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Chapter Twenty Two.
I fail to send a letter to my wife—We sail with transports and emigrants for Quiberon—Early success of the expedition—Action between the Royalists and Republicans—I accompany a midshipman to Fort Penthièvre with an important message—I witness some strange scenes—A rough night—Surprised by the Republicans—Attack and capture of the fort—We escape—Conduct of the Royalists—Steadiness of the British marines—Advance of the army under General Hoche—The fleet rescue the party—Return of the expedition.

The Galatea, we found, formed one of a squadron under the command of Commodore Sir John Warren. It consisted of the Robust, Thunderer, and Standard, seventy-fours; the frigates Pomone, on board which the commodore’s flag was flying, the Anson, Artois, Arethusa, Concorde, and our frigate the Galatea, convoying fifty sail of transports with about two thousand five hundred French Royalists. The expedition was bound for Quiberon, the inhabitants of which district had remained faithful to their king, and it was hoped that from thence the Republicans could be attacked, and a large part of the country gained over to the royal cause.

The Galatea was a smart frigate, and now that she was well manned was likely to make a name for herself. On being sent below to stow away my bag, I managed to sign my name in pencil to my letter, by placing it on a gun, and to add a few lines describing what had happened, and then I hurried on deck, but the boatswain’s pipe was already shrilly sounding, and his voice shouting, “All hands up anchor!”

The commodore’s frigate was letting fall her topsails, and the other ships were following her example. The capstan went merrily round, the anchor was away, the sails were sheeted home, and we stood out of Plymouth Sound, steering for the southward.

My poor wife would have to wait some time now before she could hear from me, or know indeed where I was. There was nobody on board the Mars to whom I could have entrusted the duty of writing to her. I had to bear it, therefore, as I had to bear many another trial. Hope still supported me. As far as we could learn, we were not likely to be long away. Lord Bridport had driven the French fleet into harbour and was watching them, although we, of course, might on our return fall in with an enemy and have a fight.

The weather was fine and the wind fair, but we had plenty to do in keeping the transports together. There were many of them very slow sailers, merchant vessels hired for the purpose, some of them brigs of a hundred and fifty to two hundred tons, which must have afforded very miserable accommodation to the unfortunate emigrants. The troops were under the command of a royalist officer, the Comte de Puisaye, who had as his lieutenants the Comtes d’Hervilly and de Sombreuil.

On the 25th of June we entered the capacious bay of Quiberon, which affords one of the most secure anchorages on the French coast. On one side is the Peninsula of Quiberon, which extends out some way from the mainland, and seaward are two small, well-cultivated islands, so that it is completely protected from westerly and south-westerly gales. The next day was spent in preparations for landing, and to allow the laggards to come up; and on the 27th, at daybreak, the troops, conveyed in a large flotilla of boats, escorted by six of the squadron, pulled for the village of Carmac, where they landed. A small body of about two hundred Republicans attempted to oppose them, but were quickly driven back, leaving several dead on the field, while the Royalists did not lose a man.

This slight success encouraged the royalist inhabitants, who came down to the number of sixteen thousand, eager to receive the arms and ammunition which we landed from the ships for their use.

The troops were at once cantoned among the inhabitants, who gladly supplied them with everything they required. The French officers and soldiers we put on shore were in high spirits, laughing and joking, and seemed confident of success, and the people who came down to help to unload the boats were equally merry, declaring that they had only to attack the Republicans to compel them to lay down their arms.

Some days passed by, daring which the Royalists on shore were drilling and preparing for action. At length an expedition was planned to attack the Peninsula of Quiberon. Two thousand Royalists, and five hundred emigrants, supported by three hundred British marines, were disembarked. They at once marched towards the Port of Penthièvre, situated on a commanding eminence on the northern extremity of the peninsula, which was invested at the same time on the other side by the Comte d’Hervilly.

Without much fighting, its garrison of six hundred men soon surrendered. We immediately set to work to land stores and provisions for the supply of the royalist troops.

A day or two after this, the Comte led a body of five thousand men, including two hundred British marines, against the right flank of the army of General Hoche, which was strongly posted on the heights of Saint Barbe. At the same time, for their support, five launches, each armed with a twenty-four pounder carronade, manned from the ships of war, were sent in and stationed close to the beach. I was in one of them, and could see what was going forward.

We watched the small body of red-coats and the motley dressed Royalists marching on to the attack. At first they advanced with considerable firmness, but being met by a withering fire from the heights, and being ill-disciplined, they began to beat a hasty retreat. The marines were compelled, of course, to retire too, but they did so with their faces to the foe, defending the fugitives as well as they could.

