Chapter IV. Their life under ground
The men, wearied of living in these beasts’ lairs, would sometimes venture to come out by night and dance on the neighboring moor; or else they said prayers, by way of killing time. “Jean Chouan made us say our beads from morning till night,” says Bourdoiseau.
It was almost impossible, when the season arrived, to prevent the men of Bas-Maine from going to the Fête de la Gerbe. They clung to their own ideas. Tranche-Montagne says that Denys disguised himself as a woman, to go to the play at Laval; after which he returned to his den.
All at once they would rush out in search of death, changing one tomb for another.
Sometimes they would lift the cover of their grave and listen for any chance sounds of battle in the distance, following it with their ears, guided by the steady fire of the Republicans and the intermittent shots of the Royalists. When the platoon-firing suddenly ceased, they knew that the Royalists had lost the day; but if the scattering shots continued, receding into the distance, it was a sign that the victory was theirs. The Whites always pursued; the Blues never did so, because the country was against them.
These underground belligerents were wonderfully well-informed. Nothing could be more rapid or more mysterious than their means of communication. The bridges and wagons had all been destroyed, yet they found means to keep one another informed of all that went on, and to send timely warning. Messenger-stations of danger were established from forest to forest, from village to village, from hut to hut, from bush to bush.
A stupid-looking peasant might be seen passing along; he carried despatches in his hollow staff.
Furnished by Boétidoux, a former constituent, with the modern Republican passport, in which a blank space is left for the name, bundles of which were in the possession of that traitor, they were enabled to travel from one end of Brittany to the other.
It was impossible to take them by surprise. Puysaye states that “secrets confided to upwards of four thousand individuals have been religiously kept.”
It seemed as though this quadrilateral, closed on the south by the line from Sables to Thouars, on the east by that from Thouars to Saumur as well as by the river of Thoué, on the north by the Loire, and on the west by the ocean, possessed a system of nerves in common, and that no single part of the ground could stir without shaking the whole. In the twinkling of an eye, they learned in Luçon what was going on in Noirmoutier, and the camp of La Loué knew what was passing in the camp La Croix-Morineau. It was as if the birds had carried the news. On the 7th Messidor, in the year III., Hoche wrote: “One might have supposed they had telegraphs.”
They formed clans, as in Scotland, and each parish had its own captain. My father fought in this war, and I know whereof I am speaking.