Nothing occurred in the provinces, subsequently called La Vendée, during the autumn or winter of 1792 of sufficient notice to claim a place in history, but during that time the feelings which afterwards occasioned the revolt in that country, were every day becoming more ardent. The people obstinately refused to attend the churches to which the constitutional clergy had been appointed; indeed, these pastors had found it all but impossible to live in the parishes assigned to them; no one would take them as tenants; no servants would live with them; the bakers and grocers would not deal with them; the tailors would not make their clothes for them, nor the shoemakers shoes. During the week they were debarred from all worldly commerce, and on Sundays they performed their religious ceremonies between empty walls.
The banished priests, on the other hand, who were strictly forbidden to perform any of the sacerdotal duties, continued among the trees and rocks to collect their own congregations undiminished in number, and much more than ordinarily zealous, in their religious duties; and with the licence which such sylvan chapels were found to foster, denunciations against the Republic, and prayers for the speedy restoration of the monarchy, were mingled with the sacred observances.
The execution of Louis, in January, 1793, greatly increased the attachment which was now felt in this locality to his family. In Nantes and Angers, in Saumur, Thouars, and other towns in which the presence of Republican forces commanded the adhesion of the inhabitants this event was commemorated by illuminations, but this very show of joy at so cruel a murder, more than the murder itself, acerbated the feelings both of the gentry and the peasants. They were given to understand that those who wished well to their country were now expected to show some sign of gratitude for what the blessed revolution had done for them — that those who desired to stand well with the Republic should rejoice openly at their deliverance from thraldom. In fact, those who lived in large towns, and who would not illuminate, were to be marked men — marked as secret friends to the monarchy — as inveterate foes to the Republic — and they were told that they were to be treated accordingly. Men then began to congregate in numbers round the churches, and in the village squares, and to ask each other whether they had better not act as enemies, if they were to be considered as enemies; to complain of their increasing poverty and diminished comfort; and to long for the coming time, when the King should enjoy his own again.
The feeling with the country gentry was very generally the same as with the peasantry, though hitherto they had openly expressed no opposition to the ruling Government. They had, however, been always elected to those situations which the leaders of the revolution had wished the people to fill exclusively with persons from their own ranks. They were chosen as mayors in the small towns, and were always requested to act as officers in the corps of the National Guards, which were formed in this, as in every other district of France. On this account the peculiar ill-will of the Republican Government was directed against them. In France, at that time, political inactivity was an impossibility. Revolt against the Republic, or active participation in its measures, was the only choice left to those who did not choose to fly their country, and many of the seigneurs of Anjou and Poitou would not adopt the latter alternative.
In March, the Commissaries of the Republic entered these provinces to collect from that district, its portion towards the levy of three hundred thousand men which had been ordered by the Convention. This was an intolerable grievance — it was not to be borne, that so many of their youths should be forcibly dragged away to fight the battles of the Republic — battles in which they would rather that the Republic should be worsted. Besides, every one would lose a relative, a friend, or a lover; the decree affected every individual in the district. The peasants declared that they would not obey the orders of the Convention — that they would not fight the battles of the Republic.
This was the commencement of the revolt. The troops of the Republic were, of course, put in motion to assist the officers who were entrusted with the carrying out of the conscription. There were garrisons in Nantes, in Anjou, and in Saumur; and detachments from these places were sent into the smaller towns and villages, into every mayoralty, to enforce the collection of the levy, and to take off with them the victims of the conscription. Among other places, an attempt was made to carry out the new law at St. Florent, and at this place was made the first successful resistance, by an armed force, to the troops of the Convention.
St. Florent is a small town on the south bank of the Loire, in the province of Anjou, and at the northern extremity of that district, now so well known by the name of La Vendée. It boasted of a weekly market, a few granaries for the storing of corn, and four yearly fairs for the sale of cattle. Its population and trade, at the commencement of the war, was hardly sufficient to entitle it to the name of a town; but it had early acquired some celebrity as a place in which the Republic was known to be very unpopular, and in which the attachment of the people to the throne was peculiarly warm.
