IT was a dark and stormy night. In a small cottage about three miles to the south of Nantes, the leaders of the Vendean army, much as we have already introduced them to the reader, were seated round a miserable table, which seemed to have been patched up for the occasion. There were papers, pens, and ink upon it; several plans of fortifications, and estimates of the strength of various divisions of the army. A small fire was burning on the hearth; for though it was now the end of June, the night was cold and raw. We said that the leaders of the insurgent army occupied much the same positions as when we last saw them: there were, however, a few slight changes.
Cathelineau, who had fully supported the character which he brought to the insurrection, had been, by the unanimous consent of the leaders, elevated to the post of general-in-chief. It was an admirable arrangement, not only because the Saint of Anjou was so much beloved, but also because, in a rebellion which was supposed to be undertaken in support of the interests of the aristocracy, no leader would be more likely to show the absurdity of that belief than a peasant like Cathelineau. He therefore occupied the head of the table on the present occasion, and opposite to him sat the so-called Bishop of Agra, a tall, grey, stern personage, who became his ecclesiastical robes very well, and from whose demeanour none would have suspected the deceit which he was practising on the Catholic army, and by which he was eventually to disgrace it.
The party then was, as we have said, thus assembled; and the question in debate was the immediate attack which it was proposed to make on the city of Nantes. The success which had attended the operations of the Catholic army hitherto had given rise to the idea that, by a skilful co-operation on the part of M. de la Char-rette, who commanded the insurgents on the north of the Loire, it might be possible, by seizing the city, to obtain possession of the river, and thus to command a communication with England. It was well known that there was a strong disposition in the British ministry to send a body of troops to the relief of the royalists; and it was thought that the possession of one important place would determine Mr. Pitt no longer to delay what he had already half-promised to do.
"We are resolved, then," said Cathelineau, "to attack the city on all sides at once, and in the same way as we have already hitherto done. For myself, I know nothing of a regular siege; so that, if our operations are to be carried on according to rule, I must, for this one night at least, resign my command."
"Oh," said De la Rochejacquelein, "for the matter of that, I do not think that any one of us has more knowledge than yourself, except indeed M. de Marigny and M. d'Elbée. We must each do our best; and we shall succeed as we have succeeded before."
"That is the way," said D'Elbée; "to try to go by line and rule would only puzzle the more, I am sure, our ignorance. Besides, after all, we lose nothing by it. If you give a sword to two men, one of them a perfect master of fencing, and the other a man who knows nothing about it, their chance is pretty nearly equal."
"So I have heard," said De Lescure. "According to that, we lose nothing by our plan for to-night. But you are acquainted, M. de Marigny, with the general features of the town?"
"Oh, yes!" said Marigny, "I have them all by heart. And I will answer to make our cannon do their part. I should recommend, M. Cathelineau, that we form in three divisions. The one of them should attack the gate which they call the river-gate; the second a detached redoubt, which, so far as I can learn, is just opposite to the Porte Saint Jean; and the third may try to cross the ditch at a place my lieutenant will show them, about half-way between the two great churches; I don't know their names. That, with your favour, M. Cathelineau, I should propose to make the real attack; the other two I intend for feints; though, if it should happen that we carry the redoubt I spoke of, so much the better for us."
"How many did we muster last night?" asked Lescure.
"About fourteen thousand four hundred," returned Cathelineau; "but I can't say that they are in such good spirits as I have seen them. They cannot understand what advantage it would be to them, if we succeed; and they are always more at home, you know, in the open field than in a town."
"I think," said D'Elbée, "that the other division must muster something like twenty thousand men. What time had you any intelligence from them?"
"I had a note," said Lescure, "from Charrette, dated seven o'clock this evening; in which he finally arranged everything, and fixed two o'clock for the general attack. But he very much urged that we should leave one gate and one road entirely open; and he named that to Vannes."
"Why?" asked De la Rochejacquelein.
"Why," returned Lescure, "we have never before put the republicans in a position where they must conquer or die; and he thinks, and I think too, that it will be much better to leave the means of escape open to them."
