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- La Vendee - 20/91 -
of men to the docility of babes. Hitherto your lot has been that of peace, and if you have not enjoyed riches, you have at any rate been contented: another destiny is before you now--peace and content have left the country, and have been followed by robbery, confusion, and war. My children, you must, for a while, give over your accustomed peaceful duties; your hands--your hearts--all your energy, and all your courage, are required by God for his own purposes--yes, required by that Creator who gave you strength and energy--who gave you the power and the will to do great deeds for His holy name.
"His enemies are in the land: impious wretches--who do not hesitate to wage war against His throne--are endeavouring to destroy all that is good, and all that is holy in France. Do you not know, my children, that they have murdered your King?--and that they have imprisoned your Queen, and her son, who is now your King? Would you be content to remain quiet in your homes, while your King is lying in a prison, in hourly danger of death? They have excluded you from your churches, they have caused God's holy houses to be closed; they have sent among you teachers who can only lead you astray--whose teaching can only bring you to the gates of hell. The enemies of the Lord are around you; and you are now required to take arms in your hands, to go out against them, and if needs be to give your blood--nay your life for your country, your King, and your Church.
"I greatly rejoice, my children, that you are an obedient people; I know that you will now do your utmost, and I know that you will succeed. The Lord will not desert His people when they combat for His glory, when they faithfully turn to Him for victory. You have been taught how He chose the Israelites as an especial people--how He loved and favoured them: as long as they were faithful and obedient He never deserted them. They conquered hosts ten times their numbers--they were victorious against armed warriors, and mighty giants. The Lord blinded their enemies so that they saw not; He blunted their weapons; He paralyzed their courage; chariots and horses did not avail them; nor strong walls, nor mighty men of battle. The Lord loved the Israelites, and as long as they were faithful and obedient, they prevailed against all their enemies.
"You, my children, are now God's people; if you are truly faithful, you shall assuredly prevail; if you go out to battle firmly, absolutely, entirely trusting in the strength of His right hand--that right hand, that Almighty arm shall be on your side. And who then shall stand against you?--though tens, and hundreds of thousands swarm around you, they shall yield before you--they shall fall before you as the giant Goliath fell before the shepherd David.
"Be not afraid, therefore, my children: we will go together; we will remember that every man who falls on our side in this holy war, falls as he is doing Christ's service, and that his death is to be envied, for it is a passport into Heaven. We will remember this in the hour of battle, when our enemies are before us, when death is staring us in the face, and remembering it, we shall not be afraid. If we die fighting truly in this cause, our immortal souls will be wafted off to paradise-- to everlasting joy: if we live, it will be to receive, here in our own dear fields, the thanks of a grateful King, to feel that we have done our duty as Christians and as men, and to hear our children bless the days, when the courage of La Vendée restored the honour of France."
Father Jerome's exhortation had a strong effect upon the people; he knew and calculated their strength and their weakness--they were brave and credulous, and when he finished speaking, there was hardly one there who in the least doubted that the event of the war would be entirely successful: they felt that they were a chosen people, set apart for a good work--that glory and victory awaited them in the contest, and especially that they were about to fight under the immediate protection of the Almighty.
As soon as the service was over, they all left the little sylvan chapel by different paths, and in different directions; some went back to the church, some went off across the fields, some took a short cut to the road, but they all returned home without delay. Every man was to set out early on the morrow for the rendezvous, and the women were preparing to shed their tears and say their last farewell to their lovers, brothers, and husbands, before they started on so great an enterprise. They had all been gay enough during the morning--they became a little melancholy on their return home, but before the evening was far advanced, nothing was to be heard but sobs and vows, kisses and blessings.
Jacques Chapeau returned to Echanbroignes with the party of villagers who had gone from thence to hear Father Jerome, but he did not attach himself expressly to Annot, indeed he said not a word to her on the way, but addressed the benefit of his conversation to his male friends generally; to tell the truth, he was something offended at the warm admiration which his sweetheart had expressed for Cathelineau. He wasn't exactly jealous of the postillion, for Annot had never seen him, and couldn't, therefore, really love him; but he felt that she ought not to have talked about another man's eyes and whiskers, even though that other man was a saint and a general. It was heartless, too, of Annot to say such things at such a time, just as he was going to leave her, on the eve of battle, and when he had left his own master, and all the glorious confusion and good living in--at Durbellière, merely that he might spend his last quiet day in her company.
