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- La Vendee - 3/91 -
"How in action?" said Fleuriot. "What do you intend to do?"
"To follow any one who will lead me to assist in restoring the King to his throne," replied Henri. "Let us, at any rate, retire to our provinces; and be assured that the National Assembly will soon hear of us."
The club was broken up; the young friends met no more in the Rue Vivienne. Within a week from the 10th of August, the denizens of the municipality had searched the rooms for any relics which might be discovered there indicatory of a feeling inimical to the Republic; their residences also were searched, and there were orders at the barriers that they should not pass out; but the future Vendean leaders had too quickly appreciated the signs of the time; they had gone before the revolutionary tribunal had had time to form itself. They were gone, and their names for a season were forgotten in Paris; but Henri Rochejaquelin was right--before long, the National Assembly did hear of them; before twelve months had passed, they were more feared by the Republic, than the allied forces of England, Austria, and Prussia.
Nothing occurred in the provinces, subsequently called La Vendée, during the autumn or winter of 1792 of sufficient notice to claim a place in history, but during that time the feelings which afterwards occasioned the revolt in that country, were every day becoming more ardent. The people obstinately refused to attend the churches to which the constitutional clergy had been appointed; indeed, these pastors had found it all but impossible to live in the parishes assigned to them; no one would take them as tenants; no servants would live with them; the bakers and grocers would not deal with them; the tailors would not make their clothes for them, nor the shoemakers shoes. During the week they were debarred from all worldly commerce, and on Sundays they performed their religious ceremonies between empty walls.
The banished priests, on the other hand, who were strictly forbidden to perform any of the sacerdotal duties, continued among the trees and rocks to collect their own congregations undiminished in number, and much more than ordinarily zealous, in their religious duties; and with the licence which such sylvan chapels were found to foster, denunciations against the Republic, and prayers for the speedy restoration of the monarchy, were mingled with the sacred observances.
The execution of Louis, in January, 1793, greatly increased the attachment which was now felt in this locality to his family. In Nantes and Angers, in Saumur, Thouars, and other towns in which the presence of Republican forces commanded the adhesion of the inhabitants this event was commemorated by illuminations, but this very show of joy at so cruel a murder, more than the murder itself, acerbated the feelings both of the gentry and the peasants. They were given to understand that those who wished well to their country were now expected to show some sign of gratitude for what the blessed revolution had done for them--that those who desired to stand well with the Republic should rejoice openly at their deliverance from thraldom. In fact, those who lived in large towns, and who would not illuminate, were to be marked men--marked as secret friends to the monarchy--as inveterate foes to the Republic--and they were told that they were to be treated accordingly. Men then began to congregate in numbers round the churches, and in the village squares, and to ask each other whether they had better not act as enemies, if they were to be considered as enemies; to complain of their increasing poverty and diminished comfort; and to long for the coming time, when the King should enjoy his own again.
The feeling with the country gentry was very generally the same as with the peasantry, though hitherto they had openly expressed no opposition to the ruling Government. They had, however, been always elected to those situations which the leaders of the revolution had wished the people to fill exclusively with persons from their own ranks. They were chosen as mayors in the small towns, and were always requested to act as officers in the corps of the National Guards, which were formed in this, as in every other district of France. On this account the peculiar ill-will of the Republican Government was directed against them. In France, at that time, political inactivity was an impossibility. Revolt against the Republic, or active participation in its measures, was the only choice left to those who did not choose to fly their country, and many of the seigneurs of Anjou and Poitou would not adopt the latter alternative.
In March, the Commissaries of the Republic entered these provinces to collect from that district, its portion towards the levy of three hundred thousand men which had been ordered by the Convention. This was an intolerable grievance--it was not to be borne, that so many of their youths should be forcibly dragged away to fight the battles of the Republic--battles in which they would rather that the Republic should be worsted. Besides, every one would lose a relative, a friend, or a lover; the decree affected every individual in the district. The peasants declared that they would not obey the orders of the Convention--that they would not fight the battles of the Republic.
This was the commencement of the revolt. The troops of the Republic were, of course, put in motion to assist the officers who were entrusted with the carrying out of the conscription. There were garrisons in Nantes, in Anjou, and in Saumur; and detachments from these places were sent into the smaller towns and villages, into every mayoralty, to enforce the collection of the levy, and to take off with them the victims of the conscription. Among other places, an attempt was made to carry out the new law at St. Florent, and at this place was made the first successful resistance, by an armed force, to the troops of the Convention.
