In the next three days the Vendeans bombarded the town, and during that time fired against it everything they could cram into their cannons, in the shape of warlike missiles; and they did not do so in vain, for the walls, in portions, began to give way and to crumble into the moat, which ran round the town, and communicated with the river Loire on each side of it. The town is built on the Loire, and between the Loire and the Thoué. After passing over the latter river at the bridge of Fouchard, the road in a few yards came to the draw-bridge over the moat; and from the close vicinity of the two rivers, no difficulty was found in keeping the moat supplied with water in the driest weather. About a mile below the town, the Thoue runs into the Loire.
Cathelineau found the men very impatient during the bombardment; they did not now dream of going home till the work was over, and Saumur taken; but they were very anxious to make a dash at the walls of the town; they could not understand why they should not clamber into the citadel, as they had done, over the green sods into the camp at Varin. On the fourth morning they were destined to have their wish. A temporary bridge over the Thoué had been made near Varin, over which a great portion of the cannon had been taken to a point near the Loire, from which the royalists had been able to do great damage to the walls; they had succeeded in making a complete breach of some yards, through which an easy entrance might be made, were it not for the moat; much of the rubbish from the walls had fallen into it, so as considerably to lessen the breadth; but there was still about twenty feet of water to be passed, and it was impossible, under the immediate guns of the castle, to contrive anything in the shape of a bridge.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of the place, it was decided that Larochejaquelin should take two hundred of his men and endeavour to make his way through the water, and while he was doing this, de Lescure was to force his passage over the bridge at Fouchard, and if possible, carry the gate of the town; in doing this he would pass under the heights of Bournan, and to this point M. d’Elbée was to accompany him with the great bulk of the army, so as to secure his flank from any attack from the republican force, which still retained their position there, and which had hitherto kept up an intercourse with the town across the bridge of Fouchard.
At five o’clock the greater portion of the army left the camp with d’Elbée and de Lescure. When they came within two furlongs of the bridge, the army separated, the chief body remaining with M. d’Elbée and the remainder going on with M. de Lescure towards the town.. The road turns a little before it reaches the bridge over the Thoué, and up to this point, the Vendeans, in their progress, were tolerably protected from the guns of the town; but immediately they turned upon the bridge, they became exposed to a tremendous fire. The men at once perceived this and hesitated to cross the river; two of the foremost of their men fell as they put their feet upon the bridge.
De Lescure had marched from the camp at the head of his men. Father Jerome was on his right hand, and Stofflet and Adolphe Denot at his left. Henri had asked his friend to accompany him in the attack which he was to make near the river, but Adolphe had excused himself, alleging that he had a great dislike to the water, and that he would in preference accompany Charles de Lescure. Henri had not thought much about it, and certainly had imputed no blame to his friend, as there would be full as much scope for gallantry with his cousin as with himself. When de Lescure saw that his men hesitated, he said, “Come my men, forward with ‘Marie Jeanne,’ we will soon pick their locks for them,” and rushed on the bridge alone; seeing that no one followed him he returned, and said to Denot:
“We must shew them an example, Adolphe; we will run to the other side of the bridge and return; after that, they will follow us.”
De Lescure did not in the least doubt the courage of his friend, and again ran on to the bridge. Stofflet and Father Jerome immediately followed him, but Adolphe Denot did not stir. He was armed with a heavy sabre, and when de Lescure spoke to him, he raised his arm as though attempting to follow him, but the effort was too much for him, his whole body shook, his face turned crimson, and he remained standing where he was. As soon as de Lescure found that Adolphe did not follow him, he immediately came back, and taking him by the arm, shook him slightly, and whispered in his ear:
“Adolphe, what ails you? remember yourself, this is not the time to be asleep,” but still Denot did not follow him; he again raised his arm, he put out his foot to spring forward, but he found he could not do it; he slunk back, and leant against the wall at the corner of the bridge, as though he were fainting.
De Lescure could not wait a moment longer. He would have risked anything but his own reputation to save that of his friend; but his brave companions were still on the bridge, and there he returned for the third time; his cap was shot away, his boot was cut, his clothes were pierced in different places, but still he was not himself wounded.
