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- La Vendee - 10/91 -
was tolerably well mounted on a large horse, the second was on a shaggy pony, and the third, who was rather behind the others, was seated on a mule of most unprepossessing appearance, whose sides he did not for a moment cease to lacerate with his heels, to enable himself to keep up with his companions.
"That is Foret, from St. Florent himself!" shouted the priest, rushing out towards the door, as soon as he saw the first horseman turn in at the gate; "a good man, and true as any living, and one who hates a skulking republican as he does the devil."
"And that is the postillion himself, on the pony!" shouted Henri, running after him. "I could swear to him, by his hat, among a thousand."
"Who is the man on the mule, Adolphe?" said de Lescure, remaining at the window. "By the bye," he added, turning to the two girls who remained with him, and who were trembling in every joint, at they knew not what, "I forgot, in my hurry, or rather I hadn't time as yet to tell Henri that I had heard that these men were coming here."
"Are those the very men who gained the victory at St. Florent?" asked Marie.
"So we heard," replied de Lescure, "and now, and not till now, I believe it; their coming here is strong confirmation; the Curé is right, it seems."
"And is that man the good postillion of whom the people talk?"
"He is--at least he is no longer a postillion. He will cease to be a postillion now; from henceforth he will be only a soldier."
The Curé and Larochejaquelin had rushed down the steps, and seized the hands of Foret and Cathelineau, as they got off their horses. It was soon evident to them that the noise of their deeds had gone before them. Foret at once returned the greeting of Father Jerome, for they had long known each other, and the difference between their stations was not so very great; but Cathelineau hardly knew how to accept, or how to refuse, the unwonted mark of friendship shewn him by a wealthy seigneur; it had not been his lot to shake hands with gentlemen, and he had no wish to step beyond his proper sphere, because he had been put prominently forward in the affair of St. Florent; but he had no help for it; before he knew where he was, Larochejaquelin had got him by the hand, and was dragging him into the salon of Durbellière. It appeared to the postillion that the room was full; there were ladies there too--young, beautiful, and modest--such as he was in the habit of seeing through the windows of the carriages which he drove; the old Marquis was there too now; the butler had just wheeled in his chair, and Cathelineau perceived that he was expected to join the group at once. A vista was opened for him up to the old man's chair; his eyes swam, and he hardly recollected the faces of the different people round him. He wished that he had waited at the gate, and sent in for M. Henri; he could have talked to him alone. Why had he ridden up so boldly to the château gate? He had never trembled, for a moment, during the hot work at St. Florent, but now he felt that circumstances could almost make him a coward.
On a sudden he remembered that his hat was still on his head, and he snatched his hand out of Henri's to remove it, and then, when it was off, he wanted to go back to the hall to put it down.
Henri saw his confusion, and, taking it from him, put it on a chair, and then they all shook hands with him. He first found his hand in that of the Marquis, and heard the old man bless him, and then the Priest blessed him, and then he felt the soft, sweet hands of those bright angels within his own horny palm; he heard them speaking to him, though he knew not what they said; and then he could restrain himself no longer, for tears forced themselves into his eyes, and, in the midst of them all, he cried like a child.
There was infection in his tears, for Agatha and Marie, when they saw them, cried too, and the eyes of some of the men also were not dry; they all knew what the feelings of the man were, and they fully sympathised with him. It was strange how little they said about St. Florent at first; the moment the men had been seen, they were most anxious for the tidings of what had been done; but now they all seemed satisfied as to the truth of what they had heard--there was no longer any doubt. The heroes of St. Florent were there, and, though neither of them had yet spoken a word about the battle which had been fought, the presence of the victors was sufficient evidence of the victory.
The Curé, however, and M. de Lescure soon took Foret apart, and learnt from him the details of what had been done, while the father and son, and the two girls, endeavoured to put the postillion at his ease in his new position.
Cathelineau was a very good-looking man, about thirty-five years of age; his hair was very dark, and curled in short, thick clusters; his whiskers were large and bushy, and met beneath his face; his upper lip was short, his mouth was beautifully formed, and there was a deep dimple on his chin; but the charm of his face was in the soft benignant expression of his eyes; he looked as though he loved his fellow-creatures--he looked as though he could not hear, unmoved, a tale of woe or oppression--of injuries inflicted on the weak, or of unfair advantages assumed by the strong. It was this which had made him so much beloved; and it was not only the expression of his countenance, but of his heart also.
