An observation: none of these people should be judging Gauvain. I don’t think even the stoic, duty-abiding Guéchamp is making it out of this without some psychological trauma, never mind Radoub (and as for Cimourdain — we will burn that bridge when we come to it, as they say).
Guéchamp, in his speech, cites an historical example of a father condemning his son to death — I wonder if he seizes on that as the first example, or if he knows enough of Cimourdain and Gauvain’s relationship to be thinking what we’re all thinking. Radoub, as always, reacts to the emotion of the situation, openly and profusely. There’s a sort of echo here, despite him citing his political involvement, of Michelle’s desperate speeches: he doesn’t understand what’s happening; Michelle would have killed God if her children had died, and Radoub feels fighting for the Republic won’t have been worth it if Gauvain is executed. Radoub’s inability to understand isn’t based on ignorance; it’s based on his own emotional understanding of the revolution’s aims.
Guéchamp delivers his vote for death; Radoub doesn’t really arrive at a vote, but after a few attempts Cimourdain stops trying to keep to procedural rigor and has Radoub’s vote put down for acquittal.
Which leaves Cimourdain himself with the tie-breaking vote: formally meaningless, since he has ultimate power over the outcome; it’s just twisting the knife. He doesn’t explain his vote or even deliver it individually, just the wraps it up in announcing the collective decision.
And Gauvain — I love Gauvain so much here, though for the life of me I can’t come up with the words to explain why, and let’s just leave this here.
Cimourdain gives Gauvain every chance to get out of this, over and over, inexorability be damned; Gauvain rejects every opportunity and denounces himself in detail.
And here Cimourdain doesn’t have even the choice to excuse himself from the court, the way he excused Gauvain, based on being too close — judging Gauvain is the job he’s had along; it’s what he was sent here to do. Remember what Robespierre said to him, when he and the others delegated Cimourdain to the Vendée — that he could make Gauvain a general or send him to he scaffold?
Gauvain has refused to be made a general, and he is forcing Cimourdain to send him to the scaffold by refusing to take any of the outs Cimourdain offers.
Cimourdain struggles for a long moment against what he knows is now required of him under the law. Unlike Gauvain’s struggle with his conscience, we see only external evidence of this — his attempts to make excuses, his sweating and stammering — just like when he was initially given the post and learned that it was Gauvain he was being sent to watch, and when he offered to surrender to the royalists. At crucial moments we are always left to draw our own conclusions about Cimourdain’s thoughts. This is fitting. One of his defining traits is honesty; he keeps his thoughts to himself for the most part, but he never attempts to hide or deceive, and it shows in how much Hugo lets his actions speak for themselves.
And then, after the struggle, finally accepting what he was always going to accept, Cimourdain carries on with the court martial, and he stops tutoieing Gauvain, which is kind the most painful part of this entire painful chapter.