The quarryman, followed by his gang, ran towards Gabriel, who had advanced a few paces from the choir-railing, and exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with rage: “Where is the poisoner? We will have him!”
“Who has told you, my brethren, that he is a poisoner?” replied Gabriel, with his deep, sonorous voice. “A poisoner! Where are the proofs—witnesses or victims?”
“Enough of that stuff! we are not here for confession,” brutally answered the quarryman, advancing towards him in a threatening manner. “Give up the man to us; he shall be forthcoming, unless you choose to stand in his shoes?”
“Yes, yes!” exclaimed several voices; “they are `in’ with one another! One or the other we will have!”
“Very well, then; since it is so,” said Gabriel, raising his head, and advancing with calmness, resignation; and fearlessness; “he or me,” added he;—“it seems to make no difference to you—you are determined to have blood—take mine, and I will pardon you, my friends; for a fatal delusion has unsettled your reason.”
These words of Gabriel, his courage, the nobleness of his attitude, the beauty of his countenance, had made an impression on some of the assailants, when suddenly a voice exclaimed: “Look! there is the poisoner, behind the railing!”
“Where—where?” cried they.
“There—don’t you see?—stretched on the floor.”
On hearing this, the mob, which had hitherto formed a compact mass, in the sort of passage separating the two sides of the nave, between the rows of chairs, dispersed in every direction, to reach the railing of the choir, the last and only barrier that now sheltered Father d’Aigrigny. During this manoeuvre the quarryman, Ciboule, and others, advanced towards Gabriel, exclaiming, with ferocious joy: “This time we have him. Death to the poisoner!”
To save Father d’Aigrigny, Gabriel would have allowed himself to be massacred at the entrance of the choir; but, a little further on, the railing, not above four feet in height, would in another instant be scaled or broken through. The Missionary lost all hope of saving the Jesuit from a frightful death. Yet he exclaimed: “Stop, poor deluded people!”—and, extending his arms, he threw himself in front of the crowd.
His words, gesture, and countenance, were expressive of an authority at once so affectionate and so fraternal, that there was a momentary hesitation amongst the mob. But to this hesitation soon succeeded the most furious cries of “Death; death!”
“You cry for his death?” cried Gabriel, growing still paler.
“Well, let him die,” cried the missionary, inspired with a sudden thought; “let him die on the instant!”
These words of the young priest struck the crowd with amazement. For a few moments, they all stood mute, motionless, and as it were, paralyzed, looking at Gabriel in stupid astonishment.