Having fortunately my money in my pocket when the hooker went down, I was able to hire a horse through the help of the landlord of the "Shamrock" hotel, and as I knew the road thoroughly I had no fear about finding my way. Having parted from my old messmate Sinnet, I started at dawn the next morning, intending to push on as fast as my steed would carry me. I had somewhat got over the loss of Larry, but it made me very sad when I had to answer the questions put to me about him by the people of the inns where we had before stopped.
"And to think that him and his fiddle are gone to the bottom of the say! Och ahone! och ahone!" cried Biddy Casey, the fair daughter of the landlord of the inn, the scene of our encounter with the irate sow.
It was late in the evening when I reached Ballinahone, and as I rode up the avenue I saw a tall figure pacing slowly in front of the house. It was my uncle. I threw myself from the saddle, and led my knocked-up steed towards him. He started as he turned and saw me.
"What, Terence, is it you yourself?" he exclaimed, stretching out his hands. "You have been a long time coming, and I fancied your ship must have sailed, and that you could not obtain leave."
I told him that I had twice written, but he said that he had not received either of my letters.
"You come to a house of mourning, my boy," he continued, "though I doubt not you'll have been prepared for what I have to tell you."
"My father!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, he's gone; and really from the condition into which he had fallen, it was a happy release, at all events to the rest of the family, who could not watch him without pain."
"And my mother?" I answered anxiously.
"She is slowly recovering, and I think that your arrival will do her good," he said. "Maurice and his young wife have come to live at the castle, and they get on very well with your sisters and their husbands. But what has become of Larry?" he asked, looking down the avenue, expecting to see him following me.
When I told him, and had to mention how I had been so nearly lost, he was greatly grieved.
"I am thankful we did not get your letter saying you were coming, or we should have been very anxious about you," he said. "Now take your horse round to the stables, while I go in and prepare your mother for your arrival. It's better not to give her a sudden surprise."
I did as my uncle told me. As soon as I had entered the courtyard I met Tim Daley, who gave a loud shout as he saw me, and at once, as I knew he would do, inquired for Larry.
"Don't be asking questions," I said, fearing that there would be a wild hullaballoo set up in the kitchen, which might reach my mother's ears before my uncle had time to tell her of my arrival.
"But isn't Larry come with your honour?" asked Tim.
"Seamen can't always get leave from their ships," I answered, wishing to put him off. "I'll tell you all about it by and by. And now just take that poor brute into the stable. Rub him down well, and give him some oats, for he's scarcely a leg left to stand on."
"Ah! shure your honour knows how to ride a horse smartly," said Tim, as he led off the animal, while I hurried round to the front door. One of my sisters let me in, and I had the opportunity of talking to her before I was summoned to my mother. She appeared sad and much broken, but the sight of me cheered her up, and as I talked on with her I was inclined to hope that she would recover her usual health and spirit. As soon as I could I mentioned my own narrow escape, and Larry's loss, for I knew that, should my uncle tell any one, there would soon be an uproar of wild wailing in the kitchen, which might alarm her if she did not know the cause. I was right, for, as the major had thought it best to mention what had happened, the news soon spread throughout the house. As I went down-stairs a chorus of shrieks and cries reached my ears, expressive of the domestics' grief at Larry's loss. It was some time before I ventured down among them to give an account of what had happened; and as I narrated the circumstances, between each sentence there arose a chorus of cries and sighs.
"Och ahone! och ahone! and we'll never be after seeing Larry Harrigan again," cried Biddy and Molly together.
Similar exclamations burst from the lips of the other domestics, and I confess that my feelings were sufficiently sensitive to make me thankful to get away to the parlour. The supper was more cheerful than I expected it would be. Maurice and his young wife did the honours of the house with becoming grace. Of course I had plenty of accounts to give of my adventures in the Mediterranean. They were highly amused at my account of Lord Robert; and Fitzgerald exclaimed that he wished he could get him to Ballinahone, and they would soon knock his dignity out of him. As Maurice had sheathed his sword, Denis had determined to take his place as one of the defenders of his country. My uncle told me that he hoped soon to get a commission for him in the same regiment.
"Maurice stood well among his brother officers, and that will give Denis a good footing as soon as he joins," he observed to me. "He is a steady, sensible boy, and with his Irish dash and pluck he is sure to get on in the army. We have plenty of fellows with the latter qualities, but too few with the former, for they fancy if they're tolerably brave they may be as harum-scarum, rollicking, and careless as they like. I wish that Denis had seen something of the world before he joins his regiment, for he's as green as a bunch of shamrock. If it could be managed, I should like him to take a cruise with you, Terence, and to run up to Dublin for a few weeks, but funds are wanting for the purpose, though, as you observe, we have managed to get the house into better order than it has been of late years."
"I have some prize-money, though not much pay, due to me," I answered, "and I shall be very glad to hand it over to Denis for the purpose you name."
"No! no! I could not allow that. It's little enough you'll get out of the estate, and you mustn't deprive yourself of funds, my boy," answered the major. "We will think of some other plan."
I observed the next day a great improvement in the general state of things about the house. The furniture had been repaired and furbished up. There were clean covers to the sofas and chairs in the drawing-room, and a new carpet in my mother's chamber, while the servants had a less dingy and untidy look than formerly, showing that they had received their wages.
I had spent a few pleasant days with my relations, when I received a letter from old Rough-and-Ready, peremptorily ordering me to return. I concluded that the letter I wrote from Portsmouth had not reached Nettleship, and consequently that my request for prolonged leave of absence had not been received.
As there was no time if I wrote to receive an answer, which very probably would not reach its destination, my uncle advised me to set off at once. I must pass over my parting with my mother and other members of my family. My mother had greatly recovered, and I had no reason to be apprehensive about her health. The major announced his intention of accompanying me, with Denis, as far as Cork.
"I wish that we could make the journey with you to Plymouth; but to say the truth, I find it prudent not to be longer away from Ballinahone than can be helped," he observed. "My superintendence is wanted there as much as ever."
We accordingly the following morning set out, Denis in high spirits at having to make the journey, for hitherto his travels had not extended farther than Limerick. The major rode ahead, and he and I followed, talking together, though occasionally we rode up when we thought that our uncle wanted company. A journey in those days was seldom to be made without some adventures. None, however, occurred that I think worth mentioning. On our arrival at Cork, I found a vessel sailing direct for Bristol. My uncle advised me to go by her as the surest means of reaching Plymouth quickly.
Wishing him and Denis, therefore, good-bye, I hurried on board, and two days afterwards was on my journey from the great mart of commerce to Plymouth.
Part of the distance I performed by coach, part by post-chaise, the rest on horseback.
I felt somewhat anxious lest my ship should have sailed, and I might have to kick my heels about Plymouth until she came back, or have to make another journey to get aboard her. Great was my satisfaction, therefore, when I saw her at anchor in Hamoaze. I at once went aboard. Old Rough-and-Ready received me with a somewhat frowning brow when I reported myself. On my explaining, however, what had happened, he said that he would make things all right with Lord Robert, who was expected on board every hour. As soon as his lordship appeared, we went out of harbour. We found that Parliament being prorogued, we were to take a short summer cruise. It was shorter than we expected.
After knocking about for a couple of weeks, we put back again into the Sound, where we received a packet of letters, which had been waiting for us at the post office. I got one from my uncle, stating that all things were going on well at Ballinahone, and enclosing another in an unknown hand, and bearing a foreign post-mark. On opening it I found that it was from La Touche, reminding me of my promise to pay him a visit when peace was restored, and inviting me over to his chateau in the neighbourhood of Vernon. It appeared to me that I had but little chance of being able to accept his invitation. I at once wrote him a letter, stating that I was still on board, but that, should I be at liberty, I would without fail endeavour to go over and see him; that though we had been fighting with his nation, I had met so many brave men among them, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to become acquainted with La Belle France, and to see him again. I at once sent the letter on shore to be posted. The same mail brought despatches to the captain. Their tenor was soon announced. It was that the ship was to sail immediately for Portsmouth, where she had been fitted out, to be paid off.
