La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

Council of War

The taking of the fortified town of Saumur, and the total dispersion of the large army which had been collected there by the Republic, was an enterprise of much greater magnitude than anything which had previously been undertaken by the Vendeans: it gave them great advantages, it supplied them plentifully with arms, ammunition and clothes for their soldiers, and greatly inspirited the peasants; but it made the Convention feel that it had no contemptible enemy to deal with in La Vendée, and that the best soldiers of France would be required to crush the loyalty which inspired the peasants of Anjou and Poitou.

The Vendean leaders felt that their responsibilities were greatly increased, and that very much depended on the decision to which they might now come as regarded their further operations. A general council of war was accordingly held in Saumur, at which the matter was debated among them. Twelve of the Vendeans were admitted to this consultation, and all others were strictly excluded; they were Cathelineau, Bonchamps, who though badly wounded, had caused himself to be brought thither from Doué, de Lescure, who had remained in action for eight hours after his arm was broken, and had consequently suffered much from it, Larochejaquein, d’Elbée, Stofflet, Adolphe Denot, Father Jerome, Foret, M. Donnessan, Lescure’s father-inlaw, Marigny, and the Prince de Talmont.

The first question was the selection of a chief officer. Cathelineau had been named before the battle of Saumur; but, as he himself alleged, his command was to last only during that siege; he had been, he said, selected for a special purpose, which purpose, by the grace of God, was accomplished, and he was now ready to resign his commission into the hands of those who had given it to him.

“I am not so foolish,” said he, “as to suppose that I am qualified to take the command in the war which we have now to carry on. No; one privilege I beg to exercise on retiring from my command. I will name a successor; let any one who pleases name another; we will then put it to the vote, and let him who has most votes be our General.”

“So be it,” said Henri. “Nothing can be better.”

“I name M. de Lescure,” said Cathelineau. “Some of us are beloved by the people, but are not educated; others are highly educated, but are not yet known to the peasants. We are all, I am sure, brave men: but M. de Lescure is beloved by all; his knowledge fits him for his high position, and his cool, constant, determined courage, no man who has seen him in the hour of battle will doubt. I name M. de Lescure.”

De Lescure was about to rise, when Henri put his hand upon his friends arm, and said:

“Let me speak, Charles. We all know that what Cathelineau has said of my cousin is no more than the truth. Be still, Charles: when I have spoken you can then say what you please, but I am sure you will agree with me. Nevertheless, I will not give my vote that he be our chief General. Cathelineau has desired that any one differing from him should name another, and that the question should then be put to the vote. I differ from him, and, therefore, I name another. I name the good Cathelineau, the Saint of Anjou.”

“Now let us vote,” said the Prince de Talmont. “Come, Bonchamps, do you begin.”

“I never heard of deposing a Commander-inChief in consequence of a complete victory,” said Bonchamps. “The Convention murders their Generals when they are defeated, but even the Convention rewards them for victory. I vote for Cathelineau.”

“And you, Foret,” said the Prince.

“I say Cathelineau,” said Foret: “the peasants generally would be disappointed to see any put above him.”

“I certainly vote for Cathelineau,” said Father Jerome, who came next.

“We should be offending our Creator,” said M. d’Elbée, “were we to reject the great and good Commander, whom His gracious providence has sent us. I vote for Cathelineau.”

“And you, M. Denot,” said the Prince. Adolphe Denot especially disliked Cathelineau: he was jealous of his reputation and popularity: he could not bear to feel himself in any way under the control of a man so much his inferior in rank; he fancied, moreover, that Cathelineau regarded Agatha Larochejaquelin; he had been quick enough to perceive that the ineffable grace and beauty of his mistress had filled the heart of the poor postillion with admiration, and he feared that his own rejection had been caused by some mutual feeling in Agatha’s breast, which future events might warm into love. Adolphe, therefore, hated Cathelineau, and would have delighted, had he dared to do so, to express his disapprobation of the choice; but, after pausing for a few moments, he found that he did not dare; so he merely said:

“Oh, Cathelineau, of course. When you are all resolved, what’s the use of voting about it?”

“To show that we all are resolved,” said de Lescure; “to make Cathelineau understand that it is positively his duty to take the position we wish him to fill.”

And so, one after another, they all recorded their votes that Cathelineau should be the Commander-inChief of the Vendean army; and they all declared that they would, without reserve, obey any military orders, which he might give them.

“Well, gentlemen,” said he, again seating himself at the head of the table, “I should pay but a bad compliment to your understanding, were I any further to insist on my own unworthiness. I will not, at any rate, be wanting in zeal for the good cause, and I will trust to Him who directs us all, for assistance in the difficult duties which you have imposed on me.”

