The young General’s good news had preceded him, and when he entered the room where his friends were assembled, they were one and all ready to embrace and congratulate their successful soldier; he received the blessing of his father, the praises of de Lescure, the thanks and admiration of Madame de Lescure, and what he valued more than all, Marie’s acknowledgments of the promise she gave him, when last he left her side.
During his absence, three unexpected visitors had reached Laval; the first was Father Jerome, who had followed the army, and now brought them news from the side of Nantes, that Charette was still at the head of a large body of royalists, and was ready to join himself with the main army, somewhere to the north of the Loire, if any plan could be struck out for their future proceedings, to which both he and Henri could agree; and the others were perfect strangers. Two gentlemen had called at the guard-house, and asked for M. de Larochejaquelin: on hearing that he was not in Laval, they had desired to see M. de Lescure, and had, when alone with him, declared that they came from England, with offers of assistance, both in men and money; one of these gentlemen had with him a stick, and after having carefully looked round the room to see that no one but de Lescure could observe him, he had broken the stick in two, and taken from the hollow space within it, a letter addressed to the Commander-inChief of the Vendean army.
These two gentlemen were both Vendeans, but early in the contest they had passed over into England; they had now returned, habited like peasants, and in this disguise had come over on their dangerous mission, passing first into Jersey and thence to the coast of Normandy; they had walked the whole distance, through the province of Brittany, passing themselves off, in one place as good republicans, and in another as true loyalists; they had, however, through all their dangers, managed to keep the important stick, the promises contained in which could not have arrived at a moment when they would have been more welcome.
Granville was the point at which it was decided that the English troops should land, and de Lescure was strongly of opinion that the Vendean army, relieved of its intolerable load of women and children, should proceed thither to meet their allies; and this plan, though with some dissentient voices, was agreed to. They could not, however, start quite immediately; nor was it necessary for them to do so; and the few days of secure rest which so many of them anxiously desired, was given to the army.
At length Henri found leisure to tell them all the sad, but still pleasing story of Denot’s conduct and fate — of the gallantry by which he had redeemed so many sins, and of the death by which he had set a seal to the forgiveness of them all. Each of them had already learnt that Adolphe was the mysterious leader, the Mad Captain of La Petite Vendée, and they listened with deep attention to the story which they now heard of the way in which he had been living, and of the manner of his death.
“Poor fellow,” said Henri, “I understand it all, except about the bridge of Saumur; from the time when I found him in his wretched chamber, to the moment of his death, he was talking of that, and connecting your name, Charles, with everything he said; I do not at all know what was in his thoughts, but something connected with the bridge of Saumur was either a great trouble to him, or a great triumph.”
And then de Lescure told him what had happened; how the poor fellow’s heart had failed him, at the moment when courage was so necessary; how he had feared to advance at the decisive moment, and had shrunk back, appalled, conquered, and disgraced. Henri now understood why de Lescure had not allowed Denot to be chosen at Saumur, as one of the twelve leaders of the army; why he had subsequently so generally distrusted him; and expressed so little surprise of the conduct of which he had been guilty at Durbellière.
“His history,” said de Lescure, “gives us a singular insight into the intricacies of a man’s character; Adolphe was not naturally a coward, for madness aggravates the foibles of our nature, and no one can have shown himself more capable of gallantry than he did yesterday; but he wanted that sustained courage which is only given by principle, and trust in God. May He forgive his sins, mercifully remembering his infirmities!”
Some time after this, preparations were made for the marriage of Henri and Marie — such preparations as the time and place allowed. There was now neither inclination nor opportunity for a fête, such as would have graced the nuptials of Marie de Lescure at a happier time; she now neither desired, nor could have endured it. Father Jerome had promised to perform the ceremony; Agatha would be her bridesmaid; and her brother and her father-inlaw, both on their sick couches, would be her wedding-guests. Still she was happy and cheerful; she loved Henri Larochejaquelin with her whole heart, the more probably on account of the dangers through which they had already passed together, and she had firmly resolved to endure, without complaining, those which were still before them.
