De Lescure had calculated wrongly with regard to Westerman’s return. It was true that he could not have again put his ten thousand men in marching order, and have returned with his whole force the next day from Bressuire as far as Clisson, but Westerman himself did not go back beyond Amaillou, and he detained there with him a small detachment of mounted men, whom he had commanded at Valmy, and whom he well knew. He kept no officers but one cornet and two sergeants, and with this small force he determined, if possible, to effect that night what his army of ten thousand men had so signally failed in accomplishing.
About half a mile from Amaillou there was a large château, the owner of which had emigrated; it had been left to the care of two or three servants, who had deserted it on the approach of the republican army, and when Westerman and his small troop rode up to the front gate, they found no one either to admit them or to dispute their entrance. Here he bivouacked for an hour or two, and matured his project, which, as yet, he had communicated to no one.
He had entrusted the retreat of the army to General Bourbotte, who, in spite of their quarrel at Angers, was serving with him; and without staying even to ascertain what was the amount of loss he had sustained, or to see whether the enemy would harass the army as it retreated, he had separated from it at Amaillou, and reached the château about ten o’clock in the evening. He had with him a couple of guides, who knew the country well, and accompanied by these, he resolved to attack Clisson that night, to burn the château of M. de Lescure, and, if possible, to carry back with him to Bressuire the next morning the two Vendean chiefs, whom he knew were staying there.
Westerman understood enough of the tactics of the Vendeans to know that this was practicable, and he had the quick wit and ready hand to conceive the plan, and put it in practice: he knew that the peasants would not remain in barracks, or even assembled together during the night, if they were near enough to their own homes to reach them; he knew that they would spend the remainder of their long summer evening in drinking, dancing, and rejoicing, and that they would then sleep as though no enemy were within a hundred miles of them; he knew that nothing could induce them to take on themselves the duties of sentinels, and that there would, in all probability, be but little to oppose him in attacking Clisson that night.
Westerman first had the horses fed, and having then refreshed his men with meat, wine, and brandy, he started at two o’clock. He was distant from Clisson about three leagues, according to the measurement of the country, or a little better than seven miles. There had hardly been any darkness during the night, and as he and his troopers sallied out of the château-yard, the dawn was just breaking in the East.
“Never mind,” said he to the young cornet who rode by his side; “the light will not hurt us, for we will make them hear us before they see us. We will be back as far as this before thirty men in the parish are awake. It will be best for them who sleep soundest.”
“Except for those in the château, General,” said the cornet: “those who sleep there will wake to a warm breakfast.”
“They will never eat breakfast more, I believe and trust,” said Westerman; “for I do not think that we shall be able to take the brigands alive. Their women, however, may receive some of our rough republican hospitality at Bressuire. You had better prepare your prettiest bow and your softest words, for this sister of de Lescure is, they say, a real beauty. She shall ride to Bressuire before you on your saddle-cloth, if you choose to load your arms with such a burden; but don’t grow too fond of her kisses, for though she were a second Venus, the guillotine must have the disposal of her.”
The cornet made no answer, but his young heart turned sick at the brutality of his companion. His breast had glowed with republican zeal at the prospect of a night attack on the two most distinguished of the royalist chiefs. The excitement of the quick ride through the night-air, the smallness of the party, the importance of the undertaking, the probable danger, and the uncertainty, had all seemed to him delightful; and the idea of rescuing a beautiful girl from the flames was more delightful than all; but the coarseness and cruelty of his General had destroyed the romance, and dissipated the illusion. He felt that he could not offer a woman his protection, that he might carry her to a scaffold.
At about two, Westerman started on his expedition. His men carried their sabres, still sheathed, in their hands, to prevent the noise which they would have made rattling against their saddles; but still their journey through the country was anything but quiet. They only rode two abreast, as the roads were too narrow to admit of more. Westerman himself and one of the guides headed the column, and the young cornet and veteran sergeant closed the rear. They went at a fast trot, and the noise of their horses’ hoofs sounded loudly on the hard parched ground. In spite of their precautions, their sabres rattled, and the curbs on their bridles jingled; and the absence of all other noises made Westerman fear that their approach must be audible, even through the soundness of a peasant’s sleep.
