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Spanish Waters

Chapter One

 

                                                     Spanish Waters

                                                       Chapter One

               

Catana and Louis darted through the fort’s wooden doors along with a flood of civilians from the small village.  There was a thunder of cannon fire.  Splintering walls shattered behind them in clouds of dust and flying debris.

               

With her hand over her mouth, Catana ran coughing through the soldier’s dinning room where cracked beams supported the ceiling.  Bits of wood rained down.  “Come Louis, we must go into the center of the fort where there is an open drill field before the inner walls collapse.”

               

Louis hesitated.  “We will be targets for cannon fire out there.”

               

Catana tugged on his arm.  “We will be out of range. The perimeter walls will stop any artillery fire before it goes that far.”

               

The drill field was centered in the fort which surrounded it with thick wooden walls and a line of rooms.  Catana and Louis joined the small group of women and children huddled in the center. 

 

Catana’s, Aunt Jacinta, grasped her by the shoulder. “Where is Inez?”

 

Catana looked around and saw no sign of her younger cousin.  “I do not know.  I thought she was with you.”

 

“She told me she was spending the night with you.”  Her aunt gave her a disapproving look when she noticed Louis hovering behind her niece. “What is that Frenchman doing here?  He is our enemy.  Do you not realize it is the French who are attacking?”

 

“Si, Tia Jacinta, I do. But even Louis does not know the reason.”

 

“No matter.  Inez is missing and I hold you responsible.  You do not look after her properly when she is with you.”

               

Catana clamped her teeth together to keep from saying something she might regret.  Her aunt blamed her for the fact that Inez had gone astray.  Since Jacinta was unable to control the daughter’s actions, she needed someone to blame and Catana was her target.  Now French ships were pounding the fort, Inez was missing, and Jacinta looked at her as if it was her fault.

               

“I will look for her,” Catana said and turned to leave. 

               

Louis caught her sleeve.  “Let me go with you.  It is the least I can do to help.”

 

Nodding, she darted for the wall.  With Louis close behind, she climbed the steps to the upper level where Spanish soldiers returned cannon fire.  She approached two men busy reloading their cannon for another shot.   

 

“Have you seen my cousin Inez?”

 

The two soldiers shook their heads and continued with their work. As she approached each group of men with the same question, she received the same answer.  Leaving the fort, she and Louis dogged stray fire and ran toward the village of Santa Maria de Galve.  Catana slowed her pace, and her eyes darted from building to building in search of a blue dress.  No use rushing with the possibility of missing her.  They found no sign of Inez.

               

A few streets from the water, the great booms of cannon fire that rolled from the bay grew louder. Reaching the beach that ran along the length of Presidio Santa Maria Galve, Catana paused and studied the silver sand dunes fringed by oat grass, but to no avail.  She slid down into a valley between two high dunes and sat in silence.  Louis followed and sank down next to her.     

 

“Do not blame yourself because Inez is missing,” he said trying to comfort her.  “She is wise and probably hiding in a safe place.  You know her better then her mother does.  Think.  Where would she have gone?”

 

Catana shrugged.  “I have no clue, but thank you for your encouragement.  I do not know what I would do without you, Louis.” 

 

Another cannon ball arched through the air over their heads toward the village. Crawling to the crest of the dune to her back Catana scanned the settlement.  A column of fire rose above the rooftops and smoke drifted to the sky.  Several times loud roars came close to them.  Suddenly a blast of sand erupted near them with a deafening roar.  The concussion knocked them to the foot of the dune.  Catana’s back stung when flying grains of sand struck her with force.  Louis lay flat on his back moaning softly. Catana staggered to her feet on weak legs, grabbed his hand and pulled him to a sitting position.

 

“Are you all right?” she asked looking into his wide blue eyes.  His face and dark brown hair were caked with a chalk white covering.

 

“Oui, just frightened out of my wits.  We were lucky the blast came from behind otherwise the flying sand would have blinded us.”  Louis brushed himself off and stood.  “Do you notice anything different?”

 

Catana shook her head, thought for a moment, then smiled. “The sound of cannons has stopped.”

 

The two friends crawled to the top of the dune nearest the beach and slowly took a peek.  There were thirteen ships.  Four of them were man-of-wars.  The French ships were spaced out of range on the wide expanse of the bay.  One stood engulfed in flames from stem to stern.

 

“Look there is a small boat leaving the fort under a flag of truce,” Catana pointed out.  “We are surrendering to the French.” 

 

She turned and slid down the dune.  When Louis followed her to the bottom she heaved a deep sigh.  “I do not understand.  Why has France come here to attack us?  I know neither of our nations has been friendly toward one another, but it has never come to this.  If it had not been for French merchants, like your father, the people of Santa Maria Galve would have starved in years past.”