Two days before the ceremony was to take place, Chapeau came up to his master, as they were together leaving the quarters of some of the troops, and with a very serious face, begged permission to speak to him. Now, as it usually happened that Chapeau passed a considerable portion of the day talking to his master in a most unconstrained way, on every conceivable subject, Henri felt sure that something very much out of the common way was going to be said; however, he at once gave the desired permission.
“And Monsieur is positively going to be married on Wednesday morning?” commenced Chapeau.
“Why you know as well as myself that I am,” said Henri.
“Oh, of course, yes — of course I know it, as Monsieur has been condescending enough to tell me; and will Madame, that is Mademoiselle as she is at present, go with Monsieur to Granville.”
“What the deuce are you about, Chapeau, with all this rhodomontade? didn’t I tell you that she would go with me.”
“And the other ladies, Mademoiselle Agatha and Madame de Lescure, they will remain in Laval?”
“Yes, they will remain in Laval with my father and M. de Lescure: but you know all that already, as well as I do.”
“But Madame de Larochejaquelin, that is, when she is Madame, she will want some young woman to attend her. Madame, of course, cannot go to Granville without some decent female to be near her; of course it will be quite impossible, will it not, Monsieur?”
“Now, Chapeau, tell me at once what you are coming to, and don’t pretend to be so considerate and modest. You know that it is arranged that your own fiancée, Annot Stein, should accompany my wife.”
“Yes — but, M. Henri, Annot Stein has some scruples; or rather —”
“Scruples! Oh, by all means, let her stay behind then. I’ll have no one with me who has any scruples; tell her to stay with her father. I’ll speak to Mademoiselle de Lescure.”
“But Monsieur is in such a hurry,” said Chapeau, who had not the slightest intention to have the matter arranged in this way. “I was wrong to say that Annot has scruples; indeed she hasn’t got any — not one at all — it is I that have them.”
“You! Now, Chapeau, may I ask the particular favour of you, to let me know at once, what you mean to ask of me?”
“Why, you see, M. Henri, Annot is a poor lone girl, quite unprotected as any one may say, though, of course, she will not be unprotected, when she will have the protection of Monsieur and Madame; but still she is a poor lone girl, and as such, she won’t have the — the — the what d’ye call it, you know, which she would have as a married woman — the confidence and station, you know: she wouldn’t be half so useful to Madame; and, therefore, perhaps, Monsieur will think that she and I had better be married at the same time as Madame.”
Chapeau had it all his own way; his arguments were unanswerable; and as no good reason could be given, why a wife would not be as serviceable to the man as it was to the master, it was agreed that they both should be married on the same day, at the same hour, in the same room, and by the same priest. The honour of this was almost too much for poor Annot, and quite upset her father, Michael Stein, who did not at all like the idea of not having his own way, after his own fashion, at hi own only daughter’s wedding. However, he was ultimately reconciled to the melancholy grandeur of the ceremony, by arrangements which were made for some substantial evening comfort below stairs; and although no banquet was prepared for the wedding of the master and the mistress, the valet and the lady’s maid were as well provided, as though they had been united in peaceful times, and in a quiet church.
And now the sun had risen brightly on the morning which was to add another care to those which already burthened the shoulders of Henri Larochejaquelin. They all sat down together and eat their quiet breakfast in the parlour, to which a fortnight’s habitation had now accustomed them. Henri wore no bridal dress. He had on the uniform of a Vendean officer, and round his waist was fastened a white scarf with a black knot, the distinguishing mark which he now bore of his rank in the army as Commander-inChief. Marie de Lescure was dressed in white, but her dress was as simple and unadorned as it could be well made; no bride, young, beautiful, and noble was ever prepared for the altar with less costly care, with less attention to the generally acknowledged proprieties of hymeneal decoration. Agatha and Madame de Lescure had in no respect altered their usual attire. It may easily be understood that leaving their homes in the manner they had done, they had not brought with them a full wardrobe; and since their arrival in Laval, they had had more pressing cares than that of supplying it.
