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- La Vendee - 40/91 -
to him, Jean; nearer than I am to Lolotte now."
"And that's quite near enough," said Lolotte, giving him a push.
"Why I'm sure I was doing nothing; I was only wanting to show you. Jean Stein there, was, as I was saying, quite close to M. Henri; and as they leapt out of the camp together, twenty voices roared out at once, 'Fire upon the red scarf! fire upon the red scarf!' Oh! that was a fearful evening; it was dark then, and the light of the smoking, glaring torches made it five times more horrible. I thought we were as good as dead men then. I'm sure I for one can't guess how we ever got out alive."
"And yet, M. Henri wasn't wounded," said Jean; "well it was wonderful. After all, General d'Elbée must be right; Providence must give a shake to a rebel's arm, just as he's firing, so as to send his bullet anywhere but where it's meant to go."
"Yes," said Bourdin, "and it directs the shot of a royalist right into a rebel's heart."
Well, if that be so," said Lolotte, "I'm sure I for one wouldn't like to fight on the rebel's side. They must be wonderful brave men to hold out at all, when Providence goes against them in that way."
"But they don't hold out, girl," said Jean, "they always run away; how they did run, Bourdin, when M. Henri led us into the town, through the broken wall; well, I believe they all thought at that time, the devil himself was coming for them out of the moat."
"Only think, girls, three or four thousand men running away as fast as their feet could carry them, from two hundred fellows, who hadn't a charge of dry powder among them, and who were all themselves dripping wet through; well that was fine."
Jacques Chapeau and Annot Stein had not joined any of these parties; they had disappeared soon after mass, and were not heard of for three or four hours afterwards; they took a long ramble by themselves, down by the mill-stream, and far beyond the mill; sitting down, every now and then among the willows, and then getting up and strolling on a bit further; they did not, this day, waste their time in foolish quarrels and fond reconciliations; but discoursed together, sundry serious matters of important business, as becomes people to do, when they think of arranging a partnership concern, from which each intends to get a comfortable means of living for the remainder of his or her life; upon the whole, they had but very few subjects of difference, and by their return to the smith's house at supper-time, they had fully agreed that no further time ought to be lost, in establishing a firm under the name of Jacques and Annot Chapeau and Co. The Co. being left to come afterwards or not, as God might please.
After supper was over, Annot had no difficulty in inducing her brothers to leave the house, and thus the coast was left clear for Jacques to ask the father's consent to his intended marriage. Neither he nor Annot expected much difficulty in persuading Michael to accept of so promising a son-in-law; but they were both determined that if they could not marry with his consent, they would do so without it. So Chapeau lighted his pipe, and sat himself down opposite the smith, and Annot retired to her own little sleeping chamber, where she might conveniently hear what her father and lover said to each other, respecting her intended nuptials.
"Well, Michael Stein, my old friend," said Jacques; "these are glorious times, are they not? The rebels beaten hollow, till they haven't a face to shew for themselves, and the King coming to La Vendée, to enjoy his own again; it will be a fine thing to see the King riding into the village of Echanbroignes to thank the gallant peasants, with his own mouth, for what they have done for him!"
"Yes, M. Chapeau! those will be fine times when they come; pray God you, and other young fellows like you, may live to see them; an old fellow like me has little chance of such happiness."
"And why not, my friend? what is to make those days so far off? I tell you, Michael Stein, the rebels were dead beaten at Saumur; they are scattered like chaff; their very best soldiers are altogether hors de combat; the war is as good as over. We may have to make a little trip or two, just to receive the English, who are coming to help us; we may have to go and meet them on the coast; or perhaps to Parthenay, to ask M. Santerre what he wants in that part of the world; but that is all, literally all; I tell you the rebels are clean beaten."
"I only wonder then, M. Chapeau, why you want the English to come and help you, if, as you say, you have conquered all the republicans yourselves?"
"Just to pay their respects to the King, and, perhaps, to lend us a hand in driving those Jacobins out of Paris--that's all. Till that's done the King is to live at Saumur."
"To live at Saumur, is he?"
"That's what those say who know most about it, and you know I'm in the way to know what's really going forward. He's to hold his court at Saumur, and Henri Larochejaquelin is to be commandant of the town, and have the command of all the forces there. I tell you, Michael Stein, we, that wear the red scarfs, will not be the worse off then."
