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- La Vendee - 30/91 -
preference accompany Charles de Lescure. Henri had not thought much about it, and certainly had imputed no blame to his friend, as there would be full as much scope for gallantry with his cousin as with himself. When de Lescure saw that his men hesitated, he said, "Come my men, forward with 'Marie Jeanne,' we will soon pick their locks for them," and rushed on the bridge alone; seeing that no one followed him he returned, and said to Denot:
"We must shew them an example, Adolphe; we will run to the other side of the bridge and return; after that, they will follow us."
De Lescure did not in the least doubt the courage of his friend, and again ran on to the bridge. Stofflet and Father Jerome immediately followed him, but Adolphe Denot did not stir. He was armed with a heavy sabre, and when de Lescure spoke to him, he raised his arm as though attempting to follow him, but the effort was too much for him, his whole body shook, his face turned crimson, and he remained standing where he was. As soon as de Lescure found that Adolphe did not follow him, he immediately came back, and taking him by the arm, shook him slightly, and whispered in his ear:
"Adolphe, what ails you? remember yourself, this is not the time to be asleep," but still Denot did not follow him; he again raised his arm, he put out his foot to spring forward, but he found he could not do it; he slunk back, and leant against the wall at the corner of the bridge, as though he were fainting.
De Lescure could not wait a moment longer. He would have risked anything but his own reputation to save that of his friend; but his brave companions were still on the bridge, and there he returned for the third time; his cap was shot away, his boot was cut, his clothes were pierced in different places, but still he was not himself wounded.
"See, my friends," said he aloud to the men behind him, "the blues do not know how to fire," and he pointed to his shoulder, from which, as he spoke, a ball had cut the epaulette.
He then crossed completely over the bridge, together with Stofflet and the priest; the people with one tremendous rush followed him, and Adolphe Denot was carried along with the crowd.
As soon as they found themselves immediately beneath the walls of the town, they were not exposed to so murderous a fire as they had been on the bridge itself, but still the work was hot enough. 'Marie Jeanne' had been carried across with them, and was soon brought into play; they had still enough ammunition left to enable their favourite to show her puissance in battering against the chief gates of Saumur. The men made various attempts to get into the town, but they were not successful, though the gates were shattered to pieces, and the passage was almost free; the republican troops within were too strong, and their firing too hot. At last the blues made a sortie from the town, and drove the Vendeans back towards the bridge; M. de Lescure still kept his place in the front, and was endeavouring to encourage his men to recover their position, when a ball struck his arm and broke it, and he fell with his knee upon the ground. As soon as the peasants saw him fall, and found that he was wounded, they wanted to take him in their arms, and carry him at once back across the bridge, but he would not allow them.
"What ails you, friends?" said he; "did you never never see a man stumble before? Come, the passage is free; now at length we will quench our thirst in Saumur," and taking his sword in his left hand, he again attempted to make good his ground.
M. d'Elbée had seen the Vendeans retreating back towards the bridge, and knowing that victory with them must be now or never (for it would have been impossible to have induced the peasants to remain longer from their homes, had they been repulsed), he determined to quit his post and to second de Lescure at the bridge. The firing from the town had ceased, for the republicans and royalists were so mixed together, that the men on the walls would have been as likely to kill their friends as their enemies; and as the first company, fatigued, discouraged and overpowered, were beginning to give way, d'Elbée, with about two thousand men, pushed across the bridge, and the whole mass of the contending forces, blues and Vendeans together, were hurried back through the gateway into the town; and de Lescure, as he entered it, found that it was already in the hands of his own party--the white flag was at that moment rising above the tricolour on the ramparts.
Adolphe Denot was one of the first of the Vendeans who entered the town through the gate. This shewed no great merit in him, for, as has been said, the men who had made the first attack, and the republicans who opposed it, were carried into the town by the impulse of the men behind them; but still he had endeavoured to do what he could to efface the ineffable disgrace which he felt must now attach to him in the opinion of M. de Lescure. As they were making their way up the principal street, still striking down the republicans wherever they continued to make resistance, but more often giving quarter, and promising protection, de Lescure with a pistol held by the barrel in his left hand, and with his right arm hastily tied up in the red handkerchief taken from a peasant's neck, said to the man who was next to him, but whom he did not at the moment perceive to be Denot:
"Look at Larochejaquelin, the gallant fellow; look at the red scarf on the castle wall. I could swear to him among a thousand."
"Yes," said Adolphe, unwilling not to reply when spoken to, and yet ashamed to speak to de Lescure, "yes, that is Henri. I wish I were with him."
