armies. Leading the procession was a priest bearing a cross, and behind him was carried a chair in which the old Archbishop sat.

Sir Reginald’s reaction was a mixture of indignation and dismay. King Geoffrey, though surprised, concluded that his old friend had come to beg the Count to withdraw.

In the middle of the field, the procession stopped. Out of reverence and respect, soldiers in both armies bowed and crossed themselves. The Archbishop stepped free and, holding his staff, slowly scanned the warriors. Then he turned abruptly toward the Count, who loomed like a giant above the other knights.

In a surprisingly powerful voice which all could hear, the Archbishop spoke.

“Reginald Demotte, Count of Belloir, you stand in peril of your immortal soul!”

A shock ran through both forces, but the Archbishop did not hesitate.

“You have violated your sacred oath and do now stand in open rebellion before your sworn lord. No arms can avail you before the judgment of God. I now declare that should you persist in raising a weapon in anger against your King, you will be excommunicated by Holy Mother Church. Your subjects will be absolved from any loyalty to you, and you will be barred from the Sacraments. Likewise, any who follow you in your reckless course will be declared outcasts beyond the succor of God and His Church. Think well on what you now do, noble lords!”

The Count, for once, was speechless. Behind him, panic was spreading within the troops.

His infantry and cavalry began without comment to leave the field and return to their camp. The trend was gradual but beyond Count Reginald’s ability to reverse. No matter how bitter it might seem to him, he had to recognize that the battle could not occur. Bitterest of all, he now realized that the only course open to him, if he were to protect his power, and his soul as well, was to beg King Geoffrey’s forgiveness. He might retain his hereditary lands, but the King would exact forfeiture of the fiefs most recently granted to him. Crushed by the utter futility, he finally withdrew to his camp. A cheer went up from the King’s forces, who had been watching the spectacle in amazement. There was nothing left for them to do but return to their tents as well.

However, the mood of that camp was as triumphant as the Count’s was sullen.

* * *
When the King returned to court, he found that news of the morning’s extraordinary events had arrived well in advance of the royal company. The Queen shed tears of happy relief. Geoffrey remarked with a wink, “See how good it is to cultivate old friends? I want a request sent to the Archbishop that a Te Deum be sung to thank God for this great victory in which no life was lost.

Oh, yes, I would also like to see Sir Hugh du Rochet as soon as possible.”

Two messengers were dispatched immediately, and, although they found it difficult to wend their way through individual celebrations, both were able to carry out their tasks.

Sir Hugh, still in armor, arrived in a matter of minutes. King Geoffrey greeted him with “You fought bravely, sir!”

“My Lord?” The young knight did not believe he had been called simply to hear what was by now a tired joke.

“I mean, of course, the battle you won for your honor. You showed exceptional bravery turning against the Count. I am afraid I must ask another favor of you, though. The convent has not as yet been informed of the morning’s outcome, and my sources tell me you are the specially appointed courier of Lady Margaret. You must leave at once to bring her the news!”

Sir Hugh’s face brightened. “Yes. my Lord! I will leave immediately!” Before the echo of his leave-taking died, his figure had vanished from the hall.

The King turned to Queen Catherine and grinned. She chuckled and said, “If I did not know better, my Lord, I would swear you planned the affection that is growing between those two young people.”

“Why, Cat!” Geoffrey laughed. “If I were to do something like that, they might call me a fox!”

Questions for Analysis:

1. Feudalism was a system devised to provide a measure of governmental stability and military order in an age of decentralized secular authority. What strengths and weaknesses of the system are illustrated in the story?

2. How does the story illustrate King Geoffrey’s observation that the Church was a widely accepted civilizing force?

3. Widespread education and social mobility were not generally accepted values in medieval Western Europe. What examples can you find in the story to substantiate this conclusion? How has contemporary society changed from the values of the Middle Ages?

4. What are the characteristics of Chivalry, as exemplified by Sir Hugh du Rochet? Is the Code of Chivalry a practical approach to the problems of life today?

5. Imagine that you are Count Reginald and you have returned home after that fateful day on Charter Field. Would you give up your ambitions or would you use different methods to achieve them?

6. Are King Geoffrey’s problems really solved by the outcome on Charter Field?

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