PART THIRD.—IN VENDEE.




BOOK FIRST.

LA VENDEE.




CHAPTER I.

THE FORESTS.

At that time there were seven terrible forests in Brittany. The Véndèan war was a priestly revolt. The forests were an auxiliary to this revolt. The spirits of darkness give one another aid.

The seven Black Forests of Brittany were the forest of Fougères, which bars the way between Dol and Avranches; the forest of Princé, eight leagues in circumference; the forest of Paimpont, full of ravines and brooks, almost inaccessible from the side of Baignon, but easily penetrated from Concornet, a royalist market-town; the forest of Rennes, from which was heard the tocsin of the republican parishes, always numerous near the towns (it was there that Puysaye ruined Focard); the forest of Machecoul, where the wild beast Charette had his den; the forest of la Garnache, which belonged to la Trémoille, Gauvain, and the Rohans: the forest of Broceliande, which belonged to the fairies.

A nobleman in Brittany had the title of "Seigneur of the Seven Forests." It was the Viscount de Fontenay, a Breton prince.

For the Breton prince was entirely distinct from the French prince. The Rohans were Breton princes. Garnier de Saintes, in his report to the Convention, the fifteenth Nivose, year II, thus described the Prince de Talmont: "That Capet of the brigands, Sovereign of the Marne and of Normandy."

The history of the forests of Brittany, from 1792 to 1800, would form a history by itself, and it would mingle like a legend in the great scheme of La Vendée.

History has its truth, so has legend. Legendary truth is of a different nature from historical truth. Legendary truth is invention, the result of which is reality. Still, history and legend have the same end, depicting man eternal in the man of the passing moment.

La Vendée can only be fully explained by supplementing history with legend; history is necessary for the effect as a whole, and legend for the detail.

We may say that La Vendée is worth the trouble. La Vendée is a prodigy.

That war of the Ignorant, so stupid and so splendid, abominable and magnificent, desolated France and made it proud. La Vendée is a scar which is a glory.

At certain times human society has its problems; problems which are resolved into light for the wise, and for the ignorant into obscurity, violence, and barbarity. The philosopher hesitates to bestow blame. He takes account of the trouble that is caused by the problems. The problems do not pass without casting beneath them a shadow like that of clouds.

If you would understand la Vendée, imagine this antagonism: on one side the French Revolution; on the other, the Breton peasant. Opposite these unequalled events, seriously threatening all benefits at once, outburst of angry civilization, outburst of mad progress, boundless and unintelligible improvement, place this savage, serious and strange, this man with a clear eye and long hair, living on milk and chestnuts, limited to his thatched roof, his hedge, and his ditch, distinguishing each neighboring hamlet by the sound of its bell, using water only for drink, wearing a leather jacket ornamented with arabesques in silk, uneducated and wearing embroidered garments, tattooing his clothes as his ancestors the Celts tattooed their faces, respecting a master in his executioner, speaking a dead language, which causes him to dwell in a mental tomb, goading his oxen, whetting his scythe, hoeing his grain, kneading his buckwheat bread, venerating first his plough, then his grandmother, believing in the Blessed Virgin and the White Lady, a devotee before the altar and also before the tall, mysterious stone standing in the midst of the moor, a husbandman in the field, a fisherman on the sea-coast, a poacher in the thicket, loving his kings, his seigneurs, his priests, his lice; thoughtful, often perfectly still for hours together on the great deserted sandy shore, listening gloomily to the sound of the sea.

And ask yourself if this blind being could accept this light.