The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

Old–Dragoon Drouet.

In this manner, however, has the Day bent downwards. Wearied mortals are creeping home from their field-labour; the village-artisan eats with relish his supper of herbs, or has strolled forth to the village-street for a sweet mouthful of air and human news. Still summer-eventide everywhere! The great Sun hangs flaming on the utmost North–West; for it is his longest day this year. The hill-tops rejoicing will ere long be at their ruddiest, and blush Good-night. The thrush, in green dells, on long-shadowed leafy spray, pours gushing his glad serenade, to the babble of brooks grown audibler; silence is stealing over the Earth. Your dusty Mill of Valmy, as all other mills and drudgeries, may furl its canvass, and cease swashing and circling. The swenkt grinders in this Treadmill of an Earth have ground out another Day; and lounge there, as we say, in village-groups; movable, or ranked on social stone-seats; (Rapport de M. Remy in Choiseul, p. 143.) their children, mischievous imps, sporting about their feet. Unnotable hum of sweet human gossip rises from this Village of Sainte–Menehould, as from all other villages. Gossip mostly sweet, unnotable; for the very Dragoons are French and gallant; nor as yet has the Paris-and-Verdun Diligence, with its leathern bag, rumbled in, to terrify the minds of men.

One figure nevertheless we do note at the last door of the Village: that figure in loose-flowing nightgown, of Jean Baptiste Drouet, Master of the Post here. An acrid choleric man, rather dangerous-looking; still in the prime of life, though he has served, in his time as a Conde Dragoon. This day from an early hour, Drouet got his choler stirred, and has been kept fretting. Hussar Goguelat in the morning saw good, by way of thrift, to bargain with his own Innkeeper, not with Drouet regular Maitre de Poste, about some gig-horse for the sending back of his gig; which thing Drouet perceiving came over in red ire, menacing the Inn-keeper, and would not be appeased. Wholly an unsatisfactory day. For Drouet is an acrid Patriot too, was at the Paris Feast of Pikes: and what do these Bouille Soldiers mean? Hussars, with their gig, and a vengeance to it! — have hardly been thrust out, when Dandoins and his fresh Dragoons arrive from Clermont, and stroll. For what purpose? Choleric Drouet steps out and steps in, with long-flowing nightgown; looking abroad, with that sharpness of faculty which stirred choler gives to man.

On the other hand, mark Captain Dandoins on the street of that same Village; sauntering with a face of indifference, a heart eaten of black care! For no Korff Berline makes its appearance. The great Sun flames broader towards setting: one’s heart flutters on the verge of dread unutterabilities.

By Heaven! Here is the yellow Bodyguard Courier; spurring fast, in the ruddy evening light! Steady, O Dandoins, stand with inscrutable indifferent face; though the yellow blockhead spurs past the Post-house; inquires to find it; and stirs the Village, all delighted with his fine livery. — Lumbering along with its mountains of bandboxes, and Chaise behind, the Korff Berline rolls in; huge Acapulco-ship with its Cockboat, having got thus far. The eyes of the Villagers look enlightened, as such eyes do when a coach-transit, which is an event, occurs for them. Strolling Dragoons respectfully, so fine are the yellow liveries, bring hand to helmet; and a lady in gipsy-hat responds with a grace peculiar to her. (Declaration de la Gache in Choiseul ubi supra.) Dandoins stands with folded arms, and what look of indifference and disdainful garrison-air a man can, while the heart is like leaping out of him. Curled disdainful moustachio; careless glance, — which however surveys the Village-groups, and does not like them. With his eye he bespeaks the yellow Courier. Be quick, be quick! Thick-headed Yellow cannot understand the eye; comes up mumbling, to ask in words: seen of the Village!

Nor is Post-master Drouet unobservant, all this while; but steps out and steps in, with his long-flowing nightgown, in the level sunlight; prying into several things. When a man’s faculties, at the right time, are sharpened by choler, it may lead to much. That Lady in slouched gypsy-hat, though sitting back in the Carriage, does she not resemble some one we have seen, some time; — at the Feast of Pikes, or elsewhere? And this Grosse–Tete in round hat and peruke, which, looking rearward, pokes itself out from time to time, methinks there are features in it —? Quick, Sieur Guillaume, Clerk of the Directoire, bring me a new Assignat! Drouet scans the new Assignat; compares the Paper-money Picture with the Gross–Head in round hat there: by Day and Night! you might say the one was an attempted Engraving of the other. And this march of Troops; this sauntering and whispering, — I see it!

Drouet Post-master of this Village, hot Patriot, Old Dragoon of Conde, consider, therefore, what thou wilt do. And fast: for behold the new Berline, expeditiously yoked, cracks whipcord, and rolls away! — Drouet dare not, on the spur of the instant, clutch the bridles in his own two hands; Dandoins, with broadsword, might hew you off. Our poor Nationals, not one of them here, have three hundred fusils but then no powder; besides one is not sure, only morally-certain. Drouet, as an adroit Old–Dragoon of Conde does what is advisablest: privily bespeaks Clerk Guillaume, Old–Dragoon of Conde he too; privily, while Clerk Guillaume is saddling two of the fleetest horses, slips over to the Townhall to whisper a word; then mounts with Clerk Guillaume; and the two bound eastward in pursuit, to see what can be done.

They bound eastward, in sharp trot; their moral-certainty permeating the Village, from the Townhall outwards, in busy whispers. Alas! Captain Dandoins orders his Dragoons to mount; but they, complaining of long fast, demand bread-and-cheese first; — before which brief repast can be eaten, the whole Village is permeated; not whispering now, but blustering and shrieking! National Volunteers, in hurried muster, shriek for gunpowder; Dragoons halt between Patriotism and Rule of the Service, between bread and cheese and fixed bayonets: Dandoins hands secretly his Pocket-book, with its secret despatches, to the rigorous Quartermaster: the very Ostlers have stable-forks and flails. The rigorous Quartermaster, half-saddled, cuts out his way with the sword’s edge, amid levelled bayonets, amid Patriot vociferations, adjurations, flail-strokes; and rides frantic; (Declaration de La Gache in Choiseul, p. 134.) — few or even none following him; the rest, so sweetly constrained consenting to stay there.

And thus the new Berline rolls; and Drouet and Guillaume gallop after it, and Dandoins’s Troopers or Trooper gallops after them; and Sainte–Menehould, with some leagues of the King’s Highway, is in explosion; — and your Military thunder-chain has gone off in a self-destructive manner; one may fear with the frightfullest issues!

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30