La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

Conclusion

We have told our tale of La Vendée; we have married our hero and our heroine; and, as is usual in such cases, we must now bid them adieu. We cannot congratulate ourselves on leaving them in a state of happy prosperity, as we would have wished to have done; but we leave them with high hopes and glorious aspirations. We cannot follow the Vendeans farther in their gallant struggle, but we part from them, while they still confidently expect that success which they certainly deserved, and are determined to deserve that glory, which has since been so fully accorded to them.

In the foregoing pages much fiction has been blended with history, but still the outline of historical facts has been too closely followed to allow us now to indulge the humanity of our readers by ascribing to the friends we are quitting success which they did not achieve, or a state of happiness which they never were allowed to enjoy. It would be easy to speak of the curly haired darlings, two of course, who blessed the union of Henri Larochejaquelin and Marie de Lescure; and the joy with which they restored their aged father to the rural delights of his château at Durbellière. We might tell of the recovery of that modern Paladine, Charles de Lescure, and of the glorious rebuilding of the house of Clisson, of the ecclesiastical honours of Father Jerome, and of the happy marriage, or with more probability, the happier celibacy of the divine Agatha. But we cannot do so with propriety: facts, stern, untoward, cruel facts, stare us in the face, and would make even the novelist blush, were he, in total disregard of well-thumbed history, to attempt so very false a fiction.

Still it is necessary that something should be said of the subsequent adventures of those with whom we have for a while been so intimate, some short word spoken of the manner in which they adhered to the cause which was so dear to them. We cannot leave them in their temporary sojourn at Laval, as though a residence there was the goal of their wishes, the end of their struggle, the natural and appropriate term of their story; but as, unfortunately, their future career was not a happy one, we will beg the reader to advance with us at once over many years; and then, as he looks back upon La Vendée, through the softening vista of time, the melancholy termination of its glorious history will be lees painful.

On the 7th July, 1815, the united English and Prussian armies marched into Paris, after the battle of Waterloo, and took military possession of the city. It was a remarkable but grievous day for Paris; the citizens generally stayed within their houses, and left the streets to the armed multitude, whom they could not regard as friends, and with whom they were no longer able to contend as enemies. In spite of the enthusiasm with which Napoleon was greeted in Paris on his return from Elba, there were very many royalists resident in the city; men, who longed to welcome back to France the family of the Bourbons, and to live again beneath the shelter and shade of an ancient throne. But even these could not greet with a welcome foreigners, who by force had taken possession. of their capital. It was a sad and gloomy day in Paris, for no man knew what would be the fate, either of himself or of his country: shops were closed, and trade was silenced; the clanking of arms and the jingling of spurs was heard instead of the busy hum of busy men.

On the evening of this day, a stout, fresh-coloured, good-looking woman, of about forty years of age, was sitting in a perruquier’s shop, at the corner of the Rue St. Honoré and the Rue St. Denis, waiting for the return of her husband, who had been called upon to exercise his skill on the person of some of the warriors with whom Paris was now crowded. The shutters of the little shop were up, as were those of all the houses in the street, and the place was therefore dark and triste; and the stout, good-looking woman within was melancholy and somewhat querulous. A daughter, of about twenty years of age, the exact likeness of her mother, only twenty years less stout, and twenty years more pretty, sat with her in the shop, and patiently listened to her complaints.

“Well, Annot,” she said, “I wonder at your father. He had a little spirit once, but it has all left him now. Had he been said by me, he wouldn’t have raised a bit of steel over an English chin for the best day’s hire that ever a man was paid — unless, indeed, it was to cut the fellow’s throat!”

“If he didn’t, mother, another would; and what’s the good of throwing away their money?”

“No matter — it’s a coward’s work to go and shave one’s country’s enemies. Do you think he’d have shaved any of the blues’ officers in La Vendée twenty years ago, for all the money they could have offered him? He’d have done it with a sword, if he had done it at all. Well, I suppose it’s all right! I suppose he’s only fit to use a razor now.”

