Ninety-three/3.1.3

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CHAPTER III.

MEN AND FORESTS IN CONNIVANCE.

The tragic forests of Brittany resumed their old rôle again and became the servants and accomplices of this rebellion, as they had been of all the others.

The subsoil of these forests was a sort of madrepore, pierced and traversed in every direction by a labyrinth of saps, cells, and galleries. Each of these blind cells sheltered five or six men. The difficulty was in getting air there. There are certain strange figures, which explain this powerful organization of the widespread peasant revolt. In Ille-et-Vilaine, in the forest of Pertre, asylum of the Prince of Talmont, not a breath could be heard, not a human footstep was to be found, and yet there were six thousand men there with Focard. In Morbihan, in the forest of Meulac, no one was seen, and yet eight thousand men were there. These two forests, the Pertre and Meulac are not numbered among the great forests of Brittany. If one entered them it was terrible. These deceitful thickets, full of combatants crouching in a sort of underground labyrinth, were like enormous concealed sponges, from which, under pressure of that gigantic foot, the Revolution, gushed forth civil war.

Invisible battalions were lying in wait. These unknown armies meandered beneath the Republican troops, came suddenly out of the ground and then went back again, leaping forth in vast numbers and vanished out of sight, it was everywhere and nowhere; an avalanche, then dust, giants with the gift of diminishing in size; giants for fighting, dwarfs for disappearing. Jaguars with the habits of moles.

Beside the forests there were the woods. Just as below cities there are villages, so below forests there are thickets. The forests were bound together by a maze of woods spreading in every direction. The ancient castles, which were fortresses; hamlets, which were camps; freeholds which were enclosures of ambushes and snares; farms, surrounded with trenches and palisades of trees,—these were the meshes of that net which caught the Republican armies.

This whole was called the Bocage.

There was the wood of Misdon, in the centre of which was a pond, and which belonged to Jean Chouan; there was the wood of Gennes, belonging to Taillefer; there was the wood of la Huisserie, belonging to Gouge-le-Bruant; the wood of la Charnie, belonging to Courtillé-le-Bâtard, called the apostle Saint Paul, chief of the camp of the Vache-Noire; the wood of Burgault, belonging to that puzzling Monsieur Jacques, destined to a mysterious end in the vault of Juvardeil; there was the wood of Charreau, where Pimousse and Petit-Prince, attacked by the garrison of Châteauneuf, seized the grenadiers in the republican ranks around the waist and carried them away prisoner; the wood of la Heureuserie, scene of the rout of the post of the Longue-Faye; the wood of Aulne, from which the route between Rennes and Laval could be seen; the wood of la Gravelle, which a prince of la Trémoille won in playing bowls; the wood of Lorges on the Côtes-de-Nord, where Charles de Boishardy ruled after Bernard de Villeneuve; the wood of Bagnard near Fontenay, where Lescure challenged Chalbos, who, although one against five, accepted the offer; the wood of la Durondais, formerly disputed by Alain le Redru and Hérispoux, son of Charles the Bald; the wood of Croqueloup, on the boundary of that moor where Coquereau sheared the prisoners; the wood of la Croix-Bataille which lent its aid to the Homeric insults given by Jambe-d'Argent to Morière and by Morière to Jambe-d'Argent; the wood of la Saudraie, which we have seen scoured by a Parisian battalion. There were many others beside.

In several of these forests and woods, there were not only subterranean villages grouped about the leader's burrow, but there were also veritable hamlets of low huts concealed under the trees, and so numerous that sometimes the forest was filled with them. Often their smoke betrayed them. Two of these hamlets in the wood of Misdon have become famous, Lorrière, near Létang, and the group of huts called Rue-de-Bau, on the side of Saint-Ouen-les-Toits.

The women lived in the huts, and the men, in the caves. For this war they made use of the galleries of fairies and the old Celtic mines. They brought food to the men buried in the caves. There were those who were forgotten and died of hunger. Beside, there were some who were not bright enough to know how to open their pits. Usually, the cover made of moss and branches, was so artistically fashioned that although impossible to distinguish it outside in the grass, it was very easily opened and closed from within. These retreats were hollowed out with great care. They threw the earth which they removed from the cave into some neighboring pond. The walls inside and the ground were covered with ferns and moss. They called this habitation "la loge." They thrived in them although they were without daylight, without fire, without bread, and without air.

To rise without precaution among the living, and to exhume themselves unseasonably was a serious matter. They might find themselves among the legs of a marching army. Terrible woods; snares with a double trap. The Blues did not dare to enter; the Whites did not dare to leave.