For some days Avignon had its assassins, as Marseilles had had them, and as Nimes was about to have them; for some days all Avignon shuddered at the names of five men--Pointu, Farges, Roquefort, Naudaud, and Magnan.
Pointu was a perfect type of the men of the South, olive-skinned and eagle-eyed, with a hook nose, and teeth of ivory. Although he was hardly above middle height, and his back was bent from bearing heavy burdens, his legs bowed by the pressure of the enormous masses which he daily carried, he was yet possessed of extraordinary strength and dexterity. He could throw over the Loulle gate a 48-pound cannon ball as easily as a child could throw its ball. He could fling a stone from one bank of the Rhone to the other where it was two hundred yards wide. And lastly, he could throw a knife backwards while running at full speed with such strength and precision of aim that this new kind of Parthian arrow would go whistling through the air to hide two inches of its iron head in a tree trunk no thicker than a man's thigh. When to these accomplishments are added an equal skill with the musket, the pistol, and the quarter-staff, a good deal of mother wit, a deep hatred for Republicans, against whom he had vowed vengeance at the foot of the scaffold on which his father and mother had perished, an idea can be formed of the terrible chief of the assassins of Avignon, who had for his lieutenants, Farges the silk-weaver, Roquefort the porter, Naudaud the baker, and Magnan the secondhand clothes dealer.
Avignon was entirely in the power of these five men, whose brutal conduct the civil and military authorities would not or could not repress, when word came that Marshal Brune, who was at Luc in command of six thousand troops, had been summoned to Paris to give an account of his conduct to the new Government.
The marshal, knowing the state of intense excitement which prevailed in the South, and foreseeing the perils likely to meet him on the road, asked permission to travel by water, but met with an official refusal, and the Duc de Riviere, governor of Marseilles, furnished him with a safe-conduct. The cut-throats bellowed with joy when they learned that a Republican of '89, who had risen to the rank of marshal under the Usurper, was about to pass through Avignon. At the same time sinister reports began to run from mouth to mouth, the harbingers of death. Once more the infamous slander which a hundred times had been proved to be false, raised its voice with dogged persistence, asserting that Brune, who did not arrive at Paris until the 5th of September, 1792, had on the 2nd, when still at Lyons, carried the head of the Princesse de Lamballe impaled on a pike. Soon the news came that the marshal had just escaped assassination at Aix, indeed he owed his safety to the fleetness of his horses. Pointu, Forges, and Roquefort swore that they would manage things better at Avignon.
By the route which the marshal had chosen there were only two ways open by which he could reach Lyons: he must either pass through Avignon, or avoid it by taking a cross-road, which branched off the Pointet highway, two leagues outside the town. The assassins thought he would take the latter course, and on the 2nd of August, the day on which the marshal was expected, Pointu, Magnan, and Naudaud, with four of their creatures, took a carriage at six o'clock in the morning, and, setting out from the Rhone bridge, hid themselves by the side of the high road to Pointet.
When the marshal reached the point where the road divided, having been warned of the hostile feelings so rife in Avignon, he decided to take the cross-road upon which Pointu and his men were awaiting him; but the postillion obstinately refused to drive in this direction, saying that he always changed horses at Avignon, and not at Pointet. One of the marshal's aides-de-camp tried, pistol in hand, to force him to obey; but the marshal would permit no violence to be offered him, and gave him orders to go on to Avignon.
The marshal reached the town at nine o'clock in the morning, and alighted at the Hotel du Palais Royal, which was also the post-house. While fresh horses were being put to and the passports and safe-conduct examined at the Loulle gate, the marshal entered the hotel to take a plate of soup. In less than five minutes a crowd gathered round the door, and M. Moulin the proprietor noticing the sinister and threatening expression many of the faces bore, went to the marshal's room and urged him to leave instantly without waiting for his papers, pledging his word that he would send a man on horseback after him, who would overtake him two or three leagues beyond the town, and bring him his own safe-conduct and the passports of his aides-de-camp. The marshal came downstairs, and finding the horses ready, got into the carriage, on which loud murmurs arose from the populace, amongst which could be distinguished the terrible word 'zaou!' that excited cry of the Provencal, which according to the tone in which it is uttered expresses every shade of threat, and which means at once in a single syllable, "Bite, rend, kill, murder!"