“But you always say those were horrid days in La Vendée; that you had nothing to eat, and no bed to sleep in, nor shoes to your feet; and that you and father couldn’t get married for ever so long, because of the wars?”

“So they were horrid days. I don’t think any one will live to see the like again. But still, one don’t like to see a man, who once had a little spirit, become jacky to every one who has a dirty chin to be scraped. Oh, Annot, if you’d seen the men there were in La Vendée, in those days; if you’d seen the great Cathelineau, you would have seen a man.”

After having read this conversation, no one will be surprised to hear that on the board over the shop window, the following words, in yellow letters, were decently conspicuous:

JACQUES CHAPEAU,

PERRUQUIER.

Madame Chapeau was now disturbed in her unreasonable grumbling by a knock at the closed door, and on her opening it, an officer in undress uniform, about fifty years of age, politely greeted her, and asked her if that was not the house of M. Jacques Chapeau. From his language, the visitor might at first have been taken for a Frenchman; his dress, however, plainly told that he belonged to the English army.

“Yes, Monsieur, this is the humble shop of Chapeau, perruquier,” said our old friend, the elder Annot, who, in spite of her feelings of hostility to the English, was somewhat mollified by the politeness and handsome figure of her visitor: she then informed him that Chapeau was not at home; that she expected him in immediately; and that his assistant, who was, in some respects, almost as talented as his master, was below, and would wait upon Monsieur immediately; and she rang a little bell, which was quickly responded to by some one ascending from a lower region.

The visitor informed Madame Chapeau that he had not called at present as a customer, but that he had taken the liberty to intrude himself upon her for the purpose of learning some facts of which, he was informed, her husband could speak with more accuracy than any other person in Paris.

“It is respecting the battles of La Vendée,” said he, “that I wish to speak to him. I believe that he saw more of them than any person now alive.”

Madame Chapeau was considering within herself whether there would be any imprudence in confessing to the English officer the important part her husband had played in La Vendee, when the officer’s question was answered by another person, whose head and shoulders now dimly appeared upon the scene.

These were the head and shoulders of Chapeau’s assistant, who had been summoned from his own region by the sound of his mistress’s bell; the stairs from this subterraneous recess did not open on to any passage, but ascended at once abruptly into the shop, so that the assistant, when called on, found himself able to answer, and to make even a personal appearance, as far as his head was concerned, without troubling himself to mount the three or four last stairs. From this spot he was in the habit of holding long conversations with his master and mistress; and now perceiving that neither the head nor chin of the strange gentleman were to be submitted to his skill, he arrested his steps, and astonished the visitor by a voice which seemed to come out of the earth.

Indeed he did, Monsieur, more than any one now alive — more even than myself, and that is saying a great deal. Jacques Chapeau was an officer high in command through the whole Vendean war; and I, even I, humble as I am now, I also was thought not unworthy to lead brave men into battle. I, Monsieur, am Auguste Plume; and though now merely a perruquier’s poor assistant, I was once the officer second in command in the army of La Petite Vendée.

The gentleman turned round and gazed at the singular apparition, which the obscurity of the shop only just permitted him to distinguish. Auguste Flume was now above sixty years old, and completely bald; his face was thin, lanternjawed, and cadaverous; and his eyes, which were weak with age, were red and bleared; still he had not that ghastly, sick appearance, which want both of food and rest had given him in the glorious days to which he alluded: after the struggle in La Vendée, he had lived for some time a wretched life, more like that of a beast than a man; hiding in woods, living on roots, and hunting with the appetite of a tiger after the blood of stray republicans; his wife and children had perished in Carrier’s noyades in the Loire; he himself had existed through two years of continued suffering, with a tenacity of life which almost reached to a miracle. He had joined the Chouans, and had taken an active part in the fiercest of their fierce acts of vengeance. But he had lived through it all; and now, in his old age, he had plenty and comfort; yet he looked back with a fond regret to the days of his imagined glory and power; he spoke with continual rapture of his own brave achievements, and regretted that he had not been allowed to continue a life, the miseries of which it would be impossible to exaggerate.

