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RETURN TO DURBELLIERE
When Adolphe Denot left his friend Henri in the street of Saumur, and ran off from him, Henri was so completely astonished by his parting words, so utterly dumb-founded by what he said respecting Agatha, that he made no attempt to follow him, but returned after awhile to the house, in which he, Charles and Adolphe were lodging, and as he walked slowly through the streets, he continued saying to himself, "Poor fellow, he is mad! he is certainly raving mad!"
From that time, no tidings whatsoever were heard of Denot. He had never returned to his lodging, nor been seen anywhere, except in the stable, in which his horse had been put to stand--he had himself saddled his horse, and taken him from the stall, and from that moment nothing further could be learnt of him in Saumur. De Lescure and Henri made the most minute inquiries--but in vain; had he destroyed himself, or hid himself in the town, his horse would certainly have been found; it was surmised that he had started for Paris on some mad speculation; and though his friends deeply grieved at his misconduct, his absence, when they had so much to do and to think of was in itself, felt as a relief.
After remaining about a week in Saumur, the army was disbanded--or rather disbanded itself, for every effort was made, to keep together as great a body of men as possible. An attempt was made to garrison the town; and for this purpose, the leaders undertook to pay about one thousand men, at a certain rate per day, for their services, while they remained under arms in Saumur, but the idea, after a very short time, was abandoned; the men would not stay away from their homes, and in spite of the comforts which were procured for them, and the pay which was promised, the garrison very quickly dissolved.
Cathelineau succeeded in taking back with him to St. Florent, nearly all the men who had accompanied him; his next object was the attack of Nantes, and as St. Florent is between Saumur and that town, his men were able to return to their homes, without going much out of their direct way. He marched through the town of Angers on his return, and took possession of the stores which he found there, the republican garrison having fled as soon as they heard of his approach; many of Bonchamps' men accompanied him, and some of those who had come to Saumur with de Lescure and Henri Larochejaquelin, young men who had no wives or families, and who literally preferred the excitement of the campaign, to their ordinary home employments; all such men joined Cathelineau's army, but by far the greater number of the peasants of the Bocage returned with de Lescure and Larochejaquelin.
Charette had been invited to assist Cathelineau in his attack on Nantes, and he had promised to do so; de Lescure found it absolutely necessary to go home, on account of his wound, and Larochejaquelin went with him. They had already heard that the Convention had determined to invade La Vendée on every side with an overwhelming force, and it was necessary to protect the Southern portion of the province; this duty was allotted to our two friends, and they therefore returned home from Saumur, without expecting to enjoy for any length of time the fruits of their recent victory.
A litter was formed for de Lescure, for at present he found it impossible to bear the motion of riding, and Henri, the little Chevalier, Father Jerome and Chapeau, accompanied him on horseback. Many of the peasants had started from Saumur, before their party, and the whole road from that town through Dou and Vihiers to Durbellière, was thronged with crowds of these successful warriors, returning to their families, anxious to tell to their wives and sweethearts the feats they had accomplished.
They were within a league of Durbellière, and had reached a point where a cross-road led from the one they were on to the village of Echanbroignes, and at this place many of the cortege, which was now pretty numerous, turned off towards their own homes.
"M. Henri," said Chapeau, riding up to his master, from among two or three peasants, who had been walking for some time by hi horse's side, and anxiously talking to him, "M. Henri?"
"Well, Jacques; what is it now?" said Henri.
"I have a favour to ask of Monsieur."
"A favour, Chapeau; I suppose you want to go to Echanbroignes already, to tell Michael Stein's pretty daughter, of all the gallant things you did at Saumur."
"Not till I have waited on you and M. de Lescure to the château. Momont would be dying if he had not some one to give him a true account of what has been done, and I do not know that any one could give him a much better history of it, than myself--of course not meaning such as you and M. de Lescure, who saw more of the fighting than any one else; but then you know, M. Henri, you will have too much to do, and too much to say to the Marquis, and to Mademoiselle, to be talking to an old man like Momont."
"Never fear, Chapeau. You shall have Momont's ears all to yourself; but what is it you do want?"