As his lordship was never addicted to doing anything in a hurry, he waited, before obeying the order he had received, till he could get a supply of fresh butter and eggs and other comestibles on board. We therefore did not sail till the next day. We had a fair breeze going out of the Sound, but the wind headed us when we got into the Channel, and we made a tack towards the French coast. The wind continued light and baffling, and we were three days before, having gone round by Saint Helen's, we came to an anchor at Spithead. Here we had to wait until the wind again shifted, when we ran into Portsmouth harbour.
I have already given a description of the scenes which occurred when I was last paid off, so I need not repeat it. Lord Robert made us a speech, promising to attend to the interests of all the officers who had served with him, and especially to bear in mind the strong claims of his first lieutenant to promotion. He took down all our addresses, saying we should hear from him before long.
"I'll buy a golden frame to put his letter in, if I receive one," growled old Rough-and-Ready.
"I doubt whether he'll put pen to paper for my sake," said Nettleship.
Most of the rest of us made similar remarks. We were not wrong in our conjectures, and, as far as I could learn, his lordship forgot all about us and his promises from the moment he started for London; and we were cast adrift to shift for ourselves.
Nettleship intended to go down to Plymouth, and wanted Tom Pim and me to accompany him; but Tom's family were expecting him at home, and I hoped to get round direct from Portsmouth to Cork by sea.
The Osprey, which had returned to Portsmouth, was paid off at the time we were, and as there was no vessel sailing for Cork, I accepted an invitation from Sinnet to go over to Cowes, where his family were staying. We ran across in a wherry he had engaged.
As we were entering the harbour, we saw a fine-looking lugger at anchor, and while passing I inquired where she was bound to.
"Over to France, to the port of Grisnez or thereabouts," answered a man who was walking the forecastle with his hands in his pockets.
"When do you sail?" I asked.
"May be to-morrow, may be next day," was the answer.
"I say, Sinnet, I've a great mind, if the lugger remains here long enough, to take a passage in her, and go and pay my promised visit to La Touche. I wish you could come too; I am sure he will be glad to see you."
"I wish I could, for I'm certain we should have good fun; but you see I have not been with my family for a long time, and they would look upon me as destitute of natural feeling if I went away so soon. If you, however, have a wish to go, don't stand on ceremony. Should the lugger, however, remain long enough, I'll take advantage of your proposal," he said, as I accompanied him up to his house.
I was introduced to his father and mother and sisters, who were all such nice people that I was half inclined to give up my idea. Sinnet, however, mentioned the matter to the old gentleman, who at once told me not to stand on ceremony.
"You could not have a better opportunity of seeing France; and perhaps before long we shall be at loggerheads again, when no Englishman will be able to set foot in the country except as a prisoner; therefore go, and come back to us when you have got tired of frogs' legs and soup maigre."
In the evening I went down with Sinnet to the quay, where a man was pointed out to us as skipper of the lugger. We at once went up to him, and I told him that I wished to get across to France.
"I have no objection to take you, young gentleman, though we do not generally like having king's officers on board our craft," he answered.
"But I'm not on service now," I observed, guessing the meaning of his allusion. "What sum do you expect for passage money?"
"Five guineas," he answered. "I do not care to take less."
"Five guineas you shall have, if you land me where I wish to go," I said. "Now, when shall I be on board?"
"To-morrow morning at six o'clock. The tide will serve to carry us out at the Needles; and I don't intend to wait a moment longer."
"At six o'clock I will be on board, then; and, by the by, what is your name, captain?"
"Jack Long, though some call me little Jack," answered the skipper, with a laugh.
"And your vessel, that there may be no mistake?"
"The Saucy Bet," he said; "and now you know all you need know about her."
"Then, Captain Long, I'll be aboard the Saucy Bet at the hour you name," I said, as I took Sinnet's arm.
We strolled back to his house, and a very pleasant evening I spent with my messmate's family. We had music and singing. Two or three girls and some young men came in, and we got up a dance. Altogether, I began to regret that I had not arranged to remain longer.
My old messmate turned out at an early hour to accompany me down to the quay. As soon as I got on board the lugger, the anchor was hove up, and we made sail. I found a roughish looking crew, several of them being Jerseymen or Frenchmen. We soon got a fresh breeze from the northward, when the Saucy Bet walked along at a great rate, with large square topsails set above her lower lugs. She had a small cabin aft, neatly fitted up, and a large hold, but now perfectly clear. She could mount eight guns, all of which were now below. Soon after we got outside the Needles, however, they were hoisted up and placed on their carriages.
"What sort of a cargo do you generally carry, Captain Long?" I asked.
"That depends on what we stow away in the hold," he answered, with a knowing wink. "Silks, satins, and ribbons, sometimes; and at others tobacco and brandy, a few cases of gloves or lace, and such articles as English ladies are fond of, and are glad to get without paying duty."
"Then you acknowledge yourself to be a smuggler, captain?"
"I intend to be as long as I can make an honest living by it," he answered, laughing. "I'm not ashamed of it. It is fair play, you see. If I'm caught I lose my goods and vessel, and am sent to prison, or serve His Majesty on board a man-of-war. If I land my cargo, as I generally contrive to do, I make a good profit."
As he was thus open I argued the point, trying to show that the Government must have a revenue to pay their expenses, and that his proceedings were lawless.
"That's their business, not mine," he answered, not in the least degree moved by my observations. "The Government could not think very ill of us," he remarked; "for if they want information about what is going on in France, or have to send over anybody secretly, they are ready enough to apply to me, and pay well too. Why, in the war time, if it hadn't been for us smugglers, they couldn't have managed to send a messenger across Channel. Bless you! I've carried over a queer lot of characters now and then. But you must be getting hungry, young gentleman, and it's time for dinner. Come below."
I found a plentiful repast, which, though somewhat roughly cooked, I did ample justice to. The skipper produced a bottle of claret and another of cognac, and pressed me to drink, but he himself, I observed, was very moderate in his potations.
"If I did not keep a cool head on my shoulders, the Saucy Bet would soon get into trouble," he remarked; "still, that need not stop you from making yourself happy if you like."
He seemed very much surprised when I told him that I had no fancy for making myself happy in that fashion.
In the afternoon the wind fell, and we lay becalmed, floating down Channel with the ebb. The smugglers swore terribly at the delay, as they were in a hurry to get over to the French coast.
In the evening I walked the deck some time with the skipper, who was full of anecdotes. In the war time he had commanded a privateer, which had been tolerably successful, but his vessel had been captured at last, and he had spent some months a prisoner in France. He had on that occasion picked up a fair knowledge of French, which much assisted him, he said, in his present vocation. He was always on good terms with the mounseers, he told me, though he amused himself sometimes at their expense.
"Some of my chaps and I were ashore one night, not long ago, taking a glass at a wine shop near the harbour, when a frigate came in, and a beauty she was, no doubt about that." He continued: "The Frenchmen began to praise her, and says one of them to me—
"'There, you haven't got a craft like that in the whole of your navy.'
"'I don't know what we've got,' says I; 'but if there comes a war we should precious soon have one, for we should have she.'
"You should have seen the rage the Frenchmen were in when I said that, and heard how they sacred and swore. But I calmed them down by reminding them that they had taken some of our frigates, and that it was only to be expected that we should take some of theirs in return."
The captain gave me a side-berth in the little cabin, occupied generally, I found, by one of the mates. It was somewhat close, but I was soon asleep, and slept soundly until daylight the next morning.
By noon a breeze sprang up from the eastward, and under all sail we stood away to the southward. By nightfall we were well in with the French coast, but farther to the west than I expected.
"The tide will soon make in shore, and we must beat back to the eastward," observed the skipper. "You mustn't hope, howsomdever, young gentleman, to get ashore till to-morrow morning."
This mattered little to me, as I had no great objection to spend a few hours more on board.
During the night I awoke, and found the vessel perfectly motionless.
"Can another calm have come on?" I thought.
I was going off to sleep again, when I heard a footstep in the cabin, and, looking out of my bunk, by the light from the swinging lamp I saw the skipper examining some papers at the table.
"Has the wind dropped again?" I inquired.
