1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 37

Chapter 19

“They’ve got to be here somewhere,” Darryl said. The sun had come up, but the streets of King’s Lynn, being a warren of warehouses and chandleries, were still dark. There was already a muted hum and bustle; the bakeries were filling the air with the smell of damned tasty bread, cookshops were working on breakfast, and even the docks were busy. High tide was in less than two hours and several ships were making ready to pull out on the slack water to stand out on the ebb tide, whatever the hell that meant. Towson had come back with that story after a brief word with a dock-worker, and though nobody was about to admit it nobody but him had the foggiest what he was taking about. Cromwell mentioned that if they could get a ride on it — his actual words, he didn’t know anything about ships either — and there was a collier in port that would be a fast ship north in the right direction for Edinburgh. With, admittedly, a stop at Newcastle, but colliers went north from there too. It shouldn’t be too hard to change ships at the coal docks.

“I still think we should have asked on the ships if one of them had passage booked,” Welch said. “I mean, we’re trying to leave a trail, are we not?”

“Aye, but if the ladies have no place in a ship for us,” Cromwell said, “best not to spread word. I’d not like it to be the step we trip on, that we bring all to the docks and find we must fight to win through. Fighting with children with us — my children, I’ll remind you — is something we already decided was a poor notion.”

“Add to that,” Towson put in, “there’s all that river wharf and three docks at least, and did you see how many ships there were? Dozens, and hundreds of smaller tubs, luggers, fishing boats, all sorts. We’d get round maybe a tithe of the bastards in two hours between now and high tide and learn nothing but by purest good fortune.”

“Fair enough,” Welch said, “but how will we manage anything wandering about like this?”

“Man has a point,” Darryl said, “any suggestions for a plan?”

“Breakfast,” Leebrick said, wandering back, along with Hamilton, from a mosey down a small side street. “Think about it. It’s dawn. If they’re up, they’re only just up, and they know the ship won’t be sailing for at least two hours. There’s a cookshop down here, if we all go for breakfast and take turns wandering down the road there to the river front and up and down. They’ll be doing something similar, depend on it.”

“It’s the first thing Vicky would think about, right enough. She used to help with the cookshop the warders’ wives ran for the Hamlets boys when they were coming on for the morning shift and going off the night shift.”

“Hamlets boys?” Cromwell asked.

“You wouldn’t have seen them, you were under orders for a warder guard only, same with the Grantville party. The tower guard is filled out with lads from the Trained Band of Tower Hamlets, they get let off half their muster for it. They get sixpence a day and all the training they can stand, which is a fair amount, credit to them. And, of course, the ladies took a farthing of that back off most of them, stuffing them with bacon and eggs and eels and pease. We’d usually have thirty or forty of them in to walk the walls most days, until Cork dumped all those bloody mercenaries on us. That won’t have gone down well with the Bands, once word gets around; that guard pay was feeding more than a few families in the Hamlets. Anyway, she knows the importance of a good breakfast, and as we’ve wandered about I’ve been looking for the kind of cookshop she’d think well of. This one. And it’s been weeks since I had a proper breakfast. This way, people, bacon is calling. Fat bacon, and good bread. If I can get them to fry an egg for me, I may count this day a happy one and it’s barely begun.”

Darryl’s belly rumbled agreement. “I’m in.”

Hamilton got his fried egg, and Towson and Alex lost the coin tosses for who got the first beat walking the streets. Nobody else had to go out, as Alex came in beaming with his wife on his arm and Vicky right behind him. She came straight across to Darryl, grabbed him and kissed him thoroughly. “Later, you,” she said, and was straight over to the counter. “Got my order, love?”

The woman behind the counter had, and she and Vicky chatted like they’d known each other for decades as the crocks and pots and pans were pulled out from beside the massive range where they’d been warming and loaded into baskets. When all was done, Vicky passed over a handful of coins, by some complicated process negotiated a couple more plates for Alex and Towson and had the load divided among everyone but her. It seemed they were to head back to the house of a Committee of Correspondence member where they’d got a couple of rooms. Which they were repaying the use of by buying a hearty cookshop breakfast for themselves and their hosts.

Who turned out to be a pleasant family, more-or-less headed up by the oldest of three excessively large brothers and his wife, who was smoking a pipe with her feet up on a stool when they arrived. Stevedores, all three, and Darryl was a little confused that they seemed to be missing work to help out.

The biggest brother, Rob, who looked to Darryl like he’d unload a ship by lifting it out of the water, tipping it over and giving it a good shake, laughed like a small earthquake. “Bless you, no. The tides today, every ship that’s making sail will be making ready for it at first light and they’ll be standing out shortly. We got ’em all right stuffed by last light last night, and I’ve had a good night’s sleep.”

His wife swatted him behind the ear. “Tell the truth, you bloody goat. Here’s me with the chance of a lie-in for a change, and don’t ‘e know it.” She’d a grin on her face.

