1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 15

Chapter 8

“Top of the morning!” Finnegan knew as well as any man how to come the cheery Irishman. It certainly did better than what most of the folk here across the water thought about his countrymen. In a lot of cases, of course, they were right, but letting that get in the way while he was about his chief’s business was not to be borne. “And how might you be this fine morning?”

“Right enough,” said the thatcher whom they were overtaking. The fellow had a cart full of rushes, which apparently was the thing for roofs hereabouts. To Finnegan they looked odd; he was used to seeing straw, both at home and in the parts of England he’d seen so far. English roofs looked a little different without the layer of turf scraw he was used to seeing, but that was about the limit of it. The reed roofs were somehow less bulky and looked like they’d not be as warm in bad weather. It was a measure of how tedious the last week of riding up and down every bastard road in eastern England had been that he was thinking about roofs, of all things.

“Can ye say what town is that, up ahead?” Finnegan asked the man.

“Bishop’s Stortford, but there’s no market there today, if it’s horses you’re after. Some good inns, though.”

“That’ll do,” Finnegan said. “We’re well found for horses. Do you know how much further Ely is from there?”

“Ely? Can’t rightly say. It’s over past Cambridge, if I do recall rightly, but Cambridge is as far as I’ve been that way, and that when I were but a boy. Ask in town for Cambridge, and ask in Cambridge for Ely, would be my advice to you, sir. Have you room to pass, there?”

“Sure we’ve enough, and it’s a fine day for a slow ride. One more thing, mind. Have you seen a lot of travellers, maybe a dozen, perhaps less, travelling with a four-horse wagon?”

“No, sir. If I had I’d ask you for a penny for the tale, but I don’t even know anyone who owns such a wagon that’d be about with it at this time of year. Not a lot going even to the small markets about now, let alone up to London such as you’d take a wagon for. Now, I know a squire over by Much Hadham, he’d a fancy to go to parliament and nothing would do but he got a two-horse coach to go in.” The thatcher laughed uproariously. “Bless the poor fellow, the year after he came back down from parliament, there’s never been another one since, and he’s never used his coach again but to go to church of a Sunday.”

“Ah, but there’s no rare ould fool like a fool with land and money to his name, I’m thinking,” Finnegan said, horribly aware that he’d shortly be faced with choice between more of this or stabbing the culchie in the cart. The stabbing was looking awful attractive, at that. But, no.

“Well, I’ve business of my master’s to be about, so I’ll bid ye good day.” With that, he urged his horse out of the walk.

A half mile down the road, Tully nudged his mount up alongside as Finnegan let his own come back to the walk, safely out of reach of further rural anecdote. “No use, then?”

“But that we’ve reached our final marker, no.” Finnegan let that hang a moment, and then, “Is it me or is this country full of fucking amiable amadáin? Back home they’d have been just as cheerful, but we’d’ve been lied clear out of the fucking county, worse if we’d offered money.”

Tully shrugged, “They don’t see trouble, nor do they. Such as us could do well in country this soft, had we a mind. Or if His Lordship ever falls on hard times and we have to shift for ourselves.”

“That we could, but for now we’ve a purse and a task. And I think it’s time to go to the next part of it. We’ve missed them, do you not think?”

“They’ve made a turn we missed. With twenty men, there’s much we’ve not seen. Or we missed the one fellow who saw which way they went. Do you still think Ely?”

“I do, at that. We got nothing to the west, not at all. That says they don’t want the North Road, and that means not Yorkshire and not Scotland, not for their first. They’ve kept the wagon, too, and God love them for it. Everyone that saw it remembered it.”

Tully tossed his head. “Whoever planned this wasn’t a country boy, that’s for sure. I don’t think I saw a wagon before I was ten, at all. It says they’re after a long trip, though, or a heavy load.”

“I think a long trip, before they’re done. That wagon’s been mithering of me, while I think on who it is we’re after. Does it not seem to you that there’s nothing to say it’s just Cromwell, or just Wentworth, or just the Mackays?”

Tully gave that some thought, taking a moment to get his hat off and the wind through his thin and sandy hair. “Now that you say it out loud, nothing at all. All three? Or which two? And are we to open a book for this?”

