Project Canterbury

Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

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

Chapter XXIV.

IT was a sultry evening towards the end of July. The sun wanted about an hour to his setting, and his cloudless rays fell vividly on the patched casements of a village inn, in the little parlour of which Charles Duchenier was seated. The table was spread with respectable preparations for an evening meal; and Duchenier himself, who had nearly recovered his usual strength, looked much the same as when we first introduced him to our readers, except that the anxiety of the last twelve months had apparently added six or seven years to his age. However, he appeared to be applying himself in earnest to the viands set before him, and, to judge by the attention which the hostler was bestowing on a fine horse, at the stable door, he was not so much occupied by his own concerns as to neglect the faithful companion of his journey. By the time he had concluded his meal the sun was concealed behind a group of trees which stood immediately before the village inn, and Duchenier walked forth into the little village street to enjoy the coolness of the evening, and, perhaps, the more freely to think over his position and his designs.

Whoever has seen the little village of La Fosse will remember that, on the S. Lo road, about half a mile to the east of its church, there rises a sufficiently steep hill, from the top of which the traveller may obtain his first view of the fair cathedral of Coutances. It happened that Duchenier, looking in that direction, beheld a traveller rapidly descending the brow of this hill, whose appearance caused him to shade his eyes with his hand and to look attentively at him.

"He knew I was coming by this road," said Duchenier to himself, "but what can have brought him here? and that certainly is he, or I never was so much mistaken in my life."

A few minutes more served to place Texier by his master's side.

"Why, Pierre," cried Duchenier, "what, in the name of wonder, brings you here?"

"Thank GOD, monsieur, that I have found you," answered Texier. "If you do not make the utmost haste forward, you will be too late after all."

"How do you mean, too late?" said Duchenier, in great agitation; "has anything new happened?"

"They have fixed to-morrow for her execution, monsieur. I have spoken to her once again, and now she wishes very much to see you."

Duchenier seemed quite overwhelmed with the intelligence. "It is impossible," he said, at length.

"No, monsieur," replied Texier, "it is possible, by hard riding. If you will go into the house, and settle your account, I will get your horse ready. Mine only came from S. Lo, and therefore can start at once."

Duchenier, though extremely anxious to ask more questions, followed the advice of his servant. The account was quickly settled, the bed which had been bespoken countermanded, and within ten minutes from Texier's first appearance on the hill Duchenier and he were urging forward their horses towards S. Lo.

"Now tell me all you know, Texier," said his master, as soon as they were clear of the little village street.

"Yesterday morning," answered Texier, "a boy brought down a message to me from La Bourbe, that Madame Duchenier wished to speak to me and that I should be allowed to see her. I went at once; and then I found that they had told her that to-morrow was to be the day, and that there would be no second trial. I told her that you were on your way to Paris; and that, if I possibly could do it, I would see you and hurry you forward; and she seemed satisfied. Then I went down to the Barrière du Trône, to leave word in case you should come there before I could get back; and then I hired the best horse I could get and came on at once."

"And there is no hope?" said Duchenier mournfully.

"There might be hope, monsieur," replied Texier, "if there were but one leader to head the rabble against Robespierre. They always feared him, but now they hate him more than they fear him. The windows in the Rue S. Honore were closed when the tumbril passed by; so they removed the guillotine to the Barrière du Trône, just opposite my cousin's house, thinking that the people in the fauxbourgs might take some interest in it. But even they are sickened with so much blood. Once or twice there have been attempts to rescue the prisoners; and wiser men than I have said every day for the past week that that would be the last time the tumbril would pass by."

"Let us only be there, Texier; let us only be there," and Duchenier seemed incapable of any other thought.

In about an hour the two travellers had reached S. Lo, and there, after some little delay, procuring fresh and strong horses, they rode forward again to Bayeux. The moon was looking down peacefully on the exquisite spires of its cathedral as the horses clattered through its narrow streets; and, without waiting to give them refreshment, they were soon clear of the city and spurring through the desolate tract of country that lies eastward of it. The cool breeze refreshed both horses and riders as it sprang up about midnight; the moon sank lower and lower; marshy vapours rose thicker and whiter as the night advanced; and when the travellers, for a moment, drew rein on the steep hill above Lisieux, the great bell of its distant clock tolled two.

