No Surrender! A Tale Of The Rising in La Vendee by G. A. Henty.
Preface. Chapter 1: A French Lugger. Chapter 2: The Beginning Of Troubles. Chapter 3: The First Successes. Chapter 4: Cathelineau's Scouts. Chapter 5: Checking The Enemy. Chapter 6: The Assault Of Chemille. Chapter 7: A Short Rest. Chapter 8: The Capture Of Saumur. Chapter 9: Bad News. Chapter 10: Preparations For A Rescue. Chapter 11: The Attack On Nantes. Chapter 12: A Series Of Victories. Chapter 13: Across The Loire. Chapter 14: Le Mans. Chapter 15: In Disguise. Chapter 16: A Friend At Last: Chapter 17: A Grave Risk. Chapter 18: Home.
"Follow Me!" he shouted. "Make for the gun!" At the first volley, the colonel of the dragoons and many of his men fell. A scattered fire broke out from the defenders. Leigh gave the word and, leaping up, they threw themselves on the traitor. He was the bearer of terrible news. Jean seized one of them by the throat. Westermann's cavalry charged into the streets of Dol. For two or three minutes, husband and wife stood together.
In the world's history, there is no more striking example of heroic bravery and firmness than that afforded by the people of the province of Poitou, and more especially of that portion of it known as La Vendee, in the defence of their religion and their rights as free men. At the commencement of the struggle they were almost unarmed, and the subsequent battles were fought by the aid of muskets and cannon wrested from the enemy. With the exception of its forests, La Vendee offered no natural advantages for defence. It had no mountains, such as those which enabled the Swiss to maintain their independence; no rivers which would bar the advance of an enemy; and although the woods and thickets of the Bocage, as it was called, favoured the action of the irregular troops, these do not seem to have been utilized as they might have been, the principal engagements of the war being fought on open ground. For eighteen months the peasants of La Vendee, in spite of the fact that they had no idea of submitting either to drill or discipline, repulsed the efforts of forces commanded by the best generals France could furnish; and which grew, after every defeat, until at length armies numbering, in all, over two hundred thousand men were collected to crush La Vendee.
The losses on both sides were enormous. La Vendee was almost depopulated; and the Republicans paid dearly, indeed, for their triumph, no fewer than one hundred thousand men having fallen, on their side. La Vendee was crushed, but never surrendered. Had the British government been properly informed, by its agents, of the desperate nature of the struggle that was going on; they might, by throwing twenty thousand troops, with supplies of stores and money into La Vendee, have changed the whole course of events; have crushed the Republic, given France a monarch, and thus spared Europe over twenty years of devastating warfare, the expenditure of enormous sums of money, and the loss of millions of lives.
G. A. Henty
Chapter 1: A French Lugger.
Some half a mile back from the sea, near the point where the low line of sandy hill is broken by the entrance into Poole Harbour, stood, in 1791, Netherstock; which, with a small estate around, was the property of Squire Stansfield. The view was an extensive one, when the weather was clear. Away to the left lay the pine forests of Bournemouth and Christ Church and, still farther seaward, the cliffs of the Isle of Wight, from Totland Bay as far as Saint Catherine Point. Close at hand to the south was Studland Bay, bounded by Handfast Point. Looking towards the right was a great sheet of shallow water, for the most part dry at low tide, known as Poole and Wareham Harbours, with its numerous creeks and bays.
Netherstock was an old house, with many nooks and corners. The squire was a justice of the peace but, unless there was some special business on, he seldom took his place on the bench. He was a jovial man, who took life easily. He was popular among his neighbours, especially among the poorer classes; for whom he had always a pleasant word, as he rode along; and who, in case of illness, knew that they could always be sure of a supply of soup, or a gill of brandy at Netherstock.
Among those of his own class it was often a matter of wonder how James Stansfield made both ends meet. The family had, for two or three generations, been of a similar temperament to that of the present holder; men who spent their money freely, and were sure to be present whenever there was a horse race, or a main of cocks to be fought, or a prizefight to come off, within a day's ride of Netherstock. Gradually, farm after farm had been parted with; and the estate now was smaller, by half, than it had been at the beginning of the century.
James Stansfield had, however, done nothing further to diminish it. He had a large family, but they could hardly be said to be an expensive one, seeing that little was spent upon the fashion of their clothes; and beyond the fact that the curate in charge of the little church in the village of Netherstock came over, every morning for two or three hours, to give the boys and girls the elements of education, they went very much their own way. Mrs. Stansfield had died, five years before this. Polly, the eldest girl, aged twenty, acted as mistress of the house. Next to her, at intervals of little more than a year, came Ralph and John; two strongly built young fellows, both fearless riders and good at all rustic games. What supervision the farm work got was given by them.
Patsey, the second girl, was generally admitted to be the flower of the Stansfields. She was bright, pretty, and good tempered. She was in charge of the dairy, and the Netherstock butter was famous through the country round, and always fetched top prices at the market. The youngest of the family was Leigh, who was now fourteen. He was less heavily built than his brothers, but their tutor declared that he was the quickest and most intelligent of his pupils; and that, if he had but a chance, he would turn out a fine young fellow.
The boys were all fond of boating and sailing, which was natural enough, as the sea washed two sides of the estate. They had two boats. One of these lay hauled up on the sands, a mile to the east of the entrance to the harbour. She was a good sea boat and, when work was slack about the place, which indeed was the normal state of things, they would often sail to Weymouth to the west, or eastward to Yarmouth or Lymington, sometimes even to Portsmouth. The other boat, which was also large, but of very shallow draught of water, lay inside the entrance to the harbour; and in her they could go either north or south of Brownsea Island, and shoot or fish in the many inlets and bays. There were few who knew every foot of the great sheet of water as they did, and they could tell the precise time of the tide at which the channels were deep enough for boats drawing from two to three feet of water.
The most frequent visitor to Netherstock was Lieutenant, or, as he was called in courtesy, Captain Whittier, the officer in command of the coast guard station between Poole and Christ Church; his principal station being opposite Brownsea Island, the narrowest point of the entrance to the harbour. He was a somewhat fussy little officer, with a great idea of the importance of his duties, mingled with a regret that these duties did not afford him full scope for proving his ability.
"Smuggling has almost ceased to exist, along here," he would say. "I do not say that, across the harbour, something that way may not still be done; for the facilities there are very much greater than they are on this side. Still, my colleague there can have but little trouble; for I keep a sharp lookout that no boat enters by the passage south of the island without being searched. Of course, one hears all sorts of absurd reports about cargoes being run; but we know better, and I believe they are only set on foot to put our officers from Swanage Westward, and beyond Christ Church down to Hurst Castle, off their guard."
"No doubt, captain; no doubt," James Stansfield would agree. "Still, I fancy that, although times are not what they were, it is still possible to buy a keg of brandy, occasionally, or a few yards of silk or lace, that have never paid duty."
"Yes, no doubt occasionally some small craft manages to run a few kegs or bales; and unfortunately the gentry, instead of aiding his majesty's representatives, keep the thing alive by purchasing spirits, and so on, from those who have been concerned in their landing."
"Well, you know, Captain Whittier, human nature is pretty strong. If a pedlar comes along here with ribbons and fal-lals, and offers them to the girls at half the price at which they could buy them down at Poole, you can hardly expect them to take lofty ground, and charge the man with having smuggled them."
"I do not think the young ladies are offenders that way," the officer said, "for I have never yet seen them in foreign gear of any sort. I should, if you will allow me to say so, be more inclined, were you not a justice of the peace, to suspect you of having dealings with these men; for your brandy is generally of the best."
"I don't set up to be better than my neighbours, captain," the squire said, with a laugh; "and if the chance comes my way, I will not say that I should refuse to buy a good article, at the price I should pay for a bad one in the town."
"Your tobacco is good, too, squire."
"Yes, I am particular about my tobacco, and I must say that I think government lays too high a duty on it. If I had the making of the laws, I would put a high duty on bad tobacco, and a low duty on a good article; that would encourage the importation of good wholesome stuff.
"I suppose you have heard no rumours of any suspicious looking craft being heard of, off the coast?"
