1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 07

Chapter 4

The Tower of London

“Is Finnegan here yet?” the Earl of Cork asked Captain Holderness, the moment he entered the still-half-destroyed ruins of what had once been St. Thomas Tower.

Startled, the captain looked up from his examination of the hole in the wall. What he hoped to find there, this many days after the explosion that had blown the hole, was a mystery.

The captain glanced from Boyle to the corner behind him.

“Here, y’Lordship,” came a voice from that corner… “And a fine mess you have for me.”

Boyne whirled round and addressed the man. “Behind me, by stealth, Finnegan — not lost your touch coming over the water?”

Finnegan grinned, a world of villainy in the broad, charming smile. “Not hardly, not hardly at all, y’Lordship.”

Boyle grinned back. There was more than a little mockery in the title Finnegan gave him, but there was no cause for offense, if you knew him. The ruffian respected nobody who couldn’t get a knife to his throat to compel it. His father had been cut from the same cloth, albeit with less of a veneer of good taste and manners. Boyle had been driven out of his estates by the aftermath of the O’Neil rebellion, and when he got back in he’d made sure, through judicious use of such men as the Finnegans, that none of the seeds of rebellion lay dormant in his lands. It had the happy side-effect of keeping them busy away from stealing other mens’ horses and cattle, both popular pastimes in the wilder parts of Ireland. Paying for a little education and training for such men in their youth reaped dividends. Paying for a lot more education for their sons in turn, and hold out the prospect of an income for those lads that didn’t come from brute farming or thievery, and they’d rob the teeth out of the devil’s head for you. It was the kind of long-term thinking that Boyle liked, and excelled at.

Rapid improvisation in response to events was not his strongest suit, he knew, but if a fellow had laid the groundwork and ensured he had a ready supply of the Finnegans of this world at hand, then surprises could be handled.

“A fine mess, indeed, Finnegan. And knowing that such were about to be made, why, who could I send for across the water but you?” Boyle rubbed his hands against the briskness of the morning. “Have you not made some fine messes in your time? I’m sure you’ll be the right fellow to clear this one up.”

“Ah, well, if that turns out the right thing, yer Earlness, sure and I’ll see it done. If not, well, who could yez have sent for over the water but me? By the by, and sure it’s only idle curiosity, but who’s the langer, here? And what’s his part in this mess?”

Finnegan tilted his head at Holderness as he spoke, and Boyle could see a look of concern on the man’s face as he tried to work out what he’d been called. Deciding that he didn’t need Finnegan killing a man in a duel to add to the day’s tomfoolery, Boyle waved him off. “You’ve plenty to be about, Holderness. And since it’s plain you’ve no Irish, Mister Finnegan addressed you with a title of the respect he feels you’re due. I know him of old as a man keen to show all proper respect.”

With Holderness safely away, Finnegan returned his attention to his master after a thoughtful-looking inspection of the damage to the Tower. In truth, not as bad as it looked, but plenty to cover a mass escape. “Almost like they were really only trying to make it look good, y’Earlship. How many of the regular garrison are missing? With their families?”

“Sharp, Finnegan, yes, there are some Yeomen missing. I don’t know about the families yet, but Holderness, the useless streak of piss, will have that report for me tomorrow. And speaking of sharp, you’re going to get yourself cut with it one day, Finnegan. Supposing he’d known what that meant?” Boyle knew Finnegan didn’t care a bit, but the man’s education had been expensive and seeing it wasted in some pointless duel, or more likely in hiding the man away until the trouble over a killing died down, would offend his sense of parsimony.

“About as likely, my chief, as him realising just exactly how much respect he’s due, so. Which I’ll remind you I gave him every bit of. He was in charge here, yes?”

“Yes, though to be fair His Majesty dumped the poor man into an impossible situation, watching over the Americans after they’d had months to work their subversion on the Warders. You’d have done better, but I doubt many would.” Boyle wasn’t quite that sure; he’d had his own spies inside the Tower and from what he’d heard it’d be a hard man and a cunning man both who got ahead of them with their suborning. Finnegan was both, but enough to outbid or outfox people who could see a child live who would have died?

