THE BATTLE AFTER THE VICTORY.
The marquis had really descended into the tomb.
They led him away.
The crypt dungeon in the ground floor of la Tourgue was immediately re-opened under Cimourdain's stern eye; a lamp, a jug of water, some hard tack, were placed in it, a bundle of straw was thrown into it, and, in less than a quarter of an hour after the moment when the priest's hand had seized the marquis, the door of the dungeon was closed on Lantenac.
Having done this, Cimourdain went to find Gauvain; just then the distant church of Parigné sounded eleven o'clock in the evening; Cimourdain said to Gauvain,—
"I am going to convoke a court-martial; you will not take part in it. You are a Gauvain, and Lantenac is a Gauvain. You are too nearly related to be a judge; and I blame Egalité for having judged Capet. The court martial will be composed of these judges: an officer, Captain Guéchamp; a sub-officer, Sergeant Radoub; and myself, who will preside. Nothing of all this will concern you. We shall conform to the decree of the Convention; we shall limit ourselves to establishing the identity of the former Marquis de Lantenac. To-morrow, the court-martial; the day after, the guillotine. La Vendée is dead."
Gauvain made no answer, and Cimourdain, preoccupied with the final duty which remained for him to perform, left him. Cimourdain had hours to appoint and places to select. Like Lequinio at Granville, like Talien at Bordeaux, like Châlier at Lyons, and like Saint-Just at Strasbourg, he was in the habit of being present in person at executions, as it was considered a good example; the judge came to see the executioner do his work; a custom borrowed by the terror of '93 from the parliaments of France and the Inquisition of Spain.
Gauvain, too, was preoccupied.
A cold wind was blowing in the forest. Gauvain, leaving Guéchamp to give the necessary orders, went to his tent in the meadow on the border of the wood, at the foot of la Tourgue, and got his hooded cloak and wrapped himself up in it. This cloak was edged with the simple braid which, according to the Republican fashion for sober ornaments, designated the commander-in-chief. He began to walk about in this bloody meadow, where the assault had begun. He was alone there. The fire was still burning, although of no consequence now; Radoub was with the children and their mother, almost as maternal as she; the châtelet on the bridge was nearly burned to the ground, the sappers were attending to the fire, men were digging ditches, burying the dead, caring for the wounded; the retirade had been destroyed, the corpses removed from the rooms and stairways, the place made clean after the carnage, the terrible filth of victory swept away, the soldiers, with military quickness, did what might be called the house-work after the battle. Gauvain saw nothing of all this.
So deep in thought was he that he scarcely glanced at the post near the breach, doubled by Cimourdain's orders.
He could see this breach in the darkness about two hundred feet from the corner of the meadow where he had, as it were, taken refuge. He saw the black opening. It was there that the attack had begun, three hours before; it was through this that Gauvain had entered the tower; there on the ground-floor was where the retirade had been; the door leading to the dungeon where the marquis was confined was on this ground floor. The men posted at the breach guarded the dungeon.
While he was straining his eyes to make out this breach, these words, like a knell, came back confusedly to his ear: "To-morrow, the court-martial; the day after, the guillotine."
The fire, which had been isolated, and on which the sappers threw all the water they could obtain, did not die out without a struggle, and occasional flames still leaped forth; now and then the cracking of the ceilings and the crash of one story falling on another was heard; then eddies of sparks whirled through the air as though a torch had been shaken, a bright light illuminated the farthest horizon, and the shadow of le Tourgue, grown suddenly gigantic, stretched out as far as the forest.
Gauvain walked slowly back and forth in this shadow, in front of the breach of assault. Occasionally, he crossed his hands behind his head, covered with the hood of his war-cloak. He was lost in thought.