1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 23
De Curco y San Joan started as if struck. “P-parole? You are freeing us?”
“In a manner of speaking. Forty miles north of here, just south of Guadeloupe, are a pair of small islands known as Petit-Terre. At least that is how they appear on up-time charts. Are you familiar with them?”
“Vaguely.” It was obvious he had never heard of them.
“They are sufficient for a short stay,” Tromp assured him. “Certainly long enough to allow you to fashion craft from what remains of those of your ships that will sail that far…before they are scuttled in the shallows around those islands.”
“You are marooning us?”
“If that word has the same meaning for us as it has for you, then we are not marooning you. We are explicitly leaving you with the means and tools to fashion smaller ships with which you may return to your lands.”
“But I have seen your salvagers at work; you are taking all the spare canvas!”
“There will still be smaller spans of cloth that you may secure from the riven sails that we leave behind.”
“And what shall we eat?”
“There are fish aplenty in the surrounding waters, and you shall have the long boats from the decks of the galleons. We shall also leave a supply of your own biscuits.”
“Which are inedible!”
“Which,” Simonszoon sneered, “is in no way a fault of ours, wouldn’t you agree?
Tromp waved him to silence. “Admiral, the Spanish pride themselves on their history of overcoming great obstacles. This is hardly the greatest you have had to face.”
“Perhaps not, but we have women and children with us.”
Tromp nodded. “If the conditions on the islands are too harsh, I shall bring them to Montserrat.”
“And what is on Montserrat, other than more Protestants who will revile and abuse them?”
“In point of fact, Montserrat is now overwhelmingly populated by Irish Catholics, refugees who will certainly sympathize with the plight of your women and children. They have known similar travails, and will no doubt treat your dependents kindly until they may find their ways home.”
De Curco had to cast around a moment to find yet another objection to fling at Tromp. “And the fathers of those women and children?”
“From what we have been able to tell so far, there are but a few families on your ships. And frankly, given that the King of Spain does not trouble himself to assign tasks that allow fathers to remain with their families, the separation experienced by those wives and children will not be so very different than they would have suffered when they reached their destinations here in the New World. Indeed, they might be better off.” He lowered his brow. “And it will be infinitely better than the treatment you would have given our people, were our situations reversed.”
“I do not know what you mean,” de Curco claimed defiantly.
“Indeed? So Olivares did not send his message to your fleet? Even though it pertained to the New World?”
“I tell you: I do not know this message of which you speak.”
“Truly? About no longer taking any Dutch prisoners?” Tromp lowered his voice. “Deny that, if you can. On peril of your immortal soul.”
The admiral looked away.
“Ah. So it is your forthrightness, not Olivares’ correspondence, that is wanting.” Tromp raised his chin. “I trust that you have no other fears regarding our presumed ‘inhuman’ treatment of your passengers and crew? Good.” He started away, then turned back. “I suppose I should remark that there are those among my fleet who feel that my terms of treatment are, in fact, too generous.” He paused, let both his tone and his brow drop again. “Entirely too generous. Now, I bid you safe travels from this place, Admiral de Curco y San Joan.”
The Spaniard did not meet Tromp’s eyes before turning on his heel and striding away and down the quarterdeck’s stairs.
Adriaen Banckert waved the senior trooper to see the Admiral and his officers back to the skiff that had brought them. The young XO looked after the Spaniards. “There’s a part of me that feels it would be better to have simply killed them. Well, the men, I mean.” When he saw Tromp’s look, he hastily added, “If they live, they will simply try to kill us again, you know.”
Tromp shook his head. “If one behaves like one’s enemies, one becomes them. Besides, survivors are a benefit to us.”
“We have left them most of their small boats. Some will try their luck in those. If they are good and careful sailors, they will survive. They will follow north along the Lesser Antilles, then skip from Saba to St. Croix and so reach Puerto Rico without hazarding the Anegada Passage.
“If they are not fortunate or are too impatient, then their end will have been of their own choosing. And, even though they are arch-papists, I still commend their souls not only to the deep, but to the grace of God. But be assured, some survivors will arrive in Puerto Rico, and from thence, their report will be conveyed to Cuba and Spain.”
“And so our enemies will have intelligence on us!”
“Yes, to the extent that the survivors have reported accurately. And you may rest assured that, between the terror of this day and their desire to be held blameless for having failed against a numerically inferior opponent, they will exaggerate our capabilities and numbers. And so the Escorial will pause and debate and worry will ensue. In the meantime, one fact will resonate.”
“Which is that the silver and gold that their forces gathered all over the New World last year cannot be collected, now. Not in time to prop up Madrid’s failing economy at the very moment when it most needs its next injection of specie. Olivares will be fortunate indeed if he can scratch together another fleet to fetch it before September.”
Simonszoon smiled, amplified: “And even if Olivares hastened such a last-minute Flota into the dark waves of the late-year Atlantic to arrive here before winter, that is still too late. By the time it could collect and then return with the silver, that treasure would arrive ten months later than promised. But be assured, Adriaen Banckert, the real trouble for us will start the moment news of this day reaches Spain, whose ruler will be most discomfited.”
Adriaen sounded far more worried than edified. “Who will see to it that we are most assiduously sought and pursued.”
Tromp shrugged. “Undoubtedly so. But that was an inevitability. Now it might simply occur sooner rather than later.” He nodded toward the wheel. “Tell the pilot that when we get under way, I want to keep on as broad a reach as we can. We must adjust our sailing to these Spanish scows, so we’ll need to put every gust that we can in their sails. Otherwise, we shall not make Guadeloupe by noon tomorrow.”
He turned toward the bows, felt the wind on his right cheek, then glanced left at the setting sun. It was limning Dominica’s high, dark profile in burnished gold. The perfect end for a day that just might find its way into history books . . .
The senior telegrapher came up to the weather deck two steps at a time. “Report from Intrepid, Admiral. Shall I read it?”
“A summary would be preferable, Jost.”
“Very well, sir. Commodore Cantrell reports that his contact with the indigenous peoples of Guadeloupe went better than hoped, and that Petit-Terre is cleared for disembarking our prisoners.” Amelia‘s comm’s mate looked up from the sheet. “Wonderful news, ja, sir?”
“Yes, Jost.” But with that worry resolved, another leaped up to take its place: “Any signal from Major Quinn or Courser, yet?”
“Still nothing, sir.”
“Well,” Tromp sighed, “let us hope that his attempt to befriend the native peoples of the mainland goes half so well as Eddie’s on Guadeloupe.”