Galileo’s Other Job
‘My Lord, only a few more steps, mind your head on the… ah! Now, just get your breath back Sire, that was quite a climb for a man of your age. Isn’t the view magnificent? Look over towards the Murano Glassworks, see the smoke? It seems the glassmakers have set fire to another workshop. And beyond the island, isn’t that one of your ships approaching the harbour?
‘No, don’t sit down Sire, forgive me, but this is what you came to see, over here, let me remove the cloth; this is my device.
‘Yes, now you draw my attention to it, there is a resemblance to a staff. Bend down a little and look into this, I call it an eyeplace.
‘No, it’s not magic. It’s glass Sire, lenses just like an eye-lens. In fact, it’s Murano glass. I’ve placed Murano lenses in a tube.
‘What does it do? You saw for yourself Sire; it makes things look bigger — closer. I’m thinking of calling it a Galileo Look Closer at Things Scoping Tube.
‘It’s not a toy! It’s an early warning system. How many ships have you lost to pirates in past years? How many times have pirates managed to approach this city without being discovered? My Galileo Look Closer at Things Scoping Tube will solve this problem. Equip the ramparts with one. Equip your ships.
‘You’re correct, I haven’t told you what it will cost; but I’ll give you a good price. First look, see how the tube swivels Sire, and look at the decorations on the casing.
‘Yes. Very clever. It spins. How quickly you make it spin. What fun. If it pleases my lord, it is a delicate instrument; perhaps I can demonstrate a more practical purpose. Notice, you can point it anywhere. Not up there if you please, not at the sun; it seems to get the glass excited, too bright to look through.
‘You heard it caused a fire or two.
‘Nothing important. My servant’s trousers, my son’s study book — so he claims!
‘Of course, you can, yes, point it anywhere you like. You see Master Fibonacci at Ponte de Rialto unloading wine? I must get down there before he’s finished. What else do you see? You’re turning it towards the Nunnery. A beguiling building; you seem to be engrossed. Beautiful brickwork; I didn’t know you were that keen. May I? Ah, yes, I understand; how lovely, the detail I’m getting. But, back to business. If you point this Look Closer Tube out there past Lido you’ll be the first to see ships heading for port. You’ll be the first to signal them. What bargains you’ll make. Equip each of your captains with these, and they’ll see pirates before pirates see them — no more stolen cargoes.
‘No Sire; I haven’t mentioned a price yet. Well, the lenses for this instrument alone cost me ten florins.
‘I swear, ten florins. I had to hire specialists from abroad. Those Murano glass-grinders. Might as well ask a monkey to scribble a papal bull.
‘Just a saying, my lord.
‘Yes, I’ll jot it down for you, but back to the costs. It takes days for each lens. Ten florins for the lenses Sire and then ten more for the mounting.
‘Are you feeling faint? You’re quite red in the face. It was all the steps up here I’m sure. I chose the bell tower so we could get a good view of the harbour. Twenty florins Sire and you’ll be the proud owner of the Galileo Look Closer Scope; never wears out, can be used day and night. Your palace is opposite the Ladies’ Spa, isn’t it? I’ve heard that the spa has even more interesting brickwork than the nunnery. Twenty florins Sire, a pittance. Look down again at Fibonacci; his is the first ship in from Greece this season. Two other ships lost to Tunisian pirates. Why, with the Scope Tube yours will be the only ships that always outsee and outrun the pirates.
‘No Sire. No discount. Each captain will need a Galileo Look Far Off Tube and each will cost a mere twenty florins.
‘Yes, of course you can hire twenty seamen for a year, and a galley cook, and his mother-in-law as washerwoman for that amount, but will your twenty seamen, and the cook, and his mother-in-law see the pirates coming?
‘So you’ll take ten Telos Tubes?
‘Telos? It’s Greek for far off.’
Let me see; income from ten telos-scopes that’s two hundred florins, less the total cost of equipment and labour: twenty florins. That leaves me with one hundred and eighty profit. My annual expenditure with lodgings, clothing, fuel, and food for my family and servants? That’s thirty. Then there’s my mistress’s upkeep and her jewels, that’s another ninety. And my brother’s tuition and my sister’s dowry? Altogether that’ll be one hundred and seventy, which leaves me ten. Umm.
And there’s my servant’s new trousers.
‘Shhh, make no sound and watch your head as you come through the door. You never expected to see Venice from up here, did you? Please don’t lean over the parapet, if anyone should look up and see your face ….
‘Yes, you can take that wig off now, and the dress. It’s served its purpose. Be careful; it’s my mistress’s. Let me remove the cloth and show you; this is my device. Bend down a little and … well, take your scimitar off first why don’t you. Look into here.
‘You too? No, it’s not magic. Lenses make things look closer. I call it a telos-scope. It’s an early-detection system. How many ships have eluded you in past years? How many times have Venetians escaped your clutches? For forty florins a scope it’s a bargain. How many ships in your fleet?
‘That many? Really?
‘Take a glass of wine sir, Fibonacci’s best.’
Roger Meachem tells tales and resides — so he tells people — in a little known slice of Scotland which he shares with Issue the cat, and a frog in the well. He writes for fun when he isn’t gazing at the stars.
(Previous story: Therapy Cat by Meg Pokrass)
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