"No, I think that they carry on their business a good deal farther to the west now. My post is becoming quite a sinecure. The Henriette came into Poole this morning, but we never trouble about her. She is a fair trader, and is well known at every port between Portsmouth and Plymouth as such. She always comes in at daylight, and lays her foresail aback till we board her, and send a couple of men with her into Poole or Wareham. Her cargo is always consigned to well-known merchants, at all the ports she enters; and consists of wines, for the most part, though she does occasionally bring in brandy.
"He is a fine young fellow, the skipper, Jean Martin. I believe his father is a large wine merchant, at Nantes. I suppose you know him, squire?"
"Yes, I have met him several times down in the town, and indeed have bought many a barrel of wine of him. He has been up here more than once, for I have told him, whenever he has anything particularly good either in wine or spirits, to let me know. He talks a little English, and my girls like to have a chat with him, about what is going on on his side of the water. He offered, the other day, to give Leigh a trip across to Nantes, if I was willing.
"Things seem to be going on very badly in Paris, by what he says; but he does not anticipate any troubles in the west of France, where there seems to be none of that ill feeling, between the different classes, that there is in other parts."
The departure of Captain Whittier was always followed by a broad smile on the faces of the elder boys, breaking occasionally into a hearty laugh, in which the squire joined.
"I call him an insufferable ass," Ralph said, on this particular evening. "It would be difficult, as father says, to find an officer who is, as far as we are concerned, so admirably suited for his position."
"That is so, Ralph. There is scarcely a man, woman, or child in this part of Dorsetshire who does not know that there are more goods run, on that piece of water over there, than on the whole south coast of England. I sincerely trust that nothing will ever bring about his recall. Personally, I would pay two or three hundred a year, out of my own pocket, rather than lose him. There is no such place anywhere for the work; why, there are some fourteen or fifteen inlets where goods can be landed at high water and, once past the island, I don't care how sharp the revenue men may be, the betting is fifty to one against their being at the right spot at the right time.
"If the passage between our point and the island were but a bit wider, it would be perfect; but unfortunately it is so narrow that it is only on the very darkest night one can hope to get through, unnoticed. However, we can do very well with the southern channel and, after all, it is safer. We can get any number of boats, and the Henriette has only to anchor half a mile outside the entrance. We know when she is coming, and have but to show a light, directly she makes her signal, and the boats will put out from Radhorn passage and Hamworth; while messengers start for Bushaw, and Scopland, and Creach, and a dozen farmhouses, and the carts are sure to be at the spot where they had been warned to assemble, by the time the boats come along with the kegs; and everything is miles away, in hiding, before morning.
"If it is a dark night the Henriette makes off again, and comes boldly in the next afternoon. If one of the revenue boats, either from here or Studland, happens to come across her before she gets up anchor, there she is—the crew are all asleep, with the exception of a man on watch; she is simply waiting to come in, when there is light enough to enable her to make her way up the passage."
James Stansfield was, in fact, the organizer of the smuggling business carried on at Poole, and the adjacent harbours. There was not a farmhouse, among the hills to the south of the great sheet of water, with which he was not in communication. Winter was the season at which the trade was most busy, for the short summer nights were altogether unsuited for the work; and when the cold weather drove the wildfowl in for shelter, there was splendid shooting, and Ralph and John were able to combine amusement with business, and to keep the larder well stocked.
The night signals were made from a cleft in the sand hills, half a mile from the house; the light being so arranged that it could not be seen from Brownsea Island, though visible to those on the south side, from Studland right away over the hills to Corfe Castle, even to Wareham. It was shown but for half a minute, just as the bells of Poole Church struck nine. At that hour, when the lugger was expected, there was a lookout at the door of every farmhouse and, the moment the light was seen, preparations were made for the landing at the spot of which notice had been given, by one or other of the boys, on the previous day. Then, from quiet little inlets, the boats would put off noiselessly, directly there was water to float them; for it was only at high tides that the shallows were covered. They would gather in the channel south of Brownsea, where the boys and often their father would be in their boats in readiness, until a momentary glimmer of a light, so placed on board the lugger that it could only be seen from the spot where they were awaiting it, showed the position of the craft and their readiness to discharge cargo.
It was exciting work, and profitable; and so well was it managed that, although it had been carried on for some years, no suspicion had ever entered the minds of any of the revenue officers. Sometimes many weeks would elapse between the visits of the lugger, for she was obliged to make her appearance frequently at other ports, to maintain her character as a trader; and was, as such, well known all along the coast.
It was only a year since the Henriette had taken the place of another lugger, that had previously carried on the work, but had been wrecked on the French coast. She had been the property of the same owner, or rather of the same firm; for Jean Martin, who had been first mate on board the other craft, had invested some of his own money in the Henriette, and assumed the command. It was noticed, at Poole, that the Henriette used that port more frequently than her predecessor had done; and indeed, she not infrequently came in, in the daytime, with her hold as full as when she had left Nantes.
It was on one of these occasions that Jean Martin, on coming up to Netherstock, had a long talk with the squire.
"So you want my daughter Patsey?" the latter said, when his visitor had told his story. "Well, it has certainly never entered my mind that any of my girls should marry a Frenchman. I don't say that I have not heard my boys making a sly joke, more than once, when the Henriette was seen coming in, and I have seen the colour flying up into the girl's face; but I only looked at it as boys' nonsense. Still, I don't say that I am averse to your suit. We may be said to be partners, in this trade of yours, and we both owe each other a good deal. During the last eight years you must have run something like forty cargoes, and never lost a keg or a bale; and I doubt if as much could be said for any other craft in the trade.
"Still, one can't calculate on always being lucky. I don't think anyone would turn traitor, when the whole countryside is interested in the matter; and I wouldn't give much for the life of anyone who whispered as much as a word to the revenue people. Still, accidents will take place sometimes. Your father must have done well with the trade, and so have I.
"At any rate, I will leave it in Patsey's hands. I have enough of them, and to spare. And of course, you will be able to bring her over, sometimes, to pay us a visit here.
"I think, too, that your offer of taking Leigh over with you helps to decide me in your favour. They are all growing up and, if anything were to put a stop to our business, this place would not keep them all; and it would be a great thing, for Patsey, to have her brother as a companion when you are away. The boy would learn French, and in your father's business would get such a knowledge of the trade with Nantes as should serve him in good stead. At any rate, he will learn things that are a good deal more useful to him than those he gets from the curate.
"Well, you know you will find her in the dairy, as usual. You had better go and see what she says to it."
It is probable that Jean Martin had already a shrewd idea of what Patsey's answer would be, and he presently returned to her father, radiant. Patsey, indeed, had given her heart to the cheery young sailor; and although it seemed to her a terrible thing, that she should go to settle in France, she had the less objection to it, inasmuch as the fear that the smuggling would be sooner or later discovered, and that ruin might fall upon Netherstock, was ever present in her mind, and in that of her elder sister.
To her brothers, engaged in the perilous business, it was regarded as a pleasant excitement, without which their lives would be intolerably dull. It was not that she or they regarded the matter in the light of a crime, for almost everyone on that part of the coast looked upon smuggling as a game, in which the wits of those concerned in it were pitted against those of the revenue men. It brought profit to all concerned, and although many of the gentry found it convenient to express indignation, at the damage done to the king's revenue by smuggling; there were none of them who thought it necessary to mention, to the coast guard, when by some accident a keg of brandy, or a parcel with a few pounds of prime tobacco, was found in one of the outhouses.
Patsey had suffered more than her sister, being of a more lively imagination, and being filled with alarm and anxiety whenever she knew that her father and the boys were away at night. Then, too, she was very fond of Leigh, and had built many castles in the air as to his future; and the thought that, not only would he be with her, but would be in the way of making his road to fortune, was very pleasant to her. She knew that if he remained at Netherstock he would grow up like his brothers. His father might, from time to time, talk of putting him into some business; but she understood his ways, and was certain that nothing would come of it.
Martin had, before, expressed to her his doubt as to whether her father would consent to her going away with him; but she had no fear on the subject. In his quiet, easygoing way he was fond of his children; and would scarcely put himself out to oppose, vehemently, anything on which they had set their hearts. He had, too, more than once said that he wished some of them could be settled elsewhere; for a time of trouble might come, and it would be well to have other homes, where some of them could be received.