They then debated on the all-important question of what should be their next movement, and on this subject there was much difference of opinion. Bonchamps was again asked to speak first, and he advised that they should at once proceed to Paris.

“We can do nothing,” said he, “while the present Convention sits in Paris; it has but one head, but it has ten thousand bloody hands. There can be no peace, no rest in France, while Danton, Robespierre and Barrère are omnipotent. Let us at once start for Paris: Brittany will join us, and parts of Normandy; the Southerns will follow us; the men of Bordeaux and of the Gironde: have not their own orators, the leaders of the Revolution, been murdered in their seats, because they were not willing that all France should become one Golgotha? Lyons, even, and Marseilles, are now sick of the monsters who have crawled forth from the haunts of the Jacobins to depopulate the country, and annihilate humanity. There is now but a small faction, even in Paris, to whom the restoration of order would not be acceptable. .The intensity of their cruelty is the only strength of the governing faction; the extent of their abominations alone makes them terrible. Hundreds will fly from one Indian snake, so potent is its venom, so sure to inflict death: but let one brave man set his heel upon its head, and the noxious animal is destroyed for ever: so it is with the party who now rules the Convention. Now that we have with us the all-powerful prestige of victory, let us march at once to Paris; hundreds will join us on the way, and what force can at the moment be collected to stop us? Let us proceed at once to Paris, and proclaim at the door of the Convention, in the gardens of the Tuilleries, in the Place Louis Quinze, where our sainted monarch so nobly shed his blood, that France again submits herself to her King.”

“Would that we could!” said de Lescure; “would that the spirit of revolution was yet sufficiently quenched in France to allow us to follow your advice; but there is much, very much to be done before a royalist army can march from La Vendée to Paris; unthought of sufferings to be endured, the blood of thousands to be sacrificed, before France will own that she has been wrong in the experiment she has made. We must fight our battles by inches, and be satisfied, if, when dying, we can think that we have left to our children a probability of final victory. Normandy and the Gironde may be unwilling to submit to the Jacobin leaders, but they are as yet as warmly attached to the Republic as Paris itself. And, Bonchamps, you little know the dispositions and character of the men, who at our bidding have left their homes and come to Saumur, if you think that at our bidding they will march to Paris; they are even now burning to return home, to recount to their wives and children what they have done.

“Not half the number that came to Saumur would leave the town with us on the road to Paris; and before we could reach Tours, the army would have melted away from us like snow from a mountain top, when the sun begins to shine. It is here, in our own locality, that we should endeavour to extend our influence. In Southern Brittany the people, I believe, are with us, but the towns are full of the troops of the Republic. Let us drive them out of Angers, Ancenis, and Nantes, as we have driven them from Saumur. Let us force them from the banks of the Loire, and become masters of the coast of Southern Brittany. Then we may expect men and money from England. Then we may fairly hope for such foreign aid as may enable us to face the Republic; but at present, if we march to Paris, we march to certain destruction.”

“M. de Lescure is right,” said Stofflet, “our men would not go far from their homes; we must remember that they are not paid, nor have we the means of paying them; if we had English gold, we might perhaps make our way to Paris.”

“Our men are not so mercenary, Stofflet,” said Bonchamps, “I do not think they have shewn any great desire for plunder.”

“No,” said Stofflet, “but they must live; if they are to have neither pay nor plunder, how are they to get to Paris?”

“I agree with you, Bonchamps,” said Henri, “come what, come may, I would make a dash at Paris; we shall be cut to pieces here, while we are waiting for English aid; some of the men would follow us — most of them I believe; where we meet with friends, they will give us provisions; where we find enemies, we will take them, and pay the owners in republican assignats; they would get no other payment in the market-towns. I am sorry to disagree with you, Charles, but my voice is for Paris.”

“And mine also, certainly,” said Adolphe, “let our career be short, at any rate let it be glorious; let us march to Paris and strike terror into the tyrants of the Convention.”

“It is difficult to strike terror into tyrants,” said de Lescure quickly, “when the number of their supporters is ten times greater than that of their opponents.”

“Well, Cathelineau,” said Bonchamps, “what do you say? it is for you to settle the question between us; are we to go forward to Paris, or march back to Nantes?”

“I would wish to hear what others say; for myself, I fear that M. de Lescure is right. I fear the peasants would not follow us so far from their own homes. What does the Prince de Talmont say?”

“I will have no voice in the matter,” said the Prince. “I have joined you but lately, and as yet am only fit to follow where others lead.”