"Why, nothing myself exactly, M. Henri; but there are two men from Echanbroignes here, who wish you to allow them to go on to Durbellière, and stay a day or two there: they are two of our men, M. Henri; two of the red scarfs."
"Two of the red scarfs!" said Henri.
"Yes, M. Henri, two of the men who went through the water, and took the town; we call ourselves red scarfs, just to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the army: your honour is a red scarf that is the chief of the red scarfs; and we expect to be especially under your honour's protection."
"I am a red scarf, Henri;" said the little Chevalier. "There are just two hundred of us, and we mean to be the most dare-devil set in the whole army; won't we make the cowardly blues afraid of the Durbellière red scarfs!"
"And who are the two men, Jacques?" said Henri.
"Jean and Peter Stein," said Jacques: "you see, M. Henri, they ran away to the battle, just in direct opposition to old Michael's positive orders. You and the Curé must remember how I pledged my honour that they should be at Saumur, and so they were: but Michael Stein is an awful black man to deal with when his back is up: he thinks no more of giving a clout with his hammer, than another man does of a rap with his five knuckles."
"But his sons are brave fellows," said the little Chevalier, "and dashed into the water among the very first. Michael Stein can't but be proud that his two sons should be both red scarfs: if so, he must be a republican."
"He is no republican, Chevalier," said Chapeau, "that's quite certain, nor yet any of the family; but he is a very black man, and when once angered, not easy to be smoothed down again; and if M. Henri will allow Jean and Peter to come on to Durbellière, I can, perhaps, manage to go back with them on Sunday, and Michael Stein will mind me more than he will them: I can knock into his thick head better than they can do, the high honour which has befallen the lads, in their chancing to have been among the red scarfs."
"Well, Chapeau, let them come," said Henri. "No man that followed me gallantly into Saumur, shall be refused admittance when he wishes to follow me into Durbellière."
"We were cool enough, weren't we, Henri, when we marched into the town?" said the Chevalier.
"We'll have a more comfortable reception at the old château," said Henri; "at any rate, we'll have no more cold water. I must say, Arthur, I thought the water of that moat had a peculiarly nasty taste."
They were not long in reaching the château, and Henri soon found himself in his sister's arms. A confused account, first of the utter defeat of the Vendeans at Varin, and then of their complete victory at Saumur, had reached Durbellière; and though the former account had made them as miserable, as the latter had made them happy, neither one nor the other was entirely believed. De Lescure had sent an express to Clisson immediately after the taking of the town, and Madame de Lescure had sent from Clisson to Durbellière; but still it was delightful to have the good news corroborated by the conquerors themselves, and Agatha was supremely happy.
"My own dear, darling Henri," she said, clinging round his neck, "my own brave, gallant brother, and were you not wounded at all--are you sure you are not wounded?"
"Not a touch, not a scratch, Agatha, as deep as you might give me with your bodkin."
"Thank God! I thank Him with all my heart and soul: and I know you were the first everywhere. Charles wrote but a word or too to Victorine, but he said you were the very first to set your foot in Saumur."
"A mere accident, Agatha; while Charles had all the fighting--the real hard, up hill, hand to 'hand work--I and a few others walked into Saumur, or rather we swam in, and took possession of the town. The Chevalier here was beside me, and was over the breach as soon as I was."
"My brave young Arthur!" said Agatha, in her enthusiasm, kissing the forehead of the blushing Chevalier, "you have won your spurs like a knight and a hero; you shall be my knight and my hero. And I will give you my glove to wear in your cap. But, tell me Arthur, why have you and Henri, those red handkerchiets tied round your waist? Chapeau has one too, and those other men, below there."
"That's our uniform," said Arthur. "We are all red scarfs; all the men who clambered into Saumur through the water, are to wear red scarfs till the war is over; and they are to be seen in the front, at every battle, seige and skirmish. Mind, Agatha, when you see a red scarf, that he is one of Henri Larochejaquelin's own body-guard; and when you see a bald pate, it belongs to a skulking republican."
"Are the republicans all bald then?" said Agatha.
"We shaved all we caught at Saumur, at any rate. We did not leave a hair upon one of them," said Arthur, rejoicing. "The red scarfs are fine barbers, when a republican wants shaving."
"Is Charles badly wounded?" asked Agatha.