"Patsey has consented," Jean Martin said, joyously, as he rejoined the squire.
"Well, that is all right. I think, myself, that it is for the best. Of course, it must be understood that, in the matter of religion, she is not to be forced or urged in any sort of way; but is to be allowed to follow the religion in which she has been brought up."
"I would in no way press her, sir. We have Protestants in France, just as there are Catholics here; though I must admit that there are not many of them in La Vendee. Still, the days when people quarrelled about religion are long since past; and certainly at Nantes there is a Protestant congregation, though away in the country they would be difficult to find. However, I promise you, solemnly, that I will in no way try to influence her mind, nor that of the boy. He will still, of course, look upon England as his home, and I should even oppose any attempt being made to induce him to join our church. You have plenty of Frenchmen in this country, and no question as to their religion arises. It will be just the same, with us."
Six weeks later, the Henriette returned. In her came Monsieur Martin, whose presence as a witness of the ceremony was considered advisable, if not absolutely necessary. He had, too, various documents to sign in presence of the French consul, at Southampton, giving his formal consent. The marriage was solemnized there at a small Catholic chapel, and it was repeated at the parish church at Poole, and the next day the party sailed for Nantes.
It was two months before the lugger again came in to Poole. When it returned, it took with it the squire and Polly, to whom Monsieur Martin had given a warm invitation to come over to see Patsey, in her new home.
They found her well and happy. Monsieur Martin's house was in the suburbs of Nantes. It had a large garden, at the end of which, facing another street, stood a pretty little house that had been generally used, either as the abode of aged mothers or unmarried sisters of the family, or for an eldest son to take his wife to; but which had now been handed over to Jean and his wife. This was very pleasant for Patsey, as it united the privacy of a separate abode with the cheerfulness of the family home. She had her own servant, whose excellent cooking and, above all, whose scrupulous cleanliness and tidiness, astonished her after the rough meals and haphazard arrangements at Netherstock.
Whenever she felt dull during Jean's absences, she could run across the garden for a talk with his mother and sister; at meals and in the evening she had Leigh, who spent most of his time at the cellars or in the counting house of Monsieur Martin; learning for the first time habits of business, and applying himself eagerly to acquiring the language.
The squire was put up at Monsieur Martin's, and Polly slept in the one spare room at her sister's, all the party from the pavilion going over to the house, to the midday meal and supper. The squire and Polly were much pleased with their visit. It was evident that Patsey had become a prime favourite with her husband's family. Jean's sister Louise was assiduous in teaching her French, and she had already begun to make some progress. Louise and her mother were constantly running across to the little pavilion, on some errand or other; and Patsey spent as much of her time with them as she did in her own house.
Jean's absences seldom exceeded ten days, and he generally spent a week at home before sailing again. He had driven her over to stay, for three or four days, at a small estate of his own, some forty miles to the southeast of Nantes, in the heart of what was called the Bocage—a wild country, with thick woods, narrow lanes, high hedges, and scattered villages and farms, much more English in appearance than the country round Nantes. The estate had come to him from an aunt. Everything here was very interesting to Patsey; the costumes of the women and children, the instruments of husbandry, the air of freedom and independence of the people, and the absence of all ceremony, interested and pleased her. She did not understand a single word of the patois spoken to her by the peasants, and which even Jean had some difficulty in following, although he had spent a good deal of his time at the little chateau during the lifetime of his aunt.
"Should you like to live here, when not at sea, Jean?" asked Patsey.
"Yes, I would rather live here than at Nantes. Next to a life at sea, I should like one quite in the country. There is plenty to do here. There is the work on the place to look after, there is shooting, there is visiting, and visiting here means something hearty, and not like the formal work in the town. Here no one troubles his head over politics. They may quarrel as they like, in Paris, but it does not concern La Vendee.
"Here the peasants love their masters, and the masters do all in their power for the comfort and happiness of the peasants. It is not as in many other parts of France, where the peasants hate the nobles, and the nobles regard the peasants as dirt under their feet. Here it is more like what I believe it was in England, when you had your troubles, and the tenants followed their lords to battle. At any rate, life here would be very preferable to being in business with my father, in Nantes. I should never have settled down to that; and as my elder brother seems specially made for that sort of life, fortunately I was able to go my own way, to take to the sea in the lugger, and become the carrier of the firm, while taking my share in the general profits."
"How is it that your brother does not live at home? It would seem natural that he should have had the pavilion, when he married."
"He likes going his own way," Jean said shortly. "As far as business matters go, he and my father are as one; but in other matters they differ widely. Jacques is always talking of reforms and changes, while my father is quite content with things as they are. Jacques has his own circle of friends, and would like to go to Paris as a deputy, and to mix himself up in affairs.
"Though none of us cared for the lady that he chose as his wife, she had money, and there was nothing to say against her, personally. None of us ever took to her, and there was a general feeling of relief when it was known that Jacques had taken a house in the business quarter.
"He looks after the carrying business. Of course, my lugger does but a very small proportion of it. We send up large quantities of brandy to Tours, Orleans, and other towns on the Loire; and have dealings with Brittany and Normandy, by sea, and with the Gironde. He looks after that part of the business. My father does the buying and directs the counting house. Though my art is a very inferior one, I have no reason to complain of my share of the profits."
The first eighteen months of Patsey's married life passed quietly and happily. She could now speak French fluently and, having made several stays at the country chateau, could make herself understood in the patois. Leigh spoke French as well as English. Fortunately he had picked up a little before leaving home, partly from his tutor, partly from endeavouring to talk with French fishermen and sailors who came into Poole. He frequently made trips in the Henriette, sometimes to Havre and Rouen, at others to Bordeaux. He had grown much, and was now a very strong, active lad. He got on very well with Monsieur Martin; but kept as much apart as he could from his eldest son, for whom he felt a deep personal dislike, and who had always disapproved of Jean's marriage to an Englishwoman.
Jacques Martin was the strongest contrast to his brother. He was methodical and sententious, expressed his opinion on all subjects with the air of a man whose judgment was infallible, and was an ardent disciple of Voltaire and Rousseau. It was very seldom that he entered his father's house, where his opinions on religious subjects shocked and horrified his mother and sister. He lived with an entirely different set, and spent most of his time at the clubs which, in imitation of those of Paris, had sprung up all over the country.
"What is all the excitement about, Jean?" Leigh asked his brother-in-law, one evening. "There are always fellows standing on casks or bales of timber along the wharf, shouting and waving their arms about and, sometimes, reading letters or printed papers; and then those who listen to them shout and throw up their caps, and get into a tremendous state of excitement."
"They are telling the others what is being done at the Assembly."
"And what are they doing there, Jean?"
"They are turning things upside down."
"And is that good?"
"Well, there is no doubt that things are not as well managed as they might be, and that there is a great deal of distress and misery. In some parts of France the taxation has been very heavy, and the extravagance of the court has excited an immense deal of anger. It is not the fault of the present king, who is a quiet fellow, and does not care for show or pageants; but it is rather the fault of the kings who preceded him, especially of Louis the Fourteenth—who was a great monarch, no doubt, but a very expensive one to his subjects, and whose wars cost an enormous sum.
"You see it is not, in France, as it is with you. The nobles here have great power. Their tenants and serfs—for they are still nothing but serfs—are at the mercy of their lords, who may flog them and throw them into prison, almost at their pleasure; and will grind the last sou out of them, that they may cut a good figure at court.
"In this part of France things are more as they are in England. The nobles and seigneurs are like your country gentlemen. They live in their chateaux, they mix with their people and take an interest in them, they go to their fetes, and the ladies visit the sick, and in all respects they live as do your country squires; paying a visit for a few weeks each year to Paris, and spending the rest of their time on their estates. But it is not from the country that the members of the Assembly who are the most urgent for reforms and violent in their speech come, but from the towns. There were two writers, Voltaire and Rousseau, who have done enormous mischief. Both of them perceived that the state of things was wrong; but they went to extremes, made fun of the church, and attacked institutions of all sorts. Their writings are read by everyone, and have shaken people's faith in God, and in all things as they are.