The marshal set out at a gallop, and passed the town gates unmolested, except by the howlings of the populace, who, however, made no attempt to stop him. He thought he had left all his enemies behind, but when he reached the Rhone bridge he found a group of men armed with muskets waiting there, led by Farges and Roquefort. They all raised their guns and took aim at the marshal, who thereupon ordered the postillion to drive back. The order was obeyed, but when the carriage had gone about fifty yards it was met by the crowd from the "Palais Royal," which had followed it, so the postillion stopped. In a moment the traces were cut, whereupon the marshal, opening the door, alighted, followed by his valet, and passing on foot through the Loulle gate, followed by a second carriage in which were his aides-de-camp, he regained the "Palais Royal," the doors of which were opened to him and his suite, and immediately secured against all others.
The marshal asked to be shown to a room, and M. Moulin gave him No. 1, to the front. In ten minutes three thousand people filled the square; it was as if the population sprang up from the ground. Just then the carriage, which the marshal had left behind, came up, the postillion having tied the traces, and a second time the great yard gates were opened, and in spite of the press closed again and barricaded by the porter Vernet, and M. Moulin himself, both of whom were men of colossal strength. The aides-de-camp, who had remained in the carriage until then, now alighted, and asked to be shown to the marshal; but Moulin ordered the porter to conceal them in an outhouse. Vernet taking one in each hand, dragged them off despite their struggles, and pushing them behind some empty barrels, over which he threw an old piece of carpet, said to them in a voice as solemn as if he were a prophet, "If you move, you are dead men," and left them. The aides-de-camp remained there motionless and silent.
At that moment M. de Saint-Chamans, prefect of Avignon, who had arrived in town at five o'clock in the morning, came out into the courtyard. By this time the crowd was smashing the windows and breaking in the street door. The square was full to overflowing, everywhere threatening cries were heard, and above all the terrible zaou, which from moment to moment became more full of menace. M. Moulin saw that if they could not hold out until the troops under Major Lambot arrived, all was lost; he therefore told Vernet to settle the business of those who were breaking in the door, while he would take charge of those who were trying to get in at the window. Thus these two men, moved by a common impulse and of equal courage, undertook to dispute with a howling mob the possession of the blood for which it thirsted.
Both dashed to their posts, one in the hall, the other in the dining-room, and found door and windows already smashed, and several men in the house. At the sight of Vernet, with whose immense strength they were acquainted, those in the hall drew back a step, and Vernet, taking advantage of this movement, succeeded in ejecting them and in securing the door once more. Meantime M. Moulin, seizing his double-barrelled gun, which stood in the chimney-corner, pointed it at five men who had got into the dining-room, and threatened to fire if they did not instantly get out again. Four obeyed, but one refused to budge; whereupon Moulin, finding himself no longer outnumbered, laid aside his gun, and, seizing his adversary round the waist, lifted him as if he were a child and flung him out of the window. The man died three weeks later, not from the fall but from the squeeze.
Moulin then dashed to the window to secure it, but as he laid his hand on it he felt his head seized from behind and pressed violently down on his left shoulder; at the same instant a pane was broken into splinters, and the head of a hatchet struck his right shoulder. M. de Saint-Chamans, who had followed him into the room, had seen the weapon thrown at Moulin's head, and not being able to turn aside the iron, had turned aside the object at which it was aimed. Moulin seized the hatchet by the handle and tore it out of the hands of him who had delivered the blow, which fortunately had missed its aim. He then finished closing the window, and secured it by making fast the inside shutters, and went upstairs to see after the marshal.
Him he found striding up and down his room, his handsome and noble face as calm as if the voices of all those shouting men outside were not demanding his death. Moulin made him leave No. 1 for No. 3, which, being a back room and looking out on the courtyard, seemed to offer more chances of safety than the other. The marshal asked for writing materials, which Moulin brought, whereupon the marshal sat down at a little table and began to write.
