“That’s not Guilliame. Who can it be?” the old woman exclaimed to her husband. She stopped eating as the pounding of horses' hooves and the harsh voices of men in the courtyard alerted them to visitors.
“Voila,” they heard one of them yell. “This is the place.”
Her voice shook as her hands clutched at her breast. “Lucien! Do you think they have discovered us?”
“I don’t know how, Mathilde,” he whispered. “Unless we have been betrayed.”
Monsieur and Madame Garneau had waited all evening for their guest to arrive. Once the sun disappeared behind gray-pink clouds in the western sky, and he failed to appear, they decided to start their evening meal. In spite of their disappointment, they bowed their heads, thankful to God for their blessings. The small garden plot they cultivated thrived and the few animals they nurtured grew fat and healthy. There were worshippers still brave enough to come to the secret meetings they held in their humble farmhouse outside the town of Lusignan. All had seemed well.
Now, there was a crash, as several armed men broke down the door and barged into the room. They wore the uniforms of the dragoons authorized by King Louis XIV to round up the disobedient clergy. Mathilde screamed as a soldier grabbed her by her long, braided hair and hauled her outside. With great courage, but flagging strength, the old man tried to resist. They soon subdued him and dragged him towards a wagon positioned under a large oak tree.
“You had a choice,” the dragoon captain snapped. “The authorities warned all you Huguenot pastors to leave the country. You would have been wise to obey.”
Another of the men forced the aged couple to stand on the wagon. He looped ropes around their necks and tied the other ends to one of the strongest branches. Lucien cried out to his God, but a dragoon stuffed a wad of cloth into his mouth. Madame Garneau whimpered; her lips moved in prayer.
The dragoon whipped the horses, causing them to bolt. As the wagon lurched forward, the pastor and his wife hung suspended in the air. They thrashed wildly for a few minutes. Then, as their life forces ebbed away, they were still. For a moment, an eerie hush prevailed, broken only by the creaking of the ropes, as the bodies swayed in the slight evening breeze. Even the soldiers were silent.
“Well, those heretics are taken care of,” the captain finally muttered.
“What about their animals?” one of the men asked.
“Leave them. Burn them with the buildings. Let this be a lesson to all who would defy the King.”
Departing the horrendous scene, they failed to notice the middle-aged man, cringing with fear and despair, hidden in a small grove of firs.
The Huguenot Family
“It is nowhere forbidden to laugh or to eat one's fill or gain new possessions or enjoy oneself with musical instruments or drink wine."
One Week Later
Forty miles southeast of La Rochelle, in western France, a small Huguenot village sat half- hidden in a valley. One narrow track passed by some insignificant farms, then dropped down to the center of the settlement consisting of a few small shops and a neglected chateau. For several hundred years, the hamlet had been there—encircled by lush woodlands of oak and beech. However, its isolation had not saved it from the terrors of the last century. Nor would it again should trouble arise.
Once beyond the town site, the lane climbed a slight slope, crossed a bridge over a meandering river, and terminated at the most prosperous-looking farm in the area. Located behind two stone buildings, were a vineyard; a substantial orchard; and fields of grain that continued to the edge of the surrounding forest.
The owner, Pierre Garneau, stepped out of his house into the morning sunlight. He surveyed the familiar surroundings as he had done almost every day since his youth. Always, he marvelled at the beauty of it. How blessed I am, he thought. One of God’s Elect, for sure.
No ordinary farmer, Monsieur Garneau was a master silk weaver, a trade that brought him an excellent livelihood and made him a relatively wealthy man. Nevertheless, rumours circulating the countryside worried him. It seemed that King Louis, the Sun King, wished to rid himself of every Huguenot in the land. They had been a thorn in the side of his Catholic cohorts for over one hundred years. The Edict of Nantes established by King Henry in 1598 had given some protection, but now Louis wanted it revoked, and the Protestants gone.
Pierre, serving as the village consul or mayor, reported to the Catholic seigneur in the nearest town five miles away. Word often filtered through to him about problems Huguenots experienced with the King’s dragoons in other parts of France. Fortunately, up until now, Father Leger had been lenient towards the Calvinists in his area. What changes this new decree might make to both Pierre and his villagers did not bear speculation on such a perfect morning.
On this day, life in his hidden valley appeared idyllic. The sun’s rays came streaming through the verdant growth, and filled the cobbled courtyard with a warm glow. Scents and sounds of early summer enveloped him; the sweet aroma of the roses growing up the whitewashed walls; the bird songs as tiny lovers warbled to each other; the buzz of bees seeking sweetness in the honeysuckle vines. In spite of his tranquil surroundings, this gossip about the king’s plans seemed ominous to him; like storm clouds gathering in an evening sky. If it proved to be true, the life of every Huguenot in France could change in an instant.
And how could I ever leave this valley, he thought?
Behind him, noise generated in the kitchen signified a flurry of activity. The family had finished breakfast, and the preparations for guests coming from La Rochelle had begun. His second daughter, Catherine, stood at the table peeling vegetables for the feast. Claudine, his wife, kneaded dough for fresh bread to go into the bake oven, while Suzette, their maid, basted the lamb roasting on a spit in the great fireplace. Even his small, four-year-old daughter, Jeanette sat on the floor zealously shelling peas. Through the open door, savoury aromas of garlic and rosemary emanated from the room.
He gazed over at the river winding through their farm to where his oldest daughter sat on a large, flat rock, a pensive expression on her face. Lovely like her mother, Louise had the same oval face with a small, straight nose; golden-blonde hair; and dreamy, grey-green eyes. He treasured her dearly. However, she presented another problem.
