La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

The Rescue

The little Chevalier had no intention of saving himself, and deserting his friends, when, on Santerre’s approach, he ran off, leaving Agatha and the Marquis at the garden door of the château. He knew that Chapeau was at the smith’s forge, with his own pony. He had himself sent him there; and as soon as he perceived, on running round the side of the house, that the whole front was occupied by the blues, his first idea was to go after his pony, and ride as fast as the animal could carry him to Echanbroignes, and bring the royalists from thence to the rescue of their friends at Durbellière. With this object he clambered over the garden-wall, and well knowing every foot of the ground, reached the forge in a few minutes. Chapeau and the smith were there, as was also the pony, and a breathless countryman was already telling them that the château was surrounded by the whole army of blues.

“Here’s the Chevalier,” said Chapeau, stopping the peasant in his story. “In the name of Heaven, M. Arthur, what is all this?”

“That traitor, Denot, has brought a parcel of blues down upon the château,” said the Chevalier. “The Marquis and Mademoiselle Agatha are already in their hands; they will be murdered before morning. What is to be done? Oh! Chapeau, what are we to do to save them?”

“M. Denot!” said Chapeau. “You don’t mean to say M. Denot has turned blue —”

“I saw him with my own eyes,” said the boy; “he was one of the officers commanding the men; but there was another over him, a big, clumsy, noisy man; he it was I saw first of all, and Denot was behind him; and then there was a crowd of horsemen following them. Both drawing-rooms were full before we knew they were in the house at all.”

“And how did you get through them, M. Arthur?” said Chapeau.

“I got over the wall behind the stables. I never went into the house at all. But what on earth are we to do, Chapeau? Can’t we get the men from Echanbroignes to come to the rescue?”

The matter was then discussed between them, and it was decided that Chapeau should take the pony, and collect the men at Echanbroignes and on the road thither, and that he should return with them, if possible, during the night; that the smith should go off to St. Laud, and get Father Jerome to bring with him the men from thence, and that Arthur should return to the château.

“No,” said he, when Chapeau pressed him to undertake the mission to Echanbroignes, “I will not leave Mademoiselle Agatha and the Marquis any longer. They will think I have run away. Besides, maybe, I can be of some service to them there. At any rate, I will go and see what is going on; but, Chapeau, our lives depend on you. Don’t lose one single minute now, even though you should ride poor Bayard to death,” and he put his hand on the neck of the pony, whom he had named after the flower of chivalry.

Chapeau and the smith started on their important missions, and the Chevalier slowly, but manfully, walked back to the château. No one stopped him as he walked through the open gates, and in at the back door. On getting into the hall, he heard the sound of the Marquis’s voice, as he was praying Santerre to preserve his daughter from Denot, and then, hurrying into the room, he made use of the little cherry stick which he carried, in the manner which has been described.

None of the inhabitants of the château went to bed that night; indeed, the beds were all occupied by the troopers, who threw themselves down to sleep, without taking off their boots, wherever they could find any convenient place to lie down. To do Santerre justice, he repeatedly pressed the Marquis to go to his own room, assuring him that he should not be further disturbed than by the presence of a sentinel; but the old man insisted on remaining in the salon, and Agatha and the Chevalier sat with him. Santerre, and Denot, and a cavalry sergeant, remained in the same room, and a couple of sentinels were stationed on the top of the steps at the back of the house, and four at the front. None of the party in the salon slept, excepting Santerre; but they all sat silent; neither Arthur nor Agatha dared to speak to each other on the subject which at that time filled their thoughts. The night seemed dreadfully long to Arthur, and yet hardly long enough. He discovered soon after his return, that it was Santerre’s purpose to burn the château early in the morning, and then to take the inhabitants away with him as prisoners; and he greatly feared that Chapeau would not be able to return in time to prevent the conflagration. He anxiously watched the first break of day, and listened intently, but for a long time in vain, for the noise of coming feet. About half-past two, a soldier came and whispered to the sergeant, who then woke Santerre, and whispered to him, but the General was sleepy, and did not wish his dreams should be disturbed. He muttered something to the sergeant, who again left him, and resumed the seat in which he had sat since he first entered the room. Denot had risen two or three times during the night, and paced rapidly and uneasily about. Whenever he had done so, Agatha had firmly grasped both her father’s chair and the Chevalier’s hand, as though she feared he was about to renew his attempts to drag her away, but he did not either touch her or speak to her. He was probably aware that the sergeant, who sat there without once closing his eyes through the long hours, had orders to prevent him from doing so.

