1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 25

“Aye, I know, and Finnegan can bloody choke on it, him with his justice’s commission with the ink wet on it and all his talk of misprision. Prison-break’s no felony if you weren’t in there lawfully in the first place, and His Royal Majesty can buy all the bench and their dogs too for all I care, it won’t change the law of the land in the matter. Be that as it may, Sir Henry saw a roof over the three little ones before that day was out, and Elizabeth and poor young Richard decently buried at St. Ives. The headstone says Bourchier, after Elizabeth’s people. They paid for the stone, once they’d heard, and thought it best not to have your name on it in case the king decided they be disinterred for ignominious burial.”

“He’d do that?” Darryl couldn’t contain himself.

“Why take the chance?” Pedley answered. “We knew he was all set to carry on like some French tyrant once poor Oliver here was taken. Perhaps we should have seen it coming with the refusal of parliament and all these novel imposts he kept making, but how would we know that he’d take French gold and hire foreign troops? We’ll not be caught unawares twice.”

Darryl was getting a serious case of mental whiplash, here. He shouldn’t have, of course. Portly old Squire Nicholas, here, was exactly the kind of guy who, a few years from now, would saddle up and go to war against his own king over royal misdeeds not nearly so bad as what had actually been done. He might look like a genial old soak with his drink and a warm fire and a comfortable chair, but like Gayle, he’d fool you. Sat right there in that easy chair with his boots off, looking the very picture of Rural Conservative Gentleman, was a no-kidding revolutionary in the making. And, of course, accustomed to leadership, long- and short-term planning, the logistics of farming — not too different, in the seventeenth century, from the logistics of a military campaign — and with a keen understanding of life on the wrong side of the tracks on account of it being dragged before him for judgement on a regular basis. Darryl began to realise that there were damned good reasons why Parliament won the civil war.

“Where are they now, Nicholas?” Cromwell was plainly having trouble keeping himself in check. “I saw that the farm I rented from Sir Henry was burnt.”

“A bad business, that, and no mistake. Your Robert and Oliver were there, earning their keep and something for their sisters. They weren’t recognised, praise God for that mercy, but the ruffians they’d sent out to have their heads broke by some breedlings took offence at that little jape. They came back and burnt the place down. Sir Henry’s fit to be tied over it, you may count on him for all the help you might need — that farm is sixty pound a year to him, tenanted, and now he has to find for the family driven off it. He has no objection to Christian charity, but the necessity of it he blames firmly on Finnegan.”

“So, this Finnegan?” Cromwell said, in a voice that said that he, too, was coming round to Darryl’s views on heads and the breaking thereof.

“King’s man, by commission, but the Earl of Cork’s creature in every way that counts. Set after you when you escaped, I gather, and came here to get ahead of you. He was seen and marked for what he was, and your Robert seems to be made much of by the breedlings for your sake, so he arranged with them to set up an ambuscade out in the fens. He and Oliver the Younger were already working for the Sewsters on your old farm at St. Ives –”

“Sewster?” Cromwell asked.

“Yes, the same Sewsters your brother married into,” Pedley said, and launched into a rapid summary of how they’d been related, by marriage and various obscure bits of ancestry that Darryl didn’t follow, not knowing any of the names. Of course, he’d probably have been able to give a fair account in the same vein of a lot of his neighbours in Grantville and neither of these two English squires would’ve been able to follow it. Even if he never felt right at home in this part of the world, Darryl figured, he’d probably just found a bit of its culture he could understand. If it turned out they liked shooting and could keep a feud alive for generations, he’d be back as soon as he could with a truckload of gimme caps that these people plainly needed to complete their evolution into proper hillbillies.

With the explanation finished, Pedley finished up by explaining that Finnegan had had a justice’s commission sent from London, sworn his gang of cut-throats in as constables, and begun throwing his weight about. “And you may depend on it that every worthless half-vagrant and rogue from St. Ives to Godmanchester is getting money from them. Our real constables are hearing of far less in the way of casual theft and public drunkenness. What happens when that scoundrel finally leaves them enough time to return to their former mischief I dread to think. For the time being, Robert and young Oliver are making themselves useful for Sir Henry. Good lads that they are, they’ll not take charity while they’ve strength in them. They’ve been kind enough not to burden me with knowledge of where the little ones are, and they’re all Finnegan’s asked after thus far. You know me for an incompetent in the art of lying, so I do like to be telling the truth when I deny knowing anything.”

“I’ll have some mischief of my own to work, Nicholas,” Cromwell said, after a little smile at Pedley’s disclaimer. “I fancy you may impress on your regular constables that there are some matters they may find strike them temporarily blind?”

“You fancy correctly, Oliver. It might be we can drag a fish or two across your trail in any event. Finnegan’s not the only one who can pay for informants, you know, and my coin spends a lot better in these parts than his. You’re not the only fugitives we have in the parish. Some fellows wanted in connection with the attempt on the king have been seen; one of Finnegan’s ruffians recognised him, a mercenary named Towson. There’s three on that warrant, him and two other soldiers returned from foreign service, and I fancy –”

“No, Sir Nicholas. Those men are with me. Innocent of any wrongdoing in the matter of the king, the Earl of Cork sought to use them as scapegoats. It may be that they can be used to confuse the trail, but I beg of you consult with me first — if I have need of their arms to spirit my children to safety, that need will come first.”

“Ah. I had given no orders in the matter, and you may depend on me, Oliver, depend on me entirely. Now, finish up your drinks!” Pedley rapped on his chair arm for his manservant, “Peter! Our guests’ horses to the back door, if you please, and see if any of the little birds perched in the trees are singing of unfriendly eyes about our garden.”

It turned out there weren’t, and they took the ride back to Julie and Alex at the trot. Darryl found watching Cromwell’s smile on the way educational. It had started relieved, turned joyous, and by the time they were out of sight of Squire Nicholas’s house, positively predatory.

He wondered what Cromwell would be praying about before bed tonight. Thanks for his childrens’ safety? Or forgiveness for his bloodthirsty thoughts? Probably both. Darryl couldn’t see where any decent god wouldn’t forgive a man in Cromwell’s position a few happy daydreams of carnage, but Cromwell felt the Almighty hewed to a higher standard of conduct in thought and deed.