1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 33


June-July, 1636

From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw

Herman Melville, “The Maldive Shark”

Chapter 18

Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

Eddie Cantrell closed the door softly behind him, padded to the stairs, took the first few steps down before sitting and pulling his boots on. Land boots, which you’d think would be more comfortable, but weren’t. Probably because — as had been his unvoiced observation since his teens — there was usually an inverse relationship between utility and fashion. The more stylish a thing was, the less comfortable and/or reliable it proved to be. Yet Anne Cathrine had insisted, within days of his returning at the head of The Prize Fleet, that he had to have fine boots for when he went out in an official capacity. Which was, now, pretty much every time he went out.

He finished trying — unsuccessfully — to wriggle and squirm his feet into a more comfortable position within the attractive torture devices that his wife had acquired for him from God knows who and for God knows how much. He’d thought about putting his foot down (so to speak) and refusing to wear the doggone things. Yeah, he really gave that some heavy-duty, serious thought — until he saw the way Anne was looking at him the first time he wore them. And then, well, then he got . . . kinda distracted. Until sometime late the next morning. And now he was wearing the boots.

And had been almost every day since he’d been back. And he’d left their new fortress/house late every day, too. Anne Cathrine had been, from the start, everything a twenty-three-year-old man could want in a bedroom playmate: coy, seductive, aggressive, inventive — oh, so inventive! But now she had added “insatiable” to her repertoire. Not that Eddie was complaining — oh, hell no! — but every once in a while, a senior officer really did need to show up on time. Which was to say, thirty minutes early. As it was, he’d be lucky if he just barely made his meeting on time. Again.

Still, when he reached the bottom of the stairs and went briskly out his front door with a nod to the guard, there was a spring in his step. And it wasn’t because of the recoil/return plate that Grantville’s medical technicians had built into his prosthesis.

*   *   *

Eddie had to push up hard against the wall of Fort Oranje in order to get through the crowd, but that was just as well. Being off to the side of the main road that ran out to St. Eustasia’s new dock kept him away from the promenaders who dominated its center: the wealthy, the influential, and no small number of Dutch officers from both the fleet and fort. Eddie, tucked against the closely fitted stones of the fort, made much better time. In large part, it was because he would not have to stop a dozen times to return salutes, which the Dutch were now adopting with the fervor of a new fad.

Until recently, the Dutch military had been fairly typical of the others of its time: wide variations in training and discipline, little standardization, and nothing like a uniform, except for a few elite formations which usually answered to and guarded a monarch. In the New World, the “irregular” nature of military life and action had been even more pronounced. The Dutch navy, if you could even call it, had arisen from the need to build a self-sustaining force to strike at the shipping of their Spanish oppressors. Half a century later, the men on its warships, regardless of rank, had still been motivated more by profit than patriotism.

But over the past year in the New World, that had begun to change. And then Tromp’s extraordinary “Dunkirk at Dominica” had accelerated that transmogrification. What had begun as a loose amalgam of ships and a confederation of clever raiders was rapidly evolving into a military force, its esprit du corps growing in tandem with its successively greater accomplishments. Although, there was, admittedly, another factor at work.

Eddie’s glance grazed across that factor as he came to the end of the street: the steam-cruisers Intrepid and Resolve, out beyond the extraordinary clutter of ships lying in the broad anchorage that lay before Oranjestad. It wasn’t the ships themselves that had changed attitudes, but what they signified. The new technologies, the crisply efficient crews, the new strategy and tactics: all that resonated with the Dutch, yes, but there was something even beyond that:

The embodied the triumph of method and competence by having proved in battle the merits of the perception and confidence that had created them: that despite war’s inherent chaos, the human mind could identify and exploit patterns within it. Science and analysis had successfully revolutionized not just the tools but the conduct of war, with a surety and decisiveness that had not been seen since the Romans. And the Dutch realized that they were more than just the beneficiaries of that growing trend; they themselves had begun to amplify and perfect it.  

And today was the day that the broad benefits of those new capabilities and competencies would overflow into the streets of Oranjestad, almost all at once. That timing was part happy coincidence, part careful coordination, and all about creating a pervasive sense of prosperity and plenty. Which was quite a trick, since neither of those things had actually arrived, just yet.

But to look out in that anchorage, you would never have guessed it. Eddie had to hand it to Jan Walbeeck, the Dutch Governor of St Eustatia for having orchestrated the convergence of all this traffic and trade in a most impressive fashion. The intercontinental radio on the island’s southern volcanic mountain — The Quill — had made it possible to estimate, to within a few days, when the first major convoy from Europe would finally arrive. For security reasons, direct references to it in the telegraph traffic had to be coded and sparse, but as it coalesced back in the Netherlands and the USE, Walbeeck was able to track its growing readiness, then its departure date, and then a last confirmation from it when underway.

It was not just the first true resupply mission to St. Eustatia, and through it, the other Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. It was also the first formation of ships to leave the Netherlands since its ports had been blockaded by the Spanish after the Battle of Dunkirk. With eleven well-loaded fluyts at its core, its defense accompaniment had been even more impressive. In addition to a pair of man-of-wars that had been in process of construction when Fernando surrounded Amsterdam, it also boasted the first true frigate designs to arrive in the New World. Lower and longer than prior warships, and with almost non-existent foc’sles and quarterdecks, the four ships — one Swedish, one Danish, and two Dutch — were proudly billed as the first of their class. Which, Eddie knew, was a nice way of saying, “these were prototypes made to assess performance and discover design flaws.” Which they had, and which had been corrected to the extent possible. Still, it was like hand-me-down clothes presented as a new outfit.

The same was true with the two new USE steamships that accompanied them. One was the sole sister ship of Courser, the Harrier. Although successful, that first class of steam destroyer — the Speed Class — had taught Simpson and his designers many lessons, both during their construction and first half year of operation. The result was to discontinue production of that model and introduce a revised version, the Speed Two. Superficially, it seemed the same except for their naming convention, but it had significant differences in terms of hull strengthening, steam plant and propeller design, and electrical wiring and redundancy. The first of that class, the untested Relentless, had been deployed to the New World as her shake-down cruise, as had Courser before her. Again, a much touted arrival that was actually added to the allied fleet to see if and when and how it would break.

Those nineteen ships of the convoy that had collected in and sailed from Amsterdam were mostly been moored in the northern extents of the anchorage after unloading. The larger ships had been serviced there by lighters, but the fluyts had shallow enough drafts to spend a few days bellied up to the new wooden pier that extended into the bay.