Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

from Arnaud, hastily organized. Between eight and nine hundred were there. The secret had been well kept, but the neighboring peasants were wondering at the strange gathering, and reports would immediately get to the municipal authorities. Curiosity to learn what was going on in the forest attracted some fifteen boats to the neighboring shore. Arnaud saw his opportunity. After prayer, at the head of the little army, he ordered the boats to be seized; their owners were compelled to row them across the lake to the Savoy shore. The first passage was successfully made by two o'clock on the night of August 16-17, but the boatmen, fearing for their lives on the Catholic coast, on returning for the remainder escaped up and down the lake. There could be no delay for the waiting two hundred; the transported little force, now but about seven hundred, were in the enemy's country. They were arrayed in three divisions-main column, vanguard, and rear guardcomprising nineteen companies under select captains. They had plenty of officers, but Arnaud was effectively their leader. They were near Yvoire, and they knew that the alarm would be spread by daylight through the country. They must pray and march immediately. One of their three pastors went in search of a guide, but was taken prisoner by the authorities and sent to Chambery. They immediately summoned Yvoire to surrender, threatening to burn it if it did not; it had to open its gates and give up three of its functionaries as hostages, to be marched with the Vaudois to the next town, and to be sent back only when they could be substituted by new hostagesa policy which was maintained throughout the campaign.

And now commenced this wondrous march, the Glorieuse Rentrée-compared with which Xenophon’s “Retreat of the Ten Thousand” was an insignificant feat. The little army had no commissariat, as we have said, each man carrying his own provision of food and ammunition—they had no animals none but chamois could go where they had to go; had no drums-even these would have been an incumbrance; their only music was that of trumpets and psalms. It reminds us of that night when the Hebrews began their march for the Holy Land," that night of the Lord, to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations."

They moved rapidly, but in unbroken order and with unshakable resolution; and their determined bearing struck with awe the hostile populations through which they advanced. They knew that they must sometimes use desperate expedients, but they hesitated before none that were necessary; they must seize their food as they passed, but they scrupulously paid for it with the money sent them from Holland. They could take no prisoners, save hostages; for how could they feed them or guard them through the Alpine passes ? and they might soon be more numerous than themselves. They must dispatch them on the spot, and give no quarter in battle. Their whole route lay through the territory of the Catholic Government which had attempted their extermination; woe to any man who should challenge them! Few words, decisive acts, were all that could be possible. A desperate Puritanic rigor was their only policy, and it was grimly expressed in all their features and bearing. The Catholic populations could not mistake them, and recoiled, or obsequiously supplied their needs. Even the priests sometimes laid down their stores before them, and bade them go on “in the name of God.” From town to town they took the nobles of the castles, the priests, or the leading citizens, as hostages; it was submission or death; the first alternative was always chosen, for there could not be a momentary doubt of the determined earnestness of the Vaudois. They sometimes had forty or more hostages, and had no little trouble with the curés and fat friars, who puffed and halted in their difficult mountain climbings. On the first day of the march four "gentlemen,” or Savoyard knights, “on horse, well armed and followed by peasants," confronted them, demanding wherefore they advanced in this array, and proudly commanding them to lay down their arms. There was but one reply: “Down from your steeds and march with us, our hostages ! ” Mounting a hill, they saw two hundred armed peasants awaiting them, commanded by a Savoyard nobleman. They dispersed them at a blow, broke to pieces their arms, and took some of them as guides, “with the menace,” says Arnaud,“ of being hung to the first tree if they should be found unfaithful.” Their commanders wrote to the municipalities beyond that the Vaudois were honest, paying for all they took, demanding only a passage. They prayed their fellow-citizens not to sound the tocsin, and not to appear in arms. Accordingly, during this day the people on the way met them with provisions. They halted at Viù, where they were treated with bread and wine, and then resumed their march in the moonlight. At St. Jayre the frightened magistrates had rolled out a hogshead of wine for them into the street, but "some drank not, fearing it was poisoned.” They marched on till midnight, when they sent back their hostages, and, taking a brief sleep on the ground, after prayer, were early again on their way; for it was necessary to hasten; all the country was now in alarm, and the French and Italian troops were in motion to intercept them. They reach the town of Cluse, in the valley of the Arve. Mont Blanc towers sublimely above them. The town is walled, and the people hostile; the municipal authorities threaten them, and bar the gates ; " but it is necessary,” says Arnaud, “ to traverse this town.” The inhabitants are under arms and line the fosses, and the peasants are descending the surrounding mountains with resounding shouts. There is but a prompt word from the Vaudois; they must pass, if they have to break the walls, and go on by fire and sword. Their hostages, fearing for their own lives, write to the municipality to save them; the gates open, and the little troop marches in triumph through lines, on either side of the street, of awe-struck citizens under arms. Beyond the town bread and wine are sent to them; the Vaudois send back money in payment. The leading citizens, admiring their chivalry, or glad for their own escape, send a polite invitation to the officers to return and dine with them; but there is no time for such courtesies. They forcibly take new hostages, and march on for Salanches. They defile through a narrow valley, inaccessible mountains on one side, the Arve, swollen by rains and impassable, on the other. “Stones rolled down the steeps could,” writes Arnaud, “have wiped out an army.” Here they face a town, a castle, and a force of armed peasants, but the latter are content to let them pass unmolested, though they bear off the nobleman of the chateau and his priest as hostages. They have now twenty of these necessary incumbrances--the first men of the country hitherto.

