The French gentleman whom Spithead had announced to Monk, and who, closely wrapped in his cloak, had passed by the fishermen who left the general’s tent five minutes before he entered it, — the French gentleman went through the various posts without even casting his eyes around him, for fear of appearing indiscreet. As the order had been given, he was conducted to the tent of the general. The gentleman was left alone in the sort of ante-chamber in front of the principal body of the tent, where he awaited Monk, who only delayed till he had heard the report of his people, and observed through the opening of the canvas the countenance of the person who solicited an audience.
Without doubt, the report of those who had accompanied the French gentleman established the discretion with which he had behaved, for the first impression the stranger received of the welcome made him by the general was more favorable than he could have expected at such a moment, and on the part of so suspicious a man. Nevertheless, according to his custom, when Monk found himself in the presence of a stranger, he fixed upon him his penetrating eyes, which scrutiny, the stranger, on his part, sustained without embarrassment or notice. At the end of a few seconds, the general made a gesture with his hand and head in sign of attention.
“My lord,” said the gentleman, in excellent English, “I have requested an interview with your honor, for an affair of importance.”
“Monsieur,” replied Monk, in French, “you speak our language well for a son of the continent. I ask your pardon — for doubtless the question is indiscreet — do you speak French with the same purity?”
“There is nothing surprising, my lord, in my speaking English tolerably; I resided for some time in England in my youth, and since then I have made two voyages to this country.” These words were spoken in French, and with a purity of accent that bespoke not only a Frenchman, but a Frenchman from the vicinity of Tours.
“And what part of England have you resided in, monsieur?”
“In my youth, London, my lord; then, about 1635, I made a pleasure trip to Scotland; and lastly, in 1648, I lived for some time at Newcastle, particularly in the convent, the gardens of which are now occupied by your army.”
“Excuse me, monsieur; but you must comprehend that these questions are necessary on my part — do you not?”
“It would astonish me, my lord, if they were not asked.”
“Now, then, monsieur, what can I do to serve you? What do you wish?”
“This, my lord; — but, in the first place, are we alone?”
“Perfectly so, monsieur, except, of course, the post which guards us.” So saying, Monk pulled open the canvas with his hand, and pointed to the soldier placed at ten paces from the tent, and who, at the first call, could have rendered assistance in a second.
“In that case, my lord,” said the gentleman, in as calm a tone as if he had been for a length of time in habits of intimacy with his interlocutor, “I have made up my mind to address myself to you, because I believe you to be an honest man. Indeed, the communication I am about to make to you will prove to you the esteem in which I hold you.”