"So I think," said D'Elbée. "Will there not be time to communicate once more with Charrette? A single mistake will ruin the whole enterprise."
"Certainly there will," replied Lescure. "Shall I write a few lines to him?"
"We shall be much obliged to you," said D'Elbée. And accordingly De Lescure drew his chair nearer to the table, and began to write.
"You are to give the signal, remember, M. de Marigny," said the president. "What is it to be?"
"Two rockets," said Marigny; "one about a quarter of a minute after the other. I have taken care there shall be no mistake, for mine will burn blue. So if they send up any in the town to distract you, you will know what it is."
"The only question, then," said Cathelineau, "is to settle who shall lead each division. If the council think well, I shall be very happy to attack the redoubt."
"And I," said D'Elbée, "should like to be at the river-gate."
"And I presume," returned the president, "that M. de Lescure will have no objection to command the other detachment?"
"With pleasure," said Lescure, looking off for a moment from his paper. "Has any one any sealing-wax?"
But as the house did not furnish any, De Lescure was compelled to be contented with folding down a corner of the note.
"Now," said he, "whom shall we trust with this? I think it would be almost better if one of us were to go. We should be able to judge for ourselves of Charrette's force, and could answer any questions he has to ask."
"I will go," said De la Rochejacquelein, starting up; "I should like the ride of all things."
"I am sure we shall be very much obliged to you," said Cathelineau.
"I will order my horse round directly, then," cried the other; and he was moving to the door for that purpose, when the sound of a horse galloping up made him pause.
"Why, who can that be?" said D'Elbée. "Charrette is beforehand with us, I expect; and he is sending to us instead of we to him."
The horse was reined up at the door; there was the sound of some one dismounting; a quick step was heard in the little passage which led to the inn parlour; the door was opened; and, to the intense astonishment of every member of the council, Duchenier presented himself.
"Duchenier!" cried Lescure, starting up, and grasping him by the hand. "Why, I can hardly believe my eyes. We thought that you had fallen long ago into the hands of these republican tigers, and we intended to have revenged you this very night. It is almost too good to be true."
"I don't know that, M. de Lescure," said Duchenier, in a deep and melancholy voice; "I have lost everything that it was worth living for, except our cause and our honour; and I should like to strike one blow for that before I follow those who have gone before me."
"Step this way, Charles," said De Lescure, kindly; "this meeting is almost too much for you; you shall come and tell me more about yourself. You will excuse us a moment, gentlemen?"
"Let me first say," said Duchenier, "that if you knew all the atrocities now carrying on in that miserable town, I think it would give you more than human strength to assault it."
"Well," said Lescure, who was afraid that Duchenier's mind might be suffering from the excitement and grief he had undergone, "you shall come and tell me all about it. If anything of importance happens, you will have the kindness, gentlemen, to let us know." And he led Duchenier into a little room on the opposite side of the passage.
"You look faint, Charles," he said. "I shall insist on your taking something before I hear anything from you. Pierre," he cried, going to the door, "tell them to send us in what there is in the house; never mind what it is."
"Let me ask one thing," said Duchenier, "and then I will try to do as you wish. Have you heard anything of"--his voice faltered a good deal--"of my poor wife?"
"Thus much," replied his friend, "and only thus much. She is, or was, in the prison of the Saint Lazare, with everything around her as comfortable as could possibly be expected, and a kind-hearted gaoler. When her father wrote to me, which is now three weeks ago or more, he expressed himself very confidently as to being able to procure her liberation, but he did not say how. But surely you must know all this?"
"Not a word of it," replied Duchenier. "Oh, what a load you have taken off my mind! If she is only alive, one seems to be able to hope anything,"
"To be sure you may," said De Lescure. "Here comes supper. You must really take some."
"I never expected," said Duchenier, seating himself at the table, "to have joined the army again. You know not on what a thread my life also has hung." And he proceeded to give his friend an account of what had happened to him till the time of his trial by the commission of Nantes.