"His arm is broken, and he remained in action for eight hours after receiving the wound, so that it was difficult to set; but now it is doing well," said Henri.
"I should have offered him my services before this: at any rate I will do so now; but Henri I have a thousand things to say to you; do not expect to go to bed tonight, till you have told me everything just as it happened," and Agatha hurried away, to give her sweet woman's aid to her wounded cousin, while Henri went into his father's room.
"Welcome, my hero! welcome, my gallant boy!" said the old man, almost rising from his chair, cripple as he was, in his anxiety to seize the hand of his beloved son.
"I have come home, safe, father," said Henri, "to lay my sword at your feet."
"You must not leave it there long, Henri, I fear, you must not leave it there long; these traitors are going to devour us alive; to surround us with their troops and burn us out of house and home; they will annihilate the people they say, destroy the towns, and root out the very trees and hedges. We shall see, Henri--we shall see. So they made a bad fight of it at Saumur?"
"They had two men to one against us, besides the advantage of position, discipline and arms, and yet they marched the best part of their troops off in the night without striking a blow."
"Thanks be to the Lord, we will have our King again; we will have our dear King once more, thanks be to the Almighty," said the old man, eager with joy. "And they fled, did they, without striking a blow!"
"Some of them did, father; but some fought well enough; it was desperate sharp work when poor Charles was wounded."
"God bless him! God bless him! I didn't doubt it was sharp work; but even with valour, or without valour, what could sedition and perjury avail against truth and loyalty! they were two to one; they had stone walls and deep rivers to protect them; they had arms and powder, and steel cuirasses; they had disciplined troops and all the appanages of war, and yet they were scattered like chaff; driven from their high walls and deep moats, by a few half-armed peasants; and why? why have our batons been more deadly than their swords? because we have had truth and loyalty on our side. Why have our stuff jackets prevailed against their steel armour; because they covered honest hearts that were fighting honestly for their King. His Majesty shall enjoy his own again, my boy. Vive le Roi! Vive le Roi!"
"I trust he may, father; but, as you say, we shall have some hard work to do first. Cathelineau and Charette will be before Nantes in a week's time. I should have been with them had we not heard that a strong body of republican troops is to be stationed at Parthenay. They say that Santerre is to command a party of Marseillaise, commissioned to exterminate the Vendeans."
"What, Santerre, the brewer of the Faubourgs?"
"The same, Danton's friend, he who used to be so loud at the Cordeliers; and Westerman is to assist him," said Henri.
"Worse again, Henri, worse again; was it not he who headed the rebels on the tenth of August, when our sainted King was driven from his home?"
"Yes, the same Westerman is now to drive us from our homes; or rather to burn us, our homes, and all together--such at least is the task allotted to him."
"God help our babes and our women!" said the old Marquis shuddering, "if they fall into the clutches of Santerre, and that other still blacker demon!"
"Do not fear, father; have we not shewn that we are men? Santerre will find that he has better soldiers to meet than any he brings with him."
"Fear, Henri! no, for myself I fear nothing. What injury can they do to an old man like me? I do not even fear for my own children; if their lives are required in the King's service, they know how to part with them in perfect confidence of eternal happiness hereafter; but, Henri, I do feel for our poor people; they are now full of joy and enthusiasm, for they are warm from victory, and the grief of the few, who are weeping for their relatives, is lost in the joy of the multitude. But this cannot always be so, we cannot expect continual victory, and even victory itself, when so often repeated, will bring death and desolation into every parish and into every family."
"I trust, father, the war will not be prolonged so distantly as you seem to think; the forces of Austria, England and Prussia already surround the frontiers of France; and we have every reason to hope that friendly troops from Britain will soon land on our own coast. I trust the autumn will find La Vendée crowned with glory, but once more at peace."
"God send it, my son!" said the Marquis.
"I do not doubt the glory--but I do doubt the peace."
"We cannot go back now, father," said Henri.
"Nor would I have you do so; we have a duty to do, and though it be painful we must do it. 'God will temper the wind to the shorn lamb,' and give us strength to bear our sufferings; but my heart shudders, when I am told that the Republic has let loose those wolves of Paris to shed the blood of our poor people."
