St. Florent was now a melancholy careworn place. The people no longer met together in enthusiastic groups to animate each other’s courage, and to anticipate the glorious day when their sovereign should come among them in person, to thank them for having been the first in Poitou to unfurl the white flag. It is true that they did not go back from their high resolves, or shrink from the bloody effects of their brave enterprise, but their talk now was of suffering and death; they whispered together in twos and threes, at their own door-sills, instead of shouting in the market-place. Cathelineau was dead, and Foret was dead, and they were the gallantest of their townsmen. They had now also heard that everything had been staked on a great battle, and that that battle had been lost at Cholet—that Bonchamps and d’Elbee had fallen, and that de Lescure had been wounded and was like to die. They knew that the whole army was retreating to St. Florent, and that the Republican troops would soon follow them, headed by Lechelle, whose name already drove the colour from the cheeks of every woman in La Vendee. They knew that a crowd of starving wretches would fall, like a swarm of locusts, on their already nearly empty granaries; and that all the horrors attendant on a civil war were crowding round their hearths.
It was late in the evening that the news of the battle reached the town, and early on the next morning the landlord of the auberge was standing at his door waiting the arrival of Henri Larochejaquelin and de Lescure. The town was all up and in a tumult; from time to time small parties of men flocked in from Cholet, some armed, and some of whom had lost their arms; some slightly wounded, and some fainting with fatigue, as they begged admission into the houses of the town’s-people. The aubergiste was resolute in refusing admittance to all; for tidings had reached him of guests who would more than fill his house, on whom he looked as entitled to more than all he could give them. It was at his hall door that the first blow had been struck, it was in rescuing his servant that the first blood had been shed; and though the war had utterly ruined him, he still felt that it would ill become him to begrudge anything that remained to him to those who had suffered so much in the cause.
Peter Berrier, his ostler, stood behind him, teterrima belli causa! This man had at different times been with the army, but had managed to bring himself safe out of the dangers of the wars back to the little inn, and now considered himself an hero. He looked on himself in the light in which classic readers look on Helen, and felt sure that the whole struggle had been commenced, and was continued on his account. He was amazed to find how little deference was paid to him, not only by the Vendeans in general, but even by his own town’s-people.
“I shall never be made to understand this business of Cholet,” said he to his master, “never. There must have been sad want there of a good head; aye, and of a good heart too, I fear. Well, well, to turn and run! Vendean soldiers to turn and run before those beggarly blues!”