De Lescure with his sister returned on the following morning to Clisson; for so was his château called. Clisson is about two leagues south of the town of Brassiere, in the province of Poitou, and is situated in the southern part of the Bocage. M. de Lescure owned the château and a considerable territory around it. He was a man of large property in that country where the properties were all comparatively small, and was in other respects also by far the most influential person in the neighbourhood. He had married a lady with a large fortune, which gave him more means of assisting the poor than most of the gentlemen resident in the Bocage possessed. He took a deep interest in the welfare of those around him; he shared their joys, and sympathized with their grief, and he was consequently beloved, and almost adored.
He had now undertaken to join with his whole heart the insurgents against the Republic, and he was fully determined to do so; he had made up his mind that it was his duty to oppose measures which he thought destructive to the happiness of his countrymen, and to make an effort to re-establish the throne; but he did not bring to the work the sanguine hope of success, the absolute pleasure in the task which animated Larochejaquelin; nor yet the sacred enthusiastic chivalry of Cathelineau, who was firmly convinced of the truth of his cause, and believed that the justice of God would not allow the murderers of a King, and the blasphemers of his name to prevail against the arms of people who were both loyal and faithful.
De Lescure had studied and thought much; he was older than Larochejaquelin, much better educated than Cathelineau. He was as ardent in the cause as they were; why else had he undertaken it? but he understood better than they did the fearful chances which were against them: the odds against which they had to fight, the almost insuperable difficulties in their way. He knew that the peasantry around them would be brave and enthusiastic followers, but he also knew that it would be long before they were disciplined soldiers. He was sure that they would fight stoutly round their homes and their families; but he felt that it would be almost impossible to lead any body of them to a distance from their own fields. He foresaw also all the horrors into which they were about to plunge; horrors, of which an honourable death on the field of battle would be the least. The Republic had already shown the bitterness of their malice towards those who opposed them, and de Lescure knew what mercy it would shew to those of his party who fell into its power.
Besides, how could they hope for success against the arms of a whole nation supported by a despotic government. His friends talked sanguinely of aid from England, from Austria, and from Prussia; but he feared that that aid would come too late, after their houses were burnt, and their fields destroyed; after the best among them had fallen; after their children had been murdered; when the country should be depopulated, and nothing but the name of La Vendee left.
With all these fears around his heart, and yet with a firm determination to give himself entirely to the cause in which he was embarked, de Lescure rode home to tell his young wife, to whom he was but barely two years married, that he must not only leave her, and give up the life so congenial to both their tastes, which they had lately led; but that he was going to place himself in constant danger, and leave her and all he loved in danger also.
“You must be very good to Victoriana,” he said to his sister; “you must be very good to each other, Marie, for you will both have much to bear.”
“We will, we will,” said Marie; “but you, Charles, you will be with us; at any rate not far from us.”
“I may be near you, and yet not with you; or I may soon be placed beyond all human troubles. I would have you prepare yourself; of all the curses which can fall on a country, a civil war is the most cruel.”
Madame de Lescure was the daughter of a nobleman of high rank; she had been celebrated as a beauty, and known to possess a great fortune; she had been feted and caressed in the world, but she had not been spoiled; she was possessed of much quiet sense; and though she was a woman of strong passions, she kept them under control. When her husband told her, therefore, that the quiet morning of their life was over, that they had now to wade through contest, bloodshed, and civil war, and that probably all their earthly bliss would be brought to a violent end before the country was again quiet, she neither screamed nor fainted; but she felt, what he intended that she should feel that she must, now, more entirely than ever, look for her happiness in some world beyond the present one.
“I know, Victorine,” said he, when they were alone together in the evening, when not even his own dear sister Marie was there to mar the sacred sweetness of their conference, “I know that I am doing right, and that gives me strength to leave you, and our darling child. I know that I am about to do my duty; and you would not wish that I should remain here in safety, when my King and my country require my services.”
“No, Charles; I would never wish that you should be disgraced in your own estimation. I could perfectly disregard what all others said of you, as long as you were satisfied with your own conduct; but I would not for any worldly happiness, that you should live a coward in your own esteem.”