“And you, M. d’Elbée?” said Cathelineau.

“I hardly know how to speak,” said d’Elbée, “where the subject is so important.”

“M. d’Elbée is not wont to be so modest,” said Stofflet; “does he not trust that Providence will inspire him with wisdom, when he opens his mouth to give his opinion?”

“Certainly, Stofflet; I trust in that all-seeing eye, at which you are so willing to scoff; but I do not expect that I am to be allowed to see further into futurity than another; however, if I am to express an opinion, I think we should endeavour to march on Paris; if we find that the men desert us, and that others do not join our standards, we must return.”

“And how are we to return,” said de Lescure, “and to whom? think you that we can collect another army in La Vendée, when one has deserted us on the road? will the peasants again trust in us, after they have once left us? Never If the army dissolves itself in despair, you will never be able to establish it again.”

“Who talks of despair, Charles?” said Henri, “you did not despair when you were thundering against the gates of Saumur with four republicans to one royalist opposed to you; why should you despair now; or why should the army despair; I believe they would go anywhere at the command of their priests, and with the hope of restoring the King to his throne.”

The question was then put to the vote. De Lescure and four others, voted for attacking Nantes. Bonchamps, and five others, declared for proceeding at once to Paris, with the view of arresting the present leaders of the Convention. Cathelineau was then called on to express his opinion, which would of course be decisive.

“I think M. de Lescure is right,” said he, “I think we are not in a position to advance to Paris. I have not the heart to ask the men to follow me into a strange country, so far from their own homes.”

The numbers were now equally divided, but as Cathelineau was the Commander-inChief, his voice turned the scale; and the expedition to Paris was postponed.

“So be it,” said Bonchamps; “let us prepare then for Nantes; it is not fortified like Saumur, but the troops there are very numerous.”

It was then decided that Cathelineau should name six lieutenants under him, to take command of the different districts from which the army was collected, and to which the men would be sure to return; and also appoint an officer in command of the artillery, and another in command of the cavalry. Cathelineau would have willingly dispensed with the task of selecting his officers — a work in which he could hardly fail to give offence to some, and in which he might probably give entire satisfaction to none; but it was to be done, and he felt that it was useless for him to shrink from it.

“M. Bonchamps,” said he, “will of course take the command of the men of Anjou, and M. de Lescure of those from the southern parts of the Bocage, and they will assist me, I hope, in selecting the others. It is very difficult to select, where so many are fit.”

“Rather say,” said Henri, laughing, “where so many are equally unfit. Why, Bonchamps and Marigny are the only soldiers by profession we have among us.”

“You’ll all be soldiers shortly,” said Father Jerome. “You are at any rate going the right way to learn the trade.”

“Marigny of course will take the artillery,” said Bonchamps. “We are very lucky in having so good an artillery officer among us.”

“There is no one, at any rate, to dispute your claim, Marigny,” said de Lescure.

“So he’s president over ‘Marie Jeanne’ and the gunpowder,” said Henri; “that’s settled, isn’t it Cathelineau?”

“Unless M. Marigny refuses,” said Cathelineau.

“I am not modest enough for that, General,” said Marigny. “Do you furnish me with guns, and I’ll fight them. Do you collect the gunpowder, and I’ll consume it.”

“And the Prince de Talmont will take the cavalry?” said Cathelineau.

“No, indeed,” said the Prince. “I will not interfere with Henri Larochejaquelin.”

“Henri Larochejaquelin is much obliged to you, Prince,” said Henri, “but he is not ambitious of making a fool of himself; nor does he wish to be made a fool of. Moreover, Henri Larochejaquelin does not wish to quarrel with an old friend like you, Prince; but he might be tempted to do so, if you take any liberties with his name.”

“But, Cathelineau,” said the Prince, “Henri has been at the head of the cavalry all through.”

“Don’t set a bad example, Prince,” said de Lescure. “Let every man coincide with Cathelineau’s directions without a word; so shall we be spared the ill effects of over modesty, and of too much assurance.”

“Besides,” said Cathelineau, “M. Larochejaquelin will be much wanted elsewhere. As a matter of course, he will be the leader of all the parishes round Chatillon; I doubt if the men would follow any one else.”

“Dear Cathelineau,” said Henri, “if you will take my advice, you will not make leaders of us youngsters at all. Adolphe and I will be well contented to be hussars for awhile. Let these grey-headed seniors be our leaders,” and he pointed to d’Elbée whose hair was grizzled.

