For four or five days they all remained quiet in Laval, with nothing to disturb their tranquillity, but rumours of what was going on on both sides of the river. The men, with the exception of the old Marquis and de Lescure, were hard at work from morning until night; but they had hardly time or patience to describe accurately what was going on, to those who were left within; and the time passed very heavily with them. Two sofas had been carried to the windows of the sitting-room which they occupied. These windows looked out into the main thoroughfare of the town, and here the Marquis and the wounded man were placed, so that they might see all that was passing in the street. Various reports reached them from time to time, a few of which were confirmed, many proved to be false, and some still remained doubtful; but two facts were positively ascertained. Firstly, that the main army of the republicans had passed the river at Angers, and were advancing towards Laval; and secondly, that there was a considerable number of Breton peasants, already under arms, in the country, who were harassing the blues whenever they could meet them in small parties, and very frequently menacing the garrisons which they found in the small towns.
This last circumstance created a great deal of surprise, not so much from the fact of the Bretons having taken up arms against the Convention, as from a certain degree of mystery which were attached to the men who were roving about the country. It appeared that they were all under the control of one leader, whose name was not known in Laval, but who was supposed to have taken an active part in many of the battles fought on the other side of the river. His tactics, however, were very different from those which had been practised in La Vendée. He never took any prisoners, or showed any quarter; but slaughtered indiscriminately every republican soldier that fell into his hands. He encouraged his men to pillage the towns, where the inhabitants were presumed to be favourable to the Convention; and this licence which he allowed was the means of drawing many after him, who might not have been very willing to fight merely for the honour of defending the throne. After the custom of their country, which was different from that which prevailed in Poitou and Anjou, these peasant-soldiers wore their long flaxen hair hanging down over their shoulders, and were clothed in rough dresses, made of the untanned skins of goats or sheep, with the hair on the outside. The singularity of their appearance at first added a terror to their arms, which was enhanced by the want of experience and cowardice of the republican troops through the country. This wild, roving band of lawless men had assumed to themselves the name of La Petite Vendée, and certainly they did much towards assisting the Vendeans; for they not only cleared the way for them, in many of the towns of Brittany, but they prepared the people to expect them, and created a very general opinion that there would be more danger in siding with the blues than with the royal party.
If the men of La Petite Vendée, had rendered themselves terrible, their Captain had made — not his name, for that was unknown — but his character much more so. He was represented to be a young man, but of a fierce and hideous aspect; the under part of his face was covered with his black beard, and he always wore on his head a huge heavy cap, which covered his brows, shaded his eyes from sight, and concealed his face nearly as effectually as a vizor. He was always on horseback, and alone; for he had neither confidant nor friend. The peasant-soldiers believed him to be invulnerable, for they represented him to be utterly careless as to where he went, or what danger he encountered. The only name they knew him by, was that of the Mad Captain; and, probably, had he been less ugly, less mysterious, and less mad, the people would not have obeyed him so implicitly, or followed him so faithfully.
Such were the tales that were repeated from time to time to Madame de Lescure and her party by the little Chevalier and Chapeau; and according to their accounts, the Mad Captain was an ally who would give them most valuable help in their difficulties. The whole story angered de Lescure, whose temper was acerbated by his own inactivity and suffering, and whose common sense could not endure the seeming folly of putting confidence in so mysterious a warrior.
“You don’t really believe the stories you hear of this man, I hope,” he said to his wife and sister, one morning; “he is some inhuman ruffian, who is disgracing, by his cruelty, the cause which he has joined, for the sake of plunder and rapine.”
“At any rate,” said Marie, “he seems to have scared the blues in this country; and if so, he must be a good friend to us.”
“If we cannot do well without such friends, we shall never do well with them. Believe me, whoever he may be, this man is no soldier.”
De Lescure was, perhaps, right in the character which he attributed to the Captain of La Petite Vendée; but the band of men which that mysterious leader now commanded, held its ground in Brittany long after the Vendean armies were put down in Poitou and Anjou. They then became known by another name, and the Chouan bands for years carried on a fearful war against the government in that part of the province which is called the Morbihan.
