Friday, 23/02/2024 - 14:56
07:58 | 13/10/2019

Nearly all the court-martials of this period were arbitrary tribunals. In the Legislative Assembly, Dumas had drawn up a rough plan of military legislation, afterwards improved by Talbot in the Council of the Five Hundred, but the final code of councils of war was not drawn up until the time of the Empire. From that time also, be it mentioned by way of parenthesis, dates the law imposed on military tribunals in regard to the taking of votes, that of beginning with the lower grade. This law was not in existence during the Revolution.

In 1793, the president of a military tribunal might almost be said to personify the tribunal itself; he elected the members, arranged the order of the ranks and regulated the method of voting; he was master as well as judge.

Cimourdain had selected the identical room on the ground-floor where the retirade had been, and where the guard was now posted, for the judgment-hall of the court-martial. He was anxious to shorten everything, – the road from the prison to the tribunal, and the passage from the tribunal to the scaffold.

In accordance with his orders, the court opened its session at noon with no more display of ceremonial than three straw chairs, a pine table, two lighted candies, and a stool placed in front of the table.

The chairs were for the judges and the stool was for the prisoner. At each end of the table stood another stool, one for the commissioner-auditor, who was a quartermaster, and the other for the clerk, who was a corporal.

On the table there was a stick of red sealing-wax, a copper seal of the Republic, two inkstands, bundles of white paper, and two printed placards, spread wide open, – one containing the sentence of outlawry, the other, the decree of the Convention.

The middle chair was pushed back against a group of tricolored flags; in those times of rude simplicity, decorations were quickly arranged, and but little time was needed to change a guard-hall into a court of justice. The middle chair, intended for the president, faced the prison door.

The audience was composed of soldiers.

Two gendarmes stood on guard beside the stool.

Cimourdain was seated in the middle chair, with Captain Guéchamp, the first judge, on his right, and Sergeant Radoub, the second, on his left.

He wore a hat with tricolored plumes, a sabre by his side, and two pistols on his belt. His scar, of a vivid red, increased the ferocity of his appearance.

Radoub had at last consented to allow his wounds to be dressed. He wore a handkerchief tied round his head, on which a blood-stain was gradually extending.

At noon, before the Court opened, a messenger stood beside the table of the tribunal, while his horse impatiently pawed the ground outside. Cimourdain was writing; and this was what he wrote: –

Citizen members of the Com. of Public Safety:

“Lantenac is taken. He will be executed to-morrow.”

After dating and signing the despatch he folded and sealed it, and then handed it to the messenger, who took his leave.

Whereupon Cimourdain said in a loud voice, –

“Open the dungeon.”

Two gendarmes drew back the bolts, opened the dungeon, and went in.

Cimourdain raised his head, crossed his arms, glanced at the door, and exclaimed: –

“Bring forth the prisoner!”

Beneath the archway of the open door appeared a man between the two gendarmes.

It was Gauvain.

Cimourdain started.

“Gauvain!” he cried

Then continued: –

“I demand the prisoner.”

“It is I,” said Gauvain.

“Thou?”

“I.”

“And Lantenac?”

“He is free.”

“Free?”

“Yes.”

“Escaped?”

“Escaped.”

Cimourdain trembled as he murmured: –

“True, it is his own castle, he is familiar with all its outlets; the crypt perhaps communicates with one of them. I ought to have thought of this; he probably found means of escape; he would need no help.”

“He has been helped,” said Gauvain.

“To escape?”

“To escape.”

“Who helped him?”

“I.”

“Thou?”

“I.”

“Thou art dreaming.”

“I went into the dungeon, I was alone with the prisoner, I took off my cloak and wrapped it about him, I drew the hood over his face; he went out in my stead, while I remained in his. Here I am.”

“Thou hast not done this?”

“I have.”

“It is impossible.”

“It is true.”

“Bring me Lantenac.”

“He is no longer here. The soldiers, seeing the commander’s-cloak, took him for me and allowed him to pass. It was still dark.”

“Thou art mad.”

“I tell you what happened.”

A silence ensued. Cimourdain stammered: –

“Then thou deservest – “

“Death,” said Gauvain.

Cimourdain was as pale as a corpse, and as motionless as a man who has been struck by lightning. He seemed to have lost the power of breathing. A great drop of sweat formed upon his forehead.

He controlled his voice, forcing himself to speak firmly as he said: –

“Gendarmes, seat the accused.”

Gauvain took his seat on the stool.

Cimourdain continued: –

“Gendarmes, draw your sabres.”

This was the usual formula when the accused was under sentence of death.

The gendarmes bared their sabres.

Cimourdain’s voice regained its ordinary tone.

“Accused,” he said, “rise.”

He no longer used the familiar “thee” and “thou.”

 

 

 

 

 



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