That was the Americans’ signal advantage: paying in considerably more than coin. Boyle was sure there were some things he could learn from them and use back in County Cork to buy even more of the peoples’ loyalty. And there was every chance the Americans would provide the knowledge to do much of it just for the asking. It was a frustration his own youngest boy wasn’t older; from the future histories he’d have a name to make in the natural philosophies, and having the family’s own famous scientist — the new word still sounded odd to him — there to bring the new marvels to the people would be a nice touch. As it was, one of the older boys would have to serve. Either Richard, to cement him into the minds of the people as their future Earl, or Roger, to give him something besides his martial ambitions to think on.

“I’m sure Your Lordship sees no harm in having the man sweat a while. So, who am I to catch for you?”

“The missing so far are Wentworth, Cromwell, and all the Americans we had here. I’ll see you get a list before you’ve got your boys ready to ride. Picked up anything by yourself, yet?” Part of what made Finnegan so bloody useful was the fact that outside County Waterford, everyone assumed he was just another bog-trotting paddy, if English, or a ruffian torai, if Irish. Behind the brutish facade, that he could turn up and down like a lamp-wick, was a keen mind that could get ahead of his master’s orders in gratifyingly useful ways. Never an excess of zeal, no, but frequently armed with just the right information or preparations to get at the task in ways that left other servants standing. Boyle had more than one bright man in his service, but Finnegan was definitely one of the best. Top three, at least.

“Nothing yet, apart from a quiet word with folk as we strolled in. Boats went downriver, two of them, maybe three, maybe just the one. Your Earlness knows what a lot of half-stories come out of a mess like this. I’ve given Mulligan and O’Hare a bag of pennies to buy drinks down by the water to get some tales told. Sure and they’re nothin’ but ignorant culchie paddies, that anybody’ll tell the tale to in their shit-shovellin’ britches. Them boys’d make friends with the cat I haven’t got and have him telling every grand tale he knows in half an hour.”

Boyle laughed. “Aye, and they’d have the cat’s daughters pregnant in half an hour more. I’ve heard the tales.”

“Sure they’ve the vices of their virtues, now.” Finnegan grinned. With a little easy-going charm it was possible to make even his crew of monsters seem like loveable rogues. Mulligan and O’Hare had rarely turned up as a team before Finnegan collared them, but then tricksters and cheats seldom worked together. And it would surprise Boyle not a whit to find that one or two of those heartbroken maids hadn’t quite said yes first. As long as he kept them in coin, though, they’d confine themselves to whores or it’d not be a trial for rape they got but a quiet dagger where it’d teach them not to embarrass their master. And Finnegan would wipe his conscience clean at the same time he did his blade. Nor would Boyle lose any sleep, come to it. He’d hold the leashes of monsters while they were useful, but only a fool would shed tears when it came time to put them down. Finnegan’s own guise of virtue came, Boyle knew, from cold calculation — he got more and more reliably through looking like a faithful, if grim, earl’s man. If he knew he faced no repercussion he’d wallow in blood and take a pleasure in it that was all the more chilling for how mild it was.

“Be that as it may. Downriver’s likely. Don’t trouble yourself with where they’ve taken ship from, I’ve sent word to Chatham to get a sea-search in hand. I’ve no more idea than you whether such a thing is even possible, so I’ve asked for word of what success is likely by return of messenger. I’m more worried by what they might manage that stay behind, and I heard about two boats too. If one of those was some second mission, we’ve a rat loose in the pantry. I want it, them, whoever, caught.”

Finnegan touched a forelock. “Am I not Your Earlness’s terrier, to rat at command?”

“That you are. Stay on the trail, have messages back to me as often as may be. Run them to ground if you can, frustrate whatever knavery they’re about. I’ve a fine lot of politics to play here in London, and you know how I am with surprises on that score. Keep Cromwell, Wentworth and the Americans from pissing in my gravy while I work on the king. You know me for a generous master, and if I can take this trick, Finnegan, I’ll have much to be generous with.”

“Now that I can warm my heart with, my lord.”

“See that you do. See to your boys and what you can learn here. I’ve a clerk going hot-foot back to my house for a pouch of all I have on Cromwell and Wentworth, copied against need. You’ll carry it with you and learn what you need as you go. See it’s burnt before it falls into anyone’s hands but yours or mine. More than one of the little birds that told me what’s in those papers would pay with his life for telling me what he knew, and where would I be without their songs to delight me?”

“I’ve not to kill any birds while I chase your rats for you. Right you are, Your Earlnessship.”

“Be off, before your jests make me forget how useful you are.”