About eight o’clock in the evening, Henri and Arthur Mondyon returned to the house, after a long day’s work, and were the first to bring new tidings both of the blues and their new ally, the Mad Captain. A portion of the republican army had advanced as far as Antrâmes, within a league or two of Laval; and they had hardly taken up their quarters in the town, before they were attacked, routed, and driven out of it by the men of La Petite Vendée. Many hundreds of the republicans had been slaughtered, and those who had escaped, carried to the main army an exaggerated account of the numbers, daring, and cruelty of the Breton rebels.
“Whoever he is,” said Henri, in answer to a question from his sister, “he is a gallant fellow, and I shall be glad to give him my hand. There can be no doubt of it now, Charles, for the blues at Antrâmes certainly numbered more than double the men he had with him; and I am told he drove them helter-skelter out of the town, like a flock of sheep.”
“And do you mean to let him have the rest of the war all to himself?” said de Lescure, who was rather annoyed than otherwise at the success of a man whom he had stigmatized as a ruffian.
“I am afraid we shan’t find it quite so easy to get the war taken off our hands,” said Henri, laughing; “but I believe it’s the part of a good General to make the most of any unexpected assistance which may come in his way.”
“But, Henri,” said Marie, “you must have some idea who this wonderful wild man is. Don’t they say he was one of the Vendean chiefs?”
“He says so himself,” said Arthur. “He told some of the people here that he was at Fontenay and Saumur; and he talked of knowing Cathelineau and Bonchamps. I was speaking to a man who heard him say so.”
“And did the man say what he was like?” said Marie.
“I don’t think he saw him at all,” answered Arthur. “It seems that he won’t let any one see his face, if he can help it; but they all say he is quite a young man.”
Chapeau now knocked at the door, and brought farther tidings. The Mad Captain and all his troop had returned from Antrâmes to Laval, and had just now entered the town.
“Our men are shaking the Bretons by the hand,” said Chapeau, “and wondering at their long hair and rough skins. Three or four days ago, I feared the Vendeans would never have faced the blues again; but now they are as ready to meet them as ever they were.”
“And the Captain, is he actually in Laval at present, Chapeau?”
“Indeed he is, M. Henri. I saw him riding down the street, by the Hôtel de Ville, myself, not ten minutes since.”
“Did you see his face, Chapeau?” asked Marie.
“Did he look like any one you knew?” asked Madame de Lescure.
“Did he ride well?” asked the little Chevalier.
“Did he look like a soldier?” asked M. de Lescure.
“Who do you think he is, Chapeau?” asked Henri Larochejaquelin.
Chapeau looked from one to another, as these questions were asked him; and then selecting those of M. de Lescure and his sister, as the two easiest to answer, he said:
“I did not see his face, Mademoiselle. They say that he certainly is a good soldier, M. Charles, but he certainly does not look like any one of our Vendean officers.”
“Who can it be?” said Henri. “Can it be Marigny, Charles?”
“Impossible,” said de Lescure; “Marigny is a fine, robust fellow, with a handsome open face. They say this man is just the reverse.”
“It isn’t d’Elbée come to life again, is it?” said Arthur Mondyon. “He’s ugly enough, and not very big.”
“Nonsense, Arthur, he’s an old man; and of all men the most unlikely to countenance such doings as those of these La Petite Vendée. I think, however, I know the man. It must be Charette. He is courageous, but yet cruel; and he has exactly that dash of mad romance in him which seems to belong to this new hero.”
“Charette is in the island of Noirmoutier,” said de Lescure, “and by all accounts, means to stay there. Had he been really willing to give us his assistance, we never need have crossed the Loire.”
“Oh! it certainly was not Charette,” said Chapeau. “I saw M. Charette on horseback once, and he carries himself as though he had swallowed a poker; and this gentleman twists himself about like — like —”
“Like a mountebank, I suppose,” said de Lescure.
“He rides well, all the same, M. Charles,” rejoined Chapeau.
“And who do you think he is, Chapeau?” said Henri.
Chapeau shrugged his shoulders, as no one but a Frenchman can shrug them, intending to signify the impossibility of giving an opinion; immediately afterwards he walked close up to his master, and whispered something in his ear. Henri looked astonished, almost confounded, by what his servant said to him, and then replied, almost in a whisper: “Impossible, Chapeau, quite impossible.”
Immediately afterwards, Chapeau left the room, and Henri followed him; and calling him into a chamber in the lower part of the house, began to interrogate him as to what he had whispered upstairs.
“I did not like to speak out before them all, M. Henri,” said Jacques, “for I did not know how the ladies might take it; but as sure as we’re standing here, the man I saw on horseback just now was M. Adolphe Denot.”
