NOBLE AND PLEBEIAN IN ALLIANCE.
The commander and the second officer went up on deck again and began to talk together, walking side by side. They were evidently speaking about their passenger, and this is very nearly the conversation that the wind scattered in the darkness.
Boisberthelot muttered low in la Vieuville's ear,—
"We shall see if he is a leader."
La Vieuville replied: "At any rate, he is a prince."
"A nobleman in France, but a prince in Brittany."
"Like the la Trémoilles, and like the Rohans."
"To whom he is related."
Boisberthelot continued: "In France and in the king's coaches, he is a marquis, as I am a count and as you are a chevalier."
"The coaches are far off!" exclaimed la Vieuville. "We are more likely to ride in a tumbril."
A silence ensued.
Boisberthelot went on,—
"For want of a French prince, they take a Breton prince."
"For want of a thrush—no, for want of an eagle—they take a crow."
"I should prefer a vulture," said Boisberthelot.
And la Vieuville replied: "Of course! a beak and talons."
"We shall see."
"Yes," replied la Vieuville, "it is time there was a leader. I am of Tinténiac's opinion: 'A leader and powder!' Wait, commander, I know nearly all the leaders, possible and impossible; those of to-day, of yesterday, and to-morrow; but not one is the figure-head needed. In this devilish la Vendée, a general is needed who is at the same time an attorney; he must annoy the enemy, dispute the mills, the thickets, the ditches, the pebbles with them, have serious quarrels with them, take advantage of everything, be constantly on the watch, make examples of them; he must neither sleep nor show pity. At the present time, there are heroes in this army of peasants, but there are no captains. D'Elbée is nobody; Lescure is ill, Bonchamps is tender-hearted, he is good, he is stupid; La Rochejacquelin is a splendid sub-lieutenant; Silz is an officer for the open field, unequal to a war of expedients; Cathelineau is an innocent wagoner; Stoffier is a tricky gamekeeper; Bérard is silly; Boulainvilliers is absurd; Charette is horrible; and I will say nothing at all of Gaston the barber. For, by thunder! what is the good of a revolution, and what difference is there between the republicans and ourselves, if we are to let noblemen be commanded by wig-makers?"
"This beastly revolution has taken hold of us, as well."
"An itch that France has caught!'"
"Itch of the Third Estate," replied Boisberthelot.
"England alone can save us from it."
"She will do it without doubt, captain."
"At any rate, it is hideous."
"Certainly, louts everywhere! The monarchy which has Stoffiet for general-in-chief, M. de Maulevrier's gamekeeper, has nothing to envy the republic, with Pache, son of the Duke de Castries's porter, for minister. What counterparts in this war of la Vendée! On one side Santerre, the brewer; on the other, Gaston, the hairdresser!"
"My dear la Vieuville, I make an exception of this Gaston. He hasn't acted badly in his command at Guéménée. He shot three hundred Blues very prettily, after making them dig their own graves."
"Very good; but I could have done just as well myself."
"Indeed, without doubt. And so could I."
"The great deeds of war," continued la Vieuville, "require nobility in those who accomplish them. These are matters for chevaliers, not for wig-makers."
"Still in this Third Estate," replied Boisberthelot, "there are estimable men. Take, for example, the clockmaker Joly. He was a sergeant in the Flanders regiment; he becomes a Vendéan chief; he commands a company on the coast; he has a son, who is a republican, and while the father serves with the Whites, the son serves with the Blues. They meet. Battle. The father takes his son prisoner, and blows his brains out."
"That is good," said la Vieuville.
"A royalist Brutus," replied Boisberthelot.
"That doesn't prevent it from being intolerable to be commanded by a Coquereau, a Jean-Jean, a Moulins, a Focart, a Bouju, a Chouppes!"
"My dear chevalier, the indignation is the same on both sides. We are full of bourgeois; they are full of nobles. Do you suppose that the sans-culottes are content to be commanded by the Count de Canclaux, the Viscount de Miraud, the Viscount de Beauharnais, the Count de Valence, the Marquis de Custine, and the Duke de Biron!"
"And the Duke de Chartres!"
"Son of Egalité. Ah, when will he be king, that fellow? Never!"
"He is on his way to the throne. His crimes assist him."
"And his vices hinder him," said Boisberthelot.
Again there was a silence, and Boisberthelot went on to say,—
"He wished, however, for a reconciliation. He came to see the king. I was there at Versailles, when they spat on his back."
"From the grand staircase?"
"They did well."
"We called him, Bourbon le Bourbeaux."
"He is bald, he has pimples, he is a regicide. Bah!"
And la Vieuville added: "I was with him at Ouessant."
"On the 'Saint-Esprit'?"
"If he had obeyed the signal that Admiral d'Orvilliers gave him to keep to the windward, he would have hindered the English from passing."
"Is it true that he hid himself in the hold?"
"No, but we must say so, all the same."
And la Vieuville burst out laughing.