"I do not say that much improvement could not be made, but it will never be made by sudden and great changes, nor by men such as those who are gradually gaining the upper hand in the Assembly. The people ought to have a much stronger voice than they have in their own taxation. They see that, in England, the ministers and parliament manage everything; and that the king—although his influence goes for a good deal, and he can change his ministers as often as he likes—must yet bow to the voice of parliament. I think that that is reasonable; but when it comes to a parliament composed largely of mere agitators and spouters, I, for my part, would rather be ruled by a king."
"But what is it that these people want, Jean?"
"I do not think they know in the least, themselves, beyond the fact that they want all the power; that they want to destroy the nobility, overthrow the church, and lay hands on the property of all who are more wealthy than themselves. Naturally the lowest classes of the towns, who are altogether ignorant, believe that by supporting these men, and by pulling down all above them, it would no longer be necessary to work. They want to divide the estates of the nobles, take a share of the wealth of the traders, and of the better class of all sorts; in fact they would turn everything topsy-turvy, render the poor all powerful, and tread all that is good and noble under their feet. The consequence is that the king is virtually a prisoner in the hands of the mob of Paris, the nobles and better classes are leaving the country, thousands of these have already been massacred, and no one can say how matters will end.
"Here in Nantes there is, as you see, a feeling of excitement and unrest; and though as yet there has been no violence, no one could venture to predict what may take place, if the moderate men in the Assembly are outvoted by the extremists, and all power falls into the hands of the latter. But I still hope that common sense will prevail, in the long run. I regard the present as a temporary madness, and trust that France will come to her senses, and that we shall have the satisfaction of seeing the scoundrels, who are now the leaders of the mob of Paris, receive the punishment they deserve.
"However, as far as we are concerned I have no uneasiness for, if troubles break out at Nantes, we can retire to my chateau, in the thickest and most wooded part of La Vendee, where there is no fear that the peasants will ever rise against their masters."
Chapter 2: The Beginning Of Troubles.
"Things are getting more and more serious, Patsey," said Jean one evening. "I don't know what will come of it. The excitement is spreading here, and there can be no doubt that there will be very serious troubles, ere long. The greater portion of the people here are with the Assembly, and approve of all these decrees against the priests, and the persecution of the better classes. You know what has taken place in Paris, and I fear that it will be repeated here.
"We are split up. My father, dear good man, thinks that he has only to attend to his business, and to express no opinion whatever about public affairs, and that the storm will pass quietly over his head. My brother has thrown himself heart and soul—that is to say, as far as he has a heart to throw—into what he calls the cause of the people; and which I consider to be the cause of revolution, of confiscation, of irreligion, and abomination generally.
"I am told that my name has freely been mentioned, in his club, as that of a dangerous man, with opinions contrary to the public good. I hear, too, that that brother of mine was there, at the time; and that he got up and said that in a case like this his voice must be silent, that true patriots place their country before all things; and then affected to speak mildly in my favour, but at the same time doing me as much harm as he could. I believe the fellow is capable of denouncing his own father.
"From the Bocage I hear that the whole country is in confusion. The people, of course, side with their priests. The nobles and land owners are naturally royalists, and are furious that the king should be held in what is practically subjection; by men of low degree, and who, although they may have some virtuous men among them, have also sanguinary scoundrels who gradually gain in power, and will soon be supreme.
"They, however, can do nothing at present. The peasants know nothing about the king, to them he is a mere name; but this persecution of their priests angers them greatly; and if, as is said, orders have been given to raise an army, and to drag men away from their homes whether they like to go or not, you may be sure that, ere long, there will be trouble there.
"Now you see, dear, I am a sort of double character. At sea I am Captain Jean Martin, a peaceful trader with, as you know, but little regard for the revenue laws of your country. On the other hand, in La Vendee I am Monsieur Jean Martin, a landed proprietor, and on friendly terms with all the nobles and gentry in my neighbourhood. It is evident that I cannot continue to play this double part. Already great numbers of arrests have been made here, and the prisons are half full. I hear that a commissioner from the Assembly is expected here shortly, to try these suspects, as they are called; and from what we know already, we may be sure that there will be little mercy shown.
"They are almost all people of substance; and the people, as they call themselves, are on principle opposed to men of substance. Now, if I remain here, I have no doubt that I shall be denounced in a very short time; and to be denounced is to be thrown into prison, and to be thrown into prison is equivalent to being murdered. I have no doubt, Patsey, that you would share my fate. The fact that you are an Englishwoman was among the accusations brought against me, in the club; and although, so far as I can see, the majority of these scoundrels have no religion whatever, they venture to make it a matter of complaint that you are a Protestant.
"I have seen this coming on for some time, and must now make my choice; either I must take you and the child over to England, and leave you there with your father until these troubles are over, while I must myself go down and look after my tenantry, and bear my share in whatever comes; or you must go down there with me."
"Certainly I will go down with you, Jean. It is your home, and whatever dangers may come I will share them with you. It would be agony to be in England, and to know nothing of what is passing here, and what danger might be threatening you. We took each other for better or worse, Jean, and the greater danger you may be in, the more it will be my duty to be by your side.
"I should be very happy down at the chateau. More happy than I have been here with you, for some time past; for one cannot but be very anxious, when one sees one's friends thrown into prison, and knows that you are opposed to all these things, and that it may be your turn next. Nothing would persuade me to leave you."
"Very well, wife, so be it. I am sure that there, at least, we shall be safe. It is only in the towns that these rascals are dangerous, and in a country like ours there is little fear that the knaves will venture to interfere, when they see that they are stirring up a nest of hornets. They have plenty of work to satisfy even their taste for confiscation and murder, in the large towns. There is an army gathering, on the frontier, and they will have their hands full, ere long.
"And now, about Leigh. My brother has always shown a dislike for him and, as it is certain that he cannot remain here, he must either return to England or go with us."
"I am sure that he would choose to go with us, Jean. You say yourself that he talks French like a native now, and although he has often told me that he would never settle in France—for naturally he is as horrified as I am with the doings in Paris, and the other great towns—still I am sure that he would choose to remain with us, now. You see, he is strong and active, and has made so many trips with you, that he is almost a sailor. He is within a few months of sixteen, and of late he has several times said to me that he would like to go some long voyages, and have some adventures, before settling down in business, in England, as an agent of your house."
"I should like to have him with us," Jean said heartily. "In the first place, he is a lad after my own heart, full of life and go, and already strong enough to take his own part; in the next place, although I hope for the best, a man can never say exactly what will take place. I may be away at times, and should be glad to know that you had a protector; and if he is willing to go, I shall be more than willing to have him.
"Then, too, it would be useful to have someone whom one could trust to carry messages. My idea is that I shall not leave the lugger here for, if I am denounced, it would certainly be seized. Pierre Lefaux, my mate, is a shrewd as well as a faithful fellow. I shall appoint him captain. I shall tell him to leave here, at once, and employ the lugger in coasting voyages; making Bordeaux his headquarters, and taking what freights he can get between that town and Rochelle, Brest, or other ports on this coast. So long as he does not return here, he might even take wines across to England, or brandy from Charente. He knows his business well and, as long as we are at peace with England, trade will still go on.
"The best thing would be for him to be at Bordeaux once every fortnight, or three weeks, so that we shall know where to find him. I have a great friend at Bordeaux, and shall get him to have the lugger registered in his name, and give him a receipt for her purchase money; so that in case the people here learn that she is trading at Bordeaux, he will be able to prove that she is his own property. Then, if the very worst should come, which I cannot bring myself to believe, there will be a means of escape for us all to England.
"She will be sailing there in two or three days. I have fifty thousand francs lying in my father's hands. I shall send that over by Lefaux, and instruct him to ask your father to go with him to the bank, at Poole, and pay the money in to my account. Then, if we should have to leave France, we shall have that to fall back upon, and the lugger. I should, of course, transfer her to the English flag, and have no doubt that we should be able to get on very fairly. So you see, I am preparing for all contingencies, Patsey."
"It seems very dreadful that the country should be in such a state, Jean."