On they rode, and as they drew near to the château, Westerman put spurs to his horse, and changed his trot into a gallop; his troop of course followed his example, and as they.. came to the end of their journey they abandoned all precautions; each man dropped his scabbard to his side, and drew the blade; each man put his hand to his holster, and transferred his pistol to his belt, for he did not know how soon he might have to leave his saddle; each man drew the brazen clasps of his helmet tight beneath his chin, and prepared himself for action.
“These are the Clisson woods,” said the guide, almost out of breath with the quickness of his motion.
“How infernally dark they make it,” said Westerman, speaking to himself. “We had light enough till we got here”
“And there are the gates,” said the guide. “That first entrance which is open, goes to the back of the house; a little beyond, there is another, which leads to the front; there you will find a gate, but it is merely closed with a latch.”
“Craucher,” said Westerman, speaking to the second sergeant, who was riding immediately behind him, “stand at the corner, and bid the men follow me at a quick trot — all of them, mind; tell Cornet Leroy that I have changed my mind,” and Westerman, followed by his troop, dashed up the narrow avenue which led through the wood to the back of the house.
The château of Clisson was surrounded by large woods, through which countless paths and little roads were made in every direction for the convenience of the woodmen, and the small tumbrils which were used for bringing out the timber and faggots. These woods came close up to the farm-yard of the château, which was again divided from the house by large walled gardens, into which the back windows opened. The road up which Westerman had ridden led under the garden-wall to the farm-yard, but another road from the front, running along the gable-end of the house, communicated with it. The door used by the servants was at the side of the château, and consequently the readiest way from the public road to the servants’ door, was that by which Westerman had, at the last moment, determined to force an entrance into the château.
He trotted up till he faced the garden-wall, and then turned short round to the house, and as he rode close up under the gable-end, he gave Sergeant Craucher directions to take three men and force the door; but he and the sergeant soon saw that this trouble was spared them, for the door stood wide open before them.
We will now go back to the inhabitants of the château. De Lescure and Henri had returned thither about eleven o’clock, and although their safe return, and account of the evening’s victorious engagement for a while quieted the anxious fears of Marie and Madame de Lescure, those ladies by no means felt inclined to rest quietly as though all danger were removed from their pillows. They were in a dreadful alarm at the nearness of the republicans; they knew well that their ruthless enemies spared none that fell into their hands. I should belie these heroines if I said that they feared more for themselves than for those they loved so dearly, but they were not accustomed yet to the close vicinity of danger; and when they learned that a battle had been lost and won that evening, within a mile or two, in the very next parish to that in which they lived, they looked at each other, and trembling asked what next was to be done.
“You must not leave us, Charles, you must not leave us again,” said Madame de Lescure to her husband; “indeed you must not leave us here.” She paused a moment, and then added, with an accent of horror which she could not control, “What would become of us if these men came upon us when you were away?”
“Wherever you go, let us go with you,” said Marie, forgetting in her excitement her usual maidenly reserve, and laying her little hand as she spoke upon her lover’s arm; then blushing, she withdrew it, and turned to her brother.
“Do not turn from him, Marie,” said her sister-inlaw. “You will soon want his strong arm, and his kind, loving heart.”
“Charles will not desert me, Victorine,” said Marie, blushing now more beautifully than ever, for though she knew that Henri loved her, he had never absolutely told her so. “Though you are his dearest care, he will always have a hand to stretch to his poor Marie.”
Before she had finished speaking, Henri held her close in his embrace. It was perhaps hardly a fitting time for him to make an avowal of his love; but lovers cannot always choose the most proper season for their confessions. He was still hot from the battle which he had fought; his hands were still black with powder; the well-known red scarf was still twisted round his belt, and held within its folds his armament of pistols. His fair, long hair was uncombed, and even entangled with his exertions. His large boots were covered with dust, and all his clothes were stained and soiled with the grass and weeds through which he had that night dragged himself more than once, in order to place himself within pistol-shot of his enemies; and yet, soiled and hot as he was, fatigued with one battle, and meditating preparations for another, there, in the presence of de Lescure and his wife, he clasped Marie to his manly heart, and swore to her that his chief anxiety as long as the war lasted, should be to screen her from all harm, and that his fondest care through his whole life should be to protect her and make her happy.
