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Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

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

Chapter XIX.

WE must now go back a little in order that we may take up the histories of various personages in whom we are interested, and may carry them forward a few months beyond the time at which we have arrived. The capitulation of Nantes had set a body of fifteen thousand veterans, who had formed its garrison, at liberty to act in La Vendée. At first, through want of experience in the method of warfare adopted by the peasantry, they were despised too much by the royalists; and the men, rhyming on Mayence, said that the new reinforcement was very much like fayence, a kind of inferior earthenware, because neither would stand the fire. But La Vendée was now girt in by national troops to the number of nearly two hundred and forty thousand men; and how a struggle against such gigantic forces could be maintained as long as it was, is one of those pages of history which are more wonderful than any romance. Thus the battles of Roche Deriguet, Martigné, Douay, Thouars, Torfou, Beaulieu, Montaigu, Saint Fulgent, and Moulin aux Chevres, were fought with more or less success by the Catholic army; but in the fatal battle of Chollet, when the Mayengais signalised themselves as if to revenge the contempt in which they had been previously held, it received a blow which threatened its immediate dissolution. M. de Lescure had been mortally wounded, though he lingered on for many days, and at one period hopes were entertained of his life. In an evil hour a resolution was taken to pass the Loire and to endeavour to find a refuge in Brittany, where the inhabitants were reported to be ready to take up arms. The deaths of M. de Bonchamp and M. d'Elbée accompanied or followed this disastrous passage. The army, together with the wives and families of the peasantry which composed it, moved towards Laval; an army only in name, for the centre was entirely composed of women or children, the men being placed in the van or in the rear.

This body, as it marched along, sometimes occupied a space of four leagues. The victorious republican army hurried over the Loire, and came up with the Vendeans under Laval, doubtless believing that, in attacking a body of which the greater part were utterly unable to defend themselves, without food, without any knowledge of the country, and almost without generals, they were going to a massacre rather than to a combat. But in a victory to which Cressy or Agincourt sink into nothing, the unconquerable peasantry totally routed their enemies, and cut the Mayengais in pieces almost to a man. M. de la Rochejacquelein was elected general in place of D'Elbée, who had succeeded Cathelineau; and some of the more adventurous spirits were for marching immediately on Paris. Had this been done, it is impossible to say how far the subsequent history of Europe might not have been changed; but more prudent counsels prevailed. Granville was attacked, but unsuccessfully; and the royalists then took up their position under Dol. Duchenier, meanwhile, had been pursuing his negotiations in England, and had reason to hope that the ministry were more in earnest than he had thought them. He at length received his despatches, which were concealed in the barrel of a pistol; and with these he sailed in a British vessel for Jersey. Thence, by means of a smuggler's boat, he ran over in the night for the coast of Normandy, and landed at Granville.

As for Texier, he had quietly returned to Corday's house, where he found that Rose Le Grand had already arrived. After some deliberation as to the safest course which she could pursue, it was determined that she should endeavour to reach the royalist army; and Dreux offered to be her escort. As his fidelity had been amply proved, and as Texier vowed that nothing should induce him to leave Paris till he could learn the fate of Madame Duchenier, and he mentally added till he could secure that of Santerre, the matter was so arranged. The exploit by which Rose had been rescued had of course caused no small sensation in Paris; but the driver of the cabriolet had contrived so cleverly to elude his pursuers, by implicitly following the directions of Vertot, that no shadow of suspicion ever attached itself to the worthy gingerbread-seller or his family. As for M. Dommette, when he read the account in the Moniteur, he shrugged his shoulders, and contented himself with a quiet suspicion that two of his late guests must have had a hand in the business; but wisely calling to mind the proverb that "two men can keep counsel, putting one away," he breathed not a syllable of it even to Madame Dommette till after the return of the Bourbons, and then M. Dommette's tale about the overturned tumbril became, in process of time, rather formidable to the frequenters of his coffee-room.

Texier spent his time at his cousin's house, partly in diligently reading the Moniteur for the purpose of satisfying himself as to Madame Duchenier, and partly in visiting the various prisons of the city in the hope of being able to discover her. When he had thus employed about three weeks, his relation, in requesting him to put up with an inferior room to that which he had previously occupied, informed him that he expected a kind of cousin of his from the country. "A wild sort of girl she is," he said, "and nothing less will satisfy her--Heaven save the mark--than coming up to Paris."

"An odd sort of taste too," said Texier.

"Why, so it is," said the tradesman; but one can never tell what a woman's head will be set upon. Pour le pain d'épice, je m'y connais; pour les femmes------"and he broke off into a whistle.

"But if I am in your way------" said Texier.

"Oh, my dear fellow, don't mention it," cried Corday; "I hope you will stay as long as ever you are able." And Texier accordingly did stay; and in a few days the country relation, whose name was Charlotte Corday, arrived at her cousin's house. She certainly warranted the character which he had given her. Day after day she begged to be taken to the Place de la Revolution, and seemed to take interest in nothing but in anecdotes of the existing horrors, and more particularly of the lives of the terrible triumvirate. Of Marat especially she was accustomed to ask numberless questions. Her whole appearance was that of one possessed; her long black hair and black eyes were strangely contrasted with the deathlike paleness of her face; she was tall and thin; and sometimes, when excited, spoke with an energy which rather discomposed the nerves of the gingerbread-factor.

Texier had by this time become fully persuaded that Marie Duchenier had either been removed from Paris, or had been made away with by underhand means. Corday assured him that the latter supposition was extremely unlikely; "for," said he, "it is never worth while now to conceal a murder. But are you sure that you have not left any one of the prisons without inquiries?"

"Well, I think not," replied Texier. "I have been to the Luxembourg, to begin with."

"Let me see," said Corday, pausing, with whitened arms, in his task of kneading. "Have you been to the Madelonettes?"

"Yes," said Texier.

"To La Mairie?"


"To La Plessis?"


"To the place--I don't know what they call it--in the Rue de Sevres?"

"Well, I went there, but I could not see a list of the prisoners. However, they said there were no women there at all."

"Let me think. To the Carmelites?"

"Ay, I have been there."

"To Porte Libre?"

"Porte Libre," said Texier, "I never heard of that."

"You may know it by the name of La Bourbe; they sometimes call it so."

"No," said Texier, "I have not been there, and I don't know exactly where it is."

"Have you not?" asked Corday; "I advise you to go there, then! for I have heard that they have sent a good many there lately."

"But where is it?" asked Texier.

"Why," said his cousin, "it lies between the Observatory and the Rue d'Enfer. You go to the Rue d'Enfer, and anybody will show you where it is."

Texier accordingly departed on his mission; and upon arriving at the prison, which, notwithstanding its unpleasant name, was really in itself one of the best then used for the confinement of State prisoners, requested, as he was accustomed, to see the list of those imprisoned there; and as the man seemed rather surly he enforced the request by a two-and-a-half franc piece. On receiving the paper, and running his eye down the alphabetical arrangement of names, he saw the "Duchenier, Marie," for a sight of which he had been so long labouring.

"I want to see that prisoner," he said, holding his finger under the name.

"Then you must want on," said the turnkey. "Pick and choose out of the rest, but that one, by express orders, is in solitary confinement."

"By whose express orders?" asked Texier.

"Ay," answered the man, "that's the question. But give me a couple of francs more, and you shall know."

"Tell me first," said Texier, somewhat suspicious that the man was laughing at him, "and then I'll pay."

"Oh, that's the time of day, is it?" said the turnkey, "Very well, it's by M. Danton's."

"There's the money," said Texier; and he walked away, well pleased to have acquired even thus much information.

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