It was base of her to say that she had dreamed twice of Cathelineau; and she was punished for it, for she had to walk home almost unnoticed. At first she was very angry, and kicked up the dust with her Sunday shoes in fine style; but before long her heart softened, and she watched anxiously for some word or look from Jacques on which she might base an attempt at a reconciliation. Jacques knew what she was about, and would not even look at her: he went on talking with Jean and Peter and the others, about the wars, and republicans and royalists, as though poor Annot Stein had not been there at all. From the chapel of St. Laud to the village of Echanbroignes, he did not speak a word to her, and when the four entered the old smith's house, poor Annot was bursting with anger, and melting with love; she could not settle with herself whether he hated Chapeau or loved him most; she felt that she would have liked to poison him, only she knew that she could not live without him.
She hurried into her little sleeping place, and had a long debate with herself whether she should instantly go to bed and pray that Jacques might be killed at Saumur, or whether she should array herself in all her charms, and literally dazzle her lover into fondness and obedience by her beauty and graces--after many tears the latter alternative was decided on.
It was a lovely summer evening, and at about eight o'clock hardly a person in the whole village was to be found within doors; the elderly were sitting smoking at their doors, husbands were saying a thousand last words to their weeping wives, young men were sharpening their swords, and preparing their little kit for the morrow's march, and the girls were helping them; but everything was done in the open air. Jean and Peter Stein were secretly preparing for a stolen march to Saumur; for their father was still inexorable, and they were determined not to be left behind when all the world was fighting for glory. Old Michael was smoking at his ease, and Jacques was standing talking to him, wondering in his heart whether Annot could be really angry with him, when that young lady reappeared in the kitchen.
"Where have you been, Annot?" said Michael Stein, "you didn't get your supper, yet child."
"I was sick with the heat, father; walking home from St. Laud's."
"I would not have you sick tonight, Annot, and our friends leaving us before sun-rise tomorrow. Here is M. Chapeau complaining you are a bad hostess."
"M. Chapeau has enough to think of tonight, without my teasing him," said Annot; "great soldiers like him have not time to talk to silly girls. I will walk across the green to Dame Rouel's, father; I shall be back before sunset."
And Annot went out across the green, at the corner of which stood the smith's forge. Jacques Chapeau was not slow to follow her, and Dame Rouel did not see much of either of them that evening.
"Annot," said Jacques, calling to his sweetheart, who perseveringly looked straight before her, determined not to know that she was followed. "Annot, stop awhile. You are not in such a hurry, are you, to see Dame Rouel?"
"Ah, M. Chapeau, is that you?--in a hurry to see Dame Rouel. No--I'm in no particular hurry."
"Will you take a turn down to the mill, then, Annot? Heaven knows when you and I may walk to the old mill again; it may be long enough before I see Echanbroignes again."
Annot made no answer, but she turned into the little path which led through the fields to the mill.
"I suppose it may," said she, determined, if possible, that the amende should be made by Jacques and not by herself.
"I see you are indifferent about that," said Jacques, with a soft and sentimental look, which nearly melted Annot; "well, when you hear of my death, you will sometimes think of me, will you not?"
"Oh, I will, M. Chapeau! Of course I'll think of you, and of all my friends."
Jacques walked on a few minutes or two in silence, cutting off the heads of the blue-bells with his little cane. "I am not different to you then from any one else, eh, Annot?" said he.
"How different, M. Chapeau?"
"You will think as much of young Boullin, the baker?"
"I don't like young Boullin, the baker, and I don't thank you for mentioning his name one bit."
"Well! people say you are very partial to young Boullin."
"People lie--they always do; everybody tries to tease and plague me now. You and Jean, and father, and that old fool, Rouel, are all alike," and Annot gave symptoms of hysterical tears.
Jacques was again silent for awhile, but he had commenced walking very near to his companion, and she did not appear to resent it. After a while he said: "You are not glad that I'm going, Annot?"
"You would not have me sorry that you are going to fight with all the other brave men, would you?"
"Is that all I am to get from you, after all? is that all the regard you have for me? very well, Annot--it is well at any rate we should understand each other. They were right, I find, when they told me that you were such a coquette, you would have a dozen lovers at the same time."
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