The prospect of a prolonged civil war, of continued strife, and increased bloodshed, somewhat damped the joy with which the victory at Saumur was discussed in the aristocratic portion of the château; but no such gloomy notions were allowed to interfere with the triumph which reigned in the kitchen. Here victory was clothed in robes all couleur de rose, and it appeared that La Vendée, so happy in many other respects, was chiefly blessed in being surrounded by republicans whom she could conquer, and in having enemies who gave her the means of acquiring glory.
"And our own young master was the first royalist who put his foot in Saumur?" asked Momont, who had already received the information he required four or five times, and on each occasion had drunk Henri's health in about half-a-pint of wine.
"Indeed he was," said Chapeau, "the very first. You don't think he'd have let any one go before him."
"Here's his health then, and God bless him!" said Momont. "It was I first showed him how to fire a pistol; and very keen he was at taking to gunpowder."
"Indeed, and indeed he was," said the housekeeper. "When he was no more than twelve years old, not nigh as big as the little Chevalier, he let off the big blunderbuss in my bed-room, and I on my knees at prayers the while. God bless his sweet face, I always knew he'd make a great soldier."
"And don't you remember," said the laundress, "how he blew up Mademoiselle Agatha, making her sit on a milk-pan turned over, with a whole heap of gunpowder stuffed underneath, and she only six or seven years old?"
"Did he though," said the page, "blow up Mademoiselle Agatha?"
"Indeed he did, and blew every scrap of hair off her head and eyebrows. It's no wonder he's such a great general."
"And the Chevalier was second, wasn't he?" said the cook.
"Dear little darling fellow!" said the confidential maid; "and to think of him going to the wars with guns and swords and pistols! If anything had happened to him I should have cried my eyes out."
"And was the Chevalier the first to follow M. Henri into the town?" asked the page, who was a year older than Arthur Mondyon, and consequently felt himself somewhat disgraced at not having been at Saumur.
"Why," said Jacques, with a look which was intended to shew how unwilling he was to speak of himself, "I can't exactly say the Chevalier was the first to follow M. Henri, but if he wasn't the second, he was certainly the third who entered Saumur."
"Who then was the second?" said one or two at the same time.
"Why, I shouldn't have said anything about it, only you ask me so very particularly," said Jacques, "but I believe I was second myself; but Jean Stein can tell you everything; you weren't backward yourself Jean, there were not more than three or four of them before you and Peter."
"I don't know about that," said Jean, "but we all did the best we could, I believe."
"And was Chapeau really second?" said Momont, who was becoming jealous of the distinction likely to be paid to his junior fellow-servant. "You don't mean to say he went in before all the other gentlemen?"
"Gentlemen, indeed!" said Chapeau. "What an idea you have of taking a town by storm, if you think men are to stand back to make room for gentlemen, as though a party were going into dinner."
"But tell us now, Jean Stein," continued Momont, "was Chapeau really second?"
"Well then," said Jean, "he was certainly second into the water, but he was so long under it, I doubt whether he was second out--he certainly did get a regular good ducking did Chapeau. Why, you came out feet uppermost, Chapeau."
"Feet uppermost!" shouted Momont, "and is that your idea of storming a town, to go into it feet uppermost?"
"But do you really mean to say that you were absolutely wet through when you took Saumur?" said the laundress.
"Indeed we were," answered Chapeau, "wringing wet, every man of us."
"Lawks! how uncomfortable," said the cook. "And M. Henri, was he wet too?"
"Wet, to be sure he was wet as water could make him."
"And the little Chevalier, did he get himself wet?" said the confidential maid, "poor little fellow! it was like to give him his death of cold."
"But, Chapeau, tell me truly now: did you kill any of those bloody republicans with your own hand?" asked the housekeeper.
"Kill them," said Chapeau, "to be sure, I killed them when we were fighting."
"And how many, Chapeau; how many did you positively kill dead, you know?" said the confidential maid.
"What nonsense you do talk!" answered he, with a great air of military knowledge, "as if a man in battle knows when he kills and when he doesn't. You're not able to look about you in that sort of way in the middle of the smoke and noise and confusion."
"You don't mean to tell me you ever kill a man without knowing it!" said the housekeeper.