Just then the cries outside became still more uproarious. M. de Saint-Chamans had gone out and ordered the crowd to disperse, whereupon a thousand people had answered him with one voice, asking who he was that he should give such an order. He announced his rank and authority, to which the answer was, "We only know the prefect by his clothes." Now it had unfortunately happened that M. de Chamans having sent his trunks by diligence they had not yet arrived, and being dressed in a green coat; nankeen trousers, and a pique vest, it could hardly be expected that in such a suit he should overawe the people under the circumstances; so, when he got up on a bench to harangue the populace, cries arose of "Down with the green coat! We have enough of charlatans like that!" and he was forced to get down again. As Vernet opened the door to let him in, several men took advantage of the circumstance to push in along with him; but Vernet let his fist fall three times, and three men rolled at his feet like bulls struck by a club. The others withdrew. A dozen champions such as Vernet would have saved the marshal. Yet it must not be forgotten that this man was a Royalist, and held the same opinions as those against whom he fought; for him as for them the marshal was a mortal enemy, but he had a noble heart, and if the marshal were guilty he desired a trial and not a murder. Meantime a certain onlooker had heard what had been said to M. de Chamans about his unofficial costume, and had gone to put on his uniform. This was M. de Puy, a handsome and venerable old man, with white hair, pleasant expression, and winning voice. He soon came back in his mayor's robes, wearing his scarf and his double cross of St. Louis and the Legion of Honour. But neither his age nor his dignity made the slightest impression on these people; they did not even allow him to get back to the hotel door, but knocked him down and trampled him under foot, so that he hardly escaped with torn clothes and his white hair covered with dust and blood. The fury of the mob had now reached its height.
At this juncture the garrison of Avignon came in sight; it was composed of four hundred volunteers, who formed a battalion known as the Royal Angouleme. It was commanded by a man who had assumed the title of Lieutenant-General of the Emancipating Army of Vaucluse. These forces drew up under the windows of the "Palais Royal." They were composed almost entirely of Provenceaux, and spoke the same dialect as the people of the lower orders. The crowd asked the soldiers for what they had come, why they did not leave them to accomplish an act of justice in peace, and if they intended to interfere. "Quite the contrary," said one of the soldiers; "pitch him out of the window, and we will catch him on the points of our bayonets." Brutal cries of joy greeted this answer, succeeded by a short silence, but it was easy to see that under the apparent calm the crowd was in a state of eager expectation. Soon new shouts were heard, but this time from the interior of the hotel; a small band of men led by Forges and Roquefort had separated themselves from the throng, and by the help of ladders had scaled the walls and got on the roof of the house, and, gliding down the other side, had dropped into the balcony outside the windows of the rooms where the marshal was writing.
Some of these dashed through the windows without waiting to open them, others rushed in at the open door. The marshal, thus taken by surprise, rose, and not wishing that the letter he was writing to the Austrian commandant to claim his protection should fall into the hands of these wretches, he tore it to pieces. Then a man who belonged to a better class than the others, and who wears to-day the Cross of the Legion of Honour, granted to him perhaps for his conduct on this occasion, advanced towards the marshal, sword in hand, and told him if he had any last arrangements to make, he should make them at once, for he had only ten minutes to live.
"What are you thinking of?" exclaimed Forges. "Ten minutes! Did he give the Princesse de Lamballe ten minutes?" and he pointed his pistol at the marshal's breast; but the marshal striking up the weapon, the shot missed its aim and buried itself in the ceiling.
"Clumsy fellow!" said the marshal, shrugging his shoulders, "not to be able to kill a man at such close range."
"That's true," replied Roquefort in his patois. "I'll show you how to do it"; and, receding a step, he took aim with his carbine at his victim, whose back was partly towards him. A report was heard, and the marshal fell dead on the spot, the bullet which entered at the shoulder going right through his body and striking the opposite wall.
The two shots, which had been heard in the street, made the howling mob dance for joy. One cowardly fellow, called Cadillan, rushed out on one of the balconies which looked on the square, and, holding a loaded pistol in each hand, which he had not dared to discharge even into the dead body of the murdered man, he cut a caper, and, holding up the innocent weapons, called out, "These have done the business!" But he lied, the braggart, and boasted of a crime which was committed by braver cutthroats than he.
Behind him came the general of the "Emancipating Army of Vaucluse," who, graciously saluting the crowd, said, "The marshal has carried out an act of justice by taking his own life." Shouts of mingled joy, revenge, and hatred rose from the crowd, and the king's attorney and the examining magistrate set about drawing up a report of the suicide.