Unusual circumstances and extraordinary excitement often cause the customary rules and practices of life to be abandoned; and so it was now. Marie received the love that was offered her, frankly, affectionately, and with her whole heart. She owned to her lover how well and truly she had loved him, and there, before her brother and his wife, plighted to him her troth, and promised to him then the obedience and love, which she soon hoped to owe him as his wife. Such declarations are usually made in private, but the friends now assembled had no secrets from each other, and they all felt that strange times made strange scenes necessary.
They then arranged their plans for the morrow. The day had already been an eventful one, but they little dreamed how much more was to be done before the morrow’s sun was in the heavens; and yet even then they did not separate for the night: luckily for them all, they determined that too much was to be done to allow them yet to retire to rest.
It was resolved that on the following day they should leave Clisson for Durbellière, and hand over the château and all it contained — the farm and all its well-filled granaries, the cattle and agricultural wealth of the estate, to the fire and plunder of the republicans. The plate, however, they thought they could save, as well as the ladies’ jewels and clothes, and other precious things which might be quickly packed and easily moved. They went to work at once to fill their trunks and baskets; and as the means of conveyance were then slow, de Lescure went out into the stables, and had the waggon prepared at once, and ordered that the oxen which were to draw it should be ready to start at three o’clock, in order that the load, if possible, might reach Durbellière the same night.
Master and mistress, servants and guests, worked hard, and at about two o’clock, the hour at which Westerman and his troop were starting for their quick ride, they had completed their task.
“You have killed yourself, dearest love,” said Henri, pressing his arm round Marie’s waist.
“Oh, no!” said she, smiling, but still so weary that she could hardly have stood unless he had held her; “I have not fought and conquered ten thousand republicans; but I don’t know how you must feel.”
Henri, however, insisted that she should go to bed and she, delighted to show her first act of obedience to his will, did as he desired her. She was soon undressed; she offered her prayers to heaven for her brother and sister-inlaw, but with a stronger fervour for the dear companion and protector to whom she had sworn to devote her life, and then she laid her head upon her pillow, intending to think over her happiness; a few moments, however, were sufficient to change her half fearful thoughts of love and danger into blessed dreams of love and happiness. Poor girl! she did not long enjoy her happy rest.
De Lescure and Henri determined to remain up till the departure of the waggon. Madame de Lescure went up to. her room, and the two gentlemen went down towards the farmyard. The waggon stood at the kitchen-door already packed, and the two servants were bringing the oxen down the road to yoke them to it.
“Go out at the front gate, François, and by the church at Terves; it is the better road. You will remain a couple of hours in Bressuire. We shall overtake you before you reach Beaulieu.”
The servant acknowledged his master’s commands, and fastened the last rope which bound the oxen to their burden. He spoke to his beasts, and accompanied his word with a goad from a pointed stick he held in his hand, when his farther progress was stopped by Henri’s calling from a little distance down the road.
“Stop, François, stop!” said he. “Charles, come here; some one is coming hither at the top of his speed. Don’t you hear the noise of hoofs upon the road?”
De Lescure ran to him, and kneeling down, put his ear to the ground. “It’s a donkey or a mule,” said he; “it is not a horse’s foot.”
“Come down the avenue,” said Henri, “and let us see who it is. Whether mule or horse, the beast is going at his full speed.”
“Better stay where we are,” said de Lescure. “If he be coming to us, his news will reach the house quicker than by our going to meet him.”
The rider grew nearer and nearer, and in a few moments turned up the road leading to the back of the house. The steps of the tired brute became slower as he trotted up the avenue, although the sound of a cudgel on his ribs were plainly audible. Henri and de Lescure were standing under the garden wall, and as the animal drew near them, they saw it was a jaded donkey, ridden by a peasant girl.