"You don't understand what a battle is at all," answered Chapeau, determined to communicate a little of his experience on the matter. "One hasn't time to look about one to see anything. Now supposing you had been with us at the taking of Saumur."
"Oh, the Lord forbid!" said the housekeeper. "I'd sooner be in my grave any day, than go to one of those horrid bloody battles."
"Or you, Momont; supposing you'd been there?"
"Maybe I might have done as much as another, old as I look," replied the butler.
"I'm sure you'd have done well, Momont. I'm sure you'd have done very well," endeavouring to conciliate him into listening; "but supposing you had been there, or at the camp of Varin--we'll say Varin, for after all, we had more fighting there than at Saumur. Supposing you were one of the attacking party; you find yourself close wedged in between your two comrades right opposite the trenches; you have a loaded musket in your hand, with a bayonet fixed to it, and you have five or six rounds of cartridges in your belt; you know that you are to do your best, or rather your worst with what you've got. Well, your commander gives the word of attack. We'll suppose it's the good Cathelineau. 'Friends,' he will say; 'dear friends; now is the time to prove ourselves men; now is the moment to prove that we love our King; we will soon shew the republicans that a few sods of turf are no obstacles in the way of Vendean royalists,' and then the gallant fellow rushes into the trenches; two thousand brave men follow him, shouting 'Vive le Roi!' and you, Momont, are one of the first. All of a sudden, as you are just in motion, prepared for your first spring, a sharp cutting gush of air passes close to your face, and nearly blinds you; you feel that you can hardly breathe, but you hear a groan, and a stumble; your next neighbour and three men behind him have been sent into eternity by a cannon-ball from the enemy. Do you think then that the man who fired the cannon knows, or cares who he has killed? Well, on you go; had you not been in a crowd, the enemy's fire, maybe, might have frightened you; but good company makes men brave: on you go, and throw yourself into the trench. You find a more active man than yourself just above you; he is already nearly at the top of the bank, his feet are stuck in the sods above your head; he is about to spring upon the rampart, when the bayonet of a republican passes through his breast, and he falls at your feet, or perhaps upon your head. You feel your heart shudder, and your blood runs cold, but it is no time for pausing now; you could not return if you would, neither can you remain where you are: up you go, grasping your musket in one hand and digging the other into the loose sods. Your eyes and mouth are crammed with dust, your face is bespattered with your comrade's blood, your ears are full of strange noises; your very nature changes within you; the smell of gunpowder and of carnage makes you feel like a beast of prey. You do not think any longer of the friends who have fallen beside you; you only long to grapple with the enemy who are before you."
"Oh, mercy me! how very shocking!" said the housekeeper. "Pray don't go on Chapeau; pray don't, or I shall have such horrid dreams."
"Oh! but you must go on, Chapeau," said the confidential maid, "I could never bear that you should leave off; it is very horrid, surely; but as Mademoiselle says, we must learn to look at blood and wounds now, and hear of them, too."
"Do pray tell us the rest," said the page, who sat listening intently with his mouth wide open. "I do so like it; pray tell us what Momont did after he became a beast of prey?"
Chapeau was supremely happy; he felt that his military experience and his descriptive talents were duly appreciated, and he continued:
"Well, you are now in the camp, on the enemy's ground, and you have to fight every inch, till you drive them out of it; six or seven of your comrades are close to you, and you all press on, still grasping your muskets and pushing your bayonets before you: the enemy make a rush to drive you back again; on they come against you, by twenties and by thirties; those who are behind, push forward those who are in front, and suddenly you find a heavy dragging weight upon your hands, and again you hear the moans of a dying man close to you--almost in your arms. A republican soldier has fallen on your bayonet. The struggles of the wounded man nearly overpower you; you twist and turn and wrench, and drag your musket to and fro, but it is no use; the weapon is jammed between his ribs; you have not space nor time to extricate it; you are obliged to leave it, and on you go unarmed, stumbling over the body of your fallen enemy. Whether the man dies or lives, whether his wound be mortal or no, you will never hear. And so you advance, till gradually you begin to feel, rather than to see, that the blues are retreating from you. You hear unarmed men asking for quarter, begging for their lives, and the sound of entreaty again softens your heart; you think of sparing life, instead of taking it; you embrace your friends as you meet them here and there; you laugh and sing as you feel that you have done your best and have conquered; and when you once more become sufficiently calm to be aware what you are yourself doing, you find that you have a sword in your hand, or a huge pistol; you know not from whom you took them, or where you got them, or in what manner you have used them. How can a man say then, whom he has killed in battle, or whether he has killed any man? I do not recollect that I ever fired a shot at Varin myself, and yet my musket was discharged and the pan was up. I will not say that I ever killed a man; but I will say that I never struck a man who asked for mercy, or fired a shot even on a republican, who had thrown down his arms."