Here the work of the conscription was commenced in silence. The lists were filled, and the names were drawn. No opposition was shown to the employé‘s in this portion of their unpopular work. Indeed, it appears that no organized system of opposition had been planned; but the first attempt that was made to collect the unfortunate recruits upon whom the lots had fallen, was the signal for a general revolt. The first name on the list was that of Peter Berrier; and had Peter Berrier intended to prove himself a good citizen and a willing soldier, he should, without further call, have attended that day at the temporary barracks which had been established in St. Florent. But he had not done so, and there was nothing wonderful or unusual in this; for on all occasions of the kind many of the conscripts had to be sought out, and brought forth from the bosoms of their families, to which they retired, with a bashful diffidence as to their own peculiar fitness for martial glory. But in this instance not one of the chosen warriors obeyed the summons of the Convention, by attending at the barracks of St. Florent. Not one of the three hundred thousand men was there; and it was soon apparent to the colonel in command of the detachment, that he had before him the unpleasant duty of collecting one by one, from their different hiding-places, the whole contingent which the town of St. Florent was bound to supply.
Peter Berrier was the first on the list, and as it was well known that he was an ostler at a little auberge in the middle of the square, a corporal and a couple of soldiers was despatched to the house of entertainment to capture him; and the trio soon found that they would not have far to search, for Peter was standing at the gate of the inn yard, and with him three or four of his acquaintance — men equally well-known in St. Florent.
There was a sturdy farmer there of the better sort — a man who not only held a farm near the town, but had a small shop within it, for the sale of seeds and tools for planting — his name was Foret — and it was said that no man in St. Florent was more anxious for the restoration of the King. There was the keeper of the auberge himself, who seemed but little inclined to find fault with his servant, for the contumacious manner in which he treated the commands of the Convention; and there was the well-known postillion of St. Florent, the crack of whose whip was so welcome from Angers to Nantes, the sound of whose cheery voice was so warmly greeted at every hostelrie between those towns. The name of Cathelineau was not then so well known as it was some six months afterwards, but even then Cathelineau, the postillion, was the most popular man in St. Florent. He was the merriest among the mirthful, the friend of every child, the playmate of every lass in the town; but he was the comforter of those poorer than himself, and the solace of the aged and afflicted. He was the friend of the banished priest, and the trusted messenger of the royalist seigneur; all classes adored him, save those who sided with the Republic, and by them he had long been looked on as an open and declared enemy. St. Florent was justly proud of its postillion; and now that evil days were come upon the little town, that their priests were banished, and these young men called for to swell the armies of the hated Convention, many flocked to Cathelineau to ask from whence he expected deliverance from all their troubles.
It was well known that Peter Berrier was the first whom the Colonel’s myrmidons would be sent to seize, and many eyes were resting on the group collected at the gateway of the auberge, as the corporal and the two soldiers, without their muskets, but with pistols at their belts, marched across from the little barracks to the spot where they were standing. At any rate, Cathelineau had not advised a retreat, for there stood Peter Berrier — prominent in the front of the group — a little pale to be sure, and perhaps rather uneasy in his attitude; but still evidently prepared to bear the brunt of that day’s proceeding. He was not going to run away, or he would long since have started. He was not going to obey the orders of the Convention, or he would not have stood there so openly and firmly, waiting the approach of the corporal and the two soldiers. It was very evident that there was to be a row in St. Florent that day, and that the postillion approved of it.
As the military party drew near to the gate of the inn yard, the corporal opened a small roll of paper, which he held in his hand, and standing still about six paces distant from the spot where Peter was maintaining his ground, read or pretended to read, the following words from the piece of paper which he held in his hands:
“In the name of the French Republic, and by command of the Convention, you, Peter Berrier, having been duly, legally, and specially drawn, chosen, and selected by lot, to serve in the armies of the Republic for one year, from the date of your first bearing arms, or for so long as your services may be necessary to the security of the Republic, are hereby required and desired to join the detachment of the Republican army at present serving in St. Florent, without let, delay, or hindrance, and thereby show yourself a friend to your country, and a good citizen of the Republic.”
