1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 34

That still-fresh structure was currently swarmed by those same lighters, but they were now off-loading the last general cargos of the prizes Tromp’s fleet had taken off Dominica. Although still referred to by some as the New World Dunkirk, the seamen who’d been there had, with the sardonic wit of their tribe, shortened it to the Battle of Dominikirk. Which, although pooh-poohed by officers and gentlefolk alike as undignified, was rapidly becoming the engagement’s de facto label. Because, hell, it wasn’t a mouthful like the stuffy official-sounding names, none of which seemed to stick.

The dark-hulled Spanish ships were clustered in the southern extents of the anchorage, their battle-damage still plain to see. There were, in fact, two less than had sailed away from the seaways where they’d been seized. After putting the Spanish prisoners ashore at Petit Terre and scuttling the mortally-wounded ships in the shallows, Tromp’s fleet and the prize hulls had reconsolidated in Guadeloupe’s Petit-cul-de-sac Marin. Once sorted out, they had sailed to leeward, rounding the island’s western lobe, known as Basse-Terre, and setting course for St. Eustatia.

However, the brisk eastern winds that had continued to grow since the battle proved to be the harbinger of a storm. It ran in just after the ponderous collection of almost seventy ships made a few miles across the Guadeloupe passage toward Montserrat. Seeing its approach, Tromp and the other captains who’d spent their earliest years at sea assessed the situation and came to unanimous conclusions: the storm would be upon them before they made Montserrat, and it might prove too fierce to ride out.

So Tromp came about and made for the northern bay of Guadeloupe, the Grand Cul-de-sac Marin. Which sounded a lot more simple than it was, since the shallows of that refuge extended irregularly into its expanse. And without any bar-pilots to show the way, it became a matter of ships playing follow-the-leader behind those few hulls which had been furnished with up-time depth charts — such as they were.

Since the wind was still abeam, the Dutch ships made the bay in plenty of time and in good order. The Spanish hulls, on the other hand, once again demonstrated their far more limited ability to use a reaching wind and were badly buffeted by the first savage squall that preceded the actual storm-front. Most made it past the northern headland of Grand Terre, but half a dozen were caught in the open.

One of the badly damaged and more lightly built war galleons had her jury-rigged rudder go lose under the constant pounding, and her under-experienced and over-anxious prize pilot never got the feel for correcting her aggravated tendency to yaw. Between the two, she wound up on the rocks. Her keel cracked and hull began buckling beneath the waterline as the high swells pounded her down into the volcanic molars lining that part of Guadeloupe’s shore. The one redeeming consequence was that she was also stuck fast and was sturdy enough to hold together throughout the remainder of the storm.

The other casualty was one of the oldest naos. She had been sailing crank when she was taken, despite taking only modest damage during the engagement. But as if warning of hidden infirmities, she groaned piteously whenever the seas were high or contrary. When the teeth of the storm set into her, she shuddered, lost way, struggled to regain it. That was when her foremast went, taking many of the main’s spars and shrouds with it. Not surprisingly, the prize pilot lost control of her, and the current and wind pushed her bow around until they were directly upon her beam. As if waiting for that moment, the greatest wave of the squall mounted up and crashed down upon the nao’s listing deck. Her planks and frame cracked so loudly that, for a moment, nearby crews though that the storm had brought thunder with it, as well. As the rain and spray all but hid her, there came a sound like a full forest of trees being ripped asunder. The watery veils of rain and spray parted long enough to show the decrepit nao breaking in two, the water rushing in and taking her down in less than ten seconds.

Most of her crew, seeing land so close, had taken their chances in the waves. Half of them made it to shore, a handful of others washed up lifeless the next day. The rest, and all who had still been aboard, were swallowed by the sea without a trace. And although the other ships had reached safe harbor, two more days were spent kedging Prins Hendrik and three of the prize hulls off the sandy shoals of the Grand Cul-de-sac Marin.

Now, with all the ships of that fleet in Oranjestad Bay and the sea and skies so bright and clear, it was difficult to believe that the weather had ever been otherwise. But the storm made a deep impression upon Eddie. He had often sailed through high risers and rainstorms, but never a squall so wild and fierce. Now he was part of that ancient fraternity of mariners who had seen the face of the sea and knew, or at least suspected, that its patron deity was either monstrously capricious or cruelly malign.

He arrived dockside just as the day’s bartering and bickering were gathering momentum. Thirteen small ships from St. Christopher’s, escorted by the French brig taken last year at Bloody Point, had made their way across the channel early in the morning and were now unloading their wares and passengers. Mostly pinnaces and pinks, half of which were Bermudan-built, their crews were busy setting up stalls from which to sell what they’d freighted over: soursop, squashes, papaya, coconuts, bananas, wood for sturdy spars and, of course, goats. Eddie caught a glimpse of that island’s two most important personages, Governor Thomas Warner and Lieutenant Governor Jeafferson debarking with their retinue. Footmen were present to lead them to Oranjestad’s newest construction: the Admiral’s Repose, a sprawling complex that included rooms, a large tavern, apartments, and even stables. As such, it was more like a caravansary than a typical seaside inn, and this, its first major event, had filled it to capacity.

Eddie had explored the possibility of extending invitations to some of St. Christopher’s much-diminished French community, including Jacques Dyel Du Parquet. It was neither wise nor safe to allow appearances to lead anyone, most importantly the French themselves, to conclude that they were permanent pariahs. But although Eddie’s friend and Governor of Oranjestad, Jan van Walbeeck, agreed with him, he had also pointed out that the people of both islands — and most especially, Governor Warren — would certainly look askance at it. Although none of the French who had taken part in last November’s attack remained on St. Christopher’s, Du Parquet’s uncle, Pierre Belain D’Esnambuc, had been the architect of all that death, misery, and destruction. The likelihood that his guilt would rub off on his countrymen, and especially his nephew, was high and so, no invitation had been made.

As Eddie slipped sideways into the narrower lane that paralleled the western, sea-facing wall of the fortress, he watched flat-bottomed lighters hurriedly beaching on the strand yards away. They were bringing in goods from yesterday’s arrivals: the returned ships of Admiral Joost Banckert’s visit to Bermuda. He slowed as he saw the others waiting for him just ahead, remembered the last time he had walked this narrow, packed-sand lane: following behind the crudely-made casket of the original Danish admiral of the Task Force X-Ray, Pros Mund. One of the relatively few Allied dead at last year’s Battle of Grenada, he had been a casualty of his overconfident handling of Resolve and an intent desire to please his sovereign. The latter was a pressure that Eddie understood all too well, since that same ambitious and larger-than-life king was also Eddie’s father-in-law: King Christian IV of Denmark.

As Eddie drew near the two men he was meeting, the one with a flushed face and broad smile waved toward the bay. “Enjoying that fine view, Commodore Cantrell?”

Eddie smiled back, adopted the same mock formality. “It’s passable, Governor van Walbeeck.”

 The other man — composed and quiet, with broad shoulders but small features — smiled faintly at van Walbeeck. “It seems that Eddie will not be so easily baited to gush over your achievement, Jan.”