Project Canterbury

Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

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

Chapter XVI.

WHO does not know how often it happens that one and the same hour brings with itself the crisis of two trains of events mutually connected, but passing at distances far removed from each other? So it was in the course of our story.

It was S. Peter's Day; the very day on which Cathelineau fell before Nantes. But in the desecrated churches of revolutionised France there was no bell to welcome in the great festival; there was no tribe of worshippers hastening to assist at the high mass; there was no merry meeting of the villagers, or the dance, or the song, as the sun sank into the west. That day dawned on Paris like any other; the business of the trial or the guillotine went on as usual; and it seemed as if the murderers gained fresh strength from each act of cruelty, and as if the people took fresh delight in every spectacle of tyranny.' Three weeks had now elapsed since Danton had promised Marie Duchenier to interfere for the safety of her father and her husband, on the payment of the money which she had offered. Since that time she had only seen him once, and that was when, having obtained, not without difficulty, the sum which she had mentioned, she went to his house, in order to insure that it reached his hands. It was about a week before the time at which we have now arrived that she did so; and he then promised, and apparently with good faith, that her father should be set at liberty in the course of a few days, and that her husband should be released before the end of the month. To do him justice, he had already despatched an order to Carrier, at Nantes, desiring him to detain M. Duchenier; but. to take care that his imprisonment should be as comfortable as things would allow, and that he should be forthcoming when wanted. But Carrier, who was as great a man at Nantes as Danton was at Paris, paid no manner of attention to the directions sent him, and vaguely replied that he should act in the matter according to the orders he had received.

Thus, then, Marie Duchenier, strictly forbidden to visit her father, and obliged almost entirely to confine herself to the Vieil Coq, passed a miserable week of suspense. The good landlord did all in his power to relieve her anxiety: he assured her that Danton's word was, to say the least, far more to be depended on than that of any of his colleagues; and that, having overcome the first great difficulty, madame might reasonably hope for a happy issue to the business. Texier, who did not consider himself so closely confined to the inn, made several excursions in the direction of the S. Lazare, in the hope of acquiring some information as to the situation of the prisoners, though not daring to violate Danton's injunction by visiting the prison itself. In the meantime he brought in all the intelligence which he was able to gain of the proceedings of the Convention, and of the intentions of those who governed it; and in neither the one nor the other could poor Marie find any reasonable source of consolation.

At length, about nine o'clock on the morning of S. Peter's Day, Madame Duchenier received a note from Danton, expressed in sufficiently civil terms, and desiring her to call on him at noon. There was no answer, the landlord said, and the man who brought the letter had gone away.

With some trepidation, but with nothing like the terror which she had felt at her first, Marie Duchenier prepared for her third visit to the terrible democrat. Punctual to the time, she again reached the house, and again was ushered into the presence of Danton. It appeared as though some slight attempt had been made to divest the apartment which he occupied of some part of its usual brutality; the floor and tables were restored to something like order, and Danton himself made as near an approach to civility as his nature would allow.

"Pray be seated, Madame Duchenier. I am glad that you obeyed my request at once."

"It was not likely, monsieur, that I should have any engagement which would prevent my doing so," replied Marie with a sad smile. "My one only object in coming to Paris was to save my father's life: if I can accomplish that, I shall only too gladly return to my own country."

"Well, madame, there is the order for the release of your father, and there is one for that of your husband." And he laid them on the table.

"God bless and reward you, monsieur, for your kindness," said poor Marie, sobbing; and she stretched her hand out to take the precious documents.

"Stay!" said Danton, with a kind of laugh. "Did I not tell you, when we parted once before, nothing for nothing?"

"You said so, monsieur," replied Marie, half frightened by his manner; "but I thought--I thought--I believed that the------"

"That the fifty thousand francs were in full payment of the debt," said Danton, drawing his chair nearer to that of his victim. "Not quite. They are a part of it, I confess; but there is something more."

