‘Silence, fellow!’ I cried; ’is it for you to promise in the name of the Commune?’ I was almost beside myself. ’M. Lecamus. is it for this that they have come?’
His head had begun to droop again, and a dimness came over his face. ’Do I know?’ he said. ’It was them I longed for, not to know their errand; but I have not yet said all. You are to send two—two whom you esteem the highest—to speak with them face to face.’
Then at once there rose a tumult among the people—an eagerness which nothing could subdue. There was a cry that the ambassadors were already elected, and we were pushed forward, M. le Cure and myself, towards the gate. They would not hear us speak. ‘We promise,’ they cried, ’we promise everything; let us but get back.’ Had it been to sacrifice us they would have done the same; they would have killed us in their passion, in order to return to their city—and afterwards mourned us and honoured us as martyrs. But for the moment they had neither ruth nor fear. Had it been they who were going to reason not with flesh and blood, it would have been different; but it was we, not they; and they hurried us on as not willing that a moment should be lost. I had to struggle, almost to fight, in order to provide them with a leader, which was indispensable, before I myself went away. For who could tell if we should ever come back? For a moment I hesitated, thinking that it might be well to invest M. de Bois-Sombre as my deputy with my scarf of office; but then I reflected that when a man goes to battle, when he goes to risk his life, perhaps to lose it, for his people, it is his right to bear those signs which distinguish him from common men, which show in what office, for what cause, he is ready to die.
Accordingly I paused, struggling against the pressure of the people, and said in a loud voice, ’In the absence of M. Barbou, who has forsaken us, I constitute the excellent M. Felix de Bois-Sombre my representative. In my absence my fellow-citizens will respect and obey him as myself.’ There was a cry of assent. They would have given their assent to anything that we might but go on. What was it to them? They took no thought of the heaving of my bosom, the beating of my heart. They left us on the edge of the darkness with our faces towards the gate. There we stood one breathless moment. Then the little postern slowly opened before us, and once more we stood within Semur.
M. le Maire having requested me, on his entrance into Semur, to lose no time in drawing up an account of my residence in the town, to be placed with his own narrative, I have promised to do so to the best of my ability, feeling that my condition is a very precarious one, and my time for explanation may be short. Many things, needless to enumerate, press this upon my mind. It was a pleasure to me to see my neighbours when I first came out of the city; but their voices,