"And were you not wounded, Cathelineau?" asked the old gentleman.
"No, M. le Marquis, thank God! I was not."
"No, M. le Marquis."
"But were there many wounded?" said Agatha.
"Ah! Mademoiselle, there were--many, very many!"
"I knew there must have been," said Marie, shuddering.
"We cannot have war without the horrors of war," said Henri. "It is better, is it not, Cathelineau, that some of us should fall, than that all of us should be slaves?"
"A thousand times, M. Larochejaquelin ten thousand times!" said he, with a return of that determined vigour with which he had addressed his fellow-townsmen the day before.
"Yes, you are right, ten thousand times better! and, Marie, you would not be your brother's sister if you did not think so," said Henri; "but you do think so, and so does Agatha, though she cries so fast."
"I am not crying, Henri," said Agatha, removing her handkerchief from her eyes, which belied her assertion; "but one cannot but think of all the misery which is coming on us: were there--were there any women wounded in the battle?"
There were, Mademoiselle; but those who were so, never complained; and those who were killed will never have need to complain again."
"Were there women killed?"
"There were two, Mademoiselle; one a young girl; the other has left children to avenge her death."
"That is the worst of all," said Henri, shuddering. "Cathelineau, we must keep the women in the houses; our men will not fight if they see their wives and sweethearts bleeding beside them; such a sight would make me throw my sword away myself."
"It would make you throw away the scabbard, M. Larochejaquelin; but I fear we shall see enough of such sights," and then he blushed deeply, as he reflected that what he had said would frighten the fair girls sitting near him; "but I beg pardon, ladies--I--"
"Don't mind us, Cathelineau," said Agatha; "you will not frighten us; our brothers will fight by your side; and you will find that we are worthy of our brothers. Marie and I will take our chance without repining."
"And what is to come next, Cathelineau?" said Henri; "we have thrown down the gauntlet now, and we must be ready for all the consequences. You see, we were preparing for the same work," and he pointed to the open packets of gunpowder which were lying scattered on the table. "What are we to do now? we shall soon have swarms of republican soldiers upon us, and it will be well to be prepared. We look to you for counsel now, you know."
"Not so, M. Larochejaquelin; it was to seek council that I and Foret came hither; it was to throw ourselves at the feet of my Lord the Marquis, and at yours, and at those of M. de Lescure; and to implore you to join us, to fight with us, and to save us; to lead us against the republicans, and to help us to save our homes."
"They will, Cathelineau; they will, my excellent friend," said the old man. "Henri shall fight with you--he would not be my son else; and Charles de Lescure there will fight with you for his King as long as the breath is in his body. The Curé there--Father Jerome--will pray for you, and bless your arms; and I believe you'll find he'll fight for you too; the whole country are your friends."
"Yes," said Henri. "The whole province, down to the sea, will be with us. Charette is in the Marais ready to take up arms, the moment the collection of the conscripts is commenced, or before, if it be necessary. M. Bonchamps, who is now at Angers, will join us at once, and give us what we so much want--military skill. The Prince de Talmont is with us, M. Fleuriot, and M. d'Autachamps, every gentleman of standing in the country will help the good cause; my friend here, Adolphe Denot, will fight for us to the last drop of his blood."
Cathelineau bowed graciously, as he was in this way introduced by Larochejaquelin to his friend. Denot also bowed, but he did it anything but graciously: two things were disagreeable to him, he felt himself at the present moment to be in the back-ground, and the hero of the day, the fêted person, was no better than a postillion. When the rest of the party had all given their hands to Cathelineau he had remained behind, he did not like to put himself on an equality with such a person; he fancied even then his dignity was hurt by having to remain in his company.
"And what step shall we first take, M. Larochejaquelin?" said Cathelineau.
"What do you propose yourself?" said Henri.
"I think we should not wait for them to punish us for our first success. I think we should follow up our little victory, and attack the republicans, at Beauprieu, perhaps, or at Cholet; we should so teach our men to fight, teach them to garrison and protect their own towns, and
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