1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 10
The ladder to all high design
“Lord Turenne, we have finished searching their gear. Nothing suspicious, sir.”
Turenne nodded and dismissed his orderly with a wave. He had watched from a narrow casement window when, hours ago, the strange trio had first approached the portcullis of his “testing facility.” They had surrendered their arms as though they expected to do no less, submitted to the further indignity of a close personal search, and were then led into the courtyard to await a more thorough check of their rucksacks and gear.
While waiting on that process, Turenne had compared their self-written letters of introduction with the fragmentary dossiers he already possessed on two of the three men. The French intelligence was patchy at best, but confirmed that such persons did exist, that the individuals in the courtyard answered to their general descriptions, and that the positions and abilities they claimed in their letters certainly conformed to those attributed to them by the analysts in Paris. But neither source provided any clue as to why the group’s two persons of note might be traveling together or why they desired an audience with Turenne himself. However, they had both been clear and politely specific regarding that latter point: they were not interested in speaking with the senior military authorities in Paris, nor Turenne’s chief of staff Robert du Barry. They required an audience with Turenne. Otherwise, they explained — again politely — they would take their leave, and take their proposal elsewhere. Given his busy schedule, Turenne would normally have dictated a brief note, wishing them bon chance and pleasant travels to whomever was the next influential person on their list.
But one of the two credentialed strangers was an American technical expert. The other was the storied son of an exiled Irish earl, and had played a pivotal role in repulsing Frederik Hendrik’s drive on Bruges just four years ago. If Turenne had ever encountered a more peculiar pair of traveling companions, he could not recall it.
There was the anticipated knock on the door. Turenne elected to stand. “Enter.”
Du Barry, along with two guards armed with Cardinal breech-loading carbines, brought the unlikely duo into Turenne’s office. Du Barry looked to Turenne, who waved a desultory hand at him. “I am safe here, Robert. You may go.”
With a backward bow, du Barry and the two guards departed — and headed to join two other guards secreted in small rooms adjacent to this one, the entrances concealed behind bookcases and mirrors. The code “I am safe here” had sent them to these secret stations to oversee their Viscount’s protection.
However, as the door closed behind Turenne’s security entourage, the land-displaced Irish earl and the time-displaced American looked at the walls, and then exchanged glances. Then they looked at Turenne. And smiled faintly.
So much for preserving the impression of trust and a private meeting.Turenne surprised himself by returning their smiles. “Please understand, gentlemen, in my position, to be contemptuous of possible risk is to be contemptuous of one’s own life.”
The taller and younger of the two spoke. “We understand completely, Lord de la Tour d’Auverge.”
Who waved away that title like cobwebs. “My dear Comte, er, Earl of Tyrconnell, let us dispense with these titles. They are so cumbersome, particularly mine. I am simply Turenne.”
“And by that usage, I am simply O’Donnell.”
“And your companion?”
The American stepped forward, hand half-extended, but then he glanced at the room’s bookcases and mirrors. Mon Dieu, is it so obvious? Turenne came around his desk, extended his hand in the American fashion, imagined a nervous du Barry whelping kittens in his sally port. “I welcome your hand, Monsieur — ?”
“McCarthy, Michael McCarthy. Junior. A pleasure, Lord Turenne.”
Plain manners and plain spoken, but forthright, honest, and unbowed. Turenne had heard this about most of the Americans. To many of his aristocratic peers, it made the up-timers intolerable abominations, like ogres who had learned enough of the ancient virtues of Athens and Pericles to become both supremely ridiculous and dangerous at the same time. But Turenne found the effect refreshing. He could already anticipate how, with a man of this demeanor, one could get to ideas, could get to agreements, and could get down to work, very quickly. And without the interminable folderol of titles, and protocols, and curtsies. “I welcome both of you to my, well, you might call them ‘experimental laboratories.'” And with that greeting, Turenne resumed his seat. And waited.
O’Donnell heard the unasked question in the silence. “We apologize for taking the liberty of seeking you at your place of work, and with no proper application for an audience. But our circumstances, and the import of our proposal, are both such that this direct approach seemed best, if regrettably brusque.”
“I see. Which explains much, Lord O’Donnell, since you could certainly have asked one of your correspondents for a thoroughly adequate introduction.” Or could have used them to bypass me altogether, Turenne observed silently. “Unless I am misinformed, your seal is wellknown to the Pope and Philip of Spain.”
Hugh nodded. “It is.”
“Yet here you are, on my doorstep, without any of the letters of introduction which would have assured you of immediate audience, and spared you the distasteful experience of being searched and examined like a common highwayman.”
The American answered. “Had Lord O’Donnell secured those letters, he would also have alerted those same persons to our meeting with you.”
Turenne nodded, looked at the displaced earl. “Lord O’Donnell, if I am not mistaken, you have been in the court, and then direct service, of the Archduchess Infanta Isabella of the Spanish Lowlands, since you were two years of age. Have you now chosen to seek service elsewhere?”
The Irishman’s face took on a melancholy expression. “I had little enough ‘choice’ in the matter, given what the histories of Grantville have shown me.”
“I can sympathize, sir. My own career was changed as a result of those documents. Cardinal Richelieu advanced me on the strength of deeds I had not yet performed, and now, never can, for that history has been irreversibly changed. Is it the same with you?”
“According to their books, I am a dead man in seven years.”
Turenne felt his stomach contract, suddenly cold. “Mon Dieu — Lord O’Donnell, my apologies. I had no idea, or I would not have spoken with such insouciance.”
O’Donnell waved aside the apology. “We all have different fates. And that was mine if I remained in Spanish service. And probably the fate of many hundreds of my countrymen, as well. And all for naught.”
Turenne had read a precis of the European histories that had arrived with Grantville. “Sir, again you have my sympathies, but I must also be frank. I see no promise that the new history we are now embarked upon will make France any more ardent a supporter of Irish interests. Given the recent combination of our fleet and England’s to defeat the Dutch, I must sadly project that there might even be less reason for hope.”
“I do not place my hope in France, Lord Turenne. I place it in you.”
The surprise of those words left Turenne both baffled and a bit wary. “Me? Why me?”
But it was McCarthy who answered. “Because, Lord Turenne, your nationality isn’t what’s important in this case. What’s important is that you obviously understand, really understand, the kind of changes my town has brought to your world.”
“Your opinion flatters me, Monsieur McCarthy. But then why is the Earl of Tyrconnell not joining his banner to that of your USE, and Grantville in particular? It is the very embodiment of those changes.”