“Fly, for the sake of God!” said the girl, even before she dismounted from the donkey; “fly for the sake of the blessed Virgin. Take the ladies from the château, or they will be burnt — be burnt — be burnt!”
As she screamed the last words she slipped from the donkey, and almost fainted with the exertion she had undergone. She was the daughter of one of M. de Lescure’s servants, and had been sent from Clisson into service at the château, from whence Westerman started on his expedition. When the republicans made their appearance there, she had fled with the other servants, but she had hung about the house, and about an hour and a half before Westerman left the place she learnt, through some of the soldiers, his intention of attacking Clisson that night.
“Who is coming to burn us, Marian?” said de Lescure, endeavouring by his own assumed coolness to enable her to collect her thoughts and power of speech.
“The blues — the blues!” screamed the girl. “They had all but overtaken me when I got to the short cut through the wood. There they are, there they are,” and the noise of the advancing troop was distinctly audible through the stillness of the night.
The poor girl was quite exhausted, and fell to the ground fainting. De Lescure and Henri had both stood still for a moment, after having been made to comprehend that an immediate attack was about to be made on the château, but it was only for a moment.
“We must carry them through the wood, Charles,” said Henri, whispering. “It is our only chance.”
“True — true,” said de Lescure. “Turn the oxen, Francois, turn them back through the yard into the farm-road, and then keep to the left into the wood. We will meet you at the seven limes.”
“Take Victorine out through the garden,” said Henri to his cousin, who was now hurrying into the house, “and through the iron gate. I saw the other day that the key was in it, and we can turn it. I tried it myself. I will bring Marie after you.”
Henri stayed a moment to assist in turning the cumbrous waggon, and ran back to open the farm gates.
“Close the gates after you, Francois,” said he, “and put the tressels close against them. If you lose a minute in doing it, you will gain five in delaying these devils. If you hear them following you in the wood-road, draw the waggon across the track and leave it.”
He was only delayed two minutes by going back to the yard gates, but those two minutes were nearly fatal to him and Marie. Marian also delayed him again as he returned to the house.
“Where am I to go, M. Henri,” said she; “what am I to do? they will be sure to kill me, for they saw me at Amaillou, and will know that I gave the warning.”
“Hide yourself, my girl,” said Henri: “hide yourself, but not in the house, for that will soon be a mass of ruins. Hide yourself in the woods; there cannot be many of these devils here, and they will not remain long.”
He hurried into the house as he ceased speaking, and at the moment he did so Westerman and his thirty men turned the corner of the avenue. He rushed from the back door through the passages of the château into the hall, where he seized hold of a large cloak belonging to de Lescure, which he threw over his shoulder as he ran up stairs. On the stairs he met his cousin, with Madame de Lescure and the nurse and child.
“Haste, Henri, for God’s sake, haste,” said she; “I heard the tramp of their horses through my open window.”
De Lescure had opened the summer door leading into the garden as he came up stairs, to have it ready for his exit, and he, and those under his care, escaped through it into the garden.
“Shut the garden door,” roared Henri to him from the top of the staircase. “Shut the door, whatever you do.” De Lescure could not understand his object, but he trusted his cousin, and closed the door as he passed through it. Henri had perceived that it would be impossible for him to regain the hall, and had resolved to jump from the window of the staircase into the garden, with his precious burden in his arms. He foresaw that if the door were left open, pursuit through it would be both inevitable and fatal.
Marie’s room was close to the top of the stairs, and her lover did not use much ceremony in opening the door. In going to and from his wife’s chamber, de Lescure had not passed it, and therefore the innocent girl slept soundly till Henri’s sudden entrance roused her from her dreams.
“Who’s that — who’s that,” said she, raising her head upon her pillow. The window curtains of the room were hardly closed, and she recognised immediately Henri’s tall figure, and singular costume. “Oh! Henri, what has happened? what brings you here?”
