Project Canterbury

Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

London: SPCK, 1905.
First published London: J. Masters, 1848.

Chapter XIV.

NOW we return to Paris. We left Marie Duchenier ignorant of the method by which her liberty had been attained, and consequently of her father's fate; and pursuing her way, in the same hackney-coach which he had employed to carry him to the Saint Lazare, to the lodgings which he had occupied since his arrival in Paris.

After a tedious quarter of an hour, the driver stopped before the third-rate inn which De Beaurepaire had selected; and on inquiring for M. de Brissac's rooms--for her father had acquainted her with his change of name--she was shown into a better apartment than the look of the house might have warranted her expecting. On inquiring for his servant, the waiter soon called Texier, whose whole behaviour--a strange compound of joy at his young lady's liberty and of anguish at the price by which it had been purchased--was, for the moment, a perfect riddle to Marie. At length he gave her a letter, with which M. de Beaurepaire, he said, had entrusted him; and Marie wondered that her father, who intended to rejoin her in a few hours, should be at the pains of leaving a letter to meet her arrival. But she wondered still more at the great agitation evinced by Texier; who, after saying that he would return in a quarter of an hour to know madame's pleasure, rushed from rather than left the room.

He did return as he said, not knowing in what state he should find Madame Duchenier. She was standing by the window, with the letter, again folded, in her hands; and on the entrance of the peasant, she spoke to him in a tone rather low, but so firm that Texier could hardly credit his ears.

"Texier," she said, "my father in thus saving my life will have made me guilty of his blood, unless I can either in my turn save him, or else return to the Saint Lazare and share his fate, whatever it may be. Now, tell me all you know of the matter, that I may judge how to act."

Texier took courage, and gave a tolerably correct account of the steps which De Beaurepaire had taken; and once or twice, where he was not quite clear, or not well informed, Marie questioned him again. When he had done, she merely said, "Leave me now, Texier, but be within call; for I shall want you again presently."

As soon as she was left alone, Marie endeavoured to recall every scheme, however wild or impracticable, which she had heard of as proposed, or practised, by prisoners, in the Revolution. But her complete ignorance of Paris, her want of acquaintance with every single soul in it, and her destitution of any means of securing an assistant on whose fidelity she might rely, caused her to abandon them, one after another, as impracticable and visionary. At length she remembered Monsieur de Cailly's observation when she had been taken from his charge at Mirebeau; and she recollected also to have heard from other quarters, that while a petitioner might, with greater hope of success, apply to a lion or a tiger than to Robespierre or Marat, there were moments when Danton might be approached, with some degree of safety, and even hope. At all events, it was her only chance; if her father could be saved at all by her means, it would only be by a personal appeal to that terrible man. The more she thought of this plan, the more feasible it seemed to her: besides his other qualities, Danton was far more avaricious than either Robespierre, who gloried in the epithet of the Incorruptible, or Marat, who cared for nothing but blood; he was a villain, it is true, but a villain who had his lights as well as his shades; while the other two seemed utterly destitute of every sentiment which might be supposed to retain some possession even of the worst and most hardened hearts. To Danton, then, she determined to apply; and the only thing to be done was, to obtain information as to his residence; for it might be essential to her purpose to see him alone.

At the end of about half-an-hour Marie again summoned Texier. "I have made up my mind," she said, "what to do; but I have no right to ask you to share my dangers; and I think it would on all accounts be better that you should return at once to the Catholic army. I will give you a letter to M. de la Rochejacquelein, explaining to him what I mean to do; and then------"

But Texier would listen no longer. "There is not, madame," he said, "man, woman, or child in La Vendée, but would cry shame upon me if I were to leave you now. Only tell me, madame, what you mean to do, and what it is you wish me to do, and see if I will not do it to the best of my power. The times look dark enough, Heaven knows; but they can't look worse than they did when I followed M. de Beaurepaire into La Flêche, and yet we succeeded there; and so, with GOD'S help, we may now." Having concluded this speech, one of the longest he ever made in his life, Texier waited resolutely for his young mistress's answer; and when she told him, that if he were willing to expose himself for her and her father's sake, she should only be too thankful to have so zealous and so faithful a servant, he seemed to consider himself as quite repaid for his offer. Marie Duchenier then proceeded to explain to him her own plans; and informed him that that very afternoon she had determined, if possible, to see Danton; all, therefore, that he had to do was, to discover the private residence of that personage, and to accompany her to it. Texier readily undertook to do the former; and in about half-an-hour he returned with the information that M. Danton resided at No. 2, Rue de la Paix. "And I feel," said he, "that it is usually thought better to see him towards evening; they say then that one has a better chance of making him attend."

"Engage a carriage then," said Marie, "to be here at five o'clock; and till that time I shall not want you. What sort of man is the landlord of this inn?"