The corporal pronounced this form of invitation in that tone of voice, which proved that it was very familiar to him, and that he was much in the habit of requesting good citizens to join the armies of the Republic for such time as their services might be necessary; and, having finished it, he rolled up the piece of paper, stuck it into his belt, as he might soon require the use of his hands, and, walking quite close up to the group, said —
“Come, Peter Berrier, you are not such a fool, I hope, as to intend giving us any trouble. Come along.”
Peter looked first into the farmer’s face; then to his master’s; and, lastly, to the postillion’s; and, seeing that they were all evidently firm in their resolve, he plucked up spirit, and replied. —“Why, Mr Corporal, I have no inclination just at present to go to fight for the Republic. You see I have no quarrel yet with my master here, M. Debedin, and he cannot well spare me. I am afraid, Mr Corporal, I must decline.”
“That’s nonsense, you know,” growled the corporal; “you must come, you know; and as well first as last. I don’t want to be uncivil to a comrade, and I’d be sorry to have to lay a hand on you.”
“Then you’d better keep your hands off,” said Cathelineau, “we quiet people in St. Florent don’t bear handling well.”
The corporal looked up at the postillion, but he soon saw that he wasn’t joking.
“Take my word for it, my friend,” continued Cathelineau, “Peter Berrier does not wish to be a soldier, and, if you force him to become one, it is not on the side of the Republic that he will be found fighting.”
“We’ll take chances for that,” replied the corporal, not exactly understanding what the other meant; “at any rate, back without him we won’t go; and if you’re determined for a riot, Messieurs, why I’m sorry; but I can’t help it,” and, appealing to Peter as a last hope, he said, “Come, Berrier, will you come with us quietly, or must we three drag you across the square to the barracks.”
“At any rate, Mr Corporal,” said Peter, “I will not go with you quietly; as to the being dragged, I can say nothing about that yet.”
The corporal looked round towards the barracks, as he felt that it was possible that he might want more assistance, and he saw that a body of men under arms was standing immediately in front of the building, and that a couple of the officers were with them. The corporal saw at a glance that they were ready for immediate action, if their services should be requisite. In fact, the colonel of the detachment well knew the feeling in the place with reference to the levies of the conscription. He was sure, from the fact of not a single man having attended at the barracks, as directed, that there existed some general determination to resist the demands of the Convention, and he had consequently closely watched the proceedings of the corporal.
“Take your answer, Mr Corporal,” said Cathelineau: “had Peter Berrier intended to have joined you. he would not have troubled you to come across the square to fetch him. In one word, he will not go with you; if as you say, you intend to drag him across the market-place, you will find that you have enough to do. Peter Berrier has many friends in St. Florent.”
The corporal again looked round, and he saw that the men under arms now stretched from the front of the barracks, nearly into the square; but he also saw that the inhabitants of the town were standing clustering at all the doors, and that men were crowding towards the square from the different inlets. Four or five of the more respectable inhabitants had also joined the group in the gateway, from the hands of one of whom the postillion quietly took a stout ash stick. The corporal, however, was not a coward, and he saw that, if he intended to return with Peter Berrier, he should not delay his work with any further parley, so he took his pistol from his belt and cocked it, and, stepping quite close to Berrier, said,
“Come men — forward, and bring him off; one man to each shoulder,” and he himself seized hold of the breast of Peter’s coat with his left hand and pulled him forward a step or two.
Peter was a little afraid of the pistol, but still he resisted manfully: from the corporal’s position, Cathelineau was unable to reach with his stick the arm which had laid hold of Berrier, but it descended heavily on the first soldier, who came to the corporal’s assistance. The blow fell directly across the man’s wrist, and his arm dropt powerless to his side. The corporal immediately released his hold of Peter’s coat, and turning on Cathelineau raised his pistol and fired; the shot missed the postillion, but it struck M. Debedin, the keeper of the auberge, and wounded him severely in the jaw. He was taken at once into the house, and the report was instantaneously spread through the town, that M. Debedin had been shot dead by the soldiery.
