“It’s not for me to blame them; but look at that girl there, and then tell me, mustn’t there be some great blame somewhere?”
Chapeau did look at the girl, and all the tenderness of his heart rose into his eyes, as the flickering light of the fire showed him her tattered and draggled dress.
“Thank God! the worst of it is over now, Michael. You’re safe now, at any rate, from those blood-hounds; and when we reach Laval, we shall all have plenty.”
“And where’s this Laval, M. Chapeau?”
“We’re close to it—it’s just a league or so; or, perhaps, seven or eight leagues to the north of us.”
“And how is it, that in times like these, such a crowd of strangers will find plenty there?”
“Why, the whole town is with us. There’s a blue garrison in it; but they’re very weak, and the town itself is for the King to the backbone. They’ve sent a deputation to our Generals, and invited us there; and there are gentlemen there, who have come from England, with sure promises of money and troops. The truth is, Michael, we never were really in a position to beat the blues as they ought to be beat till we. got to this side of the river. We never could have done anything great in Poitou.”
“I’m sorry they ever tried, M. Chapeau; but I remember when you came back, after taking Saumur, you told me the war was over then. You used to think that a great thing.”
“So it was, Michael; it was well done. The taking of Saumur was very well done; but it was only a detail. We’ve found out now that it won’t do to beat them in detail; it’s too slow. The Generals have a plan now, one great comprehensive plan, for finishing the war in a stroke, and they’re only waiting until they reach Laval.”
“It’s a great pity they didn’t hit on that plan before,” said Michael Stein.
The two men laid themselves down on the ground before the fire, and attempted to sleep; but they had hardly composed themselves when they were interrupted by a loud rumour, that there was a vast fire, close down on the opposite side of the river. They both jumped up and went out, and saw that the whole heavens were alight with the conflagration of St. Florent—the blues had burnt the town. The northern bank of the river was covered with the crowd of men and women, gazing at the flames, which were consuming their own houses; and yet, so rejoiced were they to have escaped themselves from destruction, that they hardly remembered to bewail the loss of their property. The town of St. Florent was between three or four miles from the place where they were congregated, and yet they could plainly see the huge sparks as they flew upwards, and they fancied they felt the heat of the flames on their upturned faces.