1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 17
“How can it be otherwise, dearest Godmother? But before I depart to — to distant places, I want you to know this:” — and he stopped and reached out a hand to touch her cheek, down which tears promptly sped in response — “I will never suffer my sword, or those of my men, to be lifted against yours.”
“I remain a vassal of Philip, so how can you make such a promise?”
Hugh looked at her steadily. “I make my oath and I pledge my life upon it.” And then he studied her more closely, a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “But I foresee that my promise may not be so difficult an oath to keep as you suggest. I see other changes afoot, godmother. Don Fernando proclaims himself the King in the Low Countries, but not the King of the Netherlands? What careful distinctions. They almost seem like mincing steps and mincing words, if I didn’t know him — and you — better.”
As his smile widened knowingly, she felt another stab of panic: does he suspect our plans? He must not! Not yet, anyway — for his own sake. And his next words did indeed quicken her fear that Hugh might have stumbled upon the subtle machinations she had activated for his eventual benefit and of which he had to remain unaware, for now.
“And Fernando’s careful steps towards greater autonomy also lead me to wonder: which Americans have had your ear in the privy chambers? And how has Philip reacted to your receiving their counsel, and to Fernando’s unusual declaration? No, do not tell me. If I do not know Philip’s will on this matter, or your plans — and you do not know mine — then Philip can never accuse you of being a traitor to his throne, no matter what might occur.”
Isabella managed not to release her breath in one, great sigh of relief. No, he had no specific information. He discerned the looming crisis — the inevitable conflicts with Madrid — but nothing more specific. Thankfully, he had not learned of their plans or his role in them.
Hugh was now completing and expanding the oath with which he had begun. “So finally, know this too, Godmother. Once I have returned from my travels, if you call for my sword, it is yours. And, if Don Fernando finds himself estranged from his brother’s good opinion, and still in your favor, he may call for my sword as well.”
Until that moment, Isabella had always cherished a view of Hugh as the wonderful, smiling boy that had made her childless life a little more bearable. Now, he was suddenly, and completely, and only, a man and a captain, and possibly, an important ally in the turbulent times to come. The ache of her personal desolation vied with the almost parental pride she felt for the boy who had become this man. The contending emotions washed through her in a chaotic rush and came out as another quick flurry of tears. Through which she murmured, “Via con Dios, dear Hugh. Wherever you may go.”
He smiled, took his hand from her cheek, and put his lips to her forehead. Where he placed a long and tender kiss. She sighed and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, he was gone.
* * *
As Du Barry entered, Turenne looked up. “What news?”
“We have word concerning the Earl of Tyrconnell’s clandestine northward journey, sir. He slipped over the border into the Lowlands without incident four nights ago. Soon after, he apparently began the process of bringing the first group of troops down to us, the ones that will go with him to Trinidad.”
“Excellent. And how do you know this?”
“Reports from our watchers near his tercio‘s bivouac report a smallish contingent making ready for travel. Several hundred more seem to be making more gradual preparations for departure.
“I see. Did Lord O’Donnell ask for their release from service at court in Brussels?”
“Then how did he manage it?”
Du Barry reddened. “I regret to say we do not know, Lord Turenne. Once he crossed the border, our agents were not able to keep track of him. He is far more versed in the subtleties of those lands and those roads. For a while, we even feared him dead.”
Turenne started. “What? Why?”
“The very last reports inexplicably placed him in Colonel Preston’s camp just outside of Brussels during a surprise attack upon a council of the other captains of the Wild Geese tercios. Our observer necessarily had to hang well back, so as not to be picked up in the sweeps afterward. By the time he returned, he could find no trace of O’Donnell, nor pick up his trail.”
Turenne thought. “Is there any chance the earl himself staged that attack? As a decoy to distract our observers, and to escape in the confusion of its aftermath?”
Du Barry shrugged. “Not unless Lord O’Donnell was also willing to sacrifice a number of his own men to achieve those ends, sir. And his reputation runs quite to the contrary of such a ruthless scheme. His concern for his men is legendary, and a matter of record. The only friction he ever had with his godmother the archduchess, other than some puppyish clamorings to be sent to war too early in his youth, were his complaints over the recent welfare of, and payrolls for, the common soldiers of his tercio.”
“Complaints for which he had good grounds, as I hear it.”
