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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 8. The Invalids At Boisvert
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The Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 8. The Invalids At Boisvert Post by :ecwip05 Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1050

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The Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 8. The Invalids At Boisvert


There had been friction between the National Convention and General Dumouriez, who, though a fine soldier, was a remarkably indifferent Republican. The Convention had unjustly ordered the arrest of his commissariat officers, Petit-Jean and Malus, and in other ways irritated a man whose patience was never of the longest.

On the eve, however, of war with Holland, the great ones in Paris had suddenly perceived their error, and had sought--despite the many enemies, from Marat downwards, that Dumouriez counted among their numbers--to conciliate a general whose services they found that they could not dispense with. This conciliation was the business upon which the Deputy La Boulaye had been despatched to Antwerp, and as an ambassador he proved signally successful, as much by virtue of the excellent terms he was empowered to offer as in consequence of the sympathy and diplomacy he displayed in offering them.

The great Republican General started upon his campaign in the Low Countries as fully satisfied as under the circumstances he could hope to be. Malus and Petit-Jean were not only enlarged but reinstated, he was promised abundant supplies of all descriptions, and he was assured that the Republic approved and endorsed his plan of campaign.

La Boulaye, his mission satisfactorily discharged, turned homewards once more, and with an escort of six men and a corporal he swiftly retraced his steps through that blackened, war-ravaged country. They had slept a night at Mons, and they were within a short three leagues of French soil when they chanced to ride towards noon into the little hamlet of Boisvert. Probably they would have gone straight through without drawing rein, but that, as they passed the Auberge de l'Aigle, La Boulaye espied upon the green fronting the wayside hostelry a company of a half-dozen soldiers playing at bowls with cannon-balls.

The sight brought Caron to a sudden halt, and he sat his horse observing them and wondering how it chanced that these men should find themselves so far from the army. Three of them showed signs of having been recently wounded. One carried his arm in a sling, another limped painfully and by the aid of a stick, whilst the head of the third was swathed in bandages. But most remarkable were they by virtue of their clothes. One fellow--he of the bandaged head--wore a coat of yellow brocaded silk, which, in spite of a rent in the shoulder, and sundry stains of wine and oil, was unmistakably of a comparative newness. Beneath this appeared the nankeens and black leggings of a soldier. Another covered his greasy locks with a three-cornered hat, richly laced in gold. A third flaunted under his ragged blue coat a gold-broidered waistcoat and a Brussels cravat. A valuable ring flashed from the grimy finger of a fourth, who, instead of the military white nankeens, wore a pair of black silk breeches. There was one--he of the injured arm--resplendent in a redingote of crimson velvet, whilst he of the limp supported himself upon a gold-headed cane of ebony, which was in ludicrous discord with the tattered blue coat, the phrygian cap, and the toes that peeped through his broken boots.

They paused in their game to inspect, in their turn, the newcomers, and to La Boulaye it seemed that their glances were not free from uneasiness.

"A picturesque company on my life," he mused aloud. Then beckoned the one in the crimson coat.

"Hola, Citizen," he called to him.

The fellow hesitated a moment, then shuffled forward with a sullen air, and stood by Caron's stirrup.

"In God's name, what are you and who are you?" the Deputy demanded.

"We are invalided soldiers from the army of Dumouriez," the man answered him.

"But what are you doing here, at Boisvert?"

"We are in hospital, Citizen."

"Yonder?" asked La Boulaye derisively, pointing with his whip to the "Eagle Inn."

The fellow nodded.

"Yes, Citizen, yonder," he answered curtly.

La Boulaye looked surprised. Then his eyes strayed to the others on the green.

"But you are not all invalids?" he questioned.

"Many of us are convalescent."

"Convalescent? But those three braves yonder are something more than convalescent. They are as well as I am. Why do they not rejoin the troops?"

The fellow looked up with a scowl.

"We take our orders from our officer," he answered sourly.

"Ah!" quoth the Deputy. "There is someone in charge here, then? Who may it be?"

"Captain Charlot," the fellow answered, with an impudent air, which clearly seemed to ask: "What have you to say to that?"

"Captain Charlot?" echoed La Boulaye, in astonishment, for the name was that of the sometime peasant of Bellecour, who had since risen in life, and who, as an officer, had in a few months acquired a brilliant fame for deeds of daring. "Charlot Tardivet?" he inquired.

"Is there any other Captain Charlot in the army of the Republic?" the fellow asked insolently.

"Is he invalided too?" inquired Caron, without heeding the soldier's offensiveness of manner.