“Okay, more’n I needed to know,” Darryl laughed. “Breakfast, here. Get to it. Do we have a ship to leave on?”

“Oh, we sorted that last night, even loaded all your stuff aboard her,” Rob said. “Go to the collier right at the downstream end of the river wharf, the Magpie. She’s a Newcastle collier, going back deadhead this morning. She’ll have you in Newcastle by sundown tomorrow, with no more than ordinary winds, and from there it’s another day to Edinburgh. Be a day faster than you can manage on a horse to Newcastle, even if you didn’t so much as stop to piss. Couldn’t tell you about the road from there to Edinburgh, mind.”

“The ship should still aye be faster,” Alex put in around a mouthful of bacon. “Border country. Bad roads o’er worse ground. And that’s no’ mindin’ the borderers, who’re no joke. Ye ken the gang o’ savages I had under me when first I cam’ tae Grantville? Borderers, to a man. And they were the ones we could civilize a wee bit, mind.”

He grinned over that one. The Green Regiment lads — most of them now in various bits of the USE armed forces with chunks of newly-acquired education under their belts — were mostly a decent enough bunch, if a little rough around the edges. Because, in the wilder bits of land on either side of the border between Scotland and England, the chances to acquire any polish at all were nil, let alone enough to pass for civilized.

“Well,” he went on, “We’ve the horses left at yon livery, will I go and see to selling them if I can, or will the Committee here use them?”

“We’ll likely just sell them. We want to buy a press from Magdeburg,” Rob said. “It’s time and past time we stopped leaving things to the gentry around here. Most of them do all right, I suppose, but most of them have got religion so far up their arses it’s coming out their mouths the whole time.”

Darryl saw Cromwell open his mouth to speak, and then, apparently, think better of it.

Rob went on, “I’ve heard where there’s simple books for helping folk learn to read in German. I reckon if we could print a few of those in English, it’d be good. All you can mostly get around here is ballads or the Bible, and an almanac, and they’re hard to learn from. I’ve got the beginnings of my letters, I can read nearly all the prayer-book at church on Sunday, and I speak English and German handily, but I can’t write to save my life. We’ve got all sorts of plans around that, and there’s plenty of the dockers would go for it. Being as it’s all stop-go-stop there, there’s plenty of time for learning, see?”

Nods all round. And then Cromwell spoke up, “And if there was to be a godly element to such learning?”

“Well, most folk around here wouldn’t object, I ain’t what you’d call perfectly in line with the Book of Common Prayer myself, but there’s always the thing about freedom of religion to remember. Which is a good thing. As one of the sailors from Germany put it to me, what if the Lutherans are wrong, the Calvinists are wrong, and the Catholics are right? Or we’re all wrong and Our Lord is weeping over all our errors? What about that? Best not to force anything on any man, and each dispute with the other. Maybe we’ll find out which way is the right way after all?” Rob shrugged. “I’ve heard plenty out of the Germanies about what the wars of religion did there. Not here, thank you very much, we’ve hard times enough in old England without having another Tilly and another Gustavus roaring back and forth and leaving us all to ruin and want.”

“The king will surely strike at you for such a thing. An unlicensed press, for one thing?”

“Plenty of those already, Mister Cromwell. And how long does the king have, anyway? From what I hear you’re set on having the head off him a few years early? Yes, we heard about you, all right, from your boys there, and then we sent word to Germany, and now we know about the civil war that was to be. Well, speaking for the common folk, Mister Cromwell, if you can see your way clear to a bit more civil and a bit less war, we’ll thank you. But if it comes to war, then it’s a rebellion for everyone, not just the godly. And I say that as one of the godly myself, by my best efforts at any rate.”

Cromwell laughed, a deep and hearty roar. It was a minute or more before he could gather himself to say anything. “Two recording angels, is it now?” he spluttered out at last. “One for the Irish and one for the English? Colonel Mackay, will you watch me on the part of the Scots? And who will look to the Welsh?”

“All right, no need to get funny about it,” Darryl said. “But Rob’s got a point. Miz Mailey said one of the problems she had with you was that when you got told nine out of ten disagreed with you, you’d put a sword in the tenth man’s hand. And that ain’t right, not at all. If you’re going to be startin’ a revolution here, Oliver, then fine. Place needs it, far as I can see. But you’re going to do it right or not. At. All. Ain’t like there’s a shortage of experts to advise you. Bet Mike Stearns’d be able to tell you a few things about getting a revolution right, since from what I hear he’s doing it.”

“Hate to interrupt this consciousness-raising,” Julie put in, “but it’s time we scouted the way down to the river. And, Alex? I’d just leave the horses and we’ll write a bill of sale to Rob here. He can use the money and we don’t need it for now. I know what you’re like when you get stuck in to a deal about horses, you’ll be there hours. Days, probably.”

Mackay shrugged. “I had planned on just taking the first price offered. And if we leave a writing with Rob here, surely that will have that Irish scunner after him for information?”