"It is dreadful, and I am afraid that things have by no means got to the worst, yet.
"Ah, here comes Leigh! After supper I shall go in and have a talk with my father. I have very little hope of having much success with him; but at least, when he sees the steps that I am taking, it cannot but make him think seriously of his own position, and that of my mother and sisters."
Leigh was delighted when he heard Jean's proposal. His own position had been unpleasant, of late. He had long since ceased to go to Jacques Martin, for the dislike between them was mutual and, do what he would, he failed to give satisfaction. And of late, even in Monsieur Martin's cellars and storehouses, he had met with a good deal of unpleasantness; and would have met with more, had it not been that he had, on one occasion, knocked down one of the chief clerks, who had sworn at him for some trifling act of carelessness. As the clerk knew that the merchant would have been very angry at the insult he had offered to Leigh, he had not ventured to make a complaint; but in many ways he had been able to cause numberless petty annoyances. Many of the others were inclined to follow his lead, and would have done so more openly, were it not that they held in respect Leigh's strength, and readiness in the science they called le boxe.
The talk that there might be troubles in La Vendee heightened his satisfaction at leaving Nantes, and going down to stay in the country. The thought of a life spent at Poole, or Weymouth, as a wine merchant and agent of the house of Martin had, for some time past, been unpleasant to him. The feeling of general unrest that prevailed in France had communicated itself to him, and he thought possibly that something might occur which would change the current of his life, and lead to one more suited to his natural activity and energy.
"You had better pack up quietly, tomorrow," Jean said to his wife, after his return from his father's. "If there were any suspicion that I was thinking of going away, it might bring matters to a head. I will get the lugger's boat down to the wharf, and four sailors shall come up here and take the boxes down, in one of the hand carts, with a tarpaulin thrown over them. I will arrange for a cart and a carriage to be waiting for us, on the other side of the river.
"There is no moving my father. He cannot persuade himself that a man who takes no part in politics, and goes about his business quietly, can be in any danger. He has, however, at my mother's entreaty, agreed for the present to cease buying; and to diminish his stock as far as possible, and send the money, as fast as he realizes it, across to England. He says, too, that he will, if things get worse, send her and my sister to England. I promised him that your father would find them a house, and see that they were settled comfortably there, for a time. He would not believe that Jacques could have been at the club when I was denounced, without defending me; for although himself greatly opposed to the doings in Paris, and annoyed at the line Jacques has taken up, he thought that there was at least this advantage in it—that in case of troubles coming here, he would have sufficient influence to prevent our being in any way molested. However, there can be no question that I have, to some extent, alarmed him; and he agreed not only to draw, tomorrow, my fifty thousand francs from his caisse, but to send over with it a hundred thousand francs of his own. Fortunately he can do this without Jacques knowing anything about it, for although Jacques and I have both a share in the business, he has always kept the management of the money matters in his own hands.
"So that is settled, as far as it can be settled. Fortunately the club does not meet this evening, so there is no fear of a demand being made, by it, for my arrest tomorrow. I have a friend who belongs to it—not, I think, because he at all agrees with its views; but because, like many others, he deems it prudent to appear to do so. It was from him that I heard what had passed there, and he promised to give me warning of anything that might be said, or done, against me. I shall go down to the lugger early, and remain on board all day, seeing to the stowage of the cargo we are taking on board, so that no suspicion can arise that I am thinking of leaving for the country."
The next evening the party started by unfrequented streets for the quay, the nurse carrying the child, now three months old. The boxes had gone half an hour before. It was nearly ten o'clock, and the quays were deserted. Monsieur Martin had himself gone down, in the afternoon, with the money to the lugger, and handed it over to Jean, and had a long talk with him and Pierre Lefaux, to whom Jean had also intrusted letters from himself and Patsey, to the squire.
As soon as the party had taken their seats in the boat, it was rowed two miles up the river, to a point where there was a ferry across to a road, leading into the heart of La Vendee. Here a light waggon and a carriage were waiting. The luggage was transferred to the former and, after a hearty farewell to Pierre Lefaux, who had himself come in charge of the boat, they started on their journey; and arrived at the chateau at nine o'clock in the morning, to the surprise of the man and woman in charge of it.
"Here we are safe," Jean said, as they alighted from the carriage. "It would take nothing short of an army to fight its way through these woods and lanes and, if the Assembly try to interfere with us, they will find it a much easier thing to pull down the throne of France, than to subdue La Vendee."
The news that the master had come down, and that he was going for a time to live among them, spread rapidly; and in the course of the day some fifteen of the tenants came in to pay their respects, few of them arriving without some little offering in the way of game, poultry, butter, or other produce.
"Our larder is full enough for us to stand a siege," Patsey said, laughing, "and I know that we have a good stock of wine in the cellar, Jean."
"Yes, and of cider, too. When the tenants are in any difficulty about paying their rents, I am always willing to take it out in wine or cider; for my father deals in both, and therefore it is as good as money. But I have not sent any to Nantes for the past two or three years and, as you say, the cellars are as full as they can hold.
"Tomorrow, Leigh, we will ride over and call upon some of our neighbours to hear the last news, for the Bocage is as far away from Nantes as if it were on the other side of France, and we hear only vague rumours of what is going on here."
The ride was a delightful one to Leigh. He had only once visited the chateau before, and then only for a day or two. The wild country, with its deep lanes, its thick high hedges, its woods and copses, was all new to him; for the country round his English home was, for the most part, bare and open. Some of the peasants carried guns over their shoulders, and looked as if accustomed to use them.
"Very few of them possess guns," Jean Martin remarked, "and that they should carry them shows how disturbed a state of mind all these people are in. They know that their priests may be arrested and carried off, at any moment; and no doubt the report that an order has been issued to raise thirty thousand men throughout France, and that every town and village has to furnish its quota, has stirred them up even more effectually. I don't suppose that many of them think that the authorities will really try to drag men off, against their will; but the possibility is quite enough to inflame their minds."
At the very first house they visited they received, from the owner, ample confirmation of Jean's views.
"There have been continual fracases between the peasants and the military," he said, "over the attempts of the latter to arrest the priests. They can scarcely be called fights, for it has not come to that; but as soon as the peasants hear that the gendarmes are coming, they send the priest into the wood, and gather in such force that the gendarmes are glad enough to ride away, unharmed. Of course, until we see that the peasants are really in earnest, and intend to fight to the last, it would be madness for any of us to take any part in the matter; for we should be risking not only life but the fortunes of our families, and maybe their lives, too. You must remember, moreover, that already a great number of the landed proprietors have either been murdered or imprisoned in Paris, or are fugitives beyond the frontier."
"If the peasants would fight," Jean Martin said, "it might not be a bad thing that there are so few whom they could regard as their natural leaders. If there are only a few leaders they may act together harmoniously, or each operate in his own district; but with a number of men of the same rank, or nearly of the same rank, each would have his own ideas as to what should be done, and there would be jealousy and discord."
"That is true," the other replied. "Of course, if this were an open country it would be necessary, to give us a chance of success, that some sort of discipline should be established; and none could persuade the peasants to submit to discipline, except their own lords. But in a country like this, discipline is of comparatively little importance; and it is well that it is so, for though I believe that the peasants would fight to the death, rather than submit to be dragged away by force from their homes, they will never keep together for any time."
"I am afraid that that will be the case. We must hope that it will not come to fighting but, if it does, it will take a large force to conquer La Vendee."
"What has brought you down here, Monsieur Martin?"
"It was not safe for me to stay longer in Nantes. If I think a thing I say it, and as I don't think well of what is being done in Paris, I have not been in the habit of saying flattering things about the men there. In fact I have been denounced and, as there is still room for a few more in the prisons, I should have had a cell placed at my disposal, if I had remained there many more hours; so I thought that I should be safer, down here, till there was some change in the state of affairs."
"And you brought madame down with you?"
"Assuredly. I had only the choice open to me of sending her across to England, and of making my home there, or of coming here. If there had been no prospect of trouble here, I might have joined the army of our countrymen who are in exile; but as, from all I heard, La Vendee was ready to take up arms, I determined to come here; partly because, had I left the country, my estates here would have been confiscated; partly because I should like to strike a blow, myself, at these tyrants of Paris, who seem bent on destroying the whole of the aristocracy of France, of wiping out the middle classes, and dividing the land and all else among the scum of the towns."