Henri's voice was now heard in the hall, loudly calling for Jacques, and away he ran to join his master, as he finished his history.
"It makes my blood run cold," said the housekeeper, "to think of such horrid things."
"Chapeau describes it very well, though," said the confidential maid; "I'm sure he has seen it all himself. I'm sure he's a brave fellow."
"It's not always those who talk the most that are the bravest," said Momont.
Henri and his sister sat talking that night for a long time, after the other inhabitants of the château were in bed, and though they had so many subjects of interest to discuss, their conversation was chiefly respecting Adolphe Denot.
"I cannot guess what has become of him," said Henri; "I made every possible inquiry, short of that which might seem to compromise his character. I do not think he can have returned to the Bocage, or we should have heard of him."
"He must have gone to Fleury," said Agatha. "I am sure you will not find that he is at his own house."
"Impossible, my love; we must have heard of him on the way; had he gone round by Montrenil, he must still have passed over the bridge of Fouchard, and we should have heard of him there."
"He must have ridden over in the night; you see he so evidently wanted to conceal from you where he was going."
"My own impression is, that he is gone to Paris," said Henri; "but let him have gone where he may, of one thing I am sure; he was not in his right senses when he left the council-room, nor yet when he was speaking to me in the street; poor Adolphe! I pity him with all my heart. I can feel how miserable he must be."
"Why should he be miserable, Henri? The truth is, you mistake his character. I do not wish to make you think ill of your friend; but Adolphe is one of those men whom adversity will improve. You and our father have rather spoilt him between you; he is too proud, too apt to think that everything should bend to his wishes: he has yet to learn that in this world he must endure to have his dearest wishes thwarted; and till adversity has taught him that, his feelings will not be manly, nor his conduct sensible."
"Poor fellow!" said Henri, "if adversity will teach him, he is likely to get his lesson now. Did he part quietly with you, Agatha, on the day before we started to Saumur?"
"Anything but quietly," said she. "I would not tell you all he said, for on the eve of a battle in which you were to fight side by side, I did not wish to make you angry with your friend and companion: but had a raging madman, just escaped from his keepers, come to offer me his hand, his conduct could not have been worse than Adolphe Denot's."
"Was he violent with you, Agatha?"
"He did not offer to strike me, nor yet to touch me, if you mean that: but he threatened me; and that in such awful sounding, and yet ridiculous language, that you would hardly know whether to laugh or to be angry if I could repeat it."
"What did he say, Agatha?"
"Say! it would be impossible for me to tell you; he swung his arms like a country actor in a village barn, and declared that if he were not killed at Saumur, he would carry me away in spite of all that my friends could do to hinder him."
"Poor fellow! poor Adolphe!" said Henri.
"You are not sorry I refused him? You would, indeed, have had to say, poor Agatha! had I done otherwise."
"I am not sorry that you refused him, but I am sorry you could not love him."
"Why you say yourself he is mad: would you wish me to love a madman?"
"It is love that has made him mad. Adolphe is not like other men; his passions are stronger; his feelings more acute; his regrets more poignant."
"He should control his passions as other men must do," said Agatha: "all men who do not, are madmen." She remained silent for a few moments, and then added, "you are right in saying that love has made him mad; but it is the meanest of all love that has done so--it is self-love."
"I think you are too hard upon him, Agatha; but it is over now, and cannot be helped."
"What did he say to you, Henri, when he left you in Saurnur?"
