In the years after the Revolution, the French Republic had many enemies. Abroad, the remaining monarchies watched the new government with cold disapproval; at home, the survivors of the old aristocratic regime intrigued with all the dissident groups at odds with the central government in Paris. In Brittany, peasants and smugglers, who came to be called Chouans, finally joined the aristocrats in guerrilla warfare against the Republic.
To put down the outbreak, Hulot, who commanded the Republican garrison at Mayenne, was on his way from Fougeres with his conscripted Bretons. He was uneasy, for the Chouans were active and would make every effort to rescue their comrades. When the Chouans did attack, he was partly prepared. Although all of the conscripts escaped, Hulot’s vigorous defense got his Republican troops safely back to Mayenne. A short time later, Hulot was ordered to escort the mail coach from Mayenne to Montagne. Passengers in the coach were Marie de Verneuil and her pretty maid Francine, who had become objects of great curiosity when they stopped at the inn in Mayenne. With them was a third traveler, Monsieur Corentin, a small, secretive man whom Hulot suspected of being a secret agent for the Republic. At Alencon, the two women accepted an invitation to breakfast with Madame du Gua and her supposed son, the Citizen du Gua Saint-Cyr. Marche-a-Terre, a Chouan skulking nearby in his rebel uniform of goatskin, observed the party with distrust and sent a message to Madame du Gua, warning her to beware of Marie, whom he suspected of being a Republican spy.
Hulot was also uneasy. He was sure that Madame du Gua’s son was really the Marquis de Montauran, called Gars, the fiery leader of the Chouans. At last, he forced his way into the dining room to question the man. Marie was attracted to the handsome young man and came to his aid by producing a paper, countersigned by the Paris ministry, which notified all local authorities to obey the bearer. Ordered to retire, the old soldier was furious at having to obey a woman. A loyal Republican, however, he released the son and announced his intention to resign his commission.
Since all were bound for Fougeres, the next day Madame du Gua and her son set out in a carriage with Marie and Francine. Marie’s letter had procured them an escort of soldiers to guard them through the dangerous Chouan territory. Once while they were ascending a long hill, Marie and the son walked up behind the coach. Their bearing was almost loverlike, and Madame du Gua seemed strangely jealous for a mother. Marie had little success in learning who the son really was. She in her turn was reticent about her own past.
Under an aristocratic leader, the Chouans ambushed the coach but were driven off by the Republican guard. The Chouan chief took the opportunity to whisper a warning against Marie to young du Gua.
After the excitement, Madame du Gua announced that they were close to the family estate at Vivetiere, and she and her son invited their companions to spend the night at the chateau. When the son promised safety for Marie and Francine and supper for the guards, the whole party went to the castle. Once inside, Marie saw that the hall was filled with insurgents who had come to lay plans for continuing the war against the Republic. Marie then realized that Madame du Gua’s supposed son was in reality the Marquis de Montauran, the famous Gars. She also knew that she had fallen in love with the handsome rebel.
Despite Montauran’s promise of safe conduct, the jealous Madame du Gua ordered an attack on the Republican guard. Under the fierce Marche-a-Terre, the Chouans massacred the guards and took Marie and Francine prisoner. Marche-a-Terre, however, saved Francine, whom he recognized as his former sweetheart. He was also able to rescue Marie, after Madame du Gua had turned the girl over to the smugglers, and the two women were returned to Fougeres in the coach.
In Fougeres, Corentin rented a house for Marie and...
(The entire section is 1,205 words.)