A Beleaguered City (1880)

Martin Dupin, mayor of the city of Semur , writes an account of a supernatural episode which took place in the city some time back. At the beginning of the story, the town of Semur is inhabited by many who are impious, especially those who value money above God. Pious people have exclaimed that “it was enough to make the dead rise out of their graves.” Also recently it had been decided to suspend mass in the chapel adjoining the hospital, because so many patients complained of the noise of the service, rather than gaining any spiritual benefit.

Several mysterious phenomena preceded the peaceful siege of the city by an invisible multitude. Now the citizens feel mysteriously compelled to leave the city, as if guided by an unconscious or external command. The citizens awake from this trance after the city gates close behind them. In horror, some fly from the place seeking refuge in places close by. Likewise, the women and the children are led to Dupin's chateau, La Clarière , by his mother and his wife.

The remaining men keep guard at the city's entrance while they speculate on the causes of the fantastic event. Some believe it is a punishment for having suspended mass service at the hospital. Dupin and the town's priest, however, discard this explanation as mere superstition.

Three days elapse in this restless state of doubt. Then Dupin's wife Agnes begs him to allow her to go into the city and speak to the unseen multitude, among whom many pious people besides herself have felt the presence of dead relatives. Just as Dupin puts down her petition, they see Paul Lecamus, the often derided town visionary, come out of the city in an enfeebled state, near to death. Lecamus' narrative then temporarily takes the place of Dupin's.

The old man has been particularly interested in the Unseen since losing his beloved wife. While he did hear the other citizens leaving the town, he did not feel the silent call. Therefore he remained in the city. After hearing from the invisible people that they have come out of the Unseen out of love for their living relatives, who “have forgotten” and will not listen to their advice, Lecamus too feels compelled to leave the city and tell the besieged what he has learned; and that they are to send two ambassadors, “two whom you esteem the highest,” into Semur. The narrative is then resumed by Dupin as he and the priest enter the city.

Once into the city, Dupin sees in his own house traces left by the dead - a branch of olive over the portrait of his deceased daughter, little Marie. Suddenly he has an inspiration that they are to serve a mass at the Cathedral. Once the service ends Dupin and the priest realise the cloud over Semur has lifted. It is a fair morning and they know they can summon their fellow citizens back. On passing by the hospital, they find a moaning patient who has not noticed anything and believes he has been neglected by the nurses. (Ironically, he will later tell fabulous tales of all he “witnessed.”)

The records of the strange events are further completed by Agnes, by M. Felix de Bois-sombre, who has taken Dupin's place in his absence, and by Dupin's mother. Then Dupin closes the narrative with an account of Lecamus' death, and of how the people come back to the city reformed in their unchristian ways but temporarily.