"I hope not; in truth, M. Chapeau, I hope not; though they do say that they be not wise who put their trust in princes."
"Princes!" said Jacques, "I am not talking of princes, I am talking of the King himself, God bless him!"
"Well, perhaps, that does make a difference; and I say, God bless him too, with all my heart."
"I suppose you've heard, Michael Stein, that our young General, M. Henri, is going to be married?"
"Is he then?" said Michael. "No, truly, I did not hear a word of such a matter; to some grand lady of the court, I suppose?"
"No, but to his own beautiful young cousin, Mademoiselle de Lescure, the sister of our other General, you know."
"Well, may they be happy, both of them; I mind their fathers well; the old Marquis is still alive, but greatly ailing they tell me. I have much to be thankful for, and I do thank the Lord!" and as he spoke, Michael Stein crossed himself. "Now, I'm as old in a manner as the Marquis himself and yet you see I can still make the big hammer clink on the anvil."
"Indeed you can, Michael, and better too than many a young fellow. But, as we were saying, here is M. Henri going to be married, and his lady will surely be wanting some nice, tidy, handy, good-looking, smart young woman to be about her, more as a sort of a companion, you know, than a servant; in the same way, you mind, as I am now to M. Henri: now, wouldn't that be a nice berth for your daughter, Annot Stein?"
As Chapeau described the nice, tidy, smart, pretty young woman, that the future Madame de Larochejaquelin would be sure to require, Annot smoothed down her little apron with both her hands, gave a complaisant glance at her own neat little feet, and her bright holiday shoes, and then listened eagerly for her father's answer.
"I am sure, M. Chapeau, that Annot Stein is very thankful for your good wishes," said he, "and so is her father, very thankful; but she has not court-breeding enough for that sort of work; she has never learnt to speak smooth, and say pretty little flattering sayings, such as ladies like to hear. Nor when Madame would be out of sorts and ruffled, as great. ladies will be sometimes, would she know how to say the right word just at the right time; and then Annot has too much of her father's rough blood, and if Madame scolded at all, it's ten chances to one, but she would scold again, and that, you know, wouldn't do. No, M. Chapeau, Annot had better remain as she is, and keep her father's house, till she marries some honest tradesman, like myself, when these deadly wars be over."
"Well, but my dear friend," said Chapeau, "I had another little proposition I wanted to make, which would fit in so well with what I suggested; and I can assure you Madame Henri, that is Mademoiselle de Lescure as she is now, you know, is the softest, sweetest-tempered creature living--she wouldn't quarrel with any one, much less with such a little angel as your daughter."
"I'm sure," said Michael, making a low bow to his guest, and pressing the handle of his pipe to his breast. "I'm sure my daughter will be very thankful for the great interest you take respecting her."
"But as I was saying, you know, about this other little proposition of mine?"
"Well, M. Chapeau, I'm listening with all my ears, and very thankful for your kind friendship."
"You see," said Jacques, "M. Henri is going to change his condition; we've both been young fellows together; we've had our amusements and our pleasures like other young men, and, maybe, been as fortunate as most. Well, my friend, M. Henri is going to settle down, and marry the girl of his heart, whom he loves better than all the world; and what can I do better than follow his example? The truth is, I mean to settle down too, Michael Stein."
"Well," said Michael, scratching his head, and listening for the remainder of Chapeau's little proposition.
"And I want to marry the girl of my heart, whom I love better than all the world, and her name is Annot Stein, and there's an end of it; and now you know all about it."
Annot's heart beat quickly as she heard him make the last important declaration; and beautifully she thought he made it. When Chapeau called her a little angel, she swore to herself that he was the dearest fellow that ever lived and when he finished by protesting that she was the girl of his heart, and that he loved her better than all the world, she longed to run out and throw her arms about his neck.
Michael Stein took a long pull at his pipe, and blew out a huge cloud of tobacco before he made any answer, and then he said:
"M. Chapeau, I am sensible how great an honour you propose to do me and my poor daughter; but I am not a proud man, no one can say that Michael Stein was ever proud or ambitious; my only wish is to see my little girl married to a decent hard-working fellow, like her father."
"Well, ain't I a hard-working fellow?"
"Let me look at your hands, M. Chapeau; the inside of your hands. No, you are not a hard-working fellow; your hand is as soft as a lady's."
"What signifies my hand? I shan't make a worse husband, shall I, because
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