1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 14

Cromwell. There was the one to watch. If any man had a grievance against King Charles of England and Scotland, it was he. And, as it happened, a record of looking after the people of his own home. Lord of the Fens, they called him, for his speaking, and his litigation against the king’s project to drain the marshes of that country. Well, it wasn’t like any of his boys were unused to the wet and wild places of the earth. Waterford had no bog country to speak of, except on the mountains here and there, but, well, if you were tired of rain you were tired of Ireland and the bits that weren’t bog were hard to tell from the bits that were, if you came at them in the right season. So, if anyone had split off from the party on the boats, they were going north. As witness the boat left tied up with nobody to say they’d been the owner of it longer than a day. Finnegan slightly wished he’d had the forethought to get more of a description of the boats that left the tower, but it was only a slight wish. Not a one of his boyos had more than a bull’s notion of boats or boating, so any description would have been mangled by lack of understanding. Finnegan himself had seen one or two around Dublin when he’d been there as a boy, but that was about the limit of it. It’d taken them all day to find the thing, and the word they’d had from O’Hare’s ride to Tilbury and back confirmed that this was where the smaller boat had come. Not certain, but certain enough and it fit with everything Finnegan had puzzled out already. In the morning, they’d have word back from Romford, the next town of any note along this road, and he’d decide which way to go.

It was Welch who arrived first, come the morning, apparently having started back before dawn. After he’d had a bite of bread and a chance to duck his head in the rain-butt, he presented himself to report. “Nothing past Romford, chief, Mulligan’s casting about for sign around there. I’ve come back early to check for any good turn to another road that might be the one they took, but.”

“Sign of them before Romford?” Finnegan realised he’d be buying another tot of spirits before the day was out, Mulligan having done more than was asked of him. That said, Mulligan was one of the smart ones, who could see that anything Richard Boyle despatched them on personally was likely to see the earl being more open-handed even than his normal generous self if there was a quick end to the matter. Either way being seen to give a reward would be the right thing to do.

“Sure and a couple of field lads saw a wagon go by. Four horses, so it stood out. Did I hear that that was the wagon that left here?”

“You did. Get a change of mount, that screw’s had ten miles at the trot and we’re well found for remounts, and we’ll be off in the quarter-hour, so.”

The conclusion was pretty obvious. They’d set out for Romford and Chelmsford as a feint, probably on the spur of the moment rather than stay near the pursuit in London. Finnegan liked that, it said he was chasing men unused to pursuing or being pursued. A sensible bandit would’ve cut straight away from the main pursuit, rather than running ahead of it. Changed for faster horses — whatever was in the wagon was surely not worth capture — and changed direction again. Split and regrouped several times, anything to confuse the trail of witnesses. Just as hunting was done best by getting ahead of the quarry and waiting, flight was best achieved by not going where the hunters would be waiting. Of course, if both hunter and hunted knew that game it got very confusing very quickly and the hunter would have to fall back on hoping he had enough men to cover every possible avenue of flight.

Not so today. The escaping party — Finnegan was still very carefully not thinking of them as Cromwell’s party — had sought to feint to the east and turned either north or south. There would be a limited number of places to do so between the last sighting Welch had reported and Romford. Which it might be was the vexed question. All of the possible motivations Finnegan could think of for a party remaining in the country instead of flying by sea said they would go north. South suggested they had a second ship and some errand had delayed them on land, to make a quieter getaway than the main party.

Or, and this occurred to him as he mused, just as it must have to Mulligan at Romford, they’d skirted that town to carry on east with a broken trail that simply looked like a feint-and-turn. Finnegan grinned. You could never truly think your way through a tangled haystack of needles such as this, but it was fun to try and you could take bets on the outcome. “Somebody open a book!” he shouted. “I’ve got sixpence says they turned north, last road before Romford. Any takers?”


They found Mulligan an hour later at a turning just before the town. “This way, I found a spot where someone took a heavy load over the river. If I’m any judge, they were after not being seen, and whatever they need that wagon for, they’re not done with it.”

“And here’s me with no takers for the bet I made that they’d do just this very thing,” Finnegan said. “It fair to makes a man weep that he leads not a single idiot.”

That got a round of chuckles. Now and then he’d lose a bet like that one, but not often enough that anyone cared to take the wager without serious long-shot odds. A few of the smarter boyos had caught on to it being a polite, pleasant, method of suggesting the boss was wrong, and Finnegan was careful to listen. After all, an opinion a man was willing to put money on was an opinion he’d thought about. Finnegan liked thought, it paid well. And more than once he’d put a man where he could get a feather in his cap for “checking to see if his fool’s wager would pay,” and the good-natured codding was worth it for the credit he could take when reporting to the earl.

“The sign on the riverbank says yesterday afternoon, if there wasn’t rain overnight, so I fancy they’re after moving as quick as they can with that wagon. Will we go straight after them?”

Finnegan thought about it. In their boots he’d have kept moving into the night and looked for a change of horses somewhere, which would cost them given the cheap nags they’d had, and that in turn would leave a trace. Also in their boots he’d have taken a few roads off the line they wanted and come at their intended target — either Ely, for Cromwell’s kin and children, or a cut west at some convenient road to get back to the Great North Road and the way to Scotland. It’d be slow work picking up some sense of where they were going, and at this point a wrong guess would be disastrous. Whatever else might befall, a company of stout lads with plenty of cash and remounts could be halfway to Scotland by this time on the morrow, so as soon as their quarry — only probably Cromwell, remember — settled on a destination then a short, hard ride would see them in a proper ambush position. Making that ride too soon would cost them the chase entirely.

“We will not. Find us a farrier in your town, there, and we’ll see the horses’ feet are good while I talk to whoever knows the roads here. We’ll have a plan, so, and not go at the thing like a bull at a gate. Tully, see to it while Mulligan here shows me the tracks on this riverbank.”