Not so de Lescure: he was thoughtful, if not sad; and though he would not, either by a tone or a look, rebuke the gaiety of his companion, it was very evident that he did not share it. The peasants returned along the road, hurrying to their homes, shouting with glee and full of triumph. As they passed their leaders, they cheered the darling heroes who had led them to another victory, and would, had they been allowed to do so, have carried them home upon their shoulders. They had no thoughts of any further battle, or of future bloodshed and misery. They had been victorious over the blues, and that was sufficient for the present evening. They were able to return home and tell their wives and sweethearts of their triumph, and that without any drawback from friends lost or wounded. In all their contests, the Vendeans had never been victorious with so few calamities to themselves.
“I saw Westerman himself” said Henri to his friend. “I am sure I did, and what’s more I was within pistol shot of him, but I hadn’t a pistol loaded at the moment, or I would have put an end to his career. I wonder how he likes his reception in the Bocage.”
“He is not the man to be easily daunted,” said de Lescure. “You’ll find it will not be long before he advances again. If he were to march to Bressuire tomorrow, what is to stop him?”
“Why not stop him tomorrow as we have done today?” said Henri.
“The men are all gone home,” said the other.
“They will all assemble again tomorrow,” said Henri; “we have only to have the bells rung at seven o’clock, or six, or five, or when you will, and you will find that every man will be ready for another day’s work, and that without a murmur.”
“And will they bring powder with them, Henri?”
“Why, we are rather short off for powder,” said he. “Our affair tonight was all very well, for the enemy lost an immense number, and we lost none; but yet it was unsatisfactory, for the fellows have left nothing behind them. I’ll tell you what, Charles, we ought to follow them to Parthenay.”
“Impossible,” said de Lescure.
“Why impossible, Charles? Why is Parthenay, which is not better fortified than Clisson, be more unassailable than Saumur, where everything appeared to be against us?”
“We were all together then, and now we are scattered. I’ll tell you what, Henri,” he continued, after walking on silent for a few steps. “I’ll tell you what we must do: we must leave this district altogether; we must leave it to be ravaged by fire and sword; we must leave it to Westerman, to wreak his vengeance on it, and go to Chatillon, taking with us every armed man that will follow us. We cannot stand an invasion here in the south.”
“Heavens, Charles! what do you mean? Will you not stay to protect the poor wretches who are so ready to fight for us?”
“We can protect no one by staying here. We cannot hope to contend single-handed with such an army as that which was but just now advancing to Bressuire. We can have given them a check, but you know we cannot repeat the effort of this evening. D’Elbee and Stofflet are at Chatillon; your own followers are all in that vicinity. When there, we can communicate with Bonchamps and Charette. We must go to Chatillon.”