"No, we are at anchor; we have been chased by a chasse-maree, and so, to escape her, we slipped in here; and here we shall remain perhaps for some days, till the coast is clear," he answered.
"In that case, captain, I shall prefer going on shore, and making my way overland to my friend's house. I shall find conveyances of some sort, I suppose?" I said.
"As to that I can't say. It isn't much of a place, but you may get along in a country cart, or hire a nag."
As I had no objection to seeing something of the country, I did not complain of this, and as soon as it was daylight I turned out.
Being anxious not to lose time, I got Captain Long to send me ashore with my valise. A small cabaret being open, I intended to take up my quarters there until I could obtain some means of conveyance to the Chateau La Touche. A cup of coffee, which was at once offered me, enabled me to wait until a more substantial breakfast was prepared.
In the meantime I took a stroll through the village. It was a small place, and, as far as I could judge, primitive in the extreme. It was the first time I had been in France, yet, as I spoke the language pretty well, I felt myself perfectly at home. Indeed, the people I addressed took me for a Frenchman, and were extremely civil.
On getting back to the inn, the landlady asked me if I had been to see the wonderful animal which had been landed some time before by a fisherman, who had found him, she said, on board a vessel, navigating her all by himself.
"What sort of an animal?" I inquired.
"Ah, monsieur, they say it is a bear. It certainly looks like one, for it has a bear's head and claws, and a tail; but it does all sort of things that no other bear that I have heard of can do; and what is more strange, it can talk, though no one can understand what it says."
"I must go and have a look at this bear after breakfast," I said.
"Certainly monsieur would not leave our village without seeing so great a wonder," she replied. "My boy Pierre can show you the way. Jacques Chacot, who is the fortunate possessor of the bear, lives not more than a quarter of a league away to the west. He charges half a franc to each person to whom be shows his wonder, and the people come from far and near. He talks of taking his bear to Paris to exhibit it, and if he does he will surely make a fortune."
Though I was somewhat incredulous as to whether the bear could really speak, and had also a doubt as to the way the woman said the animal had been found, I felt curious to see it; and as soon as I had breakfasted, conducted by Pierre, I set out for the cottage of Jacques Chacot. On the way the boy amused me by giving further accounts of the strange animal we were to see.
We found a number of other people going in the same direction, for my landlady had given no exaggerated account of the curiosity which it had excited. Jacques Chacot evidently possessed the talent of a showman. He had enlarged the front of his cottage so as to form a sort of theatre, the inner part serving as a stage. We found him standing at the door with a couple of stout young fellows, his sons, ready to receive visitors, for he allowed no one to go in until he had obtained payment. A strong bar was run across in front of the stage, which Jacques Chacot explained was to prevent the spectators from approaching too close to the bear, who, he observed, was sometimes seized with sudden fits of ferocity, and might, he was afraid, do some injury. The room was already half full when Pierre and I entered, and a considerable number of people came in afterwards. They were all country people, decently dressed, who behaved with the usual politeness the French exhibit when not excited by any special cause.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
At last Jacques Chacot, looking round the room, gave notice that his bear would at once commence his performance. In a short time a door opened, and he appeared, leading out what looked like a large brown bear, followed by one of his sons, carrying a couple of chairs. Jacques Chacot, who had in his hand a long pole with a sharp point to it, took his seat on one chair, and made signs to the bear to sit down on the other, which it immediately did. The lad then handed a glass of wine to the bear, which, making a bow to the audience, it drank off, putting the glass, it seemed to me, almost down its throat, in a very curious fashion.
Its keeper then ordered it to stand on its head, which it did with seeming unwillingness, kicking its hind legs up in the air.
"Now show mesdames and messieurs how you can dance," cried Chacot. "Strike up, Jean," he added to his son, who, getting down a riddle from the wall, commenced scraping away, and producing a merry tune. Up got the bear, and began shuffling and leaping about, in a fashion which strangely resembled an Irish jig, at the same time singing in a voice which sounded remarkably like that of a human being. The audience applauded; but the bear at length, getting tired from its exertions, took a chair and sat itself down in a corner. On this Chacot shouted to it to go on; but the bear, being seized with sulkiness, refused, till the fellow, giving it a poke with his pole, the bear sprang up and recommenced its performance, Jean fiddling away as before.
"Now address the company, and give them an account of your adventures," said Chacot.
The bear on this got up, and, making another bow, uttered some words which certainly no one present could have understood. Listening attentively, I caught several words which sounded remarkably like Irish.
"Who are you, and where in the world do you come from?" I exclaimed in my native tongue.
No sooner had I uttered the words, than the bear made a spring right off the stage, and rushed towards me, exclaiming, "Arrah! I'm Larry Harrigan, Mr Terence dear! and shure you've found me at last?"
At the first movement the bear made the audience rushed from all parts of the room, trying to effect their escape through the door, while Jacques Chacot endeavoured to seize it, and to drag it back on the stage. Larry, however, was not to be hindered, and, grasping my hand, he held it in his shaggy paws, his voice alone assuring me who he was.
"Hands off from him, Chacot!" I cried out. "He is an honest Irishman whom I know well. If you injure him it will be at your peril. Stop, friends, stop!" I shouted to the people as they were escaping. "The bear will do you no harm; come and assist me." Jacques Chacot, however, fearing that the chance of making further gains by his prisoner would be lost, dragged him back by main force, while poor Larry, closely encased as he was in a skin, and padded out with pillows, was unable to help himself. At the same time, one of the sons, seizing his pike, threatened to run me through if I interfered.
I in vain called to the people to help me; they seemed to think that I was as mad as the bear, or that I was a mere bearish Englishman, who had lived so long amongst animals of that description that I very naturally took it for an old friend Larry continued to shout out to me for help, until Jacques Chacot seized his jaws, and, closing them, prevented his voice from coming out, while the young Frenchmen dragged him away.
"Keep up your spirits, Larry," I cried. "If there's justice in the country, I'll obtain it for you." As I found it would be impossible at that moment to set Larry free, I followed the people out of the show, and endeavoured to explain to them that the bear was no bear at all, but a human being, whom I had known all my life. This, however, I found they were by no means inclined to believe. It was a very strange bear, they acknowledged, but they had no reason to doubt that bears could speak; and the words he had uttered were just such as might be expected to proceed from a bear.
Young Pierre had bravely stuck by me all the time, and was more inclined to believe me than any one else.
"I have heard say that Jacques Chacot is a great rascal, and if monsieur will take my advice he will go to Monsieur Jules Pontet, the mayor, who will compel him to allow the bear to be properly examined, and if it proves to be a man have him set at liberty," he observed.
"You are a sensible little fellow," I answered; "and if you will show me the way to the mayor's house, we will go to him at once. But don't let any one know, or Chacot will take means to hide the bear, or carry him off, or perhaps throw him into the sea and drown him, so that there may be no evidence of his knavery."
"That's just what I was thinking, monsieur," said Pierre, as he led the way. We hurried on, for I was very anxious about Larry's safety, fearful that Chacot would play him some trick. In about twenty minutes we reached the most respectable-looking house in the village.
"Monsieur the mayor lives here," said Pierre. "He is at home, I know, for he never leaves so early in the day."
I knocked at the door, and, being admitted by a neat-looking woman in a high cap, was ushered into a room, where I found Monsieur Jules Pontet, the mayor, seated, with number of papers before him. I explained that, having been induced to go and see a strange animal said to be a bear, I had discovered a countryman, an old acquaintance of my own, who had been compelled by some means or other to play the part, that he was being cruelly treated, and desired to be set free.
The mayor listened politely.
"I have heard of this strange animal, and suspected that there was some trick," he observed; "I will accompany you forthwith, and if you are right in your conjectures, we will have the man set free."
"They are more than conjectures, they are certainties, monsieur," I answered.
I then thanked him for his courtesy, when, getting his hat and cane, he immediately set out with me, followed by Pierre, who was eager to see the end.
We found a number of people collected round Chacot's cottage, which made me hope that during my absence he had not been able, had he contemplated violence, to carry his intention into effect.