The Chevalier had no watch, and could not see how the hours were going, but it seemed to him as though it were broad day. He thought it must be five, six, nay seven o’clock; and he could not understand why the lazy republicans remained so passive and so quiet, nor could he imagine why Chapeau was so long in coming. The whole affair seemed to him so strange that he could hardly help fancying that he was dreaming. There sat close to him his dear friend Agatha, with her eyes wide open, fixed on Denot, and she had been gazing in this way for hours after hours, without speaking a word. There was the Marquis close to her, equally silent, but also wide awake, though his eyes were closed. Arthur was sure that he was awake. There was Denot marching to and fro. Adolphe Denot, who but the other day was in the house, not only as a friend, but as a comrade, eager in the cause in which they were all embarked, as much at home in the château as Henri Larochejaquelin himself: and now he was the worst of traitors, and the most cruel of enemies — there was the sergeant of the republican army, sitting as quiet and composed as though he were merely idling his time away in his own barracks; and there was Santerre — the much talked of republican brewer and General; the sanguinary, remorseless, fanatic democrat; the sworn enemy of all that was noble, loyal and gentle, the dreaded Santerre; for the Chevalier had now learned the name of the big, clumsy, noisy man, whom he had seen leading his troops into the salon where he was now sleeping — there he was, sleeping fast: while care, anxiety, or a sense of duty banished sleep from all the others, he, who had so much more need than others to be watchful, was snoring loud, and dreaming of the denizens of the faubourgs, who used to love him so well. All this seemed to Arthur like a dream from which he could not awake — there were his enemies, his deadly enemies, before and around him. He knew that it was the practice of the republican soldiers to massacre all whom they took bearing arms against the Republic he had even heard that it was now their horrid purpose to go further than this, and to slaughter the inhabitants of the whole district which had revolted; at any rate his own doom would be death; he was certain that he had not many days, probably many hours, to live, unless Chapeau should arrive in time, and with sufficient force, to rescue the whole party. Yet he felt no fear; he could not sufficiently realize the position in which he found himself, to feel the full effects of its danger. The republican sergeant sat immediately in front of him, and each kept his eye fixed on the other’s face; not that either of them had any object in doing so, any particular motive for watching the other’s countenance, but soon after day-break the gaze of each had become fixed, and it seemed as though neither of them were able to turn away his eyes.

Arthur occupied his mind in speculating on the character of the soldier, in trying to guess from his features whether he were a cruel or a kind-hearted man; whether he were a ferocious democrat, eager for the blood of all who had been born in a rank above him, or merely a well-trained soldier, obeying the behests of those under whose orders it was his duty to act. The Chevalier had no idea that his own or his friends’ fate depended in any way on the man’s disposition; but such thoughts came across his brain unwittingly, and he could not restrain them. At last, he felt that he had a kind of intimacy with the sergeant; that if he should chance to meet him after three or four years had passed, he should greet him as an old acquaintance, whom he had well known, and he was sure that the sergeant had the same feeling respecting him.

The day dawned soon after two o’clock, and as by degrees the clear sun-light streamed in at the uncurtained windows, Arthur, in his impatience, thought that the day was advancing; but in reality it was not yet five o’clock, when Santerre, waking with a tremendous yawn, stretched his huge limbs, and then jumped up from the sofa on which he had been lying.

“Now for a bonfire,” said he, “and then for breakfast; or perhaps we had better get our breakfast first, and have our bonfire afterwards. Old gentleman, I have no doubt my men took strange liberties with your cellar and larder last night. I hope they have left enough about the place to furnish you with the last meal you will ever eat in this château.”