Three or four months passed quietly. There were occasional skirmishes between the peasants, and parties of troops in search of priests who refused to obey the orders of the Assembly. At Nantes, the work of carrying out mock trials, and executing those of the better classes who had been swept into the prisons, went on steadily. From time to time a message came to Jean, from his father, saying that he had carried out his determination to lessen his stocks, and that he had sent considerable sums of money across the Channel. So far he had not been molested, but he saw that the public madness was increasing, and the passion for blood ever growing.
Then came the news of the execution of the king, which sent a thrill of horror through the loyal province. Shortly afterwards it was known that the decree for the raising of men was to be enforced; and that commissioners had already arrived at Saumur with a considerable force, that would be employed, if necessary; but that the process of drawing the names of those who were to go was to be carried out by the local authorities, assisted by the national guards of the towns.
During the winter things had gone on quietly, at the chateau. There had been but little visiting, for the terrible events passing in Paris, and in all the large towns, and the uncertainty about the future, had cast so deep a gloom over the country that none thought of pleasure, or even of cheerful intercourse with their neighbours. Many of the gentry, too, had given up all hope; and had made their way down to the coast, and succeeded in obtaining a passage in smuggling craft, or even in fishing boats, to England.
Jean Martin and Leigh had spent much of their time in shooting. Game was abundant and, as so many of the chateaux were shut up, they had a wide range of country open to them for sport. Once or twice they succeeded in bringing home a wild boar. Wolves had multiplied in the forests for, during the last three years, the regular hunts in which all the gentry took part had been abandoned, and the animals had grown fearless.
One day, soon after the news of the king's death had been received, Jean, who had ridden over to Saumur on business, brought back the news that war had been declared with England.
"It would have made a good deal of difference to me," he said, "if I had still been on board the lugger; for of course there would be an end to all legitimate trade. However, no doubt I should have managed to run a cargo, sometimes; for they will want brandy and tobacco all the more, when regular trade is at an end; and prices, you may be sure, will go up. I have no doubt, too, that there will be a brisk business in carrying emigrants over. Still, of course the danger would be very much greater. Hitherto we have only had the revenue cutters and the coast guards to be afraid of, now every vessel of war would be an enemy."
As during their expeditions they were generally accompanied by half a dozen peasants, who acted as beaters, Leigh had come to understand the patois, and to some extent to speak it; and he often paid visits to the houses of the principal tenants of the estate, who not only welcomed him as the brother of their mistress, but soon came to like him for himself, and were amused by his high spirits, his readiness to be pleased with everything, and his talk to them of the little known country across the water.
It was evident, from the manner in which the drawing for the conscription was spoken of, that it would not be carried out without a strong resistance. Sunday, the tenth of March, had been fixed for the drawing and, as the day approached, the peasants became more and more determined that they would not permit themselves to be dragged away from their homes.
Three days before, a party of the tenants, together with some from adjoining estates, had come up to the chateau. Jean Martin at once came out to them.
"We have come, monsieur, to ask if you will lead us. We are determined that we will not be carried off like sheep."
"There you are right," Jean said; "but although I shall be ready to do my share of fighting, I do not wish to be a leader. In the first place, there are many gentlemen of far larger possessions and of higher rank than myself, who would naturally be your leaders. There is the Marquis de Lescure at Clisson, and with him are several other noble gentlemen, among them Henri de la Rochejaquelein—he is a cavalry officer. His family have emigrated, but he has remained here on his estates. Then, too, you have many other military officers who have served. There is Monsieur de Bonchamp, Monsieur d'Elbee, and Monsieur Dommaigne, all of whom have served in the army. If the insurrection becomes general, I shall head my own tenants, and join the force under some chosen commander; but I shall not appear as a leader. Not only am I altogether ignorant of military affairs but, were it known in Nantes that I was prominent in the rising, they would undoubtedly avenge themselves upon my relations there."
It was known that artillery and gendarmes had been gathered in all the towns of La Vendee. Two days before that appointed for the drawing, Jean said to Leigh:
"I shall ride tomorrow to the castle of Clisson. I know Monsieur de Lescure. He has wide influence, and is known to be a devoted royalist, and to have several royalist refugees now at his house. I shall be able to learn, from him, whether his intention is to take part in the insurrection. It is a long ride, and I shall not return until tomorrow.
"If you like, you can ride north to Saint Florent. If there should be any tumult, I charge you not to take any part in it. You had better leave your horse at some cabaret on this side of the town, and go in on foot. It is possible that there will be no trouble there, for they are sure to have made preparations against it; and it is more likely that there will be disturbances at smaller places. Still, it will be interesting to mark the attitude of the peasants.
"You see, if there is to be a war, it is their war. The gentlemen here would have fought for the king, had there been a shadow of a prospect of success, and had he given the smallest encouragement to his friends to rally to his support. They might even have fought against the disturbance of the clergy. But they would have had no followers. The peasants cared but little for the king and, though they did care enough for the priests to aid them to escape, they did not care enough to give battle for them. They are now going to fight for their own cause, and for their own liberty. They have to show us that they are in earnest about it, before we join them. If they are in earnest, we ought to be successful. We ought to be able to put a hundred thousand men in arms and, in such a country as this, we should be able to defy any force that the Convention can send against us; and to maintain the right of La Vendee to hold itself aloof from the doings of the rest of France.
"But, as I said, until we know that they are really in earnest, we cannot afford to throw in our lot with them; so if you go to Saint Florent, keep well away from the point where the drawing is to take place. Watch affairs from a distance. I have little doubt that those who go will go with the determination of defending themselves, but whether they will do so will depend upon whether there is one among them energetic enough to take the lead. That is always the difficulty in such matters. If there is a fight we must, as I say, simply watch it. It is, at present, no affair of ours. If it begins, we shall all have our work before us, plenty of it, and plenty of danger and excitement, but for the present we have to act as spectators."
It was a ride of fifteen miles to Saint Florent and, although Leigh had twice during the winter ridden there with Jean, he had some difficulty in finding his way through the winding roads and numerous lanes along which he had to pass. During the early part of the ride he met with but few people on the way. The church bells were ringing, as usual, and there was nothing to show that any trouble was impending; but when he arrived within two or three miles of the town, he overtook little groups of peasants walking in that direction. Some of them, he saw, carried pitchforks. The rest had stout cudgels.
Saint Florent stood on the Loire and, in an open space in the centre of the town, the authorities were gathered. Behind them was a force of gendarmes, and in the middle of their line stood a cannon.
Leigh had, as Jean had told him, left his horse outside the town; and now took up his place, with a number of townspeople, on one side of the square. As the peasants arrived, they clustered together at the end of the street, waiting for the hour to strike at which the drawing was to begin. A few minutes before the clock struck, some of the gendarmes left the group in the centre of the square, and advanced to the peasants. They were headed by an officer who, as he came up, exclaimed:
"What do you mean by coming here with pitchforks? Lay them down, at once!"
There was a low murmur among the peasants.
"Follow me!" he said to his men and, walking up to one of the men carrying a pitchfork, he said:
"I arrest you, in the name of the Republic."
In an instant a young man standing next to the one he had seized sprang forward, and struck the officer to the ground with his cudgel.
"Follow me!" he shouted. "Make for the gun!"
With a cheer the peasants rushed forward, overthrowing the gendarmes as they went. The municipal authorities, after hesitating for a moment, took to their heels in the most undignified manner. The gun had not been loaded. The gendarmes round it, seeing that they were greatly outnumbered, followed their example; and the peasants, with exultant shouts, seized the cannon and then, scattering, chased the gendarmes out of the town.
Never was a more speedy and bloodless victory. Headed by their leader, whose name was Rene Foret, the peasants went to the municipality, broke open the doors, took possession of the arms stored there, collected all the papers they could find, and made a great bonfire with them in the centre of the square. Then without harming anyone, or doing the slightest mischief, they left the town and scattered to their homes in the Bocage.
