1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 24

And, while Cromwell didn’t think any of the enemies he’d made hereabouts were that petty, there was every possibility that they’d have gotten one of the less pleasant deals that the already-savage English poor law could hand out purely out of ignorance. There was even the possibility that someone, meaning well enough, would have split them up and moved them on to other parishes, or fostered them somewhere in secret, seeking to preserve their lives from a capricious monarch apparently bent on slaughtering his subjects at random. Who was to say he’d stop at the parents and one of the elder brothers? Cromwell had spent enough time as a justice of the peace, part of the administration of these things, to know that even with the best of intentions it was entirely possible to make some shockingly harsh decisions even in respect of the impotent and deserving poor. Under pressure of the need to preserve the lives of children? It would be all too easy for a man to find it in himself to do the children a little injustice now to preserve them from murder later.

“I suppose there’s some good reason why we can’t go back, grab those two boyos and beat a bit more than a half-story out of them?”

Welch plainly shared some, if not all, of Darryl McCarthy’s concerns in the matter. Darryl had talked to him plenty over the last couple of weeks and discovered that whatever Strafford and Cromwell might’ve done in the future, it would’ve been little more than a garnish on what was the ordinary lot of the Catholic Irish, and a fair number of the Protestant Irish who’d gone native enough to count, in this day and age. And, under the hardened and cynical mercenary exterior, there was a firebrand who’d only been dampened by recognising there wasn’t anything he could do by himself. Presented with a couple of hired thugs at the sharp end of repressing the people? They could probably tie those two goons to a chair apiece and let them listen to him and Darryl argue over who got to work them over. They’d sing like canaries out of fear.

Stephen Hamilton had plainly figured out what was making the grin spread across Darryl’s face. “No, and don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it. It speaks well of you that it’s your first thought, Darryl, but just thundering in with your kicking boots on ain’t the right move, not yet.”

“Oh, I figured that,” Darryl said. “I was just taking a moment to enjoy the thought.”

“Well enough,” Hamilton said. “Mister Cromwell, who should we talk to first? While I’m with Lieutenant Welch here on the subject of beatings, I want to make sure we’re breaking the right heads.”

Cromwell sighed. “I also. There wasn’t a lad could stand against me in singlestick at Cambridge, and the thought of giving in to the deadly sin of wrath is a sore temptation now. We must speak with Esquire Pedley. My first thought was one of the Montagus, but they’ll be taking the king’s part in all this if I’m not mistaken. Even if I am, why take the chance when there are other choices? If he has knowledge of my family’s whereabouts, then we may talk to them. I have better and closer friends, it must be said, but none so local or more likely to know what has happened here.”

In the end, Cromwell surprised Darryl by asking him to come along to Squire Pedley’s house. “Save only this, young Mister McCarthy, hold your tongue and listen, and think on what might be said and, more importantly, not said. I know you have no love for me, so let not my distress distract you, but think on the fate of my little girls. The boys might manage for themselves, in time and by God’s grace, but this is no world for a girl-child to be alone in.” Darryl had been touched by that much trust, and had wondered aloud whether or not he’d rather have Gayle along for that.

Cromwell had smiled ruefully. “If we are seen and ambushed, Mister McCarthy, that fine set of pistols you carry will serve well, and I shall not worry for your survival. God has granted you a strong hand, if I am any judge of such matters, and my mind will be clear to cut my own way free, sure you shall give a good account of yourself. Gayle? I should worry too much that I might lose one of whom I have become fond. I cannot bring myself to believe in my heart she would survive a scrimmage. And you don’t carry yourself like a soldier, so if we’re seen near Squire Pedley’s house you’ll not attract notice the way Leebrick or Hamilton or the others will.”

Darryl’d nodded at the implied compliment. “Ain’t gonna argue, but I reckon Gayle’d fool you on that score.”

They’d left it at that. They’d found a barn that a tenant farmer Cromwell only vaguely knew was willing to rent out. The wagon was there, with Gayle to make the reports in the evening’s radio window, with Leebrick, Towson, Welch and Hamilton to stand guard. Hamilton had to stay behind to make sure Vicky did, of course. Alex and Julie had ridden along part of the way and set up an ambush point just off the road to Pedley’s house. If they were attacked, that would be where they fell back to, with Julie to ensure that the assailants got the shock of their suddenly-very-brief lives. The summer evening had the sun low in the western sky, so if Darryl and Cromwell rode hell-for-leather along the road back to St. Ives their pursuers would be beautifully illuminated from Julie’s vantage. No need for signals; if they were at the gallop, whoever was chasing them was fair game.


The precautions seemed to have been unnecessary, though. Darryl wasn’t ever going to be the horseman Cromwell plainly was, but he was comfortable enough to look around plenty. Since his role for today seemed to be “younger guy along for the ride” he felt he could get away with gawking, and played his role to the hilt. If they were being followed or watched, whoever was doing it was being subtler than he knew how to spot.

Pedley himself turned out to be exactly what Darryl would’ve assumed if you’d said English Country Squire to him, right down to the glass of what smelt like sherry in his hand — not a small glass, either — and the buttons down his front straining to contain a truly impressive gut. “Oliver,” the man had said, without a note of exclamation in his voice, “I knew you were at large again, but it does me good to see you safe.”

“Nicholas,” Cromwell said, “permit me to name Mister Darryl McCarthy to you, who was most solicitous of my health during my captivity and helped me to my liberty after.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Darryl said, remembering to have his glove off before offering his hand.

“A friend to Oliver is a friend to me,” Pedley said, shaking his hand and waving to his manservant. “Peter will have chairs and drink for you momentarily, I’m sure. Not that I think you’ll be staying long, Oliver. If that scoundrel Finnegan hasn’t eyes on this place one way or another you may call me the most startled man in Christendom. Best you be away as soon as I’ve satisfied you as to your childrens’ fate.”

“You know?”