“Impossible, Chapeau, quite impossible. How on earth could he have got the means to raise a troop of men in Brittany? Besides, he never would have returned to the side he deserted.”
“It does not signify, M. Henri, whether it be likely or unlikely: that man was Adolphe Denot; I’d wager my life on it, without the least hesitation. Why, M. Henri, don’t I know him as well as I know yourself?”
“But you didn’t see his face?”
“I saw him rise in his saddle, and throw his arms up as he did so, and that was quite enough for me; the Mad Captain of La Petite Vendée is no other than M. Adolphe Denot.”
Henri Larochejaquelin was hardly convinced, and yet he knew that Chapeau would not express himself so confidently unless he had good grounds for doing so. He was aware, also, that it was almost impossible for any one who had intimately known Denot to mistake his seat on horseback; and, therefore, though not quite convinced, he was much inclined to suspect that, in spite of improbabilities, his unfortunate friend was the mysterious leader of the Breton army. He determined that he would, at any rate, seek out the man, whoever he might be; and that if he found that Adolphe Denot was really in Laval, he would welcome him back, with all a brother’s love, to the cause from which, for so Henri had always protested, nothing but insanity had separated him.
“At any rate, Chapeau, we must go and find the truth of all this. Moreover, whoever this man be, it is necessary that I should know him: so come along.”
They both sallied out into the street, which was quite dark, but which was still crowded with strangers of every description. The wine-shops were all open, and densely filled with men who were rejoicing over the victory which had been gained that morning; and the Breton soldiers were boasting of what they had done, while the Vendeans talked equally loudly of what they would do when their Generals would once more lead them out against the blues.
From these little shops, and from the house-windows, an uncertain flicker of light was thrown into the street, by the aid of which Henri and Chapeau made their way to the market-place, in which there was a guard-house and small barrack, at present the position of the Vendean military head-quarters. In this spot a kind of martial discipline was maintained. Sentinels were regularly posted and exchanged; and some few junior officers remained on duty, ready for any exigence for which they might be required. Here they learnt that the Bretons, after returning from Antrâmes, had dispersed themselves through the town, among the houses of the citizens, who were willing to welcome their victorious neighbours, but that nothing had been seen of their Captain since he disbanded his men on the little square. They learnt, however, that he had been observed to give his horse in charge to a man who acted as his Lieutenant, and who was known to be a journeyman baker, usually employed in Laval.
After many inquiries, Henri learnt the name and residence of the master baker for whom this man worked, and thither he sent Chapeau, while he himself remained in the guard-house, talking to two of the Breton soldiers, who had been induced to come in to him.
“We none of us know his name, Monsieur,” said one of them, “and it is because he has no name, we call him the Mad Captain; and it is true enough, he has many mad ways with him.”
“For all his madness though, he is a desperate fine soldier; and he cares no more for a troop of blues than I would for a flock of geese,” said the other.
“I think its love must make him go on as he does,” continued the first.
“There’s something more besides that,” said the second, “for he’s always fearful that people should take him for a coward. He’s always asking us whether we ever saw him turn his back to the enemy; and bidding us be sure, whenever he falls in battle, to tell the Vendeans how well he fought. That’s what makes us all so sure that he came from the other side of the water.”
“Then, when he’s in the middle of the hottest of the fight,” said the first, “he halloos out ‘Now for Saumur — here’s for Saumur — now for the bridge of Saumur!’ To be sure he talks a deal about Saumur, and I think myself he must have been wounded there badly, somewhere near the brain.”
Though Henri did not quite understand why Denot should especially allude to Saumur in his mad moments, yet he understood enough of what the men told him about their Captain, to be sure that Adolphe was the man; and though he could not but be shocked to hear him spoken of as a madman, yet he rejoiced in his heart to find that he had done something to redeem his character as a loyal soldier. He learnt that Denot had been above two months in Brittany; that he had first appeared in the neighbourhood of Laval with about two hundred men, who had followed him thither out of that province, and that he had there been joined by as many more belonging to Maine, and that since that time he had been backwards and forwards from one town to another, chiefly in the Morbihan; and that he had succeeded in almost every case in driving the republican garrison from the towns which he attacked.
