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List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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continued.  A stone bench was occupied by two men, who appeared thence to
watch the door; four tables, placed at the back of the common chamber,
were occupied by eight other individuals.  Neither the men at the door,
nor those at the tables took any part in the play or the quarrel.
D'Artagnan recognized his ten men in these cold, indifferent spectators.
The quarrel went on increasing.  Every passion has, like the sea, its
tide which ascends and descends.  Reaching the climax of passion, one
sailor overturned the table and the money which was upon it.  The table
fell, and the money rolled about.  In an instant all belonging to the
hostelry threw themselves upon the stakes, and many a piece of silver was
picked up by people who stole away whilst the sailors were scuffling with
each other.

The two men on the bench and the eight at the tables, although they
seemed perfect strangers to each other, these ten men alone, we say,
appeared to have agreed to remain impassible amidst the cries of fury and
the chinking of money.  Two only contented themselves with pushing with
their feet combatants who came under their table.  Two others, rather
than take part in this disturbance, buried their hands in their pockets;
and another two jumped upon the table they occupied, as people do to
avoid being submerged by overflowing water.

"Come, come," said D'Artagnan to himself, not having lost one of the
details we have related, "this is a very fair gathering - circumspect,
calm, accustomed to disturbance, acquainted with blows!  _Peste!_  I have
been lucky."

All at once his attention was called to a particular part of the room.
The two men who had pushed the strugglers with their feet, were assailed
with abuse by the sailors, who had become reconciled.  One of them, half
drunk with passion, and quite drunk with beer, came, in a menacing
manner, to demand of the shorter of these two sages by what right he had
touched with his foot creatures of the good God, who were not dogs.  And
whilst putting this question, in order to make it more direct, he applied
his great fist to the nose of D'Artagnan's recruit.

This man became pale, without its being to be discerned whether his
pallor arose from anger or fear; seeing which, the sailor concluded it
was from fear, and raised his fist with the manifest intention of letting
it fall upon the head of the stranger.  But though the threatened man did
not appear to move, he dealt the sailor such a severe blow in the stomach
that he sent him rolling and howling to the other side of the room.  At
the same instant, rallied by the _espirit de corps_, all the comrades of
the conquered man fell upon the conqueror

The latter, with the same coolness of which he had given proof, without
committing the imprudence of touching his weapons, took up a beer-pot
with a pewter-lid, and knocked down two or three of his assailants; then,
as he was about to yield to numbers, the seven other silent men at the
tables, who had not yet stirred, perceived that their cause was at stake,
and came to the rescue.  At the same time, the two indifferent spectators
at the door turned round with frowning bows, indicating their evident
intention of taking the enemy in the rear, if the enemy did not cease
their aggressions.

The host, his helpers, and two watchmen who were passing, and who from
the curiosity had penetrated too far into the room, were mixed up in the
tumult and showered with blows.  The Parisians hit like Cyclops, with an
_ensemble_ and a tactic delightful to behold.  At length, obliged to beat
a retreat before superior numbers, they formed an intrenchment behind the
large table, which they raised by main force; whilst the two others,
arming themselves each with a trestle, and using it like a great sledge-
hammer, knocked down at a blow eight sailors upon whose heads they had
brought their monstrous catapult in play.  The floor was already strewn
with wounded, and the room filled with cries and dust, when D'Artagnan,
satisfied with the test, advanced, sword in hand, and striking with the
pommel every head that came in his way, he uttered a vigorous _hola!_
which put an instantaneous end to the conflict.  A great back-flood
directly took place from the center to the sides of the room, so that
D'Artagnan found himself isolated and dominator.

"What is this all about?" then demanded he of the assembly, with the
majestic tone of Neptune pronouncing the _Quos ego_.

