“Yes, Paul Rouel;” he said to the village innkeeper, who was an ancient crony of his, “it’s very well to talk of King and Church; but if King and Church are to teach sons to fly against their fathers, we may, I think, have a little too much of them; didn’t I again and again tell the boys not to go?”
“But, Michael Stein, how could you expect them to stay here, with a score of old men like us, and a number of women and girls, when every young fellow in the parish had gone to the wars? besides, they say, they did gallantly at the wars, and gained great honour and glory.”
“Gained a great fiddle-stick,” said the smith.
“But, Michael Stein,” said another old friend, named Gobelin, “you wouldn’t have your children disgraced, would you? think how sheepish they would have looked, hiding themselves in the smithy here, when all the other young men were parading round the green with the guns and swords they have taken from the rebels, and the women and girls all admiring them. Why, neighbour, not a girl in the parish would have spoken to them.”
“Girls spoken to them, indeed! I tell you, Gobelin, in the times now coming, any girl will be ready enough to speak to a young man that has a house over his head, and a five-franc piece in his pocket. No, neighbour Gobelin; I gave my boys a good trade, and desired them to stick to it; they have chosen instead to go for soldiers, and for soldiers they may go. They don’t come into my smithy again, that’s all.”
“You don’t mean you won’t speak to the lads, and after their fighting so bravely and all!” said Paul Rouel, in a voice of horror.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t speak to them, Rouel,” said the father, “I am as fond of my sons as another man; and as they were resolved to disobey my commands, and to go fighting, why I’ll not say but I’m glad they didn’t disgrace themselves. I’d have been sorry to hear that they’d run away, or been the last to face the enemy; but they had no right to go, when there was work for them to do at home; they are welcome now to come and take the best I can give them, till their new trade calls them away again, and then they’ll be welcome to go soldiering again; not a hammer shall they raise on my anvil, not a blast shall they blow in my smithy, not an ounce of iron shall they turn in my furnace.”
“You’ll think better of these things after a day or two, neighbour,” said Gobelin.
“When I think once about a thing, Gobelin, I’m not much given to think again. But I tell you, I wish the boys no harm; let them be soldiers now, and I pray God they may be good soldiers; only, if I save a little money by hard work, I won’t have them spend it among their comrades in strong drink; it’ll be all the better for Annot, when I die, that’s all.”
In this resolution he remained fixed, and in this frame of mind he received his truant sons on their return to Echanbroignes on the Sunday morning. They entered the village together with Chapeau, about nine in the morning, having been met about a mile from the town, by four or five friends, who escorted them back. Annot was not there, for she was very busy at home, preparing breakfast for her brothers and lover. She at any rate was determined that the prodigal sons should be received with a fatted calf.