 

Louis looked at her with puzzled eyes. “I do not have an answer.  When my father allowed me to remain here until his return there was no sign of trouble.  Whatever happened, it was sudden”

 

Catana crawled up the dune again to observe what was happening.  The small boat had come up alongside what looked like the French flagship.  Scanning the bay, her eyes drifted over the ships and rested on the burning ship in the distance.  It had listed to one side and was slowly slipping beneath the waves.

 

“Only four of those ships are large man-of-wars.  The others are smaller feluccas,” Louis remarked.

 

“The French must realize we have little defense.  We only have one ship for protection and it is a small pirogue at Saint Joseph’s harbor.  Now that there is a lull in the fighting I am anxious to find Inez.  I pray to God she is safe.”

 

Catana and Louis entered the settlement.  They trudged up and down streets and ducked into buildings, calling for Inez.  The damage could have been worse.  The French’s main target had been the fort.  Without any success in finding her cousin, Catana entered into the church to pray.  In the silence of the dark interior she heard hushed voices.  When her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, she saw two figures sitting on a bench near the altar.  Approaching them, Catana recognized that one was Father Ortega and with him was Inez.  Rushing to her cousin she embraced the younger woman and thanked the Lord.  Catana stood back, hands on Inez’s shoulders, and looked into her eyes. 

 

“We all have been worried.  Where did you disappear to last night, and why did you tell your mother you were with me?”

 

“If I tell you, do you promise not to tell mother?  She would be furious.”

 

Catana looked at Inez then the priest.  “You want me to lie to your mother?”

 

“No, just keep the truth to yourself.”

Father Ortega stood, looked at Catana then Louis.  “If you will excuse me, I better see if I am needed at the fort.  Thank the Lord the French are gone.”

 

“But Father,” Catana said.  “The French are sitting in the bay.  We have sent a boat with a surrender flag.”

 

“What! That cannot be.  I am not going to have those atheistic Huguenots invading my church.  I must see the governor right away and learn what is happening.”  The priest stormed out of the church mumbling some unholy words about French Huguenots.

 

Catana cleared her throat.  “Now, Inez, explain yourself.”

Her cousin eyed Louis.  “What is he doing here?”

 

“Louis is not the blame for what has happened.  He knows no more then we do of what has transpired.”  Catana took Louis by the hand.  “It may be better if you make yourself scarce until we learn what is going on.  Some Spanish soldiers may not feel too friendly toward you right now.”

 

“But where shall I go?  Although Governor Matamoros and my father are close friends, I will no longer be welcome in his home.”

 

“You can remain in my home.  It will be safe there. When I learn more I will come to you.”

 

After Louis slipped out the door Catana turned back to her cousin.  “Well?”

 

“Do you remember that I told you about Juan?”

 

“One of the soldiers at the fort?”

 

“Si, that one.  We love one another and want to marry.  My mother does not approve of him.  I was with him last night.  About daybreak we heard the first cannon fire.  Juan ran to the fort while I came here to hide.”

 

“What does Father Ortega think of all of this?”

 

“The good father does not realize that I spent the night with Juan.  He was here to say daily mass.  When I refused to leave and join the others at the fort he stayed with me.”

 

“Why remain here?  Would you not prefer to be near Juan during all the chaos?”

 

“No.  If he was in danger I was afraid I would give my feelings away and mother would know.  Please do not tell her.  She has much influence with the Governor, and she would have Juan sent away.”

 

“Spending the night with a man is something I cannot condone.  If I promise to keep your secret you must promise it will not happen again.”

 

“But nothing happened.  We only talked and enjoyed one another’s company.”

 

“Maybe this time, but next time you may not be able to use self control.”

 

Anger flashed in Inez’s eyes. “You should practice what you say.  There has been more then one time you and Louis were together all night.”

 

“That is different.  We are friends only.  He is like a brother to me and has been since we were children.  In your case you and Juan are in love and sooner or later you both will want to consummate that love, be it with or without marriage.”

 

“Then we shall run away together and marry in secret.”

 

“Please do not do anything stupid.  Give me time to reason with your mother.  Maybe she will accept the fact that you love Juan and sanction your marriage.”

 

Inez let out a deep sigh.  “Since father’s death she has been over protective and is smothering me.”

 

“Do as I ask for now.  We have greater worries.  If the Governor does surrender to the French we will find many changes in our lives.”

