Sunday, 25/02/2024 - 19:05
05:27 | 16/10/2019

The mother had watched this dark object as it passed by, but she neither understood nor tried to understand it, absorbed as she was in the vision that pictured her children lost in the darkness.

She too left the village soon after the procession which had just passed, and followed the same road at some distance behind the second squad of gendarmes. Suddenly the word “guillotine” came back to her, and she repeated it to herself; now, this untaught peasant woman, Michelle Fléchard, had no idea of its meaning, but her instinct warned her; she shuddered involuntarily, and it seemed dreadful to her to be walking behind it, – so she turned to the left, quitting the highway, and entered a wood, which was the Forest of Fougères.

After roaming about for some time she spied a belfry and the roofs of houses, – evidently a village on the edge of the forest; and she went towards it, for she was hungry.

It was one of those hamlets where the Republicans had established a military outpost.

She went as far as the square in front of the mayoralty-house.

Here, too, there was agitation and anxiety. A crowd had gathered in front of the flight of steps leading to the hall, and here, standing on one of these steps was a man accompanied by soldiers, who held in his hand a large unfolded placard. A drummer stood on his right, and on his left a bill-sticker, with his brush and paste-pot. Upon the balcony, over the door, stood the mayor, wearing a tricolored scarf over his peasant’s dress.

The man with the placard was a public crier.

He wore a shoulder-belt from which hung a small wallet, in token that he was going from village to village proclaiming certain news throughout the district.

Just as Michelle Fléchard arrived, he had unfolded the placard and was beginning to read in a loud voice, –

“THE FRENCH REPUBLIC ONE AND INDIVISIBLE.”

The drum beat. There was a stir in the crowd. A few took off their caps, others jammed their hats more firmly on their heads; in those times one could almost recognize a man’s political views, throughout that district, by the fashion of his head-gear; hats were worn by Royalists, caps by Republicans. The confused murmur of voices ceased, and all listened as the crier proceeded to read: –

“By virtue of the orders given to as, and of the authority vested in us by the Committee of Public Safety, – “

Again the drum beat, and again the crier continued: –

” – and in execution of the decree of the National Convention, that outlaws all rebels taken with arms in their hands, and declares that capital punishment shall be inflicted on any man who harbors them or aids and abets in their escape, – “

One peasant whispered to his neighbor, –

“What does capital punishment mean?”

“I don’t know,” the neighbor replied.

The crier waved the placard: –

” – in accordance with Article 17 of the law of the 30th of April, that gives to the delegates and sub-delegates full authority over the rebels, – “

Here he made a pause, then resumed: –

” – the individuals designated under the following names and surnames are declared outlawed: – “

The audience listened with a close attention.

The voice of the crier sounded like thunder: –

” – Lantenac, brigand, – “

“That’s Monseigneur,” muttered a peasant.

And the whisper ran through the crowd, “It’s Monseigneur.”

And the crier pursued, –

” – Lantenac, ci-devant Marquis, brigand; the Imânus, brigand; – “

Two peasants looked askance at each other.

“That’s Gouge-le-Bruant.”

“Yes; that’s Brise-Bleu.”

The crier went on reading the list: –

“Grand-Francoeur, brigand; – “

A murmur-ran through the crowd.

“He’s a priest.”

“Yes, – the Abbé Turmeau.”

“I know; he is a curé somewhere near the forest of La Chapelle.”

“And a brigand,” added a man in a cap.

The crier went on: –

” – Boisnouveau, brigand; the two brothers Pique-en-bois, brigands; Houzard, brigand; – “

“That’s Monsieur de Quélen,” said a peasant.

” – Panier, brigand; – “

“That’s Monsieur Sepher.”

” – Place-Nette, brigand; – “

“That’s Monsieur Jamois.”

Paying no heed to these remarks, the crier continued: –

” – Guinoiseau, brigand; Chatenay, called Robi, brigand; – “

One peasant whispered, “Guinoiseau is the same person we call Le Blond; Chatenay comes from Saint-Ouen.”

” – Hoisnard, brigand; – ” continued the crier.

“He is from Ruillé,” some one in the crowd was heard to say.

“Yes, that’s Branche-d’Or.”

“His brother was killed at the attack of Pontorson.”

“Yes, Hoisnard-Malonnière.”

“A fine-looking fellow of nineteen.”

“Attention!” called out the crier; “here is the end of the list: –

” – Belle-Vigne, brigand; La Musette, brigand; Sabre-tout, brigand; Brin-d’Amour, brigand; – “

Here a lad jogged the elbow of a young girl; she smiled.

The crier continued, –

” – Chante-en-hiver, brigand; Le Chat, brigand – “

“That’s Moulard,” said a peasant.

” – Tabouze, brigand. – “

“That’s Gauffre,” said another.

“There are two of the Gauffres,” added some woman.

“Good fellows, both of them,” muttered a lad.

The crier waved the placard, the drum beat to command silence, and then he resumed the reading:

” – And the above-named, wheresoever they may be taken, as soon as their identity is proved, will be put to death upon the spot; – “

There was a movement in the crowd.

The crier pursued, –

” – and any man who protects them, or aids them to escape, will be brought before a court-martial and forthwith put to death. Signed – “

The silence grew intense.

” – Signed: Delegate of the Committee of Public Safety,

“CIMOURDAIN.”

“A priest,” said a peasant.

“The former curé of Parigné,” remarked another.

“Turmeau and Cimourdain,” added a townsman, – “a White priest and a Blue one.”

“And both of them black,” remarked another townsman.

The mayor, who stood on the balcony, lifted his hat as he cried, –

“Long live the Republic!”

A roll of the drum made it known that the crier had not yet finished. He waved his hand.

“Listen,” he said, “to the last four lines of the Government proclamation. They are signed by the chief of the exploring column of the Côtes-du-Nord, Commander Gauvain.”

“Listen,” cried voices in the crowd.

The crier read, –

“Under penalty of death, – “

All were silent.

” – it is forbidden, in pursuance with the above, to lend aid or succor to the nineteen rebels herein named, who are at present shut up and besieged in the Tourgue.”

“What’s that?” cried a voice.

It was a woman’s voice, – the voice of the mother.

 

 

 

 



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