"Well, madame," answered Texier, "I can't make much out of him; for people are so cautious now-a-days that they will not say two words before a stranger; but he seems to me an honest sort of fellow enough, if he had his own way."

"Well," said Marie, "I may as well see if I can get anything from him. Ask him to do me the favour to step up into this room."

The landlord accordingly came. He was much such an one by nature as his brethren of the present day in the second or third-rate inns of large cities in France; that is to say, he was tall, thin, and scraggy, with a neck projecting like a crane's, and eyes continually peering about, as if to make sure that none of his customers should abstract anything belonging to him. However, take him for all in all, M. Dommette was not a bad man; he was at heart a favourer of the Bourbons, the rather because during the times of the Revolution he had found his coffee-room much deserted; but sooner than allow to his most intimate friend, that he would have no objection to wear the white cockade, he would have subjected himself to what to him would have been the worst of privations, continual silence.

"I sent for you, monsieur," said Marie, "to inquire whether my father, M. de Brissac, has left any account in your establishment unsettled? because, if so, as I am myself going out this afternoon, and I do not know whether I shall return to-night, I thought that it might be convenient to settle it."

"Madame is very obliging," said the landlord; "but M. de Brissac was so kind as to arrange everything before he went out this morning. Does he not return, then, madame? Ay, he is a perfect gentleman; only I thought he seemed to have somewhat that weighed on his mind. The best of us have, you know, madame; and I am sure in these days, when one may have friends on both sides, one is sure to have something to be anxious about for some one or other."

"You say very true," replied Marie. "My father had a good deal to make him anxious; and I have to the full as much as he."

"Madame in trouble?" inquired the landlord; and he hesitated for a moment, his good-nature contending with his caution. But at last the former seemed to prevail; for M. Dommette shrewdly suspected that both the gentleman whom he had the honour of entertaining and his daughter were, if not aristocrats themselves, at all events implicated in the royalist troubles. "If," he therefore continued, "madame could point out any way in which I could be of service to her, consistently of course with the duty of a good citizen, I should only be too glad."

"Certainly," answered Marie, "I need advice from some one who knows Paris; for my servant, as I dare say you have found out, is fresh from the country."

"Ah," replied Dommette, "c'est un garçon bien honnête, mais tant soit peu imprudent. I am sure, madame, he has talked more politics in half-an-hour than I should venture to talk in half-a-year. I thought too," he continued, speaking lower, and coming rather closer to Marie,--"I might have been mistaken, but I did think that he spoke in the west-country patois." There could, by the bye, be no manner of doubt on the subject, for Texier's dialect was of the broadest possible Poitevin.

"Well," said Marie, smiling and looking steadily at the landlord, "if it be so, you know west-country folks are likely enough to be in trouble just now."

"Just so," replied Dommette, growing more and more certain that his first conjecture was right; "well, politics never made any difference with me, so long, you know, madame, as I did my duty as a citizen------"

"Of course," interrupted Marie.

"And therefore, supposing that you are here a stranger in Paris, and in any trouble about royalist friends, I will advise you to the best of my power; more help than advice I dare not give. There are not many things, madame, that I am afraid of, but there is one, and that is, incivisme."

"I believe," returned Madame Duchenier, "you already pretty well guess all that I could tell you. I do not think you will betray me; and if you do, I am already in your power. The fact is, that my father, M. de Brissac, has been arrested on suspicion of loyalism; I am here, as you see, alone, willing to do anything and to suffer anything by which I might save him. And you will, perhaps, pity me the more," she continued, her eyes in spite of herself filling with tears as she spoke, "when I tell you, that I have a husband in prison for the same cause, whom it is even yet more out of my power to assist."

The landlord was fairly surprised out of his prudence; and after blowing his nose, and flourishing before him a particularly dirty silk handkerchief, he said, "Madame, I beg you to believe me, that on my honour," and he laid his hand to his heart, "I will do anything that you can reasonably expect to help you. M. votre mari, is he confined in Paris?"

"Oh, no," answered Marie, "would that he were! but they carried him to Nantes;" for she had learnt this from De Beaurepaire himself, who had acquired the information when passing through Cerisay on his road to Paris.

"In prison at Nantes!" cried the landlord; "why, there is a man down-stairs, and a merry sort of fellow he is too, who was in prison there himself a few days ago, and on the same charge. He made no secret about it at all, and rather seemed to be amused at what he had gone through; though, poor fellow, by his own account, he ran a very narrow chance of his life. Would madame like to see him?"

"If there were any likelihood," said Marie, "that he could know anything; but I fear it is impossible. And yet------"

"May I ask monsieur's name?" said Dommette.

"Duchenier," replied his wife, who had not the least idea of the interest taken by the Parisians in the revolt of La Vendée, and the minuteness of their information with respect to it.