After Henri had remained a couple of hours in the guard-house, and when it was near midnight, Chapeau returned. He had found out the lodgings of the journeyman baker, had gone thither, and had learnt, after many inquiries, which were very nearly proving ineffectual, that the Mad Captain, whoever he was, occupied a little bed-room at the top of the same house, and that he was, at the very moment at which these inquiries were being made, fast asleep in his bed, having given his Lieutenant, the journeyman baker, strict orders to call him at three o’clock in the morning.
Henri and Chapeau again started on their search; and making their way, for the second time, through the dark, crowded streets, reached a small miserable looking house, in a narrow lane, at one of the lower windows of which Chapeau knocked with his knuckles.
‘I told M. Plume that I should call again tonight,’ said he, “and he’ll know its me.”
“And is M. Plume the baker?” asked Henri.
“He was a baker till two months since,” answered Chapeau, “but now he’s a soldier and an officer; and I can assure you, M. Henri, he doesn’t think a little of himself. He’s fully able to take the command-inchief of the Breton army, when any accident of war shall have cut off his present Captain; at least, so he told me.”
“You must have had a deal of conversation with him in a very short time, Chapeau.”
“Oh, he talks very quick, M. Henri; but he wouldn’t let himself down to speak a word to me till I told him I was aide-de-camp-inchief to the generalissimo of the Vendean army; and then he took off the greasy little cap he wears, told me that his name was Auguste Emile Septimus Plume, and said he was most desirous to drink a cup of wine with me in the next estaminet. Then I ran off to you, telling him I would return again as soon as I had seen that all was right at the guard-house.”
“Knock again, Chapeau,” said Henri, “for I think your military friend must have turned in for the night.”
Chapeau did knock, and as he did so, he put his mouth close to the door, and called out “M. Plume — Captain Plume — Captain Auguste Plume, a message — an important message from the Commander-inChief of the Vendean army. You’ll get nothing from him, M. Henri, unless you talk about Generals, aide-de-camps, and despatches; advanced guards, flank movements, and light battalions.”
M. Plume, or Captain Plume, as he preferred being called, now opened the door, and poking his head out, welcomed Chapeau, and assured him that if he would step round to the wine shop he would be with him in a moment.
“But, my dear friend Captain Plume, stop a moment,” said Chapeau, fixing his foot in the open doorway, so as to prevent it being closed, “here is a gentleman — one of our officers — in fact, my friend,” and he whispered very confidentially as he gave the important information, “here is the Commander-inChief, and he must see your General tonight; to arrange — to arrange the tactics of the united army for tomorrow.”
Auguste Emile Septimus Plume, in spite of his own high standing, in what he was pleased to call the army of Brittany, felt himself rather confused at hearing that a General-inChief was standing at the door of his humble dwelling; and, as he again took off his cap, and putting his hand to his heart made a very low bow, he hesitated much as to what answer he should make; for he reflected within himself that the present quarters of his General, were hardly fitting for such an interview.
“The General upstairs,” said he, “is snatching a short repose after the labours of the day. Would not tomorrow morning — early tomorrow morning —”
“No,” said Henri, advancing, and thrusting himself in at the open door, “tomorrow morning will be too late; and I am sure your General is too good a soldier to care for having his rest broken; tell me which is his room, and I’ll step up to him. You needn’t mind introducing me.” And as he spoke he managed to pass by the baker, and ran up a few steps of the creaking, tottering stairs.
The poor baker was very much annoyed at this proceeding; for, in the first place, he had strict orders from his Commander to let no one up into his room; and, in the next place, his own wife and three children were in the opposite garret to that occupied by the Captain, and he was very unwilling that their poverty should be exposed. He could not, however, turn a Commander-inChief out of the house, nor could he positively refuse to give him the information required; so he hallooed out, “The top chamber to the right, General; the top chamber to the right. It’s a poor place,” he added, speaking to Chapeau; “but the truth is, he don’t choose to have more comforts about him than what are enjoyed by the poorest soldier in his army.”
“We won’t think any the worse of him for that,” said Chapeau. “We’re badly enough off ourselves, sometimes — besides, your Captain is a very old friend of M. Henri.”
“An old friend of whose?” said Plume.
“Of M. Henri Larochejaquelin — that gentleman who has now gone upstairs: they have known each other all their lives.”
Auguste Plume became the picture of astonishment. “Known each other all their lives!” said he; “and what’s his name, then?”
“Why, I told you: M. Henri Larochejaquelin.”