“See, my friends,” said he aloud to the men behind him, “the blues do not know how to fire,” and he pointed to his shoulder, from which, as he spoke, a ball had cut the epaulette.
He then crossed completely over the bridge, together with Stofflet and the priest; the people with one tremendous rush followed him, and Adolphe Denot was carried along with the crowd.
As soon as they found themselves immediately beneath the walls of the town, they were not exposed to so murderous a fire as they had been on the bridge itself, but still the work was hot enough. ‘Marie Jeanne’ had been carried across with them, and was soon brought into play; they had still enough ammunition left to enable their favourite to show her puissance in battering against the chief gates of Saumur. The men made various attempts to get into the town, but they were not successful, though the gates were shattered to pieces, and the passage was almost free; the republican troops within were too strong, and their firing too hot. At last the blues made a sortie from the town, and drove the Vendeans back towards the bridge; M. de Lescure still kept his place in the front, and was endeavouring to encourage his men to recover their position, when a ball struck his arm and broke it, and he fell with his knee upon the ground. As soon as the peasants saw him fall, and found that he was wounded, they wanted to take him in their arms, and carry him at once back across the bridge, but he would not allow them.
“What ails you, friends?” said he; “did you never never see a man stumble before? Come, the passage is free; now at length we will quench our thirst in Saumur,” and taking his sword in his left hand, he again attempted to make good his ground.
M. d’Elbée had seen the Vendeans retreating back towards the bridge, and knowing that victory with them must be now or never (for it would have been impossible to have induced the peasants to remain longer from their homes, had they been repulsed), he determined to quit his post and to second de Lescure at the bridge. The firing from the town had ceased, for the republicans and royalists were so mixed together, that the men on the walls would have been as likely to kill their friends as their enemies; and as the first company, fatigued, discouraged and overpowered, were beginning to give way, d’Elbée, with about two thousand men, pushed across the bridge, and the whole mass of the contending forces, blues and Vendeans together, were hurried back through the gateway into the town; and de Lescure, as he entered it, found that it was already in the hands of his own party — the white flag was at that moment rising above the tricolour on the ramparts.
Adolphe Denot was one of the first of the Vendeans who entered the town through the gate. This shewed no great merit in him, for, as has been said, the men who had made the first attack, and the republicans who opposed it, were carried into the town by the impulse of the men behind them; but still he had endeavoured to do what he could to efface the ineffable disgrace which he felt must now attach to him in the opinion of M. de Lescure. As they were making their way up the principal street, still striking down the republicans wherever they continued to make resistance, but more often giving quarter, and promising protection, de Lescure with a pistol held by the barrel in his left hand, and with his right arm hastily tied up in the red handkerchief taken from a peasant’s neck, said to the man who was next to him, but whom he did not at the moment perceive to be Denot:
“Look at Larochejaquelin, the gallant fellow; look at the red scarf on the castle wall. I could swear to him among a thousand.”
“Yes,” said Adolphe, unwilling not to reply when spoken to, and yet ashamed to speak to de Lescure, “yes, that is Henri. I wish I were with him.”
“Oh, that is you, is it?” said de Lescure, just turning to look at him, and then hurrying away. But before he had moved on five paces, he returned, and putting his pistol into his girdle, gave Adolphe his left hand, and whispered to him:
“No one shall ever hear of it, Adolphe,” said he, “and I will forget it. Think of your Saviour in such moments, Adolphe, and your heart will not fail you again.”
The tears came into Denot’s eyes as de Lescure left him. He felt that he must be despised; he felt grateful for the promise which had been given him, and yet he felt a kind of hatred for the man to whom he had afforded an opportunity of forgiving him. He felt that he never could like de Lescure again, never be happy in his company; he knew that de Lescure would religiously keep his word, that he would never mention to human being that horrid passage at the bridge; but he knew also that it could never be forgotten. Adolphe Denot was not absolutely a coward; he had not bragged that he would do anything which he knew it was contrary to his nature to do, when he told Agatha that he would be the first to place the white flag on the citadel of Saumur: he felt then all the aspirations of a brave man; he felt a desire even to hurry into the thick of the battle; but he had not the assured, sustained courage to support him in the moment of extreme danger. As de Lescure said, his heart failed him.