Finnegan laughed. “It could be that we should. See what odds the boyos give, maybe one of them has thought of something we haven’t?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time, rare though it is. I’ll pass the word when we get bedded down. We wait at this Bishop’s Stortford, then?” The two of them were speaking Irish between themselves, there being no English ears around to mark them as foreigners. They’d long since discovered that most people assumed their accents were simply from a distant part of England. One fellow in London had been sure they were all from Lancashire. Finnegan had been there, briefly, having come over from Ireland via Liverpool, and been forced to conclude that the fellow had never met a Lancastrian or some other Irishman had told him the lie to avoid being damned for a papist savage. The English place names sounded funny in the stream of Irish, to Finnegan’s ear, especially the way Tully tended to mangle them; there were lads who could switch from one tongue to the other easily, but not Tully. He needed a pause between one language and another, as if his brain had to change horses, stopping for a piss the while.

Finnegan nodded, and then added: “Until all the boys are back in, and then we’ll send a few to York to cover the Great North road, I think O’Hare, while the rest of us head for Ely and try and track down Cromwell’s wee ones. And there should be letters from His Earlship waiting for us in town, he should have a man there waiting for us. Unless someone’s been lucky and caught sight of our prey, that is.”


“Okay, let’s see how she goes.” Darryl was laid under the wagon, watching the suspension bars he’d made and fitted over the last day. He’d put a couple of tracks of broken bricks, small branches, and general trash in the way of the wheels to see how they handled it, and Cromwell, as it turned out far and away the best wagon-driver among them, as befit a farmer, urged the horses on.

Some minutes later, Cromwell came back to find Darryl still on the ground, beaming happily. “Totally worked. Let’s go back and show off to the ladies.”

Cromwell reached down to give him a hand up. “The ride is much smoother, and I fancy the nags found it less effort. Will we tell Colonel Mackay that it was a Scotsman’s invention?” Cromwell’s grin was impish. Hard-core fundamentalist Puritan he might be, but he had a barbed, dry wit. And truthfully, it seemed the closer they got to Scotland, the prouder Alex became of his homeland.

“He’ll claim it for them anyway, I reckon,” Darryl answered, deadpan for deadpan, “so it’s not like we’d be sparing him any effort. Besides, having the Scotsman’s invention in there meant I really couldn’t put Ackerman steering in there, and that’s an Austrian or a German invention, I think. Sounds like it, anyway. Or an American with folks in that part of the world, I guess. There’s definitely a way to do both at the same time, most automobiles have both, but without one to copy, I don’t know enough geometry to just make one up. Suspension linkages just have to be strong enough and have enough springs in ’em.”

“Aye, once I saw the model you made, the principle was clear enough. I’ve no great mechanical learning, but the geometry is easy enough with what my schoolmaster beat into me.”

“Yep. One of those ideas, when you see it, you kick yourself you didn’t think of it first. Took a genius like Watt to think of it at all. I’m glad, now, I spent all that time listening to the steam nuts right after the Ring of Fire, they’re a goldmine of useful stuff like this. I thought I understood autos before, from tinkering and such, but those guys, they could blow a guy away with the theory. Thing was, he didn’t invent that for suspension, it just turned out useful that way. Father Mazzare told me all the things you could find it in once, he musta gone on a quarter hour with it all. The only one I recognised was the suspension arms, which I could take apart and put back together before, but now I understand ’em well enough I can build a simple one like this.”

“It is, as you say, ‘cool’,” Cromwell said, “and so easy to hide.”

“Yep. She still don’t look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, now.”

“Right enough,” Cromwell said. “God be praised.” He took himself off a ways to kneel and say a prayer to, Darryl assumed, that effect.

Darryl himself didn’t bother much with praying, being at most a Christmas, Easter, weddings-and-funerals kind of guy when it came to church, and Cromwell didn’t seem to be pushing it on him. Gayle took that moment to wander into the empty ground out the back of the inn that they were using to test the repaired wagon.

“So, is he praying thanks for a successful test?” she asked quietly.