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1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Sunday, October 25, 2020 09:39 EDT




June-July, 1636

From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw

    Herman Melville, “The Maldive Shark”

Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

    Eddie Cantrell closed the door softly behind him, padded to the stairs, took the first few steps down before sitting and pulling his boots on. Land boots, which you’d think would be more comfortable, but weren’t. Probably because — as had been his unvoiced observation since his teens — there was usually an inverse relationship between utility and fashion. The more stylish a thing was, the less comfortable and/or reliable it proved to be. Yet Anne Cathrine had insisted, within days of his returning at the head of The Prize Fleet, that he had to have fine boots for when he went out in an official capacity. Which was, now, pretty much every time he went out.

    He finished trying — unsuccessfully — to wriggle and squirm his feet into a more comfortable position within the attractive torture devices that his wife had acquired for him from God knows who and for God knows how much. He’d thought about putting his foot down (so to speak) and refusing to wear the doggone things. Yeah, he really gave that some heavy-duty, serious thought — until he saw the way Anne was looking at him the first time he wore them. And then, well, then he got . . . kinda distracted. Until sometime late the next morning. And now he was wearing the boots.

    And had been almost every day since he’d been back. And he’d left their new fortress/house late every day, too. Anne Cathrine had been, from the start, everything a twenty-three-year-old man could want in a bedroom playmate: coy, seductive, aggressive, inventive — oh, so inventive! But now she had added “insatiable” to her repertoire. Not that Eddie was complaining — oh, hell no! — but every once in a while, a senior officer really did need to show up on time. Which was to say, thirty minutes early. As it was, he’d be lucky if he just barely made his meeting on time. Again.

    Still, when he reached the bottom of the stairs and went briskly out his front door with a nod to the guard, there was a spring in his step. And it wasn’t because of the recoil/return plate that Grantville’s medical technicians had built into his prosthesis.



    Eddie had to push up hard against the wall of Fort Oranje in order to get through the crowd, but that was just as well. Being off to the side of the main road that ran out to St. Eustasia’s new dock kept him away from the promenaders who dominated its center: the wealthy, the influential, and no small number of Dutch officers from both the fleet and fort. Eddie, tucked against the closely fitted stones of the fort, made much better time. In large part, it was because he would not have to stop a dozen times to return salutes, which the Dutch were now adopting with the fervor of a new fad.

    Until recently, the Dutch military had been fairly typical of the others of its time: wide variations in training and discipline, little standardization, and nothing like a uniform, except for a few elite formations which usually answered to and guarded a monarch. In the New World, the “irregular” nature of military life and action had been even more pronounced. The Dutch navy, if you could even call it, had arisen from the need to build a self-sustaining force to strike at the shipping of their Spanish oppressors. Half a century later, the men on its warships, regardless of rank, had still been motivated more by profit than patriotism.

    But over the past year in the New World, that had begun to change. And then Tromp’s extraordinary “Dunkirk at Dominica” had accelerated that transmogrification. What had begun as a loose amalgam of ships and a confederation of clever raiders was rapidly evolving into a military force, its esprit du corps growing in tandem with its successively greater accomplishments. Although, there was, admittedly, another factor at work.

    Eddie’s glance grazed across that factor as he came to the end of the street: the steam-cruisers Intrepid and Resolve, out beyond the extraordinary clutter of ships lying in the broad anchorage that lay before Oranjestad. It wasn’t the ships themselves that had changed attitudes, but what they signified. The new technologies, the crisply efficient crews, the new strategy and tactics: all that resonated with the Dutch, yes, but there was something even beyond that:

    The embodied the triumph of method and competence by having proved in battle the merits of the perception and confidence that had created them: that despite war’s inherent chaos, the human mind could identify and exploit patterns within it. Science and analysis had successfully revolutionized not just the tools but the conduct of war, with a surety and decisiveness that had not been seen since the Romans. And the Dutch realized that they were more than just the beneficiaries of that growing trend; they themselves had begun to amplify and perfect it.  

    And today was the day that the broad benefits of those new capabilities and competencies would overflow into the streets of Oranjestad, almost all at once. That timing was part happy coincidence, part careful coordination, and all about creating a pervasive sense of prosperity and plenty. Which was quite a trick, since neither of those things had actually arrived, just yet.