"That was now three weeks ago," he said; "and after we had actually been ordered off to the river, they preferred keeping us back till they should have some other prisoners from Charrette's army. Yesterday afternoon the gaoler came down to us, and told us that we were wanted. In the court of the prison there were as many as sixty men, women, and children, all condemned by the commission. Our arms were tied behind us, and we were led down to the side of the river. There we saw the vessel on board of which we were to go; an old weather-beaten thing, lying close to the side of the dock. You had to cross a plank to get on board; and such a scene as that crossing I never before beheld. Many had to be goaded on with bayonets; one or two jumped into the water of their own accord, and were drowned at once; and every time that any great resistance was made, the crowd on both sides of the dock yelled and shrieked with pleasure. At last we were all forced in; they cut the rope that held the vessel, towed her out, and she drifted down the river. It was a most heart-rending sight to see the vain attempts that the prisoners made to give themselves a chance. They untied each other's arms, they wrenched up such small planks as they could contrive to move; one or two mothers attempted to fasten children to these, or to a loose spar; the men took off their coats; and all this while the water was pouring in rapidly, and the vessel going down by inches. But whether it did not sink so rapidly as they expected, or whether they were afraid that we should drift out of their sight, I know not; just as we were passing Porte S. Louis, they fired into us twice; and at the second shot, the crazy old vessel seemed to double up on that side, and amidst the shrieks of the prisoners, went down like a stone. I hardly know what happened next; but I determined, though it seemed hardly possible to reach the shore, or to escape being murdered if one did reach it, to make one long effort for my life. The current carried me down a good mile and a half before I could struggle on to the beach; and there I lay under the shelter of a bed of osiers till it seemed dark enough to move with safety. Fortunately I had not walked half-a-mile, hardly knowing where I was going, before I fell in with one of your patrols; he led me to the advanced guard; the sergeant lent me his horse; and here I am."
He had hardly finished when there was a knock at the door, and D'Elbée entered. "I congratulate you, M. Duchenier, on your return to us. The council are just going to break up. Will you take any part in the attack to-night?"
"Most certainly," said Duchenier. "How can I be of service to you?"
"Will you act under M. de Lescure?" asked D'Elbée.
"I cannot wish anything better," replied Duchenier.
"Very well," said D'Elbée; "so be it then, Let us go back into the room where the council are sitting."
They did so, and a few final arrangements were made. It was agreed that Lescure should remain at the inn till the return of De la Rochejacquelein, and that the other leaders should at once repair to their several posts. In five minutes the little inn was comparatively deserted; Lescure and Duchenier sat by the side of the fire, and passed the time in giving and receiving explanations of the plan of attack; and at last both sank into silence. About a quarter before one o'clock the quick gallop of a horse was heard from the north, and in a few moments De la Rochejacquelein hurried into the room.
"It is all right, De Lescure. It is right," he said. "I left them under march. Charrette seemed in high spirits, and comprehended the whole plan perfectly. Now, are you ready?"
Going out of the house, the three friends found their horses waiting for them, and their immediate followers, in number about ten men, prepared to mount. The night was close and dark; a low fog hung over the meadows; and to the north, the course of the Loire was marked by a kind of serpent-like cloud following the bendings of the stream. The party rode forward at a round trot.
"We could not have a better night," said Lescure.
"We must cross the river at the northern bridge; for we have no time to lose."
As they advanced, the occasional movement of a large body of men came clearer and clearer; and as they approached the bridge he had named, which had now been some days in the hands of the insurgents, the sharp eye of De Lescure distinguished a dark body of men moving through the meadows to his left, and to the north of the river.
"That is D'Elbée's detachment," he said to Duchenier; "we have none of us too much time to spare." And they pressed forward still more rapidly. Another quarter of an hour brought them up to their own party, who had encamped at a mile's distance from the city. Everything was prepared for motion; and after a few moments' conference with his lieutenant, De Lescure gave the word, "Quick march."