“I know, Sir, what soldiers are in a house,” said the old man. “I will not say that your men are welcome here, for that would be falsehood; but I begrudge them nothing that they eat and drink”

“Well, that’s kind of you; but, considering that all which is not now eaten and drunk, will be immediately wasted and spoilt, you would certainly be foolish to allow the consumption of your provisions to make you uneasy. Here, sergeant,” and then Santerre spoke aside to the sergeant, and gave him various orders, which the man departed to obey.

“And now, General Santerre,” said Denot, marching close up to him, “are you prepared to make good your promise to me? Are you prepared to give me an escort for myself and this lady, and to allow us to commence our journey from hence to Saumur?”

Denot’s personal appearance had not been at all improved by the blow which Arthur had given him across his face. Both his cheeks were much swollen immediately beneath the eyes, and one of them was severely cut. He felt that his looks were against him, and he endeavoured to make up for the injury his countenance had sustained by the sternness of his voice, and the determined rigour of his eye. “I presume,” General Santerre,” added he, “that your plighted word is sufficient warrant to me for your good faith.”

“There is the lady,” said Santerre, pointing to Agatha. “I did not undertake to protect you from the wrath of any rivals you might have in her affections. It seems to me that at present she prefers that young dare-devil slip of aristocracy to your patriotic ardour. If she won’t go to Saumur with you, I can’t make her.”

“By all the powers of heaven and hell, she shall go with me!” said Denot, advancing towards her.

“Beware the switch — beware the switch again, thou false knave!” said the little Chevalier, jumping up, and standing immediately before Agatha, with his cherry stick in his hand. Denot had no other arms about him but his dagger, and that he drew, as he advanced towards the boy.

“No daggers — I will have no daggers,” shouted Santerre. “Sergeant, take the dagger from him, unless he puts it up.”

“Beware the switch, thou traitor! beware the switch, thou knave!” continued the Chevalier, shaking the stick at Denot, upon whose arm the strong hand of the sergeant, who had returned to the room, was now laid heavily.

“I will choke the brat as I would an adder,” said Denot, attempting to shake off the sergeant’s hand. “There, take the dagger,” and he dropped it on the ground, and rushing at the boy, got inside the swing of his stick, and made a grasp at his throat. Arthur, however, was too quick for him, and pushing away his hand, fastened his own arms round his adversary. They were now close locked in each other’s embrace, and kicking, plunging, and striving, each did his best to throw the other to the ground.

“Oh! Sir, kind Sir, for mercy’s sake separate them!” said Agatha, appealing to Santerre; “he is but a boy, a child, and that wretched man is mad. He’ll murder the boy before your eyes, if you do not separate them.”

“He won’t find it so easy though,” said the Chevalier, panting, and out of breath; but still holding his own, and, indeed, more than his own; for he had fixed his left hand in Denot’s hair, and was pulling his head backwards with such force, that he nearly broke his neck.

“I think the young one has the best of it,” said Santerre; “but come, citizen Denot, your loves and your quarrels are troublesome to us; we have other work to attend to. Get up, man, get up, I tell you.”

Denot, by his superior weight and strength, had succeeded in getting the Chevalier to the ground, but Arthur still kept his hold in his hair, and though Adolphe was on the top of his foe, he did not find it very easy to get up.

“Get up, I say,” said Santerre. “You’ll gain nothing by wrestling with that fellow; he’s more than a match for you. Well, Captain, what’s the matter?”

The room in which the party had passed the night looked out into the garden at the back of the house. The front room communicated with this by folding-doors, which during the night had been closed. These doors were now violently thrown open, and one of the officers, followed by about a dozen men, rushed into the room.

“The road is crowded with men,” said the officer; “thousands of these brigands are on us. The château will be surrounded in five minutes.”

“H— and the d — ” said Santerre between his teeth. “This comes of playing the fool here,” and he hurried out of the room in company with the officer.

“Hurrah!” said the Chevalier, jumping to his feet. “I knew they’d be here soon — I knew they’d be here soon,” and running to Agatha’s side he caught hold of her hand, and covered it with kisses.