"He was severely wounded at Jemappes," was the answer.

"At Jemappes? But, voyons my friend, Jemappes was fought three months ago."

"Why, so all the world knows. What then? The General sent Captain Charlot here to rest and be cured, giving him charge of the invalided soldiers who came with him and of others who were already here."

"And of these," cried La Boulaye, his amazement growing, "have none returned to Dumouriez?"

"Have I not said that we are invalids?"

Caron eyed him with cold contempt.

"How many of you are there?" he asked. And for all that the man began to mislike this questioning, he had not the hardihood to refuse an answer to the stern tones of that stern man on horseback.

"Some fifty, or thereabouts."

La Boulaye said nothing for a moment, then touching the fellow's sleeve with his whip.

"How came you into this masquerade?" he inquired.

"Ma foi," answered the man, shrugging his shoulders, "we were in rags. The commissariat was demoralised, and supplies were not forthcoming. We had to take what we could find, or else go naked."

"And where did you find these things?"

"Diable! Will your questions never come to an end, Citizen? Would you not be better advised in putting them to the Captain himself?"

"Why, so I will. Where is he?"

In the distance a cloud of dust might be perceived above the long, white road. The soldier espied it as La Boulaye put his question.

"I am much at fault if he does not come yonder." And he pointed to the dust-cloud.

"I think," said La Boulaye, turning to his men, "that we will drink a cup of wine at the 'Eagle Inn.'"

Mean though the place was, it was equipped with a stable-yard, to which admittance was gained by a porte-cochere on the right. Wheeling his horse, La Boulaye, without another word to the soldier he had been questioning, rode through it, followed by his escort.

The hostess, who came forward to receive them, was a tall, bony woman of very swarthy complexion, with beady eyes and teeth prominent as a rat's. But if ill-favoured, she seemed, at least, well-intentioned, in addition to which the tricolour scarf of office round La Boulaye's waist was a thing that commanded respect and servility, however much it might be the insignia of a Government of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

She bade the ostler care for their horses, and she brought them her best wine, seeking under an assumed geniality to conceal the unrest born of her speculations as to what might happen did Captain Charlot return ere the Deputy departed.

Charlot did return. Scarce were they seated at their wine when the confused sounds that from the distance had been swelling took more definite shape. The hostess looked uneasy as La Boulaye rose and went to the door of the inn. Down the road marched now a numerous company from which--to judge by their odd appearance--the players at bowls had been drawn. They numbered close upon threescore, and in the centre of them came a great lumbering vehicle, which puzzled La Boulaye. He drew away from the door and posted himself at the window, so that unobserved he might ascertain what was toward. Into the courtyard came that company, pele-mele, an odd mixture of rags and gauds, yet a very lusty party, vigorous of limb and loud of voice. With them came the coach, and there was such a press about the gates that La Boulaye looked to see some of them crushed to death. But with a few shouts and oaths and threats at one another they got through in safety, and the unwieldy carriage was brought to a standstill.

They were clamouring about its doors, and to La Boulaye it seemed that they were on the point of quarrelling among themselves, some wanting to enter the coach and others seeking to restrain them, when through the porte-cochere rode Charlot Tardivet himself.

He barked out a sharp word of command, and they grew silent and still, testifying to a discipline which said much for the strength of character of their captain. He was strangely altered, was this Tardivet, and his appearance now was worthy of his followers. Under a gaudily-laced, three-cornered hat his hair hung dishevelled and unkempt, like wisps of straw. He wore a coat of flowered black silk, with a heavy gold edging, and a very bright plum-coloured waistcoat showed above the broad tricolour scarf that sashed his middle. His breeches were white (or had been white in origin), and disappeared into a pair of very lustrous lacquered boots that rose high above his knees. A cavalry sabre of ordinary dimensions hung from a military belt, and a pistol-butt, peeping from his sash, completed the astonishing motley of his appearance. For the rest, he was the same tall and well-knit fellow; but there was more strength in his square chin, more intelligence in the keen blue eyes, and, alas! more coarseness in the mouth, which bristled with a reddish beard of some days' growth.