Arrived at the top of a slight elevation, which partly overlooked the town, they found that Marigny had posted his artillery to the best possible advantage. He was standing in company with a few of his men, and giving orders for the better lodgment of one of the pieces.
"You are in very good time, gentlemen," he exclaimed; "it wants a full quarter of an hour. Did you see anything of the other detachments?"
"I thought," replied Lescure, "that I could make out D'ElbeVs; but I will not be certain. However, if it were not they, he must have been at his post before they came by."
"Are the rockets ready, De Lorme?" asked Marigny. "Just drive a stake in here."
The man addressed went for them; the stake was driven in; and the party stood by for a few moments in silence.
"I cannot do much for you," said Marigny, "at present; but if you can once get over the glacis, I will answer to silence the fire from the rampart itself. If you can get into the covered way, lose not a moment in turning their own pieces against the town."
"We will do our best to do so," said Duchenier. "Is there anything else to be said?"
"I think not," replied Marigny. "I am afraid you will find them too well prepared. But I think we shall distract them by attacking them on so many points."
"It only wants two minutes," said the man called De Lorme.
"We will give them five more," returned Marigny; "for it is always better to be too late than too early."
As he spoke, the great bell of the nearest church struck two; and a moment after they heard the sentinels on the wall passing the word, "All's right."
"I don't think," said Marigny," that the troops can be under arms in the town; at least, I don't believe that the guards are doubled. Yet if they have got no notice of our design, our secret must have been very well kept."
"Is it not time?" inquired De la Rochejacquelein.
"I think, gentlemen," replied Marigny, "that you had better put yourselves at the head of your troops. They know what they have to do."
The three officers went forward and took their places. A lighted candle was brought; there was a moment of suspense; then came the rushing sound of a rocket; and leaving a blue tail behind it, it burst high up in the air, scattering its little stars on all sides. Almost before it was extinguished, the quick sharp rattle of a drum beating to arms was heard in the city; De Lescure had some difficulty to restrain his men; in a few seconds more the other rocket rose and burst; and then raising his voice to its utmost pitch, he gave the word, "Forward."
The men were at the top of the glacis almost before they were aware that the attack had commenced; the sentinels were driven in; two of the pieces were taken; and in five minutes, with scarcely a wound, the whole of De Lescure's division were in possession of the covered way. It fortunately happened that it was now low tide; and the water in the ditch, which, from the imperfect state of the fortifications, depended on that of the river, and followed its ebb and flow, was very low.
Still enough was left considerably to embarrass the royalist troops; and the uncertain light enabled their leaders to see that the wall itself was very strongly fortified. At the very moment that they were encouraging their men to descend the counterscarp, ten long tongues of light shot forth from the bastions, right and left of them, and from the tenailles, which, according to the old system of fortification, were in the line of defence; while a sharp fire of musketry poured in upon the assailants from the top of the curtain.
"Into the water, into the water!" cried Lescure. And a considerable body of his men followed the example which he set, and dashed into it. At the same moment Marigny, now fully guided by the fire of the besieged, brought his guns to bear upon the bastions and on the curtain, quickly dispersing the troops who occupied the latter. It was found impossible to depress the cannon so as to bear on the Vendeans in the ditch; and thus for a moment they remained in comparative safety, exposed only to the occasional discharge of small arms. The scaling-ladders, such as they were, were brought forward; but partly owing to the unusual height of the rampart, and partly to the quantity of mud deposited in the ditch, they were found to come four feet short of the top of the wall.
"We must send for others," cried Lessure. "Duchenier, will you ride for them?"
"Where?" inquired Duchenier.
"Marigny will tell you," answered his friend. And Duchenier, assisted by some of his men at the counterscarp, hurried forward to that officer.
In the meantime De la Rochejacqulein had called for pickaxes, and was endeavouring to loosen some stones in the revStement, and to ascend by a desperate effort that way.
Duchenier made the best of his way to Marigny; but before he could reach that officer, the sound of a heavy cannonade to the south-west convinced him that some failure in the plan had taken place in that quarter. Not without considerable danger did he reach the summit of the little hillock we have mentioned.