Henri had seen that the spirit of jealousy was already rising in Adolphe Denot’s face. No allusion had been made to his services; his advice had never been asked in the council; there was no probability that he would be named as one of the leaders; he had hardly spoken a word since they had assembled in the council-room. Henri, though his own heart was a stranger to the jealousy and dread of neglect which tormented Adolphe, sympathised with, and felt for his friend; and he thought that if they were both together excluded from command at his request, the blow would be less keenly felt. They were the two youngest in the room, and their youth was a good reason why they should not be named; but Henri was the younger of the two, and he knew that if he were selected as one of the chiefs, Adolphe would be miserable at finding himself left out.

De Lescure, however, would not allow of this. He had promised that he would not disgrace Denot, by telling of the cowardice he had shewn at the Bridge of Fouchard, and he was determined to keep his word; but he would not allow his cousin, his pupil, his bosom friend, the man whom he loved with the affection of a brother and a father, to sink himself to the same level as a coward.

“How absurd is this!” said he, angrily. “I wonder, Henri, that you should be the first to create such foolish difficulties, when our very existence depends on perfect unanimity. In proportion as our means of enforcing obedience is slender, should our resolution be firm, implicitly to obey the directions of those who are selected as our leaders. We have made Cathelineau our General, and desired him to select his officers, and when he selects you as one, you object. If you object from a proper modesty, it argues that those who accept, shew an improper degree of assurance. You should think of these things, Henri.”

“I resign myself to my dignity, and am dumb,” said Henri laughing. “Go on, Cathelineau, and if the men you name, say but one word, one syllable against your choice — I’ll slay them.”

Cathelineau knew that all his difficulty still lay before him; those whom he had already chosen would as a matter of course be among the number; but who were to be the other three?

“M. Donnissan,” said be, in a whisper to de Lescure, who was sitting next to him. “I do not know what his wishes might be.”

“My father-inlaw feels himself too old,” answered de Lescure; “d’Elbée would be a much fitter person; he is thought so much of at Beauprieu.”

“And the other two?” asked Cathelineau.

“Name one yourself, and ask Bonchamps to name the other.”

“M. d’Elbée,” said Cathelineau, aloud, “you will not, I am sure, refuse to take your portion of our labours.”

“You will find,” whispered Stofflet to his neighbour, “that as Providence has called upon him, he will be willing enough.”

“I will do my best,” said d’Elbée “as I am called upon; and may the Lord direct me, that I may fight His battle so as to do honour to His name.”

“I think I will name Stofflet,” said Cathelineau, consulting with Bonchamps and de Lescure; “he is a brave man, and though rude in his manner, he will make perhaps the best soldier among us; already the men obey him almost more implicitly than any one.”

“Do — do!” said Bonchamps; “you cannot do better.”

“I think you will be right to do so,” said de Lescure, “though I do not like the man; but the peasants know him, and he is one of themselves. Yesterday morning I had ample proof of his courage. As you say, he is a brave man and a good soldier.”

Stofflet was then informed that he had been named, and though he muttered some expressions as to his own want of the necessary qualifications, he was evidently well pleased that the choice had fallen on him.

And now the last of the lot was to be chosen. As the two last names had been mentioned, Denot’s brow had grown blacker and blacker. Henri Larochejaquelin, during the whole proceeding, had been walking about the room, sitting now in one place, and now in another. At the present moment, he was sitting next to Adolphe, who, when Stofflet’s name was mentioned, whispered to him, but almost audibly:

“Gracious heaven! Stofflet! — the whole affair is becoming discreditable. How can any gentleman serve under such a man as that?”

“You think too much of rank, Adolphe,” said Henri; “we should entirely forget all distinctions of person now; unless we do so we can never succeed.”

“But do you think we are more likely to set the King upon his throne, by making such a brute as that a General? I wonder whom our Commander-inChief will choose next — Foret, I suppose.”

After having again consulted for some time, Bonchamps said to Cathelineau: “I do not think you can do better than name Adolphe Denot.”

This was said in a low voice, but Adolphe’s ears were not slow to catch his own name, and he was once more happy. Though he was named last, he would be equal with the others.

“Not so,” said de Lescure, who had no idea that Denot had overheard the mention of his name, “Adolphe is not yet sufficiently known to the people; besides we have hitherto forgotten one, who though absent, we must not forget — one who was the first in the field against the Republic, who is already at the head of an army, and who has on various occasions shown himself capable to lead an army. We must not forget Charette.”