She spends too much time in a world of dreams and fantasy, he reflected. Is this natural in a girl of almost seventeen? She should be in there helping with the preparations, but there she sits, most likely thinking of Marc. He sighed in frustration.
The son of Jacques Garneau—his cousin and best friend—was not at all what Pierre wanted in a husband for Louise. Marc had far too worldly an outlook for a devout Huguenot. Moreover, like his father he was a travelling merchant. Pierre did not want his beautiful daughter marrying a man who ventured away from home two or three years at a time. Too much temptation, he believed.
Now, Jacques and his family were coming for a visit, and Pierre determined he would keep those two apart as much as possible during their stay.
Louise loved to sit and dream by the lazy river. Knowing they would be extremely busy this morning, she had arisen early to have a little time to herself. Only the day before, she heard the rumours about the king’s intentions and they worried her. She remembered that her cousin, Marc had once told her of past Huguenot troubles.
Now, looking at the ruined chateau, she shivered, reflecting on the atrocities it had seen. When they were children, she and her younger brother, Jean Guy, went with Marc to explore the abandoned building. Five years her senior and very self-assured, he had explained to them what had happened at the chateau. How, years before, a group of Catholics determined to take over the town from the Huguenots, killed both their grandfathers there.
Marc’s father was one of the prominent and wealthy merchants of La Rochelle. His travels had taken him all over the world, and his sons were extremely well educated. Marc’s schooling had been first in a monastery and then the University in Paris.
Thoughts of her cousin always made her heart beat faster. He was a twenty-two year old man now, and along with his father had just returned to France from a trading journey in the Americas. During that time, there was not a night went by she did not dream of him. They were second cousins, so the relationship allowed for marriage. Certainly, both his parents and her mother would agree to such a union. However, she was concerned that her father did not seem as enchanted with the young merchant as the rest of them.
I fear he isn’t serious enough, and much too adventurous for Papa’s taste, she admitted to herself.
Hearing the kitchen door open, her attention turned to her father standing in the morning sunlight. Like all the Garneau men, he was agreeable to look at, with a tanned skin, bright blue eyes, and shoulder-length, black hair that shone like polished ebony. He was far more serious than his lively cousins. Nevertheless, she loved him deeply. He was strict, but always fair and kind. She knew he would die before he would let any harm befall them.
She watched with affection as he surveyed his surroundings, almost knowing what he was thinking. After a short time, he looked over at her, waved a ‘good morning’, and went into the kitchen for a few moments. Emerging with two pewter mugs full of hot coffee—the last of their precious supply Uncle Jacques renewed each visit—he approached and smiled at her.
“Bonjour, ma fille,” he greeted her, handing over one of the beakers. “Maman and the others have started the preparations for tonight’s meal. I expect you’d better go in and help them. You seem so preoccupied sitting here, though. Is something troubling you, child?”
“Yes, I know I must help. But in the village, I’ve heard the rumours about King Louis’ plans and they worry me. Why do the Catholics hate us so much, Papa? What started all this anyway?”
With a sigh, he put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “You don’t remember the history of our people? Did we really neglect such important events in your lessons?”
“I can’t recall learning about it.”
“Yes, well, perhaps I thought it best forgotten since we were supposed to be protected by the Edict. It’s far too complicated a subject to go into in any depth just now. I can tell you, however, it began a long time ago. Something Catherine de Medici started over one hundred years ago. You’ve studied about Henri of Navarre and the wicked Catherine?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Well Henry, who was the heir to the throne then, was marrying Catherine’s daughter, and Catherine had an intense fear of all Huguenots. They had a great deal of political power in those days. Once she was in the royal family, she instigated a huge slaughter. So many of our people were killed, they called it the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Henri wasn’t happy about it and when he came to the throne, he instituted the Edict of Nantes that stopped the persecution of our people for many years.”
“Do you really think King Louis would dare to cancel such an edict then?”
“He has the power. If he wants to do it, there’s no one who could stop him.”
“Then what would happen to us? Will you become a Catholic?”
“Become a Catholic? Never. Under no circumstance, could I do that.” Her father’s expression became even more serious than usual. “I didn’t want to tell you this yet, and I’d rather you don’t mention it to the other children. However, being the oldest perhaps you should know. It’s possible we may have to leave France.”
“Leave France?” Her heart sank. “Papa, where would we go?”
“I’m not sure, Louise, and I don’t want you fretting about it today. There’s too much work to do with your uncle’s family coming. Now we must think of our guests and Maman does need help with the dinner. In any event perhaps it won’t happen—perhaps the king won‘t change anything.”
“Oh, why is everything so unpredictable?”
“Unpredictable? No, my child, right now it may seem so to us. Nevertheless all things are preordained—we have little control—so we must accept our destiny. Nevertheless, to please God, we must also work hard. Then we’re assured of our reward.”
“Why, Papa? If it’s all arranged anyhow, why should we have to work hard? Sometimes predestination doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
Gulping down the coffee, she stood. Then without waiting for an answer, she flounced into the house.
“Louise,” her mother scolded. “Whatever have you been doing? Dreaming again, while we are so busy? Did you eat anything at all? Jean Guy and Claude have gone to the manufactory to make room for the bundles of thread Uncle Jacques will be bringing. I need you to get water for me. Now on with you, girl. There’s no time to waste.”
With a sigh, she bestowed a light kiss on her mother‘s cheek, then picked up the buckets and headed for the well.
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