Part 7 out of 10
in, Jacques, and say that we will never consent to forgive the wretch
who insulted Mademoiselle Larochejaquelin. By all that is sacred we will
"If you do, my friends," answered Chapeau, "you must kill M. de Lescure
first, for he will defend him with his own body and his own sword."
Chapeau again returned to the house, and left the peasants outside,
loudly murmuring. Hitherto they had passively obeyed their leaders. They
had gone from one scene of action to another. They had taken towns and
conquered armies, and abstained not only from slaughter, but even from
plunder, at the mere request of those whom they had selected as their
own Generals; now, for the first time they shewed a determination to
disobey. The offence of which their victim had been guilty, was in their
eyes unpardonable. They were freely giving all---their little property,
their children, their blood, for their church and King. They knew that
they were themselves faithful and obedient to their leaders, and they
could not bring themselves to forgive one whom they had trusted, and who
had deceived them.
Chapeau returned to the house, but he did not go back to M. de Lescure.
He went upstairs to his master, and found him alone with his sister, and
explained to them what was going on before the front-door.
"They will never go away, Mademoiselle, as long as the breath is in the
man's body. They are angry now, and they care for no one, not even for
M. Henri himself; and it's no wonder for them to be angry. He that was
so trusted, and so loved; one of the family as much as yourself, M.
Henri. Why, if I were to turn traitor, and go over to the republicans,
it could hardly be worse. If ever I did, I should expect them to pinch
me to pieces with hot tweezers, let alone hanging."
"I will go down to them," said M. Henri.
"It will be no use," said Chapeau, "they will not listen to you."
"I will try them at any rate, for they have never yet disobeyed me. I
know they love me, and I will ask for Adolphe's life as a favour to
myself: if they persist in their cruelty, if they do kill him, I will
lay down my sword, and never again raise it in La Vendée."
"If it were put off for a week, or a day, M. Henri, so that they could
get cool; if you could just consent to his being hung, but say that he
was to have four-and-twenty hours to prepare himself, and then at the
end of that time they wouldn't care about it: mightn't that do? Wouldn't
that be the best plan, Mademoiselle?"
"No," said Henri. "I will not stoop to tell them a falsehood; nor if I
did so, would they ever believe me again." And he walked towards the
passage, intending to go down to the front-door.
"Stop, Henri, stop a moment!" said Agatha, "I will go down to them. I
will speak to them. They are not accustomed to hear me speak to them in
numbers, as they are to you, and that of itself will make them inclined
to listen to me. I will beg them to spare the unfortunate man, and I
think they will not refuse me."
She got up and walked to the door, and her brother did not attempt to
"Let me go alone, Henri," said she. "You may, at any rate, be sure that
they will not hurt me." And, without waiting for his reply, she
descended the stairs, and walked into the hall. When Chapeau left them,
the crowd were collected immediately in the front of the house and on
the steps, but none of them had yet forced their way into the château;
since he had gone upstairs, however, they had pushed open the door, and
now filled the hall; although their accustomed respect for the persons
and property of those above them, had still kept them from breaking into
the room, in which they knew were M. de Lescure and Adolphe Denot. The
foremost of them drew back when they saw Agatha come among them, and as
she made her way to the front-door, they retreated before her, till she
found herself standing on the top of the steps, and surrounded by what
seemed to her a countless crowd of heads. There was a buzz of many
voices among them, and she stood there silent before them a moment or
two, till there should be such silence as would enable them to hear her.
Agatha Larochejaquelin had never looked more beautiful than she did at
this time. Her face was more than ordinarily pale, for her life had
lately been one of constant watching and deep anxiety; but hers was a
countenance which looked even more lovely without than with its usual
slight tinge of colour. Her beautiful dark-brown hair was braided close
to her face, and fastened in a knot behind her head. She was dressed in
a long white morning wrapper, which fell quite down over her feet, and
added in appearance to her natural high stature. She seemed to the noisy
peasants, as she stood there before them, sad-looking and sorrowful, but
so supremely beautiful, to be like some goddess who had come direct from
heaven to give them warning. and encouragement. The hum of their voices
soon dropped, and they stood as silent before her, as though no strong
passion, no revenge and thirst for blood had induced them, but a moment
before, all but to mutiny against the leaders who had led them so truly,
and loved them so well.
"Friends, dear friends," she began in her sweet voice, low, but yet
plainly audible to those whom she addressed; and then she paused a
moment to think of the words she would use to them, and as she did so
they cheered her loudly, and blessed her, and assured her, in their
rough way, how delighted they were to have saved her and the Marquis
from their enemies.
"Dear friends," she continued, "I have come to thank you for the
readiness and kindness with which you have hurried to my protection--to
tell you how grateful I and mine are for your affection, and at the same
time to ask a favour from your hands."
"God bless you, Mademoiselle. We will do anything for Mademoiselle
Agatha. We all know that Mademoiselle is an angel. We will do anything
for her," said different voices in the crowd. "Anything but pardon the
traitor who has insulted her," said the man who had been most prominent
in demanding Denot's death. "Anything at all--anything, without
exception. We will do anything we are asked, whatever it is, for
Mademoiselle Agatha," said some of the younger men among the crowd, whom
her beauty made more than ordinarily enthusiastic in her favour.
"Mademoiselle will not sully her beautiful lips to ask the life of a
traitor," said another. "We will do anything else; but Denot must die."
"Yes, Denot must die," exclaimed others. "He shall die; he is not fit
to live. When the traitor is hung, we will do anything, go anywhere, for
"Ah! friends," said she, "the favour I would ask of you is to spare the
life of this miserable young man. Hear me, at any rate," she continued,
for there was a murmur among the more resolute of Denot's enemies. "You
will not refuse to hear what I say to you. You demand vengeance, you
say, because he has betrayed your cause, and insulted me. If I can
forgive the insult, if my brother can, surely you should do so too.
Think, dear friends, what my misery must be, if on my account you shed
the blood of this poor creature. You say he has betrayed the cause for
which you are fighting. It is true, he has done so; but it is not only
your cause which he has betrayed. Is it not my cause also? Is it not my
brother's? Is it not M. de Lescure's? And if we can forgive him, should
not you also do so too? He has lived in this house as though he were a
child of my father's. You know that my brother has treated him as a
brother. Supposing that you, any of you, had had a brother who has done
as he has done, would you not still pray, in spite of his crimes, that
he might be forgiven? I know you all love my brother. He deserves from
you that you should love him well, for he has proved to you that he
loves you. He--Henri Larochejaquelin--your own leader, begs you to
forgive the crime of his adopted brother. Have we not sufficient weight
with you--are we not near enough to your hearts, to obtain from you this
"We will, we will," shouted they; "we will forgive--no, we won't forgive
him, but we'll let him go; only, Mademoiselle, let him go from this--let
him not show himself here any more. There, lads, there's an end of it.
Give Momont back the rope. We will do nothing to displease M. Henri and
Mademoiselle Agatha," and then they gave three cheers for the
inhabitants of Durbellière; and Agatha, after thanking them for their
kindness and their courtesy, returned into the house.
For some days after the attack and rescue, there was great confusion in
the château of Durbellière. The peasants by degrees returned to their
own homes, or went to Chatillon, at which place it was now intended to
muster the whole armed royalist force which could be collected in La
Vendée. Chatillon was in the very centre of the revolted district, and
not above three leagues from Durbellière; and at this place the Vendean
leaders had now determined to assemble, that they might come to some
fixed plan, and organize their resistance to the Convention.
De Lescure and Henri together agreed to give Santerre his unconditional
liberty. In the first place, they conceived it to be good policy to
abandon the custody of a man whom, if kept a prisoner, they were sure
the Republic would make a great effort to liberate; and who, if he ever
again served against them at all, would, as they thought, be less
inclined to exercise barbarity than any other man whom the Convention
would be likely to send on the duty. Besides, Agatha and the Marquis
really felt grateful to Santerre, for having shown a want of that
demoniac cruelty with which they supposed him to have been imbued; and
it was, therefore, resolved to escort him personally to the northern
frontier of La Vendée, and there set him at liberty, but to detain his
soldiers prisoners at Chatillon; and this was accordingly done.
They had much more difficulty in disposing of Denot. Had he been turned
loose from the château, to go where he pleased, and do what he pleased,
he would to a certainty have been killed by the peasantry. De Lescure
asked Santerre to take charge of him, but this he refused to do, saying
that he considered the young man was a disgrace to any party, or any
person, who had aught to do with him, and that he would not undertake
to be responsible for his safety.
Denot himself would neither say or do anything. Henri never saw him; but
de Lescure had different interviews with him, and did all in his power
to rouse him to some feeling as to the future; but all in vain. He
usually refused to make any answer whatever, and when he did speak, he
merely persisted in his declaration that he was willing to die, and that
if he were left alive, he had no wish at all as to what should become
of him. It was at last decided to send him to his own house at Fleury,
with a strong caution to the servants there that their master was
temporarily insane; and there to leave him to his chance. "When he finds
himself alone, and disregarded," said de Lescure, "he will come to his
senses, and probably emigrate: it is impossible for us now to do more
for him. May God send that he may live to repent the great crime which
he has attempted."
Now again everything was bustle and confusion at Durbellière. Arms and
gunpowder were again collected. The men again used all their efforts in
assembling the royalist troops, the women in preparing the different
necessaries for the army. The united families were at Durbellière, and
there was no longer any danger of their separation, for at Clisson not
one stone was left standing upon another.
We will now jump over a space of nearly three months, and leaving the
châteaux of royalist La Vendée, plunge for a short while into the heart
of republican Paris. In the Rue St. Honoré lived a cabinet-maker, named
Duplay, and in his house lodged Maximilian Robespierre, the leading
spirit in the latter and more terrible days of the Revolution. The time
now spoken of was the beginning of October, 1793; and at no period did
the popularity and power of that remarkable man stand higher.
The whole government was then vested in the Committee of Public
Safety--a committee consisting of twelve persons, members of the
Convention, all of course ultra-democrats, over the majority of whom
Robespierre exercised a direct control. No despot ever endured ruled
with so absolute and stringent a dominion as that under which this body
of men held the French nation. The revolutionary tribunal was now
established in all its horror and all its force. A law was passed by the
Convention, in September, which decreed that all suspected people should
be arrested and brought before this tribunal; that nobles, lawyers,
bankers, priests, men of property, and strangers in the land, should be
suspected unless known to be acting friends and adherents of the
ultra-revolutionary party; that the punishment of such persons should
be death; and that the members of any revolutionary tribunal which had
omitted to condemn any suspected person, should themselves be tried, and
punished by death. Such was the law by which the Reign of Terror was
organized and rendered possible.
At this time the Girondists were lying in prison, awaiting their trial
and their certain doom. Marie Antoinette had been removed from the
Temple to the Conciergerie, and her trial was in a day or two about to
commence. Her fate was already fixed, and had only to be pronounced.