“My own, own Victorine,” said he, “how right you are! What true happiness could we have ever had, if we attempted to enjoy it at the expense of our countrymen! Every man owes his life to his country; in happy, quiet times, that debt is best paid by the performance of homely quiet duties; but our great Father has not intended that lot for us.”
“His will be done. He may yet turn away from us this misery. We may yet live, Charles, to look on these things as our dearest reminiscences.”
“We may; but it is not the chance for which we should be best prepared. We are not to expect that God will raise his arm especially to vindicate our injuries; it would be all but blasphemous to ask Him to do so. We are but a link in the chain of events which His wisdom has designed. Should we wish that that chain should be broken for our purposes?”
“Surely not. I would not be so presumptuous as to name my own wishes in my prayers to the Creator.”
“No; leave it to His wisdom to arrange our weal or woe in this world; satisfied with this, that He has promised us happiness in the world which is to come.”
“I must leave you on Monday, dearest,” continued he, after a pause, during which he sat with his wife’s hand within his own.
“So soon, Charles!”
“Yes, dearest, on Monday. Henri, and Adolphe, and others, will be here on Sunday; and our different duties will commence immediately.”
“And will yours keep you altogether away from Clisson?”
“Very nearly so; at any rate, I could not name the day or the week, when I might be with you. You and Marie will be all in all to each other now; do not let her droop and grow sad, Victorine.”
“Nay, Charles, it is she should comfort me; she loves no dear husband. Marie dotes on you; but she can never feel for a brother, as I must feel for you.”
“She is younger than you, Victorine, and has not your strength of mind.”
“She has fewer cares to trouble her; but we will help each other; it will be much to me to have her with me in your absence. I know she is giving up much in returning to Clisson, and she does it solely for my sake.”
“How! what is she giving up? Will she not be better in her own home than elsewhere in such times as these.”
“She might choose to change her home, Charles; I had a happy, happy home, but I should not have been contented to remain there till now. I found that something more than my own old home was necessary to my happiness.”
“You have made but a sad exchange, my love.”
“Would I for all the world recall what I have done? Have I ever repented? Shall I ever repent? No; not though your body were brought breathless to your own hall door, would I exchange my right to mourn over it, for the lot of the happiest bride just stepping from the altar in all the pride of loveliness and rank?”
“My own true love. But tell me, what is this you mean about Marie. Surely she is not betrothed without my knowledge.”
“Betrothed! Oh, no! Nor won, nor wooed, as far as I believe; but we women, Charles, see through each other’s little secrets. I think she is not indifferent to Henri Larochejaquelin; and how should she be! How few she sees from whom to choose; and if all France were before her feet, how could she make a better choice than him.”
“Poor Marie, from my heart I pity her; in any other times than these, how I would have gloried to have given Henri my sister; but now, these are no times to marry, or to give in marriage. Henri has stern, hard work to do, and he is bent on doing it; ay, and he will do it. No one will carry the standard of his King further into the ranks of the republicans than Henri Larochejaquelin.”
“I know one, Charles, who will, at any rate, be beside him.”
“But he is so full of glorious confidence — so certain of success. He will go to battle with the assured hope of victory. I shall fight expecting nothing but defeat.”
“You are melancholy, tonight, my love: something ails you beyond your dread of the coming struggle.”
“Can I be other than melancholy? I have no hope.”
“No hope, Charles. Oh! do not say you have no hope.”
“None in this world, Victorine. The Indian widow, when she throws herself on the burning pile, with a noble courage does what she has been taught to look upon as a sacred duty, but she cannot but dread the fire which is to consume her.”
“You would not liken yourself to her?”
“Through the mercy of our blessed Saviour I am not so mistaken in my creed; but I am hardly less calamitous in my fate: but it is not the prospect of my own sufferings which disturb me; I at any rate may be assured of an honourable, even an enviable death. It is my anxiety for you — for our little one — and for dear Marie, which makes my spirit sad.”
“God will temper the wind to the shorn lamb,” said Madame de Lescure. “Our trials will not be harder than we can bear.”
“God bless you for those words, dearest: there is comfort in them — real, true comfort. But remember them yourself Victorine; remember them when you will most want them. When great sorrow comes home to your bosom, as it will do; when affliction is heavy on you, when worldly comforts are leaving you, when enemies are around you, when the voices of cruel men are in your ears, and their cruel deeds before your eyes, then remember, my love, that God will temper the wind to the shorn lamb.”
