| ||The Banished Man. Volume 2 of 2|
Her vine, the merry chearer of the heart,
Unpruned lies; her hedges even pleach'd,
Like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair,
Put forth disorder'd twigs: her sallow lees
The darnel, hemlock, and rank sumitory
Doth root upon.
THE regiment to which Ellesmere belonged, had landed a few days before him; and was now ordered on immediate duty: here then the two friends were to part, and they both felt severely the necessity of parting.
It was very improbable, however sanguine they might be in their hopes of success on the various lines in which they were engaged, that they should meet again, and to hold any correspondence was impracticable. They mutually promised, however, to write to each other whenever occasion served, and to send these letters by such opportunities as might occur, even among the perils with which they were both likely to be surrounded.
D'Alonville's heart revolted as the execution of his scheme approached. To enter his native country in disguise; in the mean garb of a peasant—and representing one of the persons whose politics he detested, appeared to him so degrading, that he was sometimes tempted to renounce his plan of seeking De Touranges and St. Remi, and enter a volunteer in one of those corps of emigrants that were now assembling, and which were to be
paid by some of the combined powers; but the advice of Ellesmere, and the solemn engagement with Madame de Touranges, and still more with her daughter, which he though himself bound to fulfill; together with a belief, that if parties could be formed in the interior of the kingdom, it would be of more effectual service than any attempt without—conquered his repugnance, and he determined to pursue his first intention.
He had a long journey to make through the whole of Picardy and Normandy; and every precaution was necessary to secure his reaching the place of his destination. To appear as a prisoner escaped from the Austrians, seemed to be the least objectionable means of making his way back to his own country. He found that there were prisoners confined at Bruges; he went thither, and found it easy to procure a sort of certificate from one of them, with his name, and that of the national regiment in which he served. He made himself master of the circumstances that happened when this man and a party of French were taken prisoners; and arranging the story he should have to tell, he furnished himself with a number of small assignats, which he place in the linings of his clothes; and depositing what other money he had in safe hands at Ostend, he departed thence on an evening, and took the road to Dunkirk. His former walk to Rosenheim had given him considerable experience, and he reached Dunkirk without any difficulty. The examination he underwent there, was more strict than he expected: but certain of not being personally known, and having taken every precaution against being suspected for a gentleman, he answered the enquiries that were made, with so much clearness, that he was believed, and was offered either the permission of returning to his own province, which he said
was Normandy, or to enter into any of the regiments at Dunkirk. He told a very plausible story of an old mother; and of his other brothers being all killed in the service; which was also believed, and he even received a certificate from a commanding officer of the town, granting him a furlough for six weeks, and describing him as Jacques Philippe Coud, serving heretofore in such a regiment; lately escaped from imprisonment; who had desired leave to revisit his family before he returned to the service of his country. Thus provided, and having well studied the cant of the day, he embarked at Dunkirk, in a small sloop for St. Maloes. The first two days the voyage was prosperous; but on the third they were chased by an English privateer, of which a few were already fitted out; and D'Alonville, as the easiness from the apprehension of being taken, and carried to an English prison under circumstances so degrading, that it would be almost impossible ever to vindicate himself to his English friends. When he had for more than an hour suffered an alarm, that he dared not avow, it fortunately abated by a change of the wind, which enabled the sloop in which he was, to run into Cherbourg; and D'Alonville, thinking himself most fortunate to escape such a return, to a country where his only hopes of happiness were fixed, would not again subject himself to the same danger, but quitted the sloop, and hired a small boat under pretence of dispatch, which he knew must keep along shore; and the master of which agreed for a very small consideration to land him at St. Maloes; from thence to the town of Marcheneuf, which St. Remi had named for the place of their rendezvous, was about five-and-forty or fifty
miles; situated on the extreme edge of the province of Britanny.
