La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

Annot Stein.

It will be remembered that the party escaping from the Château of Clisson met Jean Stein, when they had come within four or five leagues of Durbellière. He had been sent from Echanbroignes, by Chapeau, to tell Henri what had happened, to assure him that every possible effort would be made to rescue his father and sister from the republicans, and if possible to save the château, and to beg him to return home as speedily as he possibly could. Jean was spared the greatest portion of his journey, and having told his tale, added that perhaps “Messieurs would not think it prudent to take the ladies with them to Durbellière just at present.”

“Oh heavens! what are we to do?” said Madame de Lescure; “we are running from one hostile army into the middle of another. Poor Agatha! my poor Agatha! what will become of her?”

“Had we not better send them to Chatillon?” said Henri, speaking to de Lescure. “They will, at any rate, be safe there for a time.”

“We won’t be sent any where — indeed we won’t — will we, Marie?” said Madame de Lescure. “Pray, Charles, pray do not send us away. Let us go where you go. It cannot be worse for us than it is for you.”

“You cannot go to the château, dearest, when we have every reason to suppose it is in the hands of the republicans, and more than probably burnt to the ground by this time.”

“Oh! don’t send me back to Chatillon,” said Marie; “it would be hours and hours before we should hear what happens to you, and what has happened to Agatha.”

“If the ladies wouldn’t think ill of going to Echanbroignes,” said Jean Stein, “they would be safe there, and near at hand to learn all as it goes on at Durbellière. I am sure father and Annot would do their best to make the ladies comfortable, as long as they might be pleased to stay there.”

After considerable discussion this plan was adopted. The party travelled on together, till the roads to Durbellière and Echanbroignes separated; and then, with many charges, the two ladies were entrusted to the care of the smith’s son.

“We will come to you, or send to you the moment we are able,” said de Lescure,” whether our news be good or bad. I trust we shall find them safe, and that we shall all be together tomorrow at Durbellière.”

Marie and Madame de Lescure reached the village safely late in the evening, and found no one in the smith’s house but Annot. Even Michael Stein himself had been moved by hearing that the republicans were absolutely in possession of the château, and, old as he was, he had made his way over to Durbellière, and had not yet returned. Annot, however, received them with good news; she had heard different messages from the château during the day, and was able to tell them not only that the Marquis, Agatha, and the house were safe, but that the republican soldiers were all prisoners, and that Santerre — that object of horror to many Vendean royalists, had himself been captured by the strong hand and bold heart of Jacques Chapeau.

Neither of the ladies knew Annot Stein, or had even heard of her; but Annot, though at present she was rather doleful, was not long in making herself known to them, and explaining to them her own particular connexion with the château.

She made up her own bed for one of them, and her father’s for the other. They were not, she said, such as ladies like them were accustomed to sleep on, but the sheets were clean, and perhaps for one night they would excuse the want of better accommodation. Madame de Lescure and Marie declared that they were only too happy in being able to rest quietly, with the knowledge that their friends were in safety. Poor ladies! they were destined before long to encounter worse hardships than Annot Stein’s little bed, and frugal supper.

“But, Madame,” said Annot, as she sat demurely on the corner of her chair, “this Santerre is not the sort of man at all we all took him to be. Peter was over here, though he has gone back again now, and Peter says he is quite a good fellow in his way.”

“What, Santerre!” said Marie, shuddering. “Oh! he is a most horrid monster! It was he that led out our dear sainted King to be murdered; it was he that urged on the furious mob to spill so much blood. They say that in all Paris there is not a greater wretch than this Santerre.”

“I don’t know, Mademoiselle,” said Annot, “but he certainly wasn’t so bad last night, for he might have killed them all had he chosen: and instead of that he didn’t kill any one, or let any of his party kill them either, only he frightened poor old Momont nearly to death.”

“God may have softened his heart,” said Madame de Lescure; “if he has really spared our friends, we will not speak ill of him.”

“If he has done so,” said Marie, “he will have his reward; for I am sure Charles and Henri will spare him now that he is in their power.”

“That’s just what the people say,” said Annot; “they say that it’s M. Henri’s turn to be generous now, and that they’re sure he won’t hurt a hair of this Santerre. Only they’re determined on one thing — and it was all Chapeau and Father Jerome could do to stop them till M. Henri came home — they are determined to hang that horrid wretch Denot, the monster! I shouldn’t wonder if he were swinging by this time.”

“And is it really true,” said Madame de Lescure, “that it was M. Denot who led the republicans to Durbellière?”

