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CHAPTER VII

THE WIND


He had broken his futile lance with the windmill - the image
suggested by M. de Kercadiou persisted in his mind - and it was, he
perceived, by sheer good fortune that he had escaped without hurt.
There remained the wind itself - the whirlwind. And the events in
Rennes, reflex of the graver events in Nantes, had set that wind
blowing in his favour.

He set out briskly to retrace his steps towards the Place Royale,
where the gathering of the populace was greatest, where, as he
judged, lay the heart and brain of this commotion that was exciting
the city.

But the commotion that he had left there was as nothing to the
commotion which he found on his return. Then there had been a
comparative hush to listen to the voice of a speaker who denounced
the First and Second Estates from the pedestal of the statue of
Louis XV. Now the air was vibrant with the voice of the multitude
itself, raised in anger. Here and there men were fighting with
canes and fists; everywhere a fierce excitement raged, and the
gendarmes sent thither by the King's Lieutenant to restore and
maintain order were so much helpless flotsam in that tempestuous
human ocean.

There were cries of "To the Palais! To the Palais! Down with the
assassins! Down with the nobles! To the Palais!"

An artisan who stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the press
enlightened Andre-Louis on the score of the increased excitement.

"They've shot him dead. His body is lying there where it fell at
the foot of the statue. And there was another student killed not
an hour ago over there by the cathedral works. Pardi! If they
can't prevail in one way they'll prevail in another." The man was
fiercely emphatic. "They'll stop at nothing. If they can't overawe
us, by God, they'll assassinate us. They are determined to conduct
these States of Brittany in their own way. No interests but their
own shall be considered."

Andre-Louis left him still talking, and clove himself a way through
that human press.

At the statue's base he came upon a little cluster of students about
the body of the murdered lad, all stricken with fear and helplessness.

"You here, Moreau!" said a voice.

He looked round to find himself confronted by a slight, swarthy man
of little more than thirty, firm of mouth and impertinent of nose,
who considered him with disapproval. It was Le Chapelier, a lawyer
of Rennes, a prominent member of the Literary Chamber of that city,
a forceful man, fertile in revolutionary ideas and of an exceptional
gift of eloquence.

"Ah, it is you, Chapelier! Why don't you speak to them? Why don't
you tell them what to do? Up with you, man!" And he pointed to
the plinth.

Le Chapelier's dark, restless eyes searched the other's impassive
face for some trace of the irony he suspected. They were as wide
asunder as the poles, these two, in their political views; and
mistrusted as Andre-Louis was by all his colleagues of the Literary
Chamber of Rennes, he was by none mistrusted so thoroughly as by
this vigorous republican. Indeed, had Le Chapelier been able to
prevail against the influence of the seminarist Vilmorin,
Andre-Louis would long since have found himself excluded from that
assembly of the intellectual youth of Rennes, which he exasperated
by his eternal mockery of their ideals.

So now Le Chapelier suspected mockery in that invitation, suspected
it even when he failed to find traces of it on Andre-Louis' face,
for he had learnt by experience that it was a face not often to be
trusted for an indication of the real thoughts that moved behind it.

"Your notions and mine on that score can hardly coincide," said he.

"Can there be two opinions?" quoth Andre-Louis.

"There are usually two opinions whenever you and I are together,
Moreau - more than ever now that you are the appointed delegate of
a nobleman. You see what your friends have done. No doubt you
approve their methods." He was coldly hostile.

Andre-Louis looked at him without surprise. So invariably opposed
to each other in academic debates, how should Le Chapelier suspect
his present intentions?

"If you won't tell them what is to be done, I will," said he.

"Nom de Dieu! If you want to invite a bullet from the other side,
I shall not hinder you. It may help to square the account."

Scarcely were the words out than he repented them; for as if in
answer to that challenge Andre-Louis sprang up on to the plinth.
Alarmed now, for he could only suppose it to be Andre-Louis'
intention to speak on behalf of Privilege, of which he was a
publicly appointed representative, Le Chapelier clutched him by the
leg to pull him down again.

"Ah, that, no!" he was shouting. "Come down, you fool. Do you
think we will let you ruin everything by your clowning? Come down!"

Andre-Louis, maintaining his position by clutching one of the legs
of the bronze horse, flung his voice like a bugle-note over the
heads of that seething mob.

"Citizens of Rennes, the motherland is in danger!"