The ash stick of the postillion was again raised, and this time the corporal’s head was the sufferer; the man’s shako protected his skull, which, if uncovered, would have probably been fractured; but he was half-stunned, at any rate stupified by the blow, and was pulled about and pushed from one to another by the crowd who had now collected in the archway, without making any further attempt to carry off his prisoner.
The other soldier, when he saw his two comrades struck, fired his pistol also, and wounded some other person in the crowd. He then attempted to make his escape back towards the barracks, but he was tripped up violently as he attempted to run, and fell on his face on the pavement. The unfortunate trio were finally made prisoners of; they were disarmed, their hands bound together, and then left under a strong guard in the cow-house attached to the auberge.
This skirmish, in which Berrier was so successfully rescued, occurred with greater rapidity than it has been recounted; for, as soon as the colonel heard the first shot fired, he ordered his men to advance in a trot across the square. It took some little time for him to give his orders to the lieutenants, and for the lieutenants to put the men into motion; but within five minutes from the time that the first shot was fired, about forty men had been commanded to halt in front of the hotel; they all had their muskets in their hands and their bayonets fixed, and as soon as they halted a portion of them were wheeled round, so that the whole body formed a square. By this time, however, the corporal and the two soldiers were out of sight, and so was also Peter Berrier, for Cathelineau considered that now as the man had withstood the first shock, and had resolutely and manfully refused to comply with the order of the Convention, it was better that he should be out of the way, and that the brunt of the battle should be borne by his friends. Peter was consequently placed in the cow-house with the captives, and had the gratification of acting as guard over the three first prisoners taken in the Vendean war.
Cathelineau and Foret, however, stood out prominently before the men who were collected before the auberge, and had already taken on themselves the dangerous honour of leading the revolt.
“Men of St. Florent,” said the colonel addressing the crowd, “I am most reluctant to order the soldiers to fire upon the inhabitants of the town; but unless you at once restore the three men who were sent over here on duty, and give up the man, Peter Berrier, who has been drawn as a conscript, I will do so at once.”
“Peter Berrier is a free man,” said Foret, “and declines going with you; and as for your three soldiers, they have fired at and killed or wounded two inhabitants of the town — they at any rate shall be brought before the mayor, before they are given up.”
“Sergeant,” said the colonel, “take out six men and make prisoner that man; if a rescue be attempted, the soldiers shall at once fire on the people, and on your own heads be your own blood.”
The sergeant and the six men instantly stepped out, but Foret was surrounded by a dense crowd of friends, and the soldiers found it utterly impossible to lay hold of him.
“Your pistols, sergeant; use your pistols,” roared the colonel, as he himself drew one of his own from his holsters, and at the same time gave orders to the men in the ranks to present their pieces.
The sergeant followed by his six men, made a desperate dash into the crowd with the object of getting hold of Foret; but in spite of the butt-end of their pistols, with which the soldiers laid about them, they found themselves overpowered, and were barely able to make good their retreat to the main body of the detachment; at the same time, a volley of stones, brickbats and rough missiles of all kinds, descended on the soldiers from every side, for they were now nearly surrounded; a stone struck the Colonel’s horse and made him rear: immediately afterwards, another stone struck himself on the side of the face, and nearly dismounted him.
“Fire,” roared the Colonel, and the whole detachment fired at the same moment; the soldiers fronting the auberge could not fire into the mob directly before them, or they would have run the risk of killing their own comrades, who were still struggling there with the townspeople; and in this way, Cathelineau and Foret were saved, but the carnage all around them was horrid; the soldiers had fired point blank into the dense crowd, and not a bullet had fallen idle to the ground. A terrible scream followed the discharge of musketry; the dying and the wounded literally covered the space round the soldiers, but they were quickly dragged into the back ground, and their places filled by men who were evidently determined that they would not easily be conquered.
Another volley of stones was soon showered on the soldiers, and this was kept up with wonderful activity — the women and children supplied the men with the materials — the stones in the streets were at once picked up — old walls were pulled down — every article that would answer for a missile was brought into use; an iron pot, which had been flung with immense violence by the handle, struck the second officer in command in the face, and dashed his brains out. Immediately that either part of the square battalion was in any confusion, the people dashed in, and attempted to force the muskets from the hands of the soldiers; in some cases they were successful, and before the body had commenced a retreat, Foret and Cathelineau were both armed with a musket and bayonet.