"Duchenier!" cried the landlord in horror. "What, the famous Duchenier in La Vendée! Whew! who would ever have thought it? Well, madame, this is rather serious."

"I might have thought it," said poor Marie. "I might have known that it was impossible to hope for a friend here. You will let me, however, speak to this man myself."

"Come, come," said Dommette; "there are two sides to every question. To be sure it is a grave matter to have to do with a man so well known as M. Duchenier, and is like to be paid in monnaie du singe. But then, again, there is no fear of your betraying me."

"Of my betraying you?" asked Marie in surprise.

"Ah!" said the landlord, "you may think it strange that I should say so; but stranger things than that happen every day of the year now. However, as I say, if I am in your power, you are in mine, that is one comfort; and so I will even go and speak to the young man I told you of."

He went accordingly; and as the person of whom he spoke happened to be none other than our old acquaintance Dreux, he speedily found that the worthy actor was able to give a good deal of information as to the fate of Charles Duchenier; not, it may be supposed, that the account could give any comfort to the mind of his wife. For Dreux knew nothing that had happened after his own acquittal by the commission; and indeed he had made all possible haste to take his departure from Nantes. After talking with this man, Marie's determination was but the more firmly fixed to petition Danton himself for her father's deliverance; and the actor having been dismissed, she proceeded to acquaint Dommette with her resolution. The worthy landlord, on being informed of it, felt and expressed the greatest possible terror.

"There was nothing," he said, "to be hoped for from such an interview; and the danger was so great as to make it almost certain destruction. The probable consequence would be, that Madame Duchenier, far from being able to procure her father's release, would herself be committed to prison, and then all the care and anxiety of Monsieur de Brissac, and his own sacrifice, would be in vain."

However, Marie was not to be diverted from her purpose; and having been acquainted by the landlord that she had been correctly informed as to the place of Danton's residence, she repeated her orders that the hackney-coach should be waiting for her by five o'clock, and then requested to be left alone. With this request the landlord complied; but as he really entertained a very great degree of pity for his guest, and could think of no better means of displaying his sympathy than providing her with a good dinner, which, arguing from his own feelings, he judged would be acceptable under any circumstances, he requested Madame Dommette, to whom he had entrusted the secret that a royalist lady was staying in the house, to provide such a repast as should do credit to her kitchen and to her cook. The good landlady very willingly consented; though, much to her disappointment, some two hours after, the dishes came down very nearly untasted. Five o'clock at length came; the hackney-coach made its appearance, and Texier, mounting the box, gave the coachman his orders. In the half-hour which that melancholy journey consumed, Marie Duchenier had ample time to reflect on the miserably small hopes of success which she could reasonably entertain.

Nevertheless, though such an application must at all times have been one of great peril, the present moment was that in which there was perhaps less than at any other period. The party with which Danton acted was completely triumphant; the royalists had long ago been crushed, and now the Girondists also lay prostrate, and Danton shared the supreme power of France with only two rivals. One of these, namely Marat, he thoroughly despised. Nor could he then discern that the moderate talents of Robespierre would ultimately prove his own downfall. So that, what with his reflections on the power to which he had raised himself, his hopes for the future, and his present enjoyment of the series of banquets by which the city of Paris testified their gratitude to him and to his companions, Danton was now in an extremely placid state of mind.

It was nearly six o'clock when the hackney-coach drew up at his door. The house was one of some pretensions; the door stood open, and ten or a dozen persons were waiting in the hall, on various matters of business. On receiving information that Danton was within, Marie Duchenier followed the servant into the house, and desired Texier to await her return by the coach.

The servant, on announcing to his master that a lady wished to speak to him, added, with the familiarity which Danton always encouraged, "Quite an aristocratical figure, monsieur; I have not seen such an one here this many a day."

"Indeed!" said Danton; "pretty?"

"Monsieur must judge for himself."


"Yes, monsieur, so far as I could see through her veil."

"Tell her to step up, then; and just set a chair on the other side of the table." And in a few moments Marie Duchenier was ushered into the room.

She thought that she had prepared her mind for its brutal appearance, so remarkable a contrast to the apartments of Robespierre; but the reality far surpassed her imaginations.

Danton had been dining, and was even then loitering over his Burgundy; the table and the sideboard were crowded with a strange mixture of dirty plates, greasy documents connected with the business of the Convention, fragments of the last, or rather, it should seem, of the two or three last meals, a hairbrush, and other articles of a similar kind. The furniture looked as if it were never dusted, and the floor as if it were never washed; the room smelt strongly of cigars and spirits; and the walls were adorned with only one plate, the execution of Louis XVI. But the personal appearance of Danton was quite in keeping with his room. His enormous body, still more enormous head, his uncombed and matted hair, the large teeth which he showed in speaking, his ill-made clothes, and general ruffian-like appearance, made him seem, at least so it appeared to the frightened eyes of Marie, the very image of a giant in his den. On entering the apartment she trembled so much as to excite the notice of the republican.