Boisberthelot continued: "There are some fools yet. Take this Boulainvilliers, of whom you were speaking, M. Vieuville; I knew him, I have seen him near to. At first the peasants were armed with pikes; if he didn't get it into his head to make pikemen of them! He wanted to teach them the exercise de la pique-en-biais et de la pique-trainante-le-fer-devant! He dreamed of transforming these savages into soldiers of the line. He pretended to teach them how to mass battalions, and to form battalions into hollow squares. He jabbered to them in the old military language; for chief of a squad, he said 'cap d'escade,' a term applied to corporals under Louis XVI. He was determined to form a regiment with all these poachers; he had regular companies, the sergeants of which formed a circle every evening, receiving the countersign from the colonel's sergeant; he repeated it to the sergeant of the lieutenants, and he repeated it to his neighbor, who passed it to the one nearest, and so on from ear to ear, till the last. He cashiered an officer for not rising with head uncovered to receive the word of command from the mouth of the sergeant. You can judge how that succeeded. This booby couldn't understand that peasants like to be led in peasant-fashion, and that you can't make drilled soldiers out of backwoodsmen. Yes, I know that Boulainvilliers."
They walked on a few steps, each busied with his own thoughts.
Then the conversation continued,—
"By the way, is it true that Dampierre has been killed?"
"In the camp of Pamaro; by a cannon-ball."
"The Count de Dampierres. Another one of us, who was on their side!"
"A pleasant journey to him!" said la Vieuville.
"And the ladies, where are they?"
"And la Vieuville exclaimed: "Oh, this republic! What havoc to so little purpose! To think that this revolution has come about from the deficit of a few millions!"
"Look out for insignificant beginnings."
"Everything is going wrong," replied la Vieuville.
"Yes, la Rouarie is dead; du Dresnay, an idiot. What melancholy leaders all these bishops are: this Coucy, bishop of la Rochelle; this Beaupoil Saint-Aulaire, bishop of Poitiers; this Mercy, bishop of Luçon, Mme. de l'Eschasserie's lover—"
"Her name is Servanteau, you know, commander: l'Eschasserie is the name of her estate."
"And that false bishop of Agra, who is the curate of I don't know what!"
"Of Dol. His name is Guillot de Folleville. He is brave, however, and he fights."
"Priests when we want soldiers! Bishops, who are no bishops! Generals who are no generals!"
La Vieuville interrupted Boisberthelot.
"Commander, have you the Moniteur in your cabin?"
"What are they playing in Paris, now?"
"'Adèle,' 'Paulin' and the 'Cavern.'"
"I should like to see that."
"You will see it. We shall be in Paris in a month."
Boisberthelot thought a moment and added,—
"At the latest. Mr. Windham has told Lord Hood so."
"Then, commander, everything is not going so badly?"
"Gracious! All would go well, if only the war in Brittany were well conducted."
La Vieuville shook his head.
"Commander," he asked, "shall we land the marines?"
"Yes, if the coast is for us; no, if it be hostile. Sometimes war has to break open the doors, sometimes she slips through. Civil war should always have a false key in her pocket. Everything possible will be done. The most important thing is the chief."
And Boisberthelot added thoughtfully,—
"La Vieuville, what would you think of the Chevalier de Dieuzie?"
"The young man?"
"For a commander?"
"That he, again, is an officer for the open field, and for pitched battles. The thicket only knows the peasant."
"Then resign yourself to General Stoffiet and to General Cathelineau."
La Vieuville considered a moment and said,—
"We need a prince—a prince of France—a prince of the blood—a real prince."
"Why? He who names a prince——"
"Names a coward. I know it, commander. But it is for the effect on the great, stupid eyes of the louts."
"My dear chevalier, princes would not come."
"We can dispense with them."
Boisberthelot made that mechanical movement of rubbing the forehead with the hand, as if expecting to bring out an idea.
He continued: "At last, let us consider the present general."
"He is a great nobleman."
"Do you believe that he will answer?"
"If he is strong!" said la Vieuville.
"That is to say, cruel," said Boisberthelot.
The count and the chevalier looked at each other.
"Monsieur du Boisberthelot, you have spoken the word. Cruel. Yes that is what we need. This is a merciless war. It is the time for bloodthirsty men. Regicides have cut off Louis XVI.'s head; we will tear the four limbs from the regicides. Yes, the general necessary is General Inexorable. In Anjou and upper Poitou the chiefs play the magnanimous; they flounder in generosity, nothing succeeds. In the Marais and in the Retz country, the chiefs are terrible, everything moves on. It is because Charette is cruel that he holds out against Parrein. Hyena against hyena."
Boisberthelot had no time to reply to la Vieuville. La Vieuville was suddenly cut short by a cry of despair, and at the same time a noise was heard wholly unlike any other sound. This cry and these sounds came from within the vessel.
The captain and lieutenant rushed towards the gun-deck, but could not get down. All the gunners were pouring up in dismay. Something terrible had just happened.