“No, but the other,” and he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder up the stairs. “My Captain, you know; if he’s the friend of your Captain, I suppose you know what his name is?”
“And do you mean to say, you don’t know yourself, your own Captain’s name.”
Plume felt the impropriety, in a military point of view, of the fact. He felt that, as second in command, he ought to have been made acquainted with his General’s name, and that it would have been difficult to find, in the history of all past wars, a parallel to his own ignorance. He also reflected, that if Chapeau knew that the two Generals had been friends all their lives, he must probably know both their names, and that therefore the information so very necessary might now be obtained.
“Well then, M. Chapeau,” (he had learnt Chapeau’s name), “I cannot say that I do exactly know how he was generally called before he joined us in Brittany. You know so many people have different names for different places. What used you to call him now when you knew him?”
“But you have some name for him, haven’t you?” said the other, not answering the question.
“We call him General, or Captain, mostly,” said Plume. “Those are the sort of names which come readiest to a soldier’s mouth. In the same way, they don’t call me Plume, or M. Plume, or Captain Plume, but just simply Lieutenant; and, do you know, I like it better.”
The Lieutenant was a tall, lanky, bony man, from whose body the heat of the oven, at which he had always worked, seemed to have drawn every ounce of flesh. He was about forty, or forty-five, years of age. He was nearly bald, but a few light, long, straggling locks of hair stood out on each side of his head. He still wore most of the dress in which he had been accustomed to work, for proper military accoutrements had not yet come within his reach. He had, however, over his shoulder an old bawdrick, from which usually hung a huge sabre, with which he gallantly performed the duties of his present profession. It cannot be said the Lieutenant had none of the qualities of a soldier, for he was courageous enough; but, beyond that, his aptitude for military duties was not pre-eminent. He always marched, or rather shuffled along, with a stoop in his back, which made his shoulders as high as his head. He had not the slightest idea of moving in time; but this was of little consequence, for none of his men could have moved with him if he had. When on active duty, he rushed about with the point of his drawn sword on a level with his breast, as though he were searching for “blues” in every corner, with a fixed determination of instantly immolating any that he might find. He had large saucer eyes, with which he glared about him, and which gave him a peculiar look of insane enthusiasm, very fitted for the Lieutenant, first in command, under a mad Captain. Such was Auguste Plume, and such like were the men who so long held their own ground, not only against the military weakness of the Directory, but even against the military strength of Napoleon.
We will leave Chapeau and his new friend still standing in the passage, for Plume could not invite him in, as none of the rooms were his own except the little garret upstairs; and we will follow Henri as he went in search of the Mad Captain, merely premising that all Plume’s efforts to find out the name of his superior officer were unavailing. Without any farther invitation, Henri hurried up the stairs, snatching as he went a glimmering rush-light out of the çi-devant baker’s hands; and when he got to the top he knocked boldly at the right-hand door. No one answered him, however, and he repeated his knocks over and over again, and even kicked and hallooed at the door, but still without effect. He then tried to open it, but it was fastened on the inside: and then he kicked and hallooed again. He distinctly heard the hard breathing within of some one, as though in a heavy sleep; and be the sleeper who he might, he was determined not to leave the stairs without waking him; and, therefore, diligently sat to work to kick again.
“Is that you, Auguste?” said a hoarse, sickly woman’s voice, proceeding from the door of the opposite chamber. “Why don’t you bring me the candle?”
“No, Madame,” said Henri, “the gentleman is now downstairs. He lent me your candle for a minute or two, while I call upon my friend here. I hope you’ll excuse the noise I make, but I find it very difficult to wake him.”
“And why should you want to wake him?” said the woman. “It’s three nights now since he stretched himself on a bed, and he’ll be up again long before daylight. Give me the candle, and go away, and tell that unfortunate poor man below to come to his bed.”
There was a tone of utter misery in the poor woman’s voice, which touched Henri to the heart. She had uttered no complaint of her own sufferings; but the few words she had spoken made him feel all the wretchedness and the desolation of homes, which he and his friends had brought upon the people by the war; and he almost began to doubt whether even the cause of the King should have been supported at so terrible a cost. He could not, however, now go back, nor was he willing to abandon his present object, so he again shook and kicked the door.
