The Companions of Jehu HTML version

27. The Bear's Skin
With a rapidity and good nature that did honor to his courtesy, he went close to
the candelabra, which were burning on the chimney-piece. The waistcoat and
trousers seemed to be of the same stuff; but what was that stuff? The most
experienced connoisseur would have been puzzled.
The trousers were tight-fitting as usual, of a light tint between buff and flesh color;
the only remarkable thing about them was the absence of the seam, and the
closeness with which they clung to the leg. The waistcoat, on the other hand, had
two characteristic signs which attracted attention; it had been pierced by three
balls, which had the holes gaping, and these were stained a carmine, so like
blood, that it might easily have been mistaken for it. On the left side was painted
a bloody heart, the distinguishing sign of the Vendéans. Morgan examined the
two articles with the closest attention, but without result.
"If I were not in such a hurry," said he, "I should like to look into the matter for
myself. But you heard for yourself; in all probability, some news has reached the
committee; government money probably. You can announce it to Cadoudal; only
we shall have to take it first. Ordinarily, I command these expeditions; if I delay,
some one may take my place. So tell me what your waistcoat and trousers are
made of."
"My dear Morgan," replied the Vendéan, "perhaps you have heard that my
brother was captured near Bressure, and shot by the Blues?"
"Yes, I know that."
"The Blues were retreating; they left the body at the corner of the hedge. We
were pursuing them so closely that we arrived just after them. I found the body of
my brother still warm. In one of his wounds a sprig was stuck with these words:
'Shot as a brigand by me, Claude Flageolet, corporal of the Third Battalion of
Paris.' I took my brother's body, and had the skin removed from his breast. I
vowed that this skin, pierced with three holes, should eternally cry vengeance
before my eyes. I made it my battle waistcoat."
"Ah!" exclaimed Morgan, with a certain astonishment, in which, for the first time,
was mingled something akin to terror--"Ah! then that waistcoat is made of your
brother's skin? And the trousers?"
"Oh!" replied the Vendéan, "the trousers, that's another matter. They are made of
the skin of Claude Flageolet, corporal of the Third Battalion of Paris."
At that moment the voice again called out, in the same order, the names of
Morgan, Montbar, Adler and d'Assas.
Morgan rushed out of the study, crossed the dancing-hall from end to end, and
made his way to a little salon on the other side of the dressing-room. His three
companions, Montbar, Adler and d'Assas, were there already. With them was a
young man in the government livery of a bearer of despatches, namely a green
and gold coat. His boots were dusty, and he wore a visored cap and carried the
despatch-box, the essential accoutrements of a cabinet courier.
One of Cassini's maps, on which could be followed the whole lay of the land, was
spread on the table.