As they approached Salanches they heard the tocsin ringing; they must cross a bridge to reach the town, and it was defended by armed men. They rushed forward, and the enemy fled. Once across, the Vaudois formed in order of battle, for six hun. dred troops were before them. Terror fell upon the town and its defenders. Four monks were sent to parley with them, and offered them passage and two hostages if they would release the forty now with them and hasten away. This was all the Vaudois wished; but when the two hostages appeared they were found to be poverty-stricken townsmen, deux miserables, says Arnaud. The monks, seeing him indignant, attempted to escape; he seized two of them and "enrolled them in the company of hostages,” and “it is proper to say,” he adds, " that they were of great advantage to us afterward, for their remonstrances, prayers, and intercessions with the enemy on our farther passage were so efficacious, we were astonished at the power of these good fathers over their co-religionists.” Threatening now to burn the town, they were allowed to pass on, and encamp a league beyond, where they slept under a drenching rain, but “thanking God,” says Arnaud, " that the storm probably kept the enemy from rallying” in pursuit of them. The next three days were terrible, by the weather and the steeps they had to climb. French troops awaited them in the valley of the Isère, and they must evade them, if possible. Purchasing ample provision from the peasants, they resolutely moved on, sometimes passing through villages which were deserted by their frightened inhabitants; at others, meeting armed populations which fled before them. The rain drenched them; they waded through snow “up to their knees;” they scaled Lez Pras and Haute Luce mountains, seven thousand feet above the sea; on the latter they were lost in the clouds, " by which God hid the Vaudois from the eyes of their enemies.” The “good and holy exhortations of Arnaud animated,” says one of his companions, “the courage of the troops under all sorts of miseries in this place, mounting and descending on steps cut in the rock, where twenty persons could have overthrown an army of twenty thousand.” They ascended, or rather, says the history,"crawled up the Col Bonhomme, kneedeep in snow, the rain on their backs," and, standing at last on the heights of the Alps, beheld the valley of Isère, in which the French troops were prepared for them. Descending to it, they turned into the valley of Tignes, and thus escaped the enemy. Arriving at the base of Mont Iseran, they thanked God and rested a few hours, Arnaud having had no sleep for about a

week. Besides all the horrors of the weather and the mountains which they passed through in these days, they encountered in some places hostile peasant forces; they heard the tocsin, “a horrible clatter,” says Arnaud, “of all the steeples; they had to break over barricaded paths guarded by armed mountaineers; they passed over fortifications which had been erected in anticipation of their former advance; they were now deserted, but they were so situated that a small force could have annihilated the little army—their failure a year before had saved them.

The next day, as they passed over Mont Iseran, word reached them that troops awaited them at the foot of Mont Cenis. “Instead of alarming us,” says Arnaud, “this news inflamed our hearts, for, knowing that the strength of our arms depended absolutely on God, for whose glory we fought, we doubted not that he could open our way against all who should attempt to close it.” They advanced to Besas, where an insolent mob defied them; they seized their chatelain, their priest, and six of the people, and marched on. The seventh day (Friday, 23) they ascended Mont Cenis; some of their scouts seized the baggage mules of the Cardinal Ranuzzi, the papal nuncio in France, who had passed on another route to Rome to assist at the election of a pope. The spoils were rich, but all were given back to the muleteers, except some papers which exposed the designs of the French king. The loss of these documents defeated, it is reported, the hope of the cardinal for the papacy, and he died of mortification, exclaiming, “ My papers, O my papers !

The little army traversed the Grande and the Petite Cenis through appalling suffering—“surpassing the imagination,” says Arnaud. The snow was deep, they lost their way, were enveloped with clouds. They were overtaken by night, and not a few sank down exhausted and were left behind, but rejoined the main body the next day in the Valley of the Gaillon. Again climbing the steeps, they could see the mountain outposts of their native valleys. They were approaching the large and fortified towns. Before them stood Exilles; to their left, Susa. The struggle onward had been terrible thus far, but now came the real tug of war. Twenty-two thousand French and Italian trained troops were before them, and the seven hun

« PoprzedniaDalej »