“That’ll never rouse him, though you should go on all night,” said a little urchin about twelve years old, the eldest hope of M. and Madame Plume, who rushed out on the landing in his ragged shirt. “If Monsieur will give me a sou, I’ll wake him.” Henri engaged him at the price, and the boy, putting his mouth down to the key-hole, said, or rather whispered loudly, “Captain — Captain — Captain — the blues — the blues.”
This shibboleth had the desired effect, for the man within was instantly heard to start from his bed, and to step out upon the floor.
“Yes, yes; I’m ready, I’m up,” said he, in the confused voice of a man suddenly awoke from a sound sleep. “Where’s Plume? send Plume to me at once.”
Henri immediately recognized the voice of Adolphe Denot, and all doubt was at an end. Denot came to the door, and undid the wooden bolt within, to admit, as he thought, the poor zealous creature who had attached himself to him in his new career; and when the door opened, the friend of his youth — the man whom he had so deeply injured — stood before him. Henri, in his anxiety to find out the truth of Chapeau’s surmise, had energetically and, as it turned out, successfully pursued the object of his search; but he had not for a moment turned over in his mind, what he would say to Denot if he found him; how he would contrive to tell him that he forgave him all his faults; how he would explain to him that he was willing again to receive him into his arms as a friend and a brother. The moment was now come, when he must find words to say all this; and as the awkward bolt was being drawn, Henri felt that he was hardly equal to the difficulties of his position.
If Henri found it difficult to speak, with Denot the difficulty was much greater. The injuries which he had inflicted on his friend, the insults which he had heaped on his sister, rushed to his mind. He thought of his own deep treachery, his black ingratitude; and his disordered imagination could only conceive that Henri had chosen the present moment to secure a bloody vengeance. He forgot that he had already been forgiven for what he had done: that his life had been in the hands of those he bad injured, and had then been spared by them, when their resentment was fresh and hot, and when he had done nothing to redeem his treason. He had, he thought, reconciled himself to the cause of La Vendée; but still he felt that he could not dare to look on Larochejaquelin as other than an enemy.
Denot started back as he recognized his visitor, and Henri’s first object was to close and re-bolt the door, so that their interview might not be interrupted. “Adolphe,” he said, in a voice intended to express all the tenderness which he felt, “I am delighted to have found you.”
Denot had rushed to a miserable deal table which stood near his bed, and seized his sword, which stood upon it; and now stood armed and ready for assault, opposite to the man who loved him so dearly. His figure and appearance had always been singular, but now it was more so than ever. He had been sleeping in his clothes, and he had that peculiar look of discomfort which always accompanies such rest. His black, elfish, uncombed locks, had not been cut since he left Durbellière, and his beard for many days had not been shorn. He was wretchedly thin and gaunt; indeed, his hollow, yellow cheeks, and cadaverous jaws, almost told a tale of utter starvation. Across his face he had an ugly cicatrice, not the relic of any honourable wound, but given him by the Chevalier’s stick, when he struck him in the parlour at Durbellière. Nothing could be more wretched than his appearance; but the most lamentable thing of all, was the wild wandering of his eyes, which too plainly told that the mind was not master of itself.
Henri was awe-stricken, and cut to the heart. What was he to say to the poor wretch, who stood there upon his guard, glaring at him with those wild eyes from behind his sword! Besides, how was he to defend himself if he were attacked?
“Adolphe,” he said, “why do you raise your sword against your friend? Don’t you see that I have come as your friend: don’t you see that I have no sword?”
The other hesitated for a moment, with the weapon still raised as though for defence; and then flinging it behind him on the floor, exclaimed: “There, there — you may kill me, if you will,” and having said so, he threw himself on the bed, and sobbed aloud, and wailed like an infant.
Henri knelt down on the floor, by the side of the low wooden stretcher, and putting his arm over Adolphe’s shoulder, thought for a while what he could say to comfort the crushed spirit of the poor wretch, whose insanity had not the usual effect of protecting him from misery. It occurred to him that his late achievements, as leader of the Breton peasants, in which, at any rate, he had been successful, would be the subject at present most agreeable to him, and he determined, therefore, to question him as to what he had done.
“Come, Adolphe,” he said, “get up; we have much to say to each other, my friend. I have heard much of what you have done here, in Laval and in Brittany. You have been of great service to us; but we must act together for the future. Of course you know that there are 80,000 Vendeans on this side of the river: men, women, and children together.”