"Monsieur de Marigny," he said, panting with his exertion, "the scaling-ladders are too short. Where am I to go for others?"
"I fear," said Marigny, hardly seeming to notice his question, "that it will be all over with us. Canclaux must have thrown a very strong body into La Nort. That firing can be nothing else."
"But where am I to go?" persisted Duchenier. "De Lescure told me to come to you."
"D'Elbée's men have some," returned Marigny; "but I doubt whether they are longer than yours; for that redoubt is not very high. Cathelineau was to take the best."
"How am I to get to him?" said Duchenier.
"Depress that piece," said Marigny to one of the gunners. "Don't you see that you are quite over the rampart? That is better.--Why, if you want to save time, ride on between La Nort and the city: but better take another man with you in case of the worst; you will find it hot work there."
"Come you with me then, De Lorme," said Duchenier; "I know you can ride well. Bring me my horse." And in another moment the two were galloping together towards the bridge. Crossing that, and ascending the high ground beyond the river, the whole magnificent scene of a night-attack burst upon them at once. All round the city, at intervals of a minute or a minute and a half, every embrasure seemed to shoot forth a stream of living light; in the flashes of radiance you might catch the spires and towers of the city, the old town-hall, the whole circuit of the walls, the castle, and even the masts of the vessels at anchor in the river. Then, before darkness closed in again, a kind of luminous smoke rolled up from the ramparts, broken only by the incessant flashing of small arms, that looked in the distance like the radiance of so many glow-worms. In the meantime, in the intervals when the roar of the batteries was silent, the rattle of the drums might be heard in the marketplace; and occasionally the note of a trumpet came across the city from Charrette's body. Still they pressed forward; and on reaching the brow of the hill, saw the full danger to which the Vendean army was exposed It was as Marigny had imagined. The little suburb of La Nort had been strongly fortified by Canclaux; and the most desperate efforts of D'Elbée were unable to bring up his men to the redoubt which had been appointed as his place of attack. But further off, and close in to the city, the light of the batteries clearly showed that Cathelineau was advancing on the river-gate; though he, too, Duchenier thought, had been behind his time. - "Now, De Lorme," said Duchenier, "if I fall, what you have to do is this; ride to M. Cathelineau, tell him that our scaling-ladders are full four feet too short; let him know that we have made a lodgment on the covered way, and are sure of being able to get in, if he can send the ladders at once. Anyhow, they can hold the wall on this side the ditch, till reinforcements come.": Saying this, Duchenier galloped on through the meadows which lay between La Nort and the river. Very beautiful would they have been on that summer night at any other time, and on any other errand; the buttercups, and cowslips, and ox-eyes, with which they were covered; the sweet damp smell of the dewy hedges; the shrill scream of the startled blackbird, as the horses passed his bush; and here and there the orchards now beginning to give rich promise of autumn. The way was easy to find; for the fields were divided by innumerable paths and lanes; and through these, as best they might, the adventurers made their way, till they reached the southernmost bridge. By the time they had gained that, day was breaking very fast in the east; the grey clouds had a strong clear silver line under them; and the morning breeze was beginning to rise. The bridge was held by a strong party of Angevins.
"Who goes there?" cried the sentinel, thrown out fifty yards from the southern side of the river; at the same time presenting his piece.
"Courvoisier," said Duchenier, who knew the man, "do you know what is the meaning of all that firing behind us?"
"O, monsieur, is it you?" cried the soldier; "we had given you up for lost. No; none of us can tell. There must be some dreadful mistake. We dare not send one man to see, in case of a sally from the garrison."
"Never mind! never mind!" said Duchenier; "M. de Lescure's men are all but in the town. Be on your guard: they must not cross here." And again he and De Lorme were riding forward.
As the road they followed drew closer to the wall, a spent shot would sometimes crash through the branches of the wayside trees, strewing the ground with their fragments, or go ploughing up the earth with a deeper furrow than was ever made by a Poitevin share. At length it ran directly under the angle of a redoubt; and five or six muskets were directed on the two riders. Down came De Lorme's horse, throwing its rider, and convulsed itself in the agonies of death.
