La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

Battle of Amaillou

It will be remembered that Adolphe Denot left the council-room of the royalist leaders at Saumur in anger; and that, after a few words with Henri Larochejaquelin, departed no one knew whither, or for what purpose. On leaving Henri in the street, he had himself no fixed resolve as to his future conduct; he was only determined no longer to remain leagued with men, among whom he felt himself to be disgraced. De Lescure had seen him hesitate in the hour of danger, and had encouraged him in vain; he knew that after this he could never again bear to meet the calm grey eye of his friend’s cousin; he had not only been not selected as one of the Generals, but he had even been rejected, and that by the very man who had seen his cowardice. His love, moreover, had been refused by Agatha, and he deemed this refusal an injury which demanded vengeance from his hands; from the moment in which he left her room in Durbellière, schemes had floated across his half-bewildered brain for the accomplishment of his object. He still loved Agatha, though his love was, as it were, mingled with hatred; he still wished to possess her, but he did not care how disagreeable, how horrible to herself might be the means by which he accomplished his object. He entertained ideas of seizing upon her person, taking her from Durbellière, and marrying her during the confusion which the Revolution had caused in the country. At first he had no distinct idea of treachery towards the royalists with whom he had sided; though vague thoughts of bringing the soldiers of the Convention to Durbellière, in the dead of night, had at different times entered his mind, he had never reduced such thoughs to a palpable plan, nor had he ever endeavoured to excuse to himself the iniquity of such a scheme, as a man does when he resolves to sacrifice his honour and his honesty to his passions.

It was in the council-room at Saumur that he first felt a desire to betray the friends of his life; it was in the moment of his hot anger, after leaving it, that he determined to put into effect the plan which he had already conceived; it was then that insane ambition and selfish love prompted him to forget every feeling which he had hitherto recognized as honourable, and to commit himself to a deed which would make it impossible that he should ever be reconciled with the companions of his youth. He had no presentiment that he should ever rise to honour or distinction in the army of the Republic; he never even thought of what his future life would be: revenge was his object, and the sweet delight of proving to Agatha Larochejaquelin that he was able to carry out the bold threats, which he knew that she had scorned and derided.

It would be too much to say that Adolphe Denot was insane, for that would imply that he was not responsible for his own actions; but there certainly lacked something in his brain or mind, which is necessary to perfect sanity. He was no fool; he had read, enjoyed, and perhaps written poetry; he was, for the times, well educated; he could talk fluently, and, occasionally, even persuasively; he understood rapidly, and perceived correctly, the arguments and motives of others; but he could not regulate his conduct, either from the lessons he had learnt from books, or from the doings or misdoings of those around him. He wished to be popular, powerful and distinguished, but he was utterly ignorant of the means by which men gain the affection, respect, and admiration of their fellow-men; he possessed talent without judgment, and ambition without principle. As a precocious boy, he had been too much admired; he had assumed at an early age the duty of a man, and had at once been found miserably wanting.

On leaving Henri in the streets of Saumur, he went to his lodging, took with him what money he had, got upon his horse, and rode out of the town by the temporary bridge which had been put up for the transit of the shaved prisoners. He had wandered about the country for three weeks, remaining sometimes in one place, and sometimes in another, endeavouring to mature his plans; and hearing of the arrival of Santerre in Augers, had come thither to offer his services to the republicans, in the invasion which he understood they contemplated making into the Bocage.

His appearance was not very attractive when first he introduced himself to the republican, for he was lean with anxiety and worn with care; his eyes were restless and bloodshot, and his limbs trembled beneath him. Santerre was not a man who much regarded externals; but, as he afterwards said, “he did not much like the hang-dog look of the royalist cur.”

Denot, in an awkward way, got through his story; he had been one of the insurgent Vendeans, he said, but he now wished to serve the Republic. He was intimately acquainted with the royalist leaders, especially the two most popular of them, de Lescure and Larochejaquelin. He knew and was willing to betray their plans. He would accompany Santerre to the residences of these Vendean Generals, and undertake to give them, their families, and possessions, into the power of the republicans, and for these services he asked but one favour; that he should be present at the contemplated burning of Durbellière, and be allowed to save the life of one female who resided there. He represented that his animosity arose entirely from the rejection of his love, and that his only object was to carry off the sister of the Vendean chief from the burning ashes of her father’s château.

“Are you aware, young man,” said Santerre, with something of generosity in the warning which he gave — a generosity probably inspired by the wine he had drunk: “are you aware, that should I agree to your proposal, every other member of her family will be put to death before your eyes — her brother, her old father, and every pestilent royalist we may find about the place?”