The last words were spoken out loud, and though they were eagerly responded to by every one else, they fell with a heavy sound on Adolphe Denot’s ear. To know that he was excluded after he had been named, to feel that he had been proposed merely to be rejected; it was more than he could bear; and as soon as Cathelineau had formally announced the name of M. Charette as one of their leaders, he started abruptly from his chair and said:

“Oh, of course, gentlemen, if you prefer Charette, so be it! He, doubtless will be better able to assist your endeavours than I should; but you might have spared me the mortification of putting my name on your list of officers, merely to scratch it off again.”

“What matters it, Adolphe,” said Larochejaquelin, blushing for his friend, “will you not share my command? Will not your word be as influential in the parishes of Chatillon as my own?”

“I sincerely beg your pardon, M. Denot,” said Cathelineau, “if I have hurt your feelings, but you are as much aware as we are that we should be very wrong to neglect the merits of M. Charette; his achievements claim from us this distinction, and his power and influence would probably be lost to La Vendée, if we did not now incorporate his army with ours.”

“I have nothing further to say,” said Denot. I must own I do not altogether admire the selection which has been made; but I have nothing further to say on the subject.”

“I am sorry, Adolphe, that you have said so much,” said de Lescure.

“You would have been apt to say more yourself if you had been passed over,” said Adolphe, forgetting in his passion how he had disgraced himself before de Lescure at the bridge of Fouchard.

“I fear you misunderstand the purpose, which has collected here in Saumur so many men in arms,” said he. “I fear that you think the peasants of our country have turned themselves into soldiers, that we might become generals, and play at being great men. Indeed, such is not the case; if personal ambition has brought you here, you had better leave us. We have come here to fight, and very probably to die for our King and our religion; and, being called upon to act as leaders, we must bear a heavier share of the burden, and undergo greater perils than others; but we seek no especial dignity, we look for no other pre-eminence, than that of suffering more than others. I fear these are not the feelings that influence you.”

“My feelings, Sir, are as pure as your own!” said Denot.

“If so,” said Father Jerome, “you had better teach us all to think so, by taking care that your conduct is also as pure as M. de Lescure’s.”

“Oh, Father Jerome, do not anger him,” said Henri. “Come with me, Adolphe, and we will quietly talk over this; they don’t exactly understand what you mean yet.”

“But they shall understand what I mean,” said Denot, whose anger was now beyond control, “and they shall know that I will not remain here to be rebuked by a priest, who has thrust himself into affairs with which he has no concern; or to make myself subservient to men who are not fit to be my equals. I will not deign to be a common soldier, when such a man as Stofflet is made an officer.”

And he got up from the chair in which he had again seated himself, and stalked out of the room.

“He has at any rate proved to us,” said Bonchamps, “that I was wrong to nominate him, and that you were right not to accept the nomination.”

“I grieve that he should be vexed with me,” said Stofflet; “but I did not seek to put myself above him.”

“Time and experience will make him wise,” said de Lescure: “let us pity his folly and forgive it.”

The council was then broken up, and the different officers went each to perform his own duties. When Denot left the room, Henri immediately followed him.

“Adolphe,” said he, as he overtook him in the market-place, “Adolphe, indeed you are wrong, no one meant to show you any indignity.”

“And have you also followed me to tell me I am wrong — of course I am wrong — I am wrong because I will not submit, as you and Charles do, to ignorant boors like Stofflet and Cathelineau, because —”

“Like Cathelineau! why, Adolphe, you are mad,” said Henri, “why you yourself voted that Cathelineau should be our General.”

“Voted! Why, Henri, what a child you are! Do you call that voting when all was arranged beforehand? You are blind, I tell you. You will vote next, I suppose, that your great General’s valour shall de rewarded with your sister’s hand!”

“My sister’s hand! what is it you are speaking of?”

“Yes, Agatha’s hand! think you that when you make a General of such as him, that his ambition will rest there? if you are content to be lieutenant to a postillion, I presume you will feel yourself honoured by a nearer connexion with him.”

“Denot, you are raving mad! Cathelineau looking for my sister’s hand?”

“Yes, Agatha’s hand, the postillion looking for your sister’s hand; and, Sir, you will find that I am not mad. Before long, Cathelineau will look for Agatha’s hand: her heart he has already,” and without waiting for any further answer, he hurried away.

“He must be raving mad,” said Henri, “unlucky in love, and thwarted in ambition, he is unable to bear his griefs like a man. What a phantasy has jealousy created in his brain But Agatha was right; a man who could speak of her, even in his madness, as he has now spoken, was not worthy of her. Cathelineau! were he ten times lower than a postillion by birth, he would still be twenty times made noble by achievements and by character, and yet I would not wish — but nonsense! he thinks no more of wedding Agatha than I of Diana.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01