At the very instant, at the first sound of his voice, to carry on the
Virgilian metaphor, D'Artagnan's recruits, recognizing each his sovereign
lord, discontinued their plank-fighting and trestle blows.  On their
side, the sailors, seeing that long naked sword, that martial air, and
the agile arm which came to the rescue of their enemies, in the person of
a man who seemed accustomed to command, the sailors picked up their
wounded and their pitchers.  The Parisians wiped their brows, and viewed
their leader with respect.  D'Artagnan was loaded with thanks by the host
of "Le Grand Monarque."  He received them like a man who knows that
nothing is being offered that does not belong to him, and then said he
would go and walk upon the port till supper was ready.  Immediately each
of the recruits, who understood the summons, took his hat, brushed the
dust off his clothes, and followed D'Artagnan.  But D'Artagnan, whilst
walking and observing, took care not to stop; he directed his course
towards the downs, and the ten men - surprised at finding themselves
going in the track of each other, uneasy at seeing on their right, on
their left, and behind them, companions upon whom they had not reckoned -
followed him, casting furtive glances at each other.  It was not till he
had arrived at the hollow part of the deepest down that D'Artagnan,
smiling to see them outdone, turned towards them, making a friendly sign
with his hand.

"Eh! come, come, gentlemen," said he, "let us not devour each other; you
are made to live together, to understand each other in all respects, and
not to devour one another."

Instantly all hesitation ceased; the men breathed as if they had been
taken out of a coffin, and examined each other complacently.  After this
examination they turned their eyes towards their leader, who had long
been acquainted with the art of speaking to men of that class, and who
improvised the following little speech, pronounced with an energy truly
Gascon:

"Gentlemen, you all know who I am.  I have engaged you from knowing you
to be brave, and willing to associate you with me in a glorious
enterprise.  Imagine that in laboring for me you labor for the king.  I
only warn you that if you allow anything of this supposition to appear, I
shall be forced to crack your skulls immediately, in the manner most
convenient to me.  You are not ignorant, gentlemen, that state secrets
are like a mortal poison: as long as that poison is in its box and the
box is closed, it is not injurious; out of the box, it kills.  Now draw
near, and you shall know as much of this secret as I am able to tell
you."  All drew close to him with an expression of curiosity.
"Approach," continued D'Artagnan, "and let not the bird which passes over
our heads, the rabbit which sports on the downs, the fish which bounds
from the waters, hear us.  Our business is to learn and to report to
monsieur le surintendant of the finances to what extent English smuggling
is injurious to the French merchants.  I shall enter every place, and see
everything.  We are poor Picard fishermen, thrown upon the coast by a
storm.  It is certain that we must sell fish, neither more nor less, like
true fishermen.  Only people might guess who we are, and might molest us;
it is therefore necessary that we should be in a condition to defend
ourselves.  And this is why I have selected men of spirit and courage.
We shall lead a steady life, and not incur much danger, seeing that we
have behind us a powerful protector, thanks to whom no embarrassment is
possible.  One thing alone puzzles me; but I hope that after a short
explanation, you will relieve me from that difficulty.  The thing which
puzzles me is taking with me a crew of stupid fishermen, which crew will
annoy me immensely, whilst if, by chance, there were among you any who
have seen the sea - "

"Oh! don't let that trouble you," said one of the recruits; "I was a
prisoner among the pirates of Tunis three years, and can maneuver a boat
like an admiral."

"See," said D'Artagnan, "what an admirable thing chance is!"  D'Artagnan
pronounced these words with an indefinable tone of feigned _bonhomie_,
for he knew very well that the victim of the pirates was an old corsair,
and had engaged him in consequence of that knowledge.  But D'Artagnan
never said more than there was need to say, in order to leave people in
doubt.  He paid himself with the explanation, and welcomed the effect,
without appearing to be preoccupied with the cause.

"And I," said a second, "I, by chance, had an uncle who directed the
works of the port of La Rochelle.  When quite a child, I played about the
boats, and I know how to handle an oar or a sail as well as the best
Ponantais sailor."  The latter did not lie much more than the first, for
he had rowed on board his majesty's galleys six years, at Ciotat.  Two
others were more frank: they confessed honestly that they had served on
board a vessel as soldiers as punishment, and did not blush for it.
D'Artagnan found himself, then, the leader of ten men of war and four
sailors, having at once an land army and a sea force, which would have
carried the pride of Planchet to its height, if Planchet had known the
details.

Nothing was now left but arranging the general orders, and D'Artagnan
gave them with precision.  He enjoined his men to be ready to set out for
the Hague, some following the coast which leads to Breskens, others the
road to Antwerp.  The rendezvous was given, by calculating each day's
march, a fortnight from that time, upon the chief place at the Hague.
D'Artagnan recommended his men to go in couples, as they liked best, from

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