La Boulaye watched him with interest. He had become intimate with him in the old days in Paris, whither Tardivet had gone, and where, fired by the wrongs he had suffered, he had been one of the apostles of the Revolution. When the frontiers of France had been in danger Tardivet had taken up arms, and by the lustre which he had shed upon the name of Captain Charlotas he was come to be called throughout the army--he had eclipsed the fame of Citizen Tardivet, the erstwhile prophet of liberty. Great changes these in the estate of one who had been a simple peasant; but then the times were times of great changes. Was not Santerre, the brewer, become a great general, and was not Robespierre, the obscure lawyer of Arras, by way of becoming a dictator? Was it, therefore, wonderful that Charlot should have passed from peasant to preacher, from preacher to soldier, and from soldier to--what?

A shrewd suspicion was being borne in upon La Boulaye's mind as he stood by that window, his men behind him watching also, with no less intentness and some uneasiness for themselves--for they misliked the look of the company.

In five seconds Charlot had restored order in the human chaos without. In five minutes there were but ten men left in the yard. The others were gone at Charlot's bidding--a bidding, couched in words that went to confirm La Boulaye's suspicions.

"You will get back to your posts at once," he had said. "Because we have made one rich capture is no reason why you should neglect the opportunities of making others no less rich. You, Moulinet, with twenty men, shall patrol the road to Charleroi, and get as near France as possible. You Boligny, station yourself in the neighbourhood of Conde, with ten men, and guard the road from Valenciennes. You, Aigreville, spread your twenty men from Conde to Tournay, and watch the frontiers closely. Make an inspection of any captures you may take, and waste no time in bringing hither worthless ones. Now go. I will see that each man's share of this is assured him. March!"

There were some shouts of "Vive la Republique!" some of "Vive le Captaine Charlot!" and so they poured out of the yard, and left him to give a few hurried directions to the ten men that remained.

"Sad invalids these, as I live!" exclaimed La Boulaye over his shoulder to his followers. "Ha! There is my friend of the red redingote!"

The fellow with the bandaged head had approached Charlot and was tugging at his sleeve.

"Let be, you greasy rascal," the Captain snapped at him, to add: "What do you say? A Deputy? Where?" The fellow pointed with his thumb in the direction of the hostelry.

"Sacred name of a name!" growled Charlot, and, turning suddenly from the men to whom he had been issuing directions, he sprang up the steps and entered the inn. As he crossed the threshold of the common room he was confronted by the tall figure of La Boulaye.

"I make you my compliments, Charlot," was Caron's greeting, "upon the vigorous health that appears to prevail in your hospital."

Tardivet stood a moment within the doorway, staring at the Deputy. Then his brow cleared, and with a laugh, at once of welcome and amusement, he strode forward and put out his hand.

"My good Caron!" he cried. "To meet you at Boisvert is a pleasure I had not looked for."

"Are you so very sure," asked La Boulaye sardonically, as he took the outstretched hand, "that it is a pleasure?"

"How could it be else, old friend? By St. Guillotine!" he added, clapping the Deputy on the back, "you shall come to my room, and we will broach a bottle of green seal."

In some measure of wonder, La Boulaye permitted himself to be led up the crazy stairs to a most untidy room above, which evidently did duty as the Captain's parlour. A heavy brass lamp, hanging from the ceiling, a few untrustworthy chairs and a deal table, stained and unclean, were the only articles of furniture. But in almost every corner there were untidy heaps of garments Of all sorts and conditions; strewn about the floor were other articles of apparel, a few weapons, a saddle, and three or four boots; here an empty bottle, lying on its side, yonder a couple of full ones by the hearth; an odd book or two and an infinity of playing cards, cast there much as a sower scatters his seeds upon the ground.

There may be a hundred ways of apprehending the character of a man, but none perhaps is more reliable than the appearance of his dwelling, and no discerning person that stepped into Captain Tardivet's parlour could long remain in doubt of its inhabitant's pursuits and habits.

When Dame Capoulade had withdrawn, after bringing them their wine and casting a few logs upon the fire, La Boulaye turned his back to the hearth and confronted his host.

"Why are you not with the army, Charlot?" he asked in a tone which made the question sound like a demand.

"Have they not told you," rejoined the other airily, engrossed in filling the glasses.

"I understand you were sent here to recover from a wound you received three months ago at Jemappes, and to take charge of other invalided soldiers. But seemingly, your invalids do not number more than a half-dozen out of the fifty or sixty men that are with you. How is it then, that you do not return with these to Dumouriez?"

"Because I can serve France better here," answered Charlot, "and at the same time enrich myself and my followers."

"In short," returned La Boulaye coldly, "because you have degenerated from a soldier into a brigand."

Charlot looked up, and for just a second his glance was not without uneasiness. Then he laughed. He unbuckled his sword and tossed it into a corner, throwing his hat after it.