We must now return to Henri Larochejaquelin. He had taken with him two hundred of the best men from the parishes of St. Aubin, St. Laud and Echanbroignes; four or five officers accompanied him, among whom was a young lad, just fourteen years of age; his name was Arthur Mondyon, and he was a cadet from a noble family in Poitou; in the army he had at first been always called Le Petit Chevalier. His family had all emigrated, and he had been left at school in Paris; but on the breaking out of the wars he had run away from school, had forged himself a false passport into La Vendée, and declared his determination of fighting for his King. De Lescure had tried much to persuade him to stay at Clisson, but in vain; he had afterwards been attached to a garrison that was kept in the town of Chatillon, as he would then be in comparative safety; but the little Chevalier had a will of his own; he would not remain within walls while fighting was going on, and he had insisted on accompanying Larochejaquelin to Saumur. He was now installed as Henri’s aide-de-camp.
Jacques Chapeau also accompanied the party who were to make their way into the town through the water. The men were all armed with muskets and bayonets, but their muskets were not loaded, nor did they carry any powder with them; it would have been useless in the attack they were about to make, and was much wanted elsewhere.
Henri was at his post about the time at which de Lescure was preparing to cross the bridge at Fouchard. It was an awful looking place at which ha had to make his entrance there was certainly a considerable breach in the wall, and the fragments of it had fallen into the fosse, so as to lessen its width; but, nevertheless, there was full twenty feet of running water to cross, which had more the appearance of a branch of the river Loire, than of a moat round a town.
Henri saw that his men looked a little alarmed at what they had to go through; he had a light straw hat on his head, and taking it off, he threw it into the water, a little above the point he had to pass, and as the running water carried it down he said:
“Whoever gives me that on the other side will be my friend for life.” And as he spoke he himself leapt into the water, and swam across.
Jacques made a plunge for the hat: had it been in the middle of the Loire he would have gone after it under similar circumstances, though he couldn’t swim a stroke; he did not go near the hat however, but went head over heels into the water; the impetus carried him through, and he was the second to scramble upon the broken mortar on the other side. The Chevalier was more active; he leapt in and seized the hat as it was going down the stream, and swimming like a young duck, brought it back to its owner.
“Ah! Chevalier,” said Henri, reproaching him playfully, and helping him up out of the water, “you have robbed some poor fellow of a chance; you, you know, cannot be more my friend, than you already are.”
The men quickly followed: they all got a ducking; some few lost their arms, one or two were slightly wounded by their comrades, but none of them were drowned. Henri soon made his way over the ruins into the town, and carried everything before him. The greater part of the garrison of the town were endeavouring to repulse the attack made by de Lescure; others had retired into the castle, in which the republican General thought that he might still hold out against the Vendeans. Many were already escaping out of the town by the bridge over the Loire, and throwing down their arms, were hurrying along the road to Tours.
It was in this manner, and almost without opposition, that Larochejaquelin found himself, together with his brave followers, in the middle of Saumur; their own success astonished them; hardly a shot was fired at them in their passage; they went through the town without losing a man; the republican soldiers whom they did see threw down their arms and fled; the very sight of the Vendeans in the centre of the town overwhelmed them with panic. The appearance of Henri’s troop was very singular; every man wore round his neck and round his waist a red cotton handkerchief; this costume had been adopted to preserve Larochejaquelin from the especial danger of being made the butt of republican marksmen. There was now no especial mouchoir rouge among them. They certainly had a frightful appearance, as they hurried through the streets with their bayonets fixed, dripping with mud and water, and conspicuous with their red necks and red waists; at least so thought the republicans, for they offered very little opposition to them.
