1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 31

From the corner of his eye Finnegan could see Tully bristling. “I understand your distress, Sir Henry, truly I do. This day I’ve lost three good men, three! The two who you have awaiting decent burial outside your home, and it would soothe my heart so it would if you could tell me you’ve got them decently covered and laid out ready for the burying of them, and poor Constable Barry, who bled to death in his saddle while evading the bandits’ pursuit. He, the poor creature, is laid out even now ready for the burying of him, far from home and by rites alien to him, but he was doing his duty to the last, the very last, Sir Henry! Do you care to view the corpse of him?” Finnegan wasn’t sure quite where the bullshit came from on occasions such as this, but he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply. The easy part was that, yes, his boyos had indeed suffered tragedy this morning.

“That won’t be necessary, I assure you. From all the shot and riot I heard I was quite convinced there were at least a dozen of your constables there, what happened to the others? And if their numbers didn’t answer, why is it that I have had no return visit with more? Could not militia be turned out?”

“There was but the one man, Constable Tully as you see here, who took flight with his injured comrade, on a wounded horse, and had his heels across country to evade the very bandits you mention. Only when he was sure of no pursuit was he able to come here, with the dying Constable Barry, and make his report, such as you see writ there by him on the table, and it was as we were debating the best course of action you arrived, so you did. Do you tell me the villain has flown?”

“I do. And I am here to lay information in the proper form of the sighting. I presume you are already officially cognizant of the prison-breaking he stands accused of?”

“I saw the mined walls of the tower with my own eyes, the very day I was commissioned by His Majesty to catch the man Cromwell and his every associate and accessory.” Finnegan sighed expansively. This was a complication he hadn’t been expecting. He’d have no trouble leaving the lawsuit Sir Henry was plainly planning behind when he shook the dust of this town off his feet, but the earl wouldn’t be happy about the complication. Half the troubles in this blasted country were down to county gentlemen being difficult about things. Giving one of them the means to raise a scandal was certainly not going to help. On the other hand, here was also one of those local gentry raising a complaint about his quarry; if he couldn’t get one problem to solve the other it was a poor look-out.

“Sir Henry, Cromwell is as cunning as the very devil and I don’t doubt he has seduced several others to his aid. I know not what mischief he proposes to work as his final end, but I came here, rightly as it seems, to wait for him to try and capture him as he came for his children. If I could have found those, I might have had bait for the beast and caught him before now.”

Sir Henry harrumphed. “This, Mister Finnegan, is not what any man or woman of this locality thought you were about. There’s not a one of them believes other than you proposed to throw the poor mites into the Tower in place of the father.”

Finnegan gave the man his best hurt look. “I’ll allow, Sir Henry, that I am a rough and plain man, with none of your gentry airs, and my boyos that I swore in as constables are an ungentle lot to a man, but I’ll thank you to aver to all you have cause to tell that we’re not in any way monsters. Sure we’d have used the little ones quite civilly while we held them, and returned them where we found them once we had the father in chains. A mean trick to play on the man, in all honesty, Sir Henry, but he killed a dozen men with his own hands while breaking out of the Tower and he or his ruffians have accounted for three of my men dead and several others wounded already. I’ll spare no tears of sympathy for him on that account, and nor should any law-abiding man.”

Sir Henry contrived to look a little mollified from the state of high dudgeon he’d come in with. “You’ll hear my information, then, I take it?” The tone had become somewhat querulous.

“I will, at that, Sir Henry.”

Two hours later, Finnegan was as glad as a man could be to see the back of the pedantic bastard — not that he’d been able to call him that aloud — who’d gone over every finest point of his account of the morning, pointed out every minor incorrectness of the oath Finnegan had administered to make it formal, drawn to his attention two breaches of the Profane Swearing Act within earshot in the inn’s taproom, wondered aloud whether it was seemly to conduct such business in a common alehouse, inquired whether all of the boyos present were sufficiently resident not to be offending under the Act Against Common Tippling when they had beer with their luncheon and generally made a bloody nuisance of himself. To his credit, he’d pointed out that Cromwell’s children were in the care of the breedlings in the fens. It seemed the oldest Cromwell boy had been in communication with England’s answer to the bog-trotters. Finnegan had guessed as much already from the first trail he’d followed, but Steward had been more forthcoming. He’d even had an idea of where the breedlings were gathering to work mischief against the fen drainage and navigation works. And didn’t Sir Henry have opinions about that, now?

Finnegan heaved a big sigh as Sir Henry, his lawyer and his lawyer’s clerk went out the door. “Thank Christ those fuckers are gone,” he said, “I was sure my ears were about to fuckin’ drop off. Have I profanely swore and cursed enough yet? I think it’s time for some fucking tippling to top it off. Someone get that idle bastard over here with more ale.”

That got a chuckle out of Tully. “We’ve had some use out of the gaimbín, for all that. If I remember aright, this Earith where they’re agitating against the new river is no more than half a dozen miles past where we got to last time. Should I ask around and find why they’re agitating?”

“They’re agitating because a Dutchman’s digging a fucking ditch, Tully, and I much doubt me that we’ll ever need to know the why of either side of the tiresome business. If it comes up in conversation, make note of it, and we’ll leave it at that. What we do know is that Cromwell’s boy fell in with the agitators and that’s where he hid himself and his little brothers and sisters. Now, it’s too late in the day to get out there, but while I see poor Barry decently buried, get you a cart and take half a dozen boys and go fetch Kennedy and Quinn back here for the same. I said to Sir Profane Fucking Henry I’d see them away from his doorstep, and I’ll keep the promise for their sakes. I’ve a notion that if we shift ourselves we can have them decently in the ground by sundown, for all the bloody Protestants won’t let them have holy ground for it. There’s plenty of ground we can use, and I am in no mood to hear argument on the matter.”

“Nor I,” Tully said, grabbing his hat. “I can be to St. Ives and back in three hours, so we’ll have the evening to wake them properly. Then to Earith in the morning?”

“Earith in the morning,” Finnegan affirmed. “And then we start the hunting.”