“I suppose they will,” said Denot moodily. “At any rate, they deserve no protection at my hands.”

“You have probably eaten their bread and drank their wine. You say, indeed, you have lived long in this rambling château, and have fought side by side with this hot-headed young brigand. Bethink you, my friend, you are angry now, but it may turn your stomach, when you are cool, to see the blood of those you know so well running like water; besides, you are taking but an unlikely road to the heart of the girl you say you love. No one has heard your plot but myself: I advise you to abandon it; if you do so, I will forget that I have heard it. You are angry now; go home and sleep on it.”

“Sleep on it! I have slept on it these three weeks. No, I did not come to you till I was fully resolved. As for these people, I owe them nothing; they have scorned and rejected me; and as for the girl’s heart, it is not that I seek now. Let me gain her person, and her heart will follow. A woman soon learns to love him whom she is forced to obey.”

“Well, be it as you will,” said Santerre. “It is all a matter of taste; only remember, that before I accede to your proposal, I must consult with my colleagues in the next room, and that when once I have spoken to them it will be too late for me to go back.”

Denot declared that he had formed his resolution after mature consideration, and that he was ready and willing to carry through the work he had proposed for himself; and Santerre, without making any further objection, rejoined his friends in the next room, and explained to them the offer which had been made to him. Barrère at first opposed any treaty with Denot. He recommended that the young man should be kept as a prisoner, and at once handed over to the revolutionary tribunal.

“What good can he do us?” said he; “we can find our way to this Durbellière without his assistance; let him and the girl he wishes to kidnap pay the penalty of their crimes against the Republic. She is, I suppose, one of those modern Joans of Arc, who inspire the flagging spirits of these peasants. Should she have beauty enough to make her worth preserving, let her be the prize of some true republican. As for him, let him stretch his neck beneath the guillotine.”

Barrère, however, was overruled. The Generals who were with him knew too well the nature of the country they were about to invade, not to appreciate the value of such a guide as they might find in Denot: a guide, who not only knew the nature of the country they had to traverse, and the position of the places they wished to attack, but who was also intimate with the insurgent chiefs, acquainted with their persons and their plans, and who would probably disclose, under proper management, every secret of the revolt. It was accordingly agreed that his offer should be accepted, and he was introduced by Santerre to his four confederates.

“Sit down, my friend,” said Barrère, “sit down. Our colleague here informs us that you are sick of these mawkish royalists, and are willing to serve the Republic. Is it so, young man?”

“I have told M. Santerre —” said Denot. “Citizen Santerre, if you please,” said Barrère; “or General Santerre, if you like it better. Monsieur and Monseigneur are a little out of fashion just at present on this side of the Loire.”

“As they soon also shall be on the other,” said Westerman.

“Well, I have told him,” and Denot pointed to Santerre, “what it is I propose to do for you, and the terms on which I will do it.”

“Terms indeed!” said Barrère. “The Republic is not accustomed to make terms with her servants. Come, tell us at once: are you a republican?”

Denot hesitated; not that he was ashamed to own himself a republican, but his blood was boiling with passion at the language and tone in which he was addressed, and yet he did not dare to shew his anger.

“Of course he is a republican,” said Santerre, “or why would he come here? Take a glass of wine, friend Denot, and pluck up your courage,” and Santerre passed the wine-bottle to him. “If you are true to us, you need not fear us.”

“He must pronounce himself a republican,” said Barrère, “or we cannot deal with him. Come, young man, can you put your mouth to so much inconvenience as to give us some slight inkling of your present political principles? All we know of you as yet is, that three weeks since you were a pestilent royalist, and a leader of royalists.”

“I am a republican,” said Denot.

“The Republic is made happy by your adhesion,” said Barrère, bowing to him with mock solemnity across the table.

“What surety do you mean to offer us, citizen Denot,” said Westerman, “that you are acting with us in good faith?”

“Do I not give you my life?” said Denot. “What other surety can I give, or can you require? What am I, or what are the royalists to gain by my proving false?”

“You say truly,” answered Westerman; “you give us your life as a surety for your good faith to us. You may be assured that we will exact the penalty, if we have the slightest suspicion of foul play.”

Denot made no answer, and he was questioned no further. The party soon after broke up, and the young deserter was handed over to the care of one of Santerre’s sub-officers, with injunctions that he should be well and civilly treated, but that he should not be allowed to go abroad by himself; in fact, he was to be regarded as a prisoner.

“Do not be disheartened,” said Santerre to him. “You can understand that under the circumstances, such precautions must be necessary. The day after tomorrow we start on our march, and you shall ride close to myself. When Clisson and Durbellière are in ashes, you shall be free to take your own course; in the meantime, no indignity shall be offered to you.”