De Lescure was daily getting weaker; but still the weaker he got the less he suffered, and the more capable he became of assuming his accustomed benevolent demeanour and anxious care for others. Both he and his wife knew that he was approaching the term of his mortal sufferings; but others, and among them Henri was the most sanguine, still hoped that he would recover; and there certainly was nothing in his cheery manner On the morning of the wedding, to make any one think that such hopes were misplaced. The old Marquis was more sad and melancholy than he had used to be among his beloved birds and cherry trees at Durbellière; and, on this occasion, he was probably the saddest of the party, for he was the one who would have rejoiced the most that the wedding of his son should be an occasion of joy to relatives, servants, tenants, and the numerous neighbours among whom he had always lived with so much mutual affection.
The most singular figure of the whole party was Father Jerome, the Curé of St. Laud’s. He still wore the same long grey coat in which he was first introduced to the reader at Durbellière; which had since that time figured at Saumur and many another scene of blood and violence, and which we last saw when he was found by Madame de Lescure in the chapel at Genet. It had now been so patched and darned, that its oldest friends could not have recognized it. But Father Jerome still maintained that it was good enough for the ordinary run of his present daily duties, though he jocosely apologized to Marie for appearing, on such an occasion, in so mean a garment.
As soon as the breakfast was over, the table on which it had been eaten, was converted into a rude altar, and the ceremony was commenced. Jacques Chapeau and Annot, whose turn was immediately to follow, stood close up to the table, opposite to their master and mistress; but Michael Stein and his two sons, who of course were to be present at Annot’s marriage, and who had prepared to seat themselves on the stairs till their presence should be required, had also been invited to attend; and they now sat but very ill at their ease, on three chairs, in the very farthest corner of the room. Michael Stein, though chance had thrown him among the loyal Vendeans, had in his heart but little of that love and veneration for his immediate superiors, which was the strong and attractive point in the character of the people of Poitou. Though he had lived all his life in the now famous village of Echanbroignes, he had in his disposition, much of the stubborn self-dependence of the early republicans; and he did not relish his position, sitting in the back-ground as a humble hanger-on in the family of a nobleman and an aristocrat. He was, however, unable to help himself; his sons were Vendeans; his daughter was just going to marry the confidential follower of the Vendean Commander-inChief; and he himself had been seen fighting for La Vendée: there he sat, therefore, quiet, though hardly happy, between his two stalwart sons, with his thin hair brushed over his forehead, and his huge swarthy hands crossed on his knees before him.
The marriage ceremonies were soon performed: and then Henri and Chapeau, each in their turn, led their brides from the altar; and all went on as quietly in the one room which they occupied, as though nothing beyond their daily occupations had occurred.
“God bless you, my children!” said the old Marquis, “this is but a sad wedding; but it is useless to regret the happy times which are gone, it seems for ever.”
“Not for ever, father,” said Marie, kissing the old man’s face, “Henri and I still look forward to having our wedding fete; perhaps in Paris — perhaps in dear La Vendée, when we shall once more be able to call our old homes our own; then we will make you, and Agatha, and Victorine, make up fivefold for all that has been omitted now. Will we not, Henri?”
Below stairs, Chapeau and Annot, wisely thinking that no time was like the present, endeavoured to be as gay as they would have been had they enjoyed their marriage-feast in the smith’s own cottage; one or two of Chapeau’s friends were asked on the occasion, and among them, Plume condescended to regale himself though the cheer was spread in the kitchen instead of in the parlour. Michael, now relieved from the presence of aristocracy, eat and drank himself into good humour; and even received, with grim complacency, the jokes of his Sons, who insisted on drinking to his health as a new recruit to the famous regiment which was drawn from the parish of Echanbroignes.
“Well, my girl, may heaven take care of you!” said he, kissing his daughter, “and of you too, Jacques,” and he extended the caress to his son-inlaw. “I won’t say but what I wish you were a decent shoe-maker, or —”
“Oh, laws, father,” said Annot, “I’m sure I should never have had him, if he had been.”
“The more fool you, Annot; but I wish it all the same; and that Annot had had a couple of cows to mind, and half-a-dozen pigs to look after; but it’s too late to think of that now; they’ll soon have neither a cow nor a pig in La Vendée; and they’ll want neither smiths nor shoemakers; however, my boy, God bless you! God bless you! ladies and gentlemen, God bless you all!” and then the smith completed the work he had commenced, and got as tipsy as he could have done, had his daughter been married in Poitou.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14