On this, Captain Keats, who commanded the boats, ordered us to open fire, and we began to blaze away at the Republicans in a fashion which considerably retarded them in their pursuit of the retreating force. So well-directed were our shot on their flanks, that beyond a certain line they were unable to advance.

Both the marines and Royalists got back to the beach, though not without considerable loss. Among the badly wounded was their brave leader, who was conveyed on board our frigate, and placed under the care of our surgeon. Though he suffered much from his wound, his thoughts were still with his friends ashore.

It was, I think, about two days afterwards, being anxious to communicate with his friend the Comte de Sombreuil, at Fort Penthièvre, which was under the command of the Comte de Puisaye, he requested that a messenger might be sent on shore with a letter. Captain Keats accordingly ordered Mr Harvey, one of the senior midshipmen, to take the letter, and allowed him to select a man to accompany him. He chose me, I having served with him already in two ships, and being well-known to him.

We at once, shoving off in the second gig under charge of another midshipman, pulled for the beach nearest the fort, towards which, as soon as we landed, we made our way. We remarked six transports, laden, as we were told, with provisions and stores of all sorts, come to an anchor as close to the fort as they could bring up.

As we stepped on shore, Mr Harvey directed the gig to return without delay to the frigate. “I don’t like the look of the weather,” he observed, “and depend upon it, before nightfall, it will come on to blow hard.”

We were to remain at the fort until the following morning, when the boat was to come in again and take us off.

Mr Harvey delivered his despatch to the young Comte, who received him very graciously, and gave him the best accommodation he could for the night, while I, that I might be ready to attend to his wants, was allowed to sleep on a sofa in a little ante-room outside of the one he occupied.

Mr Harvey told me that the Count was greatly out of spirits in consequence of the numerous desertions which had taken place from the fort. Various causes were at work. Some of the garrison were Republicans at heart, and others, hopeless of the success of the Royalists, were afraid of the consequences should they remain. One or two plots had been discovered, but the conspirators had been seized, and it was hoped that those who had been won over would be deterred from carrying out their plans.

Notwithstanding these forebodings of evil, the officers met, as I suppose was their custom, at an early supper. I looked in with some of the attendants to see what was going forward. The table was covered with all sorts of good things, such as French cooks know well how to prepare. Wine flowed freely, and conversation seemed to be carried on with great animation. Speeches were made, and compliments paid to Mr Harvey, who spoke very good French, for which reason he had been selected to convey the letter to the Count. The major commanding the marines, a captain, and two lieutenants, were also present, but as none of them spoke French, Mr Harvey had to reply for the whole party.

After supper the marine officers went to their quarters, which happened to be on the side of the fort nearest the sea, in rooms prepared for them.

I remember we had to run across an open space, and were nearly wetted through by the tremendous rain which poured down upon us. It was blowing very hard too, the wind howled and shrieked among the buildings of the fort, while the windows and doors rattled till I thought that they would be forced in.

“I was afraid, Wetherholm, that we were going to have a dirty night of it,” observed Mr Harvey. “I hope the gig got back safely, but I doubt very much whether she will be able to return for us to-morrow if this weather continues. However, it may only be a summer gale, though from the appearance of things it might be mid-winter.”

I looked out; the sky seemed as black as ink, and the night was so dark that had it not been for the light in the window above the door we had to make for, we could not have found our way.

Mr Harvey, of course, wore his sword, and, as was customary for the men sent on shore, I had my cutlass slung to my side and a brace of pistols; for, as we were before the enemy, we might at any moment be called upon to fight.

I having hung up Mr Harvey’s coat to dry, and his sword against the wall, went to the ante-room, and taking off my wet jacket lay down on the sofa, all standing. At sea, I should not have been two minutes in my hammock before I had fallen asleep, but the howling and shrieking wind sounded very different on shore, and seemed to make its way through every chink and crevice, producing all sorts of strange sounds, a mingling of moanings, shriekings, whistlings, and howlings. Frequently the building itself would shake, until I fancied that it was about to come down upon our heads. Notwithstanding this, I was just dozing off, when I was aroused by still stranger sounds. I listened; I felt sure they could not be caused by the wind. They were human voices. I could distinguish shrieks and shouts and cries. Almost at the same instant there came the sharp report of pistols.

I sprang into Mr Harvey’s room to awaken him. Fortunately he had a light burning on the table.

