The Pomp of the Lavilettes by Gilbert Parker
The village had no thought or care for anything except the Rebellion and news of it; and for several days Ferrol and Christine lived their new life unobserved by the people of the village, even by the household of Manor Casimbault.
It almost seemed that Ferrol's prophecy regarding himself was coming true, for his cheek took on a heightened colour, his step a greater elasticity, and he flung his shoulders out with a little of the old military swagger: cheerful, forgetful of all the world, and buoyant in what he thought to be his new-found health and permanent happiness.
Vague reports came to the village concerning the Rebellion. There were not a dozen people in the village who espoused the British cause; and these few were silent. For the moment the Lavilettes were popular. Nicolas had made for them a sort of grand coup. He had for the moment redeemed the snobbishness of two generations.
After his secret marriage, Ferrol was not seen in the village for some days, and his presence and nationality were almost forgotten by the people: they only thought of what was actively before their eyes. On the fifth day after his marriage, which was Saturday, he walked down to the village, attracted by shouting and unusual excitement. When he saw the cause of the demonstration he had a sudden flush of anger. A flag-staff had been erected in the centre of the village, and upon it had been run up the French tricolour. He stood and looked at the shouting crowd a moment, then swung round and went to the office of the Regimental Surgeon, who met him at the door. When he came out again he carried a little bundle under his left arm. He made straight for the crowd, which was scattered in groups, and pushed or threaded his way to the flag- staff. He was at least a head taller than any man there, and though he was not so upright as he had been, the lines of his figure were still those of a commanding personality. A sort of platform had been erected around the flag-staff and on it a drunken little habitant was talking treason. Without a word, Ferrol stepped upon the platform, and, loosening the rope, dropped the tricolour half-way down the staff before his action was quite comprehended by the crowd. Presently a hoarse shout proclaimed the anger and consternation of the habitants.
"Leave that flag alone," shouted a dozen voices. "Leave it where it is!" others repeated with oaths.
He dropped it the full length of the staff, whipped it off the string, and put his foot upon it. Then he unrolled the bundle which he had carried under his arm. It was the British flag. He slipped it upon the string, and was about to haul it up, when the drunken orator on the platform caught him by the arm with fiery courage.
"Here, you leave that alone: that's not our flag, and if you string it up, we'll string you up, bagosh!" he roared.
Ferrol's heavy walking-stick was in his right hand. "Let go my arm- quick!" he said quietly.
He was no coward, and these people were, and he knew it. The habitant drew back.
"Get off the platform," he said with quiet menace.
He turned quickly to the crowd, for some had sprung towards the platform to pull him off. Raising his voice, he said:
"Stand back, and hear what I've got to say. You're a hundred to one. You can probably kill me; but before you do that I shall kill three or four of you. I've had to do with rioters before. You little handful of people here--little more than half a million--imagine that you can defeat thirty-five millions, with an army of half a million, a hundred battle- ships, ten thousand cannon and a million rifles. Come now, don't be fools. The Governor alone up there in Montreal has enough men to drive you all into the hills of Maine in a week. You think you've got the start of Colborne? Why, he has known every movement of Papineau and your rebels for the last two months. You can bluster and riot to-day, but look out for to-morrow. I am the only Englishman here among you. Kill me; but watch what your end will be! For every hair of my head there will be one less habitant in this province. You haul down the British flag, and string up your tricolour in this British village while there is one Britisher to say, 'Put up that flag again!'--You fools!"
He suddenly gave the rope a pull, and the flag ran up half-way; but as he did so a stone was thrown. It flew past his head, grazing his temple. A sharp point lacerated the flesh, and the blood flowed down his cheek. He ran the flag up to its full height, swiftly knotted the cord and put his back against the pole. Grasping his stick he prepared himself for an attack.
"Mind what I say," he cried; "the first man that comes will get what for!"
There was a commotion in the crowd; consternation and dismay behind Ferrol, and excitement and anger in front of him. Three men were pushing their way through to him. Two of them were armed. They reached the platform and mounted it. It was the Regimental Surgeon and two British soldiers. The Regimental Surgeon held a paper in his hand.
"I have here," he said to the crowd, "a proclamation by Sir John Colborne. The rebels have been defeated at three points, and half of the men from Bonaventure who joined Papineau have been killed. The ringleader, Nicolas Lavilette, when found, will be put on trial for his life. Now, disperse to your homes, or every man of you will be arrested and tried by court-martial."
The crowd melted away like snow, and they hurried not the less because the stone which some one had thrown at Ferrol had struck a lad in the head, and brought him senseless and bleeding to the ground.
Ferrol picked up the tricolour and handed it to the Regimental Surgeon.
"I could have done it alone, I believe," he said; "and, upon my soul, I'm sorry for the poor devils. Suppose we were Englishmen in France, eh?"