On the day named by Santerre, the whole republican army started from Angers, and commenced their march towards the Bocage. They proceeded on their route for several days without finding any enemy to contend with. They kept on the northern shore of the Loire till they reached Saumur, where they remained a couple of days, and employed themselves in punishing the inhabitants in whose houses the leaders of the Vendeans had been entertained. It was in vain that these poor men pleaded that they had not even opened their doors to the royalists till after the republican General had capitulated; that they had given nothing which they had been able to refuse, and, in fact, that they had only sold their goods and let their rooms to the Vendeans, when they could not possibly have declined to do so. Their arguments were of no avail; they were thrown into prison as criminals, and left for trial by the revolutionary tribunal.

Although Saumur had so lately been besieged and taken by the royalists, there was hardly a vestige of the conquerors left in it. Their attempt to place a garrison in the town had proved entirely a failure; the peasants who had undertaken the work had left the place by scores at a time, and before a fortnight was over, the commandant found himself with about twenty-five men, and consequently he marched back into La Vendée after his army. The town was perfectly tranquil when the republicans entered it, but the citizens were afflicted and out of spirits; their. shops were closed, and their goods hidden; the bakers had no bread, the butchers no meat, and the grocers had neither oil nor sugar. They knew well what it was to sell their merchandise to the troops of the Convention, and to be paid for them by the government in assignats.

Many of those who had formed the former garrison of Saumur, were now with the army; men whom Chapeau and his assistants had shaven, men still bald, and smarting from the indignity to which they had been subjected. They wreaked their vengeance on the scene of their disgrace, and on all those who had in any way lent, or were suspected to have lent, their aid to its consummation. The furniture of the Town-hall was broken in pieces; the barbers’ shops were ransacked, and their razors, brushes, and basins scattered through the street; nor was this the worst; one poor wretch was recognized who had himself wielded a razor on the occasion; he was dragged from his little shop by those on whom he had operated, and was swung up by his neck from a lamp-iron in the sight of his wife and children, who had followed his persecutors through the street. The poor woman pleaded on her knees for the life of her husband, as a wife can plead for the life of him whom she loves better than the whole world. She offered all her little wealth and her prayers; she supplicated them with tears and with blessings; she seized hold of the knees of the wretch who held the rope, and implored him by his remembrance of his father, by his regard for his own wife, his love for his own children, to spare to her the father of her infants; but she asked in vain; the man, feeling that his legs were encumbered, spurned the woman from him with his foot, and kept his hand tight upon the lamp-rope till the dying convulsions of the poor barber had ceased.

No notice was taken by the republican Generals of this murder; at any rate no punishment followed it; the next morning the army resumed its march, and left the town hated, cursed, feared, and yet obeyed. The people were now royalists in their hearts, but they did not dare to express their feelings even in whispers to each other, so frightful to them was the vengeance of the Republic. There was much policy in the fearful cruelty of the Jacobins; it was the only means by which they could have retained their power for a month.

The republicans marched on from Saumur to Montreuil, and from Montreuil to Thouars, and still found no one in arms to oppose them. Here they separated; a small party, headed by Santerre and Denot, penetrated at once from Thouars into the Bocage, and made for the château of Durbellière. It was believed that both de Lescure and Larochejaquelin were there, and Santerre expected that by hurrying across the country with a small force, he would be able to take them both and burn the château, and afterwards rejoin Westerman at Chatillon. Barrère, whose duties were not strictly those of a soldier, had not accompanied the army beyond Saumur. Westerman and the main body of the army still continued southward till they reached Parthenay, from which place it was his intention to proceed through the revolted district, burning every village; utterly destroying the towns which had not proved themselves devoted to the Republic, and slaughtering the peasants, their wives, and children wherever he could find them.

The Vendeans had not yet sufficiently matured their plans to enable them to encounter successfully the republican army. The death of Cathelineau had had a great effect upon the peasants: those who were with him had returned home in sorrow and despair, and this feeling was general, even among those who had not been at Nantes. De Lescure and Henri, however, had not despaired; after having seen the body of his General consigned to the dust, Henri had returned to Clisson, and he and his cousin were again busy in raising recruits, or rather in collecting their men, when they heard that Westerman, with an enormous army, was marching into Parthenay, and that it was his intention to proceed from thence into the Bocage, by way of Amaillou and Bressuire.