"If more money is necessary," said Marie, "we will make every effort to raise it; but--I speak frankly, monsieur--I do not believe the wreck of my father's property will afford ten thousand francs more."

"Keep them and welcome," said Danton; "I spoke of something else." And, bending over Madame Duchenier's shoulder, he whispered a few words in her ear.

Marie started to her feet, a deep, angry blush spreading to her very forehead. "Never, monsieur," she said vehemently. "Take back your papers; and leave go of me. GOD forgive me for having ever been deceived by you."

"Very well, madame," said Danton coolly; "then hear what follows. In the first place, you leave this house for the prison, and that for the guillotine. In the next place, I write to Carrier to hasten citizen Duchenier's trial--and you know what that means. And lastly, I pledge myself to bring your father to the guillotine before the week is out."

Marie made no answer. She could not have spoken without a flood of tears; and the loathing she felt for the monster who stood before her made her resolved not thus to humble herself before him.

"You won't speak?" said Danton, raising his hand, as if to strike her.

She paused a moment, and then said, with a firmness almost surprising to herself, "Yes, I will speak. GOD sometimes lets the wicked triumph in this world; but I do not believe that He will permit such enormous villainy to succeed even here. You think to frighten me. Do I look as if I were frightened? Do with me as you like. I trust in GOD to protect me and those whom I love; and for you I feel nothing but the deepest contempt and loathing."

"Indeed!" said Danton. "Mark my words. To prison you shall go; and you shall see your father suffer before your own trial. You shall have a holiday on purpose," he added with a bitter laugh. He laid his hand on the bell, and then said, "I will give you one more chance. Do you accept my terms?"

"GOD forbid!" said Marie.

Danton rang the bell. "We shall see what comes of your trust in GOD. I never believed there was one; so if He wishes to prove there is, now will be a good time.--A hackney-coach to the door for this person, Sausette."

"There is one at the door, monsieur, that she came in."

"Very well. I will trouble you to step into it, Madame Duchenier," said Danton, rising, and laying his hand on Marie's shoulder. He thus moved her downstairs; scratched a few lines on a piece of paper with a pencil that he took from his waistcoat pocket; bade the servant let down the steps; and then said, "I wish you joy, madame.--To La Bourbe, Sausette; and give this to the governor."

During her sad ride thither, Marie had full leisure to think over her miserable condition. Her only comfort was that, as if by a sort of presentiment, she had not allowed Texier to accompany her. Her fate would at least be known; and it was but three days before that she had found what the landlord of the Vieil Coq had assured her was a very safe opportunity to forward an account of her proceedings to M. de Lescure. To him she had told the whole; and had added that she expected a third interview with Danton in a day or two.

We must now shift the scene to the salon of the prison S. Lazare, the time being nine at night. Lights had just been brought in; the party assembled had the appearance of a fashionable drawing-room; no executions had as yet taken place; and it was believed--or rather hoped--that the imprisonment was rather intended as a kind of surveillance than with any ulterior motive. M. de Beaurepaire and Rose were in higher spirits than usual; they knew nothing of Marie's volountary stay in Paris; and from having heard no ill tidings, which Naudet had faithfully promised not to conceal from them, they had persuaded themselves that she must be in safety.

Rose, who had become a general favourite, was seated at the piano, and was enduring the usual requests to sing.

"Well," she said at last, "if you really all so very much wish it, I will do my best." And she sang one of her Poitevin songs.

There was great applause at the conclusion; for Rose's voice, though it had possessed little advantage of training, was singularly sweet.

"M. de Beaurepaire," said a lady in deep mourning (her husband had perished six months before on the guillotine), "you have never yet favoured us. Pray, let us hear something."

"So asked," he said with a bow of the old school, "I cannot refuse." And he also sang as follows:--

Du haut de la voute éternelle,
Jeune héros, reçois nos pleurs.
Que notre douleur solemnelle
T'offre des hymnes et des flours.
Ah! sur ton urne sépulcrale
Gravons ta gloire et nos regrets;
Et que la palme triumphale
S'élève au sein de ses cyprès.