“Bah, Auguste,” said his mistress; “the gentleman does not care to hear of your La Petite Vendée; it is of M. Henri — that is, of the young Marquis de Larochejaquelin, and of Madame and of Mademoiselle Agatha, and of M. de Lescure, and of Charette, and the Prince de Talmont, that Monsieur will want to hear!”

The stranger was in the act of explaining that the hostess was right in her surmise, when the master of the house himself returned. In spite of what he had suffered, years had sat lightly on Chapeau, as they had done on his wife. He was now a fat, good-humoured, middle-aged, comfortable man, who made the most, in his trade, of the éclat which attended him, as having been the faithful servant of the most popular among the Vendean leaders. He never wearied his customers with long tales of his own gallantry; he even had the unusual tact to be able to sink himself, in speaking, as he was often invited to do, of the civil war: he was known to have been brave, faithful, and loyal, and he was accordingly very popular among the royalists of Paris, who generally preferred his scissors and razors to those of any other artist in the city.

The officer, who was now seated in the shop, his wife and daughter, and his assistant, began at once to explain to him the service which he was required to perform; and Chapeau, bowing low to the compliments which the stranger paid to him, declared with his accustomed mixture of politeness and frank good nature, that he would be happy to tell anything that he knew.

The gentleman explained, that in his early years he had known de Lescure intimately; that he had met Larochejaquelin in Paris, and that he had made one of a party of Englishmen, who had done their best to send arms, money, and men from his own country into La Vendée. Chapeau was too well bred to allude to the disappointment which they had all so keenly felt, from the want of that very aid; he merely bowed again, and said that he would tell Monsieur all he knew.

And so he did. From the time when Henri Larochejaquelin left Laval for Granville, nothing prospered with the Vendeans; the army, as it was agreed, had left that place for Granville, and their first misfortune had been the death of de Lescure.

“He died in Laval?” asked the officer.

“No,” said Chapeau. “When the moment for starting came, he insisted on being carried with the army; he followed us in a carriage, but the jolting of the road was too much for him — the journey killed him. He died at Fougères, on the third day after we left Laval.”

“And Madame?” asked the stranger.

“It is impossible for me now,” said Chapeau, “to tell you all the dangers through which she passed, all the disguises which she had to use, and the strange adventures which for a long time threatened almost daily to throw her in the hands of those who would have been delighted to murder her; but of course you know that she escaped at last.”

“I am told that she still lives in Poitou, and I think I heard that, some years after M. de Lescure’s death, she married M. Louis Larochejaquelin.”

“She did so — the younger brother of my own dear lord. He was a boy in England during our hot work in La Vendée.”

“Yes; and he served in an English regiment.”

“So I had heard, Monsieur; but you know, don’t you, that he also has now fallen.”

“Indeed no! — for years and years I have heard nothing of the family.”

“It was only two months since: he fell last May at the head of the Vendeans, leading them against the troops which the Emperor sent down there. The Vendeans could not endure the thoughts of the Emperor’s return from Elba. M. Louis was the first to lift his sword, and Madame is, a second time, a widow. Poor lady, none have suffered as she has done!” He then paused a while in his narrative, but as the stranger did not speak, he continued: “but of M. Henri, of course, Monsieur, you heard the fate of our dear General?”

“I only know that he perished, as did so many hundred others, who were also so true and brave.”

“I will tell you then,” said Chapeau, “for I was by him when he died; he fell, when he was shot, close at my feet: he never spoke one word, or gave one groan, but his eyes, as they closed for the last time, looked up into the face of one — one who, at any rate, loved him very well,” and Chapeau took a handkerchief from a little pocket in his wife’s apron, and applied it to his eyes.

“Yes,” he continued,” when the bullet struck him, I was as near to him as I am to her,” and he put his hand to his wife’s head. “It might have been me as well as him, only for the chance. I’ll tell you how the manner of it was. You know bow we all strove to cross back into La Vendée, first at Angers and afterwards at Ancenis; and how M. Henri got divided from the army at Ancenis. Well, after that, the Vendean army was no more; the army was gone, it had melted away; the most of those who were still alive were left in Brittany, and they joined the Chouans. Here is my friend, Auguste, he was one of them.”

