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- La Vendee - 80/91 -
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."
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