“Rise, dearest, we must fly,” said he: “we have not a moment — we fear the blues are coming.” He dreaded that she would have lost all power of motion, had he told her that they were already beneath the windows.
“Haven’t I time to dress?” said she; “I won’t be a moment — not one minute.”
“No, darling,” answered he, raising her from the bed, as though she were an infant, and folding her in her brother’s cloak. “We haven’t one instant to throw away. Remember who has you in his arms: remember that it is I, your own Henri, who am pressing you to my heart.” He took her up from the bed in his left arm, and with his right hand arraigned the cloak around her person, and carrying her out into the passage, hurried to the window which he had left open.
This window looked from the opposite end of the house to that at which Westerman found the open door. It was on the first landing of the staircase, and was therefore distant from the ground but little more than half the height of the ground floor, but a hard gravel path ran immediately under it; and though the leap was one which few young men might much hesitate to take with empty arms, it was perilous with such a burden as Henri had to carry. He however did not think twice about it, and would have considered himself and his charge nearly safe could he have reached the window unmolested, but that he was not allowed to do.
As he began to descend the stairs the loud noise of the troopers’ boots, and the quick voice of Westerman giving his commands in the hall, told him at once that the house was already occupied by the blues. Even then, at that awful moment, he rejoiced at his precaution in having desired de Lescure to close the garden door. He took a large horse pistol from his belt, and holding it by the barrel, jumped down three stairs at a time, and already had his foot on the sill of the open window, when serjeant Craucher, who had been the first of the blues to enter the house, rushing up the stairs, succeeded in getting hold of the cloak which covered Marie. He pulled it from off her neck and shoulders, and her beautiful dark clustering curls fell down over Henri’s shoulder. Her pale face, and white neck and bosom were exposed: her eyes were fast closed, as though she expected instant death, but both her arms were tightly fastened round her lover.
Craucher stumbled in his hurry in rushing up the stairs, but he still held fast to the collar of the cloak.
“I must stop your further journey, my pretty dear,” said he: “the night air is not good for you — by heavens it’s the red —”
He never finished his speech, or attempted to make another. On entering the back door he had struck his brazen head-piece against the lintel; the shock had broken the clasp, and his head was consequently bare. As he pulled at the cloak, Henri raised his right arm powerfully, and drove the butt-end of the pistol which he held, right through his skull, and scattered his brains upon the staircase. The grasp of the dying man was so firm that he could not extricate the cloak from his fingers. He saw that his only chance of escape was to relinquish it; he did so, and as he leapt from the window to the ground, poor Marie had nothing round her but her slight night dress.
Henri stumbled as he came to the hard gravel, but still he allowed no portion of Marie’s body to touch the ground. He recovered himself in a moment, and made for the iron gate leading from the garden to the wood, through which de Lescure and his wife had escaped.
As Henri leapt from the window Westerman’s eye had caught sight of the red scarf, and he knew that it was Larochejaquelin who was escaping. He rushed himself to the window, though, had he known it, he might have gone into the garden through the door, which was close at his hand. He leapt on the path, and was immediately on Henri’s track. It was about three hundred yards from the house to the iron gate, and when Westerman was again on his feet, Henri had covered two thirds of the distance.
Run now, Henri, run your best, for the load you carry is heavy, and the German is strong and light of foot; his pistols, too, are loaded, and he well knows how to use them; but yours are empty, and you will not find another bare skull opposed to your heavy right hand; run, dear friend, and loving cousin; run faster with that precious trembling burden of yours, or all you have yet done, will have been done in vain.
But what avails his running: he did run fast and well, laden as he was, and fatigued with no ordinary day’s work: he gained the gate, while as yet his pursuer was above a hundred yards behind him; but of what avail would that be, if he were obliged to leave the passage free for his enemy: it was impossible that he should continue to hold his ground, while he carried the fainting girl in his arms. It was then that that wonderful presence of mind, in the midst of the most urgent danger, of which Henri Larochejaquelin showed so many instances during war, stood him in stead, and saved two lives, when salvation seemed impossible.
