"What is your name?" asked Cimourdain.
Gauvain replied, "Gauvain."
Cimourdain questioned him further.
"Who are you?"
"I am commander-in-chief of the reconnoitring column of the Coasts of the North."
"Are you a relative or connection of the man who has escaped?"
"I am his grand-nephew."
"Are you familiar with the decree of the Convention?"
"I see the notice of it on your table."
"What have you to say to this decree?"
"That I countersigned it, that I ordered it to be carried out, and that it was I who had the placard printed, and that my name is at the bottom of it."
"Choose a defender."
"I will defend myself."
"You may speak."
Cimourdain had grown calm again. Only his calmness was less like the composure of a man than the tranquillity of a rock.
Gauvain remained silent for a moment, and, as it were, collecting his thoughts.
Cimourdain spoke again.
"What have you to say in your defence?"
Gauvain slowly raised his head, without looking at anybody, and replied:—
"This: one thing prevented me from seeing any other; a good action, seen too near, concealed a hundred criminal actions from my eyes; on one side an old man, on the other, children, all this came between me and duty. I forgot the villages burned, the fields ravaged, the prisoners massacred, the wounded murdered, the women shot. I forgot France betrayed to England; I liberated the murderer of his country. I am guilty. In speaking thus, I seem to speak against myself; it is a mistake. I am speaking for myself. When the guilty person confesses his fault, he saves the only thing worth the trouble of saving—honor."
"Is this," replied Cimourdain, "all that you have to say for your defence?"
"I will add that being the chief, I owe an example, and that you, for your part, being the judge, owe one too."
"What example do you demand?"
"Do you think it just?"
The quartermaster, as commissioner-auditor, rose and gave a reading; first of the sentence, which outlawed the ci-devant Marquis de Lantenac; secondly, the decree of the Convention inflicting punishment of death on any one aiding the escape of a rebel prisoner. It ended with some lines printed at the bottom of the notice of the decree, forbidding any one "to carry aid and assistance" to the above-named rebel "under pain of death," and signed,—
"The commander-in-chief of the reconnoitring column, Gauvain."
Having finished these readings, the commissioner-auditor sat down again.
Cimourdain folded his arms and said,—
"Accused, pay attention. Audience, listen, look, and be silent. You have the law before you. It will now be put to vote. The sentence will be given according to the simple majority. Each judge will give his opinion in turn, aloud, in presence of the accused, justice having nothing to conceal.
"The first judge has the floor. Speak, Captain Guéchamp."
Captain Guéchamp appeared to see neither Cimourdain, nor Gauvain. He dropped his eyelids, which concealed his motionless eyes fixed on the notice of the decree, and considering it as one considers an abyss. He said,—
"The law is positive. A judge is more and less than a man; he is less than a man, for he has no heart; he is more than a man, because he has the sword. In the year 414 of Rome, Manlius put his son to death for the crime of having won a victory without his order. Violated discipline demands an expiation. In this case it is the law which has been violated; and the law is still higher than discipline. In consequence of an outburst of pity, the country is again placed in danger. Pity may have the proportions of a crime. Commander Gauvain has caused the escape of the rebel Lantenac. Gauvain is guilty. I vote death."
"Write it down, clerk," said Cimourdain.
The clerk wrote, "Captain Guéchamp: death."
Gauvain raised his voice,—
"Guéchamp," he said, you have voted well, and I thank you."
"The second judge has the floor. Speak, Sergeant Radoub."
"Radoub rose, turned towards Gauvain and saluted the accused. Then he cried out,—
"If it is so, then, guillotine me, for I give you here, in the sight of God, my most sacred word of honor that I should like to have done, first what the old man did, and then what my commander has done. When I saw that man, eighty years old, throw himself into the fire to save three babies, I said, "Good man, you are brave!" and when I learn that my commander had saved this old man from your beast of a guillotine, by a thousand saints I say, "My commander, you ought to be my general, and you are a true man, and as for me, by thunder! I would give you the cross of Saint Louis, if there were still crosses, and if there were still saints, and if there were still Louis!
"Ah! are you going to be idiots now? If it was for such things as this that we won the battle of Jemmapes, the battle of Valmy, the battle of Fleurus, and the battle of Wattignies, then it must be admitted. What! Here Commander Gauvain, for four months, has been leading these jackasses of royalists to the beat of the drum, and saving the Republic by his sword, and did a thing at Dol which required a pretty amount of cleverness, and when you have this man here, you try to have him no longer! And instead of making him your general, you want to chop off his head! I say that it is enough to make one throw himself head first over the parapet of the Pont-Neuf, and that if you yourself, Citizen Gauvain, my commander, were my corporal instead of my general, I would tell you that what you said just now was infernal nonsense. The old man did well in saving the children, you did well to save the old man; and if people are to be guillotined for good deeds, then get you gone to all the devils, for I don't know at all what it is about. There is no reason at all for stopping anywhere. All this is not true, is it? I pinch myself to know whether I am awake. I do not understand. So the old man ought to have let the babies burn alive, my commander ought to let the old man's head be cut off. Yes, and then guillotine me. I like the one idea as much as the other. I suppose if the little ones had died, the battalion of Bonnet-Rouge would have been dishonored. Is that what was wanted? Then let us eat each other. I know my politics as well as you. I belonged to the club in the section of the Piques. Sapristi! We are growing brutal at last! I sum it all up according to my way of looking at it. I do not like things which have the inconvenience of making us unable to tell at all where we are. Why the devil do we have each other killed? Why kill our chief? Not that, Lisette. I want my chief! I must have my chief. I love him better to-day than I did yesterday. But to send him to the guillotine, why, you make me laugh! We want none of this: I have listened. You may say whatever you like, but it is not possible."
And Radoub sat down. His wound had opened again. A thread of blood came out from under the bandage and ran down his neck, from the place where his ear had been.
Cimourdain turned towards Radoub,—
"Do you vote that the accused be absolved?"
"I vote," said Radoub, "to have him made general."
"I ask if you vote to have him acquitted."
"I vote to have him made the first in the Republic."
"Sergeant Radoub, do you vote to have the Commandant Gauvain acquitted,—yes or no?"
"I vote to have my head cut off instead of his."
"Acquittal," said Cimourdain. "Write, clerk."
The clerk wrote, "Sergeant Radoub: acquittal."
Then the clerk said,—
"One voice for death. One voice for acquittal."
It was Cimourdain's turn to vote.
He rose. He took off his hat and laid it on the table.
He was no longer pale nor livid. His face was the color of earth.
If all present had been lying in their shrouds, the silence would not have been more profound.
Cimourdain said in a solemn voice, slowly, and with decision,—
"Accused Gauvain, the cause has been heard. In the name of the Republic, the court-martial, by the majority of two to one—"
He stopped, there was a moment of suspense; did he hesitate before death? did he hesitate before life? All held their breath. Cimourdain continued,—
"Condemn you to death."
His face expressed the torture of an awful triumph.
When Jacob compelled the angel whom he had overthrown in the darkness to bless him, he must have worn that terrible smile.
It was only a glimmer, and it passed away. Cimourdain became again like marble, sat down, put his hat on his head, and added,—
"Gauvain, you will be executed to-morrow, at sunrise."
Gauvain rose, saluted him, and said,—
"I thank the court."
"Lead away the condemned," said Cimourdain.
Cimourdain made a sign, the door of the dungeon was opened, Gauvain went in, the dungeon was closed. The two gendarmes remained on guard at each side of the door, with drawn sabres.
They carried away Radoub, who had just fallen unconscious.