“There’s something fearful happening, sir,” I said, as he started up, looking very much astonished. I got down his coat and sword, which I helped him to put on.

“The treachery the Count spoke of is at work, I fear, but I hope the conspirators will quickly be put down. We must go to the help of our friends if we can manage to find them,” he said, while he was quickly slipping into his clothes.

We hurried down stairs; the rest of the people in the house were rushing out, but, as far as I could discover, they were hurrying off, away from the direction of the firing and shouts.

Presently I could hear the cry of “Vive la République,” then came a sharp rattle of musketry, some of the bullets pinging against the walls above our heads.

“Come on, Wetherholm, I think I can find out where the Count is quartered; we may be in time to help him.”

As we were about to leave the house, the cry of “Vive la République” again echoed from all parts of the fort in front of us, the shouting and shrieking continuing, mingled with cries and groans and fierce exclamations, with the constant report of pistols. Still Mr Harvey was pushing on, when through the darkness we could distinguish a number of persons flying towards the rear of the fort.

At length we made out others following them, the flash from their pistols showing that they had swords in their hands. They fortunately turned away from where we were standing.

“There can be no doubt that the fort has been surprised, and that it will go hard with the Count and his soldiers,” said Mr Harvey. “I should like to have assisted him in defending his post, but perhaps the best thing I can do is to bring up the marines to his support. I think we may find their quarters, though I am not very certain about the direction.”

I agreed with Mr Harvey, for I saw that it would be madness to rush among a number of people fighting, when we could not distinguish between friends and foes.

We accordingly made our way across the fort to where we believed we should find the major of marines. Mr Harvey thought we ought to keep more to the left, but I felt certain that if we turned to the right we should reach the building.

“Who goes there?” I heard a voice shout out.

It was that of the sentry stationed in front of the building used for the marine barracks, and finding who we were, he told us that the men were mustering in the court-yard. Hurrying forward, we there found the major ready to lead them out.

On Mr Harvey telling him the state of things in front, he directed us to proceed to the quarters of the Comte de Puisaye, to say that he would endeavour to drive back the Republicans and to hold the fort until the Count should come up with all the troops he could collect.

Mr Harvey and I accordingly hastened forward on the errand. As we went on, we heard several of the fugitives passing us. One, from the clatter of his scabbard, was evidently an officer. Mr Harvey stopped him, and told him that the English marines were ready to hold their ground, and that we were going to the General’s quarters, begging him, if he knew the way, to conduct us.

This information seemed somewhat to restore his confidence; but he expressed his fears that unless assistance could be brought immediately to the Comte de Sombreuil, he would be overwhelmed. He was, he believed, defending the building in which he was quartered with several of the leading officers, but that many who were in their houses, as well as all those on guard, had been shot by traitorous soldiers who had revolted. He himself had had a narrow escape from a party of assassins, among whom he distinguished the voices of some of his own men; but he had cut down several of them, and then, favoured by the darkness, had effected his escape. We owed our safety to the brave defence made at this time by the Comte de Sombreuil, who was thus preventing the Republicans from advancing farther across the fort.

Conducted by the officer, whose name I forget, we at length reached the quarters of the Comte de Puisaye. He was issuing orders to the officers who were coming and going, to collect the troops under his immediate command.

As they came in they were formed up into various companies. Being imperfectly disciplined, they were much longer assembling than they ought to have been, and I greatly feared that the fort would be lost. Before the troops were ready to march.

Mr Harvey waited until he believed that they would follow in another minute or two, and then set off with me, intending to return to where we had left the marines.

As we got near his quarters, we heard a rapid firing, returned evidently by a large number of men, for, as they fired their pieces, they shouted again and again, “Vive la République!” When, however, they discovered that these were English troops in their front, they did not venture to rush upon the bayonets they would have had to encounter.

Mr Harvey, after some difficulty, found Major Stubbs, who commanded the marines, and told him what the General proposed doing.

“He must come pretty quickly, or we shall be overpowered,” he answered. “If it was daylight we should know what we were about, but in this pitchy darkness, with the rain clattering down upon us, the wind howling in our ears, and hosts of enemies pouring in on the other side of the fort, we may get separated and cut to pieces, and I will not sacrifice my men if I can help it.”

The bullets came whistling past our heads, and it seemed to me that the men were dropping fast, but as one marine fell the others closed up their ranks and bravely held their ground. What would become of them and us I did not know; but at last the officer to whom Mr Harvey had spoken, found us, and informed him that the Comte de Puisaye, seeing the hopelessness of endeavouring to regain the fort, had determined to retreat with his troops, and to save the lives of as many of the Royalist inhabitants as he could collect, advising Major Stubbs to draw off his men, and at the same time saying he should be obliged to him if he would cover his retreat.