In wandering about the place some days before, he had passed through this gate, and observing that the key stood in the lock, he had idly turned it backwards and forwards, locking and relocking the gate without an object; he had then observed that though the key worked easily, there was something wrong about the wards which prevented him from drawing it out after the lock was turned. The gate was made of iron bars, which were far enough asunder to allow of his hand and arm being passed through, so that when outside the gate he could then turn the key which was on the inside.
All these particulars he remembered in that moment of agony, and resolved what he would do to overcome the difficulties which they threw in his way. Having passed through the gate, he dropped his now senseless companion beneath the shelter of the wall, and passing his hands through the bars, turned the key and locked it. He then took out a short hunting-knife which he wore, and passing that also through the bars of the gate, he inserted it in the handle of the key, and then wrenching it round with all his force, broke the key in the wards: all the smiths in Poitou could not have locked the gate closer, or made it more impossible to open it.
Though the feat is tedious to explain, it did not take half a minute in performance; but still it allowed Westerman to come within pistol shot of him before he could get beneath the shelter of the wall. The German, however, in his anxiety to get through the gate, omitted to fire, though he had the pistol in his hand; he seized hold of the iron bars and shook them impotently: strong as he was, the gate was much too firm to be moved by his strength; the wall was twelve feet high, and utterly beyond his power to scale without a ladder.
He felt that he was foiled, and returned to the château to wreak his vengeance upon the inhabitants who might be left there, and on the furniture and walls of the house itself.
Henri pursued his way unopposed, and at the appointed spot, a little greensward surrounded by seven lime trees, he found his cousin and the rest of the party waiting for him, as well as François with the waggon.
“Is she safe — is she alive?” asked Madame de Lescure, almost frantic with grief and fear.
“She is alive, and I believe unhurt,” said Henri; “but I fear she is senseless. She is quite undressed, too, as I was obliged to leave the cloak in which I had covered her, in the dying grasp of a trooper whom I killed.” He gently laid her down, with her head in the lap of her kind sister, and then turned his back upon the party, that he might not gaze on the fair bosom, which was all exposed, and the naked limbs, which her dishevelled night dress did not suffice to cover.
Madame de Lescure and her nurse hastened to strip themselves of a portion of their clothes; it had been lucky that neither of them were undressed at the time of the attack, and though they were ill-prepared for a long journey, having neither caps nor strong shoes, nor shawls of any kind, yet they contrived between them to dress poor Marie decently. The nurse gave her shoes and stockings, declaring that going barefoot would not trouble her the least, and before many minutes had been wasted, they were again ready to proceed.
De Lescure and Henri had not lost these precious moments: the waggon was again put into motion: the three men carefully armed themselves: they loaded their pistols, for among the goods they were taking away, was the little remnant of gunpowder which was left among them: they decided that on hearing the first sound of pursuit, they would leave the waggon, and betake themselves to the thickest part of the woods; but both de Lescure and Henri were of opinion that they would not be followed.
“There cannot be many of them,” said Henri, “and what there are, are all mounted. They are the German hussars; I know them by their brazen helmets. They won’t attempt to follow us through the woods.”
“They would have been after us before now had they intended doing so,” said de Lescure. “The way was clear for them through the farm-yard, François, was it not?”
“No, Monseigneur,” said François. “It was anything but clear. I turned the big bull out of his stall into the yard as I came out, and closed the gate behind me: he would gore a dozen of them before they could make their way through.”
Whether the pursuit was arrested by the bull, or prevented by any other cause, the fugitives were not interrupted. They walked wearily and painfully, but yet patiently, and without a complaint above a league, before the women ventured to get upon the waggon. They then got out upon the road to Bressuire, at no great distance from that town, and on reaching Bressuire they got refreshment and proper clothes, and hired a voiture for the remainder of their journey.
Marie had hardly spoken from the moment when Henri dragged her from her bed, to that in which he helped her in the waggon; but after she had been sitting for a while, she indulged in a flood of tears, which she had restrained as long as she felt that her life depended on her exertions, and then calling Henri to her side, she thanked him, as she so well knew how to do, for all he had done for her.