Henri had just time to see that his friends had entered the town by the gate on the Doué road, but he did not wait to speak to them. The republican soldiers were escaping from the town in the opposite direction, and he could not resist the temptation of following them. He was at the head of his men, just passing over the Loire by a wooden bridge, called the bridge of the Green Cross, and having possessed himself of a sword in his passage through the town, was making good use of it, when a dragoon turned suddenly round, and fired a pistol almost in his face: near as the man was to him, in his hurry he missed him, and the bullet merely grazed Henri’s cheek, without even raising the skin. “Ah, bungler,” said Henri, raising his sword, “you are no good for either King or nation,” and he struck the unfortunate man dead at his feet.
Not only the soldiers, but the inhabitants of the town were escaping by hundreds over the bridge, and Henri saw that if he pursued them farther, he must, sooner or later, find himself surrounded and overpowered by numbers; he returned, therefore, and destroyed the bridge, so as to prevent the return of the soldiers who had fled in their first panic, and also to prevent any more of the inhabitants from leaving their homes.
“God has certainly fought on our side today,” said he to one of his Mends: “with barely two hundred men, all dripping like drowned rats, we have made our way, almost without opposition, through the town, and thousands of soldiers are even yet flying before us.”
“Ah! M. Henri,” said the little Chevalier, “it is a great honour to fight for one’s King; one fears nothing then: a single royalist should always drive before him ten republicans.”
Henri now returned and joined de Lescure, who was in possession of the town, though the citadel was still in the hands of General Quetineau, who held the command of the garrison. It was not till the cousins had embraced each other, that Henri saw that de Lescure was wounded.
“Yes,” said de Lescure, “I have at length acquired the privilege of shedding my blood in the cause; but it is only a broken arm; Victorine will have a little trouble with me when I return to Clisson.”
“And Adolphe, my brave Adolphe, you are wounded, too?” said Henri.
Denot muttered something, and turned away; he did not dare to look his friends in the face.
“He envies me my honour,” said de Lescure; “but it might have been his chance as well as mine, for he was not two feet from me when I was wounded.” This was true, for de Lescure had been struck after Denot had crossed the bridge with the other men.
A flag of truce was now sent out by General Quetineau to the royalists, with a proposal that he would give up the castle, and lay down his arms, on being allowed to march out with all his men, and take the road to Angers; but this proposition was not acceded to.
“No!” said de Lescure to the General’s messenger: “tell M. Quetineau that the Vendeans cannot accede to those terms — we cannot allow his soldiers to march to Angers, and to return within a week to inflict new cruelties on our poor peasants. M. Quetineau must surrender without any terms: the practices of our army must be his only guarantee, that his men will not be massacred in cold blood, as the unfortunate royalists are massacred when they fall into the hands of the republicans.”
The republicans were not in a condition to insist upon anything; as M. de Lescure had said, the practices of the Vendeans were a guarantee that no blood would be unnecessarily shed, and relying on this assurance alone, M. Quetineau surrendered the castle and gave up his sword. De Lescure took possession of it till he should be able to hand it over to his General, and the Vendeans found themselves complete masters of Saumur.
There was, however, still a very strong detachment of republican troops on the heights of Bournan, who were watched on one side by Foret and his detachment, and on the other by a portion of M. d’Elbée’s army. These men had done some execution, as they covered with their cannon a portion of the road over which the Vendeans had passed, but they had taken no active part whatever in the engagement. What made this the more singular, was that the garrison at Bournan was composed of the very best soldiers of the French republican army. They were under the command of General Coustard, who kept his position during the whole attack, inactive and unmolested; had he attacked M. d’Elbée’s army in the rear, when that officer advanced to support de Lescure’s division, the Vendeans would probably have been destroyed between the two republican armies. Whether the two Generals of the Convention misunderstood each other, or whether the soldiers at Bournan were unwilling to rout the royalists, it is impossible to say; but they remained at Bournan till the night, and then leaving their post during the darkness, made good their retreat to Angers.
As soon as the white flag was seen on the walls of Saumur, Cathelineau left the position which he had held, and entered the town. It was greatly in opposition to his own wishes that he had been induced to remain at a distance from the absolute attack, and now he felt almost ashamed of himself as the officers and men crowded round him to congratulate him on the victory which he had gained.