Denot also arose. He had also heard the officer say that the peasants were coming on them, and he felt that if he were taken, he could expect no mercy from those who had so lately been his friends. He did not, however, attempt to fly, but he stood still on the spot where he got up, and after wiping his hot brow with his handkerchief, he said slowly and mournfully —“Agatha Larochejaquelin, you now see to what your conduct has reduced me; and with my last breath I tell you that I owe my disgrace, my misery, and my death — ay, and the loss of my eternal soul, to you, and to you only. Ay, shudder and shake, thou lovely monster of cruelty. Shake and grieve with remorse and fear. You may well do so. My living form shall trouble you no more, but dead and dying I will be with you till the last trump sounds on the fearful day of judgment.”

Agatha did not answer him. She felt assured that he was mad, and she only pitied him. She had now too reason to hope that she and her father, and their whole household, would be relieved from their horrible position, and she no longer felt anything like anger against the unfortunate wretch whom uncontrolled passions had absolutely maddened. Arthur, in his anxiety to see what was going forward, was about to leave the room, but Agatha laid her hand upon his arm to detain him, merely looking towards Denot as she did so.

“And do you think,” said Denot, “that puny boy could really stop my way, if I chose to put out my right hand against him. Boy, I despise and disregard you! would before I die that it might be allowed me to measure arms with any man, who would dare to say that he would advocate your cause!”

“Beware the switch, traitor — beware the switch!” repeated the Chevalier.

“Be quiet, Arthur, do not anger him,” whispered Agatha. “It is not generous, you know, to insult a fallen foe.”

“There are no terms to be kept with a traitor, Agatha. If we get the better of this, Santerre, as I am sure we shall now, you shall see that I know how to treat a generous foe generously.”

When Santerre reached the front of the house, he at once saw that any attempt on his part to oppose the crowd of armed peasants who were now close upon him, would be futile. The only mode of escape which appeared to him at all practicable, was to attempt to ride through them. He gave the command “to horse,” and got so far himself as to mount into his saddle; but it was of no use, he was surrounded by a crowd of peasants before he got to the gate, and he soon found himself on foot again, and unarmed. Some ten or twenty of his men, who were ready to jump into the saddle at the moment when they were first aware of the approach of the royalists, escaped, but the remainder in a few minutes found themselves prisoners in the château.

The peasants were headed by Father Jerome, the priest of St. Laud, and it was he who first mounted the steps leading up to the front door of the house. “Thank God,” said he, speaking more to himself than to those around him. “Thank God!” and he stood up against the pedestal of one of the lions, the heavy wooden crucifix which he had carried in his hand as he marched, or rather ran, to the succour of his friends at Durbellière; and then he took off his cap, and with the sleeve of his dusty grey coat he wiped the perspiration from off his brow. “And the Marquis and Mademoiselle are unhurt? Thank God — thank God! we were just in time, but we had a smart run for it.”

Chapeau had already dived into the kitchen through the window, and had learnt that at any rate the republicans had as yet shed no blood.

“And how did the Marquis bear it, Momont?” said he. “It was enough to kill the old gentleman.”

“‘Why, yes,” said Momont. “We had to bear a good deal, but we did bear it manfully and well. We were all led out to be shot, you know.”

“What, the Marquis and Mademoiselle and all?” said Chapeau.

“No, not the Marquis and Mademoiselle; they were to be beheaded after us, but the rest of us were all taken out — the muskets loaded — the men to shoot us all in a line.”

“Oh! Chapeau, it was so awfully dreadful,” said the cook. “If I live a thousand years I shall never get over this night,”

“Oh, yes! most dreadfully awful,” said the laundress. “I was carried in from the spot, and have not been able to move a limb since. I doubt I never shall put a foot to the ground again.”

“The muskets were to their shoulders,” continued Momont. “We heard them cocked: each man took deliberate aim; the women here were screeching and screaming.”