Aspirez à ses destinées,
Guerriers, défenseurs de nos lois;
Tous ses jours furent des années;
Tous ses faits furent des exploits.
La mort, qui frappa sa jeunesse,
Respectera son souvenir;
S'il n'atteignit point la vieillesse,
Il sera vieux dans l'avenir.

Sur les rochers de l'Armorique
Il terrassa la trahison;
Il vainquit l'hydre fanatique,
Semant la flamme et le poison.
La guerre civile étouffée
Céde a son bras libérateur;
Et c'est-là le plus beau trophie
D'un héros pacificateur.

Qui tu seras notre modèle;
Tu n'as point terni tes lauriers.
Ta voix libre, ta voix fidèle,
Est toujours présente aux guerriers.
Aux champs d'honneur on vit ta gloire,
Ton ombre, au milieu de nos rangs, Saura cajrtiver la victoire,
Et punir encor les tyrans.

Due commendations having been accorded to this song, an officer volunteered a ballad.

[August 15, 1415.]

"Upon them, men of Portugal,
When ye see me draw the sword;
And play ye, one and all, the man
In the battle of the LORD!
Look on the heights of Ceuta,
That glitter in the sun;
And when Don John shall lead you,
The victory shall be won!

Think of the saintly squadron
In battle-line arrayed,
Whom that great warrior-angel
Is leading to our aid;
Remember her, the ocean's star,
The pure and mild of mien,
Assumed this day to heaven,
To reign its Virgin-Queen."

'Twas Zala-ebn-Zala
That stood upon the strand:
"Yet patience, sons of Islam,
The Christian dogs shall land;
Their lances rule Algarves,
Their galleys sweep the main;
But from our sunny Africa
We'll spurn them back again.

Ye know right well the victor's crown
And the meed of them that die;
Allah and Allah's Prophet
Have spoke, and cannot lie.
Think of the houris' beauty,
And the homes that fear no ill;
And the everlasting lote-tree;
And the voice of Izrahil."

Don John hath made the signal,
And forth his squadrons leap,
Both barons, knights, and yeomen,
Though 'tis half a fathom deep;
And still they strain amidst the main
The hostile shore to reach;
And battleaxe and scimitar
Are clashing on the beach.

--In Santa Cruz at Coimbra
The monks were saying tierce,
And scantly through the windows
The storied sunbeams pierce;
When clanged the gates, and clashed the floor,
Of GOD'S serene abode,
And right--right up to the chancel-door
A kingly spectre rode.

Then abbat gazed at prior,
And monks together pressed;
And there was awe and terror,
And crossing of the breast.
Till by the earl's fair coronet,
And by the well-scarred cheek,
They knew Affonso the Adored,
CHRIST'S victor at Ourique.

"This day"--thus spake the royal form,
And the brethren hushed their breath--
"This day Don John at Ceuta
Must strike for life or death;
Yet let each heart be joyful--
Yet let each eye be bright--
I and my son Don Sancho
Are going to the fight!"

That very hour at Ceuta
Two kingly forms were seen,
Mounted on steeds as white as snow,
Of more than mortal mien;
No word they spake, no stroke they strake,
As they fell on the Moorish rank;
Yet before them still, as snow from a hill,
The accursed Crescent sank.

'Twas Zala-ebn-Zala
That rallied on his men:
"They are turning, sons of Islam,--
Upon them yet again!"
Then back rolled Christian yeomen,
And knights were sore distressed,--
When those two ghostly horsemen
Toward their succour pressed.

Don John among the Infidels
Hath hewn his bloody way;
Their squadrons close around him,
And he must stand at bay.
Alone amidst the foemen,
To his distant knights he cried;--
And those two ghostly horsemen
Were fighting by his side.