Leigh waited until all was over, returned to the cabaret where he had left his horse, and rode on. Passing through the little town of Pin a powerful-looking man, some thirty-five years old, with a quiet manner, broad forehead, and intelligent face, stepped up to him.
"Pardon, monsieur," he said; "but you have come from Saint Florent?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Has aught happened there?"
"Yes, the peasants attacked the gendarmes, who fled, leaving their cannon behind them. The peasants took what arms there were in the municipality, and made a bonfire of the papers. They then, without doing any damage, dispersed to their homes."
"They have done well," the man said. "They have made a beginning. My name, monsieur, is Cathelineau; my business, so far, has been that of a hawker. I am well known in this part of the country. Maybe, sir, you will hear my name again, for henceforth I am an insurgent. We have borne this tyranny of the butchers in Paris too long, and the time has come when we must either free ourselves of it, or die. You belong to another class, but methinks that when you see that we are in earnest, you will join."
"I doubt not that we shall," Leigh said. "I am but a lad yet; but I hope that, when the time comes, I shall do my part."
The man lifted his hat and moved off, and Leigh rode forward again. He was struck with the earnest manner of the man. He had spoken calmly and without excitement, expressed himself well, and had the air of a man who, having determined upon a thing, would carry it through.
"I expect I shall hear of him again," he said to himself. "A man like that, travelling round the country, no doubt has a deal of influence. He is just the sort of man the peasants would follow; indeed, as it seems to me, that anyone might follow."
It was late in the afternoon when he arrived home, and told his sister what he had witnessed.
"I am not surprised, Leigh," she said. "If I were a man I would take up arms, too. There must be an end to what is going on. Thousands have been murdered in Paris, men and women; and at least as many more in the other great towns. If this goes on, not only the nobles and gentry, but the middle class of France will all disappear; and these bloodstained monsters will, I suppose, set to to kill each other. I feel half French now, Leigh, and it is almost too awful to think of.
"It seems to me that the only hope is that the peasants, not only of the Bocage, but of all Poitou, Anjou, and Brittany, may rise, be joined by those of other parts, and march upon the towns; destroy them altogether, and kill all who have been concerned in these doings."
"That would be pretty sweeping, Patsey," Leigh laughed. "But you know I hate them as much as you do and, though I don't feel a bit French, I would certainly do all that I could against them, just as one would kill wild beasts who go about tearing people to pieces. It is no odds to me whether the men, women, and children they kill are French, or English. One wants to put a stop to their killing."
"I wish, now, that I had not brought you out with me, Leigh."
"In the first place, Patsey, I deny altogether that you did bring me out—Jean brought me out; and in the next place, I don't see why you should be sorry. I would not miss all this excitement, for anything. Besides, I have learned to talk French well, and something of the business of a wine merchant. I can't be taken in by having common spirit, a year or two old, passed off on me as the finest from Charente; or a common claret for a choice brand. All that is useful, even if I do not become a wine merchant. At any rate, it is more useful than stopping at Netherstock, where I should have learned nothing except a little more Latin and Greek."
"Yes, but you may be killed, Leigh."
"Well, I suppose if I had stayed at home, and got a commission in the army or a midshipman's berth in the navy, I might have been killed and, if I had my choice, I would much rather be killed in fighting against people who murder women and children, who have committed no crime whatever, than in fighting soldiers or sailors of another nation, who may be just as honest fellows as we are.''
"I cannot argue with you, Leigh; but if anything happens to you I shall blame myself, all my life."
"That would be foolish," Leigh said. "It is funny what foolish ideas women have. You could not have foreseen what was coming, when you came over here; and you thought that it would be a good thing for me to accompany you, for a time. You did what you thought was best, and which I think was best. Well, if it doesn't turn out just what we expected, you cannot blame yourself for that. Why, if you were to ask me to come for a walk, and a tree fell on me as we were going along and killed me, you would hardly blame yourself because you asked me to come; and this is just the same.
"At any rate, if I do get killed, which I don't mean to be if I can help it, there is no one else who will take it very much to heart, except yourself. There are plenty of them at home and, now that I have been away nearly two years, they must almost have forgotten my existence."
"I consider you a very foolish boy," Patsey said, gravely. "You talk a great deal too much nonsense."
"Very well, Patsey; abuse is not argument, and almost every word that you have said applies equally well to your folly, in leaving a comfortable home in a quiet country to come to such a dangerous place as this.
"Now, I hope that supper is ready, for I am as hungry as a hunter."
Chapter 3: The First Successes.
The next morning, at twelve o'clock, Jean Martin reached home.
"The war has begun," he said, as he leaped from his horse. "Henri de la Rochejaquelein has accepted the leadership of the peasants, at Clisson. Lescure would have joined also, but Henri pointed out to him that it would be better not to compromise his family, until it was certain that the insurrection would become general. The young count was starting, just as I got to the chateau. He is a splendid young fellow, full of enthusiasm, and burning to avenge the misfortunes that have fallen upon his family. A peasant had arrived the evening before, with a message from his aunt, who lives farther to the south. He brought news that the chevalier de Charette—formerly a lieutenant in the navy and a strong Royalist, who had escaped the massacres at Paris, and was living quietly on his estate near Machecoul—had been asked several times, by the peasants in his neighbourhood, to take the command, and had accepted it; and that the rising was so formidable, there, that it was certain the authorities in that part of Poitou would not succeed in enforcing the conscription.
"I have told Lescure that I shall be prepared to join, as soon as there is a general movement here; but that I should attach myself to whoever took the direction of affairs in this part, for that in the first place I knew nothing of war, and in the second place I have resided here so small a portion of my time that I am scarcely known, save to my own tenants.
"After our meal, we will ride round and see how they are off for arms and powder. That is our great weakness. I am afraid, taking the whole country round, that not one man in twenty possesses a gun."
This indeed was found to be the case, as far as those on the estate were concerned. The men themselves, however, seemed to think little of this.
"We will take them from the Blues," several of them said confidently. "It does not matter a bit. They will only have time to fire one volley, in these lanes of ours, and then we shall be among them; and a pike or pitchfork are just as good, at close quarters, as a bayonet."
That the whole country was astir was evident, from the fact that the sound of the church bells rose from the woods, in all directions. All work was suspended, and the peasants flocked into the little villages to hear the news that was brought in, from several directions.
Cathelineau had, in the course of the night, gathered a party of twenty-seven men who, at daybreak, had started out from Pin, setting the church bells ringing in the villages through which they passed; until a hundred men, armed for the most part with pitchforks and stakes, had gathered round him. Then he boldly attacked the chateau of Tallais, garrisoned by a hundred and fifty soldiers, having with them a cannon. This was fired, but the shot passed over the peasants' heads, and with a shout they dashed forward, and the soldiers of the republic threw away their arms and fled. Thus Cathelineau's followers became possessed of firearms, some horses and, to their great delight, a cannon.
Their leader did not waste a moment, but marched at once against Chemille, his force increasing at every moment, as the men flocked in from the villages. There were, at Chemille, two hundred soldiers with three guns; but some of the fugitives from Tallais had already arrived there, bringing news of the desperate fury with which the peasants had attacked them and, at the sight of the throng approaching, with their captured cannon, the garrison lost heart altogether and bolted, leaving their three cannon, their ammunition, and the greater portion of their muskets behind them.
The news spread with incredible rapidity. From each village they passed through, boys were despatched as messengers, and their tidings were taken on by fresh relays. By the afternoon all the country, for thirty miles round, knew that Cathelineau had captured Tallais and Chemille, and was in possession of a quantity of arms, and four cannon.
From Saint Florent came the news that, early in the morning, a party of Republican soldiers had endeavoured to arrest Foret, who led the rising on the previous day; but that he had obtained word of their approach and, setting the church bells ringing, had collected a force and had beaten back those who came in search of him.
Close by, a detachment of National Guards from Chollett had visited the chateau of Maulevrier. The proprietor was absent, but they carried off twelve cannon, which had been kept as family relics. The gamekeeper, Nicholas Stofflet, who was in charge of the estate, had served sixteen years in the army. He was a man of great strength, courage, and sagacity and, furious at the theft of his master's cannon, had gathered the peasantry round, and was already at the head of two hundred men.
