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- La Vendee - 4/91 -
which proved that it was very familiar to him, and that he was much in the habit of requesting good citizens to join the armies of the Republic for such time as their services might be necessary; and, having finished it, he rolled up the piece of paper, stuck it into his belt, as he might soon require the use of his hands, and, walking quite close up to the group, said--
"Come, Peter Berrier, you are not such a fool, I hope, as to intend giving us any trouble. Come along."
Peter looked first into the farmer's face; then to his master's; and, lastly, to the postillion's; and, seeing that they were all evidently firm in their resolve, he plucked up spirit, and replied.--"Why, Mr Corporal, I have no inclination just at present to go to fight for the Republic. You see I have no quarrel yet with my master here, M. Debedin, and he cannot well spare me. I am afraid, Mr Corporal, I must decline."
"That's nonsense, you know," growled the corporal; "you must come, you know; and as well first as last. I don't want to be uncivil to a comrade, and I'd be sorry to have to lay a hand on you."
"Then you'd better keep your hands off," said Cathelineau, "we quiet people in St. Florent don't bear handling well."
The corporal looked up at the postillion, but he soon saw that he wasn't joking.
"Take my word for it, my friend," continued Cathelineau, "Peter Berrier does not wish to be a soldier, and, if you force him to become one, it is not on the side of the Republic that he will be found fighting."
"We'll take chances for that," replied the corporal, not exactly understanding what the other meant; "at any rate, back without him we won't go; and if you're determined for a riot, Messieurs, why I'm sorry; but I can't help it," and, appealing to Peter as a last hope, he said, "Come, Berrier, will you come with us quietly, or must we three drag you across the square to the barracks."
"At any rate, Mr Corporal," said Peter, "I will not go with you quietly; as to the being dragged, I can say nothing about that yet."
The corporal looked round towards the barracks, as he felt that it was possible that he might want more assistance, and he saw that a body of men under arms was standing immediately in front of the building, and that a couple of the officers were with them. The corporal saw at a glance that they were ready for immediate action, if their services should be requisite. In fact, the colonel of the detachment well knew the feeling in the place with reference to the levies of the conscription. He was sure, from the fact of not a single man having attended at the barracks, as directed, that there existed some general determination to resist the demands of the Convention, and he had consequently closely watched the proceedings of the corporal.
"Take your answer, Mr Corporal," said Cathelineau: "had Peter Berrier intended to have joined you. he would not have troubled you to come across the square to fetch him. In one word, he will not go with you; if as you say, you intend to drag him across the market-place, you will find that you have enough to do. Peter Berrier has many friends in St. Florent."
The corporal again looked round, and he saw that the men under arms now stretched from the front of the barracks, nearly into the square; but he also saw that the inhabitants of the town were standing clustering at all the doors, and that men were crowding towards the square from the different inlets. Four or five of the more respectable inhabitants had also joined the group in the gateway, from the hands of one of whom the postillion quietly took a stout ash stick. The corporal, however, was not a coward, and he saw that, if he intended to return with Peter Berrier, he should not delay his work with any further parley, so he took his pistol from his belt and cocked it, and, stepping quite close to Berrier, said,
"Come men--forward, and bring him off; one man to each shoulder," and he himself seized hold of the breast of Peter's coat with his left hand and pulled him forward a step or two.
Peter was a little afraid of the pistol, but still he resisted manfully: from the corporal's position, Cathelineau was unable to reach with his stick the arm which had laid hold of Berrier, but it descended heavily on the first soldier, who came to the corporal's assistance. The blow fell directly across the man's wrist, and his arm dropt powerless to his side. The corporal immediately released his hold of Peter's coat, and turning on Cathelineau raised his pistol and fired; the shot missed the postillion, but it struck M. Debedin, the keeper of the auberge, and wounded him severely in the jaw. He was taken at once into the house, and the report was instantaneously spread through the town, that M. Debedin had been shot dead by the soldiery.
The ash stick of the postillion was again raised, and this time the corporal's head was the sufferer; the man's shako protected his skull, which, if uncovered, would have probably been fractured; but he was half-stunned, at any rate stupified by the blow, and was pulled about and pushed from one to another by the crowd who had now collected in the archway, without making any further attempt to carry off his prisoner.
The other soldier, when he saw his two comrades struck, fired his pistol also, and wounded some other person in the crowd. He then attempted to make his escape back towards the barracks, but he was tripped up violently as he attempted to run, and fell on his face on the pavement. The unfortunate trio were finally made prisoners of; they were disarmed, their hands bound together, and then left under a strong guard in the cow-house attached to the auberge.
