TERRIBLE AS IN ANCIENT DAYS.
The relentless voice really was Cimourdain's; the younger and less imperious voice was Gauvain's.
The Marquis de Lantenac had not been mistaken in recognizing the Abbé Cimourdain.
In a few weeks, Cimourdain, as we know, had become famous in this country made bloody by civil war; there was no more ominous notoriety than his; people said: "Marat, in Paris; Châlier, in Lyons; Cimourdain, in Vendée. They cursed the Abbé Cimourdain in proportion as they had once revered him; such is the effect of a priest renouncing his robes. Cimourdain was a cause of horror. The stern are unfortunate; whoever sees their deeds condemns them, but if their consciences could be seen they would, perhaps, be forgiven. A Lycurgus, who is not explained seems a Tiberius. The two men, the Marquis de Lantenac and the Abbé Cimourdain were equal in the balance of hatred; the malediction of the Royalists against Cimourdain was counterbalanced by the execration of the Republicans against Lantenac. Each of these two men was a monster in the eyes of the opposite party; to such an extent that it produced this singular fact, that while Prieur de la Marne, at Granville, was putting a price on Lantenac's head, Charette, at Noirmoutier was setting a price on the head of Cimourdain.
We may say that these two men, the marquis and the priest, were to a certain extent the same man. The bronze mask of civil war has two profiles; one turned toward the past, the other turned toward the future; both equally tragic. Lantenac was the first of these profiles, Cimourdain was the second; only Lantenac's bitter sneer was full of darkness and night, while Cimourdain's fatal brow glowed with the light of morning.
In the meantime, the siege of la Tourgue had a respite.
Thanks to the intervention of Gauvain, as we have just seen, a sort of twenty-four hours' truce had been agreed upon.
L'Imânus had indeed been well posted, and in consequence of Cimourdain's requisition Gauvain now had under his command four thousand five hundred men, as many National Guards as troops of the line, and with these he was surrounding Lantenac in la Tourgue; and he had been able to point twelve pieces of cannon at the fortress, a masked battery of six pieces on the edge of the forest toward the tower, and an open battery of six pieces on the plateau toward the bridge. He had been able to spring the mine and make a breach at the foot of the tower.
So, at the expiration of the twenty-four hours' truce, the struggle was going to begin under the following conditions,—
There were four thousand five hundred men on the plateau and in the forest.
In the tower, nineteen.
The names of these nineteen besieged men may be found by history among the lists of outlaws. Possibly, we shall come across them.
Cimourdain would have liked to have Gauvain made adjutant-general to command these four thousand five hundred men, who made almost an army. But Gauvain had refused, saying, "When Lantenac has been taken we will see. I have not yet done anything to deserve it."
Great commands with humble rank were, moreover, customary among the Republicans. Later on, Bonaparte was both colonel of artillery and general-in-chief of the army of Italy.
The Tour-Gauvain had a strange fate; it was attacked by a Gauvain, and it was a Gauvain who defended it. This caused some restraint in the attack, but not in the defence, for Monsieur de Lantenac was one of those men who have no regard for anything, and besides he had lived chiefly at Versailles, and had no superstitious feeling for la Tourgue, which he was hardly acquainted with. He had taken refuge because it was the only place, and that was all; but he had no scruple about destroying it. Gauvain was more respectful.
The weak point of the fortress was the bridge; but the library on the bridge contained the family archives; if the attack were made there, the burning of the bridge was inevitable; it seemed to Gauvain that burning the archives was attacking his ancestors. La Tourgue was the family mansion of the Gauvains; all their fiefs of Brittany centred about this tower, just as all the fiefs of France centred about the tower of the Louvre; the family relics of the Gauvains were there; he himself had been born there; the tortuous fatalities of life had brought him as a man to attack these walls which had protected him as a child. Should he be so irreverent toward this dwelling as to reduce it to ashes? Perhaps Gauvain's own cradle was in some corner of the granary over the library. Some reflections become emotions. Gauvain felt moved before the ancient family mansion. That is why he spared the bridge. He had limited himself to rendering all egress and escape impossible by this way, and out of respect guarded the bridge with a battery, and had chosen the opposite side for attack. Hence the mine and the sap at the foot of the tower.
Cimourdain had allowed him to do this; he reproached himself for it, because his severity frowned on all this Gothic rubbish, and he did not wish to be any more indulgent toward buildings than toward men. To care for a castle was a beginning of clemency. Now, clemency was Gauvain's weak side. Cimourdain, we know, watched him with his gloomy eyes and arrested this inclination. However, he himself, and he admitted it with anger, did not look on la Tourgue again without a secret thrill; he felt moved by that studious hall where the first books were which he had taught Gauvain to read; he had been priest of the neighboring village, Parigné; he, Cimourdain, had lived in the top of the castle on the bridge; in the library was where he used to hold the little Gauvain on his knees while he learned the alphabet; between these four old walls he had seen his dearly beloved pupil, the son of his soul, grow as a man and increase as a mind. This library, this castle, these walls, full of his blessings on the child, should he overthrow them and burn them? He pitied them. Not without remorse.
He had let Gauvain begin the siege on the opposite side. La Tourgue had its savage side, the tower, and its civilized side, the library. Cimourdain had allowed Gauvain to make a breach only on the savage side.
Moreover, this old dwelling, attacked by a Gauvain, defended by a Gauvain, was returning, in the midst of the French Revolution, to its feudal customs. Wars between relatives make up the entire history of the Middle Ages; the Eteocles and Polynices are Gothic as well as Greek, and Hamlet does at Elsinore what Orestes did in Argos.