It was in an afternoon, towards the middle of March, that D'Alonville went on board a long fishing-boat, rowed by an old but athletic inhabitant of Cherbourg. With the assistance of a lad of thirteen they kept as close to the shore as possible; and as night came on hauled still nearer to the rocks; as they intended, in case of bad weather, to land: but the evening was calm and serene: and the owner of the boat, who appeared to have some other business at St. Maloes, besides conveying D'Alonville thither, was disposed to make the most speed in his power; and the wind was fortunately in his favour, and filled his little sail with a steady breeze. D'Alonville, who had taken his passage as a man from the northern army, who had been a prisoner escaped to Dunkirk, and was now sent by the commander to St. Maloes on public business, had been so fatigued by the repetition of this fiction, and so reluctantly acted the part it imposed on him, that having once given this account of himself to his conductor, he did not wish to enter into farther conversation; being but too well assured, that in answer to any question he might ask, as to the state of the country, or the disposition of its inhabitants, he should hear nothing but what would add to the painful sensations with which he approached it.
It was midnight; a few stars, and a waning moon already fading in the distant waves, afforded all the light they had. The old seaman kept at the helm, frequently fortifying himself with a cordial of Eau de Vie, reinforced with repeated quantities of tobacco. The boy was sleeping on a bench that crossed the gun-wales; and the silence of the night unbroken, save by
the roar of the surf on the beach, which they were near enough distinctly to hear in a dull and hollow murmur. Uneasy as were the thoughts of D'Alonville, this monotony of sounds, and the fatigue he had for so many days gone through, together with the supposition that he was now at least in temporary security, induced him to indulge the heaviness that was coming upon him. Since he had escaped any suspicion as far on his way as Cherbourg, he had there ventured to purchase a small pair of pistols, which he concealed within his waistcoat. He knew his companions thought him unarmed, and he was not sorry to be provided with these as a defence; not that he suspected him of any intention to take advantage of that circumstance, but there was a sullen silence about the old man that did not altogether please him; and he had more than once occasion to remark, how much since the revolution the character of the lower class of the French people were changed. Notwithstanding the little confidence he had in his boat-man, he put on the red cap with which he had provided himself, and wrapping his coarse coat round him, he soon fell asleep; from which he was after some time suddenly startled, by the noise of fire arms, which appeared to be so near him, that he sprang upon his feet, and looked round him; but all remained just as it was before forgetfulness overtook him; except that the vessel was immediately beneath the high cliffs that bound the land. The old seaman was at the helm, but he had lowered his sails; and the boy paddled the boat along, while he guided it slowly among some high pointed rocks that seemed to rise here perpendicularly out of the water, which was deep, and still around them.
D'Alonville asked, hastily, where they were? And what was the noise they heard? The man answered, in a mournful and reluctant sort of way, that they were close under the town of Granville, on the western coast of Normandy: "And for the noise," said he, "they are at the old business, I suppose, killing some of the people, who happen to have said or done any thing against the new government." This opinion seemed to be founded in truth; for the cries of the victims, and the shouts of the executioners, were distinctly heard after another volley of fire-arms. D'Alonville shuddered, yet felt half impelled to leap on shore, and throw himself among the demons who were busied in this work of death. "Are you going to land!" enquired he as the boat still seemed to get near the shore. "Have you any business in this town?" "Who, I?" replied the man:—"No, thank the bon Dieu, I have no business there, and I assure you, no mind at all to be among them." "Are they then bad people in this town of Glanville? What! are they royalists, my friend? Are they enemies to liberty?"
"Liberty! liberty! muttered the man, with an oath half stifled—Liberty! but you have been in the midst of all, it seems—and like it, I suppose—though one would think you must have had pretty near enough of it—Sacre Dieu! but one must hold one's tongue."
"Why, how is this?" said D'Alonville, agreeably disappointed in the principles of his sea-faring companion.—"Why are you not a friend to the republic—to our glorious new privileges? Why is it possible you can speak thus of our constitution, of our liberty?
"Bah!" cried the old man, peevishly. "tell me what good we have got by it."
D'Alonville enumerated the advantages that have been held out, in all the parading terms with which they have been dressed to catch the multitude. "Ah! yes, to be sure," answered the sailor; "Now, I'll tell you what I have got by all this, mort dieu! I have been out of luck, sure enough, if so many blessings were going about, to have caught none of them; but, on the contrary, diable! I've had nothing but plagues and sorrows; but I suppose, if I complain to you, Monsieur le Soldat, I shall be clapped up in prison as soon as you catch me on the shore."
"If you think so, friend, don't trust me with your confidence; but I assure you, though I am a soldier, and have been at the army, that I don't want to hurt any man for his opinions."