                     

                                                                               ***                  

 

Since Catana was apt reading and writing both Spanish and French she was invited to the council meeting held by Governor Matamoros to discuss their next line of action.  Catana was often asked to the governor’s office to record meetings he conducted.  Politics normally bored her but she was curious as to what would take place at this gathering.

 

Once the council was seated around the table the governor spoke.  “When we sent our soldiers out to learn the reason for the attack, the French leader Bienville informed them that France has declared war on Spain.”

 

“But why?” a council member asked.

 

“Our king has revoked the pledge he made twenty years before that he would relinquish claim to the throne of Louis XIV.  This is why the French have orders to make an immediate attack on our presidio.”

 

The governor turned his attention on the commanding officer of the fort, Captain Martinez.  “What took so long to receive word of the French’s arrival this morning?”

 

The commanding officer called for the sentry that had been on duty.  The frightened man entered the room and shifted from foot to foot until he was ordered to sit.  Catana took notes as the governor questioned him.

 

The sentry took a deep breath before he answered. “I saw the first small French boat as it appeared off Point Seguenza after daybreak.  I thought it was our pirogue returning from Saint Joseph’s Bay.  When the other boats appeared, I and the other guards became suspicious.  That is when Corporal Armagosa fired a warning shot.”

 

“Then what happened?” the governor asked.

 

“The French circled our position”

 

The governor slammed his fist down on the wooden table.  “I asked Governor Salinas to leave at least one ship here at Santa Maria de Galve for protection.  When I asked Salinas, he declined because it violated his orders.  Instead he set sail with his ships to map out a new settlement at Saint Joseph’s Bay. The only defense we have is our pirogue and even that is not here.”

 

Catana looked over to Captain Martinez as he spoke and continued to write.  “I received word that the French have captured our Fort at Point Seguenza after swarming ashore on Santa Rosa Island.  They overpowered our small unit at the fort and pounded spikes into the fire holes rendering them useless.  We will have no help there.”

 

Governor Matamoros shook his head thoughtfully.  “I managed to dispatch a messenger to Governor Salinas in Saint Joseph’s Bay but I do not know if Salinas and his men will arrive here in time.  The French leader Bienville has sent a demand for surrender and will allow us until ten o’clock tomorrow morning to respond.  We have only one hundred sixty defenders.  The French outnumber us five to one.”

 

Everyone started to talk at once and Catana gave up trying to write.  Finally the governor held up his hand for silence.  “As you all know, when Don Jose de Barbegal was sent here to examine Fort San Carlos he recommended that we abandon it and move the whole company to Point Seguenza.  He said that this fort could not be defended long.  Its construction is weak.  If the French send troops ashore here, they could attack from the higher ground to the rear.  “I was unable to comply with his suggestions because it would exceed my orders. Although we have made improvements to Fort San Carlos it has not been enough and now Point Seguenza has been taken.”   

 

They discussed and argued their situation through the night.  When it was put to a vote the Spanish council chose to surrender to the French.

 

Once the decision was made, the Spanish prepared the terms of surrender. It included the safe conduct for all personnel to an appropriate settlement and amnesty for the Indian allies who remained loyal to the Spanish.

 

“Please include protection for our Church and priest,” Catana added.

 

“Your job is to write and keep your opinions to yourself,” a heavyset counsel member grumbled. 

 

Catana glared at the stern looking man with resentment.         

 

“She is right,” a counsel member who reminded Catana of a nervous cat, said in her defense.  “Many French are Huguenots and do not respect our Catholic Church.”

 

A warm flush of satisfaction filled Catana when the governor agreed and added it to the list.

The heavy set counsel man spoke again.  “She should know. She is always seen with that Frenchman, Louis whatever his name is.”

 

“His name is Louis LeClaire and he is a Catholic.  There are a number of Catholic’s among the French, but we do not know if those we surrender to are of our faith or Huguenots.”

 

The governor raised his hand to silence Catana.  “That is enough.  Let us continue with our business.  We will also ask for an inventory of supplies captured.”

 

When they had finished there were twelve terms of surrender.  The governor met with Bienville later that morning and both sides agreed on the terms.  After the surrender of the Spanish was signed, Catana watched with pain in her heart as the Spanish soldiers laid down their arms and marched from the fort.  From a distance she gazed at the Spanish garrison as they were herded aboard the French frigates Conde de Talusa and Mariscol de Vilalars.  They would be taken to Havana.  The few women and children of the settlement would be relocated in Saint Joseph’s Bay only a few leagues from Santa Maria de Galve.  Catana wondered why Governor Salinas had never responded to Governor Matamoros’ plea for help.

 

She must get Louis out of Santa Maria before the French realized he was here.  If they found him, he would be arrested for treason.

 

 

 

 


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