The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 08
February 1636-May 1636
Travel conditions being what they always were in the middle of winter, especially when it came to crossing the English Channel…. “I hope I never see this place again,” Marc said as they disembarked in London. “We’ve been here five minutes and that’s five minutes too long. How Huygens endures it, I can’t imagine. It may be preferable to being burned at the stake by the Duke of Alba during the Eighty Years War….” He paused and took a second look at the London docks. “But not by much.”
“Early March is said not to be the most salubrious season in England,” Raudegen remarked mildly.
“Someone told me once that it was August 23rd, if I recall correctly. But it may have been July 26th.”
* * * *
“I wouldn’t precisely call it internment,” Soubise said. “I’ve not been in the Tower the way Charles kept the envoys from the USE. Of course, he’s on firmer ground because there is precedent on handling an errant French nobleman who is persona non grata in his homeland, while there was none for handling unnerving strangers from the future.” He smiled. “I’ve been here before in the course of the vicissitudes of the relations between the Rohans and the Bourbon rulers of France. It’s a nice house here on the Strand, if somewhat small for my needs, and I brought my valet and cook with me. Thanks be to God the Almighty, for otherwise I’d have been wearing English tailoring and eating English food for more than half a year.”
“Your brother thinks that you have accomplished all that you can in the matter of Ducos and his fanatics.”
“Not as much as I hoped I would. I wanted to chase them all the way to Scotland. But….”
His secretary spoke up.
“Since my master is not, in fact, under house arrest, as the English authorities keep assuring us, though they also would not let him leave London, he has proven to be an excellent envoy. He has hosted at least three formal dinners each week, this house being inadequate for dancing parties. He has established a salon which the most elite literati of London….” He cleared his throat. “…the most elite literati of London, such as they are, have attended. Thus, everyone of importance in London is aware that the House of Rohan does not in any way condone these regrettable assassinations.”
“The trouble Ducos is causing is regrettable,” Soubise interjected, “but I for one would not have been heartbroken if he had succeeded with the pope.”
The secretary cleared his throat. “My lord de Soubise has not only regularly attended divine services at the French Protestant Church on Threadneedle Street, founded by the good offices of and under the charter issued by the late King Edward VI, but has also heard sermons here in his own house from the pastors of the other Huguenot churches in and near London.”
“You would not believe how many sermons I have heard in these past months,” Soubise exclaimed. “Enough to be a lifetime supply for any normal man. Biblically sound and well-delivered, but sermons nevertheless. Forgive an old sailor for saying it if either of you are of a pious bent, but there ought to be some kind of limit, some entire statute of limitations, on theological pontificating.”
“What my master is attempting to convey,” the secretary said, “is that by dint of his efforts, every French Protestant pastor in the British Isles is now aware of Ducos’ perfidy. Engravings of him and of his men, made from the best descriptions that M. le duc de Rohan could obtain in Grantville, with their names printed beneath so far as the authorities identified them, are now in wide circulation. Every pastor who came here received several copies, and each week at the church in Threadneedle Street, all visitors from other parts of England and Scotland are invited to take copies. The pastor in the City of London has been so cooperative as to arrange a series of mid-week guest sermons, which have been delivered by the pastors from other cities, such as Bristol and….”
“What he means,” Soubise said, is that we’ve placarded the whole country with wanted posters and that’s all I’ve managed to do, because aside from the three men I brought with me and a few Huguenots I’ve managed to hire, the rest of my staff, I’m sure, are English spies. And I’m still stuck in London, because I can’t get leave to return to the continent. Richelieu appears to take a certain glee in having me ‘stranded’ here and the English are more than happy to oblige him.”
After considering the situation, Raudegen concluded that since Soubise did have a limited ability to move about in the streets, at least on Sundays, removing him to France would not be a major challenge. Removing him along with the valet, secretary, and cook would complicate the process to the point that in his opinion, since their specific charge was to retrieve the duke, the three should be left behind to fend for themselves, which meant enduring whatever punitive consequences the English government might choose to visit upon them as retribution for their employer’s transgressions.
