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- La Vendee - 90/91 -
like again. But still, one don't like to see a man, who once had a little spirit, become jacky to every one who has a dirty chin to be scraped. Oh, Annot, if you'd seen the men there were in La Vendée, in those days; if you'd seen the great Cathelineau, you would have seen a man."
After having read this conversation, no one will be surprised to hear that on the board over the shop window, the following words, in yellow letters, were decently conspicuous:
Madame Chapeau was now disturbed in her unreasonable grumbling by a knock at the closed door, and on her opening it, an officer in undress uniform, about fifty years of age, politely greeted her, and asked her if that was not the house of M. Jacques Chapeau. From his language, the visitor might at first have been taken for a Frenchman; his dress, however, plainly told that he belonged to the English army.
"Yes, Monsieur, this is the humble shop of Chapeau, perruquier," said our old friend, the elder Annot, who, in spite of her feelings of hostility to the English, was somewhat mollified by the politeness and handsome figure of her visitor: she then informed him that Chapeau was not at home; that she expected him in immediately; and that his assistant, who was, in some respects, almost as talented as his master, was below, and would wait upon Monsieur immediately; and she rang a little bell, which was quickly responded to by some one ascending from a lower region.
The visitor informed Madame Chapeau that he had not called at present as a customer, but that he had taken the liberty to intrude himself upon her for the purpose of learning some facts of which, he was informed, her husband could speak with more accuracy than any other person in Paris.
"It is respecting the battles of La Vendée," said he, "that I wish to speak to him. I believe that he saw more of them than any person now alive."
Madame Chapeau was considering within herself whether there would be any imprudence in confessing to the English officer the important part her husband had played in La Vendee, when the officer's question was answered by another person, whose head and shoulders now dimly appeared upon the scene.
These were the head and shoulders of Chapeau's assistant, who had been summoned from his own region by the sound of his mistress's bell; the stairs from this subterraneous recess did not open on to any passage, but ascended at once abruptly into the shop, so that the assistant, when called on, found himself able to answer, and to make even a personal appearance, as far as his head was concerned, without troubling himself to mount the three or four last stairs. From this spot he was in the habit of holding long conversations with his master and mistress; and now perceiving that neither the head nor chin of the strange gentleman were to be submitted to his skill, he arrested his steps, and astonished the visitor by a voice which seemed to come out of the earth.
Indeed he did, Monsieur, more than any one now alive--more even than myself, and that is saying a great deal. Jacques Chapeau was an officer high in command through the whole Vendean war; and I, even I, humble as I am now, I also was thought not unworthy to lead brave men into battle. I, Monsieur, am Auguste Plume; and though now merely a perruquier's poor assistant, I was once the officer second in command in the army of La Petite Vendée.
The gentleman turned round and gazed at the singular apparition, which the obscurity of the shop only just permitted him to distinguish. Auguste Flume was now above sixty years old, and completely bald; his face was thin, lanternjawed, and cadaverous; and his eyes, which were weak with age, were red and bleared; still he had not that ghastly, sick appearance, which want both of food and rest had given him in the glorious days to which he alluded: after the struggle in La Vendée, he had lived for some time a wretched life, more like that of a beast than a man; hiding in woods, living on roots, and hunting with the appetite of a tiger after the blood of stray republicans; his wife and children had perished in Carrier's noyades in the Loire; he himself had existed through two years of continued suffering, with a tenacity of life which almost reached to a miracle. He had joined the Chouans, and had taken an active part in the fiercest of their fierce acts of vengeance. But he had lived through it all; and now, in his old age, he had plenty and comfort; yet he looked back with a fond regret to the days of his imagined glory and power; he spoke with continual rapture of his own brave achievements, and regretted that he had not been allowed to continue a life, the miseries of which it would be impossible to exaggerate.
"Bah, Auguste," said his mistress; "the gentleman does not care to hear of your La Petite Vendée; it is of M. Henri--that is, of the young Marquis de Larochejaquelin, and of Madame and of Mademoiselle Agatha, and of M. de Lescure, and of Charette, and the Prince de Talmont, that Monsieur will want to hear!"