Now that all was over and there was no longer any question of saving the marshal, M. Moulin desired at least to save the valuables which he had in his carriage. He found in a cash box 40,000 francs, in the pockets a snuff-box set with diamonds, and a pair of pistols and two swords; the hilt of one of these latter was studded with precious stones, a gift from the ill-starred Selim. M. Moulin returned across the court, carrying these things. The Damascus blade was wrenched from his hands, and the robber kept it five years as a trophy, and it was not until the year 1820 that he was forced to give it up to the representative of the marshal's widow. Yet this man was an officer, and kept his rank all through the Restoration, and was not dismissed the army till 1830. When M. Moulin had placed the other objects in safety, he requested the magistrate to have the corpse removed, as he wished the crowds to disperse, that he might look after the aides-de camp. While they were undressing the marshal, in order to certify the cause of death, a leathern belt was found on him containing 5536 francs. The body was carried downstairs by the grave-diggers without any opposition being offered, but hardly had they advanced ten yards into the square when shouts of "To the Rhone! to the Rhone!" resounded on all sides. A police officer who tried to interfere was knocked down, the bearers were ordered to turn round; they obeyed, and the crowd carried them off towards the wooden bridge. When the fourteenth arch was reached, the bier was torn from the bearers' hands, and the corpse was flung into the river. "Military honours!" shouted some one, and all who had guns fired at the dead body, which was twice struck. "Tomb of Marshal Brune" was then written on the arch, and the crowd withdrew, and passed the rest of the day in holiday-making.
Meanwhile the Rhone, refusing to be an accomplice in such a crime, bore away the corpse, which the assassins believed had been swallowed up for ever. Next day it was found on the sandy shore at Tarascon, but the news of the murder had preceded it, and it was recognised by the wounds, and pushed back again into the waters, which bore it towards the sea.
Three leagues farther on it stopped again, this time by a grassy bank, and was found by a man of forty and another of eighteen. They also recognised it, but instead of shoving it back into the current, they drew it up gently on the bank and carried it to a small property belonging to one of them, where they reverently interred it. The elder of the two was M. de Chartruse, the younger M. Amedee Pichot.
The body was exhumed by order of the marshal's widow, and brought to her castle of Saint-Just, in Champagne; she had it embalmed, and placed in a bedroom adjoining her own, where it remained, covered only by a veil, until the memory of the deceased was cleansed from the accusation of suicide by a solemn public trial and judgment. Then only it was finally interred, along with the parchment containing the decision of the Court of Riom.
The ruffians who killed Marshal Brune, although they evaded the justice of men, did not escape the vengeance of God: nearly every one of them came to a miserable end. Roquefort and Farges were attacked by strange and hitherto unknown diseases, recalling the plagues sent by God on the peoples whom He desired to punish in bygone ages. In the case of Farges, his skin dried up and became horny, causing him such intense irritation, that as the only means of allaying it he had to be kept buried up to the neck while still alive. The disease under which Roquefort suffered seemed to have its seat in the marrow, for his bones by degrees lost all solidity and power of resistance, so that his limbs refused to bear his weight, and he went about the streets crawling like a serpent. Both died in such dreadful torture that they regretted having escaped the scaffold, which would have spared them such prolonged agony.
Pointu was condemned to death, in his absence, at the Assizes Court of La Drome, for having murdered five people, and was cast off by his own faction. For some time his wife, who was infirm and deformed, might be seen going from house to house asking alms for him, who had been for two months the arbiter of civil war and assassination. Then came a day when she ceased her quest, and was seen sitting, her head covered by a black rag: Pointu was dead, but it was never known where or how. In some corner, probably, in the crevice of a rock or in the heart of the forest, like an old tiger whose talons have been clipped and his teeth drawn.
Naudaud and Magnan were sentenced to the galleys for ten years. Naudaud died there, but Magnan finished his time and then became a scavenger, and, faithful to his vocation as a dealer of death, a poisoner of stray dogs.
Some of these cut-throats are still living, and fill good positions, wearing crosses and epaulets, and, rejoicing in their impunity, imagine they have escaped the eye of God.
We shall wait and see!
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