“I will, my own Charles, I will,” said she, now kneeling at his feet, and burying her face in her hands upon his knees; “if I am called upon to bear these miseries, I will remember it.”
“And look up, Victorine; look up, dearest. I would have you prepared for the worst. Listen to me now calmly, love, and then I need not harrow you with these thoughts again. It may be God’s pleasure that I should outlive this war; but as, with His will, I am determined that I will never lay down my sword till the soldiers of the Republic are driven from the province, it is most improbable that I should do so. You must teach yourself, Victorine, to look for my death, as an event certain to occur, which any day may bring forth; and when the heavy news is brought to you, bear it as a Christian woman should bear the afflictions of this, world. I do not ask you not to weep for me, for that would be putting too violent a constraint upon your nature, but do not weep over much. Above all, Victorine, do not allow your sorrow to paralyse your actions. You will have to act then, not only for yourself, but for your child — for my daughter; and if you then give way to the violence of sorrow, who shall think and care for her?”
She laid her beautiful head upon his bosom, and wept, and promised, and prayed for him. And when he had finished what he felt he had to say, what he wished to say once, and but once, before he left her, he became more cheerful, and seemed to have more spirit for his work than he had hitherto shewn.
“And so,” he said, after a while, “poor Marie is in love.”
“Nay; I did not say she was in love-not in the deep depth of absolute love — but I think she is not indifferent to Henri: were she truly and earnestly in love, she would have told me so.”
“Not indifferent to him, and yet not in love. Faith, Victorine, I know not the difference; but you women are such adepts in the science, that you have your degrees of comparison in it.”
“Marie, then, has not yet reached the first degree, for hers is not even downright positive love; but I am sure she is fond of Henri’s society; and now, poor girl, she must give it up — and probably for ever.”
“As you said a while since, Victorine, how should she not like his society? I can fancy no man more fit to be the cynosure of a woman’s eye than Larochejaquelin. He has that beauty which women love to look on: the bold bright eye, the open forehead, the frank, easy smile, and his face is only a faithful index to his heart; he is as frank as brave, and yet as tender-hearted as he looks to be; he is specially formed to love and to be loved.”
“Poor Marie! I grieve that you brought her from Durbellière.”
“Not so, Victorine; this is the place for Marie now; indeed, dear girl, she knew that well herself. The Marquis pressed her hard to stay, and I said nothing; but Marie insisted on coming home. I thought Henri looked somewhat more sombre than is his wont, as he was leading her down the steps: but he cannot, must not, think of love now, Victorine. La Vendée now wants all his energies.”
“But you would not forbid him to love her, Charles?”
“I could forbid him nothing, for I love him as Joseph loved his younger brother Benjamin.”
“And he will be here now backwards and forwards, will he not?”
“Probably he will — that is as circumstances may arise — he is, at any rate, as likely to be at Clisson as Durbellière.”
“He will be more likely, Charles, take my word for it; you cannot prevent their meeting; you cannot hinder them from loving each other.”
“Were the King upon his throne, it would be my greatest joy to give my sister to my friend, but now — it is the same for all of us — we must take the chance of these horrid times; and could they be taught to quench the warm feelings of their young hearts, it were well for both of them. The cold, callous disposition would escape much misery, which will weigh down to the grave the loving and the generous.”
On the next morning, Madame de Lescure spoke to her sister-inlaw on the same subject. She could not bring herself to look on things around her quite so darkly as her husband did. She could not think that there was no longer any hope in their once happy country for the young and the generous, the beautiful and the brave; of herself and her own lot, her thoughts were sombre enough. De Lescure had imbued her with that presentiment, which he himself felt so strongly, that he should perish in the conflict in which he was about to engage; but all would not surely be doomed to share her cup of sorrow. She loved Marie dearly, and she loved Henri, not only from what her husband so often said of him, but from what she knew of him herself; and she longed in her woman’s heart that they should be happy together.