"Why, madame," he said, in his loud, harsh voice, "you seem frightened at something. What's the matter? Let me hear if I can give you a helping hand."

Had Marie been as well acquainted with Danton as those who associated with him, she would have known that this speech was, for him, an extreme proof of affability and condescension: as she was not, it did not very much tend to restore her composure. However, she sank down into the chair to which Danton had motioned her, for he did not think of giving himself the trouble to rise when she entered the room.

"I may well be frightened, monsieur," she began, "for I am in very great trouble." And her terror and agitation stopped her voice.

"Trouble!" said Danton. "Hang it, so is half France; but what's that to me?"

"Only I thought, monsieur--I thought that perhaps if I stated the cause to you, you might be able to do something for me." It was with great difficulty that she was able to say so much.

"Able enough, I dare say," replied the other, with a noise which he intended for a laugh, but which sounded far more like a howl; "but the question is, whether I shall choose." And as he spoke, he poured himself out another glass of wine, and drank it off.

Marie ventured to throw back her veil, and for one moment to look at the democrat; and that glance pleaded her cause far more effectually than any words which she could have used.

"My father," she said, "is now a prisoner in the S. Lazare as an aristocrat; and I know not to whom to apply but to yourself, with any hope for procuring either his liberation, or else at least a favourable hearing. I ought to say," she continued, almost fearing that she was insulting Danton,--as if a nature like his had been susceptible of such an insult,--"I ought to say, that my father has a. considerable sum of money in Poitou, now in the care of some friends at present with the Vendean army; and they, I am sure, would gladly contribute anything in reason which might be required to procure his enlargement."

Danton said nothing for about a minute, but sat gazing on Marie Duchenier in a manner which might at another time have terrified her, but which now she was too much engrossed by her errand to notice; but at last he said, in a careless manner, "What is your father's name?"

"De Beaurepaire," she answered.

"And yours--De Beaurepaire too?"

"No, monsieur, I am married. My name is Duchenier."

"What, the wife of that Duchenier down in La Vendée?" demanded Danton, angrily.

"The same, monsieur," answered Marie, gaining courage from feeling that her position could not be worse than it was.

Danton made a long pause: it might have lasted two minutes, but it seemed interminable. He drank another glass of wine; and this time offered one to his visitor, which she declined.

"Where is your husband?" he asked.

"If he is living, monsieur," she answered in a low voice, "he is at Nantes."

"At Nantes, is he?" asked Danton. "How came he there?"

"He was taken prisoner in Poitou, and they carried him there at once."

"Well," said Danton, looking at Marie so earnestly that she could not help shrinking from him as from some evil being, "so you want your father to be set at liberty?"

"If I only dared to hope it," she answered.

"And what would you say if I gave orders for your husband's liberation?--that is to say, if they have not chopped his head off already, or rather, as I believe old Carrier does "not deal in that sort of thing, drowned him in the Loire."

"Oh, monsieur!" was all that Marie could say, as she hid her face in her hands and burst into tears, almost equally agitated by the hope of which he had given her the glimpse, and the dreadful images which his brutal speech had called up.

"Well, child, well, you must remember," said he, "that nothing in this world can be done for nothing; that money of which you spoke must be forthcoming. What sum does it amount to?"

"My father left in Poitou twenty thousand francs; but I am sure that his friends would endeavour to raise double that sum."

"Very well," said Danton, "then there are three things that you must remember. The first is, that those francs must be forthcoming at once; the second, that you say not a word to any one of your having been here with me; and the third, that you keep in the way if I happen to send for you. Do you understand?"

Marie promised obedience to all that he required. "I had better," she said, "continue where I am now staying."

"Where is that?"

She mentioned the place; and Danton, after considering a moment, said, "That will do very well. I give you my word, that as soon as the money is paid in, your father shall be set free; and stop a moment and listen to what I am going to say. I will write to-night to Nantes, and desire Carrier to suspend your husband's execution; and on the fulfilment of certain conditions, which I will name to you hereafter, he also shall be set at liberty; or if his case is too flagrant for that, the gaoler shall forget to lock his cell. Now what do you say to me for that?"

Marie expressed her thanks again and again, as well as her tears would let her, and then rose to take her leave. To her equal horror and disgust the ruffian threw his arm round her, and kissed her. She had, however, presence of mind enough to suppress her feelings until Danton loosed his hold. She was about halfway down the stairs when she heard the same terrible voice calling her back again; and slowly and reluctantly she obeyed.

"One word more," he said; "you are not, on any account, to communicate with your father till you hear from me again. Now you may go."

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