Marc objected for humanitarian reasons.
Raudegen discussed the traditional relationship between omelettes and eggs.
“If you won’t extricate them, then I’ll do it myself. That’s what I’ll call it. An extrication, and as such, it should be made with all due delicacy. The only servants we should leave behind are the ones the English themselves planted in his household. There’s no reason for us to pay to import more English spies onto the continent. There are enough there already.”
* * * *
On Thursday, Milord’s cook complained about the quality of the vegetables delivered. The footman who had done the ordering countered that vegetables were always shriveled at this time of year. The cook sent him back to the market and complained again about the produce to any staff member who would listen. The footman came back, bringing no satisfaction.
Cooks did not usually lower themselves to go to the market in person, but with a dramatic screech, the temperamental Frenchman left the house, taking the unsatisfactory footman with him. He did not return when expected, but then neither did the footman, so no one raised an alarm, given that he had prepared in advance sufficient cold meats and aspics for the household’s supper.
On Friday morning, the housekeeper (English) told the butler (also English) that the cook and footman had not returned the night before. As both were missing, the butler saw no reason to inform the intelligence service in any panicked manner, since they had probably fallen victim to ordinary thieves or cutthroats. The housekeeper instructed the under-cook to proceed as well as might be, while the butler sent another footman to try to pick up their trail from the market.
On Friday afternoon, the valet told the butler that there were problems with milord’s tailor. Since this was a frequent occurrence, given the pickiness of the irritating little Frenchman, the butler just nodded as the valet left by the back door. Since the valet did not ordinarily join the other servants for meals, the under-cook sent up trays to his room as usual for Friday supper and Saturday breakfast. The maid who carried and retrieved the trays happened to be a Huguenot. For two mealtimes, she got to eat a lot more than she was allotted and was happy to do it.
On Saturday, the secretary gave instructions to the housekeeper that all the servants were to attend the earliest service the following day, because milord expected a dozen guests for Sunday dinner. The under-cook had hysterics, but the housekeeper managed to calm him down.
Hearing of the instructions, the butler knocked on the door of the room where milord’s secretary worked and asked, “Surely not the coachman, sir? For early services?”
“No, of course not,” the secretary answered. “Use your common sense, man. He will be needed to drive milord to church and will attend services at the same hour we do, as usual.”
The Huguenot staff members attended the church on Threadneedle Street, of course, like their heathen Calvinist master. The English servants, in a procession headed by the butler and rearguarded by the housekeeper, attended a proper divine service at the nearest Church of England parish.
It was unusual for all the servants to be gone from the house at once, leaving only milord and his secretary there. It was not, however, unprecedented. It had occurred on a few other occasions when Milord hosted Sunday guests.
There was no precise precedent for Marc’s arrival in the house and Raudegen’s arrival in the rear garden.
The English servants returned before the Huguenots did. They had a much shorter walk, after all. They entered through the back door. They did not leave through the back door, or any other door, at least not for quite a while. They found all the interior exits from the back hallway, a dingy and windowless narrow passageway, barricaded, and the rear door mysteriously barred behind them.
The Huguenot servants did not return at all, having taken the words of God to heart and, per instructions, departed hence unto another place as soon as the preacher delivered the charge and the Aaronic blessing.
Milord and his secretary left the house on the Strand by the front door, of course. The coachman arrived from the stables with punctilious promptness. Milord kept a generously-sized four-person carriage, which was just as well, since it already contained four people before Milord and his secretary entered it this lovely Sabbath morning.
The coachman drove decorously toward the church on Threadneedle Street.
Then he passed it.
The coach was later found on the docks, with the missing footman who had accompanied the cook to market gagged and bound up in it. He had some explaining to do.
The next morning, a party of Dutch and Flemish businessmen took ship for The Hague with their various servants and attendants. Two had letters of passage from Constantijn Huygens who was, of course, well known, at least by name, to all English customs officials. The other four were identified by their passports as middle-level employees of the Courteen and Crommelin mercantile firms. The papers were all authentic, though they didn’t belong to the men who were using them at the moment.