Danton had retired from Paris to his own province, sick with the
shedding of so much blood, jealous of the pre-eminence which Robespierre
had assumed; watching his opportunity to return, that he might sell the
republic to the royalists; equally eager, let us believe, to save his
country as to make his fortune, but destined to return, only that he
also might bend his neck beneath the monster guillotine. Marat, the
foulest birth of the revolution, whose licentious heat generated venom
and rascality, as a dunghill out of its own filth produces adders'
eggs--Marat was no more. Carnot, whose genius for war enabled the French
nation, amidst all its poverty and intestine contests, even in the pangs
and throes of that labour in which it strove to bring forth a
constitution, to repulse the forces of the allied nations, and prepare
the way for future conquests, was a member of the all-powerful
Committee, and we cannot suppose that he acted under the dictation of
Robespierre; but if he did not do so, at any rate he did not interfere
with him. The operations of a campaign, in which the untaught and
ill-fed army of republican France had to meet the troops of England,
Flanders, Prussia, Austria, Sardinia, and Spain, besides those of
royalist France, were sufficient to occupy even the energies of Carnot.
Robespierre, in the Convention and in the Committee, was omnipotent; but
he also had his master, and he knew it. He knew that he could only act,
command, and be obeyed, in union with, and dependence on, the will of
the populace of Paris; and the higher he rose in that path of life which
he marked out for himself with so much precision, and followed with se
much constancy, the more bitterly his spirit chafed at the dependence.
He knew it was of no avail to complain of the people to the people, and
he seldom ventured to risk his position by opposing the wishes of the
fearful masters whom he served, but at length he was driven to do so,
and at length he fell.
Half a century has passed since Robespierre died, and history has become
peculiarly conversant with his name. Is there any one whose character
suffers under a more wide-spread infamy? The abomination of whose deeds
has become more notorious? The tale of whose death has been oftener
told; whose end, horrid, fearful, agonized, as was that of this man, has
met with less sympathy? For fifty years the world has talked of,
condemned, and executed Robespierre. Men and women, who have barely
heard the names of Pitt and Fox, who know not whether Metternich is a
man or a river, or one of the United States, speak of Robespierre as of
a thing accursed. They know, at any rate, what he was--the demon of the
revolution; the source of the fountain of blood with which Paris was
deluged; the murderer of the thousands whose bodies choked the course
of the Loire and the Rhone. Who knows not enough of Robespierre to
condemn him? Who abstains from adding another malediction to those which
already load the name of the King of the Reign of Terror.
Yet it is not impossible that some apologist may be found for the blood
which this man shed; that some quaint historian, delighting to show the
world how wrong has been its most assured opinions, may attempt to
vindicate the fame of Robespierre, and strive to wash the blackamoor
white. Are not our old historical assurances everywhere asserted? Has
it not been proved to us that crooked-backed Richard was a good and
politic King; and that the iniquities of Henry VIII are fabulous?
whereas the agreeable predilections of our early youth are disturbed by
our hearing that glorious Queen Bess, and learned King James, were mean,
bloodthirsty, and selfish.
I am not the bold man who will dare to face the opinion of the world,
and attempt to prove that Robespierre has become infamous through
prejudice. He must be held responsible for the effects of the words
which he spoke, and the things which he did, as other men are. He made
himself a scourge and a pestilence to his country; therefore, beyond all
other men, he has become odious, and therefore, historian after
historian, as they mention his name, hardly dare, in the service of
truth, to say one word to lessen his infamy.
Yet Robespierre began his public life with aspirations of humanity,
which never deserted him; and resolutions as to conduct, to which he
adhered with a constancy never surpassed. What shall we say are the
qualifications for a great and good man?--Honesty. In spite of his
infamy, Robespierre's honesty has become proverbial. Moral conduct--the
life he led even during the zenith of his power, and at a time when
licentiousness was general, and morality ridiculous, was characterized
by the simplicity of the early Quakers. Industry--without payment from
the State, beyond that which he received as a member of the Convention,
and which was hardly sufficient for the wants of his simple existence,
he worked nearly night and day in the service of the State. Constancy
of purpose--from the commencement of his career, in opposition at first
to ridicule and obscurity, then to public opinion, and lastly to the
combined efforts of the greatest of his countrymen, he pursued one only
idea; convinced of its truth, sure of its progress, and longing for its
success. Temperance in power--though in reality governing all France,
Robespierre assumed to himself none of the attributes or privileges of
political power. He took to himself no high place, no public situation
of profit or grandeur. He was neither haughty in his language, nor
imperious in his demeanour. Love of country--who ever showed a more
devoted love? For his country he laboured, and suffered a life which
surely in itself could have had nothing attractive; the hope of the
future felicity of France alone fed his energies, and sustained his
courage. His only selfish ambition was to be able to retire into private
life and contemplate from thence the general happiness which he had
given to his country. Courage--those who have carefully studied his
private life, and have learnt what he endured, and dared to do in
overcoming the enemies Of his system, can hardly doubt his courage.
Calumny or error has thrown an unmerited disgrace over his last wretched
days. He has been supposed to have wounded himself in an impotent
attempt to put an end to his life. It has been ascertained that such was
not the fact, the pistol by which he was wounded having been fired by
one of the soldiers by whom he was arrested. He is stated also to have
wanted that firmness in death which so many of his victims displayed.
They triumphed even in their death. Louis and Vergniaud, Marie
Antoinette, and Madame Roland, felt that they were stepping from life
into glory, and their step was light and elastic. Robespierre was
sinking from existence into infamy. During those fearful hours, in which
nothing in life was left him but to suffer, how wretched must have been
the reminiscences of his career! He, who had so constantly pursued one
idea, must then have felt that that idea had been an error; that he had
all in all been wrong; that he had waded through the blood of his
countrymen to reach a goal, which, bright and luminous as it had
appeared, he now found to be an ignis fatuus. Nothing was then left to
him. His life had been a failure, and for the future he had no hope. His
body was wounded and in tortures; his spirit was dismayed by the insults
of those around him, and his soul had owned no haven to which death
would give it an escape. Could his eye have been lit with animation as
he ascended the scaffold! Could his foot have then stepped with
confidence! Could he have gloried in his death! Poor mutilated worm,
agonised in body and in soul. Can it be ascribed to want of courage in
him, that his last moments were passed in silent agony and despair?
Honesty, moral conduct, industry, constancy of purpose, temperance in
power, courage, and love of country: these virtues all belonged to
Robespierre; history confesses it, and to what favoured hero does
history assign a fairer catalogue? Whose name does a brighter galaxy
adorn? With such qualities, such attributes, why was he not the
Washington of France? Why, instead of the Messiah of freedom, which he
believed himself to be, has his name become a bye-word, a reproach, and
an enormity? Because he wanted faith! He believed in nothing but
himself, and the reasoning faculty with which he felt himself to be
endowed. He thought himself perfect in his own human nature, and wishing
to make others perfect as he was, he fell into the lowest abyss of crime
and misery in which a poor human creature ever wallowed. He seems almost
to have been sent into the world to prove the inefficacy of human reason
to effect human happiness. He was gifted with a power over common
temptation, which belongs to but few. His blood was cool and temperate,
and yet his heart was open to all the softer emotions. He had no
appetite for luxury; no desire for pomp; no craving for wealth. Among
thousands who were revelling in sensuality, he kept himself pure and
immaculate. If any man could have said, I will be virtuous; I, of
myself, unaided, trusting to my own power, guarding myself by the light
of my own reason; I will walk uprightly through the world, and will shed
light from my path upon my brethren, he might have said so. He attempted
it, and history shows us the result. He attempted, unassisted, to be
perfect among men, and his memory is regarded as that of a loathsome
plague, defiling even the unclean age in which he lived.
At about five o'clock in the afternoon on an October day, in 1793,
Robespierre was sitting alone in a small room in the house of his
friend, Simon Duplay, the cabinet-maker. This room, which was the
bed-chamber, reception-room, and study of the arbitrary Dictator, was
a garret in the roof of Duplay's humble dwelling. One small window,
opening upon the tiles, looked into the court-yard in which were stored
the planks or blocks necessary to the cabinet-maker's trade. A small
wooden bedstead, a long deal table, and four or five rush-bottomed
chairs, constituted the whole furniture of the apartment.
A deal shelf ran along the wail beneath the slanting roof, and held his
small treasure of books; and more than half of this humble row were
manuscripts of his own, which he had numbered, arranged, and bound with
that methodical exactness, which was a part of his strange character.
He was sitting at a table covered with papers, on which he had now been
laboriously preparing instructions for those who, under him, carried on
the rule of terror; and arranging the measured words with which, at the
Jacobins, he was to encourage his allies to uphold him in the bloody
despotism which he had seized.
The weight upon his mind must have been immense, for Robespierre was not
a thoughtless, wild fanatic, carried by the multitude whether they
pleased: he led the people of Paris, and led them with a fixed object.
He was progressing by one measure deeply calculated to the age of
reason, which he was assured was coming; and that one measure was the
extermination of all who would be likely to oppose him. The extent of
his power, the multiplicity of his cares, the importance of his every
word and act, and the personal danger in which he lived, might have
ruffled the equanimity of a higher-spirited man than he is supposed to
have been; but yet, to judge from his countenance, his mind was calm;
the traces of thought were plain on his brow, but there was none of the
impatience of a tyrant about his mouth, nor of the cruelty of an
habitual blood-shedder in his eyes. His forehead showed symptoms of
deep thought, and partially redeemed the somewhat mean effect of his
other features. The sharp nose, the thin lips, the cold grey eyes, the
sallow sunken cheeks, were those of a precise, passionless,
self-confident man, little likely to be led into any excess of love or
hatred, but little likely also to be shaken in his resolve either for
good or evil. His face probably was a true index to his character.
Robespierre was not a cruel man; but he had none of that humanity, which
makes the shedding of blood abominable to mankind, and which, had he
possessed it, would have made his career impossible.
His hair was close curled in rolls upon his temples, and elaborately
powdered. The front and cuffs of his shirt were not only scrupulously
clean, but starched and ironed with the most exact care. He wore a blue
coat, a white waistcoat, and knee-breeches. His stockings, like his
shirt, were snow-white, and the silver buckles shone brightly in his
shoes. No one could have looked less like a French republican of 1793
than did Robespierre.
He had just completed a letter addressed jointly to Thurreau and
Lechelle, the commissioners whom he had newly appointed to the horrid
task of exterminating the royalists of La Vendée. Santerre had
undertaken this work, and had failed in it, and it was now said that he
was a friend and creature of Danton's; that he was not to be trusted as
a republican; that he had a royalist bias; that it would be a good thing
that his head should roll, as the heads of so many false men had rolled,
under the avenging guillotine. Poor Santerre, who, in the service of the
Republic, had not shunned the infamy of presiding at the death of Louis.
He, however, contrived to keep his burly head on his strong shoulders,
and to brew beer for the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire.
Thurreau and Lechelle, it was correctly thought, would be surer hands
at performing the work to be done. They had accepted the commission with
alacrity, and were now on the road to commence their duties. That duty
was to leave neither life nor property in the proscribed district. "Let
La Vendée become a wilderness, and we will re-populate it with patriots,
to whom the fertility of fields, rich with the blood of traitors, shall
be a deserved reward." Thus had Robespierre now written; and as he
calmly read over, and slowly copied, his own despatch, he saw nothing
in it of which he could disapprove, as a reasoning being animated with
a true love of his country. "Experience has too clearly proved to us
that the offspring of slaves, who willingly kiss the rod of tyrants,
will have no higher aspiration than their parents. In allowing them to
escape, we should only create difficulties for our own patriot children.
Hitherto the servants of the Convention have scotched the snake, but
have not killed it; and the wounded viper has thus become more furiously
venomous than before. It is for you, citizens, to strike a death-blow
to the infamy of La Vendée. It will be your glory to assure the
Convention that no royalist remains in the western provinces to disturb
the equanimity of the Republic." Such were the sentiments he had just
expressed, such the instructions he had given, calmly meditating on his
duty as a ruler of his country; and when he had finished his task, and
seen that no expression had escaped him of which reason or patriotism
could disapprove, he again placed the paper before him, to write words
of affection to the brother of his heart.
Robespierre's brother was much younger than himself; but there was no
one whom he more thoroughly trusted with State secrets, and State
services of importance; and no one who regarded him with so entire a
devotion. Robespierre the elder believed only in himself; Robespierre
the younger believed in his brother, and his belief was fervid and
assured, as is always that of an enthusiast. To him, Maximilian appeared
to be the personification of every virtue necessary to mankind. Could
he have been made to understand the opinion which the world would form
of his brother's character, he would have thought that it was about to
be smitten with a curse of general insanity. Robespierre's vanity was
flattered by the adoration of his brother, and he loved his worshipper
sincerely. The young man was now at Lyons, propagating the doctrines of
his party; and in his letters to him, Robespierre mingled the
confidential greetings of an affectionate brother with those furious
demands for republican energy, which flooded the streets of the towns
of France with blood, and choked the rivers of France with the bodies
of the French.
"I still hope," he wrote, slowly considering the words as they fell from
his pen, "for the day when this work will have been done--for the happy
day when we shall feel that we have prevailed not only against our
enemies, but over our own vices; but my heart nearly fails me, when I
think how little we have yet effected. I feel that among the friends
whom we most trust, those who are actuated by patriotism alone are
lukewarm. Lust, avarice, plunder, and personal revenge, are the motives
of those who are really energetic . . . It is very difficult for me to
know my friends; this also preys heavily on my spirits. The gold of the
royalists is as plentiful as when the wretched woman, who is now about
to die, was revelling in her voluptuous pride at Versailles. I know that
the hands of many, who call themselves patriots, are even now grasping
at the wages for which they are to betray the people. A day of reckoning
shall come for all of them, though the list of their names is a long
one. Were I to write the names of those whom I know to be true, I should
be unable to insert in it above five or six. . . . I look for your
return to Paris with more than my usual impatience. Eleanor's quiet
zeal, and propriety of demeanour, is a great comfort to me; but even
with her, I feel that I have some reserve. I blame myself that it is so,
for she is most trustworthy; but, as yet, I cannot throw it off. With
you alone I have none. Do not, however, leave the work undone; remember
that those who will not toil for us, will assuredly toil against us.
There can be none neutral in the battle we are now waging. A man can
have committed no greater crime against the Republic than having done
nothing to add to its strength. I know your tender heart grieves at the
death of every traitor, though your patriotism owns the necessity of his
fall. Remember that the prosperity of every aristocrat has been
purchased by the infamy of above a hundred slaves! How much better is
it that one man should die, than that a hundred men should suffer worse
When he had finished his letter, he read it accurately over, and then
having carefully wiped his pen, and laid it near his inkstand, he leant
back in his chair, and with his hand resting on the table, turned over
in his mind the names and deeds of those who were accounted as his
friends, but whom he suspected to be his enemies. He had close to his
hand slips of paper, on which were written notes of the most trivial
doings of those by whom he was generally surrounded; and the very spies
who gave him the information were themselves the unfortunate subjects
of similar notices from others. The wretched man was tortured by
distrust; as he had told his brother, there were not among the whole
body of those associates, by whose aid he had made himself the ruling
power in France, half-a-dozen whom he did not believe to be eager for
his downfall and his death. Thrice, whilst thus meditating, he stopped,
and with his pencil put a dot against the name of a republican.
Unfortunate men! their patriotism did not avail them; within a few
weeks, the three had been added to the list of victims who perished
under the judicial proceedings of Fouquier Tinville.
It had now become nearly dark, and Robespierre was unable longer to read
the unfriendly notices which lay beneath his hand, and he therefore gave
himself up entirely to reflection. He began to dream of nobler
subjects--to look forward to happier days, when torrents of blood would
be no longer necessary, when traitors should no longer find a market for
their treason, when the age of reason should have prevailed, and France,
happy, free, illustrious, and intellectual, should universally own how
much she owed to her one incorruptible patriot. He thought to himself
of living on his small paternal domain in Artois, receiving nothing from
the country he had blessed but adoration; triumphant in the success of
his theory; honoured as more than mortal; evincing the grandeur of his
soul by rejecting those worldly rewards, which to his disposition
offered no temptation. But before he had long indulged in this happy
train of thought, he was called back to the realities of his troubled
life by a low knock at his door, and on his answering it, a young woman,
decently, but very plainly dressed, entered the garret with a candle in
her hand; this was Eleanor Duplay; and when Robespierre allowed himself
to dream of a future home, she was the wife of his bosom, and the mother
of his children.
Eleanor Duplay was not a beautiful young woman, nor was there anything
about her which marked her as being superior to those of her own station
of life; but her countenance was modest and intelligent, and her heart
was sincere; such as she was she had won the affection of him, who was,
certainly, at this time the most powerful man in France. She was about
five-and-twenty years of age; was the eldest of four sisters, and had
passed her quiet existence in assisting her mother in her household, and
in doing for her father so much of his work as was fitting for a woman's
hand. Till Robespierre had become an inmate of her father's house, she
had not paid more than ordinary attention to the politics of the
troubled days in which she lived; but she had caught the infection from
him, as the whole family had done. She had listened to his words as
though they fell from inspired lips: the pseudo-philosophical dogmas,
which are to us both repulsive and ridiculous, were to her invaluable
truths, begotten by reason, and capable of regenerating her
fellow-creatures. Robespierre was to her, what her Saviour should have
been; and he rewarded her devotion, by choosing her as the partner of
Robespierre's affection was not that of an impassioned lover; he did not
show it by warm caresses or fervid vows; but yet he made her, whom he
had chosen, understand that she was to him dearer than any other woman;
and Eleanor was prouder of her affianced husband, than though the
handsomest youth of Paris was at her feet.
As she entered his chamber, he was thinking partly of her, and he was
not sorry to be thus interrupted. She carried a candle in one hand, and
in the other a bouquet of fresh flowers, which she quietly laid among
his papers. Robespierre either had, or affected a taste for flowers,
and, as long as they were to be gotten, he was seldom seen without them,
either in his hand or on his coat.
"I thought you would want a light, M. Robespierre," said she, for though
she hoped to be closely connected with him, she seldom ventured on the
familiarity of calling him by his Christian name. Had she been a man,
her democratic principle would have taught her to discontinue the
aristocratic Monsieur; but, even in 1793, the accustomed courtesy of
that obnoxious word was allowed to woman's lips. "I thought you would
want a light, or I would not have interrupted you at your work."
"Thanks, Eleanor: I was not at work, though; my brain, my eyes, and
hands were all tired. I have been sitting idle for, I believe, this half
"Your eyes and hands may have been at rest," said she, sitting down at
the end of the table, "but it is seldom that your thoughts are not at
"It is one of the high privileges of man, that though his body needs
repose, the faculties of his mind need never be entirely dormant. I know
that I have reasoned in my sleep as lucidly as I have ever done awake;
and though, when awake, I have forgotten what has passed through my
mind, the work of my brain has not been lost: the same ideas have
recurred to me again, and though in the recurrence, I cannot remember
when I have before employed myself with arranging them, still they come
to me as old friends, with whom I am well acquainted. The mind will
seldom complain of too much labour, if the body be not injured by
indulgence or disease."
"But too much labour will bring on disease," said Eleanor, in a tone
which plainly showed the sincerity of the anxiety which she expressed.
"We never get a walk with you now; do you know that it is months since
we were in the Champs Elysées together; it was in May, and this is
"Affairs must be greatly altered, Eleanor; many things which are now
undone must be completed, before we walk again for our pleasure: a true
patriot can no longer walk the streets of Paris in safety, while
traitors can come and go in security, with their treason blazoned on
"And yet do not many traitors expiate their crimes daily?"
"Many are condemned and die; but I fear not always those who have most
deserved death. Much blood has been shed, and it has partly been in
compliance with my counsel. I would that the vengeance of the Republic
might now stay its hand, if it could be so, with safety to the people.
I am sick of the unchanging sentences of the judges, and the verdicts
of juries who are determined to convict. I doubt not that those who are
brought before them are traitors or aristocrats--at any rate, they are
not at heart republicans, and if so, they have deserved death; but I
should be better pleased, if now and then a victim was spared." He
paused for a while, and then added, "The blood of traitors is very
sickening; but there are those Eleanor, in whose nostrils it has a sweet
savour: there are butchers of the human kind, who revel in the horrid
shambles, in which they are of necessity employed. Such men are to me
accursed--their breath reeks of human blood."
Eleanor shuddered as she listened to him: but it was not the thought of
all the blood, which he whom she loved had shed, which made her shudder:
she had no idea that Robespierre was a sanguinary man: she sympathized
with the weakness of humanity which he confessed, and loved him for the
kindness of his heart--and he was not a hypocrite in his protestation;
he believed that there was nothing in common between himself and the
wretches who crowded round the last sufferings of the victims whom he
had caused to ascend the scaffold. He little thought that, in a few
years, he would be looked upon as the sole author of the barbarities of
which he now complained.
It was seldom that Robespierre had spoken so openly to Eleanor Duplay
of his inmost thoughts. She was flattered and gratified to think he had
thought her worthy of his confidence, that he had chosen her to listen
to the secrets of his heart, and she felt that, if she had influence
with him, it would become her as a woman to use it on behalf of those
whom it might be in his power to save from a fearful death.
"And are there many more who must die?" said she. "When I hear the
wheels of that horrid cart, as it carries the poor creatures who have
been condemned, on their last journey, my heart, too, sickens within me.
Will these horrid executions go on much longer?"
"There are still thousands upon thousands of men in France, who would
sooner be the slaves of a King, than draw the breath of liberty,"
"But they can be taught the duties and feelings of men, cannot they?
They think, and feel now only as they have been brought up to think and
"Had they not been too stubborn to learn, they have had a lesson written
in letters of blood, which would have long since convinced them--if it
be necessary, it must be repeated I for one will not shrink from my
duty. No though I should sink beneath the horrid task which it imposes
They both then sat silent for a while; though Robespierre had ventured
to express to the girl, whom he knew to be so entirely devoted to him,
a feeling somewhat akin to that of pity for his victims, he could not
bear that even she should appear to throw a shadow of an imputation on
the propriety and justness of his measures, although she only did so by
repeating and appealing to the kindly expressions which had fallen from
himself. He had become so used to the unmeasured praise of those among
whom he lived, so painfully suspicious of those who, in the remotest
degree, disapproved of any of his words or deeds, so confident of
himself, so distrustful of all others, that even what she had said was
painful to him, and though he himself hardly knew why, yet he felt that
he was displeased with her. Eleanor, however, was altogether unconscious
of having irritated his sore feelings; and relying on the kind tone of
what he had said, and the confident manner in which he had spoken to
her, she determined to obey the dictates of her heart, and intercede for
mercy for her fellow-creatures. Poor girl! she did not know the danger
of coming near the lion's prey.
She had heard much of the Vendeans, and though those who had spoken in
her hearing of the doings of the royalist rebels were not likely to say
much to excite sympathy on their behalf still she had learnt that they
were true to each other, faithful to their leaders, generous to their
enemies, and brave in battle. The awful punishment to be inflicted on
the doomed district had also been partially discussed in her hearing;
and though the Republic had no more enthusiastic daughter than herself,
her woman's heart could not endure the idea that even the innocent
children of a large province should be condemned to slaughter for their
fathers' want of patriotism. What work so fitting for the woman whom a
ruler of the people had chosen for a wife, as to implore the stern
magistrate to temper justice with mercy? In what way could she use her
influence so sweetly as to ask for the lives of women and children?
And yet she felt afraid to make her innocent request. Robespierre had
never yet been offended with her. Though he had given her counsel on
almost every subject, he had never yet spoken to her one word of
disapprobation still she knew that he had inspired her with fear. She
made some attempts to begin the subject, which he did not notice, for
he was still brooding over the unpleasant sensation which her words had
occasioned; but at last she gathered courage, and said:
"The soldiers of the Republic have at last overcome the rebels of La
Vendée--have they not, M. Robespierre?"
"It is not enough to conquer traitors," answered he, "they must be
crushed, before the country can be safe from their treachery."
"Their treason must be crushed, I know."
"Crimes between man and man can be atoned for by minor punishments:
crimes between citizens and their country can only be properly avenged
by death. You may teach the murderer or the thief the iniquity of his
fault; and when he has learnt to hate the deed he has committed, he may
be pardoned. It is not so with traitors. Though the truest child of
France should spend his life in the attempt, he would not be able to
inspire one aristocrat with a spark of patriotism."
"Must every royalist in La Vendée perish then?" said Eleanor.
Robespierre did not answer her immediately, but leaning his elbow on the
table, he rested his forehead on his hand, so as nearly to conceal his
face. Eleanor thought that he was meditating on her question; and
remembering that he had declared that he should be pleased if now and
then a victim might be spared, again commenced her difficult task of
urging him to mercy.
"They talk of shedding the blood of innocent children--of destroying
peasant women, who can only think and feel as their husbands bid them.
You will not allow that this should be done, will you?"
"Is the life of a woman more precious to her than that of a man? It is
a false sentiment which teaches us to spare the iniquities of women
because of their sex. Their weakness entitles them to our protection,
their beauty begets our love; but neither their weakness or their beauty
should be accepted as an excuse for their crimes."
"But poor innocent babes--it is not possible that they should have
"In the religion of Christ it is declared, that the sins of the fathers
shall be visited on the children, to the third and fourth generation.
The priests who made these laws, and handed them down to their flocks,
as the very words of their God, had closely studied human nature. I do
not believe that an Almighty Creator condescended to engrave on stone,
with his own finger, these words, as they would feign that he did do;
but the law is not the less true; the children must expatiate, to the
third and fourth generation, the sins of their fathers. Nature, which
is all benignant, wills that it should be so."
"If this be so, will not nature work out her own law. Will it not be
punishment enough that so many women should lose their husbands; so many
children their fathers? You, I know, are averse to shedding blood; you
would spare life whenever your sense of duty would allow you to do so.
Try what clemency will do in La Vendée. Try whether kindness will not
put a stop to the bitterness of their enmity. Do, dearest, for my sake."
It is possible that Eleanor had never before spoken to her lover in
language so tender; it is also probable that she had never before asked
of him any request, in which ought of a political nature was concerned.
Be that as it may, as soon as she had finished speaking, her face became
suffused with scarlet, as though she had said something of which she was
ashamed. One would think that there was nothing in the term of
endearment which she had used which could have displeased a betrothed
husband; nothing in the petition she, had made which could have angered
a political friend. Robespierre, however, soon showed that he was
displeased and angered; nay, worse still, that his black, unmanly
suspicion was aroused. To his disordered brain it seemed that Eleanor
was practising on him her woman's wiles for some unworthy purpose, and
that treason lurked in her show of humanity and affection. He believed
that she, who had always believed in him, loved him, almost worshipped
him, had become in an instant false and designing.
He looked her steadily in the face a moment or two before he answered,
and she did not bear calmly the fierce glance of his eye; she saw at
once that she had angered him, and, in spite of her love, she could not
but know how dark and terrible was his anger.
"Who has set you on to talk to me of this?" he said slowly, still
keeping his eyes fixed on hers.
"Set me on, M. Robespierre! what do you mean? Who should have set me
"There are hundreds, I grieve to say, ready to do so. Some of them are
daily near you. I should have thought, though, that with you I might
have been safe."
"Safe with me! And do you doubt it now--do you doubt that you are safe
with me?" and as she spoke, she laid her hand upon his arm, and
attempted to appeal to his affection. He gently withdrew his arm from
her grasp, and again concealed his face with his hand. "As I stand here
alive before you," continued she, speaking with a more assured voice
than she had hitherto used, "I have not whispered a word to man or woman
upon this subject, but yourself."
Eleanor had risen from her chair when her companion first expressed his
suspicion, and she was now standing; but Robespierre remained seated,
still shading his eyes with his hand, as though he had nothing further
to say to her, and would wish to be alone. She, however, felt that she
could not leave him without some further explanation on her part, some
retraction on his; but she knew not how to set about it. The most
eloquent men in France had found it difficult to explain anything to
Robespierre's satisfaction. No one had yet been able to make him retract
the word which he had spoken.
"Say that you believe me, M. Robespierre," said she; "for mercy's sake,
say that you do not doubt me! Do you not know that I would always obey
you, that your words are always to me the words of truth? I have done
wrong, I doubt not, in speaking to you of public matters. I beg your
pardon, and promise that I will not so transgress again; but before I
leave you, tell me that you do not distrust my fidelity."
"I would still wish to hope, Eleanor, that you are truly anxious for the
welfare of your country, and the safety of your friend," said he, still,
however, without looking up.
"Indeed I am, most anxious; anxious above all things for your welfare
and safety. I should think little of my life, could I give it to promote
the one, or secure the other."
"Tell me then, I conjure you, who are they who have desired you to beg
for the lives of these Vendean rebels," and as he spoke, he leapt from
his chair, and putting his hand upon her shoulder, looked sternly into
"As God is my judge--"
"Bah! if neither love of your country or of me, nor yet fear of the
punishment due to traitors, will keep you true," (and he slightly shook
her with his hand, as he slowly uttered the last fearful words), "the
judgment of God will not have much effect upon you."
"True!" said the poor girl, almost confounded with her horror at the
charge against her, amid the violence of the man. "True! Oh! Sir, for
mercy's sake, tell me what it is of which you accuse me--tell me what
it is that I have done. No man has spoken of you behind your back words
which you might not yourself have heard. No man has desired me to ask
you to spare the rebels. No man has even dared to hint to me, that I
should do or say ought in opposition to you."
"Some woman has done it then," said he.
"My God! that you should think so foully of me! No, Sir, neither man,
nor woman, nor child. You said that, were it possible, you would wish
that the hand of the executioner might be stayed. It was your own words
that set me on to say what I did. I did not dream that I should
displease you. Tell me, M. Robespierre, tell me that you are not angry
with me, and I will forget it all."
"Forget it all. Yes, things trivial and of no concern are long
remembered, but matters on which depend the life and death of those we
ought to love, are soon forgotten if they are unpleasant. No, Eleanor,
do not forget it all. Do not forget this--remember that I never have,
and never will, allow my feelings as a private man to influence my
conduct as a public functionary. I have many duties to perform; duties
which are arduous, disagreeable, and dangerous, but difficult as they
are, I believe that I am able to perform them. I do not wish for advice,
and I will not permit interference. Now go down, Eleanor; our friends
are below, I heard their steps a while since, as they came in. I have
but a few words to write, and I will join you."
"But you will tell me before I go that we are friends again," said the
poor girl, now weeping. "You will say that you do not distrust me."
"I do not believe that you meant evil to me, but you were indiscreet.
Let that be sufficient now, and bear this in mind, Eleanor--you know the
place you hold in my affections, but were you still nearer to me than
you are; were you already my wife, and the mother of my children, I
would not stand between you and the punishment you would deserve, if you
were untrue to your country."
After hearing this energetic warning, Eleanor Duplay left her lover's
room, firmly believing that she had greatly sinned in speaking as she
had done, but conscious, at any rate, of having intended no evil, either
to him or to the unfortunate country respecting which he expressed so
constant a solicitude.
As soon as she was gone, he again took up the papers which he had
written, and re-read them with great care. In the letter to the two
Commissioners he underscored the passages which most forcibly urged them
to energy in their work of destruction, and added a word here and there
which showed more clearly his intention that mercy should be shown to
none. He then turned to his letter to his brother. In that he said that
Eleanor's conduct had been a source of great comfort to him, and that
he blamed himself for still feeling any reserve with her. He now erased
the passage, and wrote in its stead, "even with Eleanor Duplay I have
some reserve, and I feel that I cannot throw it off with safety!" and
having done this, he, laboriously copied, for the second time, the long
letter which he had written.
When he had finished his task, he left his own chamber, and went down
into a room below, in which the family were in the habit of assembling
in the evening, and meeting such of Robespierre's friends as he wished
to have admitted. The cabinet-maker, and his wife and daughters,
together with his son and nephew, who assisted him in his workshop, were
always there; and few evenings passed without the attendance of some of
his more intimate friends. They were, at first, merely in the habit of
returning with him from the Jacobins' club, but after a while their
private meetings became so necessary to them, that they assembled at
Duplay's on those nights also on which the Jacobins did not meet.
When Robespierre entered the humble salon, Lebas, St. Just, and Couthon
were there; three men who were constant to him to the last, and died
with him when he died. As far as we can judge of their characters, they
were none of them naturally bad men. They were not men prone to lust or
plunder; they betrayed no friends; they sought in their political views
no private ends; they even frequently used the power with which they
were invested to save the lives of multitudes for whose blood the
infuriate mob were eager. Lebas and St. Just were constant to the girls
they loved, and Couthon, who was an object of pity as a cripple, was
happy in the affection of a young wife whom he adored; and yet these
were the men who assisted Robespierre in organizing the Reign of Terror,
and with him share the infamy of the deeds which were then committed.
They were all of them young when they died. They were men of education,
and a certain elevation, of spirit. Men who were able to sacrifice the
pleasures of youth to the hard work of high political duties. Blood
could not have been, was not, acceptable to them; yet under how great
a load of infamy do their names now lie buried!
"We thought you were going to seclude yourself tonight," said Lebas,
"and we were regretting it."
"What have you done with Eleanor," said Madame Duplay, "that she does
not come down to us?"
"I thought to have found her here," answered he; "she left me some
minutes since. She was not in good spirits, and has probably retired for
the night. Tell me, St. Just, do they talk much of tomorrow's trial?"
Robespierre alluded to the trial of Marie Antoinette, as the cruel
farce, which was so called, was then to commence. The people were now
thirsty after her blood, and thought themselves wronged in that she had
been so long held back from their wrath.
"They speak of her execution as of a thing of course," said St. Just;
"and they are right; her sand has well nigh run itself out. I wish she
were now at her nephew's court."
"Wish rather that she had never come from thence," said Couthon. "She
has brought great misfortunes on France. Could she die a thousand
deaths, she could not atone for what she has done. Not that I would have
her die, if it were possible that she could be allowed to live."
"It is not possible," said Robespierre. "To have been Queen of France,
is in itself a crime which it would have been necessary that she should
expiate, even had she shown herself mistress of all the virtues which
could adorn a woman."
"And she is not possessed of one," said Lebas. "She was beautiful, but
her beauty was a stain upon her, for she was voluptuous. She was
talented, but her talents were all turned to evil, for they only enabled
her to intrigue against her adopted country. She had the disposal of
wealth, with which she might have commanded the blessings of the poor,
and she wasted it in vain frivolities. She was gracious in demeanour,
but she kept her smiles for those only who deserved her frowns. She had
unbounded influence over her husband, and she persuaded him to
falsehood, dishonesty, and treachery."
"Do not deny that she has courage," said St. Just. "She has borne her
adversity well, though she could not bear her prosperity."
"She has courage," said Lebas, "and how has she used it? in fighting an
ineffectual battle against the country who had received her with open
arms. We must all be judged by posterity, but no historian will dare to
say that Marie Antoinette did not deserve the doom which now awaits
How little are men able to conceive what award posterity will make in
judging of their actions, even when they act with pure motives, and on
what they consider to be high principles; and posterity is often as much
in error in its indiscriminate condemnation of actions, as are the
actors in presuming themselves entitled to its praise.
When years have rolled by, and passions have cooled, the different
motives and feelings of the persons concerned become known to all, and
mankind is enabled to look upon public acts from every side. Not so the
actors; they are not only in ignorance of facts, the knowledge of which
is necessary to their judging rightly, but falsehoods dressed .in the
garb of facts are studiously brought forward to deceive them, and men
thus groping in darkness are forced to form opinions, and to act upon
Public men are like soldiers fighting in a narrow valley: they see
nothing but what is close around them, and that imperfectly, as
everything is in motion. The historian is as the general, who stands
elevated on the high ground, and, with telescope in hand, sees plainly
all the different movements of the troops. He would be an inconsiderate
general, who would expect that his officers in action should have had
as clear an idea of what was going on, as he himself had been able to
There was no murder perpetrated during the French Revolution, under the
pretext of a judicial sentence, which has created more general disgust
than has that of Marie Antoinette. She came as a stranger to the
country, which on that account owed to her its special protection. She
had been called to France to be a Queen, and her greatest crime was that
she would not give up the high station she had been invited to fill. She
had been a faithful wife to a husband who did not love her till he knew
her well, and who was slow in learning anything. She had been a good
mother to the children, who were born, as she believed, to rule the
destinies of France.
She had clung to a falling cause, with a sense of duty which was as
admirable as her courage, and at last she died with the devoted heroism
which so well became her mother's daughter. But what we now look on as
virtues, were vices in the eyes of the republicans, who were her judges.
Her constancy was stubbornness, and her courage was insolence. Her
innocent mirth was called licentiousness, and the royal splendour which
she had been taught to maintain, was looked upon as iniquitous
extravagance. Nor was this, even in those bloody days, enough to condemn
her. Lies of the basest kind were, with care and difficulty, contrived
to debase her character--lies which have now been proved to be so, but
which were then not only credible, but sure to receive credit from those
who already believed that all royal blood was, from its nature, capable
of every abomination.
When Lebas so confidently predicated the sentence which posterity would
pass on the fall of Marie Antoinette, none of his auditors doubted the
correctness of his prophecy. Posterity, however, more partial to the
frivolities of courts than to the fury of revolutions, has acquitted the
Queen, and passed, perhaps, too heavy a sentence on the judges who
condemned her. Till the power of Satan over the world has been
destroyed, and man is able to walk uprightly before his Maker, the
virtues of one generation will be the vices of another.
THE LAST DAY AT DURBELLIÈRE
After the re-capture of Durbellière, and the liberation of Santerre, the
Vendeans again assembled in arms in different portions of the revolted
district, and fought their battles always with valour, and not
unfrequently with success. They did not, however, again form themselves
into one body, till the beginning of October, when news having reached
them that a large army, under fiercer leaders, was to be sent by the
Republic for their extermination, it became necessary to take some
decided step for their own protection. The Vendean Generals then decided
to call together all the men they could collect at Chatillon, a town in
the very centre of their country, and there also to prepare such a
quantity of military stores and ammunition, as would make the place a
useful and secure basis for their movements.
Some jealousy had arisen among the Generals; and on the death of
Cathelineau, d'Elbée had been chosen Commander-in-Chief, through the
influence of those who were envious of the popularity of M. de Lescure.
On the latter, however, the management of the war depended; and though
his exertions were greatly impeded by the factious spirit which
unfortunately prevailed among the royalists, he nevertheless succeeded
in collecting, equipping, and maintaining a considerable army. The
republican troops of Lechelle and Thurreau were not long in making their
way to the devoted district, and tidings soon reached Chatillon that
they were devastating the country round Doué and Vihiers, and that
parties of them had advanced to the neighbourhood of Cholet.
It was then determined at Chatillon that the royalist army should
advance towards the republicans: that they should fight them on the
first field of battle on which they could meet them, and that if beaten,
they should cross the Loire into Britanny, and make their way to the
coast, to meet the succour which had been promised them from England.
Every day that the battle was delayed, hundreds of children and women
perished in cold blood, numberless humble dwellings were reduced to
ashes. The commands of Robespierre were being executed; the land was
being saturated with the blood of its inhabitants.
De Lescure and Larochejaquelin were both staying at Chatillon. But
Chatillon is but a league or two from Durbellière, and one or the other
of them was almost daily at the château. They had many cares upon them
besides those of the army; cares which, though not productive of so much
actual labour, sat, if possible, heavier on their hearts. What were they
to do with those dear but weak friends who were still at the château?
three loving and beloved women, and an infirm old man, more helpless
even than the women! They could not be left at Durbellière, for the
château would doubtless, before long, be again taken by some marauding
party of their enemies, and any death would be preferable to the fate
which would there await them.
Henri now felt the weight of those miseries which his father had
foretold; when he, flushed with the victory at Saumur, returned home
after the campaign in which he had first drawn his sword so gloriously.
He felt that he had done his duty, and therefore he regretted nothing;
but he also felt that he might probably soon be without the power of
protecting those who were so much dearer to him than his life, and the
suffering arising from such thoughts was almost more than he could bear.
It was at last determined that the whole party should leave the château,
and go over to Chatillon--there would be at any rate a better chance
of security there than at Durbellière, and also better means of escape,
should the town fall into the hands of their enemies.
It was a grievous thing to tell that old man that he must leave the
house, where he had spent his quiet life, and go to strange places, to
finish the short remainder of his days amid the turmoil of battles, and
the continual troubles and dangers of a moving army. Nevertheless he
bore it well. At first he beseeched them to leave him and old Momont,
among his birds and cherry trees, declaring that nothing that the blues
could do to him would be to him so calamitous as his removal from the
spot in which he had so long taken root. But his children soon made him
understand that it was impossible that they could abandon him, a cripple
as he was, unattended, and exposed to the certain fury of the
republicans. He yielded, therefore, and when the sad day came, he blamed
no one, as they lifted him into the huge carriage, in which he was
removed to Chatillon. To the last he was proudly loyal to the King; and,
as he was carried over the threshold of his door, he said, that if God
would grant him another favour in this world, it would be, that he might
return once more to his own home, to welcome there some scion of his
royal master's house.
Henri, de Lescure, and the little Chevalier, all came over to spend the
last day at Durbellière, and a melancholy day it was. Madame de Lescure,
Marie, and Agatha were also there, and all the servants, most of whom
had been born in the family, and all of whom, excepting Chapeau and one
maid, were now to be sent abroad to look for their living in a country
in which the life itself of every native was in hourly danger. Hard they
begged to be allowed to link their fate to that of their young mistress,
declaring that they would never more complain, even though they were
again called out to die, as they had been on that fearful evening when
Santerre had found himself unable to give the fatal order. It was
impossible--the safety of four women, who would probably have to be
carried backwards and forwards through a country bristling with hostile
troops, was a fearful burden to the young leaders; it would have been
madness for them to increase it. The wretched girls, therefore, prepared
to make their way to the homes of their relatives, knowing that those
homes would soon be turned into heaps of ashes. It was a bright warm
autumn day this, the last which the Larochejaquelins were to pass
together in the mansion in which they had all been born. The men came
over early, and breakfasted at the château, and both Henri and Arthur
worked hard to relieve the sadness of the party with some sparks of
their accustomed gaiety; the attempt, however, was futile; they each
felt that their hours of gaiety were gone by, and before the meal was
over, they had both resolved that any attempt at mirth that day, would
be a stretch of hypocrisy beyond their power.
When breakfast was over, the Marquis begged that, for the last time, he
might be wheeled round the garden-walks, which he loved so well, and
accordingly he was put into his chair, and, accompanied by his children
and friends, was dragged through every alley, and every little
meandering path. He would not spare himself a single turn--he had a tear
to give to every well-known tree, an adieu to make to every painted
figure. To de Lescure and the others, the comic attitudes of these
uncouth ornaments was, at the present moment, any thing but interesting;
but to the Marquis, each of them was an old and well-loved friend, whom
even in his extremity he could hardly bring himself to desert. On their
return into the house from the garden, they began to employ themselves
with arranging and packing the little articles which they intended to
take with them. They had all counted on having much to do during the
short hours of this one last day; on being hurried and pressed, so as
to be hardly able to get through their task; but instead of this their
work was soon done, and the minutes hung heavy on their hands. They
would not talk of the things which were near their hearts, for they
feared to add to each other's misery; they strove therefore to talk on
indifferent subjects, and soon broke down in every attempt they made at
Agatha never left her father's side for a moment, and though she seldom
spoke to him, she did a thousand little acts of sedulous attention,
which showed him that she was near to him. Her gentle touch was almost
as precious to him as her voice. De Lescure sat near his wife the whole
day, speaking to her from time to time in a whisper, and feeling the
weight upon his spirits so great that even with her he could hardly talk
freely. He was already without a roof which he could call his own, and
he was aware his friends would soon be equally desolate; such hitherto
had been the result of their gallant enterprise.
Henri had much to say--much that he had made up his mind to say to Marie
before he left Durbellière, but he put off the moment of saying it from
hour to hour, and it was not till near midnight that it was said. Marie
herself, bore herself more manfully, if I may say so, than any of them;
she really employed herself, and thought of a thousand things conducive
to their future comfort, which would have been forgotten or neglected
had she not been there. The little Chevalier tried hard to assist her,
but the pale sad face of Agatha, and the silent tears which from time
to time moistened the cheeks of the Marquis, and told how acute were the
sufferings which he tried in vain to hide, were too much for the poor
boy; he soon betook himself alone into the cherry grove, where he
wandered about unseen, and if the truth must be told, more than once
threw himself on the ground, and wept bitterly and aloud.
They sat down to dinner about three o'clock; but their dinner was, if
possible, a worse affair than their breakfast. They were not only sad,
but worn out and jaded with sorrow. The very servants, as they moved the
dishes, sobbed aloud; and at last, Momont, who had vainly attempted to
carry himself with propriety before the others, utterly gave way, and
throwing himself on to a chair in the salon, declared that nothing but
violence should separate him from his master.
"It is five-and-fifty years," said he, sobbing, "since I first waited
on Monseigneur. We were boys then, and now we are old men together It
is not natural that we should part. Where he goes, I will go. I will
cling to his carriage, unless they cut me down with swords."
No one could rebuke the old man--certainly not the master whom he loved
so well; and though they knew that it would be impossible to provide for
him, none of them at the moment had the heart to tell him so.
By degrees the daylight faded away, and for the last time, they watched
the sun sink down among the cherry trees of Durbellière, and the
Marquis, seated by the window, gazed into the West till not a streak of
light was any longer visible; then he felt that the sun of this world
had set for him for good and all. Even though he might live out a few
more weary years, even though the cause to which he was attached should
be victorious, yet he knew that Durbellière would be destroyed, and it
never could be anything to him how the sun set or rose in any other
place. His warm heart yearned towards his house; the very chair on which
he sat, the stool on which rested his crippled legs, were objects of an
affection which he had before felt, but never till now acknowledged.
Every object on which his eye rested gave him a new pang; every article
within his reach was a dear friend, whom he had long loved, and was now
to leave for ever.
Still he did not utter one word of complaint; he did not once murmur at
his fate; he never reminded his son that he had, by his impetuosity,
hurried on his old father to destruction. He never repined at the
sacrifice he had made--I will not say for his King, for King at present
he had none; the throne had been laid low, and the precious blood of him
who should have filled it had been shed. No; his sacrifices had been to
an abstract feeling of loyalty, which made fealty to the Crown, whether
worn or in abeyance, only second in his bosom to obedience to his God.
The day faded away, and they still sat together in the room in which
they had dined, each wrapped in his own thoughts, till the darkness of
night was upon them, and still no one felt inclined to rise and ask for
After a long pause, Arthur made a bold attempt to break through the
heaviness of the evening. "We are not so badly off, at any rate," said
he, "as we were on that night when Santerre and his men were here; are
"We are not badly off at all," said Henri. "We have now what we never
had before--a fine army collected together in one spot, a promise of
succour from faithful England, and a strong probability of ultimate
success. After all, what are we giving up but an old barrack? Let the
rascal blues burn it; cannot we build a better Durbellière when the King
shall have his own again?"
"Ah, Henri!" said the Marquis. It was the only reproach he uttered,
though the words of his son, intended as they were to excite hope, and
to give comfort, had been to him most distasteful.
Henri was in a moment at his father's feet. "Pardon me, father!" said
he; "you know that I did not mean to give you pain. We all love the old
house--none of us so well as you perhaps; but we all love it; yet what
can we do? Were we to remain here, we should only be smothered beneath
"God's will be done, my son. He knows that I do not begrudge my house
in his service, and in that of my royal master. It is not likely that
I should do so, when I have not begrudged the blood of my children."
They were all to start on the following morning by break of day, and,
therefore, the necessity of early rising gave them an excuse desired by
all, for retiring early for the night. They could not talk together, for
every word that was spoken begot fresh sources of sorrow; they could not
employ themselves, for their minds were unhinged and unfitted for
employment; so they agreed that they would go to bed, and before nine
o'clock, the family separated for the night.
They did not, however, all go to rest. Henri, as he handed a light to
his cousin, told her that he wanted to speak two words to her in his
sister's room, and as she did not dissent, he followed the two girls
thither. Two words! It took nearly the whole long night to say those two
Henri Larochejaquelin had thought long and deeply on the position in
which he and his betrothed were now placed, before he made the request
to which he asked her to listen that night, and it was from no selfish
passion that he made it. In the presence of his sister, he asked her to
marry him as soon as they reached Chatillon, so that when next the army
separated, he might deem himself her natural protector. He had already
asked and obtained de Lescure's permission. The brother gave it, not
absolutely unwillingly, but with strong advice to Henri to take no new
cares upon himself during the present crisis, and declaring that he
would use no influence with his sister, either one way or the other.
Marie, with a woman's instinct, anticipated the nature of Henri's two
words, and in a moment resolved on the answer she would give him: if her
lover was generous, so would she be; she would never consent to link
herself to him at a moment when the union could only be to him a source
of additional cares and new sorrow.
Henri soon made his request: he did not do it, as he would have done in
happier times; kneeling at her feet, and looking into her eyes for that
love, which he might well know he should find there: he had not come to
talk of the pleasures and endearments of affection, and to ask for her
hand as the accomplishment of all his wishes; but he spoke of their
marriage as a providential measure, called for by the calamitous
necessities of the moment, and in every argument which he used, he
appealed to Agatha to support him.
"No, Henri," said Marie, after she had already answered him with a
faint, but what she intended to be a firm denial. "No, it must not,
cannot, ought not be so. I am, I know, somewhat de trop in this tragedy
we are playing. There are you and Charles, two good knights and true,
and each of you has a lady whom it is his duty to protect. I am a poor
forlorn young damsel, and though both of you are so gallant as to offer
me a hand to help me over the perilous path we are treading, I know that
I am grievously in the way."
"You are joking now, love," said Henri, "and I am not only speaking, but
thinking, in most true and sober earnest."
"No, Henri, I am not joking; am I, Agatha? One need not be joking
because one does not use harsh, grim words. What I say is true. I must
be an additional burden either to you or Charles. You are already the
heaviest laden, for you have your father to care for. Besides, I have
a claim upon Charles; I have for eighteen years been to him an obedient
"And have you no claim on me, Marie?"
"A slight one, as a cousin; but only in default of Charles. Don't look
so unhappy," and she held out her little hand to him as she spoke. "The
day may come when I shall have a still stronger claim upon you; when I
have been to you for eighteen years an obedient wife."
"These are times when stern truths must be spoken," said Henri. "The
lives of us all must now be in constant jeopardy--that is, of us who
must go out to battle."
"Ay, and of us women too. Don't be afraid of our lacking courage. Do not
be afraid that the truth will frighten us. Agatha, and Victorine, and
I, have schooled ourselves to think of death without flinching."
"To think without flinching of the death of others, is the difficulty,"
said Agatha. "I fear we have none of us as yet brought ourselves to
"But we must think of the death of others," said Henri. "Should de
"May God Almighty in His mercy protect and guard him!" said the sister.
"But should he fall--and in battle there is none, I will not say so
rash, but so forward as him--should he fall, will it not be a comfort
to him to know that his sister has a husband to protect her; that his
widow has a brother to whom she can turn. Should I fall, will it not be
better for Agatha that you should be more closely knit together even
than you are?"
"That can never be, can it, Agatha? We can never be more entirely
sisters than we are."
"You talk like a child, Marie. You perhaps may never have a warmer love
for each other than you now have, but that is not the question. You must
see how great would be the advantage to us all of our union being at
once completed You should not now allow a phantasy of misplaced
generosity to stand in the way of an arrangement which is so
"Nay, Henri, now you are neither fair nor courteous. You are presuming
a little on the affection which I have owned in arguing that I am
prevented only by what you call generosity from so immediate a marriage;
that is as much as to say, that if I consulted my own wishes only, I
should marry you at once."
"It is you that are now unfair," said Agatha. "You know that he did not
mean to draw such a conclusion. You almost tempt me to say that he might
do so, without being far wrong. You are flirting now, Marie."
"Heaven help me then; but if so, I have committed that sin most
unconsciously, and, I believe, for the first time in my life. I have had
but one lover, and I accepted him, the very moment that he spoke to me.
I can, at any rate, have but little flirtation to answer for."
"Alas! dearest love," said Henri, "we are both driven to think and talk
of these things in a different tone from that which is usual in the
world. If I was merely seeking to transplant you in days of peace from
your own comfortable home, to be the pride and ornament of mine, I would
not curtail by one iota the privilege of your sex. I wouldn't presume
to think that you could wish yourself to give up your girlish liberty.
If you allowed me any hope, I would ascribe it all to the kindness of
your disposition; your word should be my law, and though I might pray
for mercy, I would submissively take my fate from your lips. I would
write odes to you, if I were able, and would swear in every town in
Poitou that you were the prettiest girl, and sweetest angel in all
France, Italy, or Spain."
"Thanks, Henri, thanks; but now you have too much to do to trouble
yourself with such tedious gallantries. Is not that to be the end of
your fine speech?"
"Trouble myself, Marie!"
"Yes, trouble yourself, Henri, and it would trouble me too. It is not
that I regret such nonsense. I accept your manly love as it has been
offered, and tell you that you have my whole heart. It is from no
girlish squeamishness, from no wish to exercise my short-lived power,
that I refuse to do what you now ask me. I would marry you tomorrow,
were you to ask me, did I not think that I should be wrong to do so. Am
I now not frank and honest?"
Henri put his arms round her waist, and clasped her to his bosom before
he answered her:
"You are, you are, my own, own love. You were always true, and honest,
and reasonable--so reasonable that--"
"Ah! now you are going to encroach."
"I am going to ask you once again to think of what I have said. It is
not to your love, but to your reason, that I now appeal."
"Well, Henri, we will leave love aside, and both of us appeal to reason.
Here she sits, always calm, passionless, and wise," and Marie put her
hand upon Agatha's arm. "We will appeal to Reason personified, and if
Reason says that, were she situated as I am, she would do as you now
wish me to do, I will be guided by Reason, and comply." Henri now turned
round to his sister, but Marie stopped him from speaking, and continued:
"I have pledged myself, and do you do likewise. If Reason gives her
judgment against you, you will yield without a word."
"Well, I will do so," said Henri. "I'm sure, however, she will not;
Agatha must see the importance of our being joined as closely together
as is possible."
"You are attempting to influence Dame Reason, but it will be useless.
And now, Reason, you are to remember, as of course you do, for Reason
forgets nothing, that you are to think neither of brothers or of
sisters. You are entirely to drop your feelings as Agatha, and to be
pure Reason undefiled by mortal taint. You are to say, whether, were
you, Reason, placed as I am now, you would marry this unreasonable young
man as soon as he gets to Chatillon, which means tomorrow, or the day
after, or the day after that at the very latest. Now, Reason, speak, and
"You have given me a thankless task between you. I cannot decide without
giving pain to one of you."
"Reason always has a thankless task," said Marie. "Reason is her own
reward--and a very unpleasant reward she usually has."
"Do you think," said Henri, "it will give so much pain to Marie to be
told that she is to marry the man whom she owns she loves?"
"Ah, Henri," said Agatha, "you are prejudiced. I do not mean as to
Marie's love, but as to my award. I might, perhaps, not pain her so much
by advising her to marry you at once, as I fear I shall pain you by
telling her, that in her place, I should not do so."
They both sat in breathless silence to hear their fate from Agatha's
lips. Though Marie had appealed to her with a degree of playfulness,
which gave to her an air of indifference on the subject, she was
anything but indifferent; and yet it would have been difficult to
analyse her wishes; she was quite decided that it was becoming in her
to refuse Henri's prayer, nay, that it would be selfish in her to grant
it; and yet, though she appealed to Reason so confidently to confirm her
refusal, there was a wish, almost a hope, near her heart, that Agatha
might take her brother's part. They were, neither of them, perhaps,
gratified by the decision.
"Reason has said it," said Marie, after a short pause, "and Reason shall
be rewarded with a kiss;" and she put her arms round her cousin's neck
and kissed her.
"But why, Agatha, tell me why?" said Henri. He, at any rate, was not
ashamed to show that he was disappointed.
"Do not be so inconsiderate as to ask Reason for reasons," said Marie.
"I will tell you why, Henri. I would never consent to make myself a
burden to a man at a moment when I could not make myself a comfort to
him; besides, the time of marriage should be a time of joy, and this is
no time for joy. Again, there is a stronger and sadder reason still. Did
you ever see a young widow, who had not reached her twentieth year? if
so, did you ever see a sadder sight? Would you unnecessarily doom our
dear Marie to that fate! I know you so well, my dear brother, that I do
not fear to speak to you of the too probable lot of a brave soldier!"
"That is enough!" said Henri, "I am convinced."
"Do not say that, Agatha, do not say that," said Marie, springing up and
throwing herself into her lover's arms. "Indeed, indeed, it was not of
that I thought. Though we should never marry, yet were you to fall, your
memory should be the same to me as that of a husband. I could never
forget your love--your disinterested love--there is no treasure on this
side the grave which I so value. It is the pride of my solitary hours,
and the happiness of the few happy thoughts I have. The world would be
nothing to me without you. When you are away, I pray to God to bring you
back to me. When you are with us I am dreading the moment that you will
go. Oh, Agatha, Agatha! why did you say those last fearful words!"
"You asked me for the truth, Marie, and it was right that I should tell
it you; it was on my tongue to say the same to Henri, before you
appealed to me at all."
"You were right, dearest Agatha," said Henri; "and now, God bless you,
Marie. I value such love as yours highly as it is worth. I trust the day
may come when I can again ask you for your hand."
"I will never refuse it again. You shall have it now, tomorrow, next
day, any day that you will ask it. Oh, Agatha! my brain is so turned by
what you have said, that I could almost go on my knees to beg him to
"Come, Henri, leave us," said Agatha, "and prevent such a scandal as
that would be; there are but a few hours for us to be in bed."
Henri kissed his sister, and when he gave his hand to Marie, she did not
turn her lips away from him; and as he threw himself on his bed, he
hardly knew whether, if he could have his own way, he would marry her
at once or not.
THE CHAPEL OF GENET
About ten days after the departure of the Larochejaquelins from
Durbellière, three persons were making the best of their way, on
horseback, through one of the deepest and dirtiest of the byeways, which
in those days, served the inhabitants of Poitou for roads, and along
which the farmers of the country contrived with infinite pains and
delay, to drag the produce of their fields to the market towns. The
lane, through which they were endeavouring to hurry the jaded animals
on which they were mounted, did not lead from one town to another, and
was not therefore paved; it was merely a narrow track between continual
rows of high trees, and appeared to wind hither and thither almost in
circles, and the mud at every step covered the fetlocks of the three
horses. The party consisted of two ladies and a man, who, though he rode
rather in advance of, than behind his companions, and spoke to them from
time to time, was their servant: a boy travelled on foot to show them
the different turns which their road made necessary to them; and though,
when chosen for the duty, he had received numerous injunctions as to the
speed with which he should travel, the urchin on foot had hitherto found
no difficulty in keeping up with the equestrians. The two ladies were
Madame de Lescure and her sister-in-law, and the servant was our trusty
friend Chapeau. And we must go back a little to recount as quickly as
we can, the misfortunes which brought them into their present situation.
No rest was allowed to the Vendean chiefs after reaching Chatillon from
Durbellière. The rapid advance of the republican troops made them think
it expedient to try the chance of battle with them at once. They had
consequently led out their patriot bands as far as Cholet, and had
there, after a murderous conflict, been grievously worsted. No men could
have fought better than did the Vendean peasants, for now they had
joined some degree of discipline and method to their accustomed valour;
but the number of their enemies was too great for them, and they
consisted of the best soldiers of whom France could boast. The Vendeans,
moreover, could not choose their own battle-field. They could not fight
as they had been accustomed to do, from behind hedges, and with every
advantage of locality on their side. They had thrown themselves on the
veteran troops, who had signalized themselves at Valmy and Mayence, with
a courage that amounted to desperation, but which, as it had not
purchased victory, exposed them to fearful carnage. D'Elbe, who acted
as Commander-in-Chief, fell early in the day. Bonchamps, whose military
skill was superior to that of any of the Vendeans; was mortally wounded,
and before the battle was lost, de Lescure--the brave de Lescure, whom
they all so loved, so nearly worshipped--was struck down and carried
from the field.
There was an immense degree of superstition mixed up with the religious
fervour of the singular people who were now fighting for their liberty;
and many of them sincerely believed that de Lescure was invulnerable,
and that they were secure from any fatal reverse as long as he was with
them. This faith was now destroyed; and when the rumour spread along
their lines that he had been killed, they threw down their arms, and
refused to return to the charge. It was in vain that Henri
Larochejaquelin and the young Chevalier tried to encourage them; that
they assured them that de Lescure was still living, and exposed their
own persons in the thickest of the enemy's fire. It was soon too evident
that the battle was lost, and that all that valour and skill could do,
was to change the flight into a retreat.
Many personal reasons would have made Henri prefer returning towards
Chatillon, but it had been decided that, in the event of such a disaster
as that which had now befallen them, the cause in which they were
engaged would be best furthered by a general retreat of all the troops
across the Loire into Brittany; and consequently Henri, collecting
together what he could of his shattered army, made the best of his way
to St. Florent. The men did not now hurry to their homes, as they did
after every battle, when the war first began; but their constancy to
their arms arose neither from increased courage nor better discipline.
They knew that their homes were now, or would soon be, but heaps of
ruins, and that their only hope of safety consisted in their remaining
with the army. This feeling, which prevented the dispersion of the men,
had another effect, which added greatly to the difficulty of the
officers. The wives, children, and sisters of the Vendean peasants, also
flocked to the army in such numbers, that by the time the disordered
multitude reached St. Florent, Henri found himself surrounded by 80,000
human, creatures, flying from the wrath of the blues, though not above
a quarter of that number were men capable of bearing arms.
De Lescure, in a litter, accompanied them to St. Florent, and Chapeau
was sent back to Chatillon to bid the ladies and the old Marquis join
the army at that place. Chapeau was sent direct from the field of battle
before it was known whether or no M. de Lescure's wound was mortal, and
at a moment when Henri could give him nothing but a general direction
as to the route which the army was about to take. Chapeau reached
Chatillon without accident; but having reached it, he found that his
difficulties were only about to commence. What was he to tell Madame de
Lescure of her husband? How was he to convey the three ladies and the
Marquis from Chatillon to St. Florent, through a country, the greater
portion of which would then be in the hands of the blues?
Make the best he could of it, the news was fearfully bad. He told Madame
de Lescure that her husband was certainly wounded, but that as certainly
he was not killed; and that he had every reason, though he could not say
what reason, to believe that the wound was not likely to be fatal. The
doubt conveyed in these tidings was, if possible, more fearful than any
certainty; added to this was the great probability that Chatillon would,
in a day or two, be in the hands of the republicans. They decided, or
rather Chapeau decided for them, that they should start immediately for
St. Florent; and that, instead of attempting to go by the direct road,
they should make their way thither by bye-lanes, and through small
villages, in which they possibly might escape the ferocity of their
A huge waggon was procured, and in it a bed was laid, on which the
unfortunate old man could sit, and with the two horses which they had
brought with them from Durbellière, they started on their journey. They
rested the first night at St. Laurent, the place where Agatha had
established an hospital, and where Cathelineau had died. The Sisters of
Mercy who had tended it were still there, but the wards were now
deserted. Not that the wars afforded no occupants for them, but the
approach of the republicans had frightened away even the maimed and
sick. On the following morning Madame de Lescure declared that she could
no longer endure the slow progress of the waggon, and consequently,
Chapeau having with difficulty succeeded in procuring three horses, she
started, accompanied by him and her sister-in-law, to make her way as
best she could to her husband, while the Marquis and his daughter, with
a guide, followed in the cumbrous waggon.
On the second day the equestrians crossed the Sevre, at Mortaigne, and
reached Torfou in safety. On the third day they passed Montfaucon, and
were struggling to get on to a village called Chaudron, not far from St.
Florent, when we overtook them at the beginning of the chapter.
They had already, however, began to doubt that they could possibly
succeed in doing so. The shades of evening were coming on them. The poor
brutes which carried them were barely able to lift their legs, and,
Madame de Lescure was so overpowered with fatigue and anxiety, that she
could hardly sustain herself in the pillion on which she sat.
The peasants whom they met from time to time asked them hundreds of
questions about the war. Many of the men of the district were already
gone, and their wives and children were anxious to follow them, but the
poor creatures did not know which way to turn. They did not know where
the army was, or in what quarter they would be most secure. They had an
undefined fear that the blues were coming upon them with fire and
slaughter, and that they would be no longer safe, even in their own
One person told them that Chaudron was distant only two leagues, and
hearing this they plucked up their courage, and made an effort to rouse
that of their steeds. Another, however, soon assured them that it was
at the very least a long five leagues to Chaudron, and again their
spirits sank in despair. A third had never heard the name of the place,
and at last a fourth informed them, that whatever the distance might be,
they were increasing it every moment, and that their horses' heads were
turned exactly in the wrong direction. Then at length their young guide
confessed that he must have lost his way, and excused himself by
declaring that the turnings were so like one another that it was
impossible for any one in that country really to remember his way at a
distance of more than two leagues from his own home.
"And what village are we nearest to, my friend?" said Chapeau, inquiring
of the man who had given the above unwelcome information.
"Why the chapel of Genet," said he, "is but a short quarter of a league
from you, and the Curé's house is close by, but the village and the
château are a long way beyond that, and not on the straight road
"Ask him the Curé's name, Chapeau," said Marie: "we will go there and
tell him, who we are.'
"If he lives in his own house quietly now, Mademoiselle," answered
Chapeau, "it would be dangerous to do so; he must be one of the
constitutional priests." He asked the man, however, what was the name
of the Curé.
"Why the regular old Curé went away long since, and another was here a
while in his place--"
"Well, and he has gone away now, I suppose?" said Chapeau.
"Why, yes; he went away too a while since, when Cathelineau turned the
soldiers out of St. Florent."
"God bless him," said Chapeau, meaning Cathelineau, and not the priest.
"And is there no one in the house now, my friend? for you see these two
ladies are unable to travel further. If there be a friend living there,
I am sure he will procure them some accommodation."
"And where did the ladies come from?" asked the man.
"You need not be afraid," replied Chapeau, "they, and all belonging to
them, are friends to the good cause;" and then, after considering within
himself for a while, he added, "I will tell you who they are, they are
the wife and sister of M. de Lescure."
Had he told the man that they were angels from heaven, and had the man
believed him, he could neither have been more surprised, or expressed
a stronger feeling of adoration.
The poor man implored a multitude of blessings on the two ladies, whose
names were so dear to every peasant of La Vendée, and then told them
that after the new priest had ran away, the old Curé had come back to
his own house again, but that Father Bernard was a very old man, hardly
strong enough even to perform mass, though, as there was no one else to
it, he did go through it every Sabbath morning; that for these two days
past there had been another priest staying with Father Bernard; he did
not, however, know what his name was, but he knew that he had been with
the army, and that no priest through all La Vendée had been more active
than he had been to encourage the royalists. The man then offered to
show them to the Curé's house, and they all turned thither together.