“No, M. de Lescure,” he said, as that officer tendered him General Quetineau’s sword, “no, I will never take it from him who has won it with so much constancy and valour. I must own I envy you your good fortune, but I will not rob you of the fruits of your exertions.”
“But Cathelineau,” said the other, “you are our General, the customs of war require —”
“The customs of war are all changed,” replied Cathelineau, “when such as you and M. de Larochejaquelin make yourselves second to a poor postillion; at any rate,” he added, pressing between his own, the left hand of M. de Lescure, which still held the sword, “if I am to be the commander, I must be obeyed. M. de Lescure will not set a bad example when I tell him to keep General Quetineau’s sword.”
“And you, General Quetineau,” said Cathelineau, “what are your wishes — your own personal wishes I mean? I have not forgotten that you alone of the republican leaders have shewn mercy to the poor royalists, when they were in your power; you at any rate shall not say that the Vendean brigands do not know how to requite kind services.” Cathelineau alluded to the name which the republicans had given to the royalists at the commencement of the war.
“It little matters to me,” said Quetineau, “what becomes of me; were you to give me unconditional liberty, I should go to Paris — and the Convention would accuse me of betraying my trust, and I should become another victim of the guillotine.”
“Of the guillotine!” said Henri; “why, what bloody monsters are those you serve they send you soldiers who know nothing but how to run; do they expect that with such troops as these you should be victorious, when opposed to men who are individually striving for everything that is dear to them?”
“The Convention,” said Quetineau, “would ensure success by punishing defeat. You will find in the end that they are politic; there will, however, be many victims, and I am fated to be one of them.”
“Stay with us, General Quetineau,” said de Lescure, “join our forces, and here you will find that honesty and courage are respected. You cannot, you do not approve of the tyranny of the Convention. We know each other of old, and I know that in joining the army, you never intended to serve under a Republic. You cannot say that in your heart you are a repubhican.”
“Did I wish to shew myself a royalist, it would not now become me to proclaim myself one,” answered Quetineau. “I entered the army of the King, but I have chosen to remain a soldier of the Republic. Whatever may be my feelings, adversity shall not make me false to the colours I have carried; besides, gentlemen, if I escaped the anger of the Convention myself, I have a wife in Paris, whose life would be made to satisfy it; under such circumstances, I presume you would not counsel me to become a royalist.”
This was an argument which it was impossible to answer. General Quetineau accepted the present of his liberty, and soon as he was free, he returned to Paris; he was immediately sent to the revolutionary tribunal and tried for his life; and as he himself had predicted, was guillotined by the Convention for the cowardice of the troops, whom he had been called upon to take under his command. In the old days of Greece, when the Kings sinned, the people suffered for it: this law was reversed under the first French Republic; when the soldiers ran away, the Generals were beheaded.
The joy of the Vendeans, when they found themselves masters of Saumur, knew no bounds, but they were grotesque rather than unruly in their demonstrations; they plundered nothing from the poor people, or even from the shopkeepers; the money that was found in the republican chest was divided among them, but as this consisted almost entirely of assignats, it was of but little value. The shopkeepers were surprised at the liberality of their enemies and conquerors, who were willing to dispose of these assignats for anything they would fetch — a little wine, or a few ounces of tobacco; whereas, their own friends, the republicans, had insisted that they should be taken at their nominal value as money, for all goods exposed for sale.
An enormous poplar had been planted by the towns-people in the centre of the marketplace, which they called the tree of liberty. This was now a doomed tree. On the evening of the day in which they took the town, the royalist peasants went in procession, and with many cheers hewed it to the ground; it was then treated with every possible contumely — it was chopped, and hacked, and barked; it was kicked, and cuffed, and spat upon; the branches were cut off, and on the bare top was placed a large tattered cap of liberty; the Vendean marksmen then turned out, and fired at the cap till it was cut to pieces; after that, all the papers and books, which had belonged to the municipality, every document which could be found in the Town-hall, were brought into the square, and piled around the roots of the tree; and then the whole was set on fire — and tree, papers, and cap of liberty, were consumed together.