The effect was electric. A stir ran, like a ripple over water,
across that froth of upturned human faces, and completest silence
followed. In that great silence they looked at this slim young man,
hatless, long wisps of his black hair fluttering in the breeze, his
neckcloth in disorder, his face white, his eyes on fire.

Andre-Louis felt a sudden surge of exaltation as he realized by
instinct that at one grip he had seized that crowd, and that he held
it fast in the spell of his cry and his audacity.

Even Le Chapelier, though still clinging to his ankle, had ceased
to tug. The reformer, though unshaken in his assumption of
Andre-Louis' intentions, was for a moment bewildered by the first
note of his appeal.

And then, slowly, impressively, in a voice that travelled clear to
the ends of the square, the young lawyer of Gavrillac began to speak.

"Shuddering in horror of the vile deed here perpetrated, my voice
demands to be heard by you. You have seen murder done under your
eyes - the murder of one who nobly, without any thought of self,
gave voice to the wrongs by which we are all oppressed. Fearing
that voice, shunning the truth as foul things shun the light, our
oppressors sent their agents to silence him in death."

Le Chapelier released at last his hold of Andre-Louis' ankle,
staring up at him the while in sheer amazement. It seemed that the
fellow was in earnest; serious for once; and for once on the right
side. What had come to him?

"Of assassins what shall you look for but assassination? I have a
tale to tell which will show that this is no new thing that you
have witnessed here to-day; it will reveal to you the forces with
which you have to deal. Yesterday... "

There was an interruption. A voice in the crowd, some twenty paces,
perhaps, was raised to shout:

"Yet another of them!"

Immediately after the voice came a pistol-shot, and a bullet
flattened itself against the bronze figure just behind Andre-Louis.

Instantly there was turmoil in the crowd, most intense about the
spot whence the shot had been fired. The assailant was one of a
considerable group of the opposition, a group that found itself at
once beset on every side, and hard put to it to defend him.

>From the foot of the plinth rang the voice of the students making
chorus to Le Chapelier, who was bidding Andre-Louis to seek shelter.

"Come down! Come down at once! They'll murder you as they murdered
La Riviere."

"Let them!" He flung wide his arms in a gesture supremely theatrical,
and laughed. "I stand here at their mercy. Let them, if they will,
add mine to the blood that will presently rise up to choke them.
Let them assassinate me. It is a trade they understand. But until
they do so, they shall not prevent me from speaking to you, from
telling you what is to be looked for in them." And again he laughed,
not merely in exaltation as they supposed who watched him from below,
but also in amusement. And his amusement had two sources. One was
to discover how glibly he uttered the phrases proper to whip up
the emotions of a crowd: the other was in the remembrance of how
the crafty Cardinal de Retz, for the purpose of inflaming popular
sympathy on his behalf, had been in the habit of hiring fellows
to fire upon his carriage. He was in just such case as that
arch-politician. True, he had not hired the fellow to fire that
pistol-shot; but he was none the less obliged to him, and ready to
derive the fullest, advantage from the act.

The group that sought to protect that man was battling on, seeking
to hew a way out of that angry, heaving press.

"Let them go!" Andre-Louis called down... "What matters one assassin
more or less? Let them go, and listen to me, my countrymen!"

And presently, when some measure of order was restored, he began
his tale. In simple language now, yet with a vehemence and
directness that drove home every point, he tore their hearts with
the story of yesterday's happenings at Gavrillac. He drew tears
from them with the pathos of his picture of the bereaved widow
Mabey and her three starving, destitute children - "orphaned to
avenge the death of a pheasant" - and the bereaved mother of that
M. de Vilmorin, a student of Rennes, known here to many of them,
who had met his death in a noble endeavour to champion the cause of
an esurient member of their afflicted order.

"The Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr said of him that he had too dangerous
a gift of eloquence. It was to silence his brave voice that he
killed him. But he has failed of his object. For I, poor Philippe
de Vilmorin's friend, have assumed the mantle of his apostleship,
and I speak to you with his voice to-day."

It was a statement that helped Le Chapelier at last to understand,
at least in part, this bewildering change in Andre-Louis, which
rendered him faithless to the side that employed him.

"I am not here," continued Andre-Louis, "merely to demand at your
hands vengeance upon Philippe de Vilmorin's murderers. I am here
to tell you the things he would to-day have told you had he lived."

So far at least he was frank. But he did not add that they were
things he did not himself believe, things that he accounted the
cant by which an ambitious bourgeoisie - speaking through the mouths
of the lawyers, who were its articulate part - sought to overthrow
to its own advantage the present state of things. He left his
audience in the natural belief that the views he expressed were the
views he held.

