List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

there probably with the intention of giving battle, and consequently
would give up his provisions, if he were forced from Newcastle, or
forever to relieve Monk's soldiers from hunger if he conquered.

This consolation was only efficacious upon a very small number; but of
what importance was it to Monk? for Monk was very absolute, under the
appearance of the most perfect mildness.  Every one, therefore, was
obliged to be satisfied, or at least to appear so.  Monk, quite as hungry
as his people, but affecting perfect indifference for the absent mutton,
cut a fragment of tobacco, half an inch long, from the _carotte_ of a
sergeant who formed part of his suite, and began to masticate the said
fragment, assuring his lieutenant that hunger was a chimera, and that,
besides, people were never hungry when they had anything to chew.

This joke satisfied some of those who had resisted Monk's first deduction
drawn from the neighborhood of Lambert's army; the number of the
dissentients diminished greatly; the guard took their posts, the patrols
began, and the general continued his frugal repast beneath his open tent.

Between his camp and that of the enemy stood an old abbey, of which, at
the present day, there only remain some ruins, but which then was in
existence, and was called Newcastle Abbey.  It was built upon a vast
site, independent at once of the plain and of the river, because it was
almost a marsh fed by springs and kept up by rains.  Nevertheless, in the
midst of these pools of water, covered with long grass, rushes, and
reeds, were seen solid spots of ground, formerly used as the kitchen-
garden, the park, the pleasure-gardens, and other dependencies of the
abbey, looking like one of those great sea-spiders, whose body is round,
whilst the claws go diverging round from this circumference.

The kitchen-garden, one of the longest claws of the abbey, extended to
Monk's camp.  Unfortunately it was, as we have said, early in June, and
the kitchen-garden, being abandoned, offered no resources.

Monk had ordered this spot to be guarded, as most subject to surprises.
The fires of the enemy's general were plainly to be perceived on the
other side of the abbey.  But between these fires and the abbey extended
the Tweed, unfolding its luminous scales beneath the thick shade of tall
green oaks.  Monk was perfectly well acquainted with this position,
Newcastle and its environs having already more than once been his
headquarters.  He knew that by this day his enemy might without doubt
throw a few scouts into these ruins and promote a skirmish, but that by
night he would take care to abstain from such a risk.  He felt himself,
therefore, in security.

Thus his soldiers saw him, after what he boastingly called his supper 
that is to say, after the exercise of mastication reported by us at the
commencement of this chapter - like Napoleon on the eve of Austerlitz,
seated asleep in his rush chair, half beneath the light of his lamp, half
beneath the reflection of the moon, commencing its ascent in the heavens,
which denoted that it was nearly half past nine in the evening.  All at
once Monk was roused from his half sleep, fictitious perhaps, by a troop
of soldiers, who came with joyous cries, and kicked the poles of his tent
with a humming noise as if on purpose to wake him.  There was no need of
so much noise; the general opened his eyes quickly.

"Well, my children, what is going on now?" asked the general.

"General!" replied several voices at once, "General! you shall have
some supper."

"I have had my supper, gentlemen," replied he quietly, "and was
comfortably digesting it, as you see.  But come in, and tell me what
brings you hither."

"Good news, general."

"Bah!  Has Lambert sent us word that he will fight to-morrow?"

"No; but we have just captured a fishing-boat conveying fish to

"And you have done very wrong, my friends.  These gentlemen from London
are delicate, must have their first course; you will put them sadly out
of humor this evening, and to-morrow they will be pitiless.  It would
really be in good taste to send back to Lambert both his fish and his
fishermen, unless - " and the general reflected an instant.

"Tell me," continued he, "what are these fishermen, if you please?"

"Some Picard seamen who were fishing on the coasts of France or Holland,
and who have been thrown upon ours by a gale of wind."

"Do any among them speak our language?"

"The leader spoke some few words of English."

The mistrust of the general was awakened in proportion as fresh
information reached him.  "That is well," said he.  "I wish to see these
men; bring them to me."

An officer immediately went to fetch them.

"How many are there of them?" continued Monk; "and what is their vessel?"

"There are ten or twelve of them, general, and they were aboard of a kind
of _chasse-maree_, as it is called - Dutch-built, apparently."

"And you say they were carrying fish to Lambert's camp?"

"Yes, general, and they seem to have had good luck in their fishing."

"Humph!  We shall see that," said Monk.

