It is usually quiet in Bois-de-Bas in this season. The snow has covered the ground, the crops have been in seemingly for ever, les bûcherons are home by the fire, and everyone has settled in for the winter.
This year, in contrast, we have a new garrison, courtesy of Lord Doncaster. The garrison, a full company of soldiers, is led by one Captain Hampton of the 3rd Bollards—a bluff, hearty gentleman of middle years, fond of his food, and with no ambition whatsoever. The garrison is the home base of the sloop Polliwog, commanded by Captain Fleming. He is lean, fond of his drink, much junior to Hampton, and yet, somehow, the one in charge.
"It is always the way," said Hampton cheerfully over dinner at Le Cochon's Head. "The 'Bollards' they call us, because we are solid and never move, and we give the Navy an anchor. And the Navy is the senior service, after all."
"Don't let him fool you," said Fleming. "Charlie saw action enough in his younger days. He's learned to appreciate a quiet life, is all, and he's earned it too."
Cousin Jack waved at Sergeant Allen, over behind the bar. "The Bollards is where we send the best of our older veterans who don't wish to retire. If your Sergeant Allen hadn't decided to settle down, he might well have been Charlie's first sergeant."
They both seem reasonable men, and so far at least there has been little trouble between the garrison and the town. The snow may have something to do with that: those of the men who are allowed into Le Cochon's Head do not wish to be thrown out of the warm.
We were also joined by Lieutenant Carlisle, who commands the Polliwog's marines. He said little, ate much, and gave no sign of listening to any of the discussion.
Having previously discussed it with Jack, I related to them the history of our defense during the war, and about our hidey-hole on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.
"I hate to talk about it," I said to Captain Fleming, "as its value is its secrecy and unreachability. But of course it is right there in the northern sky, and I can hardly hope that you wouldn't reconnoiter. Had we had purely an army garrison I would have not have mentioned it all."
"Our men would have learned of it eventually," said Captain Hampton. "They will get to know your townsfolk in time, and tongues will wag. Better to have it out now."
"Yes, I agree," said Captain Fleming. "I shall avoid drawing attention to it."
"I am so glad," I said. "I was afraid you might want to use it as a base."
Fleming shook his head. "The Navy has tried that in the past, but we've found it doesn't answer. Resupply is difficult, and if the enemy attacks in force it is difficult to evacuate the ground troops."
"True," said Hampton. "Here we can fade into the woods, regroup, and bide our time. There we would be like ducks in a pot."
In all, they seem to be men of good will; I believe I can work with them.
Jack has negotiated the sale of a plot of land not far from the wagon-works. "Close enough to defend it," he told me privately, "but not so close as to crowd it—for I feel sure you will want to expand some day."
"Do you think defending it will be likely?"
He shrugged. "His Lordship does, or the Polliwog wouldn't be here."
It is not a comforting notion.
photo credit: Rennett Stowe The Changing of the Guard via photopin (license)