“This man is guilty, you say,” resumed the young missionary, in a voice trembling with emotion. “You have condemned him without proof, without witnesses—no matter, he must die. You reproach him with being a poisoner; where are his victims? You cannot tell—but no matter; he is condemned. You refuse to hear his defense, the sacred right of every accused person—no matter; the sentence is pronounced. You are at once his accusers, judges, and executioners. Be it so!—You have never seen till now this unfortunate man, he has done you no harm, he has perhaps not done harm to any one—yet you take upon yourselves the terrible responsibility of his death—understand me well—of his death. Be it so then! your conscience will absolve you—I will believe it. He must die; the sacredness of God’s house will not save him—”
“No, no!” cried many furious voices.
“No,” resumed Gabriel, with increasing warmth; “no you have determined to shed his blood, and you will shed it, even in the Lord’s temple. It is, you say, your right. You are doing an act of terrible justice. But why then, so many vigorous arms to make an end of one dying man? Why these outcries? this fury? this violence? Is it thus that the people, the strong and equitable people, are wont to execute their judgments? No, no; when sure of their right, they strike their enemies, it is with the calmness of the judge, who, in freedom of soul and conscience, passes sentence. No, the strong and equitable people do not deal their blows like men blind or mad, uttering cries of rage, as if to drown the sense of some cowardly and horrible murder. No, it is not thus that they exercise the formidable right, to which you now lay claim—for you will have it—”
“Yes, we will have it!” shouted the quarryman, Ciboule, and others of the more pitiless portion of the mob; whilst a great number remained silent, struck with the words of Gabriel, who had just painted to them, in such lively colors, the frightful act they were about to commit.
“Yes,” resumed the quarryman, “it is our right; we have determined to kill the poisoner!”
So saying, and with bloodshot eyes, and flushed cheek, the wretch advanced at the head of a resolute group, making a gesture as though he would have pushed aside Gabriel, who was still standing in front of the railing. But instead of resisting the bandit, the missionary advanced a couple of steps to meet him, took him by the arm, and said in a firm voice: “Come!”
And dragging, as it were, with him the stupefied quarryman, whose companions did not venture to follow at the moment, struck dumb as they were by this new incident, Gabriel rapidly traversed the space which separated him from the choir, opened the iron gate, and, still holding the quarryman by the arm, led him up to the prostrate form of Father d’Aigrigny, and said to him: “There is the victim. He is condemned. Strike!”
“I” cried the quarryman, hesitating; “I—all alone!”