“Oh! that’s a positive fact,” said Annot, “there’s no doubt on earth about that; and behaved most brutally to Mademoiselle Agatha. He would have killed her with his own hand, before her father, only M. Santerre wouldn’t let him. He had his dagger out and all, and M. Santerre took it from him with his own hand, and wouldn’t let him speak another word. Oh! indeed, ladies, M. Santerre is not half so bad as he looks to be.”

“People say that the father of evil himself is painted blacker than he really is,” said Marie.

“I don’t know about that, Mademoiselle, and I didn’t hear that this Santerre was painted black at all; and if he were so, I think Peter would have told me. But then, ladies, the little Chevalier Mondyon came in in the middle. It was he that sent Chapeau over here to bring the red scarfs to the rescue. He is a little darling, is the Chevalier. I suppose you know him, Mademoiselle?”

“Indeed I do, Annot, and love him dearly; he is an old sweetheart of mine.”

“He’s too young to have a sweetheart yet, Mademoiselle; but you’ll see some of the ladies will be quarrelling for him yet, when he’s a year or two older. Well, after sending Jacques over here, he went back as bold as possible into the middle of the republicans, before Santerre and all. M. Denot was at his worst then. He had hold of Mademoiselle Agatha, and was dragging her away from the Marquis, in spite of Santerre and the whole of them, when the Chevalier raises his stick, and strikes him across the face. I warrant you he let go Mademoiselle’s hand when he felt the sharp stick come across his eyes.”

“It must have been a horrid sight for Agatha,” said Madame de Lescure.

“Oh! indeed it was, Madame. Only fancy that traitor Denot going on in that way, right before her eyes all night, and no one to protect her but the little Chevalier; for when it got late M. Santerre threw himself on the floor, and slept and snored like a hog. They say it was all for love, Mademoiselle. They say this Denot was greatly in love with Mademoiselle Agatha, and that she wouldn’t look at him. Is it true, she was so very scornful to him?”

“She was never scornful to any one,” said Marie; “but if he ever asked her for her love, I have no doubt she told him that she could not give it to him.”

“That’s just what they say; and that then he asked her more and more, and went down on his knees to her, and prayed her just as much as to look at him; and kissed her feet, and cried dreadfully; and that all she did was to turn aside her face, and bid him rise and leave her.”

“What would you nave had her say, Annot, if she felt that she could not love him?”

“Oh! I’m not presuming to find fault with her, Mademoiselle; heaven forbid! Of course, if she couldn’t love him, she could do nothing but refuse him. But, heigho! it’s a very dreadful thing to think of that a nice young man like him — for I’m told that this Denot was a very nice young man — should be so bewildered by love as he has been.”

“Love couldn’t make a man a traitor,” said Marie, “nor yet a coward.”

“I don’t know, Mademoiselle, love is a very fearful thing when it doesn’t go right. Perhaps love never made you feel so angry that you’d like to eat your lover’s heart?”

“Gracious goodness, no,” said Marie; “why, Annot, where did you get such a horrid idea as that?”

“Ah! Mademoiselle, your lover’s one in a hundred! So handsome, so noble, so good, so grand, so amiable, so everything that a young lady could wish to dream about: one, too, that never has vagaries and jealousies, and nasty little aggravating ways. Oh! Mademoiselle, I look upon you as the happiest young lady in the world.

“What on earth, Annot, do you know about my lover, or how on earth can you know that I have a lover at all? Why, child, I and my cousin Agatha are both going to be nuns at St. Laurent.”

“The blessed Virgin forbid it,” said Annot. “Not but what Mademoiselle Agatha would look beautiful as a nun. She has the pale face, and the long straight nose, and the calm melancholy eyes, just as a nun ought to have; but then she should join the Carmelite ladies at the rich convent of our Blessed Lady at St. Maxent, where they all wear beautiful white dresses and white hoods, and have borders to their veils, and look so beautiful that there need hardly be any change in them when they go to heaven; and not become one of those dusty-musty black sisters of mercy at St. Laurent.”

“That’s your idea of a nun, is it?” said Madame de Lescure.

“I’m sure, Madame, I don’t know why any girl should try to make herself look ugly, if God has made her as beautiful as Mademoiselle Agatha.”

“And you think then Mademoiselle de Lescure is not fit for a nun at all?”

“Oh, Madame, we all know she is going to be married immediately to the finest, handsomest, most noble young nobleman in all Poitou. Oh! I’d give all the world to have such a lover as M. Henri just for ten minutes, to see him once kneeling at my feet.”

“For ten minutes,” said Marie. “What good would that do you? that would only make you unhappy when the ten minutes were gone and past.”

“Besides, what would you say to him in that short time?” said Madame de Lescure.