"Things go on apace, Patsey," Jean Martin said, as they sat by the fire that evening. "We only know what is happening within some twenty or thirty miles of us, but if the spirit shown here exists throughout Poitou and Anjou, there can be no doubt that, in a very short time, the insurrection will be general. This Cathelineau, by their description, must be a man of no ordinary ability; and he has lost no time in showing his energy. For myself, I care not in the least what is the rank of my leader. Here in La Vendee there is no broad line between the seigneurs, the tenants, and the peasantry; at all rustic fetes they mix on equal terms. The seigneurs set the example, by dancing with the peasant girls; and their wives and daughters do not disdain to do the same with tenants, or peasantry. They attend the marriages, and all holiday festivities, are foremost in giving aid, and in showing kindness in cases of distress or illness; and I feel sure that, if they found in a man like Cathelineau a genius for command, they would follow him as readily as one of their own rank."
On the fourteenth the news came that the bands of Stofflet and Foret had, with others, joined that of Cathelineau. Jean Martin hesitated no longer.
"The war has fairly begun," he said. "I shall be off tomorrow morning. If Cathelineau is defeated, we shall have the Republicans devastating the whole country, and massacring women and children; as they did, last August, after a rising for the protection of the priests. Therefore I shall be fighting, now, in defence of our lives and home, wife."
"I would not keep you at home, Jean. I think it is the duty of every man to join in the defence against these wretches. I know that no mercy will be shown by them, if they conquer us. But you will not take Leigh with you, surely?"
Leigh uttered an exclamation.
"Leigh must choose for himself," Jean said quietly. "He is not French, and would have no concern in the matter, beyond that of humanity, were it not that you are here; but at present our home is his. Your life and his, also, are involved, if we are beaten. He is young to fight, but there will doubtless be many others no older, and probably much less strong than he is. Moreover, if I should be killed, it is he who must bear you the news, and must arrange with you your plans, and act as your protector.
"I do not say that I should advise your leaving the chateau directly, but if the Republicans come this way, it will be no place for you; and I should say that it would be vastly better that you should, at once, endeavour to cross to England. There are five thousand francs in gold in my bureau, which are worth three or four times their value in assignats; and should, if you can gain the coast, be amply sufficient to procure a passage for you to England.
"Do not weep, dear. It is necessary to leave you, on an undertaking of this kind, prepared for whatever may happen. At present the risk is very small. As we have heard, the fury of the peasants has struck such consternation into the National Guards, and newly-raised soldiers, that they will not await their onslaught; and it will not be until the Convention becomes aware of the really serious nature of the storm they have raised, that there will be any hard fighting. Still, even in a petty skirmish men fall; and it is right that, before I go, we should arrange as to what course you had best pursue, in case of my death.
"From the first, when we came here we did so with our eyes open. If we had merely sought safety, we should have gone to England. We came here partly because it is my home, and therefore my proper place; and partly because, in case La Vendee rose against these executioners of Paris, every man of honour and loyalty should aid in the good cause."
"I know, Jean, and I would not keep you back."
"The struggle has begun and, if the Republicans conquer La Vendee, we know how awful will be the persecutions, what thousands of victims will be slaughtered. Our only hope is in victory and, at any rate, those who die on the battlefield will be happy, in comparison with those who fall into the hands of the Blues."
"You wish to go, Leigh?"
"Certainly I do," the lad said. "I think that everyone strong enough to carry arms, in La Vendee, ought to join and do his best. I can shoot better than most of the peasantry, not one in twenty of whom has ever had a gun in his hands; and I am sure that I am as strong as most of them. Besides, if I had been at home I should, now the war has begun, have tried to get a commission and to fight the French—I mean the people who govern France at present—and in fighting them, here, I am only doing what thousands of Englishmen will be doing elsewhere."
"Very well, Leigh, then you shall go with Jean. I shall certainly be glad to know you are together, so that if one is wounded or ill, the other can look after him and bring him here. I shall do the best I can, while you are away."
"I think that we shall soon be back again, and that we shall be constantly seeing you," Jean said. "You may be sure that the peasants will not keep the field. They will gather and fight and, win or lose, they will then scatter to their homes again, until the church bells call them out to repel a fresh attack of the enemy. That is our real weakness. There will never be any discipline, never any common aim.
"If all the peasants in the west would join in a great effort, and march on Paris, I believe that the peasantry of the departments through which they pass would join us. It would only be the National Guards of the towns, and the new levies, that we should have to meet; and I believe that we might take Paris, crush the scum of the faubourgs, and hang every member of the Convention. But they will never do it. It will be a war of defence, only; and a war so carried out must, in the long run, be an unsuccessful one.
"However, the result will be that we shall never be very far away from home, and shall often return for a few days. You must always keep a change of clothes, and your trinkets and so on, packed up; so that at an hour's notice you and Marthe can start with the child, either on receiving a note from me telling you where to join us, or if you get news that a force from Nantes is marching rapidly in this direction. Two horses will always remain in the stables, in readiness to put into the light cart. Henri will be your driver. Francois you must send off to find us, and tell us the road that you have taken. However, of course we shall make all these arrangements later on, when affairs become more serious. I don't think there is any chance, whatever, of the enemy making their way into the country for weeks, perhaps for months, to come."
The next morning, Jean Martin and Leigh started early. Each carried a rifle slung behind him, a brace of pistols in his holsters, and a sword in his belt. Patsey had recovered from her depression of the previous evening, and her natural good spirits enabled her to maintain a cheerful face at parting; especially as her husband's assurances, that there would be no serious fighting for some time, had somewhat calmed her fears for their safety.
"The horses are useful to us, for carrying us about, Leigh," Jean Martin said, as they rode along; "but unless there are enough mounted men to act as cavalry, we shall have to do any fighting that has to be done on foot. The peasants would not follow a mounted officer as they would one who placed himself in front of them, and fought as they fought.
"I hope that, later on, we may manage to get them to adopt some sort of discipline; but I have great doubts about it. The peasantry of La Vendee are an independent race. They are respectful to their seigneurs, and are always ready to listen to their advice; but it is respect, and not obedience. I fancy, from what I have read of your Scottish Highlanders, that the feeling here closely resembles that among the clans. They regard their seigneurs as their natural heads, and would probably die for them in the field; but in other matters each goes his own way, and the chiefs know better than to strain their power beyond a certain point.
"As you see, they have already their own leaders—Stofflet the gamekeeper, Foret the woodcutter, and Cathelineau, a small peddling wool merchant. Doubtless many men of rank and family will join them, and will naturally, from their superior knowledge, take their place as officers; but I doubt whether they will displace the men who have, from the beginning, taken the matter in hand. I am glad that it should be so. The peasants understand men of their own class, and will, I believe, follow them better than they would men above them in rank. They will, at least, have no suspicion of them; and the strength of the insurrection lies in the fact that it is a peasant rising, and not an insurrection stirred up by men of family."
At ten o'clock they arrived at Cathelineau's camp. Just as they reached the spot, they encountered Monsieur Sapinaud de la Verrie. He was riding at the head of about a hundred peasants, all of whom were armed with muskets. They had, early that morning, attacked the little town of Herbiers. It was defended by two companies of soldiers, with four or five cannon; and the Republicans of the town had ranged themselves with the Blues. Nevertheless the peasants, led by their commander and his nephew, had fearlessly attacked them and, with a loss of only two or three wounded, defeated the enemy and captured the place, obtaining a sufficient supply of muskets to arm themselves.
As Jean Martin was known to Monsieur Sapinaud, they saluted each other cordially.
"So you are coming willingly, Monsieur Martin. There you have the advantage of me, for these good fellows made me and my nephew come with them, as their leaders, and would take no refusal. However, they but drew us into the matter a few days earlier than we had intended; for we had already made up our minds to join the movement."
"I come willingly enough, Monsieur Sapinaud. If I had remained in Nantes, I should have been guillotined by this time; and I made up my mind when I left there that I would, on the first opportunity, do a little fighting before I was put an end to.
"This is my brother-in-law. He has been out here now nearly two years, and has seen enough of the doings of the murderers at Nantes to hate them as much as I do."