"I don't much care," said the man, "I'd as soon go to the guillotine, I think, as not, unless times mend." "I am sorry," cried D'Alonville, "they are so bad with you; but what have you particularly to complain of?"
"Why in the first place, I had four sons grown up, fine young men as ever I saw; the shortest of them was as high as you are, and stouter; the eldest of them belonged to a merchant ship that traded to the islands—he was killed by the black people at St. Domingo. The second was in the King's service—an excellent sailor—he was forced, whether he would or not, to sea in a republican vessel; and it is only a fortnight since I have known that he has been taken by the English, and is now in an English prison, poor lad! and they say that the English, who, when I was a prisoner among them in the last war, treated us very well, and even gave me my parole, so that I suffered little, are now grown very severe, and endeavour to make confinement as bad as it can be; so I think I shall never see my son again."
"You served then in the last war." said D'Alonville; "Yes," replied the old man, "and was in two or three engagements; in the last I was a boatswain, by favour of my commander, who, when we were exchanged, and went back to France, took me particularly under his protection; and my wife was received into the family of his lady, who brought up my daughter; my poor dear girl!"
"You have not been unfortunate in regard to her too, I hope?" said D'Alonville.
"Ah!" cried the sailor, with a deep sigh, "that is what hurts me most of all—but I will tell you how it happened: my third boy, a fine fellow of nineteen, was taken when he was quite a child into the service of my commander, and brought up to be his servant. Alas! he was with him when he was seized and carried to prison on the fatal second of September; and he perished with him in the Abbey. The fourth, who was but a year younger, was so enraged at this injustice and cruelty (for what had Michel done that deserved death?) that he quitted the revolutionary army where he had entered, and went to serve under the Princes in Flanders; where, I believe, he fell the end of last year in the retreat, for I have never heard of him since."
The poor man was so affected, that his voice failed.
D'Alonville, however fearful of betraying himself, could not conceal that he sympathised with this unfortunate father. "Perhaps," said he, "your fears may be groundless; though you have not heard from him, your fourth son may survive."
"I have no hope," replied he; "had he not been dead, I am sure he would have found some means of letting me hear of him; for he was a
dutiful boy, and knew what his mother and I suffered about his brothers—Ah! no; I have none left now, unless Pierre should survive a long imprisonment: I have none left but that lad you see there; and as soon as he is old enough to carry arms, he too will be put under requisition, and be compelled to serve, whether he likes it or no."
"But your daughter," said D'Alonville—
"My daughter," resumed the poor man; "My daughter was the hope of my life; my commander's lady took her, and brought her up to be about her person; and she was pretty, and every body admired her: a reputable tradesman at Paris would have married her, but Madame de Blanzac, her mistress, thought her too young, and desired her to stay a year or two, till her lover was got a little forwarder in the world. She was at Paris at the dreadful time when her poor brother was murdered; she was not indeed in prison, but remained with her mistress at an hotel, where she saw four people killed before her eyes; she was so terrified, as to be immediately deprived of her senses, and was rather, I fear, a burthen, than of any use to the lady she served—when she found means to escape to England, after the murder of her husband. During the voyage, my poor girl recovered some recollection; but on the vessel's arriving in the port of Pool, where the were to land, the cries of the sailors, and the loud voices of the people who surrounded the ship, brought so strongly to her mind the noises she had heard at Paris during the massacre, that in the frenzy which this terror occasioned she flew upon deck, and before any one was ware of what she intended, she threw herself* into the sea.
|[Note:] *This story, I have been assured, is fact—and that the melancholy circumstances here related, happened to a young woman in a situation of life somewhat superior to that of the person to whom they are here given.|
A dead silence ensued for a moment, the old man could not proceed.
D'Alonville, at length said, "And was there no attempt made to save her?"
"Oh! yes," replied he; "and she was saved from the water, but her senses were quite gone. I do not know how Madame de Blanzac, distressed as she was herself, was able to sustain the additional burthen of my poor girl, in such a condition; but she promised never to forsake her, and she kept her word. Some ladies in England, to whom her melancholy story became known, were very kind to my unfortunate daughter, and tried to get her restored to her senses, but it was all in vain; they were irrecoverable; and she is now in one of the public hospitals of London, where lunatics are received."