For some minutes Denot still lay with his face buried in the bed, without answering, and Henri knelt beside him in silence, trying to comfort him rather by the pressure of his hand, Than by the sound of his voice; but then he raised himself up, and sitting erect, with his face turned away from his friend, he said:
“It’s no use for you to try to speak of what I have done in Brittany, when we both know that your heart is full of what I did in Poitou.”
“By the God of heaven, from whom I hope for mercy,” said Henri, solemnly, “I have freely, entirely forgiven you all cause of anger I ever had against you.”
Denot still sat with his face averted, and he withdrew his hand from Henri’s grasp, as he muttered between his teeth: “I have not asked for forgiveness; I do not want forgiveness;” and then starting up on his feet, he exclaimed almost with a shriek: “How dare you to talk to me, Sir, of forgiveness? Forgiveness! I suppose you think I have nothing to forgive! I suppose you think I have no injuries which rankle in my breast! A broken heart is nothing! Shattered ambition is nothing! A tortured, lingering, wretched life is nothing! I suppose you will offer me your pity next; but know, Sir, that I despise both your forgiveness and your pity.”
“I will offer you nothing but my friendship, Adolphe,” said Henri. “You will not refuse my friendship, will you? We were brothers always, you know; at least in affection.”
“Brothers always! No, we were never brothers: we never, never can be brothers,” screamed the poor madman through his closed teeth. “Oh! if we could have been brothers; if — if we could be brothers!” and the long cherished idea, which, in his frenzy, he even yet had hardly quite abandoned, flashed across his brain, and softened his temper.
“We can at any rate be friends,” said Henri, approaching him, and again taking his hand. “Come, Adolphe, sit down by me, and let us talk quietly of these things.”
“There are some things,” said he, in a more composed manner, “of which a man can’t very well talk quietly. A man can’t very well talk quietly of hell-fire, when he’s in the middle of it. Now, I’m in the very hottest of hell-fire at this moment. How do you think I can bear to look at you, without sinking into cinders at your feet?”
Henri was again silent for a time, for he did not know what to say to comfort the afflicted man; but, after a while, Denot himself continued speaking.
“I know that I have been a traitor — a base, ignoble, wretched traitor. I know it; you know it; she knows it”; and as he confessed his wretchedness, he put his bony hand to his forehead, and pushing back his long matted hair, showed more clearly than he had yet done the ineffable marks of bitter sadness, which a few months had graven on his face. “All La Vendée knows it,” continued he; “but no one knows the grief, the sorrow, the wretched sorrow, which drove me to madness, and made me become the thing I am. I know it though, and feel it here,” and he put his hand on his heart, and looked into his companion’s face with a melancholy gaze, which would have softened the anger of a sterner man than Henri Larochejaquelin.
“My poor, poor Adolphe,” said Henri, moving himself close to Denot’s side, and putting his arm round his neck and embracing him. “We all know how you have suffered. We know — we always knew, it wasn’t your proper self that turned against the cause you loved so well; but, Adolphe, we won’t talk of these things now.”
“You just now said we must talk of them, and you were quite right. After what has passed, you and I cannot meet without having much to say,” and again the madman jumped to his feet; and as he paced up and down the room, his fiercer humour again came upon him. “Henri,” he exclaimed; and as he spoke he stood still, close to the other, “Henri, why don’t you avenge your sister’s honour? Why don’t you punish the dishonour which I brought on your father’s hoary head? Henri, I say, why don’t you seize by the throat the wretched traitor who brought desolation and destruction into your family?” and he stretched out his long gaunt neck, as though he expected that Larochejaquelin would rise from his bed, and take him at his word.
Henri felt that it was useless to endeavour to reason with him, or to answer the raving of his madness, but he still hoped, that by a mixture of firmness and gentleness, he might yet take him away from his present miserable dwelling, and by degrees bring him back to a happier state of mind. The difficulties in his way, however, were very great; for he knew how serious would be the danger and folly of leading him again into Agatha’s presence.
“Nonsense, Adolphe,” said he. “Why do you talk to your friend of vengeance? Come, take up your sword, and come away. This is a cold, damp place; and besides, we both want refreshment before our next day’s work. Before six hours are gone, the republican army will be near Laval, and you and I must be prepared to meet them,” and he picked up Denot’s sword, and handed him his cap, and took his arm within his own, as though to lead him at once out of the room.
