THE SUDDEN CHANGES OF CIVIL WAR.
Suddenly all around him, and on every side at once, the thicket was filled with guns, bayonets, and swords, a tricolored flag arose in the shade, the cry of "Lantenac!" burst on his ear, and at his feet through the brambles and branches passionate faces appeared. The marquis was alone, standing on a summit which could be seen from every point of the wood. He could hardly see those who were crying his name, but all could see him. If there were a thousand guns in the woods, he was a target for them. He could distinguish nothing in the thicket but eager eyes fixed on him.
He took off his hat, turned up the rim, broke a long, dry thorn from a furze-bush, drew a white cockade from his pocket, fastened the brim and the cockade back to the crown of the hat with the thorn, and putting the hat on his head again, so that the raised rim showed his forehead and his cockade, he said in a loud voice, speaking to the whole forest at once,—
"I am the man you are seeking. I am the Marquis de Lantenac, Viscount de Fontenay, Prince of Brittany, Lieutenant-general of the armies of the king. Make an end of it. Aim! Fire!"
And opening his goat-skin vest, he exposed his bare breast.
He dropped his eyes, looking for the pointed guns, and saw himself surrounded with men on their knees.
A great cry arose: "Long live Lantenac! Long live monseigneur! Long live the general!"
At the same time, hats were thrown in the air, swords flourished joyfully, and throughout the whole thicket sticks were seen rising with brown woollen caps whirling on the end of them.
It was a Vendean band, which surrounded him. This band fell on their knees when they saw him.
A legend runs that in the old Thuringian forests there used to be strange beings, a race of giants, more or less than men, who were considered by the Romans as horrible beasts, and by the Germans as divine incarnations, and who, according to the occasion, ran the risk of being exterminated or worshipped.
The marquis felt something the same as one of these beings must have done, when, expecting to be treated as a monster, he was straightway worshipped as a god.
All these eyes, full of a terrible fire, were fixed on the marquis with a sort of savage love.
This tumultuous crowd was armed with guns, swords, scythes, poles, sticks; all had large felt hats, or brown caps, with white cockades, a profusion of rosaries and amulets, wide breeches open at the knee, sheepskin jackets, leather gaiters, bare legs, long hair, and while some looked fierce, ail had a frank expression in their faces.
A young, handsome-looking man made his way through the kneeling soldiers, and with long strides went up towards the marquis. Like the peasants, this man wore a felt hat with turned-up rim and a white cockade, and a sheepskin jacket, but his hands were white and his linen fine, and he wore outside his vest a scarf of white silk, from which hung a sword with a gold hilt.
When he reached the hure, he threw down his hat, unfastened his scarf, knelt on one knee, presented scarf and sword to the marquis, and said,—
"We were searching for you, and we have found you. Here is the sword of command. These men are now yours. I was their commander, I am promoted to a higher rank, I am your soldier. Accept our homage, monseigneur. Give your orders, general."
Then he made a sign, and the men bearing the tricolored flag, came out of the woods. They climbed up to where the marquis stood, and laid down the flag at his feet. It was the flag he had just caught a glimpse of through the trees.
"General," said the young man who had presented him with the sword and scarf, "this is the flag we have just taken from the Blues, who were at the farm of Herbe-en-Pail. Monseigneur, my name is Gavard. I belong to the Marquis de la Rouaire."
"Very good," said the marquis.
And, calm and serious, he put on the scarf. Then he drew the sword, and waving it above his head, he said,—
"Stand, and long live the king!"
All rose to their feet. And through the depths of the wood sounded a wild, triumphant shout: "Long live the king! Long live our marquis! Long live Lantenac!"
The marquis turned towards Gavard.
"How many are you?"
As they were going down from the height, and while the peasants tore away the underbrush before the steps of the Marquis de Lantenae, Gavard continued,—
"Monseigneur, nothing could be more simple. Everything is explained by a word. The people were only waiting for a spark. The notice posted up by the republicans, in making known your presence, has roused the country to insurrection for the king. Besides, we had been secretly informed by the Mayor of Granville, who is one of our men, and the same who saved the Abbé Ollivier. Last night they sounded the tocsin."
"Ah!" said the marquis.
"And here we are," added Gavard.
"And there are seven thousand of you?"
"To-day. To-morrow there will be fifteen thousand. It is the contingent of the country. When Monsieur Henri de la Rochejaquelin set out to join the Catholic army, they sounded the tocsin, and in one night six parishes, Isernay, Corqueux, Echaubroignes, Aubiers, Saint-Aubin, and Nueil, raised ten thousand men for him. They had no ammunition, but they found sixty pounds of blasting-powder at a quarry-master's, and Monsieur de la Rochejaquelin set out with that. We were quite sure that you would be somewhere in this forest, and we were searching for you."
"And you attacked the Blues at the farm of Herbe-en-Pail?"
The wind had prevented their hearing the toscin. They suspected nothing; the people of the hamlet, who are a set of louts, had received them well. This morning we invested the farm, the Blues were asleep, and by a turn of the hand the thing was done. I have a horse. Will you condescend to accept it, general?"
A peasant led forward a white horse in military harness. The marquis, without making use of the assistance Gavard offered him, mounted the horse.
"Hurrah!" cried the peasants, for English cries are very much employed on the Breton coast, which has constant intercourse with the Channel Islands.
Gavard gave the military salute, and asked,—
"Where will your headquarters be, monseigneur?"
"At first in the forest of Fougrèes."
"That is one of your seven forests, marquis."
"We must have a priest."
"We have one."
"The vicar of La Chapelle-Erbrée."
"I know him. He has made the voyage to Jersey."
A priest stepped out of the ranks and said,—
The marquis turned his head.
"Good- morning, vicar. You are going to have some business."
"So much the better, marquis."
"You will have many to confess. Those who wish it. We force nobody."
"Monsieur le Marquis," said the priest, Gaston, at Guèménée forced the republicans to confession."
"He is a wig-maker," said the marquis; "but death should be free."
Gavard, who had gone to give some orders, returned,—
"General, I await your command."
"At first the rendezvous will be in the forest of Fougères. Let the men disperse and go there."
"The order is given."
"Didn't you tell me that the people of Herbe-en-Pail had received the Blues well?"
"Did you burn the farm?"
"Did you burn the hamlet?"
"The Blues tried to defend themselves, but they were a hundred and fifty, and we were seven thousand."
"Who are these Blues?"
"Who ordered the drums to beat while the king's head was being cut off. So it is a Parisian battalion?"
"A half battalion."
"What is it called?"
"General, 'Battalion of Bonnet-Rouge' is on their flag."
"What is to be done with the wounded?"
"Put an end to them."
"What is to be done with the prisoners?
"There are about eighty."
"Shoot them all."
"There are two women."
"Shoot them also."
"There are three children."
"Bring them here. We will see what can be done with them."
And the marquis started off on his horse.