The stranger was in the act of explaining that the hostess was right in her surmise, when the master of the house himself returned. In spite of what he had suffered, years had sat lightly on Chapeau, as they had done on his wife. He was now a fat, good-humoured, middle-aged, comfortable man, who made the most, in his trade, of the éclat which attended him, as having been the faithful servant of the most popular among the Vendean leaders. He never wearied his customers with long tales of his own gallantry; he even had the unusual tact to be able to sink himself, in speaking, as he was often invited to do, of the civil war: he was known to have been brave, faithful, and loyal, and he was accordingly very popular among the royalists of Paris, who generally preferred his scissors and razors to those of any other artist in the city.
The officer, who was now seated in the shop, his wife and daughter, and his assistant, began at once to explain to him the service which he was required to perform; and Chapeau, bowing low to the compliments which the stranger paid to him, declared with his accustomed mixture of politeness and frank good nature, that he would be happy to tell anything that he knew.
The gentleman explained, that in his early years he had known de Lescure intimately; that he had met Larochejaquelin in Paris, and that he had made one of a party of Englishmen, who had done their best to send arms, money, and men from his own country into La Vendée. Chapeau was too well bred to allude to the disappointment which they had all so keenly felt, from the want of that very aid; he merely bowed again, and said that he would tell Monsieur all he knew.
And so he did. From the time when Henri Larochejaquelin left Laval for Granville, nothing prospered with the Vendeans; the army, as it was agreed, had left that place for Granville, and their first misfortune had been the death of de Lescure.
"He died in Laval?" asked the officer.
"No," said Chapeau. "When the moment for starting came, he insisted on being carried with the army; he followed us in a carriage, but the jolting of the road was too much for him--the journey killed him. He died at Fougères, on the third day after we left Laval."
"And Madame?" asked the stranger.
"It is impossible for me now," said Chapeau, "to tell you all the dangers through which she passed, all the disguises which she had to use, and the strange adventures which for a long time threatened almost daily to throw her in the hands of those who would have been delighted to murder her; but of course you know that she escaped at last."
"I am told that she still lives in Poitou, and I think I heard that, some years after M. de Lescure's death, she married M. Louis Larochejaquelin."
"She did so--the younger brother of my own dear lord. He was a boy in England during our hot work in La Vendée."
"Yes; and he served in an English regiment."
"So I had heard, Monsieur; but you know, don't you, that he also has now fallen."
"Indeed no!--for years and years I have heard nothing of the family."
"It was only two months since: he fell last May at the head of the Vendeans, leading them against the troops which the Emperor sent down there. The Vendeans could not endure the thoughts of the Emperor's return from Elba. M. Louis was the first to lift his sword, and Madame is, a second time, a widow. Poor lady, none have suffered as she has done!" He then paused a while in his narrative, but as the stranger did not speak, he continued: "but of M. Henri, of course, Monsieur, you heard the fate of our dear General?"
"I only know that he perished, as did so many hundred others, who were also so true and brave."
"I will tell you then," said Chapeau, "for I was by him when he died; he fell, when he was shot, close at my feet: he never spoke one word, or gave one groan, but his eyes, as they closed for the last time, looked up into the face of one--one who, at any rate, loved him very well," and Chapeau took a handkerchief from a little pocket in his wife's apron, and applied it to his eyes.
"Yes," he continued," when the bullet struck him, I was as near to him as I am to her," and he put his hand to his wife's head. "It might have been me as well as him, only for the chance. I'll tell you how the manner of it was. You know bow we all strove to cross back into La Vendée, first at Angers and afterwards at Ancenis; and how M. Henri got divided from the army at Ancenis. Well, after that, the Vendean army was no more; the army was gone, it had melted away; the most of those who were still alive were left in Brittany, and they joined the Chouans. Here is my friend, Auguste, he was one of them."
"Indeed I was, Monsieur, for a year and eight months."
"Never mind now, Auguste, you can tell the gentleman by and bye; but, as I was saying, M. Henri was left all but alone on the southern bank of the river--there were, perhaps, twenty with him altogether--not more; and there were as many hundreds hunting those twenty from day to day."
"And you were one of them, Chapeau?"
"I was, Monsieur. My wife here remained with her father in Laval; he was a crafty man, and he made the blues believe he was a republican; but, bless you, he was as true a royalist all the time as I was. Well, there we were, hunted, like wolves, from one forest to another, till about the middle of winter, we fixed ourselves for a while in the wood of Vesins,
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