Imágenes de páginas


surgents succeeded in repulsing this desolating invasion at almost all the points of attack. Among the slain in one of these engagements, the republicans found the body of a young woman, which Madame de L. informs us gave occasion to a number of idle reports; many giving out that it was she herself, or a sister of M. de L. (who had no sister), or a new Joan of Arc, who had kept up the spirit of the peasantry by her enthusiastic predictions. The truth was that it was the body of an innocent peasant girl, who had always lived a remarkably quiet and pious life, till recently before this action, when she had been seized with an irresistible desire to take a part in the conflict. She had discovered herself some time before to Madame de L., and begged from her a shift of a peculiar fabric. The night before the battle she also revealed her secret to M. de L.-asked him to give her a pair of shoes-and promised to behave herself in such a manner in the morrow's fight that he should never think of parting with her. Accordingly she kept near his person through the whole of the battle, and conducted herself with the most heroic bravery. Two or three times, in the very heat of the fight, she said to him, “ No, mon general, you shall not get before

I shall always be closer up to the enemy even than you." Early in the day she was hurt pretty seriously in the hand, but held it up laughing to her general, and said, “ It is nothing at all.” In the end of the battle she was surrounded in a charge, and fell fighting like a desperado. There were about ten other women who took up arms, Madame de L. says, in this cause ;-two sisters under fifteen, and a tall beauty, who wore the dress of an officer. The priests attended the soldiers in the field, and rallied and exhorted them; but took no part in the combat, nor ever excited them to any acts of inhumanity. There were many boys of the most tender age among the combatants ; some scarcely more than nine or ten years age.

M. Peron gained a decided victory over the most numerous army of the republic; but their ranks being recruited by the whole garrison of Mentz, which had been liberated on parole, presented again a most formidable front to the insurgents. A great battle was fought in the middle of September, at Chollet, where the government army was completely broken, and would have been finally routed, but for the skill and firmness of the celebrated Kleber who commanded it, and successfully maintained a position which covered its retreat. In the middle of the battle one of the peasants took a flageolet from his


[ocr errors]

pocket, and, in derision, began to play ça ira, as he advanced against the enemy. A cannon ball struck off his horse's head, and brought him to the ground; but he drew his leg from the dead animal, and marched forward on foot, without discontinuing his music. One other picture of detail will give an idea of the extraordinary sort of warfare in which the country was then engaged. Westermann was beat out of Châtillon, and pursued to some distance; but, finding that the insurgent forces were withdrawn, he bethought himself of recovering the place by a coup-de-main. He mounted a hundred grenadiers behind a hundred picked hussars, and sent them at midnight into the city. The peasants, as usual, had no outposts, and were scattered about the streets, overcome with fatigue and brandy. However, they made a short and bloody resistance. One active fellow received twelve sabre wounds on the same spot; another, after killing a hussar, took


his wounded brother in his arms, placed him on the horse, and sent him out of the city; then returned to the combat; killed another hussar, and mounted himself on the prize. The republicans, irritated at the resistance they experienced, butchered all that came across them in that night of confusion! All order or discipline was lost in the darkness; and they hacked and fired at each other, or wrestled and fell, man to man, as they chanced to meet, and often without being able to: distinguish friend from foe. An eminent leader of the insurrection was trampled under foot by a party of the republicans, who rushed past him to massacre the whole family where he lodged, who were all zealous republicans. The town was set on fire in fifty places, and was at last evacuated by both parties, in mutual fear and ignorance of the force to which they were opposed. When the day dawned, it was finally reoccupied by the insurgents.

[ocr errors]



After some more successes, the insurgent chiefs found their armies sorely reduced, and their enemies perpetually increasing in force and numbers. M. de la Charette, upon some misunderstanding, withdrew

his corps; and all who looked upon the present moment could not fail to perceive that disasters of the most fatal nature were almost inevitably approaching. A dreadful disaster, at all events, now fell on their fair historian. M. de. L., in rallying a party of his men near Tremblaye, was struck with a musket ball on the eyebrow, and instantly fell senseless to the ground. He was not dead however; and was with difficulty borne through the rout which was the immediate consequence of his fall.

His wife, entirely ignorant of what had happened, was forced to move along with the retreating army; and in a miserable little village was called at midnight, from her bed of straw, to hear mass performed to the soldiers by whom she was surrounded. The solemn ceremony was interrupted by the approaching thunder of artillery, and the perpetual arrival of fugitive and tumultuary parties, with tidings of evil omen. Nobody had the courage to tell this unfortunate woman the calamity that had befallen her, though the priest awakened a vague alarm by solemn encomiums on the piety of M. de. L., and the necessity of resignation to the will of Heaven. Next night she found him at Chardron, scarcely able to move, or to articulate ; but suffering more from the idea of her having fallen into the hands of the enemy, than from his own disasters.

