1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 22

Of the seventeen galleons that had been merchantmen, two had been sunk outright and two more would be scuttled as soon as their off-loading was completed. Of the thirteen that remained, five would require extensive repairs but eight were fit for immediate service.

The twenty-one naos, an unusually high number for any Spanish fleet, had seen the least combat. Six had escaped. Three more had tried to flee but had been brought to heel by a several punishing broadsides. Twelve had been taken intact.

Tromp held the sheet further away from his eyes, tried to take in the full implications all at once. Thirty-two ships taken out of forty-nine total. The cargos of an additional four would be salvaged before they were scuttled. About a third would need major repairs before they could be put into service.

Dirck Simonszoon’s voice, just behind his shoulder, startled him. “Maarten, you look like Midas counting his gold. By the way, they found the Spanish admiral. He’ll be aboard soon.”

“Good. One more thing we can get out of the way. Are the boardings complete?”

Simonszoon stared sidelong at him. “That is yet another comment that makes me wonder about ‘impending dotage.'”

“Captain, you are impudent.”

“No, Admiral: you are delusional. There are thirty-two prizes that must have their crews transferred to our prison-ships, another four made safe for salvage teams prior to scuttling, and two more that had to be evacuated immediately. We’ve taken care of the ones that were sinking and that we’re scuttling. We’ve sorted out about half of the others, starting with the least damaged. It stands to reason they’d be the first to start thinking about trying to run.”

Tromp nodded. “Still, we will not be done by dark.”

“Maarten, we will be fortunate to be done by midnight. Or have you forgotten that we have to put our prize crew aboard the ones we’re taking?”

“I have forgotten nothing.” And indeed, Tromp recalled the matter of the prize crews in great detail, simply because it had been one of the most hotly contested parts of their plan. They had counted on taking, maybe, thirty ships maximum. Unfortunately, the Spanish did not make ships that were labor efficient. Even for the short cruise back to St. Eustatia, each hull should have had thirty-man prize crews, which meant they needed nine hundred such men.

They had maybe a third that number of persons who had maritime skills and were not fully employed. Besides, as Tromp’s fleet had no way of being sure when La Flota would arrive, they had to turn the holds of the fluyts and Serendipity into cramped quarters as the whole fleet waited on station. Even by putting four hundred men into those holds, and by distributing more into whatever berths remained on the warships, Tromp and Simonszoon were barely able to scrape together and sustain six hundred to serve as prize crews.

But with today’s results, that meant they had less than twenty men per prize hull. Tromp had been thinking about possible solutions to the unanticipated problems of too much success, and did not like the one he decided upon. Unfortunately the rest were even worse. “We will need five Spaniards to remain on each ship. Sail-handlers and deck hands, only. No officers, gunners –“

“Yes, Maarten; I see where you are steering.” Dirck’s grin became sly. “I don’t suppose it would interest you to know that several of the ships had a smattering of slaves on board. Not field hands: craftsmen. Well, mostly men. Some women, too.”

Tromp was staring at Dirck by the time he finished. “Free them! At once! And put them in charge of the Spaniards!”

Dirck actually chuckled. “I was waiting for you to say that. It shall be done. Has Eddie sent word, yet?”

 Tromp frowned. “No. But whatever the outcome of his mission, we have no choice but to deposit the prisoners on Petit-Terre. If only for a few days while we make other arrangements.”

“You don’t mean to bring them to Oranjestad!”

“Of course not!”

“But then where — ?”

“Dirck, we have our hands quite full now. Let us cross further bridges when and if we come to them.” Coronets pealed. “The Spanish admiral, no doubt.”

Simonszoon craned his neck. “Seems to be.” He cocked an eyebrow at Tromp. “You ordered formal flourishes for a Spanish dog?”

Tromp straightened. “Captain, I shall not judge the character of an officer I have not met, any more than I shall judge the soul of a man I do not know.”

Simonszoon shrugged. “Well, you’re a more generous fellow than I am, Deacon Tromp. But we knew that already.” He nodded toward Adriaen Banckert, XO of Amelia, who was leading the admiral and two other Spanish officers up the stairs to the poop deck. “You don’t want to do this in the great cabin?”

“No need. While I mean to be civil, I have no desire to suggest to our visitor that we intend to entertain him.”

Simonszoon patted his shoulder and stood beside him. “There’s the steely Tromp I know!”

Young Banckert gestured for the guards to keep the fierce-looking hidalgo back a step. “Admiral, the Spanish commander, Almirante Antonio de Curco y San Joan de Olacabal has come to surrender his sword and his fleet.”

There was some distempered grumbling behind Banckert.

“What was that?” Tromp asked, raising one eyebrow.

“My Spanish is rusty, Admiral, but I believe the Spanish admiral was correcting my assertion that this was his fleet. He seems to feel the Capitan-General in command, now presumed dead, should keep that title since it was his incompetence that led to their defeat. Or words to that effect.”

As Adriaen finished, Simonszoon was grinning. “Your Spanish is just fine, Banckert.”

Tromp nodded. “Ask the Admiral to join us.”

De Curco y San Joan did so, sword proffered across both palms, one of which showed the remains of dried blood. Whether the admiral’s or someone else’s, Tromp could not tell. “I do not require your sword, Admiral, any more than I wish to diminish the honor it signifies.”

If anything, that seemed to make the Spanish admiral even more quietly furious, as though he would have preferred Tromp to be a gloating ogre. “You are most kind,” he muttered in a tone that said, “I would happily eat your liver.” He rebuckled the sword, straightened his neck. “I, Almirante Antonio de Curco y San Joan de Olacabal, surrender the remains of His Majesty Philip IV’s fleet to the New World to you, and ask for Christian restraint and care in addressing the fate of its survivors.”

“I accept your surrender,” Tromp replied, “as well as responsibility for the restraint and care you request and which we fully intend to observe. Do you have other requests?”

De Curco y San Joan’s frustrated fury barely allowed him to shake his head in the negative. Then, as if that had exhausted the last measure of his self-control, he almost spat, “I suppose you think this a great triumph. But it will be the end of you, Tromp. Yes, I know who you are. And you had best enjoy your . . . your ‘New World Dunkirk’ while you can. Philip will ensure that it is the last victory you ever know.”

Trump folded his hands, considered. “‘The New World Dunkirk.'” He smiled. “I like that. I would not have thought of it, myself. I’m afraid I do not possess an Iberian flair for the dramatic. However, I am satisfied that we Dutch possessed whatever qualities helped us prevail, this day.”

The Spaniard raised the point of his finely-groomed beard. “That was luck . . . and the Lord’s sharp reminder to any overly-proud Spaniard that it is through Him, and Him alone, that we may be victorious and reign supreme.”

“Yes, I’m sure…although there is something to be said for the axiom that God helps those who help themselves. At least, that is what is preached in my church. Now, let discuss the matter of your parole.”