'Twas Zala-ebn-Zala
That gave his steed the rein,
And left ten thousand Infidels
To moulder on the plain:
And Christians, mingled with the Moors,
Through the city-gates have burst;--
But those two ghostly horsemen
Have entered it the first.

During the last verse of the song Naudet had, with his usual preliminary knock, entered the room; but had remained quietly at its lower end. When it was over, and the applause had ceased, he came up to De Beaurepaire, and said gravely, but quietly, "Monsieur, might I request a few moments' private conversation with you in another room?"

"What!" cried De Beaurepaire; "have you------" and then, recollecting himself, he merely said, "I am at your service instantly." And he followed the gaoler, fully expecting that he was about to receive some intelligence of his daughter. Naudet led the way into a small but well-furnished room opposite the drawing-room; and then, turning to De Beaurepaire, he said, "Monsieur, I am going to perform the most painful duty that I ever was compelled to undertake in my whole life."

"What have you heard, monsieur?" said De Beaurepaire, still thinking only of Marie.

"Let me know at once."

"I grieve to say, monsieur," returned Naudet, "that you have, in some way which I cannot explain, incurred the displeasure of M. Danton; and it is by his orders that I am compelled to place you in La Souricière; and, I am sorry to add, to put you in fetters."

"Danton!" cried De Beaurepaire; "incurred Danton's displeasure? I was not even aware that he knew of my name."

"So it is, monsieur," replied the gaoler; "the cause I know as little as yourself; but, as you are aware, M. Danton must be obeyed."

"Very well," said De Beaurepaire; "I was afraid of worse news than this."

"I must trouble you, then, to follow me," said Naudet. And the two left the room together, and were accompanied by two turnkeys whom De Beaurepaire had never seen before; Naudet led the way into the hall, and then said: "M. de Beaurepaire, you will follow the under-keeper."

"Good-night, then, monsieur," said De Beaurepaire, with his usual coolness. "I find it not quite so hot down here as it was upstairs. Gentlemen, I am at your service."

But De Beaurepaire's philosophy had nearly given way when he was escorted to the place that was designed for his reception. The turnkeys led the way, down a staircase which opened into the hall, and then along a subterranean passage, which, even on that summer night, struck deadly cold; and at last stopped before a door, strongly plated and barred with iron, and which opened into a little dungeon with a wet mud floor, and lighted by a grating which seemed to communicate, at a considerable height, with the garden of the prison.

"Now, monsieur," said one of the gaolers, "I must trouble you for your hands; and, Pierre, you can look to monsieur's legs." And, without further remark, M. de Beaurepaire found himself fettered hand and foot

"Really, gentlemen," he said, "this place is enough to give one the rheumatism; if you could bring down some mats, or rugs, or something of that kind, it would just add a little to my comfort; and if you will do me the favour to put your hands in my pocket, you may take a louis d'or apiece for your trouble."

The turnkey did so without ceremony, and then said, "I will see what I can do, monsieur. I like to oblige a gentleman who keeps up a good heart."

Leaving M. de Beaurepaire in his prison, we must pause a moment to relate what happened to Texier the same evening; because that worthy peasant will hereafter be found to exercise no small influence over our tale. He had waited with considerable anxiety the return of his mistress; and when it drew towards eight o'clock he communicated his apprehensions to Dommette.

After discussing the matter till nearly nine o'clock, "I will tell you what it is, my good friend," said the landlord; "I advise you to take yourself off from this house, if you have any regard for your neck. There's a screw loose, depend upon it, somewhere; and I think 'tis very likely that unpleasant inquiries will be made here before long for you. Is there any one in Paris to whom you could go?"

"Why, a fortnight ago," said Texier, "I should have said no; but since that time I have found out a kind of second cousin of mine, who lives in the Barrière du Trône, just by the Fauxbourg S. Antoine, you know, who seems an honest kind of fellow, and who wished me to spend a few days with him. What do you think of my accepting his invitation to-night?"

"You cannot do better," said Dommette; and Texier accordingly went.

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