“Indeed so, Lord Turenne. Although his godmother herself has had no hand in causing the tercios‘ pay to be in arrears. That is determined by the court at Madrid.” Du Barry shifted slightly “While on the subject of the Earl of Tyrconnell’s Wild Geese, sir: is it your intent to really allow hundreds of them to cross over the border into France in one group? I suspect there might be some, er, pointed inquiries, if you were to add so many mercenaries to your payroll, and all at once.”
Turenne stared at his chief councilor and expediter. “What are you driving at, Du Barry?”
“Sir, with the recent increased tensions at court between Cardinal Richelieu’s faction, and that of Monsieur Gaston, a sudden hiring of hundreds, and eventually perhaps thousands, of new foreign mercenaries could appear to be motivated by domestic rather than foreign worries.”
“Ah,” sighed Turenne with a nod. “True enough, Du Barry. And if it reassures you, I do not intend to allow the Earl of Tyrconnell’s larger force to cross into France until we have full satisfaction in the matter of the tasks which lie before him in the Caribbean. However, in the meantime, we will provide for them as promised by sending the necessary livres over the border to the sutlers for their camps. We cannot hire them outright as long as they remain in service to Fernando and, I presume, Philip. So any money sent to them directly would be rightly construed as a sign that we had engaged their services while their oaths were still with their original employers. They, and we, would be rightly accused of base treachery.
“But mere provisioning cannot be so construed, for they are simply the designated beneficiaries of largesse which their countryman Tyrconnell has purchased for them. And so, even before they come to our colors, we will have bought their loyalty with ‘gifts’ of food for their hungry families. And by letting them clamor ever louder for permission to march south, we acquire something that I suspect Lord O’Donnell has not foreseen.”
“And what is that, sir?”
“Leverage over the earl himself.”
Du Barry frowned. “Now it is I who do not understand what you are driving at, Lord Turenne.”
Turenne smiled. “Let us presume that the Wild Geese in Brussels’ employ are becoming ever-more desirous of being allowed into France. Now let us also presume that the Earl of Tyrconnell succeeds in his bid to wrest Trinidad from the Spanish. We may still need leverage over him in order to ensure that we remain the recipients of what he has seized.
“I hope, and believe, that Richelieu’s factors in the New World will offer the earl a fair price, and promptly. The ship dispatched by the Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique to discreetly observe O’Donnell’s progress carries not only the Cardinal’s personal agent, but also a great deal of silver.
“But if the negotiation with O’Donnell does not come off as planned — well, we must retain an incentive to compel him to turn the oil over to us. And if we still have the power to deny his increasingly desperate men entry to France at that time, he will have an additional incentive to look with particular favor on any terms our representatives offer him.”
Du Barry nodded, then asked in a careful voice, “Would he not have an even greater incentive to comply if we already had his men in our camps, unarmed and vulnerable to our…displeasure?”
Turenne frowned. “I will go only so far, Du Barry. Leverage should not become synonymous with extortion, or kidnapping. I refuse to offer physical shelter to men that I actually intend to use as hostages. Let others play at such games: I shall not. I will keep my honor, my good name, and my soul, thank you. Besides, our agents in Brussels report that whispers about the Wild Geese’s possible departure en masse have fueled official concerns regarding their loyalty. Those concerns may be manifesting as even further constraints upon their provisioning. Furthermore, the commanders of the Spanish tercios are finding their Irish comrades increasingly worrisome and are pleading with Philip to remove them entirely.”
Turenne stood, poured a glass of wine as he outlined the logical endgame of the evolving political situation in the Spanish Lowlands. “Consequently, as the poverty of the Wild Geese increases, so will their desperation. Given another half year, they will all be clamoring to come to Amiens and we shall be happy to accept them, albeit at rates favorable to us. And the Earl of Tyrconnell, being a true, albeit young, father to his men, will not deny them that livelihood.”
Du Barry edged closer. Turenne took the hint and poured out a second glass with an apologetic smile. “Do not worry, Du Barry, matters are in hand.”
Du Barry took the glass, raised it slightly in Turenne’s direction. “I toast the assured success of your plans, my lord, for they are so well-crafted as to need no invocation of luck.”
Turenne halted his glass’ progress to his lips. “Plans always need invocations of luck, Du Barry. For we can only be sure of one thing in this world: that we may be sure of nothing in this world. A thousand foreseeable or unforeseeable things could go wrong. But this much we know, for we have seen it with our own eyes: France has a workable observation balloon, now. But the rest, this quest for New World oil?” Now Turenne sipped. “I avoid overconfidence at all times, my dear Du Barry, for I am not one to snub fate. Lest it should decide to snub me in return.”