"I wish to see this strange animal I have heard of," said the mayor in an authoritative tone. "Go, some of you, and tell Chacot that I desire him to bring the creature out on the stage, and let him perform his tricks before me. Come, my friends, come in, you shall see the sight without payment this time."
Whether Chacot was aware or not that I had brought the mayor, I could not tell, as he might not have observed me among the crowd.
In a short time the door of the stage opened, and Chacot appeared, dragging in the bear, who came very reluctantly, urged on by one of the young fellows from behind with a pike.
Larry was going through his performances, when the mayor said, turning to me—
"Speak to him, and tell him to come down quickly. I see the whole trick; no bear would walk as that creature does."
No sooner did Larry hear my voice than he sprang off the stage, before Chacot or his sons could stop him, and I rushed forward to meet him, followed by Monsieur Pontet.
"Have any of you a knife?" asked the worthy magistrate. "Hand it to me at once."
A knife was given him, and he began forthwith to cut away at the bear-skin, Larry standing patiently while the operation was going forward.
He soon got the head off, when Larry's honest countenance was displayed beneath it.
Loud shouts of laughter burst from the people, mingled with no small amount of abuse hurled at Chacot for the trick he had played them.
As the mayor proceeded, a quantity of hay tumbled out, which had served to stuff out poor Larry to the required proportions.
"Faith, Mr Terence dear, you'd better not take it off altogether before so many decent people; for, to say the truth, I've got nothing under it but my bare skin," said Larry to me in a subdued voice.
Such, indeed, I perceived to be the case, as did the mayor.
"Bring the man's clothes at once, and let him have a room in which he may dress himself properly," he exclaimed to Chacot, who had, by the mayor's orders, remained on the stage, and had been watching our proceedings.
Chacot, with no very good grace, obeyed, and I, fearing that some violence might be offered, accompanied him into the room.
Chacot soon appeared with a seaman's dress, which Larry, jumping out of his bear-skin, quickly put on.
As yet he had had no time to tell me how he had come into the power of the French fisherman; and as I also did not wish to keep the mayor waiting, as soon as Larry was ready, we hurried out to join him.
"I'll have my revenge on you one of these days," I heard Chacot exclaim, but I thought it as well to take no notice of his remark.
"Come with me to my house," said Monsieur Jules Pontet. "I want to hear how that fellow Jacques Chacot got hold of the English seaman. He must have been a stupid fellow to have allowed himself to be so ill-treated."
"I have not yet had time to make inquiries, monsieur," I said, "but I will, if you wish it, at once ask him how it happened."
"By all means," replied the mayor; so I desired Larry to tell me how he had escaped from the hooker, and been turned into a bear.
"It is a long yarn, Mr Terence, but I'll cut it short to plase the gintleman. You'll remember the night we were aboard the hooker. I was asleep forward, just dreaming of Ballinahone, an' thinking I was leading off a dance with Molly Maguire, when down came the whole castle tumbling about our heads. Opening my eyes, I jumped out of my bunk, and sprang up the fore hatchway, just in time to see that the masts had been carried away, and that the hooker was going to the bottom. How it all happened I couldn't for the life of me tell. I sang out at the top of my voice for you, Mr Terence, and rushed aft to the cabin, where I expected to find you asleep. But though I shouted loud enough to waken the dead, you didn't answer, and not a soul was aboard but myself. For a moment I caught sight of the stern of a vessel steering away from us, which made me guess that we had been run down. The water was rushing into the little craft, and I knew that she must go to the bottom. Her masts and spars were still hanging to her side, an' so, thinks I to meself, I'll have a struggle for life. I had seen an axe in the companion hatch, and, getting hold of it, I cut away the rigging, and had time to get hold of a cold ham and some bread and a bottle of water, which I stowed in a basket. Thinks I, I'll make a raft, and so I hove overboard some planks, with part of the main hatch and a grating, and, getting on them, lashed them together in a rough fashion, keeping my eye all the time on the hooker, to see that she didn't go down, and catch me unawares. I was so mighty busy with this work, that if the vessel which had run the hooker down had come back to look for us I shouldn't have seen her. I had just got my raft together, when I saw that the hooker was settling down, so I gave it a shove off from her side; and faith I was only just in time, for it made a rush forward, and I thought was going down with the vessel, but up it came again, and there I was, floating all alone on the water.
"During the night a light breeze from the northward sprang up, and I began to fear that I might be drifted out into the Atlantic. However, I couldn't help myself, and was not going to cry die. I was mighty thankful that the sea was smooth, and so I sat on my raft, trying to be as happy as I could; but the thinking of you, Mr Terence, and not knowing if you had escaped, often made me sad. I wished, too, that I had had my fiddle, when I would have played myself a tune to keep up my spirits. I can't say how many days I spent on the raft, sleeping when I could not keep my eyes open, till all the provisions and the water I had brought were gone. Then I got very bad, and thought I was going to die. The weather, too, was changing, and the sea getting up. I was just lying down on the raft, not long before the bright sun sank into the ocean, and not expecting to see it rise again, when I heard a shout, and, opening my eyes, I saw a small craft, which I guessed was a French fishing-boat from her look, coming towards me. She having hove-to, presently a boat was lowered from her deck, and I was taken on board, more dead than alive. The Frenchmen gave me some food, and, taking me down into the cabin, put me to bed.
"It came on to blow very hard that night. For some days we were knocking about, not able to get back to port. From the heavy seas which broke over the little vessel, and from the way I heard the Frenchmen speaking, I thought that after all we should be lost, but I was too weak to care much about the matter just then.
"However, at last the weather moderated, and after several days I found that we were at anchor in smooth water. I was still very bad, so the French skipper carried me ashore to his cottage. He fed me pretty well, and I at last got strong enough to walk about. By this time I had managed somehow to make him understand me, and I asked him to tell me how I could cross over to Ireland, as I wanted to get home and learn if you had escaped. He laughed at me, however, and said that I owed him a hundred francs for taking care of me, and that I must pay him. I answered that I would be glad enough to pay him, like an honest man, as soon as I could get any prize-money, and that I would send it over to him. To this, however, he would not agree, but said that if I would help him in a trick he wanted to play off on the people, he would be satisfied. He then explained that I must dress up like a bear, and that he would show me off as a wonder. As I had no help for it, I consented. He at once made me get into the bear-skin which you, Mr Terence, cut me out of, and showed me how I was to behave myself. After I had had some days' practice, he sent round to let it be known that he had picked up a bear at sea, which could talk and play all sorts of tricks; and in a short time people came to look at me. At first I thought it a good joke, but at last he treated me so like a real bear, for he chained me up at night and never let me get out of my skin, that I began to grow heartily tired of the fun; and it's my belief, if you hadn't found me out, he'd have been after making away with me, lest the people should discover the trick he had played them."
I translated Larry's story to the mayor, who, being a humane man, was very indignant, but said that he had no power to punish Chacot, as Larry confessed that he had consented to be dressed up.
When I told this to Larry, he said that he should be very sorry to have Chacot suffer, as, whatever his motive, he had certainly saved his life.
In a couple of days Larry was fit to set out. With the aid of Monsieur Pontet, I purchased two horses. They were sorry steeds to look at, but had more go in them than I expected from their appearance. Larry carried my valise, and I had my sword and a brace of pistols, though Monsieur Pontet assured me I should have no necessity for their use. I had become intimate with him, and he kindly gave me a letter of introduction to a friend of his at Vernon, a Monsieur Planterre, who, he said, would dispose of my horses for me, and afford me any other assistance I might require, in case La Touche should be absent from home.
Bidding farewell to Monsieur Pontet, I started on my journey at an early hour in the morning, fully expecting to enjoy the trip, as all was new and strange to me. The people I met with were primitive in their habits, and invariably treated me with civility. The inns I stopped at were small, and not over comfortable, but as they afforded sufficient accommodation for man and beast, I did not complain.
I must pass over the incidents of the journey. It was towards evening when the towers of Vernon, situated on the banks of the Seine, appeared in sight, and, passing across the boulevards which surrounded the town, I entered the narrow, crooked streets, with timber-framed houses on either side, and kept clean by running streams. On my way I inquired for the house of Monsieur Planterre, which I found situated at the entrance of an avenue which leads to the Chateau de Bizy, belonging to the Duc de Penthievre.