And now in a terrible voice, with an eloquence that amazed himself,
he denounced the inertia of the royal justice where the great are
the offenders. It was with bitter sarcasm that he spoke of their
King's Lieutenant, M. de Lesdiguieres.

"Do you wonder," he asked them, "that M. de Lesdiguieres should
administer the law so that it shall ever be favourable to our great
nobles? Would it be just, would it be reasonable that he should
otherwise administer it?" He paused dramatically to let his sarcasm
sink in. It had the effect of reawakening Le Chapelier's doubts,
and checking his dawning conviction in Andre-Louis' sincerity.
Whither was he going now?

He was not left long in doubt. Proceeding, Andre-Louis spoke as he
conceived that Philippe de Vilmorin would have spoken. He had so
often argued with him, so often attended the discussions of the
Literary Chamber, that he had all the rant of the reformers - that
was yet true in substance - at his fingers' ends.

"Consider, after all, the composition of this France of ours. A
million of its inhabitants are members of the privileged classes.
They compose France. They are France. For surely you cannot
suppose the remainder to be anything that matters. It cannot be
pretended that twenty-four million souls are of any account, that
they can be representative of this great nation, or that they can
exist for any purpose but that of servitude to the million elect."

Bitter laughter shook them now, as he desired it should. "Seeing
their privileges in danger of invasion by these twenty-four
millions - mostly canailles; possibly created by God, it is true,
but clearly so created to be the slaves of Privilege - does it
surprise you that the dispensing of royal justice should be placed
in the stout hands of these Lesdiguieres, men without brains to
think or hearts to be touched? Consider what it is that must be
defended against the assault of us others - canaille. Consider a
few of these feudal rights that are in danger of being swept away
should the Privileged yield even to the commands of their sovereign;
and admit the Third Estate to an equal vote with themselves.

"What would become of the right of terrage on the land, of parciere
on the fruit-trees, of carpot on the vines? What of the corvees
by which they command forced labour, of the ban de vendage, which
gives them the first vintage, the banvin which enables them to
control to their own advantage the sale of wine? What of their
right of grinding the last liard of taxation out of the people to
maintain their own opulent estate; the cens, the lods-et-ventes,
which absorb a fifth of the value of the land, the blairee, which
must be paid before herds can feed on communal lands, the pulverage
to indemnify them for the dust raised on their roads by the herds
that go to market, the sextelage on everything offered for sale in
the public markets, the etalonnage, and all the rest? What of their
rights over men and animals for field labour, of ferries over rivers,
and of bridges over streams, of sinking wells, of warren, of dovecot,
and of fire, which last yields them a tax on every peasant hearth?
What of their exclusive rights of fishing and of hunting, the
violation of which is ranked as almost a capital offence?

"And what of other rights, unspeakable, abominable, over the lives
and bodies of their people, rights which, if rarely exercised, have
never been rescinded. To this day if a noble returning from the
hunt were to slay two of his serfs to bathe and refresh his feet in
their blood, he could still claim in his sufficient defence that it
was his absolute feudal right to do so.

"Rough-shod, these million Privileged ride over the souls and bodies
of twenty-four million contemptible canaille existing but for their
own pleasure. Woe betide him who so much as raises his voice in
protest in the name of humanity against an excess of these already
excessive abuses. I have told you of one remorselessly slain in
cold blood for doing no more than that. Your own eyes have witnessed
the assassination of another here upon this plinth, of yet another
over there by the cathedral works, and the attempt upon my own life.

"Between them and the justice due to them in such cases stand these
Lesdiguieres, these King's Lieutenants; not instruments of justice,
but walls erected for the shelter of Privilege and Abuse whenever it
exceeds its grotesquely excessive rights.

"Do you wonder that they will not yield an inch; that they will
resist the election of a Third Estate with the voting power to
sweep all these privileges away, to compel the Privileged to submit
themselves to a just equality in the eyes of the law with the
meanest of the canaille they trample underfoot, to provide that the
moneys necessary to save this state from the bankruptcy into which
they have all but plunged it shall be raised by taxation to be borne
by themselves in the same proportion as by others?

"Sooner than yield to so much they prefer to resist even the royal
command."

A phrase occurred to him used yesterday by Vilmorin, a phrase to
which he had refused to attach importance when uttered then. He
used it now. "In doing this they are striking at the very
foundations of the throne. These fools do not perceive that if
that throne falls over, it is they who stand nearest to it who will
be crushed."