The colonel now saw that he could not maintain his position where he was; he had not brought out with him the whole force of the garrison, though in all he had not above seventy or eighty men; but he had behind the barrack a gun of very large calibre, properly mounted, with all the necessary equipments and ready for service. Such a piece of artillery accompanied every detachment, and was kept in preparation for immediate use at every military station; it had already been ascertained that this afforded the readiest means of putting down revolt. He resolved, therefore, on retreating while he had the power for doing so, and gave the necessary orders to the men.
With great difficulty, but slowly and steadily, his men executed them: amidst showers of stones, and the now determined attack of the people the soldiers returned to the barracks, leaving one of their officers, and one other man dead in the crowd; many of them were severely wounded; few, if any, had escaped some bruise or cut. The people now conceived that they were going to take refuge in the barrack, and determined to drive them utterly out of the town; but, as soon as the soldiers had filed into the barrack yard, another murderous fire was discharged by those who had been left at the station. Then Cathelineau, who was still in front of the crowd, and who was now armed with the bayonet, which he had taken from the point of the musket, remembered the cannon, and he became for a moment pale as he thought of the dreadful slaughter which would take place, if the colonel were able to effect his purpose of playing it upon the town.
“The cannon!” whispered he to Foret, who was still at his side; “they will fall like leaves in autumn, if we don’t prevent it.”
“Have they it ready?” said Foret.
“Always,” said the other, “they have nothing to do but wheel it into the street; and they are at it, you hear the noise of the wheels this moment. We must bear one discharge from it, and the next, if there be a second, shall fall upon the soldiers.”
Others, beside Cathelineau, recognized the sound of the moving wheels — and, the cannon, the cannon, they will fire the cannon on us,” was heard from side to side among the crowd; but none attempted to run, not one of the whole mass attempted to fly, and when the barrack gates flew open, and the deadly mouth of the huge instrument was close upon them, they rushed upon it, determined at any rate, to preserve their houses, their wives, and their children from the awful destruction of a prolonged firing.
“They must have one shot at us,” said a man in a trembling whisper to his neighbour. “God send it were over!” replied the other, as the gates of the barrack-yard were thrown back.
The greater number of the soldiers and the two officers who had returned with them, made good their retreat into the barracks, under the fire of their comrades, who had been left there. Some three or four had been pulled and hustled into the crowd, and their arms were quickly taken from them and they were sent back to the auberge as prisoners. The colonel, as soon as he found himself in his own quarters, gave immediate orders that the gun should be wheeled round to the barrack-yard gate, which had hitherto been kept closed, and that the moment the gates could be got open it should be fired on the crowd. These gates faced directly into the square, and the destruction caused by one shot would have been tremendous. The colonel, moreover, calculated that in the confusion he would have been able to reload. The gun, in its original position, was pointed on the town, but it was immediately seen, that without moving it, it could not be brought to bear upon the crowd congregated round the barracks.
The first attack of the crowd had been at the barrack door, through which the soldiers had retreated; but this was soon changed to the yard gates. The people, however, were unable to knock them down before the wheels of the cannon were heard, as they had been considerably checked by the fire of the reserved party. Both soldiers and towns-people were now anxious to face each other, and the gates soon fell inwards towards the military. Had the men at the gun had their wits about them they would have fired through the gates; but they did not, they waited till they fell inwards across the cannon’s mouth, and in his confusion the artillery-sergeant even then hesitated before he put the light to the touch-hole.
He had never time to do more than hesitate. Cathelineau had been close up to the wooden gates, against which he was so closely pressed that he was hardly able to change his bayonet from his right to his left-hand, and to cock the pistol which he had taken from the corporal, who had commenced the day’s work. However, he contrived to do so, and when the wood-work fell, he sprang forward, and though he stumbled over the fragments of the timber, he fired as he did so, and the artillery sergeant fell dead beside the cannon; the unextinguished light was immediately seized by his comrade, but he had not time to use it; it was knocked from his hand before it was well raised from the ground, and the harmless piece of cannon was soon entirely surrounded by crowds of the townspeople. They were not content with spiking it in such a way as to make it utterly impossible that it should be discharged; but they succeeded in turning it entirely round, so that the back of the carriage faced towards the town.