“You have saved my life, dearest, now,” said she, “and ten times more than my life; but I will not say that I love you better than I did before. Had I not known that it was your arms which were around me, I must have died when that horrid countenance glared over me on the stairs. Have I dreamt since, or was I really looking upon that face, when the agony of death came across it?” And as she asked the question, she closed her eyes, and her whole body trembled violently.
“I will tell you all that happened another time, love,” said he; “we will not talk of these things now. A day or two at Durbellière will restore you to your spirits, and then we will rejoice over our escape.”
They got into a voiture at Bressuire, and from thence continued their journey in something more like comfort, while Francois with the waggon followed them; but the two ladies were not destined to reach Durbellière that night. When they were about half-way between Bressuire and the château, they were met by a man on horseback, who was already on his way to Clisson. It was Jean Stein, who was hurrying as fast as his beast could carry him from Durbellière to M. Larochejaquelin; but instead of explaining now what was the purport of his errand, we will return to Clisson, and see how Westerman finished there the task he had undertaken.
When he found himself foiled at the gate, he returned as quickly as possible to the house. His men had already ransacked every room, and in their anxiety to find the more distinguished inhabitants of the château, allowed the domestics to escape; but few of them had been in bed, and even they were overlooked in the anxiety of the troopers to find M. de Lescure. They did not dream that any warning could have been given to the château, nor could they conceive it possible that at three o’clock in the morning the royalists should have been up, and ready for instant flight. It was not till nearly five that they satisfied themselves that neither de Lescure nor his wife, nor any of his family were in the house; and then, at the command of their General, they commenced the work of destruction.
The troopers got hay and straw from the farm-yard (not without some opposition from the loose bull,) and piled them in every room in the château; they then took the furniture, beds, curtains, wearing apparel, and every article of value they could find, and placed them in heaps, in such a way as to render them an immediate prey to the flames. They did the same to the barns and granaries, in which there were large stores of corn, and also to the stables, in which stood the horses and cattle; the bull, which François had loosened, was the only animal about the place that did not perish. Having systematically prepared the château and out-houses for a huge bonfire, they put a light to the straw in various places, and re-mounting their horses, stood around it till they saw that no efforts which the peasants might use could extinguish the flames. Westerman then gave the word of command for their return; they started at a sharp trot, and he did not allow them to slacken their pace till he had again passed the ruins of the little village of Amaillou.
While the troopers were thus preparing to set the château in a blaze, the General himself was not idle; he seated himself in the salon, and having had pen, ink, and paper brought to him, he wrote the following despatch to the President of the Convention, in which, it will be observed, he studiously omitted all mention of the defeat which he had incurred between Amaillou and Clisson, and the retreat which his army had been forced to make. The date is given in the denomination which will be intelligible to the reader, as the Fructidors and the Messidors, Brumaires and Nivoses, which had then been adopted by the republicans, now convey no very defined idea to people, who have not yet scrupled to call the months by their old aristocratic names, or to count the year from their Saviour’s birth.
“Château of Clisson,
I have the honour to acquaint you that I have already succeeded in carrying the arms of the Convention as far as the residence of the most powerful of the rebel leaders. As I am writing, my men are preparing to set fire to this den of aristocratic infamy, and within an hour the stronghold of the redoubted de Lescure will be level with the ground.
This wretched country is so crowded with ravines and rocks, and the roads are so narrow, so deep, and so bad, that I have been forced to make my way hither with a small detachment of thirty men only, but I have found that sufficient to drive the tiger from his lair. He, and the other rebel leader, Larochejaquelin, have fled into the woods, without either money, arms, or even clothing; and I doubt not soon to be able to inform the Convention that, at any rate, they can never again put themselves at the head of a rebellious army.
Citizen President, deign to receive from my hands the only trophies which I have deemed myself justified in rescuing from the flames which are about to consume this accursed château. I enclose the will and a miniature portrait of the aristocrat, de Lescure.
I pray you to receive, and to make acceptable to the Convention, the most distinguished,
&c. &c. &c.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55