"Run for your life," cried Duchenier, spurring on still faster, and placing himself in another moment in comparative security. "Come on as fast as you can," he continued when his companion reached him unhurt, "after me; we will go back together."
"Yes, monsieur," replied the man; and in five minutes Duchenier found himself in Cathelineau's troops. After two unsuccessful attacks, they had been drawn out of cannon shot, and were even then on the point ot advancing for the third time.
"M. Cathelineau," cried Duchenier, "De Lescure's men are already in the ditch, and would have been on the ramparts before now, had their ladders been long enough. They tell me yours are longer. Can you spare any?"
"We have not too many ourselves," said Cathelineau; 'but I think I can spare half-a-dozen.--Gresset," he cried, "take a dozen men with you, and do as M. Duchenier directs you:--or stay, will you not try this one charge with us, M. Duchenier?"
"Very well," said Duchenier; "I can overtake the men. Cross the river, my man, by the southern bridge, and then keep between it and La Nort."
After giving them time to get clear of his own division, Cathelineau gave the word to advance. Quickening their pace to a run as they approached the glacis, the men were almost halfway up it, when the republicans, both from its summit and from the ramparts of the town, poured in upon them such a fire, that it seemed hopeless to think of gaining the top. Astonished at their own freedom from wounds, Duchenier and Cathelineau found themselves, with ten or twelve of the stoutest men, fighting hand to hand with the National Guard, and safe from both ranges of cannon. It needed but a few moments to drop down to the banquette, and to collect thirty or forty of their men around them.
"Out with this piece," cried Duchenier, "and point it at them. It will be murderous work when the smoke clears off, if we don't manage that."
Ten or a dozen hands were dragging the ponderous cannon back on the ramparts, and in a few moments it was fairly turned. The daylight was now sufficient to render both parties distinctly visible to each other, and to show Duchenier that, for the moment, the cannons of the garrison could not be brought to bear upon them.
"Now for your scaling-ladders, Cathelineau/' he cried. They were passed up over the glacis; and it was evident, from the numbers clustering on the ramparts of the town, and from the anxiety which seemed evinced to depress the pieces as much as possible, that considerable alarm was felt. A sharp fire of musketry ran along the walls, which was returned by the Vendeans with good courage; and at the same time the tallest and hardiest of the men leaped into the ditch.
"Hand them down," cried Cathelineau, whose words were scarcely audible in the general confusion; "up by that bastion; don't you see that the tenaille is ruinous? we can make good a lodgment there."
"Take my hand, Cathelineau," cried Duchenier, who was already in the water.
Cathelineau was stooping forward to do so, when there was another sharp fire from the ramparts, and he staggered backward, and fell on the parapet. One or two of his men ran up to him.
"Take me out of the way, anywhere," said Cathelineau, in a low voice; "I am a dead man; and don't let it be known, if you can help."
"Is he hurt?" said Duchenier, from the ditch.
"We will take care of him," cried one of the men; and Duchenier, fearing to discourage the soldiers, made no further inquiry, but waded forwards to the ladder.
In the meantime Cathelineau was carried back to the place where Duchenier had at first found him; and one of the priests, who always accompanied the Catholic army, having been summoned, the dying leader was left alone with him. Day broke; and although the absence of darkness was a considerable disadvantage to the Vendeans, the attack was still carried on with un-diminished spirit. Never had the peasantry been persuaded to exert themselves for so long a time consecutively; and it needed all the courage and discipline of the veteran soldiers of the National Guard to hold out against the enemies, of whom they had professed so hearty a contempt. As soon as the royalists retreated on one side, the attack was recommenced on another; Lescure had forced his way into the city itself; D'Elbée had driven in the advanced guard at La Nort; and Duchenier, who, after Cathelineau had received his mortal wound, had taken upon himself the command of that body, had made good his lodgment on the covered way. Towards two o'clock in the afternoon, as if by mutual consent, there was a cessation of hostilities; and the various chiefs took that opportunity of riding to the tent where Cathelineau, now rapidly sinking, lay. D'Elb6e, and Lescure, and Duchenier, and De la Rochejacquelein, were all there; Marigny, knowing that the attack might recommence at any moment, did not dare to absent himself from his post. Cathelineau seemed unconscious of all that was passing around him; he lay in a kind of doze, sometimes moving uneasily from this side to that; and Father Francis, who, like many of the Vendean priests, added some knowledge of physic to that of his own profession, gave it as his opinion that he had not another hour to live. The tent was pitched on a rising ground; and the leaders, standing at the door, were conversing in a low voice.