In that town, at the rambling Ecu d'Or, they were forced to alight; the waiter was with great difficulty aroused; and not even their assertion that they were riding post for Paris on business connected with the government, as indeed it certainly was, could procure fresh horses without a considerable waste of time. Procured, however, they were at last; and the summer morning broke in all its beauty on their road to Evreux. Its ancient cathedral stood out gloriously against the morning sky as Duchenier and Texier rode in at the archway of the Hôtel d'Angleterre then called the H6tel Nationale, and demanded fresh horses and necessary refreshment. A quarter of an hour sufficed to procure the one and to complete the other; and with brighter hopes of obtaining his object than he had yet indulged, Charles Duchenier again pushed forward for Nantes. But the heat of the weather delayed them beyond their expectations, so that it was fully eleven o'clock before they reached the hotel that stands, or did stand, if the railroad has not altered it, on the southern side of the great church. Now, on the high road to Paris, better horses were procured and with greater speed; so that, although the sultriness of the day increased, it was not without great hope that the two travellers struck southward.

"Courage, monsieur," said Texier, answering what he knew must be his master's thoughts, "my life for it, we shall be in time. Even if we cannot change at S. Germain en Laye, these horses can take us into Paris."

"But only three hours more," said Duchenier.

"Nay, monsieur, more than that," said Texier; "the procession does not leave the Luxembourg till three, and it does not get down to the Barriere du Trône till after four."

"We are on the wrong side of Paris," said Charles.

"Ay, monsieur," said Texier, "but we shall do it for all that. That landlord knew what he was about," he added, more cheerfully; "he could not have chosen better horses than these."

So they rode forward; till, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, they reached Neuilly-sur-Seine.

"Now," said Duchenier, "we have but to push on straight to the Luxembourg; and we must be in time."

"Under favour," said Texier, "if you will take my advice, monsieur, you will not do so."

"Why?" cried his master. "What would you have me do?"

"Ride at once to the Barriere du Tr6ne," replied Texier. "My cousin Corday knows all that is going forward; and it may be as well."

"What can be going forward?" asked Charles, hastily. "No; I will go straight on." At that moment the fate of Marie hung by a thread.

"Monsieur," cried Texier, earnestly, "do for once be persuaded. You know not how strong the feeling against this man is. I have a kind of presentiment that his downfall is very near. If you go along to the tribunal you will hear nothing, you will see nothing, that can enable you to take advantage of circumstances; if you go to the Barriere you may."

"But how?" inquired Duchenier.

"By Montmartre, monsieur, and Père la Chaise."

Charles, after hesitating a moment, merely said," Very well;" and the two were speedily riding round through the northern environs of Paris.

Duchenier was too much immersed in his own meditations, and, moreover, had had too little recent acquaintance with the metropolis, to notice anything remarkable in the behaviour of the inhabitants of the fauxbourgs through which they passed. But Texier observed a great change even during the few hours he had been absent; .and the grouping of the inhabitants, the spirit of dis-
content, the ill-suppressed murmurs, the occasional curses on the blood-thirstiness of the Jacobins, recalled to his memory . the impression he had received when going with De Beaurepaire to the S. Lazare on the evening preceding the ruin of the Girondists. More especially it seemed to him that in the Barrière des Amandiers, and thence onward to that Du Trône, and in the Fauxbourg S. Antoine, the proverbially insubordinate population were on the very eve of an outbreak. On reaching the Barrière du Trône itself, the houses which faced the street by which the tumbril must pass were all closed; and it seemed that the excitement which Robespierre had hoped to produce by shifting the scene of the executions had utterly failed in its purpose.

"This way, monsieur, this way," cried Texier, as they turned from the Avenue des Ormes into the Place du Trône. "To the left--to the left."

A few moments more brought them up to Corday's house. Leaping from his horse, Texier opened the door without ceremony; and, followed by his companion, entered the passage which led to the staircase. Voices were heard loud in talk in the parlour, the door of which stood open.

"I tell you it may be done.--I tell you it may be done easily," cried a speaker, whom Texier at once recognised to be Dreux; and whose voice sounded familiar even to Duchenier. "They are determined to try it; and a more desperate set I never saw."

