Chapter IV. After cimourdain the judge, cimourdain the master
A camp is a wasps nest, especially in time of revolution. The civic sting which exists in the soldier darts forth at a moments notice, and after driving out the enemy, will often turn without ceremony upon its own chief. The brave army which had taken the Tourgue was alive with conflicting rumors. When first the escape of Lantenac was discovered, it was all against Gauvain; but when the latter was seen coming out of the dungeon where they had supposed Lantenac to be imprisoned, it was like the transmission of an electric spark, and in less than a minute the whole army knew of it. A murmur broke forth from the little band; at first it ran: “They are getting ready to try Gauvain. But it is all a farce. He is a fool who trusts these ci-devants and calotins! We have just seen a Viscount save a Marquis, and presently we shall see a priest acquit a noble!”
When the condemnation of Gauvain became known, there was a second murmur: “That is an outrage! Our chief, our brave chief, our young commander, a hero! He is a Viscount, to be sure, but so much more to his credit that he is also a Republican! What, he, the liberator of Pontorson, of Villedieu, of Pont-au-Beau: the conqueror of Dol and of the Tourgue! the man who has made us invincible! the sword of the Republic in the Vendée, – he who for five months holds his own against the Chouans, and corrects all the blunders of Léchelle and others! And Cimourdain dares to condemn him! Wherefore? Because he saved an old man who had rescued three children! Does it become a priest to put a soldier to death?”
Thus murmured the victorious and dissatisfied camp. On every side a dull sense of anger prevailed against Cimourdain. Four thousand men against one might be supposed to constitute a power; but it does not. These four thousand men were nothing more than a crowd; Cimourdain was a will. They all knew that his frown was easily provoked, and this knowledge sufficed to hold the army in awe. In those times it needed but the shadow of the Committee of Public Safety behind a man to make him formidable, and to convert an imprecation into a whisper, and that whisper into silence. Before, as well as after their murmuring, Cimourdain was absolute master of the fate of all, as well as of that of Gauvain. They knew that it would be vain to entreat him; that he would listen only to his conscience, – that superhuman voice audible to himself alone. Everything depended upon him. What he had done simply in his capacity of military judge, he could undo as civil delegate. He alone could pardon; there were no limits to his authority; it needed but a sign from him to set Gauvain at liberty; life and death were in his hands; the guillotine was at his command. In this tragic moment he held supreme authority.
There was no resource but to wait.
The night came.