    But to look out in that anchorage, you would never have guessed it. Eddie had to hand it to Jan Walbeeck, the Dutch Governor of St Eustatia for having orchestrated the convergence of all this traffic and trade in a most impressive fashion. The intercontinental radio on the island’s southern volcanic mountain — The Quill — had made it possible to estimate, to within a few days, when the first major convoy from Europe would finally arrive. For security reasons, direct references to it in the telegraph traffic had to be coded and sparse, but as it coalesced back in the Netherlands and the USE, Walbeeck was able to track its growing readiness, then its departure date, and then a last confirmation from it when underway.

    It was not just the first true resupply mission to St. Eustatia, and through it, the other Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. It was also the first formation of ships to leave the Netherlands since its ports had been blockaded by the Spanish after the Battle of Dunkirk. With eleven well-loaded fluyts at its core, its defense accompaniment had been even more impressive. In addition to a pair of man-of-wars that had been in process of construction when Fernando surrounded Amsterdam, it also boasted the first true frigate designs to arrive in the New World. Lower and longer than prior warships, and with almost non-existent foc’sles and quarterdecks, the four ships — one Swedish, one Danish, and two Dutch — were proudly billed as the first of their class. Which, Eddie knew, was a nice way of saying, “these were prototypes made to assess performance and discover design flaws.” Which they had, and which had been corrected to the extent possible. Still, it was like hand-me-down clothes presented as a new outfit.

    The same was true with the two new USE steamships that accompanied them. One was the sole sister ship of Courser, the Harrier. Although successful, that first class of steam destroyer — the Speed Class — had taught Simpson and his designers many lessons, both during their construction and first half year of operation. The result was to discontinue production of that model and introduce a revised version, the Speed Two. Superficially, it seemed the same except for their naming convention, but it had significant differences in terms of hull strengthening, steam plant and propeller design, and electrical wiring and redundancy. The first of that class, the untested Relentless, had been deployed to the New World as her shake-down cruise, as had Courser before her. Again, a much touted arrival that was actually added to the allied fleet to see if and when and how it would break.

    Those nineteen ships of the convoy that had collected in and sailed from Amsterdam were mostly been moored in the northern extents of the anchorage after unloading. The larger ships had been serviced there by lighters, but the fluyts had shallow enough drafts to spend a few days bellied up to the new wooden pier that extended into the bay.



    That still-fresh structure was currently swarmed by those same lighters, but they were now off-loading the last general cargos of the prizes Tromp’s fleet had taken off Dominica. Although still referred to by some as the New World Dunkirk, the seamen who’d been there had, with the sardonic wit of their tribe, shortened it to the Battle of Dominikirk. Which, although pooh-poohed by officers and gentlefolk alike as undignified, was rapidly becoming the engagement’s de facto label. Because, hell, it wasn’t a mouthful like the stuffy official-sounding names, none of which seemed to stick.

    The dark-hulled Spanish ships were clustered in the southern extents of the anchorage, their battle-damage still plain to see. There were, in fact, two less than had sailed away from the seaways where they’d been seized. After putting the Spanish prisoners ashore at Petit Terre and scuttling the mortally-wounded ships in the shallows, Tromp’s fleet and the prize hulls had reconsolidated in Guadeloupe’s Petit-cul-de-sac Marin. Once sorted out, they had sailed to leeward, rounding the island’s western lobe, known as Basse-Terre, and setting course for St. Eustatia.

    However, the brisk eastern winds that had continued to grow since the battle proved to be the harbinger of a storm. It ran in just after the ponderous collection of almost seventy ships made a few miles across the Guadeloupe passage toward Montserrat. Seeing its approach, Tromp and the other captains who’d spent their earliest years at sea assessed the situation and came to unanimous conclusions: the storm would be upon them before they made Montserrat, and it might prove too fierce to ride out.

    So Tromp came about and made for the northern bay of Guadeloupe, the Grand Cul-de-sac Marin. Which sounded a lot more simple than it was, since the shallows of that refuge extended irregularly into its expanse. And without any bar-pilots to show the way, it became a matter of ships playing follow-the-leader behind those few hulls which had been furnished with up-time depth charts — such as they were.