"Oh, that is you, is it?" said de Lescure, just turning to look at him, and then hurrying away. But before he had moved on five paces, he returned, and putting his pistol into his girdle, gave Adolphe his left hand, and whispered to him:
"No one shall ever hear of it, Adolphe," said he, "and I will forget it. Think of your Saviour in such moments, Adolphe, and your heart will not fail you again."
The tears came into Denot's eyes as de Lescure left him. He felt that he must be despised; he felt grateful for the promise which had been given him, and yet he felt a kind of hatred for the man to whom he had afforded an opportunity of forgiving him. He felt that he never could like de Lescure again, never be happy in his company; he knew that de Lescure would religiously keep his word, that he would never mention to human being that horrid passage at the bridge; but he knew also that it could never be forgotten. Adolphe Denot was not absolutely a coward; he had not bragged that he would do anything which he knew it was contrary to his nature to do, when he told Agatha that he would be the first to place the white flag on the citadel of Saumur: he felt then all the aspirations of a brave man; he felt a desire even to hurry into the thick of the battle; but he had not the assured, sustained courage to support him in the moment of extreme danger. As de Lescure said, his heart failed him.
We must now return to Henri Larochejaquelin. He had taken with him two hundred of the best men from the parishes of St. Aubin, St. Laud and Echanbroignes; four or five officers accompanied him, among whom was a young lad, just fourteen years of age; his name was Arthur Mondyon, and he was a cadet from a noble family in Poitou; in the army he had at first been always called Le Petit Chevalier. His family had all emigrated, and he had been left at school in Paris; but on the breaking out of the wars he had run away from school, had forged himself a false passport into La Vendée, and declared his determination of fighting for his King. De Lescure had tried much to persuade him to stay at Clisson, but in vain; he had afterwards been attached to a garrison that was kept in the town of Chatillon, as he would then be in comparative safety; but the little Chevalier had a will of his own; he would not remain within walls while fighting was going on, and he had insisted on accompanying Larochejaquelin to Saumur. He was now installed as Henri's aide-de-camp.
Jacques Chapeau also accompanied the party who were to make their way into the town through the water. The men were all armed with muskets and bayonets, but their muskets were not loaded, nor did they carry any powder with them; it would have been useless in the attack they were about to make, and was much wanted elsewhere.
Henri was at his post about the time at which de Lescure was preparing to cross the bridge at Fouchard. It was an awful looking place at which ha had to make his entrance there was certainly a considerable breach in the wall, and the fragments of it had fallen into the fosse, so as to lessen its width; but, nevertheless, there was full twenty feet of running water to cross, which had more the appearance of a branch of the river Loire, than of a moat round a town.
Henri saw that his men looked a little alarmed at what they had to go through; he had a light straw hat on his head, and taking it off, he threw it into the water, a little above the point he had to pass, and as the running water carried it down he said:
"Whoever gives me that on the other side will be my friend for life." And as he spoke he himself leapt into the water, and swam across.
Jacques made a plunge for the hat: had it been in the middle of the Loire he would have gone after it under similar circumstances, though he couldn't swim a stroke; he did not go near the hat however, but went head over heels into the water; the impetus carried him through, and he was the second to scramble upon the broken mortar on the other side. The Chevalier was more active; he leapt in and seized the hat as it was going down the stream, and swimming like a young duck, brought it back to its owner.
"Ah! Chevalier," said Henri, reproaching him playfully, and helping him up out of the water, "you have robbed some poor fellow of a chance; you, you know, cannot be more my friend, than you already are."
The men quickly followed: they all got a ducking; some few lost their arms, one or two were slightly wounded by their comrades, but none of them were drowned. Henri soon made his way over the ruins into the town, and carried everything before him. The greater part of the garrison of the town were endeavouring to repulse the attack made by de Lescure; others had retired into the castle, in which the republican General thought that he might still hold out against the Vendeans. Many were already escaping out of the town by the bridge over the Loire, and throwing down their arms, were hurrying along the road to Tours.
It was in this manner, and almost without opposition, that Larochejaquelin found himself, together with his brave followers, in the middle of Saumur; their own success astonished them; hardly a shot was fired at them in their passage; they went through the town without losing a man; the republican soldiers whom they did see threw down their arms and fled; the very sight of the Vendeans in the centre of the town overwhelmed them with panic. The appearance of Henri's troop was very singular; every man wore round his neck and round his waist a red cotton handkerchief; this costume had been adopted to preserve Larochejaquelin from the especial danger of being made the butt of republican marksmen. There was now no especial mouchoir rouge among them. They certainly had a frightful appearance, as they hurried through the streets with their bayonets fixed, dripping with mud and water, and conspicuous with their red necks and red waists; at least so thought the republicans, for they offered very little opposition to them.
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