The soldiers still continued the fight within the barrack-yard, and from the barrack windows; but they were so completely mixed with the townspeople, that the officers were afraid to order the men to fire from the windows, least they should kill their own comrades. At last the colonel himself was taken prisoner; he was literally dragged out of one of the windows by the people, and soon afterwards the remainder of the troops gave up. One of the three officers and six men were killed; the rest were nearly all more or less wounded, and were all, without exception, made prisoners of war.
Cathelineau and Foret had been in front of the battle all through; but neither of them were wounded. It was to Foret that the colonel had given up his sword, after he had been dragged headforemost through a window, had had his head cut open with a brick-bat, and his sheath and sword-belt literally torn from his side. He had certainly not capitulated before he was obliged to do, and the people did not like him the worse for it.
And now the unarmed soldiery, maimed and lame, with broken heads and bloody faces, were led down in triumph into the square; and after them was brought the great trophy of the day, the cannon, with its awful mouth still turned away from the town. Cathelineau and Foret led the procession, the former still carrying his bayonet, for he had given up both the musket and pistols to some one else, and Foret armed with the Colonel’s sword: they were fully recognized as the victorious leaders of the day.
At the bottom of the square they met a whole concourse of women, the wives and sisters of the champions — among whom the sister and sweetheart of Peter Berrier were conspicuous; they had come out to thank the townspeople for what they had done for them. With the women were two of the old curés of that and a neighbouring parish — pastors whom the decree of the Convention had banished from their own churches, but whom all the powers of the Convention had been unable to silence. To them this day’s battle was a most acceptable sign of better days coming; they foresaw a succession of future victories on behalf of the people, which would surely end in the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne, and of the clergy to their churches. The curés shook hands warmly with those in the front ranks of the people, gave their blessing to Cathelineau and Foret, and then invited the people, with one accord, to give thanks to God for the great success which He had given them.
In one moment the whole crowd were on their knees in the market-place, while the two priests stood among them with their arms raised, uttering thanksgiving to the Lord for his mercy, and praying for the eternal welfare of those who had fallen in the affray. The soldiers of the republic found themselves standing alone as prisoners in the midst of the kneeling crowd; they looked awkward and confused enough, but they could not help themselves; they could not have escaped, even if they had been unanimous in attempting to do so; for they were unarmed, and the people knelt so closely round them, that they could hardly move. It was out of the question that they should also kneel, and join in the thanksgiving for having been so utterly beaten; so there they stood, their wounds stiffening and their blood running, till the priests had finished, and the people had risen.
And then another ceremony was performed; the priests were besought to come and bless the cannon, the first great trophy of the Royalist insurrection; and they did so. The cannon was a lucky cannon, a kind cannon, and a good cannon — a bon enfant, and worthy to be blessed; it had refused to pour forth its murderous fire against the inhabitants of a town that was so friendly to the King. It was decidedly a royalist cannon; it had very plainly declared the side it meant to take; nothing but miraculous interference on its own part could have prevented its having been discharged on he people, when it stood ready pointed on the town, with the torch absolutely glimmering at the touch-hole. It had been brought to St. Florent by republican soldiers, dragged by republican horses, and loaded with republican gunpowder; but it should never be used except in the service of the King, and against the enemies of the throne.
And so the priests blessed the cannon, and the people baptized it, and called it Marie-Jeanne, and the women brought out their little children, and sat them straddle-legged across it, whole rows of them at the same time, till the cannon looked like a huge bunch of grapes on which the fruit clustered thickly. By this time it was dark, and the people lighted huge bonfires through the town, and the children remained up, and as many as could cling on it still sat upon the cannon, and ropes were got and fastened to it, and all the girls of St. Florent dragged Marie-Jeanne round the town, and at last she was dragged into the yard of the auberge, in front of which the fight had commenced, and there she was left for the night, under a strong guard.