The last great battle was fought near Chollet, where the insurgents, after a furious and sanguinary resistance, were at last borne down by the multitude of their opponents, and driven down into the low country on the banks of the Loire.

M. de Bonchamp, who had. always held out the policy of crossing this river, and the advantages to be derived from uniting themselves to the royalists of Brittany, was mortally wounded in this battle; but his counsels still influenced their proceedings in this emergency; and not only the whole débris and wreck of the army, but a great proportion of the men and women and children of the country, flying in consternation from the burnings and butchery of the government forces, flocked down in agony and despair to the banks of this great river. On gaining the heights of St. Florent, one of the most mournful, and at the same time most magnificent, spectacles, burst upon the eye. Those heights form a vast semicircle ; at the bottom of which a broad bare plain extends to the edge of the water.

Near a hundred thousand unhappy souls now blackened over that dreary, expanse,-old men, infants, and women, mingled with the half-armed soldiery, caravans, crowded baggage waggons and teams of oxen, all full of despair, impatience, anxiety, and terror. Behind were the smokes of their burning villages, and the thunder of the hostile artillery ;-before, the broad stream of the Loire, divided by a long low island, also covered with the fugitivestwenty frail barks plying in the stream—and, on the far banks, the disorderly movements of those who had effected the passage, and were waiting there to be rejoined by their companions. Such, Madame de L. assures us, was the tumult and terror of the scene, and so awful the recollections it inspired, that it can never be effaced from the memory of any of those who beheld it; and that many of its awe-struck spectators have concurred in stating that it brought forcibly to their imaginations the unspeakable terrors of the great Day of Judgment ! Through this dismayed and bewildered multitude, the disconsolate family of their gallant general made their way silently to the shore ;M. de L. stretched, almost insensible, on a wretched litter,-his wife, three months gone with child, walking by his side—and, behind her, her faithful nurse, with her helpless and astonished infant in her arms. When they arrived on the beach, they with difficulty got a crazy boat to carry them to the island; but the aged monk who steered it would not venture to cross the larger branch of the stream-and

wounded man was obliged to submit to the agony of another removal.

At length they were landed on the opposite bank; where wretchedness and desolation appeared still more conspicuous. Thousands of helpless wretches were lying on the grassy shore, or roaming about in search of the friends from whom they had been divided. There was a general complaint of cold and hunger; and nobody in a condition to give any directions, or administer any relief. M. de L. suffered excruciating pain from the piercing air which blew upon his feverish frame; the poor infant screamed for food, and the helpless mother was left to minister to both, while her attendant went among the burnt and ruined villages, to seek a drop of milk for the baby. At length they got again in motion for the adjoining village of Varades, -M. de L., borne in a sort of chair upon the pikes of his soldiers, with his wife and the maid-servant walking before him, and supporting his legs, wrapped up in their cloaks. With great difficulty they procured a little room in a cottage swarming with soldiers—most of them

the poor


famishing for want of food, and yet still so mindful of the rights of their neighbours, that they would not take a few potatoes from the garden of the cottage, till Madame de L. had obtained leave of the proprietor.

M. de Bonchamp died as they were taking him out of the boat; and it became necessary to elect another commander. M. de L. roused himself to recommend Henri de Larochejaquelein; and he was immediately appointed. When the election was announced to him, M. de L. desired to see and congratulate his valiant cousin. He was already weeping over him in a dark corner of the room, and now came to express his hopes that he should soon be superseded by his recovery.

No,” said M. de L., “that, I believe, is out of the question: but, even if I were to recover, I should never take the place you have now obtained, and should be proud to serve as your aide-de-camp." The day after they advanced towards Rennes. M. de L. could find no other conveyance than a baggage waggon; at every jolt of which he suffered such anguish, as to draw forth the most piercing shrieks, even from his manly bosom. After some time an old chaise was discovered: a piece of artillery was thrown away to supply it with horses, and the wounded general was laid in it-his head being supported in the lap of Agatha, his mother's faithful waiting-woman, and now the only attendant of his wife and infant. In three painful days they reached Laval;—Madame de L. frequently suffering from absolute want, and sometimes getting nothing to eat the whole day but one or two sour apples. M. de L. was nearly insensible during the whole journey. He was roused but once, when there was a report that a party of the enemy were in sight. He then called for his musket, and attempted to get out of the carriage, addressed exhortations and reproaches to the troops that were flying around him, and would not rest till an officer in whom he had confidence came up and restored some order to the detachment. The alarm turned out to be a false one.

At Laval they halted for several days; and he was so much recruited by the repose, that he was able to get for half an hour on horseback, and seemed to be fairly in the way of recovery, when his excessive zeal, and anxiety for the good behaviour of the troops, tempted him to premature exertions, from the consequences of which he never afterwards recovered. The troops being all collected and refreshed at Laval, it was resolved to turn upon their pursuers, and give battle to

« AnteriorContinuar »