A terrific roar acclaimed that statement. Tense and quivering with
the excitement that was flowing through him, and from him out into
that great audience, he stood a moment smiling ironically. Then he
waved them into silence,, and saw by their ready obedience how
completely he possessed them. For in the voice with which he spoke
each now recognized the voice of himself, giving at last expression
to the thoughts that for months and years had been inarticulately
stirring in each simple mind.

Presently he resumed, speaking more quietly, that ironic smile about
the corner of his mouth growing more marked:

"In taking my leave of M. de Lesdiguieres I gave him warning out of
a page of natural history. I told him that when the wolves, roaming
singly through the jungle, were weary of being hunted by the tiger,
they banded themselves into packs, and went a-hunting the tiger in
their turn. M. de Lesdiguieres contemptuously answered that he did
not understand me. But your wits are better than his. You
understand me, I think? Don't you?"

Again a great roar, mingled now with some approving laughter, was
his answer. He had wrought them up to a pitch of dangerous passion,
and they were ripe for any violence to which he urged them. If he
had failed with the windmill, at least he was now master of the wind.

"To the Palais!" they shouted, waving their hands, brandishing canes,
and - here and there - even a sword. "To the Palais! Down with M.
de Lesdiguieres! Death to the King's Lieutenant!"

He was master of the wind, indeed. His dangerous gift of oratory
- a gift nowhere more powerful than in France, since nowhere else
are men's emotions so quick to respond to the appeal of eloquence
- had given him this mastery. At his bidding now the gale would
sweep away the windmill against which he had flung himself in vain.
But that, as he straightforwardly revealed it, was no part of his
intent.

"Ah, wait!" he bade them. "Is this miserable instrument of a
corrupt system worth the attention of your noble indignation?"

He hoped his words would be reported to M. de Lesdiguieres. He
thought it would be good for the soul of M. de Lesdiguieres to hear
the undiluted truth about himself for once.

"It is the system itself you must attack and overthrow; not a mere
instrument - a miserable painted lath such as this. And precipitancy
will spoil everything. Above all, my children, no violence!"

My children! Could his godfather have heard him!

"You have seen often already the result of premature violence
elsewhere in Brittany, and you have heard of it elsewhere in France.
Violence on your part will call for violence on theirs. They will
welcome the chance to assert their mastery by a firmer grip than
heretofore. The military will be sent for. You will be faced by
the bayonets of mercenaries. Do not provoke that, I implore you.
Do not put it into their power, do not afford them the pretext they
would welcome to crush you down into the mud of your own blood."

Out of the silence into which they had fallen anew broke now the
cry of

"What else, then? What else?"

"I will tell you," he answered them. "The wealth and strength of
Brittany lies in Nantes - a bourgeois city, one of the most
prosperous in this realm, rendered so by the energy of the
bourgeoisie and the toil of the people. It was in Nantes that
this movement had its beginning, and as a result of it the King
issued his order dissolving the States as now constituted - an
order which those who base their power on Privilege and Abuse do
not hesitate to thwart. Let Nantes be informed of the precise
situation, and let nothing be done here until Nantes shall have
given us the lead. She has the power - which we in Rennes have
not - to make her will prevail, as we have seen already. Let her
exert that power once more, and until she does so do you keep the
peace in Rennes. Thus shall you triumph. Thus shall the outrages
that are being perpetrated under your eyes be fully and finally
avenged."

As abruptly as he had leapt upon the plinth did he now leap down
from it. He had finished. He had said all - perhaps more than
all - that could have been said by the dead friend with whose voice
he spoke. But it was not their will that he should thus extinguish
himself. The thunder of their acclamations rose deafeningly upon
the air. He had played upon their emotions - each in turn - as a
skilful harpist plays upon the strings of his instrument. And they
were vibrant with the passions he had aroused, and the high note of
hope on which he had brought his symphony to a close.

A dozen students caught him as he leapt down, and swung him to their
shoulders, where again he came within view of all the acclaiming
crowd.

The delicate Le Chapelier pressed alongside of him with flushed face
and shining eyes.

"My lad," he said to him, "you have kindled a fire to-day that will
sweep the face of France in a blaze of liberty." And then to the
students he issued a sharp command. "To the Literary Chamber -at
once. We must concert measures upon the instant, a delegate must
be dispatched to Nantes forthwith, to convey to our friends there
the message of the people of Rennes."