While these rejoicings were going on out of doors, Cathelineau and Forte, the two priests, and a few others — the wise men of the town — were collected together within the auberge, and were consulting as to their future proceedings.
“We have done much,” said Cathelineau, “and I rejoice at it. Too much, a great deal, for us now to remain idle. We cannot go back. We are now the enemies of the Republic, and we must attack our enemies elsewhere, or they will attack and overwhelm us in our little town.”
They then determined that Cathelineau, on the next morning, should address the people from the window of the market-place, and that afterwards he and Forte should go through the neighbouring country and implore the assistance of the people, of the gentry, the priests, the farmers, and the peasants, in opposing the hated levy of the Republican forces; but first they would go to the gentry, and the names of many were mentioned whom it was thought would be sure to join them. The first was that of Henri de Larochejaquelin, and the next that of his friend M. de Lescure. Who loved the people so well as they, and whom did the people love so truly? Yes, they would call on young Larochejaquelin and his friend to be their leaders.
Early on the morrow, the postillion addressed the people from the market-place. He did not seek to himself the honour of doing so, nor, when he was asked to come forward as the leader of the people, did he refuse to do so. He was not covetous of the honour, but he would not refuse the danger. During the whole of the combat every one had looked to him as to the leader. He had not constituted himself the people’s general, he had not for a moment thought of assuming the position; but he as little thought of refusing the danger or the responsibility, when the duties of a general seemed, by the will of all, to fall to his lot.
“Friends,” said he, addressing them from the market-house, “we have saved ourselves for a while from the grasp of the Republic. But for the battle of yesterday, every one here would have a brother, a son, or a cousin, now enrolled as a conscript in the army of the Convention. Many of yourselves would have been conscripts, and would have this morning waked to the loss of your liberty. We did much yesterday when we bound the hands of the soldiers; but we have much more to do than we have yet done. Already in Nantes and in Angers are they talking of what we yesterday performed. We shall doubtless have many friends in Nantes and Angers, but the Republic also has many friends in those towns, and the soldiers of the Republic are strong there. It will not be long before they hurry to St. Florent to avenge the disgrace of their comrades; and bitter will be their revenge if they take you unprepared. You have declared war against the Republic, and you must be prepared to fight it out to the end.”
“We will, we will,” shouted the people. “Down with the Republic — down with the Convention. Long live the King — our own King once again.”
“Very well, my friends,” continued Cathelineau, “so be it. We will fight it out then. We will combat with the Republic, sooner than be carried away from our wives, our children, and our sweethearts. We will fight for our own curés and our own churches; but our battle will be no holiday-work, it will be a different affair from that of yesterday. We must learn to carry arms, and to stand under them. You showed yesterday that you had courage — you must now show that you can join patience and perseverance to your courage.”
“We will, Cathelineau, we will,” shouted they “Tell us what we must do, Cathelineau, and we will do it.
“We must see,” continued he, “who will be our friends and our allies. St. Florent cannot fight single-handed against the Republic. There are others in Anjou, and Poitou also, besides ourselves, who do not wish to leave their homes and their fields. There are noblemen and gentlemen, our friends and masters, who will lead you better than I can.”
“No, no, Cathelineau is our general; we will follow no one but Cathelineau.”
“You will, my friends, you will; but we need not quarrel about that. Forte and I, with Peter Berrier, will visit those who we think will join us; but you must at once prepare yourselves. You must arm yourselves. We will distribute the muskets of the soldiers as far as they will go. You must prepare yourselves. If we do not at once attack the Republicans elsewhere, they will soon overwhelm us in St. Florent. We will go to Cholet — the men of Cholet will surely second us — they are as fond of their sons and their brethren as we are. Cholet will join us, and Beaupréau, and Coron, and Torfou. We will go and ask them whether they prefer the Republic to their homes — whether the leaders of the Convention are dearer to them than their own lords — whether their new priests love them, as the old ones did? And I know what will be their answer.”
He ceased speaking, and his audience crowded around him to shake hands with him, and to bless him; and before the sun was in the middle of the sky he had left St. Florent on his mission, in company with Forte and Peter Berrier.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01