"His name had been mentioned you know in the council as one of the leaders: Bonchamps, I believe, proposed it; but Charles objected, and named Charette in his place, and Cathelineau and the rest agreed to it. This angered Adolphe, and no wonder, for he is ambitious, and impatient of neglect. I wish they would have let him been named instead of me, but they would not, and when the list was finished, he was not on it. He got up and said something; I hardly know what, but he complained of Stofflet being one of the Generals; and then Charles rebuked him, and Adolphe in a passion left the room."
"And you followed him?" asked Agatha.
"Yes, I followed him; but he was like a raging madman. I don't know how it was; but instead of complaining about the Generals, he began complaining about you. I don't know exactly whether I ought to tell you what he said--indeed I had not intended to have done so."
"Nay, Henri; now you have raised my woman's curiosity, and you positively must tell me."
"I hardly know how to tell you," said Henri, "for I really forget how he said it. I don't know on earth how he introduced your name at all; but he ended in accusing you of having a more favoured lover."
Agatha blushed slightly as she answered:
"He has no right whatever to ask the question; nor if I have a favoured lover, should it be any ground of complaint to him. But to you, Henri, if you wish a promise from me on the subject, I will readily and willingly promise, that I will receive no man's love, and, far as I can master my own heart, I will myself entertain no passion without your sanction: and you, dear brother, you shall make me a return for my confidence; you shall ask me to marry no man whom I cannot love."
"Don't for a moment think, dearest, that what he said, made me uneasy as regarded you: but whom do you think he selected for you--of whom do you think he is jealous?"
"I cannot attempt to guess a madman's thoughts, Henri."
"I will tell you then," said he; "but you will be shocked as well as surprized. He is jealous of Cathelineau!"
"Cathelineau?" said Agatha, blushing now much more deeply than she had done before.
"Yes, Cathelineau, the postillion."
"No, not Cathelineau the postillion; but Cathelineau the Saint of Anjou, and the hero of St. Florent, and of Saumur. He at any rate has linked my name with that of a man worthy of a woman's love."
"Worthy, Agatha, had his birth and early years been different from what they were."
"Worthy as he is of any woman's love," said Agatha. "Great deeds and noble conduct make birth of no avail, to give either honour or disgrace."
"But, Agatha, surely you would not wed Cathelineau, were he to ask you?"
"Why should you ask that question, Henri?" said she: "are the words which Adolphe Denot has uttered in his wild insanity of such weight, as to make you regard as possible such an event? Have I not told you I would wed no one without your sanction? Do you not know that Cathelineau has never spoken to me but the coldest words of most distant respect? Do you not know that his heart and soul are intent on other things than woman's love? I, too, feel that this is not the time for love. While I live in continual dread that those I most value may fall in battle; while I fear that every messenger who comes to me in your absence, may have some fatal news to tell, I do not wish to take upon me a fresh burden of affection. Am I not best as I am, Henri, at present?" And she put her arm affectionately through his. "When the wars are over, and the King is on his throne, you shall bring me home a lover; some brave friend of your's who has proved himself a gallant knight."
"I would have him be a gallant knight, certainly," said Henri, "but he should also be a worthy gentleman."
"And is not Cathelineau a worthy gentleman?" forgetting in her enthusiasm that she was taking the cause of one who was being spoken of as her lover. "Oh, indeed he is; if valour, honesty, and honour, if trust in God, and forgetfulness of self, if humanity and generosity constitute a gentleman, then is Cathelineau the prince of gentlemen: but do not, pray do not mistake me, Henri: a lover of scenery admires the tops of distant mountains, and gazes on their snowy peaks with a pleasure almost amounting to awe; but no one seeks to build his house on the summit: so do I admire the virtues, the devotion, the courage of Cathelineau; but my admiration is mixed with no love which would make me wish to join my lot with his. I only say, that despite his birth and former low condition, he is worthy of any woman's love."
Henri did not quite like his sister's enthusiasm, though he hardly knew why it displeased him. He had thought of Cathelineau only as a soldier and a General, and had found nothing in him that he did not approve of; but he felt that be could not welcome him as his darling sister's husband; "if Adolphe should have prophesied rightly," said he, to himself as he went from his sister's room to his own chamber, "but no! whatever her feelings may be, she is too good to do anything that would displease me."
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