On the next morning, considerable difficulty was experienced in disposing of the prisoners there were about two thousand in the town, and the Vendeans knew that they had no means of keeping them, nor did they wish to be at the great expense of feeding them; it was contrary to their inclination, their practice, and their consciences, to kill them in cold blood: and they knew from experience, that if they gave them their liberty, the same men would return within a fortnight, newly-armed, to carry on the war against their liberators, in spite of any oaths they might take to the contrary.
“I’ll tell you what we will do, M. Henri,” said Chapeau, speaking to his master, “we will put a mark upon them, so that if we catch them again, we may know them; and then I do think it would be all right to hang them; or perhaps for the second time we might cut off their ears, and hang them the third time.”
“But how would you mark them, Jacques; men are not like cattle that you can brand them.”
“I will tell you what,” said the little Chevalier, “shave them all like pigs; they cannot all buy wigs, and we shall know them by their bald sconces.”
“That is the very thing, M. Arthur,” said Chapeau delighted, “we will shave their heads as clear as the palm of my hand. I am an excellent barber myself; and I will even get a dozen or two assistants; hair shall be cheap in Saumur tomorrow; though I fear soap and razors will be scarce.”
Chapeau was so delighted with the proposal that he at once hurried away to carry it into execution; and Arthur, though he felt that his dignity as an officer would be somewhat compromised, could not resist the boyish temptation to follow him and see the fun.
He and Chapeau were not long in raising an efficient corps of barbers and assistant barbers; and few of the shopkeepers, when called upon, thought it advisable to refuse the loan of a razor and a shaving dish. They established themselves in the large room of the Town-hall, and had the prisoners brought in by a score at a time; vehemently did the men plead for their hair, and loud did they swear that if allowed to escape free, they would never again carry arms against the Vendeans; but neither their oaths or their prayers were of any avail, nor yet the bribes which were offered by those who had ought to give; the order to sit down was given imperatively, and if not immediately obeyed, the command was somewhat roughly enforced.
They were shaved by twenty at a time, and while one lot was being operated on, another twenty, who were next destined to fill the chairs, were kept standing against the wall. The long hair was first cut off with scissors, and then the head and whiskers were closely shaved. The first candidates for the soap-dish were very unruly under the operation, but they only got their ears snipped and their skin chipped, and had to return to their prisons with their polls all bloody as well as bald. Those who looked on, took a lesson from the folly of their comrades, and most of them remained quiet. The manoeuvres of the men however were very different during the process; some took it with good humour, and endeavoured to laugh as their locks were falling; some sat still as death; others looked fierce and warlike; some were even moved to tears; some fought, and kicked and scratched, and at last had to be corded to their seats. One unfortunate went down upon his knees, and implored Chapeau by the memory of his mistress, if ever he had been in love, by his regard for his wife, if he chanced to be married, not to shave his head. He was engaged to be married, he said, to a young girl at Angers, who had many lovers; she had preferred him for the beauty of his hair: if he returned back bald, he knew that he would be rejected. Chapeau for a time was moved, but the patriot and the royalist triumphed over the man, and Jacques, turning away his face on which a tear was gleaming, with a wave of his hand motioned the young man to the chair.
Insult was added to injury, for the Chevalier stood at the door with a brush, and a large jar of red paint, and as each man went out of the room, Arthur made a huge cross upon his bare pate. The poor wretches in their attempt to rub it off, merely converted the cross into a red patch, and as they were made to walk across the market-place with their bald red heads, they gave rise to shouts of laughter, not only from the royalists, but from the inhabitants of the town.
For three days the shaving went on, and as the men became experienced from practice, it was conducted with wonderful rapidity. At last, the prisoners were all deprived of their hair, and set at liberty — a temporary bridge was thrown across the Loire, near the Green Cross, and the men were allowed to march over. As soon as they found themselves on the other side of the Loire, they were free.
“Come, my bald pates, come my knights of the ruddy scalp,” said Jacques, standing at the corner of the bridge as they passed over, “away with you to the Convention; and if your friends like your appearance, send them to Saumur, and they shall be shaved close, and the barber shall ask for no fee; but remember, if you return again yourselves, your ears will be the next sacrifice you will be called on to make for your country.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01