This skirmish, in which Berrier was so successfully rescued, occurred with greater rapidity than it has been recounted; for, as soon as the colonel heard the first shot fired, he ordered his men to advance in a trot across the square. It took some little time for him to give his orders to the lieutenants, and for the lieutenants to put the men into motion; but within five minutes from the time that the first shot was fired, about forty men had been commanded to halt in front of the hotel; they all had their muskets in their hands and their bayonets fixed, and as soon as they halted a portion of them were wheeled round, so that the whole body formed a square. By this time, however, the corporal and the two soldiers were out of sight, and so was also Peter Berrier, for Cathelineau considered that now as the man had withstood the first shock, and had resolutely and manfully refused to comply with the order of the Convention, it was better that he should be out of the way, and that the brunt of the battle should be borne by his friends. Peter was consequently placed in the cow-house with the captives, and had the gratification of acting as guard over the three first prisoners taken in the Vendean war.
Cathelineau and Foret, however, stood out prominently before the men who were collected before the auberge, and had already taken on themselves the dangerous honour of leading the revolt.
"Men of St. Florent," said the colonel addressing the crowd, "I am most reluctant to order the soldiers to fire upon the inhabitants of the town; but unless you at once restore the three men who were sent over here on duty, and give up the man, Peter Berrier, who has been drawn as a conscript, I will do so at once."
"Peter Berrier is a free man," said Foret, "and declines going with you; and as for your three soldiers, they have fired at and killed or wounded two inhabitants of the town--they at any rate shall be brought before the mayor, before they are given up."
"Sergeant," said the colonel, "take out six men and make prisoner that man; if a rescue be attempted, the soldiers shall at once fire on the people, and on your own heads be your own blood."
The sergeant and the six men instantly stepped out, but Foret was surrounded by a dense crowd of friends, and the soldiers found it utterly impossible to lay hold of him.
"Your pistols, sergeant; use your pistols," roared the colonel, as he himself drew one of his own from his holsters, and at the same time gave orders to the men in the ranks to present their pieces.
The sergeant followed by his six men, made a desperate dash into the crowd with the object of getting hold of Foret; but in spite of the butt-end of their pistols, with which the soldiers laid about them, they found themselves overpowered, and were barely able to make good their retreat to the main body of the detachment; at the same time, a volley of stones, brickbats and rough missiles of all kinds, descended on the soldiers from every side, for they were now nearly surrounded; a stone struck the Colonel's horse and made him rear: immediately afterwards, another stone struck himself on the side of the face, and nearly dismounted him.
"Fire," roared the Colonel, and the whole detachment fired at the same moment; the soldiers fronting the auberge could not fire into the mob directly before them, or they would have run the risk of killing their own comrades, who were still struggling there with the townspeople; and in this way, Cathelineau and Foret were saved, but the carnage all around them was horrid; the soldiers had fired point blank into the dense crowd, and not a bullet had fallen idle to the ground. A terrible scream followed the discharge of musketry; the dying and the wounded literally covered the space round the soldiers, but they were quickly dragged into the back ground, and their places filled by men who were evidently determined that they would not easily be conquered.
Another volley of stones was soon showered on the soldiers, and this was kept up with wonderful activity--the women and children supplied the men with the materials--the stones in the streets were at once picked up--old walls were pulled down--every article that would answer for a missile was brought into use; an iron pot, which had been flung with immense violence by the handle, struck the second officer in command in the face, and dashed his brains out. Immediately that either part of the square battalion was in any confusion, the people dashed in, and attempted to force the muskets from the hands of the soldiers; in some cases they were successful, and before the body had commenced a retreat, Foret and Cathelineau were both armed with a musket and bayonet.
The colonel now saw that he could not maintain his position where he was; he had not brought out with him the whole force of the garrison, though in all he had not above seventy or eighty men; but he had behind the barrack a gun of very large calibre, properly mounted, with all the necessary equipments and ready for service. Such a piece of artillery accompanied every detachment, and was kept in preparation for immediate use at every military station; it had already been ascertained that this afforded the readiest means of putting down revolt. He resolved, therefore, on retreating while he had the power for doing so, and gave the necessary orders to the men.
With great difficulty, but slowly and steadily, his men executed them: amidst showers of stones, and the now determined attack of the people the soldiers returned to the barracks, leaving one of their officers, and one other man dead in the crowd; many of them were severely wounded; few, if any, had escaped some bruise or cut. The people now conceived
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