“Of course we were,” said the confidential maid. “Hadn’t we good cause to scream, waiting to be killed every minute. I’m sure I wonder I ever came to my senses again. I declare when they came to pick me up, I thought it was all over, and that I’d been shot already.”

“Well, I don’t think anybody heard me scream,” said Momont: “but there’s a difference I know between a man and a woman. ‘It’s all for my King and my master,’ said I to myself. Besides a man can die but once, and it’s a great thing to die honourably.” The old man turned round to receive the approbation, which he considered was due to the sentiment he had expressed, and found that Chapeau was gone. The kitchen, however, was filled with peasants, and in them Momont found ready listeners and warm admirers.

Both Chapeau and the priest had spent the greater portion of the night in collecting what they considered would be a sufficient number of men to enable them to attack, with any chance of success, the republican soldiers who had taken possession of Durbellière. They had neither of them the slightest idea what amount of force had been brought against the château, and, consequently, wasted much time in procuring many more men than were necessary for the purpose. The three hundred, who were immediately got together on the sounding of the tocsin in the village of Echanbroignes, would have been sufficient to have done the work without further assistance, for they were all well armed, and, by this time, tolerably well trained in the use of their arms.

There was ten times more confusion now in the château, than there had been during the night: every room and passage was crowded with peasants, who took up their positions there under the plea of guarding their prisoners, and with the girls and women of the neighbourhood who flocked to that place, as soon as they heard that the horrible blues were all prisoners, and that the Marquis and Mademoiselle were once more at liberty. Agatha’s troubles were by no means ended. Provisions of some kind were to be procured for the friends who had come so far and done so much to relieve them; and she had no one on whom she could depend to assist her in procuring them: the servants all considered themselves utterly unfitted for anything, except talking of the events of the evening; and though every one was burning with affection and zeal for Monseigneur and Mademoiselle, no one appeared willing to make himself useful.

The reaction on his feelings was too much for the poor Marquis. During the long evening and night, in which he had been a prisoner and looking forward to nothing but death; in which he had sat beside his fondly-loved daughter, whose fate he feared would be so much more horrible than death itself, he had patiently and manfully born his sufferings; he had even displayed a spirit for which few gave him credit, who were accustomed to his gentle temper and mild manners; but the unexpected recovery of his own and his daughter’s liberty upset him entirely. As soon as he had pressed Father Jerome’s hand, and thanked Chapeau fur what he had done, he begged that he might be carried off to his bed, and left there quietly till the return of his son, for whom, he was told, a messenger had been sent.

Santerre and Denot were both kept under a strong guard in the saloon in which they had passed the night; and there the priest, Chapeau, and the young Chevalier passed the greater part of the day, anxiously waiting the arrival of Henri Larochejaquelin.

“I never liked that man,” said the priest, whispering to Arthur and Chapeau, for the latter, from his exertion and zeal was looked upon rather as an officer in the royalist army, than as a servant. “I never liked Adolphe Denot, but I could never say why. The tone of his voice was disagreeable to me, and the expression of his features aroused in me both dislike and distrust. It is not long since M. Henri rebuked me for being hard on him, and judging him harshly; and I was angry with myself for having done so. I knew, however, there was something wrong within him. He has turned out to be as base a creature as ever trod the earth.”

“It will be a desperate blow to M. Henri,” said Chapeau, “for he loved him as though he were his brother.”

“I will be his brother now,” said Arthur; “he shall love me in his place.”

“Ah! M. Arthur,” said Chapeau, “his heart is large enough to love us both; but when he hears how nobly you behaved last night, how you stood by Mademoiselle Agatha, and protected her, you will be his real brother indeed.”

The little Chevalier’s heart rose high within him, as he attempted to speak slightingly of his own services. “Oh!” said he, “I couldn’t do much, you know, for I had only a stick; but of course we red scarfs will always stick to each other. Denot, you know, never was a red scarf Well, thank heaven for that; but I tell you what, Father Jerome, that Santerre is not such a bad fellow; and so I shall tell Henri; he is not a bad fellow at all, and he scorns Denot as he deserves to be scorned.”

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