Chapter I. Lantenac taken
The Marquis had indeed descended into his tomb.
They led him away.
The oubliette dungeon on the ground-floor of the Tourgue was forthwith reopened under Cimourdain’s severe superintendence; a lamp was placed there, a jug of water, and a loaf of soldier’s bread; a bundle of straw was flung in; and in less than a quarter of an hour from the instant when the priest’s hand had seized upon him, the dungeon door closed upon Lantenac.
This done, Cimourdain joined Gauvain; at that moment the clock from the distant church of Parigné struck eleven: Cimourdain said to Gauvain: –
“I am about to summon a court-martial. You will not join it; you are a Gauvain as well as Lantenac. You are too nearly related to be a judge; and I do not approve of Égalité sitting in judgment upon Capet. The court-martial will consist of three judges, – one officer, Captain Guéchamp, one non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Radoub, and myself, who will preside. You need have no further concern in the matter. We shall be governed by the decree of the Convention; all we have to do is simply to prove the identity of the ci-devant Marquis de Lantenac. To-morrow the court-martial, the day after to-morrow the guillotine. The Vendée is dead.”
Gauvain made no reply; and Cimourdain, preoccupied with the important business that lay before him, departed. He now had to appoint the hour and select the place. Like Lequinio at Granville, Talien at Bordeaux, Châlier at Lyons, and Saint-Just at Strasbourg, he had made a practice of superintending executions in person. It was regarded as an excellent example, this supervision on the part of the judge of the executioner’s work, – a custom borrowed by the Terror of ’93 from the parliaments of France and the Spanish Inquisition.
Gauvain himself was preoccupied.
A cold wind blew from the forest. He left Guéchamp to give the necessary orders, went into his tent, which was in the meadow on the outskirts of the wood at the foot of the Tourgue, and taking his hooded cloak wrapped himself in it. This cloak was trimmed with that simple galoon which in accordance with the republican fashion, averse to decoration, designated the commander-in-chief. He began to pace up and down this bloody field where the assault was begun. There he was alone. The fire, though scarcely heeded, had not yet ceased to bum. Radoub was with the mother and children, almost as motherly as she herself; the bridge-castle was nearly consumed, the sappers completing the work of the flames; they dug ditches, buried the dead, cared for the wounded, demolished the retirade, and removed the dead bodies from the rooms and the staircases; the men were at work purifying the scene of carnage, sweeping away the mass of horrible filth, and setting matters in order after the battle with military rapidity. Gauvain took no note of all this activita
Absorbed in his own thoughts, he hardly glanced at the sentries guarding the breach, doubled by the order of Cimourdain.
He could distinguish this breach amid the darkness, about two hundred paces from that part of the field in which he had found refuge. He saw that black opening. There the attack began three hours ago; this was the breach through which Gauvain had made his way into the tower; there was the ground-floor, with the retirade; the Marquis’s dungeon-door opened on to that floor. The sentries posted near the breach guarded the dungeon.
While thus he gazed absently upon it, these words returned confusedly to his ears, like the tolling of a funeral knell: “The court-martial to-morrow; the guillotine the day after to-morrow.”
The fire, which had been isolated, and upon which the sappers had dashed all the water that they could obtain, still resisted their efforts to extinguish it, and continued to shoot forth occasional jets of flame. Now and then was heard the cracking of the ceilings and the crashing of the stories as they fell one upon another; then showers of sparks flew about as from a whirling torch, revealing like a flash of lightning the extreme limit of the horizon; and the shadow cast by the Tourgue would grow to
colossal size, extending to the very edge of the forest.
Gauvain walked slowly back and forth in this shadow in front of the breach. Now and then he clasped both his hands behind his head, covered by his military hood. He was thinking.