The darkness and the howling of the storm prevented the movements of the marines being discovered. The stout old major passed the order along the line, and his men, facing about, made their retreat towards the rear of the fort, which was gained before the enemy attempted to pursue them.

I don’t know what the major said, but I suspect it was not complimentary to the Comte de Puisaye.

We remained with the marines, who had, as far as I could make out, lost a large number of men. What had become of the young Comte de Sombreuil and the other French officers, we could not tell; but probably, as the firing had ceased from the building in which they had been defending themselves, they had all been put to death.

Major Stubbs halted for some time, during which a number of inhabitants of the houses and cottages in the neighbourhood came in entreating his protection.

At length, escorting them, we again advanced towards the south-east point of the peninsula, which afforded the easiest landing-place, and which, from the nature of the ground, could be defended should the Republicans advance in force to attack us. We found that the Comte de Puisaye, with upwards of a thousand of his troops, and more than double that number of Royalists, had arrived there before us. The Comte had received intelligence of the attack on the fort and its capture, and believing that de Sombreuil and his companions inside had at once been cut to pieces, had considered it useless to go to his assistance.

He had, therefore, mustering his troops, formed an escort to the fugitive Royalists, and immediately commenced his march to the point.

Mr Harvey expressed his fear that, in consequence of the gale, the ships would be unable to get up to embark the people, and advised him to make preparation foe a determined resistance should the Republicans follow and attack him.

Scarcely had the troops been drawn up in position, to make the best defence possible, and to protect the landing-place, than several terror-stricken fugitives arrived, bringing the alarming intelligence that the Republicans, in great force, under Hoche, were advancing. The darkness, increased by the gloomy state of the weather, continued much longer than usual, and prevented us from ascertaining the truth of these statements. The unfortunate people were in the greatest alarm, for they well knew the barbarous treatment the Royalists had received throughout the country from the Republicans. As their comparatively small force could not hope to hold out long should they be attacked by the overwhelming army of General Hoche, they fully expected to be massacred to a man. In vain they turned their eyes seaward; no ships could be seen through the gloom coming to their relief, nor were there any boats on the shore. The wind, however, was falling, and daybreak was close at hand. I felt sure, also, that the marines, who were posted in a position which would certainly first be attacked, would hold their ground. This gave confidence to the Royalist troops.

I was standing near Mr Harvey, who was looking seaward. One after another, the fugitives who had escaped from the massacre came in, bringing further intelligence of the nearer approach of the Republicans. One of them, an officer, told Mr Harvey that the Comte de Sombreuil, the Bishop of Doll, and other emigrants of distinction, after holding out in their quarters until all their ammunition had been expended, and many of them killed, had capitulated to the Republicans on the condition that they should be allowed to retire on board the English ships.

“This is better news than I expected,” observed Mr Harvey; “I feared that the Count and all his companions had been killed. I wish I could believe that the Republicans are likely to keep their word.” A short time after this, while I was standing close to Mr Harvey on an elevated spot overlooking the bay, the dawn broke. He gave a shout of satisfaction as we saw dimly through the gloom, or rather the grey light of early morning, the whole squadron beating up. On they came.

As the wind fell they shook out the reefs in their topsails. There was no time to spare if they were to save the lives of the unfortunate people gathered on the shore.

The Galatea was leading. In fine style she came on and dropped her anchor with a spring on her cable, so as to bring her broadside to bear in the direction by which the Republicans would approach.

The other ships of the squadron brought up in succession, and directly afterwards a large flotilla of boats was seen approaching the beach.

To account for the opportune arrival of the squadron at this moment, I may state what I afterwards heard, that directly the fort was captured, the Comte de Puisaye had sent off a boat, though she ran a great risk of being swamped, to the commodore, who had, immediately the gale abated, got under weigh.

The leading columns of the Republicans appeared in the distance, just as the Galatea’s guns had been brought to bear on the shore.

A few shots made the enemy beat a hasty retreat, and allowed us to embark the troops and fugitive Royalists without molestation.

The boats were under the command of Captain Keats, and by his good management nearly four thousand people were embarked without a casualty, leaving behind, however, for the benefit of the Republicans, ten thousand stand of arms, ammunition of all sorts, and clothing for an army of forty thousand men.


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