The house, though of a primitive style of architecture, was better than most of those I had passed. Being admitted, Larry having taken charge of my horse, Monsieur Planterre received me with much courtesy, and, telling me that I could not possibly reach the Chateau La Touche that evening, invited me to take up my quarters at his house. I of course was glad to accept his invitation, and Larry was at once sent round to the stables with the horses. I took no further concern for him, being well aware that he could make himself at home wherever he was.
Monsieur Planterre told me that he was acquainted with my friend La Touche, and should be happy to accompany me to the chateau the next day. I learned from him more of the state of things in France than I had before known. He told me that republican principles were gaining ground in all directions, and that the people were everywhere complaining of the taxes imposed on them by the Government.
"Discontent indeed prevails everywhere, and unless reforms take place, I know not what will be the result," he said, with a deep sigh. "Even in this place the people are in an unsatisfactory state of mind."
I was introduced to Madame Planterre and her daughters, bright, pretty young ladies, who seemed much attached to their parents. They gave me a very pleasant idea of a French family of the upper middle class.
Next morning Monsieur Planterre asked me to defer starting for a couple of hours, as he had to attend a meeting at the Town Hall, where he hoped to propose some measure for the benefit of the poorer inhabitants. He suggested that I should pass the intermediate time in taking a turn through the town, and visiting an ancient tower and hospital founded by Saint Louis, and other objects of interest.
Giving Larry directions to have the horses ready, I set out. Having spent nearly two hours in visiting different parts of the town, I ascended to the top of the ancient tower I have mentioned, from which I obtained a fine view, not only of the picturesque old town, but along the Seine for a considerable distance up and down, and also of the Chateau de Bizy, with the fine avenue leading to it. I was about to descend, when I saw a vast number of people emerging from the various streets into a broad space called the Place, a short distance below me. From their movements they appeared highly excited, for loud cries and shouts reached my ears. The greater number were armed, either with muskets, pikes, scythes, swords, or other weapons. As I was curious to know what they were about, I hastened down, and made my way along the street leading to the Place. I had no fear of going among the people, for I did not suppose that they would interfere with me. Many of those I passed were of respectable appearance, and as I got into the Place I inquired of one of them what they were about to do.
"They have just tried and condemned to death one of our principal citizens, Monsieur Planterre, who has always proved himself one of their best friends," was the reply.
"Monsieur Planterre!" I exclaimed. "Where is he?"
My friend was pointed out to me, in the midst of a band of ruffians, who were dragging him forward, shouting, "A la lanterne! a la lanterne!"
Seized with an impulse I could not control, to preserve, if I could, the life of my kind host, I dashed forward through the crowd. The people made way for me, until I reached his side.
"Good people of Vernon, what are you about to do?" I exclaimed. "I hear every one speaking in favour of Monsieur Planterre, and yet you threaten him with instant death."
My friend, whilst I was speaking, stood pale and trembling; the rope was round his neck, and the ruffians had hold of the end, as if eager to strangle him.
"What has he done to outweigh his kind deeds?" I asked.
No answer was vouchsafed, the mob only shouting the louder, "A la lanterne! a la lanterne!"
"Who are you, young stranger? Be off with you, or you shall share his fate," cried out a big ruffian; and many of them pressing on, shoved me aside, endeavouring to separate me from their intended victim.
I saw that it was a moment for action,—that should I exhibit the slightest hesitation the life of a worthy man would be sacrificed; and, regardless of the danger I myself ran from the fury of the excited crowd, again dashing forward, I succeeded in reaching Monsieur Planterre, round whom I threw my arms, and held him fast.
"You shall not injure him. Back, all of you!" I shouted. "I will not allow you to destroy an honest man. There must be some mistake. You are not executioners, you are assassins, and are about to commit a deed of which you will repent."
Notwithstanding what I said, the ruffians still pressed upon us, and attempted to drag Monsieur Planterre away, shouting, "A la lanterne!" but I held him fast.
"My friends," I cried,—"for I will not call you enemies,—if you hang this man you must hang me, for alive I will not be separated from him, and you will be guilty of the murder of two honest men instead of one."
As I spoke a reaction suddenly took place; my words had even more effect than I expected on the volatile crowd. One of them rushed forward and removed the rope from Monsieur Planterre's neck.
"You have saved his life!" cried another.
"You are a brave fellow!" shouted a third. "Long live the noble Englishman! he is worthy of our regard."
These and similar cries burst from the throats of numbers standing round, and were echoed by the would-be executioners. Before I knew what was about to happen, a number of them, rushing forward, lifted me on their shoulders, and carried me along in triumph, shouting and singing, while Monsieur Planterre's friends, who had been watching the opportunity, pressing forward, hurried him away in another direction. To my infinite satisfaction, I saw him carried off, while I was borne along by the crowd, who shouted and sang in my praise until their voices were hoarse.
I thought it wise to submit to the honours paid me; at the same time I could not tell at what moment the feelings of the fickle mob might change, and perhaps they might carry me to the lanterne instead of the man I had rescued. I made the best of my position, and kept bowing to the mob right and left, expressing my admiration for France and Frenchmen in the most glowing terms I could command.
This seemed to please them mightily; but I was curious to know what they were going to do with me. They appeared highly delighted at having an object on which to bestow their admiration. First they carried me round and round the Place, shouting and cheering, while they told all who came up what I had done. Perhaps they found it quite as amusing as hanging their townsman.
At last some one proposed that they should carry me to the Hotel de Ville. The proposal was received with acclamations by the crowd, and my bearers set off, several of them going before cheering and gesticulating, while, as we passed through the narrow, crooked streets, the people looked out from the windows, waving coloured handkerchiefs and shawls, for by this time the whole town had heard, with perhaps a few exaggerations, of the act I had performed. On arriving at the Town Hall, I saw a number of gentlemen in full dress, with various insignia, whom I suspected to be the civic authorities, standing on the steps, drawn up to welcome me. My bearers halted when a small gentleman, in a powdered wig and cocked hat, who was, I found, the mayor, stepping in front of the rest, made me a long oration, at which the mob cheered and cheered again. I then found, from all eyes being turned towards me, that it was expected I should say something in return. I accordingly expressed, in the best French I could command, my sense of the honour done me, and my satisfaction at having been the means of saving the life of one who, from his many virtues, was esteemed by his fellow-citizens; and I added I felt sure that those who had intended to put him to death were under an erroneous impression, as was shown by the generous way in which they treated me. I now begged to thank my bearers for having carried me so long on their shoulders, and, unwilling though I was to descend from so honourable a position, I requested that they would have the goodness to put me down on my feet that I might see their faces, so that I might be able at any future time to recognise them, which I owned I should at present be unable to do.
After some demur, they at last acceded to my request, letting me down on my feet. When I did see their countenances, it struck me that they were as hideous a set of ruffians as any of those I had before seen.
Concealing my feelings, however, I shook each of them by the hand, calling them my dear brothers, and assuring them that I should never forget the honour done me. After they had shaken themselves and stretched their brawny limbs, they appeared inclined to get hold of me again and carry me off on another round of the Place. Feeling especially unwilling, for the reason I have before given, to undergo another ovation, I stepped back among the civic authorities, and got inside the Town Hall, conducted by a gentleman, who whispered that he was a friend of Monsieur Planterre's, and that he had been sent by him to escort me back to his house.
"Monsieur Planterre is anxious to get out of the town as soon as possible, and advises you to do the same, for we cannot tell at what moment the mob may change their minds, and perhaps take it into their heads to hang you and him together," he said, as, leading me through the Town Hall, he conducted me out by a back door.
"We are going by a somewhat circuitous route to the house of Monsieur Planterre, where he himself is waiting for us," he continued, as we walked on together. "Your horses are in readiness, and he has had one prepared for himself, so that you may start as soon as you arrive."
