THE SUMMONS AND THE REPLY.
In the meantime, Cimourdain, who had not yet taken up his position on the plateau and was still at Gauvain's side, stepped to a trumpeter.
"Blow the trumpet," he said to him.
The trumpet sounded, the horn replied.
A blast from the trumpet and an answering blast from the horn rang out again.
"What is it?" asked Gauvain of Guechamp. "What does Cimourdain want?"
Cimourdain had approached the tower with a white handkerchief in his hand.
"Men who are in the tower, do you know me?"
The voice of l'Imânus replied from the top of the tower,—
Then the two voices began to converse, and this was heard,—
"I am the envoy of the Republic."
"You are the former curé of Parigné."
"I am the delegate of the Committee of Public Welfare."
"You are a priest."
"I am the representative of the Law."
"You are a renegade."
"I am the messenger of the Revolution."
"You are an apostate."
"I am Cimourdain."
"You are the devil."
"Do you know me?"
"We hate you."
"Would you be satisfied to have me in your power?"
"There are eighteen of us here who would give our heads in exchange for yours."
"Well, I have come to give myself up to you."
From the top of the tower was heard a burst of savage laughter, and this exclamation,—
There was deep silence in the camp as they awaited the result.
"On one condition."
"What is it?"
"You hate me?"
"As for me, I love you. I am your brother."
The voice from the top of the tower replied,—
Cimourdain replied with a singular inflection, both loud and gentle,—
"Insult me, but listen, I have come to parley with you. Yes, you are my brothers. You are poor misguided men. I am your friend. I am light speaking to ignorance. Light always comprises brotherly love. Besides, have we not all the same mother, our native land? Well, listen to me. You will know later, or your children will know, or your children's children, that all that is taking place at this moment is done in fulfilment of the laws above, and that God has caused this Revolution. While waiting for the time when all minds, even yours, will understand this, and, all fanaticism, even yours will vanish, will any one pity your darkness? I have come to you to offer you my life; I do more, I extend my hand to you. I ask you the favor of destroying my life to save your own. I have full power, and what I say I am able to perform. It is a critical moment; I am making a last effort. Yes, he who speaks to you is a citizen, and in this citizen, yes, there is a priest. The citizen is fighting against you, but the priest implores you. Listen to me. Many of you have wives and children. I take the defence of your children and your wives. I take their defence against you. Oh, my brothers——"
"Go on, preach away!" sneered l'Imânus.
"My brothers, do not let the accursed hour come. There will be bloodshed here. Many of us who are here before you will not see to-morrow's sun; yes, many of us will perish, and you, all of you, will die. Have mercy on yourselves. Why shed all this blood when it is useless? Why kill so many men when two would suffice?"
"Two?" said l'Imânus.
"Lantenac and myself."
And Cimourdain raised his voice,—
"Two men are enough; Lantenac, for us, myself for you. This is what I offer you, and it will be the saving of all your lives: give us Lantenac and take me. Lantenac will be guillotined, and you will have me to dispose of as you like."
"Priest," howled l'Imânus, "if we had you we would burn you over a slow fire."
"I am willing," said Cimourdain.
And he added,—
"You, condemned, who are in this tower can all be alive and free; in an hour I bring you safety. Do you accept it?"
"You are not only a villain; you are mad. Ah, indeed, why do you come to disturb us? who asked you to come to speak to us? we, give up monseigneur! what do you mean?"
"His head, and I offer you—"
"Your hide. For we would skin you like a dog. Curé Cimourdain. Well, no, your hide is not worth his head; get you gone."
"The struggle will be terrible; once more, for the last time, reflect."
Night fell during the exchange of these ominous words, which were heard inside the tower as well as without. The Marquis de Lantenac kept silent and let them alone. Leaders indulge in such portentous deeds of selfishness. This is one of the rights of responsibility. L'Imânus shouted to those beyond Cimourdain, exclaiming,—
"Men who attack us, we have told you our propositions; they have been made, and we have nothing to change about them. Accept them; if not, woe be unto you! do you consent? we will give up the three children here, to you, and you shall let us all go free and unharmed."
"All of you, yes," replied Cimourdain, "except one."
"Monseigneur! give up monseigneur! never!"
"We must have Lantenac."
"We cannot negotiate, except on this condition."
L'Imânus, after sounding the signal with his horn, went down again; the marquis took the sword in his hand; the nineteen men besieged gathered in silence in the lower hall, behind the retirade, and knelt down; they heard the measured tread of the attacking column advancing towards the tower in the darkness; the sound drew nearer; suddenly, they felt that they were close upon them, at the very mouth of the breach. Then all kneeling down held their guns and their blunderbusses through the cracks in the retirade, and one of them, Grand-Francœur, the priest Turneau, rose, and, a drawn sword in his right hand, a crucifix in his left, said in a solemn voice,—
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
All fired at once, and the struggle began.