"But Robespierre," said Corday, fearfully.

"Robespierre, my dear fellow!" cried Dreux, who seemed to have taken as much wine as he could carry without the disarrangement of his faculties: "Robespierre!--Robespierre's not worth that!"--and he snapped his fingers. "No! no! You must and shall come with us."

"What is it?" said Texier, suddenly entering the room.

Corday and Dreux started up; and the latter, recognising Duchenier, cried, "Ah, monsieur! you are just in time! Madame has just been condemned; they have sent some eighty more to the guillotine to-day; and the good men of the Fauxbourg S. Antoine say they shall never reach it. Will you join us?"

"To the death!" cried Duchenier. "When and where?"

"The plan is to make a general attack upon them when they get to the Fontaine de l'Eléphant.--Texier, you know not what a change the last day has wrought. I am confident of success."

"Have with you! have with you! When?"

"They will be there an hour hence; but we must be off at once. They have some good men among them.--Now, Corday, you will join us?"

"Yes.--Will monsieur take anything?"

"A glass of wine; nothing else."

"And, good cousin, bring me one, too," cried Texier.

The wine was tossed off; and the companions sallied out. "I shall say, monsieur, that you have seen service," cried Dreux; "they will not think of asking where. And it would make no great difference if they did; they would join with the devil himself against Robespierre."

"Who would not?" said Texier.

"Look, all the shops are closed," proceeded Dreux, as they hastened up the Fauxbourg S. Antoine.

"Has that been long done?" inquired Duchenier.

"Only the last week. It means a great deal. They sent a commissioner to discover who set the example; but it was no use."

Little more was spoken till they reached the Fontaine de 1'felephant; and then Dreux called Duchenier's attention to the locality. "There are ten streets, monsieur, you see, which open into the Place. They are up and doing in each of them. Which will you choose?"

"I will be with you."

"You cannot do better. Mine is the Rue de Charenton. The onset is to be made as soon as the first car passes that corner. Come with me."

Dreux led the way to the street he had mentioned. To a casual observer it might only have seemed very full, when its usual character was taken into consideration; but, in the nods of intelligence which Dreux interchanged with several who were loiterers in it, in the air of determination which most of the bystanders displayed, and in the very curious weapons which many of them bore, Duchenier saw something deeper than this. They approached a group of persons who were conversing together; and Dreux said, "Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you Monsieur--Monsieur Thevenot--who has served with reputation in La Vendée."

"Very glad to see you, monsieur," said a substantial tradesman, taking off his hat; which salutation Duchenier returned. "You approve, then, monsieur, of this plan?"

"So far as I have had the opportunity of judging, monsieur, I approve it highly. You could not, in my opinion, have made choice of a better locality."

"They may beat us to-day, monsieur; but they will not carry this wholesale butchery on for long. We are sick of it, monsieur; it is enough to tarnish all the glory of the Republic. And I think," he added with a smile, "down from the days of the League till now we lads of the Fauxbourg S. Antoine have had things much our own way. You have doubtless heard what is to be the signal?"

In conversation like this the time passed on; till, when the clock of the Hospice des Quinze Vingts struck three, the citizen, whom we have mentioned, observed: "I think we may as well be drawing a little nearer to the top of the street. Now remember, gentlemen, we don't want to shed any blood if we can help it. All we have to do is to set the prisoners free. And not a soul stir till I give the word. The more haste the worse speed."

We must shift the scene; but not very far. At that moment the line of carts, which bore the victims of the day, was moving slowly along the Rue S. Antoine. Marie was in the second. She had given up the hope of again seeing him whom she loved best on earth; she had been denied pen and paper, so as to be unable to leave any note for him, to tell him of her unchanging and unchangeable love, and of her firm trust in GOD that all was ordered for the best. She wore, as did most of the female prisoners, plain mourning; her hair was arranged à la guillotine; and all her certainty that the arrival of her husband was not to be expected could not hinder her now and then from casting her eyes around her for the purpose of discovering, in the crowd, any one who might resemble him.

"My poor child," said a lady who sat by her, and to whom she had that morning related her sad history, "this is a grievous disappointment to you."

