THE DROP OF COLD WATER.
They had not seen each other for many years, but their hearts had never been separated; they recognized each other as though they had only parted the day before.
A hospital had been improvised at the Hôtel de Ville in Dol. They laid Cimourdain on a bed in a little room, next to the large general hall for the wounded. The surgeon, who had sewed up the wound, put an end to the effusions between the two men, saying that Cimourdain must be left to go to sleep. Besides, Gauvain was required by the thousand cares which make the duties and anxieties of victory. Cimourdain remained alone, but he did not sleep; he had two fevers, one from his wound, one from his joy.
He did not sleep, and still it seemed to him that he was not awake. Was it possible? his dream was realized. He was one of those who do not believe in luck and he was lucky. He had found Gauvain again. He had left him a child, and found him a man; he found him great, terrible, fearless. He found him in the midst of triumph, and triumph for the people. Gauvain was the point of support to the Revolution in Vendée and it was he, Cimourdain, who had given this column to the Republic. This victorious man was his pupil. "What he saw radiating from this young form, destined perhaps for the Republican pantheon, was his own thoughts,—Cimourdain's ; his disciple, the child of his mind, was from this time forth a hero, and after a little would be a glory; it seemed to Cimourdain that he saw his own soul made into a genius; it was like Chiron seeing Achilles in battle. Mysterious relation between the priest and the centaur, for the priest is only a man to the waist.
All the dangers of this adventure, together with his sleeplessness after his wound, filled Cimourdain with a sort of mysterious intoxication. A young destiny was arising magnificently, and what added to his deep joy was the fact that he had full power over this life; another success like the one he had just seen, and Cimourdain would have to say but a word for the Republican to trust him with an army. Nothing dazzles like the astonishment at seeing everything succeed.
It was the time when each man had his own military dream, each wished to make a general: Danton wished to make a general of Westermann; Marat, of Rossignol; Hebert, of Ronsiu; Robespierre wanted to get rid of them all.
Why not Gauvain? said Cimourdain to himself; and he went on dreaming. The unbounded was before him; he passed from one hypothesis to another; all obstacles vanished; when one has once set his foot on this ladder he does not stop, it is an endless climb, one leaves man to reach the stars. A great general is only a chief of armies; a great captain is at the same time a chief of ideas; Cimourdain imagined Gauvain a great captain. It seemed to him, for dreams move swiftly, that he saw Gauvain on the ocean, repelling the English; on the Rhine, punishing the kings of the North; among the Pyrenees, repulsing the Spanish; in the Alps, making a signal for Rome to rise. There were in Cimourdain two men, a tender man and a gloomy man; both were satisfied; the inexorable was his ideal, he had seen Gauvain terrible as well as superb. Cimourdain thought of all that destruction must do before construction could begin, and surely, he thought, this is not the time for emotion. Gauvain will be "at the top" "—á la hauteur,"—a phrase of that day. Cimourdain imagined Gauvain crushing the shades of night under his foot, having on a breastplate of light, with a meteoric gleam on his brow, spreading the great ideal wings of Justice, Reason, and Progress, and carrying a sword in his hand; an angel, but of destruction.
At the very height of this dream, which was almost an ecstasy, he heard, through the partly opened door, talking in the great hospital ward, next his room; he recognized Gauvain's voice; that voice, which in spite of years of absence was always sounding in his ear, and the voice of the child was recognizable in the voice of the man. He listened. There was a sound of steps. Some soldiers said,—
"Commander, this is the man who shot at you. While nobody was noticing him, he dragged himself to a cellar. We have found him. Here he is."
Then Cimourdain heard this conversation between Gauvain and the man,—
"Are you wounded?"
"I am well enough to be shot."
"Put this man in a bed. Dress his wounds, care for him, heal him."
"I want to die."
"You will live. You wished to kill me in the name of the king; I pardon you in the name of the Republic."
A shadow passed over Cimourdain's face. He woke as it were with a start, and he murmured with a sort of ominous despondency,—
"He is surely merciful."