As we passed through the streets we could hear the shouts of the people in the distance, but what they were about we could not tell. My guide appeared to be in a somewhat agitated state, as if he feared that they would commit some other deed of violence, to recompense themselves for losing the pleasure of hanging Monsieur Planterre.
On arriving before the house I found Larry holding three horses. Presently a serving-man came out and took hold of the rein of one of the animals. On looking at him, to my surprise I recognised Monsieur Planterre himself.
"I think it wise to leave the town in this disguise, lest the mob should suddenly regret having allowed me to escape, and, seeing me go, pursue me," he said.
I immediately mounted, and Monsieur Planterre, pointing out the road I was to take, I moved forward, followed by him and Larry, they appearing in the characters of my two lackeys. They kept close behind me, in order that Monsieur Planterre might tell me when to turn to the right or left. He evidently expected that we should be pursued, but though I looked round occasionally, I could see no one following us.
Upon the road Monsieur Planterre rode up to my side, and gave me a good deal of information, both about my friend's family and that of other families in the neighbourhood.
"I am grateful to you," he continued, "for the service you have rendered me, and I am anxious for your safety. I would advise you, therefore, to make no long stay in France. The whole country is, I can assure you, like a volcano, ready to burst forth at any moment. The people are generally imbued with republican principles, and they have lost all respect for the priests; they complain of the heavy taxes which go to support a profligate court; and are weary of the tyranny under which they have so long groaned."
"But has not the king a powerful army to keep them in order?" I inquired.
"The army cannot be depended on," answered my friend. "It is thoroughly disorganised, and at any moment may side with the people. The only reliable troops are the Swiss, and other foreigners. We are coming upon troublous times, of that I am confident."
Until now I had known nothing of France, and had fancied that Frenchmen were a light-hearted race, thoroughly contented with themselves and their country; indeed, I even now scarcely believed what Monsieur Planterre told me.
In less than a couple of hours we caught sight of an ancient mansion, with a high roof, and towers at the corners, standing up amid the trees.
"There is the Chateau la Touche," said my companion. "I will not present myself in this disguise at the front gate, but when you descend will accompany your servant, who has not discovered who I am, and takes me for one of his fellows."
On arriving at the gate, Monsieur Planterre, having given his horse to Larry, went up the steps and rang the bell, and then came down and held my steed whilst I dismounted. As soon as the door opened he led my horse off.
La Touche, who had been advised of my arrival, hurried out to meet me, and embraced me affectionately according to the French fashion.
"Overjoyed to see you, my dear friend," he exclaimed. "I have been long looking for you, and am delighted that you have been induced to come. I have been preparing various entertainments, as I wish to show you how we Frenchmen enjoy life."
I said everything that was proper in return, when, after he had made many inquiries as to how I had come to France, and the adventures I had met with on my journey, he added—
"Now I must introduce you to madame ma mere and my young sister. They are prepared to receive you as a friend, and are delighted to find that you possess the accomplishment of speaking French."
He forthwith led me into a handsome salon, or drawing-room, in which I saw two ladies seated, engaged in embroidery work. They both rose as we entered. The eldest was a stately and handsome dame, but my eyes were naturally attracted by the younger. It was fortunate, perhaps, that Monsieur Planterre had described her, or I do not know how I should have behaved myself. She was in truth the most lovely little damsel I had ever seen, fair, and of exquisite figure, with blue, laughing eyes. They received me without any form, as if I had been an old friend, and I at once felt myself perfectly at home. Without speaking of my adventures at Vernon, I told them of my landing, and highly amused them with the description of the way in which I had found my follower Larry compelled to act the part of a bear. I said how grateful I felt to the worthy mayor for the assistance he had given me, as also for his introduction to Monsieur Planterre. While I was speaking, La Touche was summoned out of the room by a servant. He in a short time returned, and then, to my surprise, gave his mother and sister a full account of the way I had rescued Monsieur Planterre from the hands of the mob.
Mademoiselle Sophie appeared to be highly interested, and kept looking at me while her brother was speaking, and, although she did not join in the praises her mother lavished upon me for what she called my gallant conduct, evidently regarded me as a hero.
"You have come into our country in what I fear will prove troublous times," observed La Touche, as we were seated at the supper table. "The people are inclined to take the law into their own hands in other places besides Vernon, and are specially ill-disposed towards the noblesse, who, they declare, have been living on the fat of the land, while they have been starving. Our friend Monsieur Planterre, after what has occurred, not considering his life safe in the town, has come out here, but thought it wiser not to appear as a guest, lest it should be reported that I have entertained him. My people suppose him to be a lackey, as he acts the part to admiration; and he will take his departure to-morrow morning, without, I hope, being discovered, so that they will all be ready to declare that Monsieur Planterre has not come to the chateau."
"Yes, there is a sad time coming for France, from what I hear is taking place in Paris," said Madame La Touche. "The people have already got the upper hand, and the king himself is, I fear, in hourly peril of his life."
"Ah! we must not think or talk about such things too much," said La Touche. "My object at present is to make our guest's stay in France pleasant, and not to speak of disagreeable subjects. Sophie will, I am sure, aid me in that object."
Sophie smiled, and said that such an occupation would afford her much pleasure.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
As the supper was at a comparatively early hour, we retired to the drawing-room, where the young lady played and sang, with much spirit, several lively airs, which her brother selected. She then chose one for herself of a more plaintive character, which had, as she intended it should have, a strange effect upon me. I listened in raptures, for her voice was sweet and melodious.
"I am indeed glad that you understand French so well," she said. "When I heard that an Englishman was coming some day, I thought that we should have had to carry on a conversation by signs, and that would have been very stupid."
"I fear that I do not speak it very correctly, but I must try to improve myself," I remarked.
"You do make a few mistakes now and then, but I shall be delighted to instruct you, and to correct your errors, if you will allow me to do so."
That night, although somewhat tired from the exertions I had gone through in the morning, it was some time before I felt inclined to turn in; and when I did at length go to bed, I remained awake far longer than usual, thinking of the beautiful Sophie, her sweet voice still sounding in my ears.
I was awakened next morning by Larry, who accompanied one of the servants to my room.
"I did not see you last night, Mr Terence, and I couldn't tell what had become of your honour," he exclaimed. "Faith, I tried to tell the people of the house that I wanted to find you, but not a word of my best French did they understand."
I told Larry how well I had been treated, and that he need not have any apprehensions about me. The servant had brought a cup of coffee, which I found was the custom of the French to take in the morning, and he told me that breakfast would not be ready for an hour or more. As soon, therefore, as I had dressed I descended to the garden, which was of considerable extent, with lawns, fish-ponds, fountains, statues, and labyrinths. I had not gone far, when I saw a small figure tripping on lightly before me. I was tempted to hasten my steps. She turned—it was Sophie.
"I will show you the garden," she said, "and my favourite spots. You might lose yourself without my guidance, and perhaps you will accept it."
I of course had but one answer to give. We walked on in the fresh morning air. I thought her lovely in the evening, but she appeared still more so now, looking as fresh and bright as the gay flowers which adorned the parterres. I felt that I had entered into a new existence; it was no wonder, for we were both young, and she had lived a secluded life, she told me, since her father's death. We very naturally forgot all about breakfast, and when we arrived at the house Madame La Touche chided her for her thoughtlessness in allowing me to starve.
Such was the commencement of my stay. My friend insisted that I should go out with him to shoot, believing that such was the only amusement I was likely to care for; but the preserves were full of game, and we had to do little more than stand still and shoot the birds as they were put up by the dogs. We returned to dinner, and as La Touche gave me the choice, I preferred a stroll in the garden with him and his sister to a more extended excursion.
The following days were spent in the same delightful manner. Every hour I became more and more attached to Sophie. I could not but feel a desire that she should return my affection. I forgot my poverty, and that until I could obtain my promotion, I should have nothing on which to support a wife, as the Ballinahone property had been entailed on my brother. I ought, I knew, to have assumed an indifference to the young lady, and speedily taken my departure, and I was in consequence much to blame. Still La Touche should not have invited me to the chateau; but in throwing me into the society of so charming a being as his sister, he did no perhaps think of the consequences, or, if he did, fancied that I was possessed of wealth, or at least a competency.