The crowd fell back, opening a lane through which the students bore
the hero of the hour. Waving his hands to them, he called upon
them to disperse to their homes, and await there in patience what
must follow very soon.

"You have endured for centuries with a fortitude that is a pattern
to the world," he flattered them. "Endure a little longer yet. The
end, my friends, is well in sight at last."

They carried him out of the square and up the Rue Royale to an old
house, one of the few old houses surviving in that city that had
risen from its ashes, where in an upper chamber lighted by
diamond-shaped panes of yellow glass the Literary Chamber usually
held its meetings. Thither in his wake the members of that chamber
came hurrying, summoned by the messages that Le Chapelier had issued
during their progress.

Behind closed doors a flushed and excited group of some fifty men,
the majority of whom were young, ardent, and afire with the illusion
of liberty, hailed Andre-Louis as the strayed sheep who had returned
to the fold, and smothered him in congratulations and thanks.

Then they settled down to deliberate upon immediate measures, whilst
the doors below were kept by a guard of honour that had improvised
itself from the masses. And very necessary was this. For no sooner
had the Chamber assembled than the house was assailed by the
gendarmerie of M. de Lesdiguieres, dispatched in haste to arrest the
firebrand who was inciting the people of Rennes to sedition. The
force consisted of fifty men. Five hundred would have been too few.
The mob broke their carbines, broke some of their heads, and would
indeed have torn them into pieces had they not beaten a timely and
well-advised retreat before a form of horseplay to which they were
not at all accustomed.

And whilst that was taking place in the street below, in the room
abovestairs the eloquent Le Chapelier was addressing his colleagues
of the Literary Chamber. Here, with no bullets to fear, and no
one to report his words to the authorities, Le Chapelier could
permit his oratory a full, unintimidated flow. And that considerable
oratory was as direct and brutal as the man himself was delicate and
elegant.

He praised the vigour and the greatness of the speech they had heard
from their colleague Moreau. Above all he praised its wisdom.
Moreau's words had come as a surprise to them. Hitherto they had
never known him as other than a bitter critic of their projects of
reform and regeneration; and quite lately they had heard, not without
misgivings, of his appointment as delegate for a nobleman in the
States of Brittany. But they held the explanation of his conversion.
The murder of their dear colleague Vilmorin had produced this change.
In that brutal deed Moreau had beheld at last in true proportions
the workings of that evil spirit which they were vowed to exorcise
from France. And to-day he had proven himself the stoutest apostle
among them of the new faith. He had pointed out to them the only
sane and useful course. The illustration he had borrowed from
natural history was most apt. Above all, let them pack like the
wolves, and to ensure this uniformity of action in the people of
all Brittany, let a delegate at once be sent to Nantes, which had
already proved itself the real seat of Brittany's power. It but
remained to appoint that delegate, and Le Chapelier invited them
to elect him.

Andre-Louis, on a bench near the window, a prey now to some measure
of reaction, listened in bewilderment to that flood of eloquence.

As the applause died down, he heard a voice exclaiming:

"I propose to you that we appoint our leader here, Le Chapelier, to
be that delegate."

Le Chapelier reared his elegantly dressed head, which had been bowed
in thought, and it was seen that his countenance was pale. Nervously
he fingered a gold spy-glass.

"My friends," he said, slowly, "I am deeply sensible of the honour
that you do me. But in accepting it I should be usurping an honour
that rightly belongs elsewhere. Who could represent us better, who
more deserving to be our representative, to speak to our friends of
Nantes with the voice of Rennes, than the champion who once already
to-day has so incomparably given utterance to the voice of this
great city? Confer this honour of being your spokesman where it
belongs - upon Andre-Louis Moreau."

Rising in response to the storm of applause that greeted the
proposal, Andre-Louis bowed and forthwith yielded. "Be it so," he
said, simply. "It is perhaps fitting that I should carry out what
I have begun, though I too am of the opinion that Le Chapelier would
have been a worthier representative. I will set out to-night."

"You will set out at once, my lad," Le Chapelier informed him, and
now revealed what an uncharitable mind might account the true source
of his generosity. "It is not safe after what has happened for you
to linger an hour in Rennes. And you must go secretly. Let none
of you allow it to be known that he has gone. I would not have you
come to harm over this, Andre-Louis. But you must see the risks
you run, and if you are to be spared to help in this work of
salvation of our afflicted motherland, you must use caution, move
secretly, veil your identity even. Or else M. de Lesdiguieres will
have you laid by the heels, and it will be good-night for you."





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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