At this moment the officer returned, bringing the leader of the fishermen
with him.  He was a man from fifty to fifty-five years old, but good-
looking for his age.  He was of middle height, and wore a _justaucorps_
of coarse wool, a cap pulled down over his eyes, a cutlass hung from his
belt, and he walked with the hesitation peculiar to sailors, who, never
knowing, thanks to the movement of the vessel, whether their foot will be
placed upon the plank or upon nothing, give to every one of their steps a
fall as firm as if they were driving a pile.  Monk, with an acute and
penetrating look, examined the fisherman for some time, while the latter
smiled, with that smile, half cunning, half silly, peculiar to French

"Do you speak English?" asked Monk, in excellent French.

"Ah! but badly, my lord," replied the fisherman.

This reply was made much more with the lively and sharp accentuation of
the people beyond the Loire, than with the slightly-drawling accent of
the countries of the west and north of France.

"But you do speak it?" persisted Monk, in order to examine his accent
once more.

"Eh! we men of the sea," replied the fisherman, "speak a little of all

"Then you are a sea fisherman?"

"I am at present, my lord - a fisherman, and a famous fisherman, too.  I
have taken a barbel that weighs at least thirty pounds, and more than
fifty mullets; I have also some little whitings that will fry

"You appear to me to have fished more frequently in the Gulf of Gascony
than in the Channel," said Monk, smiling.

"Well, I am from the south; but does that prevent me from being a good
fisherman, my lord?"

"Oh! not at all; I shall buy your fish.  And now speak frankly; for whom
did you destine them?"

"My lord, I will conceal nothing from you.  I was going to Newcastle,
following the coast, when a party of horsemen who were passing along in
an opposite direction made a sign to my bark to turn back to your honor's
camp, under penalty of a discharge of musketry.  As I was not armed for
fighting," added the fisherman, smiling, "I was forced to submit."

"And why did you go to Lambert's camp in preference to mine?"

"My lord, I will be frank; will your lordship permit me?"

"Yes, and even if need be shall command you to be so."

"Well, my lord, I was going to M. Lambert's camp because those gentlemen
from the city pay well - whilst your Scotchmen, Puritans, Presbyterians,
Covenanters, or whatever you chose to call them, eat but little, and pay
for nothing."

Monk shrugged his shoulders, without, however, being able to refrain from
smiling at the same time.  "How is it that, being from the south, you
come to fish on our coasts?"

"Because I have been fool enough to marry in Picardy."

"Yes; but even Picardy is not England."

"My lord, man shoves his boat into the sea, but God and the wind do the
rest, and drive the boat where they please."

"You had, then, no intention of landing on our coasts?"


"And what route were you steering?"

"We were returning from Ostend, where some mackerel had already been
seen, when a sharp wind from the south drove us from our course; then,
seeing that it was useless to struggle against it, we let it drive us.
It then became necessary, not to lose our fish, which were good, to go
and sell them at the nearest English port, and that was Newcastle.  We
were told the opportunity was good, as there was an increase of
population in the camp, an increase of population in the city; both, we
were told, were full of gentlemen, very rich and very hungry.  So we
steered our course towards Newcastle."

"And your companions, where are they?"

"Oh, my companions have remained on board; they are sailors without the
least instruction."

"Whilst you - " said Monk.

"Who, I?" said the _patron_, laughing; "I have sailed about with my
father; and I know what is called a sou, a crown, a pistole, a louis, and
a double louis, in all the languages of Europe; my crew, therefore,
listen to me as they would to an oracle, and obey me as if I were an

"Then it was you who preferred M. Lambert as the best customer?"

"Yes, certainly.  And, to be frank, my lord, was I wrong?"

"You will see that by and by."

"At all events, my lord, if there is a fault, the fault is mine; and my
comrades should not be dealt hardly with on that account."

"This is decidedly an intelligent, sharp fellow," thought Monk.  Then,
after a few minutes' silence employed in scrutinizing the fisherman, -
"You come from Ostend, did you not say?" asked the general.

"Yes, my lord, in a straight line."

"You have then heard of the affairs of the day; for I have no doubt that
both in France and Holland they excite interest.  What is he doing who
calls himself king of England?"

"Oh, my lord!" cried the fisherman, with loud and expansive frankness,
"that is a lucky question, and you could not put it to anybody better
than to me, for in truth I can make you a famous reply.  Imagine, my

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: