Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 7
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Monsieur Theodore Dablin, Merchant.
To my first friend, my first work.
Early in the year VIII., at the beginning of Vendemiaire, or, to
conform to our own calendar, towards the close of September, 1799, a
hundred or so of peasants and a large number of citizens, who had left
Fougeres in the morning on their way to Mayenne, were going up the
little mountain of La Pelerine, half-way between Fougeres and Ernee, a
small town where travellers along that road are in the habit of
resting. This company, divided into groups that were more or less
numerous, presented a collection of such fantastic costumes and a
mixture of individuals belonging to so many and diverse localities and
professions that it will be well to describe their characteristic
differences, in order to give to this history the vivid local coloring
to which so much value is attached in these days,--though some critics
do assert that it injures the representation of sentiments.
Many of the peasants, in fact the greater number, were barefooted, and
wore no other garments than a large goatskin, which covered them from
the neck to the knees, and trousers of white and very coarse linen,
the ill-woven texture of which betrayed the slovenly industrial habits
of the region. The straight locks of their long hair mingling with
those of the goatskin hid their faces, which were bent on the ground,
so completely that the garment might have been thought their own skin,
and they themselves mistaken at first sight for a species of the
animal which served them as clothing. But through this tangle of hair
their eyes were presently seen to shine like dew-drops in a thicket,
and their glances, full of human intelligence, caused fear rather than
pleasure to those who met them. Their heads were covered with a dirty
head-gear of red flannel, not unlike the Phrygian cap which the
Republic had lately adopted as an emblem of liberty. Each man carried
over his shoulder a heavy stick of knotted oak, at the end of which
hung a linen bag with little in it. Some wore, over the red cap, a
coarse felt hat, with a broad brim adorned by a sort of woollen
chenille of many colors which was fastened round it. Others were
clothed entirely in the coarse linen of which the trousers and wallets
of all were made, and showed nothing that was distinctive of the new
order of civilization. Their long hair fell upon the collar of a round
jacket with square pockets, which reached to the hips only, a garment
peculiar to the peasantry of western France. Beneath this jacket,
which was worn open, a waistcoat of the same linen with large buttons
was visible. Some of the company marched in wooden shoes; others, by
way of economy, carried them in their hand. This costume, soiled by
long usage, blackened with sweat and dust, and less original than that
of the other men, had the historic merit of serving as a transition
between the goatskins and the brilliant, almost sumptuous, dress of a
few individuals dispersed here and there among the groups, where they
shone like flowers. In fact, the blue linen trousers of these last,
and their red or yellow waistcoats, adorned with two parallel rows of
brass buttons and not unlike breast-plates, stood out as vividly among
the white linen and shaggy skins of their companions as the corn-
flowers and poppies in a wheat-field. Some of them wore wooden shoes,
which the peasants of Brittany make for themselves; but the greater
number had heavy hobnailed boots, and coats of coarse cloth cut in the
fashion of the old regime, the shape of which the peasants have
religiously retained even to the present day. The collars of their
shirts were held together by buttons in the shape of hearts or
anchors. The wallets of these men seemed to be better than those of
their companions, and several of them added to their marching outfit a
flask, probably full of brandy, slung round their necks by a bit of
twine. A few burgesses were to be seen in the midst of these semi-
savages, as if to show the extremes of civilization in this region.
Wearing round hats, or flapping brims or caps, high-topped boots, or
shoes and gaiters, they exhibited as many and as remarkable
differences in their costume as the peasants themselves. About a dozen
of them wore the republican jacket known by the name of "la
carmagnole." Others, well-to-do mechanics, no doubt, were clothed from
head to foot in one color. Those who had most pretension to their
dress wore swallow-tail coats or surtouts of blue or green cloth, more
or less defaced. These last, evidently characters, marched in boots of
various kinds, swinging heavy canes with the air and manner of those
who take heart under misfortune. A few heads carefully powdered, and
some queues tolerably well braided showed the sort of care which a
beginning of education or prosperity inspires. A casual spectator
observing these men, all surprised to find themselves in one another's
company, would have thought them the inhabitants of a village driven
out by a conflagration. But the period and the region in which they
were gave an altogether different interest to this body of men. Any
one initiated into the secrets of the civil discords which were then
agitating the whole of France could easily have distinguished the few
individuals on whose fidelity the Republic might count among these
groups, almost entirely made up of men who four years earlier were at
war with her.
One other and rather noticeable sign left no doubt upon the opinions
which divided the detachment. The Republicans alone marched with an
air of gaiety. As to the other individuals of the troop, if their
clothes showed marked differences, their faces at least and their
attitudes wore a uniform expression of ill-fortune. Citizens and
peasantry, their faces all bore the imprint of deepest melancholy;
their silence had something sullen in it; they all seemed crushed
under the yoke of a single thought, terrible no doubt but carefully
concealed, for their faces were impenetrable, the slowness of their
gait alone betraying their inward communings. From time to time a few
of them, noticeable for the rosaries hanging from their necks
(dangerous as it was to carry that sign of a religion which was
suppressed, rather than abolished) shook their long hair and raised
their heads defiantly. They covertly examined the woods, and paths,
and masses of rock which flanked the road, after the manner of a dog
with his nose to the wind trying to scent his game; and then, hearing
nothing but the monotonous tramp of the silent company, they lowered
their heads once more with the old expression of despair, like
criminals on their way to the galleys to live or die.
The march of this column upon Mayenne, the heterogeneous elements of
which it was composed, and the divers sentiments which evidently
pervaded it, will explain the presence of another troop which formed
the head of the detachment. About a hundred and fifty soldiers, with
arms and baggage, marched in the advance, commanded by the /chief of a
half-brigade/. We may mention here, for the benefit of those who did
not witness the drama of the Revolution, that this title was made to
supersede that of colonel, proscribed by patriots as too aristocratic.
These soldiers belonged to a demi-brigade of infantry quartered at
Mayenne. During these troublous times the inhabitants of the west of
France called all the soldiers of the Republic "Blues." This nickname
came originally from their blue and red uniforms, the memory of which
is still so fresh as to render a description superfluous. A detachment
of the Blues was therefore on this occasion escorting a body of
recruits, or rather conscripts, all displeased at being taken to
Mayenne where military discipline was about to force upon them the
uniformity of thought, clothing, and gait which they now lacked
This column was a contingent slowly and with difficulty raised in the
district of Fougeres, from which it was due under the levy ordered by
the executive Directory of the Republic on the preceding 10th
Messidor. The government had asked for a hundred million of francs and
a hundred thousand men as immediate reinforcements for the armies then
fighting the Austrians in Italy, the Prussians in Germany, and menaced
in Switzerland by the Russians, in whom Suwarow had inspired hopes of
the conquest of France. The departments of the West, known under the
name of La Vendee, Brittany, and a portion of Lower Normandy, which
had been tranquil for the last three years (thanks to the action of
General Hoche), after a struggle lasting nearly four, seemed to have
seized this new occasion of danger to the nation to break out again.
In presence of such aggressions the Republic recovered its pristine
energy. It provided in the first place for the defence of the
threatened departments by giving the responsibility to the loyal and
patriotic portion of the inhabitants. In fact, the government in
Paris, having neither troops nor money to send to the interior, evaded
the difficulty by a parliamentary gasconade. Not being able to send
material aid to the faithful citizens of the insurgent departments, it
gave them its "confidence." Possibly the government hoped that this
measure, by arming the insurgents against each other, would stifle the
insurrection at its birth. This ordinance, the cause of future fatal
reprisals, was thus worded: "Independent companies of troops shall be
organized in the Western departments." This impolitic step drove the
West as a body into so hostile an attitude that the Directory
despaired of immediately subduing it. Consequently, it asked the
Assemblies to pass certain special measures relating to the
independent companies authorized by the ordinance. In response to this
request a new law had been promulgated a few days before this history
begins, organizing into regular legions the various weak and scattered
companies. These legions were to bear the names of the departments,--
Sarthe, Orne, Mayenne, Ille-et-Vilaine, Morbihan, Loire-Inferieure,
and Maine-et-Loire. "These legions," said the law, "will be specially
employed to fight the Chouans, and cannot, under any pretence, be sent
to the frontier."
The foregoing irksome details will explain both the weakness of the
Directory and the movement of this troop of men under escort of the
Blues. It may not be superfluous to add that these finely patriotic
Directorial decrees had no realization beyond their insertion among
the statutes. No longer restrained, as formerly, by great moral ideas,
by patriotism, nor by terror, which enforced their execution, these
later decrees of the Republic created millions and drafted soldiers
without the slightest benefit accruing to its exchequer or its armies.
The mainspring of the Revolution was worn-out by clumsy handling, and
the application of the laws took the impress of circumstances instead
of controlling them.
The departments of Mayenne and Ille-et-Vilaine were at this time under
the command of an old officer who, judging on the spot of the measures
that were most opportune to take, was anxious to wring from Brittany
every one of her contingents, more especially that of Fougeres, which
was known to be a hot-bed of "Chouannerie." He hoped by this means to
weaken its strength in these formidable districts. This devoted
soldier made use of the illusory provisions of the new law to declare
that he would equip and arm at once all recruits, and he announced
that he held at their disposal the one month's advanced pay promised
by the government to these exceptional levies. Though Brittany had
hitherto refused all kinds of military service under the Republic, the
levies were made under the new law on the faith of its promises, and
with such promptness that even the commander was startled. But he was
one of those wary old watch-dogs who are hard to catch napping. He no
sooner saw the contingents arriving one after the other than he
suspected some secret motive for such prompt action. Possibly he was
right in ascribing it to the fact of getting arms. At any rate, no
sooner were the Fougeres recruits obtained than, without delaying for
laggards, he took immediate steps to fall back towards Alencon, so as
to be near a loyal neighborhood,--though the growing disaffection
along the route made the success of this measure problematical. This
old officer, who, under instruction of his superiors, kept secret the
disasters of our armies in Italy and Germany and the disturbing news
from La Vendee, was attempting on the morning when this history
begins, to make a forced march on Mayenne, where he was resolved to
execute the law according to his own good pleasure, and fill the half-
empty companies of his own brigade with his Breton conscripts. The
word "conscript" which later became so celebrated, had just now for
the first time taken the place in the government decrees of the word
/requisitionnaire/ hitherto applied to all Republican recruits.
Before leaving Fougeres the chief secretly issued to his own men ample
supplies of ammunition and sufficient rations of bread for the whole
detachment, so as to conceal from the conscripts the length of the
march before them. He intended not to stop at Ernee (the last stage
before Mayenne), where the men of the contingent might find a way of
communicating with the Chouans who were no doubt hanging on his
flanks. The dead silence which reigned among the recruits, surprised
at the manoeuvring of the old republican, and their lagging march up
the mountain excited to the very utmost the distrust and watchfulness
of the chief--whose name was Hulot. All the striking points in the
foregoing description had been to him matters of the keenest interest;
he marched in silence, surrounded by five young officers, each of whom
respected the evident preoccupation of their leader. But just as Hulot
reached the summit of La Pelerine he turned his head, as if by
instinct, to inspect the anxious faces of the recruits, and suddenly
broke silence. The slow advance of the Bretons had put a distance of
three or four hundred feet between themselves and their escort.
Hulot's face contorted after a fashion peculiar to himself.
"What the devil are those dandies up to?" he exclaimed in a sonorous
voice. "Creeping instead of marching, I call it."
At his first words the officers who accompanied him turned
spasmodically, as if startled out of sleep by a sudden noise. The
sergeants and corporals followed their example, and the whole company
paused in its march without receiving the wished for "Halt!" Though
the officers cast a first look at the detachment, which was creeping
like an elongated tortoise up the mountain of La Pelerine, these young
men, all dragged, like many others, from important studies to defend
their country, and in whom war had not yet smothered the sentiment of
art, were so much struck by the scene which lay spread before their
eyes that they made no answer to their chief's remark, the real
significance of which was unknown to them. Though they had come from
Fougeres, where the scene which now presented itself to their eyes is
also visible (but with certain differences caused by the change of
perspective), they could not resist pausing to admire it again, like
those dilettanti who enjoy all music the more when familiar with its
From the summit of La Pelerine the traveller's eye can range over the
great valley of Couesnon, at one of the farthest points of which,
along the horizon, lay the town of Fougeres. From here the officers
could see, to its full extent, the basin of this intervale, as
remarkable for the fertility of its soil as for the variety of its
aspects. Mountains of gneiss and slate rose on all sides, like an
ampitheatre, hiding their ruddy flanks behind forests of oak, and
forming on their declivities other and lesser valleys full of dewy
freshness. These rocky heights made a vast enclosure, circular in
form, in the centre of which a meadow lay softly stretched, like the
lawn of an English garden. A number of evergreen hedges, defining
irregular pieces of property which were planted with trees, gave to
this carpet of verdure a character of its own, and one that is
somewhat unusual among the landscapes of France; it held the teeming
secrets of many beauties in its various contrasts, the effects of
which were fine enough to arrest the eye of the most indifferent
At this particular moment the scene was brightened by the fleeting
glow with which Nature delights at times in heightening the beauty of
her imperishable creations. While the detachment was crossing the
valley, the rising sun had slowly scattered the fleecy mists which
float above the meadows of a September morning. As the soldiers turned
to look back, an invisible hand seemed to lift from the landscape the
last of these veils--a delicate vapor, like a diaphanous gauze through
which the glow of precious jewels excites our curiosity. Not a cloud
could be seen on the wide horizon to mark by its silvery whiteness
that the vast blue arch was the firmament; it seemed, on the contrary,
a dais of silk, held up by the summits of the mountains and placed in
the atmosphere, to protect that beautiful assemblage of fields and
meadows and groves and brooks.
The group of young officers paused to examine a scene so filled with
natural beauties. The eyes of some roved among the copses, which the
sterner tints of autumn were already enriching with their russet
tones, contrasting the more with the emerald-green of the meadows in
which they grew; others took note of a different contrast, made by the
ruddy fields, where the buckwheat had been cut and tied in sheaves
(like stands of arms around a bivouac), adjoining other fields of rich
ploughed land, from which the rye was already harvested. Here and
there were dark slate roofs above which puffs of white smoke were
rising. The glittering silver threads of the winding brooks caught the
eye, here and there, by one of those optic lures which render the soul
--one knows not how or why--perplexed and dreamy. The fragrant
freshness of the autumn breeze, the stronger odors of the forest, rose
like a waft of incense to the admirers of this beautiful region, who
noticed with delight its rare wild-flowers, its vigorous vegetation,
and its verdure, worthy of England, the very word being common to the
two languages. A few cattle gave life to the scene, already so
dramatic. The birds sang, filling the valley with a sweet, vague
melody that quivered in the air. If a quiet imagination will picture
to itself these rich fluctuations of light and shade, the vaporous
outline of the mountains, the mysterious perspectives which were seen
where the trees gave an opening, or the streamlets ran, or some
coquettish little glade fled away in the distance; if memory will
color, as it were, this sketch, as fleeting as the moment when it was
taken, the persons for whom such pictures are not without charm will
have an imperfect image of the magic scene which delighted the still
impressionable souls of the young officers.
Thinking that the poor recruits must be leaving, with regret, their
own country and their beloved customs, to die, perhaps, in foreign
lands, they involuntarily excused a tardiness their feelings
comprehended. Then, with the generosity natural to soldiers, they
disguised their indulgence under an apparent desire to examine into
the military position of the land. But Hulot, whom we shall henceforth
call the commandant, to avoid giving him the inharmonious title of
"chief of a half-brigade" was one of those soldiers who, in critical
moments, cannot be caught by the charms of a landscape, were they even
those of a terrestrial paradise. He shook his head with an impatient
gesture and contracted the thick, black eyebrows which gave so stern
an expression to his face.
"Why the devil don't they come up?" he said, for the second time, in a
hoarse voice, roughened by the toils of war.
"You ask why?" replied a voice.
Hearing these words, which seemed to issue from a horn, such as the
peasants of the western valleys use to call their flocks, the
commandant turned sharply round, as if pricked by a sword, and beheld,
close behind him, a personage even more fantastic in appearance than
any of those who were now being escorted to Mayenne to serve the
Republic. This unknown man, short and thick-set in figure and broad-
shouldered, had a head like a bull, to which, in fact, he bore more
than one resemblance. His nose seemed shorter than it was, on account
of the thick nostrils. His full lips, drawn from the teeth which were
white as snow, his large and round black eyes with their shaggy brows,
his hanging ears and tawny hair,--seemed to belong far less to our
fine Caucasian race than to a breed of herbivorous animals. The total
absence of all the usual characteristics of the social man made that
bare head still more remarkable. The face, bronzed by the sun (its
angular outlines presenting a sort of vague likeness to the granite
which forms the soil of the region), was the only visible portion of
the body of this singular being. From the neck down he was wrapped in
a "sarrau" or smock, a sort of russet linen blouse, coarser in texture
than that of the trousers of the less fortunate conscripts. This
"sarrau," in which an antiquary would have recognized the "saye," or
the "sayon" of the Gauls, ended at his middle, where it was fastened
to two leggings of goatskin by slivers, or thongs of wood, roughly
cut,--some of them still covered with their peel or bark. These hides
of the nanny-goat (to give them the name by which they were known to
the peasantry) covered his legs and thighs, and masked all appearance
of human shape. Enormous sabots hid his feet. His long and shining
hair fell straight, like the goat's hair, on either side of his face,
being parted in the centre like the hair of certain statues of the
Middle-Ages which are still to be seen in our cathedrals. In place of
the knotty stick which the conscripts carried over their shoulders,
this man held against his breast as though it were a musket, a heavy
whip, the lash of which was closely braided and seemed to be twice as
long as that of an ordinary whip. The sudden apparition of this
strange being seemed easily explained. At first sight some of the
officers took him for a recruit or conscript (the words were used
indiscriminately) who had outstripped the column. But the commandant
himself was singularly surprised by the man's presence; he showed no
alarm, but his face grew thoughtful. After looking the intruder well
over, he repeated, mechanically, as if preoccupied with anxious
thought: "Yes, why don't they come on? do you know, you?"
"Because," said the gloomy apparition, with an accent which proved his
difficulty in speaking French, "there Maine begins" (pointing with his
huge, rough hand towards Ernee), "and Bretagne ends."
Then he struck the ground sharply with the handle of his heavy whip
close to the commandant's feet. The impression produced on the
spectators by the laconic harangue of the stranger was like that of a
tom-tom in the midst of tender music. But the word "harangue" is
insufficient to reproduce the hatred, the desires of vengeance
expressed by the haughty gesture of the hand, the brevity of the
speech, and the look of sullen and cool-blooded energy on the
countenance of the speaker. The coarseness and roughness of the man,--
chopped out, as it seemed by an axe, with his rough bark still left on
him,--and the stupid ignorance of his features, made him seem, for the
moment, like some half-savage demigod. He stood stock-still in a
prophetic attitude, as though he were the Genius of Brittany rising
from a slumber of three years, to renew a war in which victory could
only be followed by twofold mourning.
"A pretty fellow this!" thought Hulot; "he looks to me like the
emissary of men who mean to argue with their muskets."
Having growled these words between his teeth, the commandant cast his
eyes in turn from the man to the valley, from the valley to the
detachment, from the detachment to the steep acclivities on the right
of the road, the ridges of which were covered with the broom and gorse
of Brittany; then he suddenly turned them full on the stranger, whom
he subjected to a mute interrogation, which he ended at last by
roughly demanding, "Where do you come from?"
His eager, piercing eye strove to detect the secrets of that
impenetrable face, which never changed from the vacant, torpid
expression in which a peasant when doing nothing wraps himself.
"From the country of the Gars," replied the man, without showing any
"Why do you call yourself by your Chouan name in defiance of the law?"
Marche-a-Terre, to use the name he gave to himself, looked at the
commandant with so genuine an air of stupidity that the soldier
believed the man had not understood him.
"Do you belong to the recruits from Fougeres?"
To this inquiry Marche-a-Terre replied by the bucolic "I don't know,"
the hopeless imbecility of which puts an end to all inquiry. He seated
himself by the roadside, drew from his smock a few pieces of thin,
black buckwheat-bread,--a national delicacy, the dismal delights of
which none but a Breton can understand,--and began to eat with stolid
indifference. There seemed such a total absence of all human
intelligence about the man that the officers compared him in turn to
the cattle browsing in the valley pastures, to the savages of America,
or the aboriginal inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope. Deceived by
his behavior, the commandant himself was about to turn a deaf ear to
his own misgivings, when, casting a last prudence glance on the man
whom he had taken for the herald of an approaching carnage, he
suddenly noticed that the hair, the smock, and the goatskin leggings
of the stranger were full of thorns, scraps of leaves, and bits of
trees and bushes, as though this Chouan had lately made his way for a
long distance through thickets and underbrush. Hulot looked
significantly at his adjutant Gerard who stood beside him, pressed his
hand firmly, and said in a low voice: "We came for wool, but we shall
go back sheared."
The officers looked at each other silently in astonishment.
It is necessary here to make a digression, or the fears of the
commandant will not be intelligible to those stay-at-home persons who
are in the habit of doubting everything because they have seen
nothing, and who might therefore deny the existence of Marche-a-Terre
and the peasantry of the West, whose conduct, in the times we are
speaking of, was often sublime.
The word "gars" pronounced "ga" is a relic of the Celtic language. It
has passed from low Breton into French, and the word in our present
speech has more ancient associations than any other. The "gais" was
the principal weapon of the Gauls; "gaisde" meant armed; "gais"
courage; "gas," force. The word has an analogy with the Latin word
"vir" man, the root of "virtus" strength, courage. The present
dissertation is excusable as of national interest; besides, it may
help to restore the use of such words as: "gars, garcon, garconette,
garce, garcette," now discarded from our speech as unseemly; whereas
their origin is so warlike that we shall use them from time to time in
the course of this history. "She is a famous 'garce'!" was a
compliment little understood by Madame de Stael when it was paid to
her in a little village of La Vendee, where she spent a few days of
Brittany is the region in all France where the manners and customs of
the Gauls have left their strongest imprint. That portion of the
province where, even to our own times, the savage life and
superstitious ideas of our rude ancestors still continue--if we may
use the word--rampant, is called "the country of the Gars." When a
canton (or district) is inhabited by a number of half-savages like the
one who has just appeared upon the scene, the inhabitants call them
"the Gars of such or such a parish." This classic name is a reward for
the fidelity with which they struggle to preserve the traditions of
the language and manners of their Gaelic ancestors; their lives show
to this day many remarkable and deeply embedded vestiges of the
beliefs and superstitious practices of those ancient times. Feudal
customs are still maintained. Antiquaries find Druidic monuments still
standing. The genius of modern civilization shrinks from forcing its
way through those impenetrable primordial forests. An unheard-of
ferociousness, a brutal obstinacy, but also a regard for the sanctity
of an oath; a complete ignoring of our laws, our customs, our dress,
our modern coins, our language, but withal a patriarchal simplicity
and virtues that are heroic,--unite in keeping the inhabitants of this
region more impoverished as to all intellectual knowledge than the
Redskins, but also as proud, as crafty, and as enduring as they. The
position which Brittany occupies in the centre of Europe makes it more
interesting to observe than Canada. Surrounded by light whose
beneficent warmth never reaches it, this region is like a frozen coal
left black in the middle of a glowing fire. The efforts made by
several noble minds to win this glorious part of France, so rich in
neglected treasures, to social life and to prosperity have all, even
when sustained by government, come to nought against the inflexibility
of a population given over to the habits of immemorial routine. This
unfortunate condition is partly accounted for by the nature of the
land, broken by ravines, mountain torrents, lakes, and marshes, and
bristling with hedges or earth-works which make a sort of citadel of
every field; without roads, without canals, and at the mercy of
prejudices which scorn our modern agriculture. These will further be
shown with all their dangers in our present history.
The picturesque lay of the land and the superstitions of the
inhabitants prevent the formation of communities and the benefits
arising from the exchange and comparison of ideas. There are no
villages. The rickety buildings which the people call homes are
sparsely scattered through the wilderness. Each family lives as in a
desert. The only meetings among them are on Sundays and feast-days in
the parish church. These silent assemblies, under the eye of the
rector (the only ruler of these rough minds) last some hours. After
listening to the awful words of the priest they return to their
noisome hovels for another week; they leave them only to work, they
return to them only to sleep. No one ever visits them, unless it is
the rector. Consequently, it was the voice of the priesthood which
roused Brittany against the Republic, and sent thousands of men, five
years before this history begins, to the support of the first
Chouannerie. The brothers Cottereau, whose name was given to that
first uprising, were bold smugglers, plying their perilous trade
between Laval and Fougeres. The insurrections of Brittany had nothing
fine or noble about them; and it may be truly said that if La Vendee
turned its brigandage into a great war, Brittany turned war into a
brigandage. The proscription of princes, the destruction of religion,
far from inspiring great sacrifices, were to the Chouans pretexts for
mere pillage; and the events of this intestine warfare had all the
savage moroseness of their own natures. When the real defenders of the
monarchy came to recruit men among these ignorant and violent people
they vainly tried to give, for the honor of the white flag, some
grandeur to the enterprises which had hitherto rendered the brigands
odious; the Chouans remain in history as a memorable example of the
danger of uprousing the uncivilized masses of the nation.
The sketch here made of a Breton valley and of the Breton men in the
detachment of recruits, more especially that of the "gars" who so
suddenly appeared on the summit of Mont Pelerine, gives a brief but
faithful picture of the province and its inhabitants. A trained
imagination can by the help of these details obtain some idea of the
theatre of the war and of the men who were its instruments. The
flowering hedges of the beautiful valleys concealed the combatants.
Each field was a fortress, every tree an ambush; the hollow trunk of
each old willow hid a stratagem. The place for a fight was everywhere.
Sharpshooters were lurking at every turn for the Blues, whom laughing
young girls, unmindful of their perfidy, attracted within range,--for
had they not made pilgrimages with their fathers and their brothers,
imploring to be taught wiles, and receiving absolution from their
wayside Virgin of rotten wood? Religion, or rather the fetichism of
these ignorant creatures, absolved such murders of remorse.
Thus, when the struggle had once begun, every part of the country was
dangerous,--in fact, all things were full of peril, sound as well as
silence, attraction as well as fear, the family hearth or the open
country. Treachery was everywhere, but it was treachery from
conviction. The people were savages serving God and the King after the
fashion of Red Indians. To make this sketch of the struggle exact and
true at all points, the historian must add that the moment Hoche had
signed his peace the whole country subsided into smiles and
friendliness. Families who were rending each other to pieces over
night, were supping together without danger the next day.
The very moment that Commandant Hulot became aware of the secret
treachery betrayed by the hairy skins of Marche-a-Terre, he was
convinced that this peace, due to the genius of Hoche, the stability
of which he had always doubted, was at an end. The civil war, he felt,
was about to be renewed,--doubtless more terrible than ever after a
cessation of three years. The Revolution, mitigated by the events of
the 9th Thermidor, would doubtless return to the old terrors which had
made it odious to sound minds. English gold would, as formerly, assist
in the national discords. The Republic, abandoned by young Bonaparte
who had seemed to be its tutelary genius, was no longer in a condition
to resist its enemies from without and from within,--the worst and
most cruel of whom were the last to appear. The Civil War, already
threatened by various partial uprisings, would assume a new and far
more serious aspect if the Chouans were now to attack so strong an
escort. Such were the reflections that filled the mind of the
commander (though less succinctly formulated) as soon as he perceived,
in the condition of Marche-a-Terre's clothing, the signs of an ambush
The silence which followed the prophetic remark of the commandant to
Gerard gave Hulot time to recover his self-possession. The old soldier
had been shaken. He could not hinder his brow from clouding as he felt
himself surrounded by the horrors of a warfare the atrocities of which
would have shamed even cannibals. Captain Merle and the adjutant
Gerard could not explain to themselves the evident dread on the face
of their leader as he looked at Marche-a-Terre eating his bread by the
side of the road. But Hulot's face soon cleared; he began to rejoice
in the opportunity to fight for the Republic, and he joyously vowed to
escape being the dupe of the Chouans, and to fathom the wily and
impenetrable being whom they had done him the honor to employ against
Before taking any resolution he set himself to study the position in
which it was evident the enemy intended to surprise him. Observing
that the road where the column had halted was about to pass through a
sort of gorge, short to be sure, but flanked with woods from which
several paths appeared to issue, he frowned heavily, and said to his
two friends, in a low voice of some emotion:--
"We're in a devil of a wasp's-nest."
"What do you fear?" asked Gerard.
"Fear? Yes, that's it, /fear/," returned the commandant. "I have
always had a fear of being shot like a dog at the edge of a wood,
without a chance of crying out 'Who goes there?'"
"Pooh!" said Merle, laughing, "'Who goes there' is all humbug."
"Are we in any real danger?" asked Gerard, as much surprised by
Hulot's coolness as he was by his evident alarm.
"Hush!" said the commandant, in a low voice. "We are in the jaws of
the wolf; it is as dark as a pocket; and we must get some light.
Luckily, we've got the upper end of the slope!"
So saying, he moved, with his two officers, in a way to surround
Marche-a-Terre, who rose quickly, pretending to think himself in the
"Stay where you are, vagabond!" said Hulot, keeping his eye on the
apparently indifferent face of the Breton, and giving him a push which
threw him back on the place where he had been sitting.
"Friends," continued Hulot, in a low voice, speaking to the two
officers. "It is time I should tell you that it is all up with the
army in Paris. The Directory, in consequence of a disturbance in the
Assembly, has made another clean sweep of our affairs. Those
pentarchs,--puppets, I call them,--those directors have just lost a
good blade; Bernadotte has abandoned them."
"Who will take his place?" asked Gerard, eagerly.
"Milet-Mureau, an old blockhead. A pretty time to choose to let fools
sail the ship! English rockets from all the headlands, and those
cursed Chouan cockchafers in the air! You may rely upon it that some
one behind those puppets pulled the wire when they saw we were getting
the worst of it."
"How getting the worst of it?"
"Our armies are beaten at all points," replied Hulot, sinking his
voice still lower. "The Chouans have intercepted two couriers; I only
received my despatches and last orders by a private messenger sent by
Bernadotte just as he was leaving the ministry. Luckily, friends have
written me confidentially about this crisis. Fouche has discovered
that the tyrant Louis XVIII. has been advised by traitors in Paris to
send a leader to his followers in La Vendee. It is thought that Barras
is betraying the Republic. At any rate, Pitt and the princes have sent
a man, a /ci-devant/, vigorous, daring, full of talent, who intends,
by uniting the Chouans with the Vendeans, to pluck the cap of liberty
from the head of the Republic. The fellow has lately landed in the
Morbihan; I was the first to hear of it, and I sent the news to those
knaves in Paris. 'The Gars' is the name he goes by. All those beasts,"
he added, pointing to Marche-a-Terre, "stick on names which would give
a stomach-ache to honest patriots if they bore them. The Gars is now
in this district. The presence of that fellow"--and again he signed to
Marche-a-Terre--"as good as tells me he is on our back. But they can't
teach an old monkey to make faces; and you've got to help me to get my
birds safe into their cage, and as quick as a flash too. A pretty fool
I should be if I allowed that /ci-devant/, who dares to come from
London with his British gold, to trap me like a crow!"
On learning these secret circumstances, and being well aware that
their leader was never unnecessarily alarmed, the two officers saw the
dangers of the position. Gerard was about to ask some questions on the
political state of Paris, some details of which Hulot had evidently
passed over in silence, but a sign from his commander stopped him, and
once more drew the eyes of all three to the Chouan. Marche-a-Terre
gave no sign of disturbance at being watched. The curiosity of the two
officers, who were new to this species of warfare, was greatly excited
by this beginning of an affair which seemed to have an almost romantic
interest, and they began to joke about it. But Hulot stopped them at
"God's thunder!" he cried. "Don't smoke upon the powder-cask; wasting
courage for nothing is like carrying water in a basket. Gerard," he
added, in the ear of his adjutant, "get nearer, by degrees, to that
fellow, and watch him; at the first suspicious action put your sword
through him. As for me, I must take measures to carry on the ball if
our unseen adversaries choose to open it."
The Chouan paid no attention to the movements of the young officer,
and continued to play with his whip, and fling out the lash of it as
though he were fishing in the ditch.
Meantime the commandant was saying to Merle, in a low voice: "Give ten
picked men to a sergeant, and post them yourself above us on the
summit of this slope, just where the path widens to a ledge; there you
ought to see the whole length of the route to Ernee. Choose a position
where the road is not flanked by woods, and where the sergeant can
overlook the country. Take Clef-des-Coeurs; he is very intelligent.
This is no laughing matter; I wouldn't give a farthing for our skins
if we don't turn the odds in our favor at once."
While Merle was executing this order with a rapidity of which he fully
understood the importance, the commandant waved his right hand to
enforce silence on the soldiers, who were standing at ease, and
laughing and joking around him. With another gesture he ordered them
to take up arms. When quiet was restored he turned his eyes from one
end of the road to the other, listened with anxious attention as
though he hoped to detect some stifled sound, some echo of weapons, or
steps which might give warning of the expected attack. His black eye
seemed to pierce the woods to an extraordinary depth. Perceiving no
indications of danger, he next consulted, like a savage, the ground at
his feet, to discover, if possible, the trail of the invisible enemies
whose daring was well known to him. Desperate at seeing and hearing
nothing to justify his fears, he turned aside from the road and
ascended, not without difficulty, one or two hillocks. The other
officers and the soldiers, observing the anxiety of a leader in whom
they trusted and whose worth was known to them, knew that his extreme
watchfulness meant danger; but not suspecting its imminence, they
merely stood still and held their breaths by instinct. Like dogs
endeavoring to guess the intentions of a huntsman, whose orders are
incomprehensible to them though they faithfully obey him, the soldiers
gazed in turn at the valley, at the woods by the roadside, at the
stern face of their leader, endeavoring to read their fate. They
questioned each other with their eyes, and more than one smile ran
from lip to lip.
When Hulot returned to his men with an anxious look, Beau-Pied, a
young sergeant who passed for the wit of his company, remarked in a
low voice: "Where the deuce have we poked ourselves that an old
trooper like Hulot should pull such a gloomy face? He's as solemn as a
council of war."
Hulot gave the speaker a stern look, silence being ordered in the
ranks. In the hush that ensued, the lagging steps of the conscripts on
the creaking sand of the road produced a recurrent sound which added a
sort of vague emotion to the general excitement. This indefinable
feeling can be understood only by those who have felt their hearts
beat in the silence of the night from a painful expectation heightened
by some noise, the monotonous recurrence of which seems to distil
terror into their minds, drop by drop.
The thought of the commandant, as he returned to his men, was: "Can I
be mistaken?" He glanced, with a concentrated anger which flashed like
lightning from his eyes, at the stolid, immovable Chouan; a look of
savage irony which he fancied he detected in the man's eyes, warned
him not to relax in his precautions. Just then Captain Merle, having
obeyed Hulot's orders, returned to his side.
"We did well, captain," said the commandant, "to put the few men whose
patriotism we can count upon among those conscripts at the rear. Take
a dozen more of our own bravest fellows, with sub-lieutenant Lebrun at
their head, and make a rear-guard of them; they'll support the
patriots who are there already, and help to shove on that flock of
birds and close up the distance between us. I'll wait for you."
The captain disappeared. The commander's eye singled out four men on
whose intelligence and quickness he knew he might rely, and he
beckoned to them, silently, with the well-known friendly gesture of
moving the right forefinger rapidly and repeatedly toward the nose.
They came to him.
"You served with me under Hoche," he said, "when we brought to reason
those brigands who call themselves 'Chasseurs du Roi'; you know how
they hid themselves to swoop down on the Blues."
At this commendation of their intelligence the four soldiers nodded
with significant grins. Their heroically martial faces wore that look
of careless resignation to fate which evidenced the fact that since
the struggle had begun between France and Europe, the ideas of the
private soldiers had never passed beyond the cartridge-boxes on their
backs or the bayonets in front of them. With their lips drawn together
like a purse when the strings are tightened, they looked at their
commander attentively with inquiring eyes.
"You know," continued Hulot, who possessed the art of speaking
picturesquely as soldier to soldiers, "that it won't do for old hares
like us to be caught napping by the Chouans,--of whom there are plenty
all round us, or my name's not Hulot. You four are to march in advance
and beat up both sides of this road. The detachment will hang fire
here. Keep your eyes about you; don't get picked off; and bring me
news of what you find--quick!"
So saying he waved his hand towards the suspected heights along the
road. The four men, by way of thanks raised the backs of their hands
to their battered old three-cornered hats, discolored by rain and
ragged with age, and bent their bodies double. One of them, named
Larose, a corporal well-known to Hulot, remarked as he clicked his
musket: "We'll play 'em a tune on the clarinet, commander."
They started, two to right and two to left of the road; and it was not
without some excitement that their comrades watched them disappear.
The commandant himself feared that he had sent them to their deaths,
and an involuntary shudder seized him as he saw the last of them.
Officers and soldiers listened to the gradually lessening sound of
their footsteps, with feelings all the more acute because they were
carefully hidden. There are occasions when the risk of four lives
causes more excitement and alarm than all the slain at Jemmapes. The
faces of those trained to war have such various and fugitive
expressions that a painter who has to describe them is forced to
appeal to the recollections of soldiers and to leave civilians to
imagine these dramatic figures; for scenes so rich in detail cannot be
rendered in writing, except at interminable length.
Just as the bayonets of the four men were finally lost to sight,
Captain Merle returned, having executed the commandant's orders with
rapidity. Hulot, with two or three sharp commands, put his troop in
line of battle and ordered it to return to the summit of La Pelerine
where his little advanced-guard were stationed; walking last himself
and looking backward to note any changes that might occur in a scene
which Nature had made so lovely, and man so terrible. As he reached
the spot where he had left the Chouan, Marche-a-Terre, who had seen
with apparent indifference the various movements of the commander, but
who was now watching with extraordinary intelligence the two soldiers
in the woods to the right, suddenly gave the shrill and piercing cry
of the /chouette/, or screech-owl. The three famous smugglers already
mentioned were in the habit of using the various intonations of this
cry to warn each other of danger or of any event that might concern
them. From this came the nickname of "Chuin" which means /chouette/ or
owl in the dialect of that region. This corrupted word came finally to
mean the whole body of those who, in the first uprising, imitated the
tactics and the signals of the smugglers.
When Hulot heard that suspicious sound he stopped short and examined
the man intently; then he feigned to be taken in by his stupid air,
wishing to keep him by him as a barometer which might indicate the
movements of the enemy. He therefore checked Gerard, whose hand was on
his sword to despatch him; but he placed two soldiers beside the man
he now felt to be a spy, and ordered them in a loud, clear voice to
shoot him at the next sound he made. In spite of his imminent danger
Marche-a-Terre showed not the slightest emotion. The commandant, who
was studying him, took note of this apparent insensibility, and
remarked to Gerard: "That fool is not so clever as he means to be! It
is far from easy to read the face of a Chouan, but the fellow betrays
himself by his anxiety to show his nerve. Ha! ha! if he had only
pretended fear I should have taken him for a stupid brute. He and I
might have made a pair! I came very near falling into the trap. Yes,
we shall undoubtedly be attacked; but let 'em come; I'm all ready
As he said these words in a low voice, rubbing his hands with an air
of satisfaction, he looked at the Chouan with a jeering eye. Then he
crossed his arms on his breast and stood in the road with his favorite
officers beside him awaiting the result of his arrangements. Certain
that a fight was at hand, he looked at his men composedly.
"There'll be a row," said Beau-Pied to his comrades in a low voice.
"See, the commandant is rubbing his hands."
In critical situations like that in which the detachment and its
commander were now placed, life is so clearly at stake that men of
nerve make it a point of honor to show coolness and self-possession.
These are the moments in which to judge men's souls. The commandant,
better informed of the danger than his two officers, took pride in
showing his tranquillity. With his eyes moving from Marche-a-Terre to
the road and thence to the woods he stood expecting, not without
dread, a general volley from the Chouans, whom he believed to be
hidden like brigands all around him; but his face remained impassible.
Knowing that the eyes of the soldiers were turned upon him, he
wrinkled his brown cheeks pitted with the small-pox, screwed his upper
lip, and winked his right eye, a grimace always taken for a smile by
his men; then he tapped Gerard on the shoulder and said: "Now that
things are quiet tell me what you wanted to say just now."
"I wanted to ask what this new crisis means, commandant?" was the
"It is not new," said Hulot. "All Europe is against us, and this time
she has got the whip hand. While those Directors are fighting together
like horses in a stable without any oats, and letting the government
go to bits, the armies are left without supplies or reinforcements. We
are getting the worst of it in Italy; we've evacuated Mantua after a
series of disasters on the Trebia, and Joubert has just lost a battle
at Novi. I only hope Massena may be able to hold the Swiss passes
against Suwarow. We're done for on the Rhine. The Directory have sent
Moreau. The question is, Can he defend the frontier? I hope he may,
but the Coalition will end by invading us, and the only general able
to save the nation is, unluckily, down in that devilish Egypt; and how
is he ever to get back, with England mistress of the Mediterranean?"
"Bonaparte's absence doesn't trouble me, commandant," said the young
adjutant Gerard, whose intelligent mind had been developed by a fine
education. "I am certain the Revolution cannot be brought to naught.
Ha! we soldiers have a double mission,--not merely to defend French
territory, but to preserve the national soul, the generous principles
of liberty, independence, and rights of human reason awakened by our
Assemblies and gaining strength, as I believe, from day to day. France
is like a traveller bearing a light: he protects it with one hand, and
defends himself with the other. If your news is true, we have never
the last ten years been so surrounded with people trying to blow it
out. Principles and nation are in danger of perishing together."
"Alas, yes," said Hulot, sighing. "Those clowns of Directors have
managed to quarrel with all the men who could sail the ship.
Bernadotte, Carnot, all of them, even Talleyrand, have deserted us.
There's not a single good patriot left, except friend Fouche, who
holds 'em through the police. There's a man for you! It was he who
warned me of a coming insurrection; and here we are, sure enough,
caught in a trap."
"If the army doesn't take things in hand and manage the government,"
said Gerard, "those lawyers in Paris will put us back just where we
were before the Revolution. A parcel of ninnies! what do they know
"I'm always afraid they'll treat with the Bourbons," said Hulot.
"Thunder! if they did /that/ a pretty pass we should be in, we
"No, no, commandant, it won't come to that," said Gerard. "The army,
as you say, will raise its voice, and--provided it doesn't choose its
words from Pichegru's vocabulary--I am persuaded we have not hacked
ourselves to pieces for the last ten years merely to manure the flax
and let others spin the thread."
"Well," interposed Captain Merle, "what we have to do now is to act as
good patriots and prevent the Chouans from communicating with La
Vendee; for, if they once come to an understanding and England gets
her finger into the pie, I wouldn't answer for the cap of the
Republic, one and invisible."
As he spoke the cry of an owl, heard at a distance, interrupted the
conversation. Again the commander examined Marche-a-Terre, whose
impassible face still gave no sign. The conscripts, their ranks closed
up by an officer, now stood like a herd of cattle in the road, about a
hundred feet distant from the escort, which was drawn up in line of
battle. Behind them stood the rear-guard of soldiers and patriots,
picked men, commanded by Lieutenant Lebrun. Hulot cast his eyes over
this arrangement of his forces and looked again at the picket of men
posted in advance upon the road. Satisfied with what he saw he was
about to give the order to march, when the tricolor cockades of the
two soldiers he had sent to beat the woods to the left caught his eye;
he waited therefore till the two others, who had gone to the right,
"Perhaps the ball will open over there," he said to his officers,
pointing to the woods from which the two men did not emerge.
While the first two made their report Hulot's attention was distracted
momentarily from Marche-a-Terre. The Chouan at once sent his owl's-cry
to an apparently vast distance, and before the men who guarded him
could raise their muskets and take aim he had struck them a blow with
his whip which felled them, and rushed away. A terrible discharge of
fire-arms from the woods just above the place where the Chouan had
been sitting brought down six or eight soldiers. Marche-a-Terre, at
whom several men had fired without touching him, vanished into the
woods after climbing the slope with the agility of a wild-cat; as he
did so his sabots rolled into the ditch and his feet were seen to be
shod with the thick, hobnailed boots always worn by the Chouans.
At the first cries uttered by the Chouans, the conscripts sprang into
the woods to the right like a flock of birds taking flight at the
approach of a man.
"Fire on those scoundrels!" cried Hulot.
The company fired, but the conscripts knew well how to shelter
themselves behind trees, and before the soldiers could reload they
were out of sight.
"What's the use of /decreeing/ levies in the departments?" said Hulot.
"It is only such idiots as the Directory who would expect any good of
a draft in this region. The Assembly had much better stop voting more
shoes and money and ammunition, and see that we get what belongs to
At this moment the two skirmishers sent out on the right were seen
returning with evident difficulty. The one that was least wounded
supported his comrade, whose blood was moistening the earth. The two
poor fellows were half-way down the slope when Marche-a-Terre showed
his ugly face, and took so true an aim that both Blues fell together
and rolled heavily into the ditch. The Chouan's monstrous head was no
sooner seen than thirty muzzles were levelled at him, but, like a
figure in a pantomime, he disappeared in a second among the tufts of
gorse. These events, which have taken so many words to tell, happened
instantaneously, and in another moment the rear-guard of patriots and
soldiers had joined the main body of the escort.
"Forward!" cried Hulot.
The company moved quickly to the higher and more open ground on which
the picket guard was already stationed. There, the commander formed
his troop once more into line of battle; but, as the Chouans made no
further hostile demonstrations, he began to think that the deliverance
of the conscripts might have been the sole object of the ambuscade.
"Their cries," he said to his two friends, "prove that they are not
numerous. We'll advance at a quick step, and possibly we may be able
to reach Ernee without getting them on our backs."
These words were overheard by one of the patriot conscripts, who
stepped from the ranks, and said respectfully:--
"General, I have already fought the Chouans; may I be allowed a word?"
"A lawyer," whispered Hulot to Merle. "They always want to harangue.
Argue away," he said to the young man.
"General, the Chouans have no doubt brought arms for those escaped
recruits. Now, if we try to outmarch them, they will catch us in the
woods and shoot every one of us before we can get to Ernee. We must
argue, as you call it, with cartridges. During the skirmish, which
will last more time than you think for, some of us ought to go back
and fetch the National Guard and the militia from Fougeres."
"Then you think there are a good many Chouans?"
"Judge for yourself, citizen commander."
He led Hulot to a place where the sand had been stirred as with a
rake; then he took him to the opening of a wood-path, where the leaves
were scattered and trampled into the earth,--unmistakable signs of the
passage of a large body of men.
"Those were the 'gars' from Vitre,' said the man, who came himself
from Fougeres; "they are on their way to Lower Normandy."
"What is your name?" asked Hulot.
"Well, then, Gudin, I make you a corporal. You seem to me trustworthy.
Select a man to send to Fougeres; but stay yourself with me. In the
first place, however, take two or three of your comrades and bring in
the muskets and ammunition of the poor fellows those brigands have
rolled into the ditch. These Bretons," added Hulot to Gerard, "will
make famous infantry if they take to rations."
Gudin's emissary started on a run to Fougeres by a wood-road to the
left; the soldiers looked to their arms, and awaited an attack; the
commandant passed along their line, smiling to them, and then placed
himself with his officers, a little in front of it. Silence fell once
more, but it was of short duration. Three hundred or more Chouans,
their clothing identical with that of the late recruits, burst from
the woods to the right with actual howls and planted themselves,
without any semblance of order, on the road directly in front of the
feeble detachment of the Blues. The commandant thereupon ranged his
soldiers in two equal parts, each with a front of ten men. Between
them, he placed the twelve recruits, to whom he hastily gave arms,
putting himself at their head. This little centre was protected by the
two wings, of twenty-five men each, which manoeuvred on either side of
the road under the orders of Merle and Gerard; their object being to
catch the Chouans on the flank and prevent them from posting
themselves as sharp-shooters among the trees, where they could pick
off the Blues without risk to themselves; for in these wars the
Republican troops never knew where to look for an enemy.
These arrangements, hastily made, gave confidence to the soldiers, and
they advanced in silence upon the Chouans. At the end of a few seconds
each side fired, with the loss of several men. At this moment the two
wings of the Republicans, to whom the Chouans had nothing to oppose,
came upon their flanks, and, with a close, quick volley, sent death
and disorder among the enemy. This manoeuvre very nearly equalized the
numerical strength of the two parties. But the Chouan nature was so
intrepid, their will so firm, that they did not give way; their losses
scarcely staggered them; they simply closed up and attempted to
surround the dark and well-formed little party of the Blues, which
covered so little ground that it looked from a distance like a queen-
bee surrounded by the swarm.
The Chouans might have carried the day at this moment if the two wings
commanded by Merle and Gerard had not succeeded in getting in two
volleys which took them diagonally on their rear. The Blues of the two
wings ought to have remained in position and continued to pick off in
this way their terrible enemies; but excited by the danger of their
little main body, then completely surrounded by the Chouans, they
flung themselves headlong into the road with fixed bayonets and made
the battle even for a few moments. Both sides fought with a
stubbornness intensified by the cruelty and fury of the partisan
spirit which made this war exceptional. Each man, observant of danger,
was silent. The scene was gloomy and cold as death itself. Nothing was
heard through the clash of arms and the grinding of the sand under
foot but the moans and exclamations of those who fell, either dead or
badly wounded. The twelve loyal recruits in the republican main body
protected the commandant (who was guiding his men and giving orders)
with such courage that more than once several soldiers called out
Hulot, imperturbable and with an eye to everything, presently remarked
among the Chouans a man who, like himself, was evidently surrounded by
picked men, and was therefore, no doubt, the leader of the attacking
party. He was eager to see this man distinctly, and he made many
efforts to distinguish his features, but in vain; they were hidden by
the red caps and broad-brimmed hats of those about him. Hulot did,
however, see Marche-a-Terre beside this leader, repeating his orders
in a hoarse voice, his own carbine, meanwhile, being far from
inactive. The commandant grew impatient at being thus baffled. Waving
his sword, he urged on the recruits and charged the centre of the
Chouans with such fury that he broke through their line and came close
to their chief, whose face, however, was still hidden by a broad-
brimmed felt hat with a white cockade. But the invisible leader,
surprised at so bold an attack, retreated a step or two and raised his
hat abruptly, thus enabling Hulot to get a hasty idea of his
He was young,--Hulot thought him to be about twenty-five; he wore a
hunting-jacket of green cloth, and a white belt containing pistols.
His heavy shoes were hobnailed like those of the Chouans; leather
leggings came to his knees covering the ends of his breeches of very
coarse drilling, and completing a costume which showed off a slender
and well-poised figure of medium height. Furious that the Blues should
thus have approached him, he pulled his hat again over his face and
sprang towards them. But he was instantly surrounded by Marche-a-Terre
and several Chouans. Hulot thought he perceived between the heads
which clustered about this young leader, a broad red ribbon worn
across his chest. The eyes of the commandant, caught by this royal
decoration (then almost forgotten by republicans), turned quickly to
the young man's face, which, however, he soon lost sight of under the
necessity of controlling and protecting his own little troop. Though
he had barely time to notice a pair of brilliant eyes (the color of
which escaped him), fair hair and delicate features bronzed by the
sun, he was much struck by the dazzling whiteness of the neck,
relieved by a black cravat carelessly knotted. The fiery attitude of
the young leader proved him to be a soldier of the stamp of those who
bring a certain conventional poesy into battle. His well-gloved hand
waved above his head a sword which gleamed in the sunlight. His whole
person gave an impression both of elegance and strength. An air of
passionate self-devotion, enhanced by the charms of youth and
distinguished manners, made this /emigre/ a graceful image of the
French /noblesse/. He presented a strong contrast to Hulot, who, ten
feet distant from him, was quite as vivid an image of the vigorous
Republic for which the old soldier was fighting; his stern face, his
well-worn blue uniform with its shabby red facings and its blackened
epaulettes hanging back of his shoulders, being visible signs of its
needs and character.
The graceful attitude and expression of the young man were not lost on
the commandant, who exclaimed as he pressed towards him: "Come on,
opera-dancer, come on, and let me crush you!"
The royalist leader, provoked by his momentary disadvantage, advanced
with an angry movement, but at the same moment the men who were about
him rushed forward and flung themselves with fury on the Blues.
Suddenly a soft, clear voice was heard above the din of battle saying:
"Here died Saint-Lescure! Shall we not avenge him?"
At the magic words the efforts of the Chouans became terrible, and the
soldiers of the Republic had great difficulty in maintaining
themselves without breaking their little line of battle.
"If he wasn't a young man," thought Hulot, as he retreated step by
step, "we shouldn't have been attacked in this way. Who ever heard of
the Chouans fighting an open battle? Well, all the better! they won't
shoot us off like dogs along the road." Then, raising his voice till
it echoed through the woods, he exclaimed, "Come on, my men! Shall we
let ourselves be /fooled/ by those brigands?"
The word here given is but a feeble equivalent of the one the brave
commandant used; but every veteran can substitute the real one, which
was far more soldierly in character.
"Gerard! Merle!" added Hulot, "call in your men, form them into a
battalion, take the rear, fire upon those dogs, and let's make an end
The order was difficult to obey, for the young chief, hearing Hulot's
voice, cried out: "By Saint Anne of Auray, don't let them get away!
Spread out, spread out, my lads!" and each of the two wings of the
Blues was followed by Chouans who were fully as obstinate and far
superior in numbers. The Republicans were surrounded on all sides by
the Goatskins uttering their savage cries, which were more like howls.
"Hold your tongues, gentlemen," cried Beau-Pied; "we can't hear
ourselves be killed."
This jest revived the courage of the Blues. Instead of fighting only
at one point, the Republicans spread themselves to three different
points on the table-land of La Pelerine, and the rattle of musketry
woke all the echoes of the valleys, hitherto so peaceful beneath it.
Victory might have remained doubtful for many hours, or the fight
might have come to an end for want of combatants, for Blues and
Chouans were equally brave and obstinate. Each side was growing more
and more incensed, when the sound of a drum in the distance told that
the body of men must be crossing the valley of Couesnon.
"There's the National Guard of Fougeres!" cried Gudin, in a loud
voice; "my man has brought them."
The words reached the ears of the young leader of the Chouans and his
ferocious aide-de-camp, and the royalists made a hasty retrograde
movement, checked, however, by a brutal shout from Marche-a-Terre.
After two or three orders given by the leader in a low voice, and
transmitted by Marche-a-Terre in the Breton dialect, the Chouans made
good their retreat with a cleverness which disconcerted the
Republicans and even the commandant. At the first word of command they
formed in line, presenting a good front, behind which the wounded
retreated, and the others reloaded their guns. Then, suddenly, with
the agility already shown by Marche-a-Terre, the wounded were taken
over the brow of the eminence to the right of the road, while half the
others followed them slowly to occupy the summit, where nothing could
be seen of them by the Blues but their bold heads. There they made a
rampart of the trees and pointed the muzzles of their guns on the
Republicans, who were rapidly reformed under reiterated orders from
Hulot and turned to face the remainder of the Chouans, who were still
before them in the road. The latter retreated slowly, disputing the
ground and wheeling so as to bring themselves under cover of their
comrades' fire. When they reached the broad ditch which bordered the
road, they scaled the high bank on the other side, braving the fire of
the Republicans, which was sufficiently well-directed to fill the
ditch with dead bodies. The Chouans already on the summit answered
with a fire that was no less deadly. At that moment the National Guard
of Fougeres reached the scene of action at a quick step, and its mere
presence put an end to the affair. The Guard and some of the soldiers
crossed the road and began to enter the woods, but the commandant
called to them in his martial voice, "Do you want to be annihilated
The victory remained to the Republicans, though not without heavy
loss. All the battered old hats were hung on the points of the
bayonets and the muskets held aloft, while the soldiers shouted with
one voice: "Vive la Republique!" Even the wounded, sitting by the
roadside, shared in the general enthusiasm; and Hulot, pressing
Gerard's hand, exclaimed:--
"Ha, ha! those are what I call /veterans/!"
Merle was directed to bury the dead in a ravine; while another party
of men attended to the removal of the wounded. The carts and horses of
the neighborhood were put into requisition, and the suffering men were
carefully laid on the clothing of the dead. Before the little column
started, the National Guard of Fougeres turned over to Hulot a Chouan,
dangerously wounded, whom they had captured at the foot of the slope
up which his comrades had escaped, and where he had fallen from
"Thanks for your help, citizens," said the commandant. "God's thunder!
if it hadn't been for you, we should have had a pretty bad quarter of
an hour. Take care of yourselves; the war has begun. Adieu, friends."
Then, turning to the prisoner, he asked, "What's the name of your
"No, the Gars."
"Where does the Gars come from?"
To this question the prisoner, whose face was convulsed with
suffering, made no reply; he took out his beads and began to say his
"The Gars is no doubt that young /ci-devant/ with the black cravat,--
sent by the tyrant and his allies Pitt and Coburg."
At that words the Chouan raised his head proudly and said: "Sent by
God and the king!" He uttered the words with an energy which exhausted
his strength. The commandant saw the difficulty of questioning a dying
man, whose countenance expressed his gloomy fanaticism, and he turned
away his head with a frown. Two soldiers, friends of those whom
Marche-a-Terre had so brutally killed with the butt of his whip,
stepped back a pace or two, took aim at the Chouan, whose fixed eyes
did not blink at the muzzles of their guns, fired at short range, and
brought him down. When they approached the dead body to strip it, the
dying man found strength to cry out loudly, "Vive le roi!"
"Yes, yes, you canting hypocrite," cried Clef-des-Coeurs; "go and make
your report to that Virgin of yours. Didn't he shout in our faces,
'Vive le roi!' when we thought him cooked?"
"Here are his papers, commandant," said Beau-Pied.
"Ho! ho!" cried Clef-des-Coeurs. "Come, all of you, and see this minion
of the good God with colors on his stomach!"
Hulot and several soldiers came round the body, now entirely naked,
and saw upon its breast a blue tattooing in the form of a swollen
heart. It was the sign of initiation into the brotherhood of the
Sacred Heart. Above this sign were the words, "Marie Lambrequin," no
doubt the man's name.
"Look at that, Clef-des-Coeurs," said Beau-Pied; "it would take you a
hundred years to find out what that accoutrement is good for."
"What should I know about the Pope's uniform?" replied Clef-des-Coeurs,
"You worthless bog-trotter, you'll never learn anything," retorted
Beau-Pied. "Don't you see that they've promised that poor fool that he
shall live again, and he has painted his gizzard in order to find
At this sally--which was not without some foundation--even Hulot
joined in the general hilarity. At this moment Merle returned, and the
burial of the dead being completed and the wounded placed more or less
comfortably in two carts, the rest of the late escort formed into two
lines round the improvised ambulances, and descended the slope of the
mountain towards Maine, where the beautiful valley of La Pelerine, a
rival to that of Couesnon lay before it.
Hulot with his two officers followed the troop slowly, hoping to get
safely to Ernee where the wounded could be cared for. The fight we
have just described, which was almost forgotten in the midst of the
greater events which were soon to occur, was called by the name of the
mountain on which it took place. It obtained some notice at the West,
where the inhabitants, observant of this second uprising, noticed on
this occasion a great change in the manner in which the Chouans now
made war. In earlier days they would never have attacked so large a
detachment. According to Hulot the young royalist whom he had seen was
undoubtedly the Gars, the new general sent to France by the princes,
who, following the example of the other royalist chiefs, concealed his
real name and title under one of those pseudonyms called "noms de
guerre." This circumstance made the commandant quite as uneasy after
his melancholy victory as he had been before it while expecting the
attack. He turned several times to consider the table-land of La
Pelerine which he was leaving behind him, across which he could still
hear faintly at intervals the drums of the National Guard descending
into the valley of Couesnon at the same time that the Blues were
descending into that of La Pelerine.
"Can either of you," he said to his two friends, "guess the motives of
that attack of the Chouans? To them, fighting is a matter of business,
and I can't see what they expected to gain by this attack. They have
lost at least a hundred men, and we"--he added, screwing up his right
cheek and winking by way of a smile, "have lost only sixty. God's
thunder! I don't understand that sort of speculation. The scoundrels
needn't have attacked us; we might just as well have been allowed to
pass like letters through the post--No, I don't see what good it has
done them to bullet-hole our men," he added, with a sad shake of his
head toward the carts. "Perhaps they only intended to say good-day to
"But they carried off our recruits, commander," said Merle.
"The recruits could have skipped like frogs into the woods at any
time, and we should never have gone after them, especially if those
fellows had fired a single volley," returned Hulot. "No, no, there's
something behind all this." Again he turned and looked at La Pelerine.
"See!" he cried; "see there!"
Though they were now at a long distance from the fatal plateau, they
could easily distinguish Marche-a-Terre and several Chouans who were
again occupying it.
"Double-quick, march!" cried Hulot to his men, "open your compasses
and trot the steeds faster than that! Are your legs frozen?"
These words drove the little troop into a rapid motion.
"There's a mystery, and it's hard to make out," continued Hulot,
speaking to his friends. "God grant it isn't explained by muskets at
Ernee. I'm very much afraid that we shall find the road to Mayenne cut
off by the king's men."
The strategical problem which troubled the commandant was causing
quite as much uneasiness to the persons whom he had just seen on the
summit of Mont Pelerine. As soon as the drums of the National Guard
were out of hearing and Marche-a-Terre had seen the Blues at the foot
of the declivity, he gave the owl's cry joyously, and the Chouans
reappeared, but their numbers were less. Some were no doubt busy in
taking care of the wounded in the little village of La Pelerine,
situated on the side of the mountain which looks toward the valley of
Couesnon. Two or three chiefs of what were called the "Chasseurs du
Roi" clustered about Marche-a-Terre. A few feet apart sat the young
noble called The Gars, on a granite rock, absorbed in thoughts excited
by the difficulties of his enterprise, which now began to show
themselves. Marche-a-Terre screened his forehead with his hand from
the rays of the sun, and looked gloomily at the road by which the
Blues were crossing the valley of La Pelerine. His small black eyes
could see what was happening on the hill-slopes on the other side of
"The Blues will intercept the messenger," said the angry voice of one
of the leaders who stood near him.
"By Saint Anne of Auray!" exclaimed another. "Why did you make us
fight? Was it to save your own skin from the Blues?"
Marche-a-Terre darted a venomous look at his questioner and struck the
ground with his heavy carbine.
"Am I your leader?" he asked. Then after a pause he added, pointing to
the remains of Hulot's detachment, "If you had all fought as I did,
not one of those Blues would have escaped, and the coach could have
got here safely."
"They'd never have thought of escorting it or holding it back if we
had let them go by without a fight. No, you wanted to save your
precious skin and get out of their hands--He has bled us for the sake
of his own snout," continued the orator, "and made us lose twenty
thousand francs in good coin."
"Snout yourself!" cried Marche-a-Terre, retreating three steps and
aiming at his aggressor. "It isn't that you hate the Blues, but you
love the gold. Die without confession and be damned, for you haven't
taken the sacrament for a year."
This insult so incensed the Chouan that he turned pale and a low growl
came from his chest as he aimed in turn at Marche-a-Terre. The young
chief sprang between them and struck their weapons from their hands
with the barrel of his own carbine; then he demanded an explanation of
the dispute, for the conversation had been carried on in the Breton
dialect, an idiom with which he was not familiar.
"Monsieur le marquis," said Marche-a-Terre, as he ended his account of
the quarrel, "it is all the more unreasonable in them to find fault
with me because I have left Pille-Miche behind me; he'll know how to
save the coach for us."
"What!" exclaimed the young man, angrily, "are you waiting here, all
of you, to pillage that coach?--a parcel of cowards who couldn't win a
victory in the first fight to which I led you! But why should you win
if that's your object? The defenders of God and the king are thieves,
are they? By Saint Anne of Auray! I'd have you know, we are making war
against the Republic, and not robbing travellers. Those who are guilty
in future of such shameful actions shall not receive absolution, nor
any of the favors reserved for the faithful servants of the king."
A murmur came from the group of Chouans, and it was easy to see that
the authority of the new chief was about to be disputed. The young
man, on whom this effect of his words was by no means lost, was
thinking of the best means of maintaining the dignity of his command,
when the trot of a horse was heard in the vicinity. All heads turned
in the direction from which the sound came. A lady appeared, sitting
astride of a little Breton horse, which she put at a gallop as soon as
she saw the young leader, so as to reach the group of Chouans as
quickly as possible.
"What is the matter?" she said, looking first at the Chouans and then
at their chief.
"Could you believe it, madame? they are waiting to rob the diligence
from Mayenne to Fougeres when we have just had a skirmish, in order to
release the conscripts of Fougeres, which has cost us a great many men
without defeating the Blues."
"Well, where's the harm of that?" asked the young lady, to whom the
natural shrewdness of a woman explained the whole scene. "You have
lost men, but there's no lack of others; the coach is bringing gold,
and there's always a lack of that. We bury men, who go to heaven, and
we take money, which goes into the pockets of heroes. I don't see the
The Chouans approved of her speech by unanimous smiles.
"Do you see nothing in all that to make you blush?" said the young
man, in a low voice. "Are you in such need of money that you must
pillage on the high-road?"
"I am so eager for it, marquis, that I should put my heart in pawn if
it were not already captured," she said, smiling coquettishly. "But
where did you get the strange idea that you could manage Chouans
without letting them rob a few Blues here and there? Don't you know
the saying, 'Thieving as an owl'?--and that's a Chouan. Besides," she
said, raising her voice to be heard by the men, "it is just; haven't
the Blues seized the property of the Church, and our own?"
Another murmur, very different from the growl with which the Chouans
had answered their leader, greeted these words. The young man's face
grew darker; he took the young lady aside and said in the annoyed tone
of a well-bred man, "Will those gentlemen be at La Vivetiere on the
"Yes," she replied, "all of them, the Claimant, Grand-Jacques, and
"Then allow me to return there. I cannot sanction such robbery. Yes,
madame, I call it robbery. There may be honor in being robbed, but--"
"Well, well," she said, interrupting him, "then I shall have your
share of the booty, and I am much obliged to you for giving it up to
me; the extra sum will be extremely useful, for my mother has delayed
sending me money, so that I am almost destitute."
"Adieu!" cried the marquis.
He turned away, but the lady ran after him.
"Why won't you stay with me?" she said, giving him the look, half-
despotic, half-caressing, with which women who have a right to a man's
respect let him know their wishes.
"You are going to pillage that coach?"
"Pillage? what a word!" she said. "Let me explain to you--"
"Explain nothing," he said, taking her hand and kissing it with the
superficial gallantry of a courtier. "Listen to me," he added after a
short pause: "if I were to stay here while they capture that diligence
our people would kill me, for I should certainly--"
"Not kill them," she said quickly, "for they would bind your hands,
with all the respect that is due to your rank; then, having levied the
necessary contribution for their equipment, subsistence, and munitions
from our enemies, they would unbind you and obey you blindly."
"And you wish me to command such men under such circumstances? If my
life is necessary to the cause which I defend allow me at any rate to
save the honor of my position. If I withdraw now I can ignore this
base act. I will return, in order to escort you."
So saying, he rapidly disappeared. The young lady listened to his
receding steps with evident displeasure. When the sound on the dried
leaves ceased, she stood for a moment as if confounded, then she
hastily returned to the Chouans. With a gesture of contempt she said
to Marche-a-Terre, who helped her to dismount, "That young man wants
to make regular war on the Republic! Ah, well! he'll get over that in
a few days. How he treated me!" she thought, presently.
She seated herself on the rock where the marquis had been sitting, and
silently awaited the arrival of the coach. It was one of the phenomena
of the times, and not the least of them, that this young and noble
lady should be flung by violent partisanship into the struggle of
monarchies against the spirit of the age, and be driven by the
strength of her feelings into actions of which it may almost be said
she was not conscious. In this she resembled others of her time who
were led away by an enthusiasm which was often productive of noble
deeds. Like her, many women played heroic or blameworthy parts in the
fierce struggle. The royalist cause had no emissaries so devoted and
so active as these women; but none of the heroines on that side paid
for mistaken devotion or for actions forbidden to their sex, with a
greater expiation than did this lady when, seated on that wayside
rock, she was forced to admire the young leader's noble disdain and
loyalty to principle. Insensibly she dropped into reverie. Bitter
memories made her long for the innocence of her early years, and
regret that she had escaped being a victim of the Revolution whose
victorious march could no longer be arrested by feeble hands.
The coach, which, as we now see, had much to do with the attack of the
Chouans, had started from the little town of Ernee a few moments
before the skirmishing began. Nothing pictures a region so well as the
state of its social material. From this point of view the coach
deserves a mention. The Revolution itself was powerless to destroy it;
in fact, it still rolls to this present day. When Turgot bought up the
privileges of a company, obtained under Louis XIV., for the exclusive
right of transporting travellers from one part of the kingdom to
another, and instituted the lines of coaches called the "turgotines,"
all the old vehicles of the former company flocked into the provinces.
One of these shabby coaches was now plying between Mayenne and
Fougeres. A few objectors called it the "turgotine," partly to mimic
Paris and partly to deride a minister who attempted innovations. This
turgotine was a wretched cabriolet on two high wheels, in the depths
of which two persons, if rather fat, could with difficulty have stowed
themselves. The narrow quarters of this rickety machine not admitting
of any crowding, and the box which formed the seat being kept
exclusively for the postal service, the travellers who had any baggage
were forced to keep it between their legs, already tortured by being
squeezed into a sort of little box in shape like a bellows. The
original color of coach and running-gear was an insoluble enigma. Two
leather curtains, very difficult to adjust in spite of their long
service, were supposed to protect the occupants from cold and rain.
The driver, perched on a plank seat like those of the worst Parisian
"coucous," shared in the conversation by reason of his position
between his victims, biped and quadruped. The equipage presented
various fantastic resemblances to decrepit old men who have gone
through a goodly number of catarrhs and apoplexies and whom death
respects; it moaned as it rolled, and squeaked spasmodically. Like a
traveller overtaken by sleep, it rocked alternately forward and back,
as though it tried to resist the violent action of two little Breton
horses which dragged it along a road which was more than rough. This
monument of a past era contained three travellers, who, on leaving
Ernee, where they had changed horses, continued a conversation begun
with the driver before reaching the little town.
"What makes you think the Chouans are hereabouts?" said the coachman.
"The Ernee people tell me that Commandant Hulot has not yet started
"Ho, ho, friend driver!" said the youngest of the travellers, "you
risk nothing but your own carcass! If you had a thousand francs about
you, as I have, and were known to be a good patriot, you wouldn't take
it so easy."
"You are pretty free with your tongue, any way," said the driver,
shaking his head.
"Count your lambs, and the wolf will eat them," remarked another of
This man, who was dressed in black, seemed to be about forty years
old, and was, probably, the rector of some parish in the neighborhood.
His chin rested on a double fold of flesh, and his florid complexion
indicated a priest. Though short and fat, he displayed some agility
when required to get in or out of the vehicle.
"Perhaps you are both Chouans!" cried the man of the thousand francs,
whose ample goatskin, covering trousers of good cloth and a clean
waistcoat, bespoke a rich farmer. "By the soul of Saint Robespierre! I
swear you shall be roughly handled."
He turned his gray eyes from the driver to his fellow-travellers and
showed them a pistol in his belt.
"Bretons are not afraid of that," said the rector, disdainfully.
"Besides, do we look like men who want your money?"
Every time the word "money" was mentioned the driver was silent, and
the rector had wit enough to doubt whether the patriot had any at all,
and to suspect that the driver was carrying a good deal.
"Are you well laden, Coupiau?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Monsieur Gudin," replied the coachman. "I'm carrying next to
The priest watched the faces of the patriot and Coupiau as the latter
made this answer, and both were imperturbable.
"So much the better for you," remarked the patriot. "I can now take
measures to save my property in case of danger."
Such despotic assumption nettled Coupiau, who answered gruffly: "I am
the master of my own carriage, and so long as I drive you--"
"Are you a patriot, or are you a Chouan?" said the other, sharply
"Neither the one nor the other," replied Coupiau. "I'm a postilion,
and, what is more, a Breton,--consequently, I fear neither Blues nor
"Noble thieves!" cried the patriot, ironically.
"They only take back what was stolen from them," said the rector,
The two men looked at each other in the whites of their eyes, if we
may use a phrase so colloquial. Sitting back in the vehicle was a
third traveller who took no part in the discussion, and preserved a
deep silence. The driver and the patriot and even Gudin paid no
attention to this mute individual; he was, in truth, one of those
uncomfortable, unsocial travellers who are found sometimes in a stage-
coach, like a patient calf that is being carried, bound, to the
nearest market. Such travellers begin by filling their legal space,
and end by sleeping, without the smallest respect for their fellow-
beings, on a neighbor's shoulder. The patriot, Gudin, and the driver
had let him alone, thinking him asleep, after discovering that it was
useless to talk to a man whose stolid face betrayed an existence spent
in measuring yards of linen, and an intellect employed in selling them
at a good percentage above cost. This fat little man, doubled-up in
his corner, opened his porcelain-blue eyes every now and then, and
looked at each speaker with a sort of terror. He appeared to be afraid
of his fellow-travellers and to care very little about the Chouans.
When he looked at the driver, however, they seemed to be a pair of
free-masons. Just then the first volley of musketry was heard on La
Pelerine. Coupiau, frightened, stopped the coach.
"Oh! oh!" said the priest, as if he had some means of judging, "it is
a serious engagement; there are many men."
"The trouble for us, Monsieur Gudin," cried Coupiau, "is to know which
side will win."
The faces of all became unanimously anxious.
"Let us put up the coach at that inn which I see over there," said the
patriot; "we can hide it till we know the result of the fight."
The advice seemed so good that Coupiau followed it. The patriot helped
him to conceal the coach behind a wood-pile; the abbe seized the
occasion to pull Coupiau aside and say to him, in a low voice: "Has he
really any money?"
"Hey, Monsieur Gudin, if it gets into the pockets of your Reverence,
they won't be weighed down with it."
When the Blues marched by, after the encounter on La Pelerine, they
were in such haste to reach Ernee that they passed the little inn
without halting. At the sound of their hasty march, Gudin and the
innkeeper, stirred by curiosity, went to the gate of the courtyard to
watch them. Suddenly, the fat ecclesiastic rushed to a soldier who was
lagging in the rear.
"Gudin!" he cried, "you wrong-headed fellow, have you joined the
Blues? My lad, you are surely not in earnest?"
"Yes, uncle," answered the corporal. "I've sworn to defend France."
"Unhappy boy! you'll lose your soul," said the uncle, trying to rouse
his nephew to the religious sentiments which are so powerful in the
"Uncle," said the young man, "if the king had placed himself at the
head of his armies, I don't say but what--"
"Fool! who is talking to you about the king? Does your republic give
abbeys? No, it has upset everything. How do you expect to get on in
life? Stay with us; sooner or later we shall triumph and you'll be
counsellor to some parliament."
"Parliaments!" said young Gudin, in a mocking tone. "Good-bye, uncle."
"You sha'n't have a penny at my death," cried his uncle, in a rage.
"I'll disinherit you."
"Thank you, uncle," said the Republican, as they parted.
The fumes of the cider which the patriot copiously bestowed on Coupiau
during the passage of the little troop had somewhat dimmed the
driver's perceptions, but he roused himself joyously when the
innkeeper, having questioned the soldiers, came back to the inn and
announced that the Blues were victorious. He at once brought out the
coach and before long it was wending its way across the valley.
When the Blues reached an acclivity on the road from which the plateau
of La Pelerine could again be seen in the distance, Hulot turned round
to discover if the Chouans were still occupying it, and the sun,
glinting on the muzzles of the guns, showed them to him, each like a
dazzling spot. Giving a last glance to the valley of La Pelerine
before turning into that of Ernee, he thought he saw Coupiau's vehicle
on the road he had just traversed.
"Isn't that the Mayenne coach?" he said to his two officers.
They looked at the venerable turgotine, and easily recognized it.
"But," said Hulot, "how did we fail to meet it?"
Merle and Gerard looked at each other in silence.
"Another enigma!" cried the commandant. "But I begin to see the
meaning of it all."
At the same moment Marche-a-Terre, who also knew the turgotine, called
his comrades' attention to it, and the general shout of joy which they
sent up roused the young lady from her reflections. She advanced a
little distance and saw the coach, which was beginning the ascent of
La Pelerine with fatal rapidity. The luckless vehicle soon reached the
plateau. The Chouans, who had meantime hidden themselves, swooped on
their prey with hungry celerity. The silent traveller slipped to the
floor of the carriage, bundling himself up into the semblance of a
"Well done!" cried Coupiau from his wooden perch, pointing to the man
in the goatskin; "you must have scented this patriot who has lots of
gold in his pouch--"
The Chouans greeted these words with roars of laughter, crying out:
"Pille-Miche! hey, Pille-Miche! Pille-Miche!"
Amid the laughter, to which Pille-Miche responded like an echo,
Coupiau came down from his seat quite crestfallen. When the famous
Cibot, otherwise called Pille-Miche, helped his neighbor to get out of
the coach, a respectful murmur was heard among the Chouans.
"It is the Abbe Gudin!" cried several voices. At this respected name
every hat was off, and the men knelt down before the priest as they
asked his blessing, which he gave solemnly.
"Pille-Miche here could trick Saint Peter and steal the keys of
Paradise," said the rector, slapping that worthy on the shoulder. "If
it hadn't been for him, the Blues would have intercepted us."
Then, noticing the lady, the abbe went to speak to her apart. Marche-
a-Terre, who had meantime briskly opened the boot of the cabriolet,
held up to his comrades, with savage joy, a bag, the shape of which
betrayed its contents to be rolls of coin. It did not take long to
divide the booty. Each Chouan received his share, so carefully
apportioned that the division was made without the slightest dispute.
Then Marche-a-Terre went to the lady and the priest, and offered them
each about six thousand francs.
"Can I conscientiously accept this money, Monsieur Gudin?" said the
lady, feeling a need of justification.
"Why not, madame? In former days the Church approved of the
confiscation of the property of Protestants, and there's far more
reason for confiscating that of these revolutionists, who deny God,
destroy chapels, and persecute religion."
The abbe then joined example to precept by accepting, without the
slightest scruple, the novel sort of tithe which Marche-a-Terre
offered to him. "Besides," he added, "I can now devote all I possess
to the service of God and the king; for my nephew has joined the
Blues, and I disinherit him."
Coupiau was bemoaning himself and declaring that he was ruined.
"Join us," said Marche-a-Terre, "and you shall have your share."
"They'll say I let the coach be robbed on purpose if I return without
signs of violence."
"Oh, is that all?" exclaimed Marche-a-Terre.
He gave a signal and a shower of bullets riddled the turgotine. At
this unexpected volley the old vehicle gave forth such a lamentable
cry that the Chouans, superstitious by nature, recoiled in terror; but
Marche-a-Terre caught sight of the pallid face of the silent traveller
rising from the floor of the coach.
"You've got another fowl in your coop," he said in a low voice to
"Yes," said the driver; "but I make it a condition of my joining you
that I be allowed to take that worthy man safe and sound to Fougeres.
I'm pledged to it in the name of Saint Anne of Auray."
"Who is he?" asked Pille-Miche.
"That I can't tell you," replied Coupiau.
"Let him alone!" said Marche-a-Terre, shoving Pille-Miche with his
elbow; "he has vowed by Saint Anne of Auray, and he must keep his
"Very good," said Pille-Miche, addressing Coupiau; "but mind you don't
go down the mountain too fast; we shall overtake you,--a good reason
why; I want to see the cut of your traveller, and give him his
Just then the gallop of a horse coming rapidly up the slopes of La
Pelerine was heard, and the young chief presently reappeared. The lady
hastened to conceal the bag of plunder which she held in her hand.
"You can keep that money without any scruple," said the young man,
touching the arm which the lady had put behind her. "Here is a letter
for you which I have just found among mine which were waiting for me
at La Vivetiere; it is from your mother." Then, looking at the Chouans
who were disappearing into the woods, and at the turgotine which was
now on its way to the valley of Couesnon, he added: "After all my
haste I see I am too late. God grant I am deceived in my suspicions!"
"It was my poor mother's money!" cried the lady, after opening her
letter, the first lines of which drew forth her exclamation.
A smothered laugh came from the woods, and the young man himself could
not help smiling as he saw the lady holding in her hand the bag
containing her share in the pillage of her own money. She herself
began to laugh.
"Well, well, marquis, God be praised! this time, at least, you can't
blame me," she said, smiling.
"Levity in everything! even your remorse!" said the young man.
She colored and looked at the marquis with so genuine a contrition
that he was softened. The abbe politely returned to her, with an
equivocal manner, the sum he had received; then he followed the young
leader who took the by-way through which he had come. Before following
them the lady made a sign to Marche-a-Terre, who came to her.
"Advance towards Mortagne," she said to him in a low voice. "I know
that the Blues are constantly sending large sums of money in coin to
Alencon to pay for their supplies of war. If I allow you and your
comrades to keep what you captured to-day it is only on condition that
you repay it later. But be careful that the Gars knows nothing of the
object of the expedition; he would certainly oppose it; in case of
ill-luck, I will pacify him."
"Madame," said the marquis, after she had rejoined him and had mounted
his horse /en croupe/, giving her own to the abbe, "my friends in
Paris write me to be very careful of what we do; the Republic, they
say, is preparing to fight us with spies and treachery."
"It wouldn't be a bad plan," she replied; "they have clever ideas,
those fellows. I could take part in that sort of war and find foes."
"I don't doubt it!" cried the marquis. "Pichegru advises me to be
cautious and watchful in my friendships and relations of every kind.
The Republic does me the honor to think me more dangerous than all the
Vendeans put together, and counts on certain of my weaknesses to lay
hands upon me."
"Surely you will not distrust me?" she said, striking his heart with
the hand by which she held to him.
"Are you a traitor, madame?" he said, bending towards her his
forehead, which she kissed.
"In that case," said the abbe, referring to the news, "Fouche's police
will be more dangerous for us than their battalions of recruits and
"Yes, true enough, father," replied the marquis.
"Ah! ah!" cried the lady. "Fouche means to send women against you,
does he? I shall be ready for them," she added in a deeper tone of
voice and after a slight pause.
At a distance of three or four gunshots from the plateau, now
abandoned, a little scene was taking place which was not uncommon in
those days on the high-roads. After leaving the little village of La
Pelerine, Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre again stopped the turgotine
at a dip in the road. Coupiau got off his seat after making a faint
resistance. The silent traveller, extracted from his hiding place by
the two Chouans, found himself on his knees in a furze bush.
"Who are you?" asked Marche-a-Terre in a threatening voice.
The traveller kept silence until Pille-Miche put the question again
and enforced it with the butt end of his gun.
"I am Jacques Pinaud," he replied, with a glance at Coupiau; "a poor
Coupiau made a sign in the negative, not considering it an infraction
of his promise to Saint Anne. The sign enlightened Pille-Miche, who
took aim at the luckless traveller, while Marche-a-Terre laid before
him categorically a terrible ultimatum.
"You are too fat to be poor. If you make me ask you your name again,
here's my friend Pille-Miche, who will obtain the gratitude and good-
will of your heirs in a second. Who are you?" he added, after a pause.
"I am d'Orgemont, of Fougeres."
"Ah! ah!" cried the two Chouans.
"I didn't tell your name, Monsieur d'Orgemont," said Coupiau. "The
Holy Virgin is my witness that I did my best to protect you."
"Inasmuch as you are Monsieur d'Orgemont, of Fougeres," said Marche-a-
Terre, with an air of ironical respect, "we shall let you go in peace.
Only, as you are neither a good Chouan nor a true Blue (thought it was
you who bought the property of the Abbey de Juvigny), you will pay us
three hundred crowns of six francs each for your ransom. Neutrality is
worth that, at least."
"Three hundred crowns of six francs each!" chorussed the luckless
banker, Pille-Miche, and Coupiau, in three different tones.
"Alas, my good friend," continued d'Orgemont, "I'm a ruined man. The
last forced loan of that devilish Republic for a hundred millions
sucked me dry, taxed as I was already."
"How much did your Republic get out of you?"
"A thousand crowns, my dear man," replied the banker, with a piteous
air, hoping for a reduction.
"If your Republic gets forced loans out of you for such big sums as
that you must see that you would do better with us; our government
would cost you less. Three hundred crowns, do you call that dear for
"Where am I to get them?"
"Out of your strong-box," said Pille-Miche; "and mind that the money
is forthcoming, or we'll singe you still."
"How am I to pay it to you?" asked d'Orgemont.
"Your country-house at Fougeres is not far from Gibarry's farm where
my cousin Galope-Chopine, otherwise called Cibot, lives. You can pay
the money to him," said Pille-Miche.
"That's not business-like," said d'Orgemont.
"What do we care for that?" said Marche-a-Terre. "But mind you
remember that if that money is not paid to Galope-Chopine within two
weeks we shall pay you a little visit which will cure your gout. As
for you, Coupiau," added Marche-a-Terre, "your name in future is to be
So saying, the two Chouans departed. The traveller returned to the
vehicle, which, thanks to Coupiau's whip, now made rapid progress to
"If you'd only been armed," said Coupiau, "we might have made some
"Idiot!" cried d'Orgemont, pointing to his heavy shoes. "I have ten
thousand francs in those soles; do you think I would be such a fool as
to fight with that sum about me?"
Mene-a-Bien scratched his ear and looked behind him, but his new
comrades were out of sight.
Hulot and his command stopped at Ernee long enough to place the
wounded in the hospital of the little town, and then, without further
hindrance, they reached Mayenne. There the commandant cleared up his
doubts as to the action of the Chouans, for on the following day the
news of the pillage of the turgotine was received.
A few days later the government despatched to Mayenne so strong a
force of "patriotic conscripts," that Hulot was able to fill the ranks
of his brigade. Disquieting rumors began to circulate about the
insurrection. A rising had taken place at all the points where, during
the late war, the Chouans and Bretons had made their chief centres of
insurrection. The little town of Saint-James, between Pontorson and
Fougeres was occupied by them, apparently for the purpose of making it
for the time being a headquarters of operations and supplies. From
there they were able to communicate with Normandy and the Morbihan
without risk. Their subaltern leaders roamed the three provinces,
roused all the partisans of monarchy, and gave consistence and unity
to their plans. These proceedings coincided with what was going on in
La Vendee, where the same intrigues, under the influence of four
famous leaders (the Abbe Vernal, the Comte de Fontaine, De Chatillon,
and Suzannet), were agitating the country. The Chevalier de Valois,
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