Eric Flint: Grantville Gazette.Volume 22

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    Grantville Gazette.Volume 22
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    Альтернативная история / на английском языке
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Grantville Gazette.Volume 22: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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"Claudia de Medici? The arch duchess and regent of Austria-Tyrol? How do you know her?"

"Why, she came into the store."

"Claudia de Medici visited Bartolli's Surplus and Outdoors Supplies?"

"No, she just pressed her face against the window glass, idiot. Yes, she came in. It was refreshing to have a visitor who asked questions about things that didn't go boom. We hit it off."

Lewis stared at the ceiling. "I don't suppose she asked about our family, too?"

"Oh, yes, I bragged a bit about our brother-in-law." Greg Ferrara, once Grantville's high school chemistry teacher, and now the USE's Grand Poo-Bah of Military R amp;D. "And I might have mentioned Toni Adducci, Senior." He was their first cousin, once removed, and the Secretary of the Treasury for the State of Thuringia-Franconia.

"Good God, Marina, you were talking to a Medici. For them, there is no boundary between family life and political life. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she knew about Greg before you opened your mouth. She flew you to Venice-"

"And arranged for me to be escorted here. And I have a letter to her nephew Ferdinand, asking that he see to it that I am safely returned to her townhouse in Venice when I am done here."

"How nice. Given that 'nephew Ferdinand' is the grand duke of Tuscany, I am sure you'll travel in style. But what sort of favor do you think Claudia will expect from you? And what will she do if you can't deliver?"

"Oh, pooh," said Marina. "I can deliver. I already had cousin Greg and Arch duchess Claudia over for dinner, for example. It went fine, even if Mother nearly had a nervous breakdown. And I can ask my brother Lewis-" She winked. "-whether there might be any 'investment opportunities' in his boric acid operation. So, are there?"

"Given that the operation is backed by Medici money, and Claudia is a Medici, I think that's a safe assumption."

"Good. I also have a list of chemistry questions for you. Mind you, I think Claudia already put the same questions to cousin Greg, and just wants to see if your answers are the same. She's a smart cookie."

"I'm sure."

"She kinda hinted that she might be able to take me on as one of her ladies-in-waiting."

"You want to be a glorified servant to a noblewoman?"

"Oh, that's right. I could stay in Grantville and be a sales clerk in a sporting goods store. What was I thinking?"


"Okay." She held up her left hand, palm up. "Sales clerk in Grantville." She held up her right hand the same way, at the same height. "Lady-in-waiting and ornamental up-timer in Tyrolia." She jiggled the hands up and down, as if they were the pans of a balance, then suddenly raised the left and lowered the right, sharply. "Tyrol wins!

"Anyway, you're one to talk. Isn't 'nephew Ferdinand' your patron now?"

"Technically speaking, he, and his brother Leopold, are patrons of the Academy, not my personal patron. I am still an officer in the USE Army."

"Technically speaking, 'Mister Consulting Detective,' if he tells you to piss, you say, 'yes sir, how far, sir?' Because we want Tuscany to be a friendly neutral. At least, that's what the Ambassadress told me when I passed through Venice."

Lewis winced. "As a matter of fact, he has given me a little assignment. A murder investigation."

"Ooh, tell me more."


"Well, the gruesome part is done," Lewis said. After the grand duke's physician had clucked-clucked over the corrosion of the stomach lining-typical of arsenic, antimony or mercury poisoning-Lewis had divided the stomach contents into two parts. One part he preserved intact, for study under the microscope, and the other part he homogenized, acidified, and heated. He let it cool back down, and ran it through a filter.

"Your Grace, if there is any arsenic in the filtrate, it is now sodium arsenate. We can now perform the Marsh test." Lewis pointed at a bottle. "That contains arsenic-free sulfuric acid." Lewis pulled some small rods of metal out of a chest. "And these are arsenic-free rods of zinc metal; what the alchemists call 'Malabar lead.'"

The World's Most Blue-Blooded Lab Assistant, otherwise known as Grand Duke Ferdinand, put the rods into a flask and poured the acid over the metal.

"Take it easy, Your Grace," warned Lewis. "We want to keep the temperature low, and the evolution of hydrogen slow." Lewis stuck his precious up-time thermometer into the flask. "Hmm… you were perhaps a little too enthusiastic. Let's cool things down a bit." He put the flask into a dish of cold water for a few minutes, then removed it.

"All right, next step." Lewis stoppered the flask, and inserted two tubes into it, one for adding the sample at the proper time, and the other to a U-shaped drying tube. This in turn he connected to an L-shaped tube with a long arm passing over a candle.

"Now we wait for all the air to be expelled."

The minutes passed.

Leopold fidgeted. Finally, he asked, "Why is it called the 'Marsh test'? That is your English word for a 'swamp,' si?"

"It's named after the English chemist, James Marsh. Marsh was called upon in a case in which a young man was accused of poisoning his grandfather with arsenic trioxide… that's what your apothecaries call 'arsenic.' He detected it by its reaction with hydrogen sulfide, but by the time of the trial, the yellow precipitate had deteriorated, and the jury refused to convict. Marsh was apoplectic over this miscarriage of justice, and worked long hours in his laboratory until he devised this test."

"Why the zinc?"

"The zinc reacts with the sulfuric acid to generate hydrogen, and the hydrogen reacts with the arsenic to form arsine gas."

"A gas? Like air?" Leopold, clearly, had attended Lewis' lecture on how air was a substance. "How will we see it?"

"When the gas is brought to a red heat here"-Lewis pointed to the part of the tube right above the alcohol burner-"it will decompose into metallic arsenic and hydrogen, and a shiny black deposit of arsenic will be deposited on the inside of the tube, just beyond. That's what we call the…" He paused for effect "… 'arsenic mirror.'

"It is time. Leopold, would you like to do the honors?" The World's Second Most Blue-Blooded Lab Assistant dropped the filtrate down the sample tube into the flask. And his older brother lit the burner.

"I can't believe you're letting them do everything," Marina complained.

"I thought you hated lab work when you took chemistry last year."

"I did. But you still should have asked me."

"I don't see anything yet," said Ferdinand.

"Let me see if this helps." Lewis held a white paper behind the tube.

"No… Wait… yes! I see a brown stain."

"It's getting blacker," said Leopold.

"Black as sin," pronounced Ferdinand. "We have a poisoning, don't we, Lewis?"

"It looks that way, Your Grace. But let me confirm." Lewis brought the burner to the free end of the tube, and ignited the escaping gas. It produced a bluish white flame, with white fumes.

"So far so good. Or bad, depending on your point of view."

Lewis held a cold porcelain dish to the flame, then brought it away. There was a brownish black spot upon it. "And that, my friends, is the 'arsenic spot.'"


Marina walked into Lewis' house, followed by a servant trying to balance a large pile of goods.

Lewis eyed the pile warily. "I hope Archduchess Claudia gave you an expense account."

"Nothing to worry about, brother. These are gifts from relatives."


"You didn't think that the Bartollis climbed out of the trees in West Virginia, did'ya? There are Bartollis right here in Florence. Cosimo, Lorenzo, Giovanni, Matteo, Niccolo, Piero…"

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