“Say to him! I don’t know what I’d say to him. I don’t think I’d say one word, but I’d give him such a look, so full of affection and gratitude, and admiration, and — and — and downright real true love; that, if he had any heart in him at all, I don’t think he’d be so base as to go away from me when the ten minutes were over.”

“That’s what you call borrowing a lover for ten minutes, is it?” said Marie; “and if, as you say, this young gentleman is my property, what am I to do for a lover the while?”

“I was only wishing, Mademoiselle, and you know there’s no harm in wishing. Besides, the finest lady in the world couldn’t rob you of your lover, let alone a poor girl like me. He is so true, and so noble, and so good.”

“And have not you a lover of your own, Annot?”

“Oh, indeed I have, and a very good one. For all my talking in that way, I was never badly off for lovers, and now I’ve chosen one for good and all; and I love him dearly, Madame; dote on him, and so does he on me, but for all that there was a time when I really would have eaten his heart, if I could have got at it.”

“But that was before you had accepted each other.”

“Not at all, Mademoiselle; not long since. I loved then as dearly as I do now, but he let me walk home by myself three long leagues without speaking a word to me, and all because I said that a man in a picture had fine whiskers.”

“A man in a picture! why this lover of yours must be a very jealous man, or else he must be very badly off for whiskers himself?”

“No he’s not, Mademoiselle; he’s as nice a pair as you’d wish to see; that is, begging your pardon, as nice a pair as I’d wish to see; and he’s not a jealous man either about other things.”

“And when do you mean to marry him, Annot?”

“Oh, Mademoiselle, we are only waiting for you.”

“Waiting for me, child! What on earth do you mean? who told you I was going to be married at all?”

It was no wonder that Marie should be astonished at finding her wedding so confidently spoken of by a stranger in Echanbroignes, considering that it was not yet twenty-four hours since Henri had declared his love for her at Clisson.

“But you are going to be married to M. Henri, are you not, Mademoiselle?”

“Who told you all this? how is it you come to know so much about this young lady and M. Henri?” said Madame de Lescure.

“Why, Jacques Chapeau told me. My own husband, that is, as is to be.”

“Oh! that explains the mystery,” said Marie; “and so Chapeau is your lover is he? Chapeau is the man who couldn’t bear the mention of the fine pair of whiskers you saw in the picture? and did he tell you that his master was going to be married immediately?” and Marie blushed as she asked the question.

“Indeed he did, Mademoiselle, and he said besides —”

“Well, what did he say besides?”

“Why, I hardly like to say now, Mademoiselle; it will look like asking a favour when I thought you could not well refuse it; and perhaps Jacques was wrong to say anything at all about it.”

Marie, however, was not long in inducing Annot to reveal to her Chapeau’s little plan of taking his own wife over to Durbellière to wait upon his master’s wife, and she, moreover, promised that, as far as she herself was concerned, she would consent to the arrangement, if, which she expressly inserted, she should ever marry M. Larochejaquelin.

“But an’t you engaged to him, Mademoiselle?”

“Well, Annot,” answered she, “as you have told me so much, I don’t mind telling you that I am. But it will be long, probably, before I am married, if ever I am. Men have other things to think of now than marriage, and, alas! women too. We must wait till the wars are over, Annot.”

“But I thought the wars were over now, Mademoiselle. Haven’t they got that Santerre prisoner up at Durbellière?”

“There’s much, very much, I fear to do yet, and to suffer, before the wars will be really over,” said Madame de Lescure. “Heaven help us, and guide us, and protect us! Come, Marie, let us go to rest, for I trust Charles will send for us early in the morning.”

Annot gave such assistance to her two guests as they required, and was within her power, and then seating herself in her father’s large arm chair in the kitchen, pondered over the misery of living in times when men were so busy fighting with their enemies, that they had not even leisure to get married.

“And what, after all, is the use of these wars?” said she to herself “What do they get by taking so many towns, and getting so many guns, and killing so many men? I don’t know who’s the better for it, but I know very well who’s the worse. Why can’t they let the blues alone; and the blues let them alone? I worked my poor fingers to the bone making a white flag before they went to Saumur, and all they did was to leave it in the streets of Nantes. There’s not so much as a bottle of beer, and hardly a bushel of flour left in Echanbroignes. There’s the poor dear lovely Cathelineau dead and gone. There’s M. Henri engaged to the girl of his heart, and he can’t so much as stay a day from fighting to get himself married; and there’s Jacques just as bad. If Jacques cares a bit for me, he must take himself off, and me with him, to some place where there’s not quite so much fighting, or else I’ll be quit of him and go without him. I’ve no idea of living in a place where girls are not, to be married till the wars are over. Wars, wars, wars; I’m sick of the wars with all my heart.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01