The laborious life to which the old sailor had been injured, had not hardened his heart—Nature had still a powerful influence; and his voice bore testimony of the tribute he paid it, as he thus concluded his mournful narrative.
D'Alonville would have spoken comfort to him, but he could find none. For these wounds to domestic happiness he knew there could be no cure. He remained silent, therefore, reflecting on the dreadful havoc that civil war had made in his country within so short a space; and he shuddered when he trusted his imagination for a moment with the horrors that were yet to come. He was now ashamed of having suspected his conductor of designs against him, and of having mistaken the sad silence of sorrow, for the sullen mediation of the assassin. They were, by this time, at some distance from the place where the report of fire arms had been heard; and D'Alonville, endeavouring to shake off the melancholy
impression his companion's history had left on his mind, enquired why he had kept his boat so near the shore as they passed under the rocks of Granville?
The sailor replied, "that there were frequently centinels placed on the cliffs, to prevent those from escaping who were called disaffected; and that had the boat been discerned, or heard, they would have been fired upon with very little ceremony; but that under the cliffs they were less likely to be perceived.
D'Alonville then entered into conversation on the present appearance of France, and received an account of the desolation that reigned throughout the northern provinces, which, when he landed, and surveyed the state of the ground, did not appear to have been exaggerated.
Without hazarding too much be confidence in his boatman, they became much better acquainted before they had finished their voyage; D'Alonville discovered, in the course of their conversation, that his conductor would more willingly put him on shore at any place near St. Maloes than in the port; and D'Alonville was much more willing to land in some more remote part of the coast. They therefore perfectly agreed in their plans, and keeping at some miles distance from land the whole day, as if they were engaged in fishing, as night approached, they drew towards the shore, about five miles to the west of St. Maloes; where, in a small creek, formed by projecting rocks, they might land, and by a winding path gain the country.
The wind, which had hitherto been extremely favourable, still blew to the shore; but it had risen as the sun set, and the water, curling and whitening as it rolled towards the beach, threatened an approaching storm. The vessel, there-
fore, could carry no sail; and the old man taking in his canvas, rowed slowly and laboriously towards the point where they had agreed to land. As the boat mounted the dark waves, or sunk between them, and as the coast before him rose indistinctly, or wholly disappeared, D'Alonville could not help reflecting on his strange situation, returning thus to the land of his ancestors. The cliffs, whose rugged forms were distinguishable through the gloom of evening, were the boundaries of Brittany! Once before he had seen them in returning from an excursion of pleasure, when in his early youth he had with his father visited Brest, and gone back by water with several ladies and friends. He recollected all the parties; not one, perhaps, now survived, unless it was his brother, of whom he dreaded to hear; but with whom, in the part of Britanny to which he was going, he comforted himself that it was improbable he should meet. At length, with very painful emotions, he saw himself once more on shore on the coast of France. He paid his conductor more than their agreement, and took his name, and the name of his son, whom he supposed to be a prisoner in England. There was a possibility that should he ever return thither, he might find the young man living, and relieve the anguish of his unfortunate father, to whom, however, he forbore to hold out an hope that might never be realized.
It was about four in the morning when he parted with the old sailor; and hastened to leave the coast, scrambling along as well as he could till he gained a beaten road, which he concluded led to some village, or small town. As the encreasing light made the objects distinct around him, he surveyed, with a mixture of regret and satisfaction, the uncultured ground, where little
or no labour seemed to be going forward, though this was the season when the plough should have been most busy. A few women, and decrepit old men, were feebly exerting themselves here and there, to supply the deficiency of hands more able; their work was such as necessity only drove them to undertake, and they seemed dejected and unhappy, though some of the women and girls concealed their reluctance by the wild ribaldry with which they attacked D'Alonville, and by singing their patriotic songs.
The better to conceal himself, he answered them in their own way; and at length, from one group, obtained a direction to a village which was, he found, about six miles from the shore. He there entered a cabaret which was tolerable for that country: where, as the story he told, seemed to be believed, he supposed himself to be in no danger from troublesome enquiries. And he resigned himself to short repose, intending to resume his journey towards Merol the evening of the following day.