"It is useless to stay here," said De la Rochejacquelein; "he will not know us again, and we have more important duties yonder."
"I am afraid you are right," said Lescure; "this pause must not last much longer. Yet I should like to have spoken to him once again."
As he spoke, the batteries on the further side of the town opened their fire, and it was evident that Charrette was again leading his men on to the assault.
"It is time indeed for us to be going," said Duchenier; "he must be supported, or he will only be wasting his men for nothing."
"Hark!" said Lescure; "Marigny thinks so too; he has opened his fire upon them."
"Let us go, then," returned De la Rochejacquelein.
"You will have the kindness, father," said Lescure to the priest, "to assure poor M. Cathelineau that we have been all here in the hope of seeing him. You see yourself that it is impossible we should stay any longer."
"I will surely tell him so, my son; and now, GOD bless and keep you all. This is a great day for us."
Just as the chiefs were leaving the tent, Cathelineau opened his eyes. "Is that M. de Lescure?" he asked, in a faint voice.
Lescure was by his bedside in a moment. "GOD'S will be done," he said, "Cathelineau; you are better off than we are. It has pleased Him to take you away in the very moment of victory, and to give you the crown in the middle of the conflict."
"I could have wished," said Cathelineau, "to have been with you a little longer; but He knows best. I always looked for this, sooner or later; and so GOD, before Whom I am just going to appear, judge me, as I could not wish for a holier cause in which to die."
"Is there anything," asked D'Elbée, "which you would wish to leave in charge for us to do?"
"I have already said all that was necessary to this good father," replied Cathelineau. "I am sure I need not ask you to take care of my wife and children."
"There is not one among us," said Lescure, "who will not look upon them as if they were his own. We shall not see you again in this world, Cathelineau; for we must and ought to be at our posts. But I doubt not that we shall meet in a better place than this."
Cathelineau's eyes again closed, as if he were exhausted with the effort he had made, and a kind of grey shadow began to steal over his face. "Go, my sons," said the priest, "he is just about to depart; leave me alone with him." With one more glance at the features of him who had been their general, the chiefs left the tent noiselessly, and the next moment were galloping to their respective positions.
Five minutes afterwards, a fresh roar of artillery from more quarters of the town gave proof that the besiegers had united in one general and desperate attack. In the midst of the thunder of the cannon, the shouts of the assault, and the cries of anguish or despair, the brave spirit of Cathelineau passed to that place where there is no more war.
The officers reined up their horses together for a moment on the brow of the hill.
"Look, look, De la Rochejacquelein, we were right; the Blues are pouring out towards Rennes!"
"So they are, so they are! Order another assault on Cathelineau's side;" and, with five or six of the parishes, the leaders rode on. A grey old cross stood some hundred yards from the glacis, and, in the face of a galling fire from the ramparts, the Vendeans knelt before it for some five seconds. Such was the way in which the Catholic army vindicated its name.
On the top of the glacis, another full view of the city presented itself.
"Whose order is that?" cried De la Rochejacquelein, as a body of royalists met the fliers on the Rennes road, and checked their progress.
"Not mine," cried Duchenier. "It is that hot-headed Prince de Talmont. Fool, fool! if they are driven back, we are lost."
"Look to matters here; I will gallop to him, and draw him off."
That inconsiderate charge lost the Vendeans the city.