    Since the wind was still abeam, the Dutch ships made the bay in plenty of time and in good order. The Spanish hulls, on the other hand, once again demonstrated their far more limited ability to use a reaching wind and were badly buffeted by the first savage squall that preceded the actual storm-front. Most made it past the northern headland of Grand Terre, but half a dozen were caught in the open.

    One of the badly damaged and more lightly built war galleons had her jury-rigged rudder go lose under the constant pounding, and her under-experienced and over-anxious prize pilot never got the feel for correcting her aggravated tendency to yaw. Between the two, she wound up on the rocks. Her keel cracked and hull began buckling beneath the waterline as the high swells pounded her down into the volcanic molars lining that part of Guadeloupe’s shore. The one redeeming consequence was that she was also stuck fast and was sturdy enough to hold together throughout the remainder of the storm.

    The other casualty was one of the oldest naos. She had been sailing crank when she was taken, despite taking only modest damage during the engagement. But as if warning of hidden infirmities, she groaned piteously whenever the seas were high or contrary. When the teeth of the storm set into her, she shuddered, lost way, struggled to regain it. That was when her foremast went, taking many of the main’s spars and shrouds with it. Not surprisingly, the prize pilot lost control of her, and the current and wind pushed her bow around until they were directly upon her beam. As if waiting for that moment, the greatest wave of the squall mounted up and crashed down upon the nao’s listing deck. Her planks and frame cracked so loudly that, for a moment, nearby crews though that the storm had brought thunder with it, as well. As the rain and spray all but hid her, there came a sound like a full forest of trees being ripped asunder. The watery veils of rain and spray parted long enough to show the decrepit nao breaking in two, the water rushing in and taking her down in less than ten seconds.

    Most of her crew, seeing land so close, had taken their chances in the waves. Half of them made it to shore, a handful of others washed up lifeless the next day. The rest, and all who had still been aboard, were swallowed by the sea without a trace. And although the other ships had reached safe harbor, two more days were spent kedging Prins Hendrik and three of the prize hulls off the sandy shoals of the Grand Cul-de-sac Marin.

    Now, with all the ships of that fleet in Oranjestad Bay and the sea and skies so bright and clear, it was difficult to believe that the weather had ever been otherwise. But the storm made a deep impression upon Eddie. He had often sailed through high risers and rainstorms, but never a squall so wild and fierce. Now he was part of that ancient fraternity of mariners who had seen the face of the sea and knew, or at least suspected, that its patron deity was either monstrously capricious or cruelly malign.

    He arrived dockside just as the day’s bartering and bickering were gathering momentum. Thirteen small ships from St. Christopher’s, escorted by the French brig taken last year at Bloody Point, had made their way across the channel early in the morning and were now unloading their wares and passengers. Mostly pinnaces and pinks, half of which were Bermudan-built, their crews were busy setting up stalls from which to sell what they’d freighted over: soursop, squashes, papaya, coconuts, bananas, wood for sturdy spars and, of course, goats. Eddie caught a glimpse of that island’s two most important personages, Governor Thomas Warner and Lieutenant Governor Jeafferson debarking with their retinue. Footmen were present to lead them to Oranjestad’s newest construction: the Admiral’s Repose, a sprawling complex that included rooms, a large tavern, apartments, and even stables. As such, it was more like a caravansary than a typical seaside inn, and this, its first major event, had filled it to capacity.

    Eddie had explored the possibility of extending invitations to some of St. Christopher’s much-diminished French community, including Jacques Dyel Du Parquet. It was neither wise nor safe to allow appearances to lead anyone, most importantly the French themselves, to conclude that they were permanent pariahs. But although Eddie’s friend and Governor of Oranjestad, Jan van Walbeeck, agreed with him, he had also pointed out that the people of both islands — and most especially, Governor Warren — would certainly look askance at it. Although none of the French who had taken part in last November’s attack remained on St. Christopher’s, Du Parquet’s uncle, Pierre Belain D’Esnambuc, had been the architect of all that death, misery, and destruction. The likelihood that his guilt would rub off on his countrymen, and especially his nephew, was high and so, no invitation had been made.