We were living all the time a peaceful secluded life, for we never went beyond the walled grounds of the chateau, and few visitors came to the house. We heard occasionally, however, what was going forward both in Paris and other parts of the country. Matters were growing more and more serious. Risings had occurred in various places, and lives had been lost. An army of fishwives, and other women of the lowest orders, had marched to Versailles, and threatened the King and Marie Antoinette, if food was not given them.
We were one evening seated at supper when a servant rushed into the room, with terror depicted in his countenance.
"Oh, monsieur! oh, madame!" he exclaimed, "I have just received notice that a vast array of people are marching this way, threatening to destroy all the chateaux in the neighbourhood, and the Chateau La Touche in particular. They declare that you are an aristocrat."
"Are you certain that this is true?" exclaimed La Touche, starting from his seat.
"If monsieur will come to the northern tower, he will hear the voices of the people in the distance," replied the servant.
"Do not be alarmed, my mother and sister," said La Touche. "The report may be exaggerated, but it is as well to be prepared. We will close all the lower doors and windows, and set the ruffians at defiance if they come. Will you accompany me, Finnahan, and as we go give me your advice as to the best way of defending the house?"
I would willingly have stopped to try and tranquillise the alarm of Madame La Touche and Sophie, but I could not refuse my friend's request. I set off with him, and we soon reached the tower. We looked out from a narrow window towards the north, but at first could see no one approaching, though on listening attentively we fancied that we could distinguish the murmur of voices far off.
Presently a bright light appeared on the left, rising, it seemed, out of the midst of a forest at some distance from the banks of the Seine. The light rapidly increased in size, and flames began to ascend, while clouds of smoke darkened the sky.
"Ah! that must come from the Chateau l'Estrange!" exclaimed La Touche. "The rabble have attacked the house, and set it on fire. Fortunately, none of the family are at home except the old domestics, and they, poor people, will too probably be sacrificed. The villains would like to treat my chateau in the same way, and will before long make the attempt."
"But we will defend it, and drive them back," I exclaimed. "Have you a sufficient supply of arms and ammunition for its defence? We must barricade all the doors and windows; and, unless they have cannon, they will not succeed in getting in, I trust."
"We have plenty of arms, and I obtained a supply of ammunition a short time since," said La Touche. "I doubt, however, the courage of some of my domestics; they would rather yield to the rabble than risk their lives in the defence of my property."
"Larry and I will try to make up, as far as we can, for their want of bravery," I said.
"Thank you, my friends; you will be a host in yourselves. Now let us see about preparing to give the insurgents a warm reception should they attack the chateau."
On descending from the tower, La Touche entered the supper room singing and laughing.
"There is not much to be afraid of, so you need not be anxious, ma chere mere; or you either, Sophie," he said in a cheerful tone of voice. "We are going to shut the doors and windows in case any of the rabble may try to creep in at them. You can retire to your rooms or stay here, as you think best. You will oblige me, however, by keeping the women quiet, or they may be running about and interfering with our proceedings."
"We will do more than keep them quiet," exclaimed Sophie; "we will make them useful by setting them an example; only tell us what you want us to do."
"The best thing you can do is to close all the shutters and windows looking to the front in the upper storey, and to place chests of drawers and bedding against them, so that if bullets are fired they will do no harm."
"That we will do, my son," said Madame La Touche, rising from her seat; and she hurried off, accompanied by Sophie.
La Touche at once summoned his maitre d'hotel and the other servants.
"My friends," he said, "I have no intention of letting the insurgents destroy my chateau, as they have done those of other persons, and I will trust to you to defend it to the last."
A party of Englishmen would have cheered. They, however, merely said, "Oui! oui! monsieur; we are ready to do what you tell us."
Among the servants came Larry. I told him what we expected would happen, and what he was to do.
"Shure we'll be after driving the 'spalpeens' back again," he answered. "I was little thinking that we should have this sort of fun to amuse us when we came to France."
We lost no more time in talking, but immediately set to work to shut all the doors on the ground floor, and to nail pieces of timber and strong planks against them. The windows were closed with such materials as could be obtained. There were more forthcoming than I expected; and La Touche acknowledged that he had laid in a store some time before.
He then summoned the maitre d'hotel and two other servants, and led the way—accompanied by Larry and me—down a steep flight of stone steps to a vault beneath the house. Opening the door of what was supposed to be a wine cellar, he showed us a stand of twenty muskets, with pistols and pikes, several casks of powder and cases of bullets. Larry, at once fastening a belt round his waist, and tucking a couple of muskets under each arm, hurried off, the servants following his example. La Touche and I each took as many more, and returned to the hall.
His first care was to place his men two and two at each of the parts of the building likely to be attacked.
"These countrymen of mine fight better together than singly," he observed. "And now let us go round and examine our defences, to ascertain that no part is left insecure."
Some time was spent in making these various arrangements. Every now and then La Touche ran in to see his mother and sister, and to assure them that they need not be alarmed.
"I have no fears," said Sophie, on one of these occasions, when I accompanied him. "With the help of this brave Englishman and his follower, I am sure that you will drive back the insurgents."
"Ma foi! I hope so," said La Touche to me, as we left the room. "But they are the same sort of ruffians as those who destroyed the Bastile."
The news of that event had a short time before reached us.
"Now let us return to the watch-tower, and try to make out what the canaille are about."
The mob, as far as we could observe, were not as yet approaching. They were probably dancing and singing round the burning chateau, the flames from which were ascending in all directions, its towers forming four pyramids of fire.
"They are waiting to see the result of their handiwork," said La Touche. "When the roof has fallen in and the towers come to the ground, they will be satisfied, and will probably make their way in this direction. Ah! what are those lights there?" he suddenly exclaimed.
I looked towards the spot he pointed at, when I saw advancing along the road a number of men bearing torches.
"They are coming, as I expected, fully believing that they will destroy this chateau as they have the Chateau l'Estrange," said La Touche. "Now, my friend, it is possible that they may succeed, notwithstanding all our preparations. I will therefore have a carriage prepared, and the horses put to, with two others for riding. I know, should I be unable to go, that you will protect my mother and sister, and endeavour to conduct them to a place of safety, either to the coast or to the house of a friend whom they will name to you."
"You may trust me indeed, although I hope for your sake that there will be no necessity for such a proceeding," I answered, my heart beating strangely at the thought of having Sophie and her mother committed to my charge. I resolved, of course, to protect them to the last, and I hoped that in my character as a foreigner I might be able to do this more effectually than La Touche himself. Madame should pass as my mother, and Sophie for my sister, and I hoped that we might thus pass through the fiercest mob, whose rage, being turned against the aristocrats, would not interfere with an Englishman, whom they would imagine was merely travelling through the country for the sake of seeing it, as many had been doing for some time past. We had very little longer time to wait, when some hundreds of persons appeared coming along the road directly for the chateau. We could see them from the tower, where we had remained. A large number were carrying torches. The entrance gate was locked and barred, and the chateau itself, all lights being concealed, must have appeared shrouded in darkness.
"Let them exhaust their strength in breaking down the gate," said La Touche.
Scarcely a moment after, the mob reached the gate, waving their torches, and shrieking and shouting out—
"Down with the aristocrats! Down with the tyrants! Down with those who pillage us, and live upon the product of our toil?"
"Let them shout themselves hoarse," remarked La Touche. "They will not find it a very easy matter to break down that stout old gate, or to climb over the wall."
On discovering the impediment in their way, their shouts and threats increased in fury. A number of them, rushing against the bar of the gate, endeavoured to force it from its hinges.
Not a word all this time was uttered by any of our garrison. The insurgents, finding that the gate would not yield, shouted for some one in the chateau to open it. No one replied. Again and again they shook it. At last we heard the sound of loud blows, as if it were being struck by a sledge hammer, while several figures appeared on the top of the wall, ladders having been procured to assist them up.
"Why do you come here, my friends?" demanded La Touche abruptly. "The gate is locked as a sign that I wished to be in private."
"It is the residence of an aristocrat, and all such we have resolved to level to the ground," shouted one of the mob.