The little chapel was on one side of the road, and the humble house of
the parish priest was immediately opposite to it, ensconced among a few
trees, at a little distance from the road. The door of the chapel was
open, and the murmuring sound of low voices within told the party that
vespers were being sung. Madame de Lescure did not like calling at the
priest's house without being announced, and she therefore desired
Chapeau to go down and explain who she was, and the circumstances under
which she begged for the Curé's hospitality, and proposed that she and
Marie should get off their horses, and remain in the chapel till Chapeau
They entered the little chapel, and found in it about a dozen peasants
on their knees, while a priest was chaunting the vespers from a small
side altar, built in a niche in the wall. It was now late, and the
light, which even abroad was growing dimmer every moment, was still less
strong within the building. They could not, therefore, see the face of
the priest as he knelt at the side of the altar, but the voice seemed
familiar to both of them.
Madame de Lescure, perhaps as much from fatigue as from devotion, sank
down at once upon her knees against a little stone seat which projected
from the wall near the door, but Marie remained standing, straining her
eyes to try to catch the features of the Curé. After a moment or two she
also knelt down, and said in a whisper to her sister, "It is the Curé
of St. Laud--it is our own Father Jerome."
They had hardly been a minute or two in their position near the door,
when the service for the evening was over, and the priest, rising from
the altar, gave his blessing to the little congregation. Some of them
rose from their knees and left the chapel, but a portion of them still
remained kneeling, with their heads in their hands, trying to make up,
by the length and perseverance of their devotion, for any deficiency
there might be in its fervour. The two ladies also rose, and though they
doubted for a moment what to do, they both advanced to the rude steps
of the little altar, at which Father Jerome was again kneeling. He had
not seen them as yet, nor had he noticed the entrance of any one, but
the ordinary congregation of the chapel; and so absorbed was he, either
in his thoughts or his devotions, that he did not even observe them till
they were standing close to his elbow.
"Father Jerome," said Madame de Lescure in a low voice, laying her hand
on the threadbare sleeve of the old grey coat, which he still wore. "If
you could guess the comfort I have in finding you here!"
The priest sprang from his knees at hearing her voice, and gazed at her
as though she had been a ghost.
"Is it possible," said he, "Madame de Lescure and Mademoiselle here in
the chapel of Genet!" and then turning to the gaping peasants, he said,
"go home, my children, go home! I have business to speak of to these
"Oh, Father Jerome," said Madame de Lescure, as soon as they were alone,
"for heaven's sake tell me something of M. de Lescure. You have heard
of what happened at Cholet?"
"Yes, Madame, I was there," said the priest.
"You were there! then you can tell me of my husband. For God's sake,
speak, Father Jerome! Tell me the worst at once. I can bear it, for it
can't be worse than I expect. Is he--is he alive?"
Father Jerome had been in the midst of the hottest part of the battle
at Cholet, sometimes encouraging the troops by his words, and at others
leading them on by his example, charging at their head, with his huge
crucifix lifted high in the air. He had been close to de Lescure when
he fell, and had seen him in his litter after he was carried from the
field of battle. He could, therefore, have said at once that he had seen
him alive after the battle was over, but he had no wish to deceive
Madame de Lescure; and at the moment of which we are speaking, he most
undoubtedly believed that the wound had been fatal, and that her husband
was no more.
A musket-ball had entered just below the eye, and making its way
downwards, had lodged itself in the back of his neck. A surgeon had
examined the wound before Father Jerome left the army; and though he had
not positively said that it would prove mortal, he had spoken so
unfavourably of the case, as to make all those who heard him believe
that it would be so.
Had Father Jerome expected to see the two nearest and dearest relations
of the man whom he thought to be now no more, he would have prepared
himself for the difficult task which he would have had to undertake, and
no one would have been better able to go through it with feeling,
delicacy, and firmness; but such was not the case. The sudden apparition
of the wife and sister of his friend seemed to him to be supernatural;
and though he at once made up his mind to give no false hope, he could
not so quickly decide in what way he should impart the sad news which
he had to tell.
Madame de Lescure was trembling so violently as she asked the question,
on the answer to which her fate depended, that the priest observed it,
and he turned to the altar at the end of the chapel, to fetch a rude
chair which stood there for the use of the officiating clergyman, and
which was the only moveable seat in the chapel; and whilst doing so, he
was enabled to collect his thoughts, so as to answer not quite so much
at random as he otherwise must have done.
"Sit down, Madame de Lescure," said he, "sit down, Mademoiselle," and
he made the latter sit down on the altar step. "You are fatigued, and
you have agitated yourself too intensely."
"Why don't you speak, Father Jerome? Why don't you tell me at once--is
he alive?" And then she added, almost screaming in her agitation, "For
God's sake, Sir, don't keep a wretched, miserable woman in suspense!"
The priest gazed for a moment at the unfortunate lady. She had, at his
bidding sunk upon the chair, but she could hardly be said to be seated,
as, with her knees bent under her, and her hands clasped, she gazed up
into his face. She felt that her husband was dead but still, till the
fatal word was spoken, there was hope enough within her heart to feed
the agony of doubt which was tormenting her. Marie had hitherto said
nothing; she had made her own grief subservient to that of her brother's
wife, and, though hardly less anxious, she was less agitated than the
"I cannot tell you anything with certainty, Madame," said the priest at
last. "I cannot--"
"Then you do not know that he is dead! Then there is, at any rate, some
room for hope!" said she, not allowing him to finish what he was about
to say; and she sank back in the chair, and relieved her overwrought
mind with a flood of tears.
The priest was firmly convinced that de Lescure was at this moment
numbered among the dead, and his conscience forbad him to relieve
himself of his dreadful task, by allowing her to entertain a false hope;
he had still, therefore, to say the words which he found it so difficult
He sat down beside Marie on the low step of the altar, immediately
opposite to Madame de Lescure; he still had on him the vestments of his
holy office, though they were much worn, shabby, and soiled, and the
cap, which formed a part of the priest's dress when officiating, was on
his head; his shoes were so worn and tattered, that they were nearly
falling from his feet, and the stockings, which displayed the shape of
his huge legs, were so patched and darned with worsteds of different
colours, as to have made them more fitting for a mountebank than a.
priest. At the present moment, there was no one likely to notice his
costume; but had there been an observer there, it would have told him
a tale, easy to be read, of the sufferings which had been endured by
this brave and faithful servant of the King.
"When God, Madame de Lescure," said he, speaking in a kind, peculiarly
solemn tone of voice, "when God called upon you to be the wife of him
who has been to you so affectionate a husband, He vouchsafed to you
higher blessings, but at the same time imposed on you sterner duties
than those which women in general are called upon to bear. You have
enjoyed the blessings, and if I know your character, you will not shrink
from the duties."
"I will shrink from nothing, Father Jerome," said she. "God's will be
done! I will endeavour to bear the burden which His Providence lays on
me; but I have all a woman's weakness, and all a woman's fears."
"He who has given strength and courage to so many of His people in these
afflicted days, will also give it to you; He will enable you to bear the
weight of His hand, which in chastising, blesses us, which in punishing
us here, will render us fit for unutterable joys hereafter." He paused
a moment; but as neither of the women could now speak through their
tears, he went on: "I was close to your husband when he fell, and as his
eyes closed on the battlefield, they rested on the blessed emblem of his
"He is dead then!" said she, jumping from her chair, and struggling with
the sobs which nearly choked her. "Oh Sir, if you have the mercy which
a man should feel for a wretched woman, tell me at least the truth," and
as she spoke, she threw herself on her knees before him.
Father Jerome certainly lacked no mercy, and usually speaking, he lacked
no firmness; but now he nearly felt himself overcome. "You must compose
yourself before I can speak calmly to you, my daughter--before you can
even understand what I shall say to you. I will not even speak to you
till you are again seated, and then I will tell you everything.
There--remember now, I will tell you everything as it happened, and, as
far as I know, all that did happen. You must summon up your courage, my
children, and show yourself worthy to have been the wife and sister of
that great man whom you loved so well."
"He is dead!" said Marie, speaking for the first time, and almost in a
whisper. "I know now that it is so," and she threw herself into her
sister's lap, and embraced her knees.
The priest did not contradict her, but commenced a narrative, which he
intended to convey to his listeners exactly the same impressions which
were on his own mind. In this, however, he failed. He told them that de
Lescure had been carried senseless from the field, and had been taken
by Henri in a litter on the road towards St. Florent; that he himself
had been present when the surgeon expressed an almost fatal opinion
respecting the wound, but that the wounded man was still alive when he
last saw him, and that, since then, he had heard no certain news
respecting him. Even this statement, which the priest was unable to make
without many interruptions, acted rather as a relief than otherwise to
Madame de Lescure. She might, at any rate, see her husband again; and
it was still possible that both the surgeon and Father Jerome might be
wrong. As soon as he had told his tale, she, forgetting her fatigue, and
the difficulties which surrounded her, wanted immediately to resume her
journey, and Father Jerome was equally anxious to learn how she and
Marie had come so far, and how they intended to proceed.
Chapeau had in the mean time called on the old priest, and though he had
found it almost impossible to make him understand what he wanted, or who
the ladies were of whom he spoke, he had learnt that Father Jerome was
in the chapel, and was as much gratified as he was surprised to hear it.
He had then hurried back, and though he had not put himself forward
during the scene which has been just described, he had heard what had
He now explained to Father Jerome the way in which they had left
Chatillon, and journeyed on horseback from St. Laurent, and declared,
at the same time with much truth, that it was quite impossible for them
to proceed farther on their way that night.
"The poor brutes are dead beat," said he. "All the spurs in Poitou
wouldn't get them on a league. The night will be pitch dark, too, and,
above all, Madame and Mademoiselle would be killed. They have already
been on horseback all day--and so they were yesterday: it is quite clear
they must rest here tonight."
Chapeau's arguments against their farther progress were conclusive, and
as there was no better shelter to which to take them, Father Jerome led
them into the little glebe. "There is but one bed left in the place,"
said he, as he entered the gate, "but you will be very welcome to that;
you will find it poor enough; Father Bernard has shared it with me for
the last two nights. We poor Curés have not many luxuries to offer to
our friends now."
Madame de Lescure tried to utter some kind of protest that she would not
turn the poor old man out of his only bed, but she succeeded badly in
the attempt, for her heart was sad within her, and she hardly knew what
she was saying. They all followed Father Jerome out of the chapel, of
which he locked the door, and putting the key into his pocket, strode
into the humble dwelling opposite.
They found Father Bernard seated over a low wood fire, in a small
sitting-room, in which the smell arising from the burning of damp sticks
was very prevalent. There was one small rickety table in the middle of
the room, and one other chair besides that occupied by the host, and
with these articles alone the room was furnished. That there was no
carpet in a clergyman's house in Poitou was not remarkable; indeed it
would have been very remarkable if there had been one; but the total
want of any of the usual comforts of civilized life struck even Madame
de Lescure, unsuited as she was at the present moment to take notice of
The old man did not rise, but stared at them somewhat wildly: he was
nearly doting from age; and fear, poverty, and sorrow, added to his many
years, had now weighed him down almost to idiotcy. Father Jerome did the
honours of the house; he made Madame de Lescure sit down on the chair,
and then bustling into the kitchen, brought out a three legged stool,
which he wiped with the sleeve of his coat, and offered to Marie. Then
he took Chapeau to the door, and whispered to him some secret
communication with reference to supper; in fact, he had to confess that
there was nothing in the house but bread, and but little of that. That
neither he or Father Bernard had a sou piece between them, and that
unless Chapeau had money, and could go as far as the village and
purchase eggs, they would all have to go supperless to bed. Chapeau
luckily was provided, and started at once to forage for the party, and
Father Jerome returned into the room relieved from a heavy weight.