    As Eddie slipped sideways into the narrower lane that paralleled the western, sea-facing wall of the fortress, he watched flat-bottomed lighters hurriedly beaching on the strand yards away. They were bringing in goods from yesterday’s arrivals: the returned ships of Admiral Joost Banckert’s visit to Bermuda. He slowed as he saw the others waiting for him just ahead, remembered the last time he had walked this narrow, packed-sand lane: following behind the crudely-made casket of the original Danish admiral of the Task Force X-Ray, Pros Mund. One of the relatively few Allied dead at last year’s Battle of Grenada, he had been a casualty of his overconfident handling of Resolve and an intent desire to please his sovereign. The latter was a pressure that Eddie understood all too well, since that same ambitious and larger-than-life king was also Eddie’s father-in-law: King Christian IV of Denmark.

    As Eddie drew near the two men he was meeting, the one with a flushed face and broad smile waved toward the bay. “Enjoying that fine view, Commodore Cantrell?”

    Eddie smiled back, adopted the same mock formality. “It’s passable, Governor van Walbeeck.”

     The other man — composed and quiet, with broad shoulders but small features — smiled faintly at van Walbeeck. “It seems that Eddie will not be so easily baited to gush over your achievement, Jan.”



    “Ah, Maarten Tromp, you are delighting in his torment of me,” van Walbeeck lamented histrionically. “Soldiers, particularly jongeren like this Cantrell fellow, have little appreciation of the trials and tribulations that an administrator must endure to produce such a grand spectacle.” He waved a hand at the ship-crowded harbor. “Why, there must be well over one-hundred ships, out there!”

    “Only if you count the boats from St. Kitts,” Eddie needled, barely able to repress a smile.

    “I do count them!” van Walbeeck exclaimed. “Why should I not?”

    “Well…they’re small. And they’re loaded with goats.”

    “Exactly why they figure in my totals, you young ingrate! Those goats are the future of this island.”

    “Well,” Tromp temporized, “their temperaments do resemble those of some of your councilors, Jan.”

    Who feigned horror. “My councilors? Bite your tongue, Admiral! I inherited half of them — and would have been glad to be denied that inheritance. And as far as their resemblance to goats, it might go beyond temperament. Musen, for instance –“

    Eddie gulped back a guffaw; Hans Musen did resemble a goat. Sort of. His face was certainly narrow and expressionless.

    His incompletely stifled laugh broke the parody of pomposity; the two older men chuckled as well. Even Tromp, whose smile persisted faintly.

    Eddie matched it with one of his own. “You seem pretty cheery, Admiral.”

    Tromp shrugged, nodded toward the ships. “There are enough guns afloat out there to fight off any Spanish fleet that might happen to sail at us from over the horizon today. We haven’t been able to say that since coming to the New World. So today — and just today — I shall breathe easy.”

     Jan van Walbeeck nodded. The three spent a few moments watching as lighters ran in, and others struggled out against the wind for their next load, relying on the slow process of back and fill to push beyond the breakers. No less than a dozen skiffs and skerries were making courier runs between ships, then ship to shore and back again. On the horizon, the cerulean sky met the sapphire sea and above the sun shined and smiled upon the busy labors of both seamen and landsmen as they brought their wares together. “It’s like a spring fair,” Eddie murmured.

    “It is,” van Walbeeck nodded in agreement. “And a market day, the first of the season. The first anyone has seen since leaving Recife. Or home.”

    “Yeah,” Eddie agreed, “It’s kinda hard to believe.”

    The other two looked at him.

    “All the changes, I mean.” He swept a hand toward the bright new roofs of Oranjestad. “Maybe you gu — fellows don’t see it as clearly because you’ve been here, watching it grow through all its stages. But when I got here last year . . .” Eddie shook his head. “It was a tent-city with a few buildings and a fort. One store, no trade, water rationing, barely enough food to survive. And you were burning dung instead of wood for everything except cooking. And now look at it.”

    They did. Two church steeples, one in the last phases of completion, were tall above dozens of wood-frame homes. Privies had replaced rudimentary waste disposal, a great deal of which had involved using the bay and other beaches as the primary means of public sanitation. The people in the streets no longer pale or burned, but copper-bronze and, while lean, were no longer gaunt. Children had the energy to play again. Laughing, they were weaving in and out of the stalls where the adults, who had clustered together to sell and buy, sent imprecations and shaken fists in their chaotic wake.

