IT IS THE SECOND TIME.
The victory was complete.
Gauvain turned toward the men of the battalion of Bonnet-Rouge, and said,—
"There are only twelve of you, but you are worth a thousand."
Praise from the chief meant the cross of honor at that time.
Guèchamp, sent out of the town by Gauvain, pursued the fugitives and took many of them.
They lighted the torches and ransacked the town.
All who could not escape surrendered. They lighted up the main streets with fire pots. It was strewn with dead and wounded. The end of a battle is always heartrending. A few groups of desperate men here and there still resisted; they were surrounded and they laid down their arms.
Gauvain had noticed in the lawless confusion of the rout, a bold man, a sort of nimble, hardy faun, who had aided the flight of others but had not fled himself. This peasant made masterly use of his carbine, shooting with the barrel, felling with the stock so well that he had broken it; now he had a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other. No one dared approach him. Suddenly, Gauvain saw him totter and lean against a post in the main street. The man had just been wounded. But he still held his sword and pistol. Gauvain put his sword under his arm and went to him.
"Surrender," he said.
The man looked at him steadily. Blood was flowing from a wound under his clothing, and making a pool at his feet.
"You are my prisoner," added Gauvain
The man remained speechless.
"What is your name?"
The man said,—
"My name is Danse-a-l'Ombre."
"You are a brave fellow," said Gauvain.
And he held out his hand to him.
The man replied: "Long live the king!" and collecting all the strength he had left, raising both arms at once, he fired his pistol at Gauvain's heart, and aimed a blow at his head with his sword.
He did this with the swiftness of a tiger; but some one else was quicker still. It was a man on horseback who had just arrived, and had been there for some moments without attracting any one's attention. When this man saw the Vendéan raise his sword and pistol, he threw himself between him and Gauvain. But for this man, Gauvain would have been killed. The horse received the shot, the man received the blow from the sabre, and both fell. All this was done before there was time to cry out.
The Vendéan had dropped on the pavement.
The sabre had struck the man full in the face; he was on the ground, unconscious. The horse was killed.
Gauvain went to him.
"Who is this man?" he said.
He looked at him. The blood was pouring from the gash and formed a red mask over the wounded man's face. It was impossible to make out his features. One could see that he had gray hair.
"This man has saved my life," continued Gauvain.
"Does any one here know who he is?"
"My commandant," said a soldier, "this man has just entered the town. I saw him when he came. He came by the road Pontorson."
The surgeon of the column came running with his case. The wounded man was still unconscious. The surgeon examined him and said,—
"A mere cut. It is nothing. It will heal. In a week he will be on his feet. It is a fine sword cut."
The wounded man had a cloak, a tricolored belt, pistols, a sword. They laid him on a litter. They took off his clothes. They brought a pail of fresh water, the surgeon washed the wound, his face began to appear. Gauvain watched him with deep attention.
"Has he any papers about him?" asked Gauvain.
The surgeon felt in a side pocket and drew out a portfolio, which he handed to Gauvain.
In the meantime, the wounded man, refreshed by the cold water, came to himself. His eyelids moved slightly.
Gauvain opened the portfolio; he found in it a sheet of paper folded twice, he unfolded it and read,—
"Committee of Public Welfare. Citizen Cimourdain,—"
He cried out: "Cimourdain!"
This cry made the wounded man open his eyes.
Gauvain was distracted.
"Cimourdain! It is you! This is the second time you have saved my life."
Cimourdain looked at Gauvain. An unutterable joy lighted up his blood-stained face.
Gauvain fell on his knees before the wounded man, crying,—
"Thy father," said Cimourdain.