They had hardly heard this report, when the little village of Amaillou was on fire; it was the first place that was utterly burnt down, and laid in ashes by the republicans; not a house was left standing, or hardly the ruined wall of a house. The church itself was set on fire and burnt, with its pictures, its altars, and all its sacred treasures; the peasants ran from the ruins, carrying with them their wives and children, the old, the crippled, and infirm: hundreds were left dead and dying among the smoking ashes. This feat having been accomplished, Westerman continued on towards Bressuire, intending to burn the château at Clisson, as he passed it on his way.

The district between Amaillou and Bressuire is thickly studded with trees. The roads, or rather lanes, are all lined by avenues of limes and beeches. The fields are small, and surrounded by lofty hedges, which are also, in a great measure, composed of large trees, and the whole country in July, when the foliage is at the thickest, has almost the aspect of one continued forest.

Westerman had obtained guides to show him the road to Clisson. It was about six o’clock in the evening when the advanced portion of his army, consisting of three thousand men, had proceeded about a league from Amaillou. He was himself riding nearly at the front of the column, talking to his aide-de-camp and one of the guides, when he was startled by hearing a noise as of disturbed branches in the hedge, only a few feet in advance of the spot in which he was standing; he had not, however, time to give an order, or speak a word on the subject, before a long sudden gleam of fire flashed before his eyes; it was so near to him that it almost blinded him: a cannon had been fired off close to his face, and it was easy to track the fatal course of the ball; it had been directed right along the road, and was glutted with carnage before its strength was spent.

Nor did the cannon shot come alone: a fearful fire from about five hundred muskets was poured from the hedge on either side, directly into the road: the assailants were within a few feet of their enemy at the moment they were firing, and every shot took effect. Out of the four hundred men who headed the column, above half were killed, or so badly wounded as to be incapable of motion. The narrow lane, for it was no more than a lane, was nearly blocked up with carcases. Westerman, who was possessed of a courage that was never shaken, was nevertheless so thunderstruck, that he knew not what orders to give. The republicans at the head of the column, who had not themselves been struck, fired their fusils into the hedges, but their fire did no injury; it was all lost among the leaves, for the men who had attacked them were kneeling on their knees or lying on their bellies, and in the confusion which they had occasioned, were reloading their muskets.

The guide and the aide-de-camp to whom Westerman was speaking, had both fallen, and the horse upon which he himself was riding was so badly wounded, as to be unmanageable. He got off, and ran along under the hedge till he met an officer. “Give me your horse, Gerard,” said he; “but no, stay where you are, gallop back, and tell Bourbotte to bring up the men. Quick, mind — so quick, that they can neither see nor hear what has happened. Bid him force his way through the hedge to the right, when he gets to the corner.”

The young officer turned quickly to obey the command of his General, and had already put his spur to the horse’s flank, when another broad flash of light streamed through the hedge on the left, and the horseman and horse fell to the ground, and were mingled with a heap of wounded and dying. Young Gerard did not live long enough to be conscious of the blow which killed him. Another volley of musketry followed the cannon shot, and hardly left a man standing of those who had been the foremost. The attack had taken place so quickly, that the Vendeans had not yet had time to load again; but one of two cannons had been kept as a reserve, and about a hundred muskets had not been fired till de Lescure gave the word of command. The first attack was made under the direction of Henri Larochejaquelin.

Westerman was standing between the hedge and the mounted officer, when the latter fell with his horse, and the blood from the poor animal nearly covered him from head to foot. “Into the field, my men,” said he to those who were near enough to hear him; “follow me through the hedge,” and with a considerable effort he forced his way through the underwood, and he was followed and accompanied by all those who were still standing near him; but when he got there, not one of the Vendeans was to be seen; there were traces enough of them in the grass, and among the broken boughs, but the men had retreated after the first fire, and were now again lying in ambush behind the next hedge.

In about five minutes, there were two or three hundred republicans in the fields to the right of the road, for the army was still advancing; but they did not know where to go or what to do. They were looking about for an enemy, and in dread of being fired on, not only from the hedges, but even out of the trees. Westerman, however, got the men formed into some kind of order, and bid them advance; they did so, and on coming near to the second hedge, received another murderous fire, for every royalist had now had time to reload.

The combat continued for some time, for the republicans contrived to make their way into the second field; but the royalists again sheltered themselves behind the further hedge, and repeated their fire from their lurking-place. It was in vain that the republicans fired into the hedges; their shot either passed over the heads of the Vendeans, or were lost among the roots and trunks of the trees. Every one of the royalists, on the other hand fired, with a clear aim, and almost invariably with deadly effect. Westerman felt that it would be useless to pursue them; his soldiers, moreover, were already flying without orders. He had not the least idea what was the number of the enemy with whom he was engaged, what was their means of carrying on the battle, or on what side of him the greater number of them were situated; he therefore determined to retreat, and led back the whole of his army over the still burning ashes of the miserable village which he had destroyed that morning. The greater portion of the men were forced to go back as far as Parthenay, but he himself remained with a small detachment in the neighbourhood of Amaillou. He was determined, if possible, to be revenged that same night for the defeat which he had experienced.