“And where are you going to?” said Denot, hesitating, but not refusing to go.
“Why, first, we’ll go to the guard-house, and I’ll show you a few of our picked men, who are there on duty; real dare-devils, who care no more for a blue than they do for a black-beetle; and then we’ll go to the Angers gate. It’s there that Lechelle will show himself; and then — and then — why, then we’ll go home, and get some breakfast, for it will be nearly time for us to go to horse.”
“Go home!” said Denot; “where’s home?”
“Do you know the big stone house, with the square windows, near the market-house?”
“Yes, I know it: but tell me, Henri: who are there? I mean of your own people, you know — the Durbellière people?”
“Why, we’re all there, Adolphe — Marie, and Victorine, and Charles, and Agatha, and my father and all. Poor Charles! You’ve heard of his state, Adolphe?”
“Yes, yes, I heard. I wish it had been me — I wish, with all my heart, it had been me,” and then he paused a while; and again laying down his sword and cap, he said “Henri, you’re an angel; I’m sure you are an angel; but all are not like you. I will not go with you now; but if you’ll let me, I’ll fight close by your side this day.”
“You shall, Adolphe, you shall; up or down we’ll not leave each other for a moment; but you must come with me, indeed you must. We should be sure to miss each other if we parted.”
“I’ll meet you at the gate, Henri, but I will not go with you. All men are not like you. Do you think that I could show myself to your father, and to de Lescure? Don’t I know how their eyes would look on me? Don’t I feel it now?” and again it seemed as though he were about to relapse into his frenzy; and then he continued speaking very gently, almost in a whisper: “Does de Lescure ever talk about the bridge of Saumur?”
Now Henri, to this day, had never heard a word of the want of courage which Denot had shown in the passage of the bridge of Saumur. No one but de Lescure had noticed it; and though he certainly had never forgotten it, he had been too generous to speak of it to any one. Henri merely knew that his two friends, Charles and Adolphe, had been together at the bridge.
He had heard from others of de Lescure’s gallant conduct. It had oftentimes been spoken of in the army, and Henri had never remarked that an equal tribute of praise was not given to the two, for their deeds on that occasion. He now answered quite at cross purposes, but merely with the object of flattering the vanity of his friend:
“He will never forget it, Adolphe. No Vendean will ever forget the bridge of Saumur. We will all remember that glorious day, when we have forgotten many things that have happened since.”
Poor Denot winced dreadfully under the blow, which Henri so innocently inflicted; but ho merely said “No — I will not go with you — you needn’t ask me, for my mind is made up. Do you know, Henri, I and de Lescure never loved each other? never — never — never, even when we were seemingly such good friends, we never loved each other. He loved you so well, that, for your sake, he bore with a man he despised. Yes: he always despised me, since the time you and I came home from school together. I do not blame him, for he tried hard to conceal what he felt; and he thought that I did not know it; but from the first day that we passed together I found him out, and I was never happy in his company.”
All this was perfectly unintelligible to Henri, and was attributed by him to the frenzy of madness; but, in fact, there was truth in it. Denot’s irregular spirit had been cowed by de Lescure’s cold reasoning propriety, and he now felt it impossible to submit himself to the pardon of a man who, he thought, would forgive and abhor him. It was to no purpose Henri threatened, implored, and almost strove to drag him from the room. Denot was obstinate in his resolve, and Henri was at last obliged to leave him, with the agreement that they should both meet on horseback an hour before daybreak, at the gate of the town, which led towards Angers.
When Henri returned downstairs he found Chapeau still seated on the lower step, and Plume standing by, discoursing as to the tactics and probable success of the war.
“You found I was right, M. Henri?” said Chapeau, as he followed his master out into the street.
“Yes, Chapeau, you were quite right.”
“And is he very bad, M. Henri?” said he, touching his forehead with his finger. “I suppose he cannot be all right there.”
“He has suffered dreadfully since we saw him, and his sufferings have certainly told upon him; but there is every reason to hope, that, with kind treatment, he will soon be himself again; but, remember, till after today we will say nothing to any of them about his being here.”
It was now three o’clock, and Henri had to be on horseback before six; he had but little time, therefore, either for rest or conversation. Henri and Chapeau hurried home, after having given orders at the guard-house that all the men on whom they could depend should be under arms before day-break; and, having done so, they laid down and slept for the one short hour which was left to them of the night.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01