Botanical Liaisons

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Burgundy, France - the REAL Burgundy, not Bernhard’s Burgundy

Spring, 1634

 

“I’ve got a gardener,” the baron said around a mutton chop. “Two of them. And a boy to do the weeding.”

“Sieur,” André Le Nôtre started, but the baron interrupted him.

“Why should I take you on? Because you’ve got a bit of paper that said you worked for the Duc d’Orleans? How do I know it’s not fake? Anyone can remove a seal from a bit of parchment and who’s to know what a duke or cardinal’s secretary’s handwriting looks like?” The baron dropped the chop and took a large swig of wine. “Maybe I should have you arrested for tampering with a government seal?”

“I would never tamper with Cardinal Richelieu or Monsieur’s seal! My father and grandfather were loyal servants of the crown,” André said stiffly with a small bow, “but unfortunately for me, King Louis hasn’t adopted the up-time custom of photo identification. What I ask is that you allow me to work for my room and board until spring planting is finished . . .”

The baron grunted and picked up his food again. “If I need an extra hand for sowing, it isn’t in my garden but my tenant’s fields. Look, you sound like an educated man . . .”

André stiffened. “I studied mathematics, art, and architecture at the Louvre. Last winter I studied with Monsieur Mansart, the architect . . .”

“Never heard of him,” The baron said, biting off a hunk of dog’s bread. “But if you know mathematics and art, you know Latin. The priest who was teaching my sons has gone off and killed himself. Damnedest thing, the priest was convinced this girl in the village was a witch, one of my tenants said she turned him into a newt. Or maybe it was this Monty Python fellow, whoever he is. Anyway, the priest tried to set the girl on fire, but ended up setting himself on fire instead. Drowned the girl, can’t take any chances with witches, but the whole thing has left my boys without a tutor. Teach my boys until I get a new priest, and I’ll pay you what I paid him.”

André closed his eyes in despair. The last thing in the world he wanted was to teach the sons of some provincial noble who acted as though this was still the time of Henri IV. More than anything he wished he was home in his parent’s house at the Tuileries or in a café with Charles Le Brun discussing art, but beggars, he reminded himself, couldn’t be choosers.

“Very well, Sieur,” André said reluctantly.

“Good,” the baron said with a ripe belch. “Oh, while I think about it, you are a Catholic, right? So many Huguenots about these days. And Jews. Can’t think where they come from. Do you suppose witches create ‘em like newts?”

André stiffened. He had been raised Catholic and found Jean Calvin’s notions of predestination incomprehensible, but as far as André was concerned a man’s religion was a private affair and shouldn’t interfere with gardens.

“I have no idea,” André began, assuming the baron’s question wasn’t rhetorical, but before he could say anything else, a maid placed a large trencher with a whole perch before the baron. The baron banged his fist on the table so hard, André was surprised the table didn’t break.

“Woman!” the baron roared, “where’s the subtlety? You know the order of service! Soup first, then the meat, and the sweet last!”

“This is what the cook sent, my lord,” the woman said stiffly. “Madame’s orders, he said.”

The baron pounded the table again, then stood and removed his belt. He probably would have beat the poor woman senseless if Bonaparte, André’s cat, hadn’t chosen that precise moment to leap out of her basket, race across the room, jump on the table and begin eating the perch.

“A witch!” The baron screamed.

With the baron’s speech on witches echoing in his mind, André rushed forward and grabbed Bonaparte. She spat at him and tried to get back to her fish, even though it was really too dry for her taste, but André gripped her tightly as he ran out of the manor house, the baron at his heels.

“Off with his head!” The baron cried.

****

 

Grantville

Fall, 1634

 

Non, non!” André cried in his broken French-Amideutsch, taking the pot from the German. “These need sunlight, not shade! Let me, s’il vous plait.”

The man gave up the pot with a grateful smile and a roll of his eyes at André’s micromanaging and went back outside. André placed the pot in an empty sunny spot and was rewarded with a buzzing purr from Bonaparte as she sniffed the plant.

André smiled and gave her a pat before seizing another flower pot from one of the Grange workers.

André had been practically seized by the Grantville’s Parks Commission the moment he’d reported to the police at the city limits as so much manna from heaven. The local Germans had been doing a good job, but they didn’t have the feel for flowers André’s father had instilled in him.

“We dug up the plants and sent them to the university in Fairmont,” one of the up-time park managers said through a translator when André had arrived at the Parks Commission office. “We tried to get funding for a greenhouse in 1631, but . . . well. Do you know anything about them?”

André took a minute to press a hand against the cool, clear glass of the new, if small, greenhouse. The city had built it on a sliver of land at one end of what the up-timers called a park and André thought of as a garden. It was barely big enough for the plants that wouldn’t survive a German winter during the Little Ice Age, but André loved it.

My father in Paris would kill for a greenhouse like this, André thought. Before the Ring of Fire, the best greenhouses west of Cathay André had heard of were in Holland. André had grown up with every available space in the house filled with pots of the king’s flowers and vegetables so the royal family could have fresh flowers in their rooms and fresh vegetables on their plates.