The two cousins were at Clisson when they first heard that Westerman was actually on his road towards Bressuire, and they had lost no time in taking the best measures in their power to stop his progress, but they had not even hoped that their effort would have been so successful as it proved. The tocsin had been rung in the three neighbouring parishes, and about seven hundred men had been collected. These men all possessed muskets, but they themselves had no ammunition, and the whole supply which could be found in the district, including the little depot at Clisson, only sufficed to give the men some three and some four rounds each. When Westerman, with his ten thousand men, retreated from about seven hundred, the royalists had not one charge of powder to three muskets among them.

About ten in the evening Henri and de Lescure returned on foot from the battle to the château of Clisson. Henri still had the red scarf round his neck and waist, and stuck in the latter he had three or four pistols, of various sizes, all of which had been used in the recent engagement. On his shoulder he held a rifle, which he carried like a fowling-piece, and he walked home with the air and look of a man returning from a day’s sport, well contented with the execution he had done.

Not so de Lescure: he was thoughtful, if not sad; and though he would not, either by a tone or a look, rebuke the gaiety of his companion, it was very evident that he did not share it. The peasants returned along the road, hurrying to their homes, shouting with glee and full of triumph. As they passed their leaders, they cheered the darling heroes who had led them to another victory, and would, had they been allowed to do so, have carried them home upon their shoulders. They had no thoughts of any further battle, or of future bloodshed and misery. They had been victorious over the blues, and that was sufficient for the present evening. They were able to return home and tell their wives and sweethearts of their triumph, and that without any drawback from friends lost or wounded. In all their contests, the Vendeans had never been victorious with so few calamities to themselves.

“I saw Westerman himself” said Henri to his friend. “I am sure I did, and what’s more I was within pistol shot of him, but I hadn’t a pistol loaded at the moment, or I would have put an end to his career. I wonder how he likes his reception in the Bocage.”

“He is not the man to be easily daunted,” said de Lescure. “You’ll find it will not be long before he advances again. If he were to march to Bressuire tomorrow, what is to stop him?”

“Why not stop him tomorrow as we have done today?” said Henri.

“The men are all gone home,” said the other.

“They will all assemble again tomorrow,” said Henri; “we have only to have the bells rung at seven o’clock, or six, or five, or when you will, and you will find that every man will be ready for another day’s work, and that without a murmur.”

“And will they bring powder with them, Henri?”

“Why, we are rather short off for powder,” said he. “Our affair tonight was all very well, for the enemy lost an immense number, and we lost none; but yet it was unsatisfactory, for the fellows have left nothing behind them. I’ll tell you what, Charles, we ought to follow them to Parthenay.”

“Impossible,” said de Lescure.

“Why impossible, Charles? Why is Parthenay, which is not better fortified than Clisson, be more unassailable than Saumur, where everything appeared to be against us?”

“We were all together then, and now we are scattered. I’ll tell you what, Henri,” he continued, after walking on silent for a few steps. “I’ll tell you what we must do: we must leave this district altogether; we must leave it to be ravaged by fire and sword; we must leave it to Westerman, to wreak his vengeance on it, and go to Chatillon, taking with us every armed man that will follow us. We cannot stand an invasion here in the south.”

“Heavens, Charles! what do you mean? Will you not stay to protect the poor wretches who are so ready to fight for us?”

“We can protect no one by staying here. We cannot hope to contend single-handed with such an army as that which was but just now advancing to Bressuire. We can have given them a check, but you know we cannot repeat the effort of this evening. D’Elbée and Stofflet are at Chatillon; your own followers are all in that vicinity. When there, we can communicate with Bonchamps and Charette. We must go to Chatillon.”

“And your wife, Charles, and Marie! you will not leave them in the château?”

“If your father and Agatha will receive them, they shall go to Durbellière.”

“There you are right,” said Henri. “Whatever may be the danger, let us have them together; we shall then at any rate be able to feel that we know the point which is to be defended most closely.”

“We will start tomorrow, Henri; tomorrow evening. May God grant that that may be time enough. Westerman cannot collect his men so as to force a march as far as Clisson tomorrow; but before a week is over, I know that the château will be a ruin.”

“Will you leave the furniture?” said Henri.

“Yes,” answered de Lescure; “furniture, horses, cattle, corn — everything but my wife and child. Let everything go: am I not giving it to my King?”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43