"I warn you that you will pay dearly if you make the attempt," cried La Touche. "We are well-armed, and are resolved to defend the place."
"We are not to be stopped by threats. On, comrades, on!" exclaimed another voice among those who were clambering over the wall. "If one of our number falls, remember that every one of those inside the house will be destroyed."
"You have been warned,—the consequence will be on your own heads if you attack us," said La Touche.
By this time a considerable number of persons had got into the yard by clambering over the wall, but the stout iron gate had hitherto resisted all attempts to force it open.
"We might kill or wound all the fellows in front of the house," said La Touche to me, "but I am unwilling to shed the blood of my countrymen if it can be avoided; I will give them another chance. You are in our power, friends," he shouted out; "if we fire, not one of you will escape. Go back to where you came from, and your lives will be spared."
Derisive shouts were the only answers given to what La Touche had said. More people were all the time clambering over the wall, while continued blows on the gate showed that the mob had not given up the idea of forcing an entrance. Presently there was a loud crash, the gate was thrown open, and in rushed a number of savage-looking fellows, all armed with some weapon or other, many of them carrying torches, which they waved wildly above their heads, shouting all the time, "Down with the aristocrats! Revenge! revenge for the wrongs they have done us!"
"They are in earnest, of that there can be no doubt," said La Touche. "We must drive them back before they become more daring. It is useless to hold further parley with them;" and he gave orders to our small garrison to open fire.
Loud shrieks and cries rent the air, several people were seen to fall, but this only increased the rage of the rest, who, running up to the front door with axes and other weapons, began hacking away at it, probably expecting quickly to force it open.
More and more people followed, until the whole yard was full of men surging here and there, some firing, others waving their torches, apparently to distract our attention, while the more determined assailed the doors and windows.
"Are there no troops likely to come to our assistance?" I asked, seeing that matters were growing serious.
"No; we must defend ourselves, and I fear that if these ruffians persevere, they will succeed at last," whispered La Touche to me. "We must endeavour to save my mother and sister, for the mob, if they once get in, will sacrifice them as well as the rest of us. I am resolved to stop and defend my house to the last, but I must provide for their safety by committing them to your charge. The carriage is in readiness, and there are two faithful servants to whom I have given orders how to act. Go, I beseech you, at once, and request my mother and Sophie to enter the carriage and set out without a moment's delay. Two saddle-horses are in readiness for you and your servant. You will go as their escort. Tell them I will retreat in time to follow them. Take the road towards Paris, and wait for me. Should any one attempt to interfere with you, say that you are an English officer, and that the ladies are under your charge. I do not apprehend that you will be molested; go, therefore, lose no time."
He wrung my hand as if he would take no denial. I of course, although unwilling to leave him, was ready to carry out his wishes. I hastened to the room where I had left Madame La Touche and Sophie, and explained to them what La Touche wished them to do.
"But will he follow us?" asked Madame La Touche in an agitated tone.
"He has promised to do so, madame," I answered; "but let us not delay, lest the mob should get round to the other side of the house and cut off our retreat."
Madame La Touche hesitated no longer, but allowed me to lead her and her daughter down to the yard at the back of the house, where we found the horses already put to, and I handed the ladies into the carriage. The coachman mounted the box; another servant was holding the two riding horses; and I was preparing to mount, when Larry, sent by La Touche, came springing down the steps and was in his saddle in a moment. The French servant mounted behind the carriage; and the coach drove off down an avenue which led along the banks of a stream running through the pleasure-grounds. I was in hopes that La Touche would have followed at once, for I saw that there was very little probability of his being able successfully to defend the house against the savage mob who had resolved to destroy it. I could hear the wild shrieks and shouts and cries of the assailants, the rattle of musketry, and the loud thundering against the doors and windows; but, anxious as I felt about my friend, my duty was to push on with my charges, and with all possible speed to convey them out of danger. The coachman was equally desirous to preserve his mistress, and lashed on his horses at their utmost speed. Fortunately he knew the road, which was an unusually good one.
We were soon outside the grounds belonging to the chateau. Proceeding along a road which ran parallel with the river, we soon got beyond the sounds of the strife; but on looking round I saw a bright light suddenly appear in the direction of the chateau. It increased in size. Another and another appeared; and I could distinguish the flames bursting out from several windows. Could the mob so soon have broken into the chateau, and set it on fire? I feared the worst, and that my gallant friend and his servants had been overwhelmed, and too probably massacred. I felt thankful, however, that Madame La Touche and Sophie had escaped in time. Had they remained a few minutes longer, they might have been too late. Had I been alone, I should have been unable to restrain myself from galloping back to ascertain what had occurred; but to protect them was now my great object. I kept as close as possible to the carriage, not knowing what might at any moment occur. I was afraid that they might look out of the window and see the flames; but they were too much overcome with grief and terror to do that, and sat back in the carriage, clasped in each other's arms. When the road would allow, I rode up and spoke a few words to try and comfort them, although it was no easy matter to do that.
"When will Henri come?" exclaimed Madame La Touche. "He ought to have overtaken us by this time."
"You forget, madame, we have been travelling at a rapid rate," I observed. "He promised to retreat in time, should he find it necessary to abandon the chateau. He will probably overtake us when we stop for the night. There is no fear that the mob will follow him to any distance."
The coachman said he knew of an inn about six leagues on the Paris road, where madame and Sophie might rest securely, as the mob could not get so far that night. It was where Monsieur La Touche had ordered him to remain. I bade him therefore go on as his master told him, although he proceeded at a slower rate than at first, for fear of knocking up his horses.
I was very thankful when the little inn was reached. It was kept by a buxom dame, who received Madame La Touche and Sophie politely, and offered the best accommodation her house would afford. I handed the ladies from the carriage. Madame entered the house at once, but Sophie lingered for a moment.
"Oh, tell me, Monsieur Finnahan, has Henri come yet? I dread lest he should have done anything rash, and lost his life. It would break mamma's heart if he were to be killed; and she will not rest, I am convinced, until she knows he is safe. I cannot ask you to go back to look for him, but will you send your servant to gain intelligence, and bring it to us?"
"I would go back myself, but my duty is to remain and guard you," I said. "What do you wish?—tell me."
"We shall be perfectly safe here, and I desire for my mother's sake to know what has happened to Henri," she answered.
I thought that Sophie was right, and my own anxiety made me desire to ride back.
I accordingly mounted my horse, leading Larry's. I left my faithful retainer with instructions that in the event of the mob approaching, he was to drive off with the ladies. I galloped on at full speed, anxious without loss of time to reach the chateau. If La Touche had escaped, he would probably require my assistance. I had no expectation of finding he had beaten back the insurgents; indeed, I was not free from the fearful apprehension that he and his people had been surprised by them, and massacred before they could make good their retreat; still, as the insurgents, when I left the chateau, appeared to have no intention of making their way round to the back of the building, I hoped that he would have contrived to escape in time. That they would have murdered him if caught I had not the shadow of a doubt.
I had marked the road as I came along, and had no fear as to finding my way. The moon, too, had risen, which enabled me to do this with less difficulty. As I galloped on, I looked carefully about on either side, for I knew that the clatter of my horses' hoofs would attract the attention of any one coming along the road. But I met no one along the whole length of my ride. At last I could distinguish the tall towers with the flames bursting out from their summits, and I knew that the chateau was doomed to destruction. Suddenly both horses started, and I heard a voice say—
"Who goes there?"
It was La Touche. He was wounded badly, and unable to proceed farther. Had I not gone to look for him, he would most probably have perished.
"The chateau will be burned to the ground," he observed. "But I care not for that, now that I know, thanks to you, Finnahan, that my mother and Sophie have escaped."
Having bound up his wounds, I assisted him to mount the spare horse, and we set out for the inn where I had left Madame La Touche and her daughter.
We met with many adventures and hair-breadth escapes before I ultimately succeeded in escorting them on board the Saucy Bet, and seeing them safely landed in England I shortly afterwards obtained my promotion. And though I have much more to narrate which my readers may like to hear, I was now lieutenant, and my adventures as a midshipman therefore come to a conclusion at this period of my life.