    It was tiny and plain, compared to the great Spanish cities of the New World — Havana, Cartagena, Santo Domingo, Vera Cruz — but conversely, it had none of their oppressive edifices and immense populations of impoverished, despised, and resentful mestizo and zambo shack-dwellers. Instead, this day had brought out its growing pulse of optimism and energy, of new possibilities and expansion. 

    “It’s been transformed,” Eddie said, turning back to face the two Dutchmen. Who were smiling at him. “What?” he asked.

    “Oranjestad isn’t the only thing that’s been transformed,” van Walbeeck observed with a wink. “It often happens to happy husbands, I’ve been told.”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eddie said. His denial didn’t sound convincing, not even to himself.

    Tromp studied the edge of the shade in which they all stood. “While not as precise as your up-time wrist-watches, my years at sea have given me much occasion to refine my ability to tell the time by the angle of the sun’s rays. Consider the crisp shadows of the battlements projected just beyond our feet. I am quite certain that it shows me the time to within ten minutes of what I would see on the face of a clock. And that is close enough to know that you, Commodore Cantrell, were five minutes late. At least. And that is certainly a transformation.”

    “Oh, indeed!” van Walbeeck added, eyes sparkling. “I remember a time — perhaps as little as a year ago? — when Eddie was never tardy for anything, for any reason! And when we asked him about that almost painful punctuality, Maarten, he said…Now, what did he say, again?”

    Now Maarten was smiling. “I believe it was a phrase he had picked up from his commander, the redoubtable Admiral Simpson, who advised him to make it the basis of his life in the navy. Specifically, that being on time means arriving ‘thirty minutes before thirty minutes before’ the appointed time. And so the Commodore was. Unfailingly. It was most impressive.”

    “Insufferable, even,” interjected van Walbeeck.

    “But now?” concluded Tromp. “Five minutes late. At least. And no longer an entirely uncommon occurrence. As I said, a transformation.”

    “But –” Eddie tried to object.

    “Now what could cause such a transformation, Maarten?”

    “I cannot imagine.”

    “Well, let’s see: it might be a life of boredom. But trifling recent events such as surviving battles and tempests seem to belie that hypothesis. Reduced responsibilities? Heavens, no: anything but that, as I’m sure the commodore himself would be the first to confirm. The ocean air? But from what I can discern, the surroundings and climate seem to invigorate our young friend, rather than inducing torpor. For do we not often see him bathing in the ocean, Maarten?”

    “I go swimming. Swimming,” Eddie objected. To no effect.

    “Maybe,” van Walbeeck pseudo-mused, “it is because he rarely bathes alone. Inconceivably, he usually takes his wife with him. Or so I’m told. Is that true, Maarten?”

    Tromp shrugged. “I have heard it mentioned. But only when he goes to one of the northern beaches. For modesty’s sake, I imagine.”

    “Oh, for modesty’s sake, yes. Certainly,” van Walbeeck nodded vigorously. “But he always seems particularly susceptible to tardiness after those outings. Probably from the exertion of swimming in the windward surf.” Van Walbeeck’s impish grin looked incongruous on a man of his considerable proportions. “Because I’m certain it would not have anything to do with his wife, now, would it? Not then . . . or now?”

     Tromp glanced over at his young friend. “Commodore, either you are getting sunburned standing in the shade, or you are flushed.”

    Eddie held up his hands. “All right, all right. Target practice is over. Yes, I’m a young husband. Yes, I have a beautiful wife. Yes, she’s smart, and funny, and kind, and . . .”

    Van Walbeeck put his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “And she has deep and powerful feelings.” His voice had grown suddenly and genuinely serious. “I have seen her helping Dr. Brandão with his youngest patients. I saw her fighting in the trenches last year, as much a leader to the women as O’Rourke and Michael McCarthy were to the men. She is a wonderful, splendid being: an improbable combination of angel and valkyrie. So you must forgive the teasing of two older men who can only look on in admiration, wonder, and perhaps some small measure of envy. Because we know why you are late in the mornings,” he smiled, almost fatherly, “and we would be baffled if you were not.”

    Tromp, laconic as usual, merely nodded. “It is a good transformation, Eddie. Now, here comes Jol, so let’s to business, shall we?”

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