"I did think," replied Marie, her eyes filling with tears as she spoke, "that I should have seen him again. After all, it matters not; we shall soon meet where we cannot be separated any more."

"I often think," said her companion, "how unspeakably little and trifling our present sorrows must seem to those who have gone before us. The pain is so very short; the joy so very long."

"Ay, madame, if we could see it so," observed a gentleman who sat opposite.

"It is so, monsieur, whether we see it so or not. Come, ma petite" she added kindly; "it only distracts your thoughts to look about you thus; it would be but a very bitter pleasure, after all."

"What an immense crowd!" observed an officer, as the procession passed the Place de Birague.

"And how tumultuous they are!" said another gentleman. "Pray, driver, is this usual?"

"No, monsieur," said that official, briefly.

But thick as the mob was, it thickened considerably during the short remainder of the Rue S. Antoine; and at one point the cars came to a dead stand-still.

"You may depend upon it, this is something more than common," observed the officer in a low tone; "the crowd seem quite prepared to take our part."

"Don't flatter yourself, monsieur," said his neighbour; "it is only accidental. Look! there is a clear space before us." And as he spoke they emerged on to the Fontaine de l'Eléphant.

"Well, well," said the other, shrugging his shoulders, "they say that while there is life, there is hope. They are cutting it short, though," for the horses were urged into a trot.

"All the streets round are quite full," said the first speaker. "I suppose it is to show their dislike of the system that they don't crowd round us."

At this moment the first cart passed the corner of the Place, by the Rue de la Roquette. From every one of the surrounding streets a loud, wild, tumultuous shout arose. "Allons!" "Vive la Republique!" "A bas Robespierre!" "A bas la guillotine!" "A bas les Cordeliers!" were some of the cries; and at the same instant the place was full of an armed and desperate crowd. The national troops were knocked down or wounded; the prisoners told to fly for their lives; brawny arms assisted them down the sides of the various carts; the crowd opened in all directions to facilitate their escape. While hesitating a moment what she should do, Marie felt an arm thrown around her, and heard a well-known voice, "Marie! my own Marie!"

Before she could collect her thoughts Duchenier had lifted her from the car, and she found herself surrounded by him, Dreux, Texier, and some others whom she did not know.

"This way, this way, dearest; you will be safe in a couple of minutes."

He half carried her, half hurried her, towards the Rue de Charenton. Before he had taken ten steps a wild cry arose in the mob, "Vite, vite! les dragons!" And at the same moment, down the Boulevard S. Antoine, was heard the burden of the terrible Marseillaise:

"Allons, enfants de la patrie!
Le jour de gloire est arrivé;
Contre nous de la tyrannie
Le glaive sanglant est élevé!"

"Take my arm, madame," cried Dreux, supporting Marie on her left side while she clung to Duchenier with her right arm.

"Faster, faster, monsieur!" urged Texier; "it is Henriot himself.

The crowd dispersed around them; still Duchenier felt that if he could only reach the corner of the Rue de Charenton they might be safe. But just as he was within a pace of it five or six soldiers, with Henriot at their head, rode up.

"Here's another of them," cried he, interlarding his words with the most horrid oaths, gripping Marie's shoulder with his vice-like hand, and bestowing on her an appellation which we cannot repeat,

Duchenier struck him in the face, and drew his sword. The general drew at the same moment; while Dreux, Texier, Corday, and one or two of the citizens with whom Charles had made acquaintance while waiting in the Rue de Charenton, kept back the soldiers who immediately followed. Duchenier would undoubtedly have ended the miscreant's life on the spot had he not been embarrassed by having to protect Marie as well as himself and been somewhat fettered by that consideration. Before many moments Texier ran up to his assistance, and knocked Henriot from his horse and laid him stunned on the ground.

"Now then off! now then off!" he cried; and in two minutes the whole party were in comparative safety among some brick-grounds which then occupied the site of the present Rue des Charbonniers.

But though those in whom we are chiefly interested were preserved from pursuit, few indeed of the other victims escaped their doom. Henriot was soon sufficiently recovered from his blow to busy himself in recapturing the fugitives, and the last day of his life was sullied with the blood of nearly eighty innocent persons.

Project Canterbury