But that commoners could have such things! André marveled. Clear Venetian glass, once the most expensive and coveted material on Europe, set in a type of the wonderful plastic called PVC. André had seen other greenhouses in and around Grantville and knew steel or iron would work as well, but it wasn’t the structures that made greenhouses so amazing, it was the heat. And that heat was produced by electricity, at least in Grantville.

“Merow,” Bonaparte said, pressing her head into André’s leg, and he smiled as he rubbed her ears.

“You like it here, eh, mon amie,” André said, rubbing the sleep from his cat’s eyes. Bonaparte rippled her tail and began to purr like an up-time motor. “I like it here too, cherie. The Public Library is the best in the world!”

Bonaparte hissed at that. She hated that André spent most of his evenings at the library. She thought it was incredibly rude and stupid of the humans that ran this town not to let her keep an eye on André when he had to enter their strange, ratless buildings. How any cat of sense put up with this kind of behavior from their humans Bonaparte didn’t know. But then, the few up-time cats she’d met seemed to be a spoiled, lazy bunch. It was no wonder, in Bonaparte’s opinion, people didn’t want up-time cats to breed.

André sighed. “I like Grantville, but there isn’t a future here. Grantville has an up-time commercial landscaper who uses up-time machines to care for the public parks. If you can call stretches of grass with skimpy hedgerows, and miserable strips of flowers parks. Those parts,” André growled, “they haven’t made over for sports.”

“I wish someone would give me a chance to show the world what a garden should be,” André told Bonaparte, who wholeheartedly agreed that her person was underappreciated. Any human who knew just how to scratch under a cat’s chin surely belonged among the kings of the earth.

André picked Bonaparte up and walked down the narrow aisle between the pots and put Bonaparte on the workbench. “I wish Monsieur had been more reasonable. It wasn’t like I accepted Richelieu’s job offer even if I did accept the money. Of course I accepted the money, who wouldn’t? And the man said it was from the king!”

Bonaparte meowed in agreement, arching her back as André’s fingers found the precise spot on her spine that needed attention. It really was too mean of these up-timers, she told him with a butt of her head against his abdomen, to make their buildings so rat-proof. She was hungry.

“At least this job pays for my room and board so I can study at the library,” André said, ignoring Bonaparte’s request for food. “I wish I could afford to buy copies of some of those gardening books on raised beds and Charles would kill to see the art section. I should have listened to him and gone to work for Richelieu, but no, I listened to Maman and Papa. ‘Ministers come and go, kings stay. Vive Le Roi!’ Then I get fired from my job by Monsieur for disloyalty!”

André shook his head in disgust then picked Bonaparte up and set her on the ground. Bonaparte hissed, just to remind her person that she was an independent cat and quite capable, thank you, of leaping off a workbench all by herself if she had desired to.

André just sighed and walked out, making sure Bonaparte was out before he locked the greenhouse.

“Come on, mon chat,” he said, tiredly, “let’s go see what Frau Schwartz is serving for dinner, oui?”

“Merow,” Bonaparte agreed, rippling her tail again. Whatever she made for her human boarders, Frau Schwartz always had a bit of fish for Bonaparte. At least she appreciated Bonaparte’s hunting skills, even if the up-timers didn’t.

****

 

Grantville

February, 1635

 

Dear Papa and Maman,

That is the way up-timers begin letters. See how much I am learning in this new place? I have taken your advice to heart, Papa, and am learning everything I can from Grantville. The up-timers seem to appreciate young men who are willing to learn and turn their hand to any task. Over the winter I worked with the men charged with maintaining the city and have been certified to drive the internal combustion machines they have for removing snow from the streets. My instructor didn’t even pray when I finished, which I am told is a compliment. I am also attending classes at the school to learn English and German.

Before you ask, Maman, I am attending the Catholic Church every Sunday and going to confession, though I can’t say I sin very much. I am too busy learning. The nights I don’t have classes I spend at the library looking at their gardening section. Most of what there is available is on vegetables and gardening in small spaces, though I have compiled an instruction booklet on greenhouses, which I enclose. There are methods of insulating the glass frames to retain heat and creating what the books call ‘heat sinks’ I practiced in my work with the city greenhouse this winter that work without electricity.

How are my brothers and sisters? Behaving, I hope, and learning their Latin. I have also included some Brillo drawings—not seditious at all, I assure you, Maman. I love you and miss all of you and keep you in my prayers.

 

March, 1635

 

By the time this reaches you, my dear family, you may have heard that the mayor of Grantville has been killed.

Many in the courts of Europe will not understand how important Monsieur Dreeson was to people here in Grantville. He was, I suppose a symbol of the town, more so than Monsieur Stearns in some ways. Monsieur Stearns was important to many men up-time because he represented mine workers to their employers and now represents what many want Germany, and Europe, to become.

Monsieur Dreeson was, and is, a symbol of what Grantville was up-time, a small town. To those up-timers that have accepted their new world, and to the down-timers who have settled here, I think he became a symbol of acceptance and opportunity for peace and a better life.

Up-time, our country gave the United States a mammoth statue for the harbor of a lady in Roman dress carrying a tablet and a lantern. On a plaque inside the statue is written:

" 'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she

With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,


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