It was still March, but it was on a bright warm spring morning, that Madame de Lescure was walking with her sister-inlaw in the gardens at Clisson. Marie was talking of her brother — of the part he was to take in the war — of the gallant Cathelineau, and of the events which were so quickly coming on them; but Madame de Lescure by degrees weaned her from the subject and brought her to that on which she wished to speak.
“M. Larochejaquelin will be much here as long as this fighting lasts and M. Denot: we shall have plenty of brave knights coming to and fro to lay their trophies at your feet.”
“Poor M. Denot — his trophies if he gets any will be taken to Durbellière; and I fear me, when he offers them, they will not be welcomed. Agatha loves him not; she thinks he shares his adoration too equally between her and his looking-glass.”
“I do not wonder at it; no one can deny that M. Denot is attractive, but he attracts without retaining; were I ever so much in want of lovers, I could not endure M. Denot’s attentions for more than one evening at the utmost; but our other knight — our other preux chevalier, sans peur et sans reproche — at whose feet will he lay his trophies, Marie? who is to wreath a crown of bay leaves for his brow?”
“His countrywomen should all unite to do it, Victorine — for he is going out to battle for them all — every village girl, whose lover is still left to walk with her on the Sabbath evening — every young wife, who can still lay her baby in her husband’s arms — every mother, who still rejoices in the smile of her stalwart son; they should all unite to wreath a crown for the brow of Henri Larochejaquelin.”
“And so they shall, Marie; but there will be others also, whose valour will claim a token of admiration from the gratitude of their countrywomen; we will all do this for Henri and our other brave defenders; but if I know his character, the gratitude of many will not make him happy without the favour of one, and she will be the lady of his love; the remembrance of whose smiles will bear him scatheless through the din of the battle.”
“I should be vain, Victorine, if I pretended to misunderstand your questions,” said Marie; “but why you should mix my name with that of M. Larochejaquelin, without vanity I do not know.”
“It does not offend you, Marie?”
“Offend me, dearest Victorine! how should I be offended with anything you could say?”
“But would it offend you to see Henri Larochejaquelin at your feet.”
“Is there any girl in France who would have a right to be offended at seeing him there, if he came with a tale of true love?”
“You may be sure at least that Henri will never sully his lips with false vows,” said Madame de Lescure.
“He has at any rate made no vows to me, Victorine, nor given me cause to suppose he ever will.”
“But should he do so, Marie?”
“Now you ask me questions which you know it only becomes me to answer in one way.”
“Why, Marie, I declare you and I have changed characters this morning. You are all sobriety when I make a poor attempt at joking with you. Were I, as usual, talking of my sober cares, you would be as giddy as a girl of fifteen, and talk to me of twenty lovers that you have.”
“It is very different talking of twenty lovers, and of one.”
“Then you own there is one lover in the ease — eh, Marie?”
“Now you are crafty, Victorine, and try to trap me into confessions. You know I have no confession to make, or I should have made it long ago to you.”
“I know, Marie, that Larochejaquelin is sad when you are not by, and that he has a word for no one else when you are present; but I know not whether that means love. I know also that your bright eyes brighten when they rest on him, and that your heart beats somewhat faster at the mention of his name; but I know not whether that means love.”
“Victorine,” said Marie, turning round upon her companion her beautiful face, on which two lustrous tears were shining, “Victorine, you are treating your poor sister unfairly. I know not that my eyes are turned oftener on him than on others; and when my heart would play the rebel within me, I always try to check it.”
“Nay, Marie, dear Marie, I did but joke! You do not think I would accuse you of an unmaidenly partiality; if it grieves you we will not mention Henri’s name again, though I remember when you did not spare me so easily; when Charles’ name was always in my ear, when you swore that every dress I wore was his choice, that every flower I plucked was for his eye; and there had been no more then between Charles and me, than there has now between you and Henri; and yet you see what has become of it. You thought yourself wonderfully clever then, Marie; you were quite a prophetess then. Why should not I now foresee a little. Why should not I also be clever?”
“Well, Victorine, time will shew,” said Marie, smiling through her tears; “but do not teach me to love him too dearly, till I know whether he will value my love. If he would prize it, I fear he might have it for the asking for; but I will not throw it at his feet, that he should keep it loosely for awhile, and then scorn it, and lay it by.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14