St. Florent is a small town on the south bank of the Loire, in the province of Anjou, and at the northern extremity of that district, now so well known by the name of La Vendée. It boasted of a weekly market, a few granaries for the storing of corn, and four yearly fairs for the sale of cattle. Its population and trade, at the commencement of the war, was hardly sufficient to entitle it to the name of a town; but it had early acquired some celebrity as a place in which the Republic was known to be very unpopular, and in which the attachment of the people to the throne was peculiarly warm.
Here the work of the conscription was commenced in silence. The lists were filled, and the names were drawn. No opposition was shown to the employé's in this portion of their unpopular work. Indeed, it appears that no organized system of opposition had been planned; but the first attempt that was made to collect the unfortunate recruits upon whom the lots had fallen, was the signal for a general revolt. The first name on the list was that of Peter Berrier; and had Peter Berrier intended to prove himself a good citizen and a willing soldier, he should, without further call, have attended that day at the temporary barracks which had been established in St. Florent. But he had not done so, and there was nothing wonderful or unusual in this; for on all occasions of the kind many of the conscripts had to be sought out, and brought forth from the bosoms of their families, to which they retired, with a bashful diffidence as to their own peculiar fitness for martial glory. But in this instance not one of the chosen warriors obeyed the summons of the Convention, by attending at the barracks of St. Florent. Not one of the three hundred thousand men was there; and it was soon apparent to the colonel in command of the detachment, that he had before him the unpleasant duty of collecting one by one, from their different hiding-places, the whole contingent which the town of St. Florent was bound to supply.
Peter Berrier was the first on the list, and as it was well known that he was an ostler at a little auberge in the middle of the square, a corporal and a couple of soldiers was despatched to the house of entertainment to capture him; and the trio soon found that they would not have far to search, for Peter was standing at the gate of the inn yard, and with him three or four of his acquaintance--men equally well-known in St. Florent.
There was a sturdy farmer there of the better sort--a man who not only held a farm near the town, but had a small shop within it, for the sale of seeds and tools for planting--his name was Foret--and it was said that no man in St. Florent was more anxious for the restoration of the King. There was the keeper of the auberge himself, who seemed but little inclined to find fault with his servant, for the contumacious manner in which he treated the commands of the Convention; and there was the well-known postillion of St. Florent, the crack of whose whip was so welcome from Angers to Nantes, the sound of whose cheery voice was so warmly greeted at every hostelrie between those towns. The name of Cathelineau was not then so well known as it was some six months afterwards, but even then Cathelineau, the postillion, was the most popular man in St. Florent. He was the merriest among the mirthful, the friend of every child, the playmate of every lass in the town; but he was the comforter of those poorer than himself, and the solace of the aged and afflicted. He was the friend of the banished priest, and the trusted messenger of the royalist seigneur; all classes adored him, save those who sided with the Republic, and by them he had long been looked on as an open and declared enemy. St. Florent was justly proud of its postillion; and now that evil days were come upon the little town, that their priests were banished, and these young men called for to swell the armies of the hated Convention, many flocked to Cathelineau to ask from whence he expected deliverance from all their troubles.
It was well known that Peter Berrier was the first whom the Colonel's myrmidons would be sent to seize, and many eyes were resting on the group collected at the gateway of the auberge, as the corporal and the two soldiers, without their muskets, but with pistols at their belts, marched across from the little barracks to the spot where they were standing. At any rate, Cathelineau had not advised a retreat, for there stood Peter Berrier--prominent in the front of the group--a little pale to be sure, and perhaps rather uneasy in his attitude; but still evidently prepared to bear the brunt of that day's proceeding. He was not going to run away, or he would long since have started. He was not going to obey the orders of the Convention, or he would not have stood there so openly and firmly, waiting the approach of the corporal and the two soldiers. It was very evident that there was to be a row in St. Florent that day, and that the postillion approved of it.
As the military party drew near to the gate of the inn yard, the corporal opened a small roll of paper, which he held in his hand, and standing still about six paces distant from the spot where Peter was maintaining his ground, read or pretended to read, the following words from the piece of paper which he held in his hands:
"In the name of the French Republic, and by command of the Convention, you, Peter Berrier, having been duly, legally, and specially drawn, chosen, and selected by lot, to serve in the armies of the Republic for one year, from the date of your first bearing arms, or for so long as your services may be necessary to the security of the Republic, are hereby required and desired to join the detachment of the Republican army at present serving in St. Florent, without let, delay, or hindrance, and thereby show yourself a friend to your country, and a good citizen of the Republic."
The corporal pronounced this form of invitation in that tone of voice,
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