AFTER CIMOURDAIN AS A JUDGE, CIMOURDAIN AS MASTER.
A camp is a wasp's nest. Especially in times of Revolution. The civic sting which is in the soldier acts readily and quickly, and does not hesitate to attack the chief after having driven away the enemy.
The valiant troop which had taken la Tourgue made various complaints; at first against the Commander Gauvain, when they learned of Lantenac's escape. When they saw Gauvain come out of the dungeon which they supposed held Lantenac, it was like an electric shock, and in less than a minute the whole corps was informed. A murmur burst forth from the little army; the first murmur was,—
"They are judging Gauvain. But it is only a sham. Oh, yes, have great faith in ex-nobles and in priests! We have just seen a viscount save a marquis, and we shall see a priest pardon a noble!"
When they learned of Gauvain's sentence, there was a second murmur, "That is too much! our chief, our brave chief, our young commander, a hero! He is a viscount, well it is all the more credit to him for being Republican! What! he, the liberator of Pontorson, of Villedieu, of Pont-àu-Beau! The conqueror of Dol and of La Tourgue! He through whom we are invincible; he who is the sword of the Republic in la Vendée! The man who, for five months, has held the Chouans at bay, and made up for all the folly of Léchelle and the rest! This Cimourdain dares condemn him to death! Why? Because he saved an old man who had saved three children! A priest kill a soldier!"
Thus the victorious but discontented camp grumbled. A sullen anger surrounded Cimourdain. Four thousand men against one: it seems as if this must be strength; not at all. These four thousand men were a multitude, and Cimourdain was a will.
They knew that Cimourdain frowned easily, and nothing more was needed to hold the army in respect. In these times of severity, it was enough for the shadow of the Committee of Public Welfare to be behind a man to make this man feared, and to make an imprecation end in a whisper, and the whisper end in silence. After as well as before these murmurs, Cimourdain remained the arbiter of Gauvain's fate, and the fate of all. They knew there was nothing to ask of him, and that he would obey nothing but his conscience, a superhuman voice heard by himself alone.
Everything depended on him; what he had done as judge-martial, alone, he could undo as civil delegate. He alone was able to pardon him. He had full power; by a sign he could set Gauvain free; he was the master of life and of death; he was commander of the guillotine. At this tragic time, he was the man above all others.
They could only wait.
Night came on.