“Indeed I was, Monsieur, for a year and eight months.”

“Never mind now, Auguste, you can tell the gentleman by and bye; but, as I was saying, M. Henri was left all but alone on the southern bank of the river — there were, perhaps, twenty with him altogether — not more; and there were as many hundreds hunting those twenty from day to day.”

“And you were one of them, Chapeau?”

“I was, Monsieur. My wife here remained with her father in Laval; he was a crafty man, and he made the blues believe he was a republican; but, bless you, he was as true a royalist all the time as I was. Well, there we were, hunted, like wolves, from one forest to another, till about the middle of winter, we fixed ourselves for a while in the wood of Vesins, about three leagues to the east of Cholet, a little to the south of the great road from Saumur. From this place M. Henri harassed them most effectually; about fifty of the old Vendeans had joined him, and with these he stopped their provisions, interrupted their posts, and on one occasion, succeeded in getting the despatches from Paris to the republican General. We. were at this work for about six weeks; and he, as he always did, exposed himself to every possible danger. One morning we came upon two republican grenadiers; there were M. Henri, two others and myself there, and we wanted immediately to fire upon them; but M. Henri would not have it so; he said that he would save them, and rushed forward to bid them lay down their arms; as he did so, the foremost of them fired, and M. Henri fell dead without a groan.”

“And the two men — did they escape?”

“No, neither of them,” said Chapeau; and for a moment, a gleam of savage satisfaction flashed across his face; “the man who fired the shot had not one minute spared him for his triumph; I had followed close upon my master, and I avenged him.”

“And where was his young wife all this time?”

“She was with Madame de Lescure, in Brittany; and so was Mademoiselle Agatha; they were living disguised almost as peasants, at an old château called Dreneuf; after that they all escaped to Spain; they are both still alive, and now in Poitou; and I am told, that though they have not chosen absolutely to seclude themselves, they both pass the same holy life, as though they were within the walls of a convent.”

It was long before Chapeau discontinued his narrative, but it is unnecessary for us to follow farther in the sad details which he had to give of the loss of the brave Vendean leaders. The Prince de Talinont, Charette, Stofflet, Marigny, all of them fell: “And yet,” said Chapeau, with a boast, which evidently gave him intense satisfaction, “La Vendée was never conquered. Neither the fear of the Convention, nor the arms of the Directory, nor the strength of the Consul, nor the flattery of the Emperor could conquer La Vendée, or put down the passionate longing for the return of the royal family, which has always burnt in the bosom of the people. Revolt has never been put down in La Vendée, since Cathelineau commenced the war in St. Florent. The people would serve neither the republic nor the empire; the noblesse would not visit the court; their sons have refused commissions in the army, and their daughters have disdained to accept the hands of any, who had forgotten their allegiance to the throne. Through more than twenty years of suffering and bloodshed, La Vendée has been true to its colour, and now it will receive its reward.”

Chapeau himself, however, more fortunate, though not less faithful, than his compatriots, had not been obliged to wait twenty years for his reward; he owned, with something like a feeling of disgrace, that he had been carrying on his business in Paris, for the last fifteen years, with considerable success and comfort to himself; and he frankly confessed, that he had by practice inured himself to the disagreeable task of shaving, cutting and curling beards and heads, which were devoted to the empire; “but then, Monsieur,” said he apologizing for his conduct, “there was a great difference you know between them and republicans.”

Five-and-thirty years have now passed, since Chapeau was talking, and the Vendeans triumphed in the restoration of Louis XVIII to the throne of his ancestors. That throne has been again overturned; and, another dynasty having intervened, France is again a Republic.

How long will it be before some second La Vendée shall successfully, but bloodlessly, struggle for another re-establishment of the monarchy? Surely before the expiration of half a century since the return of Louis, France will congratulate herself on another restoration.

The End

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