"It was ever your way to take extreme views, Caron," he observed, with a certain whimsical regret of tone. "That, no doubt, is what has made a statesman of you. You had chosen more wisely had you elected to serve the Republic with your sword instead. Come, my friend," and he pointed to the wine, "let us pledge the Nation."

La Boulaye shrugged his shoulders slightly, and sighed. In the end he came forward and took the wine.

"Long live the Republic!" was Charlot's toast, and with a slight inclination of the head La Boulaye drained his glass.

"It is likely to live without you, Charlot, unless you mend your conduct."

"Diable!" snapped the Captain, a trifle peevishly. "Can you not understand that in my own way I am serving my country. You have called me a brigand. But you might say the same of General Dumouriez himself. How many cities has he not sacked?"

"That is the way of war."

"And so is this. He makes war upon the enemies of France that dwell in cities, whilst I, in a smaller way, make war upon those that travel in coaches. I confine myself to emigres--these damned aristocrats whom it is every good Frenchman's duty to aid in stamping out. Over the frontiers they come with their jewels, their plate, and their money-chests. To whom belongs this wealth? To France. Too long already have they withheld from the sons of the soil that which belongs equally to them, and now they have the effrontery to attempt to carry these riches out of the country. Would any true Republican dare to reproach me for what I do? I am but seizing that which belongs to France, and here dividing it among the good patriots that are with me, the soldiers that have bled for France."

"A specious argument," sneered La Boulaye.

"Specious enough to satisfy the Convention itself if ever I should be called to task," answered Charlot, with heat. "Do you propose to draw the attention of the Executive to my doings?"

La Boulaye's grey eyes regarded him steadily for a moment.

"Know you of any reason why I should not?" he asked.

"Yes, Caron, I do," was the ready answer. "I am well aware of the extent of your power with the Mountain. In Paris I can see that it might go hard with me if you were minded that it should, and you were able to seize me. On the other hand, that such arguments that I have advanced to you would be acceptable to the Government I do not doubt. But whilst they would approve of this that you call brigandage, I also do not doubt that they would claim that the prizes I have seized are by right the property of the Convention, and they might compel me to surrender them. Thus they would pass from my hands into those of some statesman-brigand, who, under the plea of seizing these treasures for the coffers of the nation, would transfer them to his own. Would you rather help such an one to profit than me, Caron? Have you so far forgotten how we suffered together--almost in the self-same cause--at Bellecour, in the old days? Have you forgotten the friendship that linked us later, in Paris, when the Revolution was in its dawn? Have you forgotten what I have endured at the hands of this infernal class that you can feel no sympathy for me? Caron, it is a measure of revenge, and as there is a Heaven, a very mild one. Me they robbed of more than life; them I deprive but of their jewels and their plate, turning them destitute upon the world. Bethink you of my girl-wife, Caron," he added, furiously, "and of how she died of grief and shame a short three months after our hideous nuptials. God in Heaven! When the memory of it returns to me I marvel at my own forbearance. I marvel that I do not take every man and woman of them that fall into my hands and flog them to death as they would have flogged you when you sought--alas to so little purpose--to intervene on my behalf."

He grew silent and thoughtful, and the expression of his face was not nice. At last: "Have I given you reason enough," he asked, "why you should not seek to thwart me?"

"Why, yes," answered La Boulaye, "more than was necessary. I am desolated that I should have brought you to re-open a sorrow that I thought was healed."

"So it is, Caron. How it is I do not know. Perhaps it is my nature; perhaps it is that in youth sorrow is seldom long-enduring; perhaps it is the strenuous life I have lived and the changes that have been wrought in me--for, after all, there is a little in this Captain Tardivet that is like the peasant poor Marie took to husband, four years ago. I am no longer the same man, and among the other things that I have put from me are the sorrows that were of the old Charlot. But some memories cannot altogether die, and if to-day I no longer mourn that poor child, yet the knowledge of the debt that lies 'twixt the noblesse of France and me is ever present, and I neglect no opportunity of discharging a part of it. But enough of that, Caron. Tell me of yourself. It is a full twelvemonth since last we met, and in that time, from what I have heard, you have done much and gone far. Tell me of it, Caron."

They drew their chairs to the hearth, and they sat talking so long that the early February twilight came down upon them while they were still at their reminiscences. La Boulaye had intended reaching Valenciennes that night; but rather than journey forward in the dark he now proposed to lie at Boisvert, a resolution in which he did not lack for encouragement from Charlot.

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